The Beauty of Something New

Recently a friend told me he’s fallen in love for the first time. Simply hearing those words made my stomach lift, much like the photo I shared on Facebook the other day. (Wheeeeeeeeeeee!) Man, I thought. Brand-spankin’ new love is going to do wonders for his writing. Not that he needs it—just seemed like a bonus. And it really got me thinking.

For years, all of the songs I wrote were sad, the primary themes consisting of loneliness, despair, heartbreak, hopelessness and, at their most positive, hopeful pleas that life would get better. That’s not to say I was always sad. I just never wrote songs when I wasn’t. When I met my husband, the feel-good brain-chemicals went into full force, and voila. Out came songs about bliss, gratitude and love notes to the sky.

Falling in love feels like zipping over roller coaster hills, minus the terror. Sure, there can be fear; love puts us in an extremely vulnerable place. And that is scary. But it’s also beautiful, inspiring and worth every ounce of risk. If we’re not careful (and who punch-drunk in love is?) those chemical rushes can be addictive. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively gain regular doses, without creating a dependency. 😉

According to Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer, that initial rush we experience while falling in love also helps us think more clearly and concentrate. So guess what? Falling in love IS great for writing and all art forms. And even “old” relationships—with our partners and craft—can instill roller coaster-like reactions and feelings.

Since my friend’s revalation, I’ve been pondering that stomach-lift-wheeee feeling. I took inventory. I’m blown away by how often these feelings arise—no flings or breakups required.

Over the past few years, these events have sent my brain’s dopamine flow into high-gear, inspiring happy rewards:

  • Realizing that I’m a writer and stepping onto that path fully.
  • Writing and finishing my first novel in a rapid, giddy rampage.
  • Finishing a major revision, and another. 😉
  • Meeting other writers at my first writers conference, and writers in my genre at ThrillerFest and BoucherCon.
  • Meeting, collaborating and celebrating with blogging friends, much thanks to Kristen Lamb and WANA International.
  • Getting offers from literary agents, signing with one. More revising. Getting positive and growth-inducing feedback.
  • Starting my second novel. Epiphanies along the way.
  • Learning that my friend Kourtney Heinz was named a semifinalist in the Amazon.com BreakThrough Novel Award contest shortly after reading and loving an excerpt.
  • On the personal front: Vacations. Fun dates. Seeing close friends and family. Returning from vacation to my dog’s tail-goes-wild greeting. Winning a writing prize. Learning that my newest niece had been born. Seeing Mammoth for the first time. Performing on stage. Seeing The Negro Problem perform live. And a mini-burst today, when I opened my door and saw that my new Kindle arrived.

Regardless of how big or small, seeking and enjoying “something new” can not only give our brain chemicals a lift, but help shake up monotony, prevent and combat creative blocks, boost our confidence and make life more fun. On Monday, Kristen shared 5 Ways to Get Out of the Comfort Zone and Become a Stronger Writer on her blog. I suspect that all five of her suggestions would make for awesome new somethings. Renewal outside of writing can also help…

10 Non-Writing Ways to Get that WHEEE! Feeling

  • Try a new restaurant or cuisine you’ve been dying or hesitant to try.
  • Re-connect with an old friend.
  • Write a thank you letter to someone who’s made a big impact on your life.
  • Have a play date with a friend, where you act like kids: Go swinging at the park. Take a “paint your plate” or other crafty class. Play dress up.
  • Bring homemade baked goods or flowers to a neighbor.
  • Send a thoughtful care package to a loved one.
  • Explore a new hobby.
  • Try a new social media platform, with the aim of having fun.
  • Buy yourself a new outfit. Get gussied up and go out.
  • Try a new recipe. Need ideas? Check out my guest post on mystery author K.B. Owen’s blog. 😉

A few of my favorite posts of the week:

RunningFromHellwithEl: How I Became a Rebel Thriver
Ellie Ann: 15 Thrilling Moments at the Cinema
Natalie Hartford: 5 Things I’ll Never Apologize For

What do you do to keep things lively and joyful in your life or career? What’s the latest “something new” you’ve tried?

My Mom on 40 Love-Filled Years

My mom is fluent in numerous languages, writes beautiful poetry and can cook or bargain-hunt her way out of any sticky situation. Of her many areas of expertise, however, maintaining a happy marriage may be her strongest. She’s proven it for forty years—officially, as of yesterday.

