Leaping Smart: Useful Steps for Authors

“Leap, and the net will appear.”
—John Burroughs

I’m a big fan of leaping toward our dreams, fueled up on faith and determination. If we hold off, waiting for that “net”—i.e., the perfect job offer, mate or opportunity, it may never appear. That said, effective leaping takes a lot more than gusto and springy legs.

Today marks the end of a near 40-year career for someone I admire and respect more than most anyone—my dad. His dedication and commitment to UPS, the company he’s worked for, is something we can all learn from. He worked his way up from loading packages to landing and managing top, international accounts. He created and nurtured friendships with coworkers, treated (and still treats) everyone he encountered with equal respect and never let his work come before his family.

Far more than an end, Dad’s retirement is a beginning—one he’s anticipated and planned for with thoughtfulness, organization and, I sense, glee. He didn’t leap too soon, after frustrating days or times, or too late, out of fear of what lay ahead. In other words, he’s a smart and savvy leaper.

In honor of this landmark day, here are six ways we authors can learn to leap smart, increasing our odds of living happily and creatively ever after.

Leap Smart Steps for Authors

1. Listen to your instincts. Research shows that our instincts frequently strike us first on a visceral level, relaying important information before our consciousness catches up. In other words, there are valid reasons your gut tells you to focus more on craft, quit your day job or start that new creative work. If we rationalize ourselves out of listening, we may never discover what we’re capable of. To hone in on our instincts, buddhist physician Dr. Alex Lickerman recommends we take pause and listen for that inner-voice; awareness can go a long way. I’ve also found journaling, therapy, quiet hikes and talking to loved ones helpful.

2. Don’t self-publish out of desperation. You’ve slaved over that novel, read, revised it and shared it with trusted, well-read friends who gave it a unanimous thumbs-up! And dang-nabbit, you want it published. So you send out twenty e-queries and a week later, you’ve received ten replies, all rejections. A smart leaper views this as a natural part of the process, ten ‘noes’ toward a ‘yes.’ The not-so-swift leaper heads straight to PublishItNow.com and sends an email blast announcement to friends: “I’m published!” There are loads of terrific reasons to self-publish. Desperation is not one of them.

3. Practice patience. Whenever I reach the end of a draft, my inclination is to send it, print it, share it! When I’ve done so, I’ve found loads of errors and other reasons I should have waited. When we rush, we run the risk of bypassing our instincts, acting on desperation and producing low-quality work. When a flurry of “Must do it now!” strikes, take a breath. Passion and eagerness are great attributes. Add patience to the mix and you’re gold. For a dose of inspiration, check out Marc Schuster’s post, A Setback Circa 2004—a great example of perseverance paying off.

4. Trust the process. Many “overnight success” stories derive from years of hard work. Envying others’ success or wallowing in frustration (“It’s not FAIR! I’ve been working so hard and so long!”) are counterproductive. Invest time and energy into steady progress instead. Write routinely. Take craft and career pointers from qualified professionals. Then write and write some more. Slow and steady also wins the race when it comes to building social media platforms. In 10 Ways to Improve Your “Likability” Quotient, Kristen Lamb shows us why the quality of our readers and connections trumps quantity big time.

5. Savor the leap! Once you decide to leap, whether toward more daily writing, a new creative venture or less hours at your day job, do it with gusto! Share the accomplishment with friends. (Yes, leaping is an accomplishment in itself.) It’s natural to experience some level of nervousness post-leap. (“Agh!!! What did I just do?!?”) Taking time to reflect on how far you’ve come, what you foresee in the future and celebrating it all can work like chamomile tea for anxiety. For insight on keeping our fears of failure and success at bay, read Marcy Kennedy’s post, Icarus and My Fear of the Sun.

6. Get to work. Even smart leaps will land us on the pavement if we fail to follow them up with necessary work. Sitting around wondering if you’ll finish that book, surfing the internet or partying too long in post-leap glory won’t put words on the page. Leaping takes time, but reaching our full potential as authors takes a heck of a lot more.

What about you? Have you taken a big leap? Are you considering one? Any suggestions to add? I always love hearing your thoughts!

Happy Leap Year! I hope you do something to make yours special.

