The Solar Panel of Happiness – Mothers Day Part 2

DSC_8288Today is the day before the official Mothers Day day. Yesterday, I told you about the gift from my son, Eric. Today, I want to tell you about the gift from my firstborn, Alex.

Alex is a lover of the arts. More importantly, he is a champion of the artist. He is a talent manager who owns The Green Room Talent Management Agency. He spends his days searching for the perfect roles for his clients, making sure they are heard, and planning their futures with care in a business that can be impersonal and lonely.

Because I make my living in a creative profession, and because I have had many agents but none who went on a limb for me, I am in awe of this man I call my son. He not only recognizes a talented actor, he is a loyal and tireless advocate.

Alex is also incredibly fit and visits home always include an invitation to go on a walk. Last week, our walk was actually a seven-mile hike from our home to Terannea Resort on the cliffs of Palos Verdes. I usually love this mom time with him, but three miles in I was not a happy camper.

Me:   How much further?

Alex: You can rest. I’ll do some pushups while I wait.

Me:   No. I guess it’s okay. I was just wondering how much further.

Alex: Do you need to go to the bathroom?

Me:   No, but. . .

Alex: Okay, then. Long strides, mom. Did I tell you. . .

Whatever he told me got lost in my growing resentment of this forced march – and that was a shame. To our right was the ocean, blue as a sapphire; the sky above us was robin’s egg. Scarlet and magenta Bougainvillea climbed over every fence was passed. Roses as big as a babies face pocked their bushes. We passed other walkers, bikers sailed by and I kept grumbling and huffing and puffing. Alex laughed and he smiled and that turned my gloomy cloud of annoyance a dark, foreboding gray.

Me:   Why are you always like this? Why doesn’t anything bother you?

Alex: Because I have a happiness reserve.

Me:   You have what?

Alex: You know how a solar panel catches the sun and stores the energy? I store up stuff that makes me happy. When I need it, I’ve got it.

Me:   Like what?

Alex: Like you’re being a pain complaining instead of thinking how neat it is that I like to come home and take a walk with you. So instead of getting upset that you’re upset, I pull up something that makes happy: Tucker (his awesome dog), a tree or flowers (he’s an avid gardener), the way it feels when I’m kayaking, the booking I got for one of my clients. It’s like a solar panel of happiness. Nobody can drain that kind of energy. You’ve just got to remember to store it.

I paused to look at him – not because I was tired but because I was struck by his simple, profound life philosophy. I couldn’t imagine how he had come by it, but I was impressed that he lived by it. It was this quality – this principled belief that life is worth living well with all its ups and downs – that made him so unique. I was humbled and grateful that the stork had dropped this amazing human being into my lap. I had spent many years nurturing him, showing him things I thought were right and explaining why other things were wrong. Now the tables were turned. He was pushing me to be better: walk another mile, open your eyes to the beauty around you, change what you can, treat the world and the folks in it well, and always appreciate being alive.

For Mothers Day Alex started the construction on my solar panel of happiness. I will forever keep the memory of that walk in the sunshine in my reserves. It will never loose its brightness nor it’s ability to energize me. I will always be in awe of my beautiful baby who grew up to be an excellent man in every sense of the word.

Thank you for a wonderful mothers day, Alex. Nobody is loved more than you.

PS Thank goodness dad was around to drive us home. Seven miles is my limit. That’s not a complaint, just a fact.

I AM ‘THE BROOD QUEEN’ & ONE LUCKY MOM

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My son Eric

It is Mothers Day weekend. As with the last 31 holidays since I became a mom, I have reveled in this holiday. I celebrate my own mother (more on that Sunday) and happily accept whatever accolades, surprises, and gifts my kids feel like sending my way. Usually this involves eating at a food court and seeing a guy-movie since I am a boy-mom and that’s what boys give their mothers.

This morning, I left the house to take a walk before I went to work. It was 5:30 in the a.m. and the sky was still sleepy-gray as I plugged my earphones into my phone and called up my podcasts. The first podcast on the playlist was a mother’s day gift from my youngest son, Eric.

