Finding Joy: Challenge Accepted

Over the weekend, as I sat on the shores of a lake with my toes in the water and a glass of Prosecco dripping condensation on my hand, I had a bit of an epiphany. (Though I’m not sure I can call it an epiphany when it’s really a continuation of a thought that started back last summer.)

My arms were still shaking from a frantic race around a distant buoy in a kayak, my legs a bit trembly from a second race toward a closer buoy – while standing up and backwards because why not. The unseasonably warm weather had brought pink to my cheeks and my stomach ached from laughing at my competitors’ attempts. The sun was low in the sky and painted the hillside as orange as the leaves from my apple tree.

It was a stolen moment of joy made all the sweeter by its lack of intention.

My holiday weekend plans included marathon writing sessions at my favorite coffee shop. I had my talisman rings, my word count goals, a general idea of the direction the book needs to go. I was ready to write, to meet the NaNoWriMo challenge I’d accepted on November 1 because unless it comes to running actual marathons or getting up before dawn to go to the gym, I’m a finisher. I set myself to what I want to accomplish and then go for it.

I’ve NaNo’d three times and, three times, I’ve completed my word count by the skin of my teeth. I’ve set everything aside and pushed through hours of writing. I’ve turned down invitations to be with friends, time with my children, and piles of books waiting to be read all for the self-imposed goal of finishing 50,000 words in 30 days. And then, on December 1, I would put away my bare novel and not look at it again for months as if my brain had depleted itself of nouns and verbs and could only conjure adverbs.

This year, though, I couldn’t.

Not to say I didn’t write! I have a solid 28K words and…no real idea how I’m going to finish this trilogy. The characters aren’t speaking to me the way Candace and Remmings did. They’re not running through a forest, getting drunk with older brothers, or battling wits. The 28K words includes scenes with my favorite people, but something felt off. The story isn’t ready to end.

I’m not sure what that means, but what I do know is that I’m not going to rush it for an arbitrary challenge.

So I gave up.

I quit.

I quit and I spent my writing weekend playing Yahtzee and trying to paddle a kayak while standing up. I ate smashed burgers with cheese oozing from the sides. I listened to music from my 20s, rode shotgun on a winding country road with my boyfriend laughing at a podcast. I slept under the stars and pulled the sleeping bag over my head to block out the sounds of the serial killers lurking behind a pine.

I quit and spent my Saturday morning baking a pake, two actually. I patiently moved my oven racks around until they were baked and ready to be taken to work to be added to a giant stack of sweetness.

 

I quit and went to the movies with my children, crying through a story of Wonder and another of life after death. I savored lines from the screen like fine chocolate, letting them melt in my mouth with all their beauty. I turned on Christmas carols and supervised the kids decorating the tree, the scent of pine and cinnamon filling the house.

I found joy in not accepting a challenge, in quitting.

And in doing so, I also found another story. Something a little sweeter, a little softer, a little less epic. I found a new character with a glasses that slip down her nose and a penchant for knitting hats and completing crossword puzzles in an actual newspaper. I found a man who is broken beyond all hope of a happily ever after until he walks through a door and picks up a dropped scarf, catching a whiff of Christmas.

There’s no hurry.

There’s no reason to rush.

There’s no reason to let the art monster control my life.

There’s every reason to stop, to soak in the moments, and to find joy.

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Beginning the Ending

The calendar says we’re well into fall, but California likes to resist the call of winter and the end of the year with one last heatwave to remind us of summer and make us wish it wasn’t dusk as we drive home from work. But even the Sunshine State gives in eventually and we exchange flip-flops for closed toes.

I walked into Bru on Sunday while the air was cold enough to send goosebumps racing up my arms. A light sweater and bare legs were no match for the overnight drop in temperature from a blistering 103 to a nearly frigid 56.

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The wait staff who makes sure my tea is hot and reminds me to eat, glanced over in surprise. It was earlier than usual. I smiled and told them today was the day I was going to finish my second draft of “Elemental Escape”. Reassurance that the coffee shop doesn’t close until six were added to the pot of Earl Grey and warmed berry scone.

I planted myself in my spot and opened my laptop. Six hours later, I stretched and stood, ignoring the pain in my hips and back from sitting too long in a wooden chair. It was done.

I sent “Elemental Escape” to five trusted beta readers and opened a new project because November 1 means NaNoWriMo and if there’s one thing I know about my writing process it’s that I need an inordinate amount of perceived pressure to keep me moving and drag me away from the stack of novels begging to be read.

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“Elemental Escape” was my NaNo project last year and, barring any major overhaul suggestions by my betas, should be released early next year. Which means it’s time to begin the end.

When I wrote “Elemental Awakening” there was a secondary character who sauntered into my head with his rumbled auburn hair and untucked plaid shirts. He leaned back at his desk, swiveling in his chair while he stared at the ceiling. He was old but looked so very young and when he removed the clear lensed glasses he wore as a mask, exhaustion shadowed his eyes.

He’s had a rough go of it, but he’s been patient. Now, though, it’s time to tell his story.

Unless…

Except…

What if this trilogy was a quartet?