Foods for a Beautiful Brain

beau·ti·ful/ˈbyo͞otəfəl/

  1. Pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically.
  2. Of a very high standard; excellent.                                        —Dictionary.com

Based on our recent discussion, many of us value our inner-beauty over external, but agree that both are important. Well guess what. Eating well promotes both in our brains. Consider this example:

A growing body of research shows that a healthy dietary lifestyle guards against Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia and cognitive decline, while boosting overall mental sharpness—in some cases, immediately. (Woo hoo, right???)

To increase your odds of sharp, long-lasting brain function, eat a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. When you indulge in sweets, fried foods or other low-nutrient fare, enjoy it and practice moderation. As I suggested in my Dodge Dieting post, the 80/20 rule works well—aiming for about 80 percent nutritious foods and 20 percent “play” foods.

Ten Brain-Boosting Super Stars:
Fortunately, there are loads of brain-beautifying foods. Here are some of my favorites. 😉

1. Berries Numerous studies have linked berry consumption with brain health. Berries provide valuable amounts of water and fiber, both of which promote positive energy levels between meals, and potent antioxidants, which support strong immune and brain function. Tip: Stock up on whatever berries are in season and keep unsweetened frozen berries on hand year round. They make awesome additions to oatmeal, baked goods and smoothies.

2. Broccoli Broccoli appears on countless superfoods lists, and for good reason. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, rich in antioxidants and a chemical that may enhance brain healing, according to a Journal of Neuroscience report. Tip: Steam, rather than microwave or boil, broccoli to retain nutrients.

3. Leafy Greens Diets high in folate are linked with a lowered risk for cognitive decline. Leafy greens, like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, mustard greens, are high in folate. They also provide ample fiber. Tip: Buy dark, leafy greens with every shopping trip. If you fear you won’t finish them before they spoil, chop remaining leaves up and freeze them in air-tight containers for use in soups, stews, pasta dishes and more.

4. Potatoes Yes, that’s right. I said potatoes. Our beloved spuds have gained a bad reputation, both due to the way many people prepare them and the risky low-carb diet craze. But potatoes, whether russet or sweet, provide complex carbohydrates—your brain’s and body’s main fuel source. Potatoes are also rich in potassium—an electrolyte important for brain function, fiber and tryptophan—an amino acid that helps your brain create the feel-good brain chemical, serotonin. (Nope, turkey isn’t the only source.) Tip: For healthy “fries,” coat sliced potato into rounds with canola or olive oil cooking spray then bake them at 350 deg. until they appear golden.

5. Popcorn As one of the most nutritious whole grains, popcorn provides valuable amounts of fiber, which helps keep our blood sugar and energy level, B-vitamins, which promote positive energy levels, and antioxidants that help stave off infections and disease. Tip: Season air-popped popcorn with natural herbs or try it dessert-style, sprinkled lightly with cinnamon and stevia or cane sugar.

6. Salmon The healthy omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, and other fatty fish, don’t simply promote more positive heart-health. They play a key role in brain function. And because our bodies can’t produce them, they way they produce other fats, we must get them through food. Consuming too few omega-3s can cause lethargy, fatigue, memory problems and depressive moods. (Blech.) Tip: The American Heart Association recommends eating 3.5 oz of fatty fish (about the size of a deck of cards) at least twice per week.

7. Flaxseeds Flaxseeds are top plant sources of omega-3s. They also contain ample fiber, protein and antioxidants. If you don’t eat fatty fish routinely, incorporate flaxseeds into your diet. Even if you do eat fish, flaxseeds can enhance your diet. Tip: Add ground flaxseeds to other healthy foods, like smoothies, whole grain cereal, bran muffins and yogurt. For freshness, keep ground seed in your refrigerator.

8. Green Tea Some researchers believe that moderate amounts of caffeine can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and boost mental sharpness. Green tea provides caffeine and lots of other perks, such as plentiful antioxidants. An animal study published in Biogerontology in 2006 linked daily green tea consumption with better sustained memory capabilities. Tip: Brew a pot of green tea to enjoy hot or chilled. For added flavor and nutrients, add lemon or apple slices. (YUM!) If you’re sensitive to caffeine or drink tea late in the day, opt for caffeine-free.

9. Peanut Butter While all nuts are nutritious, peanuts provide more healthy fats than most. Peanut butter is also filling, convenient and rich in satiating fiber. Researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered that eating peanut butter five days per week does a lot to prevent heart attacks. Snacking on peanut butter, instead of other snack foods, has also been linked with better weight and appetite control. Tip: If you don’t like or tolerate peanuts, substitute almond butter, which is particularly rich in calcium.