Rather than share my thoughts on the landmark day, I decided to go straight to the expert herself. My first semiofficial interview with my mom went like this… 🙂

AM: *dials phone*

Mom: *picks up* I have my happy grin and my happy face on.

AM: *laughs* Excellent. Feel free to answer with as much or as little as you like, or bring up topics I don’t mention.

Mom: *snickers* You know I always do. If I start blurting, say, Mo-ther… and I’ll understand.

AM: So noted. Okay, so how did you meet Dad?

Mom: I was doing a backyard barbecue for my high school German IV class. We were seniors so I was having kind of a goodbye type thing. My brother asked if he could bring a friend and if the friend could bring a date. And so Dad came with Carolyn—with a ‘yn,’ not ‘ine.’ He had these tall Red Wing cowboy boots on, and I thought, Oh, wow!

AM: Was it love at first sight?

Mom: From the reaction of Carolyn? Uh huh. She knew something was going on and she was not happy.

AM: That’s hilarious. Tell me about your first kiss.

Mom: He was helping me do dishes one day in Grandma’s kitchen. Before he left, he stooped down to kiss me and missed. I was too short! I said, “Here, this is better,” and got on my tippiest, tippy toes.

AM: Okay, I don’t need to know the rest. What was your wedding like?

Mom: Simple and sweet, the way we liked it. We told our parents to invite a few close
friends. We invited a few close friends. I made my dress and Dad wore a sports coat. I made the bridesmaid’s and flower girl’s dresses, too.

AM: And why did you choose April Fools Day?

Mom: It just worked with the calendar. That was the main reason. And who can forget April Fools? You can say things like, “Lovesy, guess what! I talked to the doctor, and I’m having twins!”

AM: *laughs* I’m sure that went over well. How does it feel, being married for 40 years?

Mom: It doesn’t seem like forty years… Dad and I kind of grew up together. I was 17 when I met him and he was 20. He gave me my first roses. He’s always done all kinds of little amazing things. When we started dating he had a little English sports car called a Harold, a red convertible. He would pick me up when I got off the bus from high school to drive me two blocks home. I’d look outside of the bus, and there was the little car! I was very excited, but I’m sure I turned lobster red.

AM: What did your brother think of all that?

Mom: Well, others of his friends asked me out, and the dates didn’t go well. One time one of his friends drove me home, put his hands up and said, “Now, for our kiss good night!” And I ran out of the car. Then every time he called, I told him I had to babysit. After that, my brother said, “Never date my boyfriends. Do not date my friends.”

AM: So you married one.

Mom: Yep! With Dad, everything felt natural. I remember telling him that I wasn’t interested in dating a bunch of people. My dream was to meet and marry one person, to have kids with that person and be able to stay home to raise and enjoy them. And that God was the center of my life. I figured he’d either run as fast as he can the other way or think it was okay. But I thought, I’m not going to pussy foot around.

AM: How did he react?

Mom: He loved everything I said and asked me to read Summer Hill. It presented a controversial way to raise your kids. Basically you raise children to be what they want to be. You don’t spank kids, yell at them or put them in a corner. You listen to them, because they are people. I thought, That sounds very nice.

AM: Ah, so we have Dad and you and that book to thank for not putting ceilings above us.

Mom: No ceilings, but roots—so you’d be grounded.

AM: You went on to have five of us. Was that the plan, or how did that happen? I mean, I know how it happened…

Mom: Do you want me to paint you a picture? *snickers*

AM: Um, that’s all right. But thank you. Did you plan to have a big family right away?

Mom: We knew we wanted several, but we didn’t have a number in mind. I wanted each of you kids to have at least two years between, so that they could be babies. I have friends who say they want to get “that little baby part” out of the way. But I love baby parts. They’re my favorite. And we didn’t have to work hard at it, let me tell you!

AM: Okay, awesome! Moving on.

Mom: *laughs* Like my friend’s son says, “Mom, you did it three times and that was it, right? To have three kids?” If she brings up anything about sex he just shuts her up.

AM: Well, I’m glad it came easily for you and hope you did it more than five times. That is all I will say. *clears throat* *sips water* How did you find time for yourself, and manage to stay sane with all these wee ones running around?