Like me, he is a writer; unlike me he is an edgy, out-of-the-box writer. He is also the writer, produce, and brains behind the fiction/music podcast Howl Out Loud. Science fiction, fantasy and magical realism are his thing, pushing the envelope is what he does and he was in his element with his Mothers Day podcast, The Brood Queen. Continue Reading →

The Day Bailey Devlin Was Born (or the story of a long, painful, labor of love)

BD_Horoscope_Final_Digital By the time you read this, I will have published the Bailey Devlin Series. These three books were written over the course of six grueling months. It is a miracle that I am still married and that my children still speak to me. Pretty much, about three months into the process, I morphed into a walking nerve and stayed that way until I typed ‘the end’. Conversations around our house kind of went like this:

Husband: “What do you want for dinner?”

Me:             “I don’t think these books are funny. They’re supposed to be funny. I’m not sure

they are funny. People have to laugh. Or at least smile when they read them.”

Husband:   I’m sure they’re fine.”

Me:  “I want a taco.”

Husband:   “Sounds good. I’ll go to. . .”

Me:   “You don’t think it will be fine, do you? I can hear it in your voice. You’re just being nice. You don’t think they’re funny, I can tell. I don’t think I can eat.”

Husband:  “I’m sure they’re funny. You’re funny. . . (pause). . . you were funny. Before. . .”

He mumbles something as he goes upstairs and closes the bedroom door. No dinner.

I yell up the stairs: “What do you think? About the books, I mean? Being funny?”

I recall having conversations like this when I was pregnant – just substitute fat for funny. The only difference is that I got tacos when I was pregnant. To be exact, I got giant burritos. I ate a giant burrito and a waddled around the block the day I went into labor. At three in the morning I thought my labor pains were indigestion. Neither was pleasant.

I swore off burritos.

I had one more baby then I swore off babies.

Now that the Bailey Devlin series is launched, my literary hormones have settled, I am ready to tell you the truth. The truth is that being an indie author – one who has gone rogue and written outside her normal thriller genre – is just like childbirth and here’s why.

1) Conception: Fun, exciting, and takes place in a burst of extraordinary passion. That’s what it was like conceiving Bailey Devlin. My mother asked for some books-with-out-bodies. Not that she didn’t like my thrillers, it’s just that she wanted to see if I could actually put more than three sentences together without killing a character. I heard that wistful tone in her voice. It sounded like ‘will I ever be the grandmother to a book-baby that makes me smile?” Her 91st birthday was in September and Bailey Devlin was her present. It took a few tries, it took some restraint not to kill Bailey off, but eventually the seed was planted; Bailey Devlin was more than a twinkle in my eye.

2) Gestation: No morning sickness, no sleepless nights, no discomfort. The Day Bailey Devlin’s Horoscope Came True came trippingly off the keyboard. Piece of cake. The Day Bailey Devlin Picked Up a Penny took a little longer and by the time The Day Bailey Devlin’s Ship Came In, mine had sailed, leaving me adrift in a sea of doubt. Were these books as funny as I thought? Would anyone really care about Bailey? Was she ever going to pass the bar and find happiness? Who did she really love? Would she have my eyes but her father’s feet? Can’t they give me something for the pain? Oh, sorry, keep getting these two events confused. We’re talking books not childbirth.

3) Labor: It never goes as smoothly as you think it will. No matter how often you’re coached, you forget to breathe. I knew there would be the mind numbing pain but I didn’t realize I would be the one inflicting it. My very patient editor* was not fooled by the fake smiley faces at the end of each email asking, WELL? HAVE YOU READ IT? The poor cover designer* has probably decided that selling insurance would be more fulfilling than ever working with the nit-picking me again. And then there were the frantic emails in the middle of the night begging the formatter* to revise the files because I’d found yet another typo. Think breach birth on that one. I kept wondering if these files would ever turn around and come out the right way.

4) Delivery: I delivered triplets; three books published on the same day. By this point, I was goofy with getting them written, formatted, covered and published, so I did what any reasonable person would do: I went on vacation and left them with grandma.