10. Dark Chocolate (I repeat, YUM!!!) In addition to deliciousness, dark chocolate provides protective plant chemicals called flavanols. Research headed up by Ian MacDonald, a professor at the University of Nottingham, found that consuming cocoa rich in flavanols boosts blood flow to important brain areas for up to three hours. Tip: Feeling low, yet work calls? Eat several squares of dark chocolate. If you have difficulty sticking to modest portions, keep chocolate in your freezer or buy single portions.

Fabulous Foodie Fun:
Violets and Cardamom’s recipe for Oatmeal Breakfast Bars and Muffins provides a fun, tasty way to get brain-boosting nutrients from whole grains, flaxseeds and almond butter at breakfast.
Write On, Jana! brings us nutritious, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Cinnamon Rolls. I’m salivating over these babies!
For more chocolate-loving fun, check out Tameri Etherton‘s Chocolate, the Language of LOVE.

Do you consider brain-health when approaching your diet? Are you a fan of these foods? Feel free to share your nutrition questions or challenges. I LOVE hearing from you and am eager to offer support.

LSR #7: Pursuing Passion

pas·sion/ˈpaSHən/ Strong and barely controllable emotion. N.

—Dictionary.com

Before I transitioned from acting/modeling/writing to writing full-time, I felt like I was in a polygamist marriage of four in a house made for two. Once I filed for “divorce” (ex-nayed the first two), I hit what some might call…popularity. I called it turbulence.

The acting career I’d been neglecting, after months of angst over lost passion, ignited. I was in higher demand than I’d been in ages. What, were the thousands of other actress on strike??? I tried to ignore agents’ calls, but they kept coming. And the more I ignored, the more prevalent they became.

One day my theatrical rep called with a “huge” opportunity. “I know you’re thinking of ending your contract,” he said, “but you’re a shoe-in for this. They asked for you specifically. Please, tell me you can make it… For me?”

Ugh! Wah! I don’t wanna!  “Sure, if it’s that important to you,” I said, shunning myself for caving in. I felt like a hypocritical brat.

Shortly thereafter, my commercial agent called:  “Hey, remember that yoga casting last month?” (Uh, the one I hoped I wouldn’t get?) “The client wants to check your availability for tomorrow.”

And so I surrendered to one more day of pounding the Hollywood pavement—a fit model job followed by a director’s meeting for a primetime show. I could put the modeling cash toward writing expenses, I rationalized. They said it shouldn’t take more than an hour. Maybe I’d write about an actress one day. Chalk the audition up to research. I even went so far as to meet with my acting coach to prepare.

The “short” modeling job went loong, landing me with a hefty parking ticket and audition tardiness. The time and money I’d spent preparing the three-page monologue in part-woman/part-alient dialect went down the tubes when a “star name” arrived at the studio. The casting director shrieked, hugged her and brought her in ahead of me. When I had my chance an hour later, I was ready to put all of my frustration into that monologue. (Take that!)

“Just give me the last two lines, Amber,” the CD instructed, barely looking up.

“It’s August,” I said.

“Huh?” she replied. “Oh, right. Go ahead, Autumn.”

Grrr…I considered improvising—something like: $%*($#(%*&*&(#*$&%($#*%&!!!! Instead, I recited the lines like a learning-to-read robot in need of a battery recharge and walked out, more certain than ever that my heart belonged with the page.

The whole ordeal felt a test from the universe, God, Buddha and Mother Earth combined, assessing whether I was really up for the career change.

So when my agent phoned with a call-back request—the CD must’ve been smoking crack—I declined. I felt terrible saying “no.” I respect and like the guy and he’d put energy and work into my career and this audition. But if I didn’t learn from my earlier choices, I’d learn soon. And my gut told me that the repercussions of repeat choices would be harsher.

The next day, when I could have been alien-ing it out at the call-back, I finished the first draft of my first novel. Tears filled my eyes as I typed the last word, confidant I’d made the right decision.

All goals and dreams require some amount of sacrifice. Prioritizing our passion can feel selfish, but it’s the farthest thing from it.

How would you feel if your favorite author never scripted her series because she chose to pursue a job she hated and spent all of her free time cleaning, partying or running errands for friends? What if Mozart, the Beatles or Elvis chose accounting careers because the arts seemed foolish?

We have a responsibility to nurture and prioritize our passions, particularly if we desire successful careers. 