Mom: I was privileged to be able to stay home with you guys. I really admire parents who have full-time careers and kids; I think that’s really difficult… We’ve always stressed family time. When Dad was a driver during the busy season, he’d leave early in the morning and not get home until you guys were in bed. So I always made sure that he’d see you at breakfast. He’d come home frozen to the bone and ravenous. That’s when you saw your Viking. Before even changing his clothes, Dad would go up and give each of you a big cuddle and if you wanted, he’d read you a book. I really learned a lot about parenting from Dad. Dad and my aya—my nanny.

When ever I had one of you guys, I’d come home from the hospital and Dad would have the kitchen floor washed, the laundry all caught up, fresh-baked goods ready and flowers on the table. Even now he does it, when I go to see you in California.

Oh, and time-outs in the bathroom always helped.

AM: So that’s what you were doing in there!

Mom: Yep. Time for myself, even in small increments, made all the difference. And Sunday was family day. It didn’t mean you could not go out anywhere, but it was a day that we spent together—to a park, hiking or have a picnic. We always had supper together. If someone was upset or crying, I’d turn the stove off and took whoever it was to go read a book, watch “Mr. Rogers” or rock in the rocking chair. After that, we could have a happy meal.

AM: I’ve always valued that—eating as a family. What did you think when you met me? I don’t recall, for some reason…

Mom: From the day you arrived, you were just a bubble—floating free and full of it. You just had a blast. You found everything very, very enjoyable in life. You had colic, so it was a little testy at first… You found ways to stay busy and keep us entertained. Remember the time you put sock balls in your dress during nap time? We found you tricycling around the neighborhood singing—

AM: Uh, yes, Mom. We don’t need to go there. What are some of your goals or dreams for the next 40 years?

Mom: I think just to encourage each other in our own things and in our things together. I’ve always loved doing things with my hands. When you have kids, you have all these projects you start and never finish. I’ve always liked doing small projects, so that I feel accomplished. That’s kind of how Dad is with gardening. Now that he’s retired, he gets to do more gardening and cooking, spending time with the dogs… Finding joy in the little things is important. That’s one thing I love about babies—the wonder in their eyes as they see things for the first time. As we grow older, we lose that sense of wonder. I think we need to keep it captured. And Dad is a wonder.

AM: Anything else you’d like to add?

Mom: Just that I’m very spoiled.

AM: I think you spoil us. Everyone who knows you’s been spoiled, Mom.

Mom: Well, maybe the definition of spoiled is loved. *laughs*

AM: Sounds like a poem that should happen.

Mom: Maybe it should.

♥ Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! ♥

Any thoughts or questions to share with my mom? What do you do to ensure happy, lasting relationships? What lessons have your parents taught you? We’d both love to hear from you!

Beautiful Breakups: What the Revision Process Can Teach Us

The other day two things happened that seemed so connected, I had to share them. Within the same hour, I learned that a close friend is going through a significant breakup and received an ultra-thoughtful card from another friend I adore. Not seeing the link? Hang with me.

When I called the first friend, I was amazed at the calm confidence in her voice. She barely had to utter three sentences for me to know that she was definitely breaking UP, not down. I read the card’s message straight to her: “Bold is beautiful…and so are you.” Now do you see???

When managed properly, I believe that breakups can serve as catalysts for the most empowering, fulfilling, growth-filled and joyous experiences of our lives. Think about it. We don’t say we’re breaking down with someone. Sure, we may experience a breakdown before or during, but the right partings of ways life us up…eventually.

While I haven’t experienced a romantic breakup since I met my husband six years ago, I  have undergone other types. I’ve “broken up” with my acting career, a close girlfriend and, most recently, a sweet elderly woman my agent suggested I ex-nay from my book. None of these breakups were easy, but there was no “dumping” involved. And much like the romantic breakups I’ve endured, I learned and grew from each one.

Yesterday, I finished a major novel revision. With my friend’s bold and beautiful breakup in mind, I’ve been struck by the parallels between revising our personal lives and revising creative work. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from both processes:

What the Revision Process Can Teach Us About Relationships—And Vice Versa

1. Listen to your instincts. If your novel begs to be written in a particular style, genre or tense, do it—regardless of what seems practical marketing wise. If we try to please everyone but ignore our gut feelings, our story is likely to fall flat. Same for relationships. And if after meeting a guy you, say, sleep with mace in your hand? Don’t date him. Not that I’ve done that. Or anything.