Now readers are visiting my offspring. I hope they love the covers and adore Bailey Devlin and her crew. I hope they laugh and cry because the stories are sweet in a sexy world. They are inspired by people I know and love. Bailey Devlin is me and I think she is every woman. Like an anxious mom, I’m waiting for someone to chuck me under the chin, and tell me I did good, and that they really like my babies.

Happy Birthday Bailey Devlin. It was worth every minute.

Thanks to my birthing team:

*Jenny Jensen -editorial

*Paul Ziomek – covers

*Steff McDaid – formatting

*Robin Blakely – PR/marketing

*Tod Damotte – Bailey mini-movie

STUMPED (For readers)

FullSizeRenderRecently, workers found a huge stump buried in my backyard (see STUMPED, the blog).

This was a particularly wonderful thing for them to find because it has captured everyone’s imagination. The workers, my family and even the 30 people we had to Easter dinner have speculated about where it came from, how old it is, whether or not it is now petrified, who cut it down and what I should do with this giant stump.

I have a funny feeling that you’re looking at this picture and five ideas have popped into your head about what you would do with it. That’s what readers and writers and creative people do when they see something out of the ordinary. Welcome to the club and don’t be surprised if that stump shows up in one of my books someday.

 

THE RIGHT WAY IS YOUR WAY

UnknownI once dated a man who took me skiing. I had never been before, but as soon as my skis were on I  headed toward the bunny hill. My boyfriend caught up with me (easily, I might add) and asked:

“Why do you think you can do everything right away?”

I was taken aback by the question because that wasn’t what I was thinking at all.  I was headed off to see how things were done. I wanted to observe and practice away from the crowds. I wanted to fall down without calling too much attention to myself – especially the attention of the man I was dating. He perceived that I arrogantly thought I could just go out and ski. There might have been some truth in that since my intent was to unveil my skills as soon as I had conquered the basics which included standing up on my skis and going at least as far as the little kids scooting down the bunny hill. In short, I wanted to learn alone and then have fun. His idea of fun was trying to teach me how to ski by coaching me. The problem was, we didn’t learn the same way. He learned by having someone tell him what to do; I learned by watching other people do and then attempting to do it myself.

I thought of this ski date because someone asked me, “how do you write a book?”

When I was dared to write a book, I retreated to the quiet of my home and learned by trial and error. I took a book and a bottle of wine and sat in my living room. I was armed with a yellow marker. I sipped a glass of wine as I read the book. I highlighted the important parts: where and how characters appeared, how chapters ended, exciting dialogue passages, expository (though I didn’t know that word then). The wine was soon forgotten (mainly because I am not a big drinker), but the book and it’s lesson lasted long into the evening and beyond.

When I was finished reading and highlighting the text of my ‘learning’ book, I started typing. I mimicked the structure of the novel I had just read. Surprisingly, I must have done it well because that first book sold. Now, after thirty books, I look back and realize that in those early years I was learning how to stand on my ‘literary’ skis. In those early days I was scooting downhill cautiously toward the bottom of the publishing mountain. Every time I took the lift up and started another book, I went down that mountain a little smoother, with a little more confidence and a bit more daring.

It wasn’t until ten years later with ten books under my belt, that I actually found my unique writing voice, my genre, and a definite point of view. That was when I became an author and not just a writer. I also became a teacher. I have taught at UCLA’s Writers Program, conferences and small groups. My teaching always revolves around ‘showing’ how something is done. Sometimes my students get it and run with it and other times I have to refine my lessons to match the way a student learns.

What I have come to realize is that everyone who strikes out on a new venture share certain things: curiosity, desire to learn, and energy. Yet when it comes to learning a new skill, we are all different.  Some of us learn by doing and others through instruction. Some can only tackle a project when there are many voices in a room offering advice and their own ideas while many must have complete silence and spend time in the company of their own imagination.

There is no one correct way to write or tell a story.  There is only one commandment that must be honored and that is to begin. No matter how you put those words on paper, how you are inspired, or how you learn the craft it is the right way for you. Remember, readers will never ask you how you wrote a book they love they will only ask you to write another.