Like the other Lifesaving Resolutions, pursuing our passions can help save or elongate our lives. Numerous studies have linked happiness and job satisfaction with boosted physical and emotional health. Researchers at the University College London found that happy people are 35 percent less likely to die within the next five years compared to their less giddy counterparts. Happy people are also more likely to eat well, keep up with physical and dental exams, practice gratitude and exercise.

“Generally, people flourish when they’re doing something they like and what they’re good at,” said Daniel H. Pink, author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” in an interview with the New York Times. Put another way, following our hearts and working our butts off lends itself to financial and overall success.

I’ve found this to be true time and time again. Within weeks of cutting ties with the acting and fashion worlds I had new writing clients. Six months later, I met my soon-to-be literary agent—during a time I would have been in Sweden, had I accepted a TV gig. And I’m far from a solitary case.

A few famous examples: Susie Orman started her career as a broke waitress. Walt Disney was an ambulance driver. Brad Pitt handed out flyers in a chicken suit. Robin Williams began as a street mime. And before her mystery writing success, Mary Higgins Clark was a single, full-time working mother of five. A common thread among these successful celebs is the desire, willingness and commitment to pursuing their passion.

Whether you’re passionate about writing, painting, dancing, singing, ping pong or marketing, I believe the following steps can help fuel your passion, increasing your odds of health, happiness and success.

Eight Ways to Pursue Your Passion with Gusto

1. Talk about it. Having a passion means we’re crazy-hyped up about something. Sharing it with others amplifies our excitement, motivating us to forge on. We gain and give ideas and plant our enthusiasm and commitment more firmly in our minds. And you never know where the conversation may lead. (Charlize Theron met her agent at a bank.)

2. Learn to say no. Before our passions become full-time careers, others may not take them seriously. But we should. When I write, I’m working. This means that, barring emergencies, I’m not available to tend to the neighbors’ cat (cute as she is), pick up the dry-cleaning (bare as the closet may be) or meet a friend on the opposite side of town for lunch (fun as it sounds).

3. Limit distraction. Phone calls, Facebook, Twitter and web surfing all have places in our lives and, in many ways, help our careers. But spending more time social networking and promoting and less time creating work we can promote is counterproductive. Commit to working in a work-friendly, distraction-free environment whenever possible.

4. Congregate with passionate people. Passion is contagious! Spending time with other passionate folks boosts our morale, inspires passion-geared conversations and makes for an overall better existence. Conferences, aerobics classes, upbeat church services, Twitter #MyWANA conversations (for writers) and motivational speaker events are great places to start.

5. Don’t let others—or you—get you down. Negativity is also contagious. Passion and success can stir up envy, harsh criticism and greed in others. These aren’t the people we best hang out with or listen to. Our own fears and insecurities can function similarly. Keep a distance from negative influences. If it’s you, consider an attitude makeover or “check up from the neck up.” 😉 Talk to supportive friends and keep moving forward. Eventually, your emotions will catch up with your proactivity.

6. Study others’ success. As soon as I started writing my first novel, I purchased and read How I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell You in Their Own Words. While I wasn’t sure how my own path would pan out, reading others’ tales inspired me on multiple levels. We can learn oodles from our successful forefathers/mothers.

7. Give back. Having passion generally means we have something to give—our energy, knowledge, talents… Volunteer to share your talents with others. Support the work of others with similar passions. When it comes to social media, sharing of ourselves and supporting others are the BEST ways to go. To learn more, visit best-selling author/social media guru Kristen Lamb’s fantastic post: Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books.

8. Just do it. Suddenly quitting one job to pursue a passionate alternative isn’t always realistic, easy or wise. But whether your passions fall into the brand-spanking-new or hobby categories or you’ve been plugging away at or resisting them for years, action is necessary and doable, as in right now, today.

More rockin’ resources:
The Year to Slay Your Dragon: Ingrid Shaffenburg inspires us to get rid of heavy breathing “dragons” and dream big.
2012 and Planning for Success in the New YearKristen Lamb provides practical tips and inspiration for goal setting and seeking.
Gene Lempp’s Goals and Gremlins, posted on Lyn Midnight’s blog, reminds us to share our goals and allow some wiggle room.
Entrepreneur magazine: Steve Jobs and the Seven Rules of Success, by Carmine Gallo
Oprah.com: What to do if You Can’t Find Your Passion, by Elizabeth Gilbert

What do you do to empower to your passion? What additional steps are you willing to commit to? Any areas you struggle with? I’d love to cheer you on.