2. Consider your motivation. If you feel confused as to who or what to take out, add to or leave in your novel, consider why you wrote it in the first place. Just as motivating factors fuel our characters’ actions, they fuel our composition. Though my draft has changed significantly, the story I wished to tell from day one hasn’t. If you’re unsure whether to stay in a relationship, ask yourself why you joined it in the first place and why you might stay or leave. Love, like, family and happiness are great reasons to work things out. Loneliness, fear and codependency, not so much.

3. If a character or scene doesn’t enhance your story, cut it. Not only does this make sense from a practical standpoint, keeping the train moving in the right direction and preventing reader boredom, it leaves room in the story for characters and scenes that do enhance it. I’ve found the same to be true with relationships. The busier we become, the more difficult it is to nurture plentiful close friendships. Choose wisely and nurture those who mean the most and bring the most to you. For the others, heck. We have Facebook. 😉

4. Become a plantser: plotter + pantser. I am by nature a seat-of-the-pants-er. But the revision process has taught me the value of planning head. With no plan, we run the risk of writing ourselves off the deep end, in way too many directions and into a tangle of confusion. If we don’t allow for wiggle room, however, we may short ourselves of fabulous characters, scenes and plot twists. In regards to relationships, don’t stay in one solely because it was part of your plan or for fear of the unknown that follows. And don’t choose your mate based on your “outline” of criteria. He or she may not look anything like that page your tore out of GQ or Glamour, or have the job, interests or personality you expect.

5. Don’t compromise your non-negotiables. There was an important word in my first chapter I was asked to change. I considered it, pictured it, even tried typing other options. But it hurt. A lot. So my original choice stayed put. From what I’ve seen, most agents, publishers, editors and readers leave the details and final decisions largely up to you. As the talented author and editor Mike Sirota once told me, “You are the goddess of your book.” 😉 We are also the gods/goddesses of our lives. Compromising our personal goals, dreams or values for the sake of another seldom provokes happiness.

For more on romance and revising, check out these fantastic links:
Girls with Pens: The Business of Writing with James Scott Bell 
Bartlette’s Integrated Health Journal: The Healing Power of Love
Mike Sirota: Romantic Horror: An Oxymoron?
Ingrid Shaffenburg: When Someone Shows You Who They Are
Natalie Hartford: A Palooza of Romance: Hubby’s Top 5
Psychology Today: Ten Tips to Survive a Breakup 

What have you learned from breakups—romantic or otherwise? Any of the above lessons resonate with you? I always love hearing from you.

Author Roni Loren on Writing Sexy and Her Novel Debut

If the blogosphere were high school, Roni Loren would be a the cool girl. Maybe the coolest. When I stepped in as the new kid this past summer, I found her witty Tweets and fun, gossip-inspiring blog posts a wee bit intimidating. But unlike stereotypical teen cliques, Roni is far from snooty. Twitter led me to her blog, which led me to her website and information on her contemporary romance novel, CRASH INTO YOU. It sounded AWESOME. The only crushing part? We can’t read it until January. Being the impatient reader I am, I did the next best thing—approached her for an interview. I’m honored and thrilled that she accepted… 🙂

Roni’s bio:
Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. Though she’ll forever be a New Orleans girl at heart, she now lives in Dallas with her husband and son. If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her reading, watching reality television, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to rockstars, er, rock concerts. Yeah, that’s it.

About CRASH INTO YOU:

Brynn LeBreck has dedicated herself to helping women in crisis, but she never imagined how personal her work would get, or where it would take her. Her younger sister is missing, suspected to be hiding from cops and criminals alike at a highly secretive BDSM retreat—a place where the elite escape to play out their most extreme sexual fantasies. To find her Brynn must go undercover as a sexual submissive. Unfortunately, The Ranch is invitation only. And the one Master who can get her in is from the darkest corner of Brynn’s past.  – CRASH INTO YOU, Berkley Heat 2012

AM: Um, can we say HOT? How did you come up with this premise?

RL: It was one of those ideas that came to me when I wasn’t looking for it. I was working on a non-erotic contemporary romance at the time and then this idea started nudging at me. Before I started writing, I was a social worker and I had worked with a number of women who had been victims of rape. So I had the thought—what would happen if a woman who’d previously enjoyed being sexually submissive suddenly had this major trauma happen where her power was truly taken away? How would that affect how she viewed that role afterward? How could she learn to trust anyone again? What if she had to put that trust in someone who formerly betrayed her to get what she wants (in this case, to find her sister)? I answered those questions and CRASH was born. : )

AM: CRASH INTO YOU is the first in a series. Was this your plan from the get-go?