 

Dear Santa: A letter about letters

The other day I was cleaning out my office. Well, it isn’t so much an office as it is a ‘girl room’ in a house full of men. There is a desk, a sewing machine, the ironing board, wind-up toys, snapshots of people I love hanging from the shutters and cluttering every available countertop. There used to be an apricot colored sofa in that room, but it broke. I was very proud of that sofa because it was the only thing that wasn’t ‘boy beige’ in my whole house.

I digress.

I was cleaning out my office and came upon a box of letters. There were probably a hundred or so and soon I was surrounded by paper: pretty stationery, notebook pages and postcards. My oldest son arrived and lounged in the doorway since there was no more apricot colored sofa to sit on.

“What are those?” he asked Continue Reading →

Albanian Diaries #5: Traveling Companions

2014-10-08 23.34.17I may have been sitting beside my husband on the 22 hours we were in transit to Albania but he is only one of the people I traveled with. I brought along a number of friends in the form of books. I never travel without a full Kindle. Yet, it wasn’t until I was standing in the small street outside my apartment at three in the morning, a cool mist swirling at the end of  the dark street, and a big, black car waiting to take me to the airport, that I realized I had come on this journey with more people than I knew. Those friends are authors who, like me, ply our craft alone in rooms, in a digital world but who are fascinated, intrigued and inspired by the real one.

So that morning, looking at that car and the waiting driver, I thought of Brian Drake author of the marvelous Steve Dane novels that are reminiscent of Ian Flemings work. I could almost hear Brian writing the dialogue for that moment:

“Don’t get in the car. You’ll never get out again.”

Me, picking up my bag, adjusting my fictional fur coat, and answering as Dane’s girlfriend, Nina, might:

“Don’t be ridiculous. I can take care of myself.”

“Pity,” Dane would say.

“Why?” Nina would ask.

“Because It’s more fun if I help.”

I love Steve Dane. I love that Brian Drake could make a whole book out of standing in a dark street in Tirana.

I did get in the car and the only thing that happened was that I made it to the airport in time to catch a flight to Rome for the weekend. (I know, how cool is it to be able to say that?) The Piazza Navona, one of my favorite places, was one of the first places I stopped. It was a bright sunny day and the piazza was busy: a woman played her acoustical violin, artists showed their wares, tourists sat for pictures on the beautiful, ancient fountains, restaurants lined each side of the huge square. People ate and drank and talked to one another. Children ran across the cobblestones and the blue-suited police wandered in front of me with their hands clasped behind their back. Now it was Rick Bard, action and adventure author, standing beside me, telling me that the next book in the Brainrush Series was going to be set right there. “Perfect place for a chase, don’t you think?” I would say, of course. In his hands the chase would be exciting and elegant and oh-so-much-fun in the Piazza Navona.

In Dubrovnik, I walked through the fabulous walled city and just before I went through the gate I heard the sound of two dogs snapping and growling. I turned in time to see two handsome young men restraining their big hounds. In that millisecond they were crouched in fighting position and frozen. A beautiful young woman with a little white dog walked between them in her tight jeans, her oversized sweater, and her long hair  pinned atop her head. She and her dog seemed uninterested in the two man and their pets. But if my romance writer friends had been there, everything would have changed. The woman would have chanced a glance. One or both of the men would have followed her. Something romantically magical would have happened. Mindy Neff, Sandra Paul, Angie Ray – what they could have done with that scene! I had the strange feeling that if I turned around they would be there, plotting the happy ending just before inviting me to lunch.

There are a hundred more authors who have come with me on this. The quirky and fascinating Conrad Johnson whose work Clean Kill is so reminiscent of John Fowles. He would love the broken down buildings, the legless man playing dance tunes, the blind man selling books by the river. Richard Bunning who pulls you into another dimension of time and space would be fascinated by the coffee shops where people speak in all he languages of the world. For me, the inspiration is Albania with its ancient laws and contemporary politics and energy and anxiety. It is the perfect place for Josie to confront her sense of justice and Hannah to paint and Archer to watch their backs.