Speaking of PASSION, this Friday, I’ll be cheering talented bloggers on as part of the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest. If you’d like to participate by sharing a story or donating a prize, click here. To participate as a cheerleader and have a blast, visit my blog Friday. You just might win a Kindle/$99 Amazon.com gift card or other fab prizes! 🙂

LSR #8: Active Gratitude

One lesson my near six months of blogging has taught me is this:  When my palms sweat and my heartbeat quickens, I’ve probably come upon a post-worthy topic—something that will resonate with, inspire or entertain people in some way. Sharing my personal story last week was no exception. Your warm, heartbreaking and even humorous responses inspired so many chills, I wondered if I’d end up with permanent chicken skin. And you know what? I would’ve worn it with pride.

Thank you with all of my heart!

It seems only reasonable that I jump to #8 in my Lifesaving Resolutions series to what I call active, or proactive, gratitude—a technique that’s helped lift my spirits in countless frustrating situations, from bumpy patches on the road to recovery to harsh literary feedback. I hope you find it as kick-butt-awesome as I do. 😉

grat·i·tude /noun: a feeling of appreciation or thanks —Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Active gratitude involves acting upon these feelings. You know that saying, “Action speaks louder than words?” Well it’s particularly powerful in gratitude matters.

While a grateful person sees a glass as half full and an ungrateful person deems it half empty, an actively grateful person savors the beverage, thanks the preparer and goes on to share the drink with others. 

Active gratitude is also reactive.

On happy days, our blessings seem like lit up billboards in our brains: I love my life! What gorgeous weather! Yeahoo—I’m out of debt! PMS = over! Active gratitude often follows automatically. We smile, observe positivity in others and do good deeds with natural ease. Why? Because happy, grateful people tend to take better care of themselves and others.

In fact, research conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, a grateful mindset is associated with improved physical health, reduced anxiety and depression, sounder sleep and kinder behavior toward others. (Talk about awesome frosting.)

But we can’t very well activate gratitude if we don’t have any, right? Enter my favorite use of the technique:

On difficult days, we can easily turn inward, fixate on our gloom and throw a nonstop pity-party that does little but make us, and those around us, feel worse. By making the decision to cultivate gratitude and act upon it, the yuck-snowball can boomerang in the opposite direction, turning the nasty grayish ice clumps into sunny warmth. (Ahh…)

Simple Ways to Activate Gratitude:

Commit to a grateful mindset. For practical, entertaining insight on doing so, check out Kristen Lamb’s fantastic post: An Attitude of Gratitude.

Keep a gratitude journal. Simply jotting down your “I’m thankful for” list tends to cultivate grateful living. To take it many steps further, choose an item from your list to act upon each day, week or whenever the blahs set in.

Grateful for the fantastic book you’ve just read? Post a 5-star review on Amazon.com or blog about its awesomeness. Better yet, do both.

Grateful for your health? Schedule that annual physical you’ve been dismissing. Stock up on fruits and veggies. Go for a walk.

Grateful for your significant other? Sneak a love note into his or her work gear. Plan a spontaneous date. Complete a household chore they loathe doing.

Grateful for supportive blogging friends? Post thoughtful comments on their posts. Share links to their blogs via your own blog, email, Facebook and Twitter.

Stressed over finances? Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Donate “junk” from your closet to your local thrift store. Give food or spare change to a homeless person.

Crushed over a rejection letter? Write thank you letters to your loved ones or to your inner child/creativity/writing self. Read to a child or grandparent.

Feeling PMS-ey? Take a loved one who “gets it” out for coffee or, who am I kidding, ICE CREAM. 😉 Cry your eyes out while you’re at it. It’s healthy.

Hungry for more?? Check out these fabulous posts by some of my favorite bloggers:

Julie Hedlund’s tribute to her daughter: Gratitude Sunday 68
Tameri Etherton’s creative pursuit of honing a grateful attitude: New Year’s Resolutions
Piper Bayard’s commemoration of heros from 9/11: We Drank Champagne and Remembered

***My own gratitude inspired the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest, which is coming up February 9th and 10th. If you’d like to participate as a blogger or prize donor, click here.

What are you particularly grateful for this week? How do you plan to express it? Any fab suggestions to add? I love hearing from you.