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Character Development

Every summer, my day job powers down and I find myself working four ten hour days with blissfully long weekends at the end of them. And every summer, I drop the kids off at their summer care and hole up to use those free days to write.

Except, every summer, I stare off into space and type meaningless words until it’s been an hour or two and I can legitimately go get my kids and have an adventure.

Then, at the end of every summer, I look at the seven Fridays and don’t see a corresponding number of words on my page and writer’s guilt twinges. I look at my children and think of the lazy mornings we should have had and mother’s guilt twinges. After all, with split custody, every moment spent with them is precious. Yet, as a writer, the stories churn in my head and the characters nag. It’s the working mother’s dilemma played out in an over active imagination and every summer, we start the school year and I feel a little…less.

This year I decided enough was enough.

I looked at my children – Joseph who is almost as tall as I am and Elizabeth who is losing the baby fat on her cheeks. I did the math, not usually my strong suit, but easy in this case. At the most, I have six summers with Joe and nine with Liz. I can keep my fingers crossed they’ll still want to hang with mom during college breaks, but when it comes to absolutes…I have a handful of summers left with them.

And then? I’ll have decades of Fridays to write.

The solution was easy.

I took a summer vacation from writing. I took a summer vacation from word counts, edits, spell checks, and research. I took a summer vacation from notebooks and red pens and plot holes.

I focused on character development. Our character development.

We swam in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico, eating tuna caught by friends and drinking out of coconuts. We shot down waterslides aptly named “The Wedgie”. We danced at concerts in the park. We rode our bikes while the sun turned our faces red. We had lazy mornings of Doctor Who and tea and pondered the mysteries of the universe. We bought six new chicks and watched them grow. We ate BBQ in a barn while the sunset lit the hills on fire. We got henna tattoos and cinnamon rolls at the fair. We escaped the heat to watch a webslinger do his thing. We bought a new hammock and whiled away hours crammed in it together like peas while absorbed in our books.

It’s not over yet. There are still three more weeks of summer. Three weeks where there will be camping, a train ride, a boardwalk carnival. Three more weeks of sleepovers and swimming pools and silver fake tattoos. Three more weeks of picking tomatoes in the garden and building a chicken coop and a solar eclipse. Three more weeks of character development.

And then, while the California sun continues to bake, they’ll head back to school with packs filled with freshly sharpened pencils and I’ll start working five days a week again.

I’ll kiss them goodbye on Friday evenings and tell them to have fun with their dad. I’ll brew a pot of tea on Saturday mornings and open up my laptop. I’ll look at the notes by dear writing partners gave me and I’ll get to work while the tan fades from my shoulders and the taste of coconut and smell of salt air lingers in my memory.

There will be not an ounce of guilt.

That’s what I call character development.

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Time for a Giveaway!

 

Thirteen has always been my lucky number. Partly because I was born on the 13th and partly because I had a theory, as a kid, that the unluckiest number must actually be the luckiest because people avoided it, thereby leaving it luck-full. While I still haven’t won the lottery with my lucky 13, I have won in Las Vegas betting on red 13.

So, when Steve delivered this gorgeous hickory chacuterie board to be given away to a lucky reader/follower/random stranger who hits up giveaway, I knew I’d have to launch it on Friday the Thirteenth.

Entering is easy. Just follow the instructions on the handy-dandy rafflecopter thingy below. The giveaway will be open for a week and the winner chosen at random. The winner will have 24 hours to get back to me before the next name is drawn.

Good luck!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Go Team!

A little over a week ago, I put out a call for people to join my street gang – I mean team. (Side note: You do realize if I formed a street gang, we’d all be wearing leather jackets and saying, “Tell me about it stud” while doing our secret “Birth to earth, womb to tomb” handshake. There’s also a high probability of finger snapping and red high heels.)

After reviewing applications, I was able to narrow the selection down to ten amazing ladies. I’m so excited to welcome the inaugural crew of Elementally Awesome:

Sunday B.
Jennifer B.

Julie G.
Sarah G.
Christen F.
Katrina P.
Kirsten P.
Roxanne P.
Cheryl R.
Maxine S.
Alexa V.

(This is the part where I’d be popping champagne corks and pouring glasses of bubbly if, you know, everyone was in the same room.)

I’m so excited to have this amazing group of ladies on staff, so to speak, to help me get the word out. I have so many fun things planned and can’t wait to get started!

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Romance Novels are for Dudes Too

10647191_10205060532105861_4977278825112904127_nThis is my dad.

He grew up running barefoot in the forest of the Ozarks and joining his dad on  moonshine runs across county lines. He has, at different times in his life, rode rodeo, topped trees, worked a farm, cut firewood, hunted for furs, and worked in a factory. He likes his coffee black and boiled and stubbornly ignores the five women in his life as they plead for him to stop smoking. His body is covered in scars from knife fights, he was married four times before he met my mom when he was 27 – once to a Cuban woman who didn’t speak English, which was unfortunate because he didn’t speak Spanish – and was a proud Marine, though he’d say is rather than was because once a Marine always a Marine. He taught his daughters to play poker before they could read, is always armed, and drinks his coffee with a splash of Sailor Jerry.