Sometimes new authors say that they are afraid to talk about their ideas because someone might steal them. I say, those who write have no need to steal anything. A hundred different authors could stand in the Piazza Navona or on a deserted Tirana street at 3a.m., or in the walled city of Dubrovnik and the result would be a hundred different stories. That is the magic.  Authors will write, readers will read, and the traveler – at least this traveler –  will never be alone.

 

 

 

A World Away

lunchmontenegroThis is a picture of restaurant where my husband had lunch on the one day we were in Montenegro. This place is idyllic. It is romantic. It was also lonely for my husband because I was in our hotel room reading Gone Girl.  At that moment, that book was more intriguing than a lunch overlooking the Adriatic.

I know. I’m nuts. I also know that if you’re reading this, you are probably thinking deep in your heart that I’m not crazy. Reading time for me is a precious and hard to come by. Like many authors, when I am writing I don’t read. It’s an occupational hazard.

I sit at my little table at my coffee shop for eight hours at a time when I’m deep in the process. I edit, and input, and edit some more.  When I stop typing, stop thinking from the point of view of my characters, stop pounding out fictional dialogue that to me is as real as if I am saying the words, I don’t relax with a book. Instead, my free time is spent indulging in something physical. I play tennis. I clean the house. I cook. I sew. I lose myself in television, movies, and music. If I were to read during the process of creating a book, I would second guess every ‘stroke of the pen’. When I finally finish writing a book, though, reading is what I crave.

I finished writing Dark Witness three days before we left for this trip. I filled up my Kindle with books from all genres – especially books people had been talking about that I hadn’t had time to read. I chose traditionally published authors as well as independents.  I started Gone Girl in Dubrovnik. By the time we reached Montenegro I was half way through and oblivious to everything: the beautiful hotel room, the lovely weather, and my poor husband. Luckily, we’ve been through this before. He doesn’t understand the draw of fiction anymore than I understand how he can read book after book on the same period in history. The good news is, we both understand one another’s passion for reading.

That afternoon, while he had lunch and lingered over a glass of wine, I lost myself in a story about the most amazing couple in a most unamazing town in Missouri. The skill of the author was intense. I was a fish on a hook and being expertly reeled in. It was as if there was a boulder blocking the only exit in my room. I was under a spell and I was powerless to break it. When I finished that book, I joined my husband at the beautiful little restaurant. I had a glass of wine. I told him about Gone Girl and he listened. I’m not sure if he really heard the story, but I know he heard how much I had loved the gifts I had been given: time, a book, and a husband who had taken me half way around the world and still understood when I wanted to take one more journey.

 

 

How Do You Read?

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Every once in a while I get this note from a reader:

“Loved your book. Read it in a day!”

I’m elated when a reader lets me know they love one my books. Knowing they read it in one day, that’s something else again. Why, oh why, can’t I read a book in a day?  The answer is, reading a book in a day isn’t my style. Reading is like eating: some of us devour our books, some pick at them, and some have a balanced book diet.

 Me? I’m a Stop and Starter. How about you?

Stop and Start Reader You have a pile of open books by your bedside: fiction, non-fiction and magazines and maybe a map or two. If it’s got words on it you read it. Heck, you even count that owners manual for the TV as reading fare. You may finish a book in a week or a year. You come back from the bookstore with arms piled high or you click away on your Kindle. It doesn’t matter that you have years of reading at your finger tips because you’re happiest when your plate is full. You’re a different type of reader in the morning than you are at night. You like one thing on the weekend and another during the week.

The Genre Book Lover You relish every nook and cranny of your genre. Fantasy epics are like a banquet, romances are endless plates of chocolate, mysteries are exotic morsels. When you’ve found a genre you love, you stick with it no matter what anyone says. There are so many incredible authors and never enough time. The genre groupies I know are also experts in their field. How satisfying is that? Continue Reading →

Where I Write

photo_1-3photo_4People say it’s great to work at home. Not me. I go to my local coffee shop, Coffee Cartel every morning.

People think I live here!  My tea is ready the minute I arrive!

My preferred table is surrounded by books!

I listen to different music with every book I write.