Author Interview: Kyle Mills

ON WRITING, GEEKING OUT & HIS LATEST WORK

What do you get when you pair fascinating characters, a devastating disease, masterful writing and real life experience as an FBI kid? The Immortalistsone of the fastest-paced, intriguing thrillers I’ve read in some time.

Today I’m honored to bring you New York Times bestselling author of twelve books, Kyle Mills. (If you haven’t read The Immortalists or others of Mills’ work, you’ve got some serious reading to do… ;))

Description: Dr. Richard Draman is trying desperately to discover a cure for a disease that causes children to age at a wildly accelerated rate–a rare genetic condition that is killing his own daughter. When the husband of a colleague quietly gives him a copy of the classified work she was doing before her mysterious suicide, Draman finally sees a glimmer of hope. Its stunning conclusions have the potential to not only turn the field of biology on its head but reshape the world. Soon, though, he finds himself on the run, relentlessly pursued by a seemingly omnipotent group of men who will do whatever it takes to silence him. (Thomas & Mercer, Dec. 2011)

AM: You’re known to hit up hefty issues in your work, from the tobacco industry to terrorism. Why did you decide to focus on “anti-aging” in The Immortalists?

KM: The myth of the fountain of youth is one of the oldest and most widespread in history, with writing on the subject dating back before Christ. The one thing that all those stories and elaborate quests had in common, though, was that they were nonsense—just another example of our superstitious nature.

With all the recent advances in genetics, though, the myth is becoming reality.  There may be children alive today who will never get old, and that brings up a lot of interesting issues that are perfect fodder for a thriller novel. Change can very easily turn into chaos and chaos makes for great stories.

On the other hand, it could just be because I’m getting old…

AM: Beats the alternative, right? 😉 Speaking of aging, progeria, the genetic disease featured in The Immortalists, is a real disease. What was your research process like?

KM: It was pretty extensive with this book—a lot of genetics and evolutionary biology texts. Thank God I’m actually interested in that stuff or it would have been brutal.

I wanted to really understand the current state of the science and where it’s heading because it’s a story that hinges on believability.  Having said that, I didn’t want to go overboard.  I made a pact with myself that I’d put all the science-geek stuff I wanted in the first draft and then take exactly half of it out in the second.

AM: The ending surprised me, in good ways. Do you plot your stories and endings out from the get-go? 

KM: Absolutely. I’m a fanatic for outlining. In fact, the outline for the book I’m working on now is already 35,000 words long.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t surprises in the actual writing process, but I like to keep them to a minimum.

My goal is to make sure everything is tied up at the end—but sometimes in a more messy way than people expect. Life rarely provides neat, painless endings.

AM: Your father’s career as an FBI agent has been credited for making your stories and characters so “real”—along with talent, of course. What other factors influence your writing?

KM: It sounds a bit clichéd, but the world around me. I do an enormous amount of reading on history, science, and politics to come up with concepts that inspire me.  And often the idea doesn’t come from just one of those categories, but a combination of all of them. My favorite themes are simple (if brutal) solutions to seemingly intractable problems and the power of the individual to change the world.

AM: One of the greatest attributes of thrillers, that last bit. What if your dad was, say, a plumber or gym teacher… How different might your stories be?

KM: Probably very. When I wrote my first novel, I chose the thriller genre not only because I was a fan but because of my family history with law enforcement. They say write what you know and I took that to heart. If I’d come from a plumbing family, I may well have written about that.

AM: Was your upbringing as exciting as movies and our imaginations make it out to be? (If not, please less us down gently…) 

KM: It might be close. I was having dinner with my father in London when his deputy came in and told him that a plane had gone down and they needed to get to a little town called Lockerbie right away. I’ve had drinks with a guy who, by law, can’t be photographed. I’ve heard first person accounts of gunfights that actually involved monkeys.

AM: I hope the monkeys weren’t hurt! Wait—don’t tell me… What do you enjoy most about writing?

KM: It gives me an excuse to completely geek out on subjects that interest me.  I’m not sure that expertise in areas like the tobacco industry, oil extraction, and the genetics of aging are very useful in the real world, but I love that stuff.

AM: And the downsides?

KM: It’s an industry in constant turmoil and that turmoil is getting more violent every day. I’ve written a lot of books and there’s never been a single one that I didn’t think would be my last. It’s a little nerve wracking if writing is how you pay the mortgage.