RL: No, I didn’t have the conscious thought to make this a series when I started. But I think I start every project with the vague hope it will be a series. As a reader, I’m a huge fan of series because I like to hang out with characters for a long time, so I think that’s why I naturally veer that way with writing too. And as I was writing CRASH, the hero’s friend Jace became such a strong presence in my mind that I knew I’d have to write his story too. (His story, MELT INTO YOU, comes out in July.)

AM: When did you first realize you wanted to write romance novels?

RL: After I started staying home with my son, I got the writing bug again. I’ve had it off and on since high school, but this was the first time I really decided, “Let’s do this.” But the first manuscript I wrote was actually paranormal YA. When I sent it to one of my beta readers, she said—whoa, this is very sexy for YA. LOL And, of course, the romance and steamy bits were my favorite parts of that book to write, so I realized—duh, write adult romance and you can write as sexy as you want! : )

AM: What’s your writing process like?

RL: This is an ever moving target. I used to be a hardcore, don’t-tell-me-anything-different pantser. I did no plotting ahead for CRASH. I had my characters, their backstories, and the hook, then off I went. I didn’t even decide who the true villain was until halfway through the book, lol. But writing that way also meant going down a lot of rabbit holes I didn’t need to. So I went to the craft books and picked up Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and that book saved my writer butt. It’s just the right amount of story planning for me—not too detailed but hits all the important stuff. Now I can write a synopsis before I’ve written the story and I have a general map guiding me. Now I’m working on my edit-as-I-go obsession because I need to learn to write faster and not obsess over every word in a first draft.

AM: And (I’m sure you’ve never heard this question before ;))—how did you get your agent and publisher?

RL: A middle-grade writer (Natalie Bahm) who I met via blogging contacted me one day to let me know that her agent (Sara Megibow) was looking to sign more romance writers before RWA Nationals. Natalie had read a few excerpts on my blog that I had done for blogfests and liked my writing, so she offered to give me a referral. Sara was already on my dream list, so I took Natalie up on that kind offer and submitted CRASH. Two weeks later Sara offered me representation. We did a pretty major revision then went out on submission. She told me to expect the rejections first, but Kate Seaver from Berkley Heat made an offer before we’d even heard back from anyone else. I was a total Berkley fan girl and couldn’t have been happier.

AM: How do you envision the release in January? Will you be nervous? Totally stoked? Have you envisioned your novel on bookstore shelves??

RL: I’m experiencing a full range of emotion. I’m over the moon excited but also nervous about what people are going to think of it. Writing is such a personal thing and having your writing on display for the world kind of feels like standing in the middle of an auditorium naked and asking for opinions.

AM: What role do you expect your blog will play in promotion and sales of your book? Has it helped you in other ways?

RL: I love blogging. As I mentioned above, I wouldn’t have gotten a referral to my agent without my blog, so it’s played a big role so far. The people I’ve met and the support that’s out there for other writers are by far the biggest benefits of blogging. As for promotion, I take the mindset that it’s all about building relationships and being a real person. My blog isn’t there for me to yell “buy my book!” I just hope that the relationships I’ve developed will naturally translate into people being open to trying my book and being supportive.

AM: What’s your top tip for up-and-coming bloggers?

RL: Be genuine and be uniquely you. Your blog is about letting people in and getting to know you (and all your quirks and weirdness). Don’t start a blog with the intention of replicating what someone else is doing. What’s successful for one person may be the wrong path for you. Play to your own strengths. (Guess that’s more than one tip, LOL.)

AM: What do you most hope readers will gain from CRASH INTO YOU?

RL: A world they can get lost in with a few laughs, a lot of sexiness, and a hero and heroine they can root for.

AM: I don’t know about you all, but I’m rooting for Brynn, Jace and Roni already.

Roni’s debut novel, CRASH INTO YOU, will be published by Berkley Heat January 3, 2012. For more information, visit her website: www.roniloren.com and writing blog.

*****

Are you as eager to read CRASH INTO YOU as I am??? Any thoughts to share with Roni?