And he loves romance novels.

He devours them by the dozen, working his way through Sandra Hill, Julia Quinn, Catherine Coulter, Nora Roberts, Christina Dodd, and dozens more even I have never heard of. He sits, with a dog at his feet, his coffee cup resting on the arm of the chair, and a paperback in his hand.

11025132_10205061468849279_6891454684742096596_nHe’s always been a reader; both of my parents are. Growing up, I rarely saw either without a book in their hands. My mom usually read standing up, back to the fireplace and cup of coffee on the mantel. With four kids, she had to steal the time to read and her drug of choice was romance novels.

My dad, however, was all about Westerns and sci-fi. Family legend says that when he rode rodeo, he had two beat up hardback suitcases – one filled with clothes – pearl snap button Western shirts, prized belt buckles, jeans, and the other filled with books. He kept carried a paperback in his back pocket, the binding cracked and the pages rolled to fit, and would lean against a barn wall or tree and read a book while he ate his lunch.

I grew up in a house where reading was our primary past-time and sneaking my mom’s romance novels my one act of rebellion. About ten years or so ago, my mom called me, laughing because Dad, retired and frustrated over the lack of books available to him, had picked up one of hers – a Jude Devereaux Western romance. He’d finished it in hours, announced that it was a damn good story, and proceeded to work his way through her entire collection. When he finished those, he haunted the used book store. When he ran out there, he determined that stealing from his oldest daughter’s collection was appropriate.

10433134_10205060531065835_7118001290583067953_n“A good story is a good story,” he says when anyone questions why a leather tough man would pick up a novel about love.

When it came time to promote Elemental Awakening, my finger hovered over the names of male friends, men who have been supportive of my goals and dreams. I twisted my lips and wondered if I should add them to a romance author’s page, if I should encourage them to read a love story.

Then, I remembered my dad and clicked the button because real men read romance novels.

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Do you want to join my street team?

I’m so excited to announce that I’m currently seeking members for my street team, Elementally Awesome!

(If you’re a long time reader, you knew I’d have to go cheesy with my team name. It’s what I do. New readers, it’s okay. I’m a dork and I’m totally fine with that.)

Between the release of Merry Little Christmas and my debut novel, Elemental Awakening, coming out soon, plus working on the sequel and an outline prepped for another Christmas serial this year, this little blog is starting to pick up speed and I’m so excited to share it with you all. If you feel that you’re someone who would get a kick out of being a bigger part of this world, take a moment and fill out the form. (And if you don’t, it’s totally okay. I mean, I’ll just be standing over here on the side of the gym as team captain while everyone avoids my eyes and pretends they can’t hear me when I try to pick them. Not that that has ever happened. Because, you know, I’ve always been super cool and stuff.)

Oh! And I should also explain. You don’t actually have to walk literal streets. You can do most anything from the comfort of your own home while wearing pajamas and drinking wine. Or whiskey. I won’t judge.

 

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Coming soon!

Something about this time of year makes me want to snug down with a good book and a nice cup of Earl Grey, but with the rush of the holidays upon us, sometimes a shorter story is the way to go. I’m pleased to announce a trio of delightful holiday short stories perfect to read while the turkey is roasting or the pies are baking…

mlc-coverUpon A Midnight Clear, by Angela Amman:

Julia’s high profile divorce left her financially free to do anything she wanted, except fulfill the dreams she lost in an accident a decade before. Something stronger than a whim draws her to a storefront in the nearly forgotten town of Warden’s Bluff, New York, where visions of tiny dancers practicing their pliés under her careful instruction promise to fill that void.

Julia doesn’t deal in tomorrows, but Josh, who keeps crossing her path as Christmas settles over Warden’s Bluff, is the kind of man who just might change her mind… if she’s willing to take a chance on next year.

Star of Wonder, by Cameron D. Garriepy:

Ivy Brennan, former therapist, astronomy enthusiast, and self-declared goat lady is carving out a fresh start for herself in the woods outside Thornton, Vermont. Christmas is coming, but Ivy is more concerned with missing goats and approaching meteor showers.

Sterling West is crashing with his uncle at the family Christmas tree farm since his ex-fiancée sold their apartment out from under him. He’s bagging trees and picking up freelance web design jobs while he figures out what to do next, and where the best stargazing is.

Ivy’s sister, Sterling’s uncle, four goats, and the Geminid meteor shower conspire to bring Sterling and Ivy together as the holiday approaches, but connections neither Ivy nor Sterling are aware of tangle like last-year’s Christmas lights, threatening to trip up their newfound attraction.

The Rarest Gift, by Mandy Dawson

For restaurateurs Sabrina and Mark, dissolving their marriage was simpler than dissolving Buchons’ – the dream Sabrina thought they were building together – but nothing about their separate-but-together existence is easy anymore.

An unlikely angel arrives in Mark’s life while he flirts with culinary self-sabotage. Sabrina explores drastic measures to save the floundering restaurant. Both of them find themselves reflecting on the bitterness that drove them apart, and the sweetness beneath it until a family emergency forces the pair to reevaluate the flavor of partnership, dreams, and love that won’t quit.

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