AM: Yes, I’d prefer such danger stay on the page… What are you most proud of career-wise?

KM: That’s a tough question. I think maybe the effort I put into each book. I tend to sweat over every line, every fact, and every character. Hopefully, it shows.

AM: It absolutely does. The Immortalists is your twelfth novel, correct? What’s next in the pipeline?

KM: Somewhere around there—enough that you wouldn’t want to lift them all at once.  Next up is a new Ludlum book. It’s an opportunity to explore the progressing science of man/machine integration, something that’s accelerating quickly and will have a lot of impact in the next quarter century.

AM: Any advice for up-and-coming novelists?

KM: I don’t know, it’s hard to even keep up with what’s going on in the industry from one day to the next. My best piece of advice is to not get into the business with the idea that you’re going to make a million dollars or even a living. Write because you love it.

AM: (Note to self: Stock up on Top Ramen. Er, rice, bananas and beans…) Great advice. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. On behalf of my friends and readers, I wish you all possible success.

Support fantastic authors! To learn more, visit www.kylemills.com. To purchase The Immortalists, visit Amazon.com or your local book store.

*****

If you’ve read The Immortalists, what did you think? Any thoughts to share with Kyle? What do you love most about writing?

Author Interview: Marc Schuster

I’d just finished reading Marc Schuster’s fantastic blog series, A Novel Approach, when I jumped over to Amazon to check out his work. Man, this guy’s smart, I thought. I hope he writes thrillers!

Nope. But my preference turned out not to matter. Marc’s breakout novel, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl, takes off with thriller velocity and supports my belief that all great books maintain page-turner momentum, keeping the reader enthused. His prose are so fantastic they’d intimidate, if not for the pull-you-in nature of the story and characters. I wasn’t sweating through pages at the gym, but in the mind and life of Audrey Corcoran, a middle aged divorcee who’s swept up into a world of addiction.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Marc Schuster’s colorful debut novel paints a riveting portrait of a divorced mother whose quest to be everything to everyone exposes the dark secrets of America’s suburbs.

Audrey Corcoran never dreamed she’d try cocaine, but a year after a bitter divorce, she meets a man named Owen Little who convinces her that a little buzz might be exactly what she needs to lift her spirits. And why not? He’s already turned her on to jazz, and no one in his circle of friends ever thinks twice about getting high. Soon, however, her escalating drug use puts a strain on Audrey’s relationship with her daughters, and she begins to sell cocaine from her home in order to subsidize her habit. By turns horrifying and hilarious, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl offers a scathing indictment of American consumer culture and the wildly conflicting demands it makes upon women.

On the surface, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl is about overcoming addiction. At the same time, however, the novel examines society’s conflicting expectations of women. Consumer culture constantly tells women to be fun, smart, wild and sexy, but at the same time, this same culture also demands that women be dependable, reliable, sensible and safe. In short, women are expected to do it all. Against this backdrop, protagonist Audrey Corcoran discovers cocaine and thinks she’s found the product that will allow her to be everything to everyone. Her struggle with addiction, then, is also a struggle with her sense of identity, and her essential dilemma is whether or not to buy into the myth of the perfect woman or to accept herself as flawed and imperfect, yet no less worthy of love. (PS Books, May 2009)

Interested??? I thought so. Today I’m THRILLED to bring you one of my new favorite authors, Marc Schuster:

AM: I laughed so hard reading the first chapter, I nearly fell off the elliptical. What role does humor play in your writing—this novel in particular?

MS: Thanks! I’m glad my sense of humor struck a cord with you. It plays a huge part in all of my writing. One reason is that I come from a family of very funny people. Our go-to method of communication is joking with each other. Or teasing, depending on how you look at it. This makes communication with the outside world difficult at times. Even when I’m discussing serious topics, my instinct is always to go for the punch line or the easy laugh. It’s something I learned to do when I was very young. I was a very bookish child, which made me an easy target for bullies. The only defense I had was my sense of humor. If I could make people laugh, it meant that they weren’t punching me. Now whenever I’m nervous or in a tense situation, my gut tells me to make a joke out of it. With practice, though, I’ve managed to rein in my jocular tendencies, especially when I write.

With Wonder Mom, the humor is there to leaven the heaviness of the subject matter, but it’s also there because life in the twenty-first century can be so surreal that it’s hard not to see a funny side to it. The novel is about a woman dealing with addiction, which isn’t a funny subject at all. But the world she lives in is so full of contradictions, and places so many ridiculous expectations upon her, that the humor came fairly easily. I guess I’m trying to say that I didn’t have to inject humor into the story. Telling it straight—in essence, holding a mirror up to our world—provided all the humor I needed.

AM: Wonder Mom also inspires I’m-so-touched chills, heartache and serious thought. What inspired you to take on such heavy issues? 

MS: The idea for the novel came to me years before I started writing it. I was working on a paper for a course I was taking in graduate school. The paper was called “Laughing Gas Theatre: TS Eliot and the Numbing of the Masses.” Though it was about drug use and other modes of self-medication that were becoming popular in the first half of the twentieth-century, some of my research turned up first-hand accounts of contemporary drug use. One book I read included a case study of a divorced mother who tried cocaine because her boyfriend said she might like it. When she was interviewed for the study, the woman had only tried it once, but she said that she would definitely try it again because she liked the outgoing and confident person she became when she was high.

I could be wrong, but I think the book was called The Steel Drug. The last time I looked at it was probably in 1997, but the idea of this mother experimenting with cocaine must have stuck with me. A couple of years later, I was in a writing group, and every month we’d come up with writing assignments for each other. One month, the assignment was to write about someone with an obsession, and I immediately thought of the woman in the case study. Where was she now? What had become of her? This line of questioning led to a short story that eventually evolved into the novel.

AM: If you can do it without getting arrested 😉, please tell us about your research. 

MS: I really only buried my nose in books—nothing stronger, I swear! For the most part, my research consisted of reading case studies, though for some of the more technical details of drug dealing, I turned to the US Government for help. The National Institute on Drug Abuse website offers plenty of information on things like the going rate for a gram of cocaine and the kinds of ingredients that drug dealers use to cut their product. Once or twice, I drew on experiences that friends of mine offered when they found out what my book was about, particularly the more visceral experiences like Audrey’s description of the acrid drip in the back of her throat. But overall, my research hinged almost entirely on print sources like the aforementioned Steel Drug and another excellent book on the subject titled Cocaine Changes.

AM: You wrote Wonder Mom/Party Girl from a woman’s perspective—and quite well. Did you find “writing female” different than writing from a male standpoint? Was it more challenging?

MS: Once I started writing from Audrey’s perspective, it wasn’t difficult at all. Obvious differences aside, she’s not too far removed from me. I’m highly sensitive to criticism, as is Audrey, and I’m the kind of person who strives to keep other people happy, just like Audrey does. The big difference between us isn’t so much that I’m a man and she’s a woman but that she turns to drugs to deal with stress, whereas I just curl into a ball and hide under the table. Which isn’t to say the fact that Audrey is a woman doesn’t matter. It just matters in a different way—in terms of the social queues she’s always receiving from the world she lives in.

Part of my research into Audrey’s character was reading through magazines that are traditionally geared toward mothers. The ads in these magazines tend to create a mythical perfect woman that mothers everywhere are supposed to strive for—at least as far as the ads are concerned. One thing in the back of my mind as I was writing from Audrey’s perspective was that in addition to all of the other pressures in her life, she also had the added pressure of knowing that she didn’t measure up to the myth of the “perfect mom.” On one level, a purely intellectual level, she could tell herself that it was, indeed, just a myth, but on a more emotional level, she still wishes she could be the perfect mother she sees depicted everywhere she looks.

AM: You wrote much of the book in present tense, which I love, by the way. Why?

MS: There’s an illustration of sorts that appears somewhere in the middle of the book. It’s a black square that takes up most of the page. On the page before the black square, the narrative is in the past tense, and on the page after the square, the narrative moves into the present tense and three months have passed. What I want to convey here is that a distinct shift has occurred in Audrey’s life and that decisions from the past are finally catching up with her. I also like the immediacy of the present tense.

AM: Without preaching, you managed to convey valuable life lessons. I wouldn’t be surprised if the book changes or even saves some lives. Have you considered this? Was it a goal?

MS: The big thing I was really trying to do with the novel was to humanize addiction. It’s a misunderstood concept in our culture, and one that’s highly maligned. We tend to see people who fall into addiction as weak or, worse, morally corrupt. But there are so many complicated factors that lead to addiction, and, in some ways, the impulse to self-medicate is a highly sensible one. As thinking creatures, we recognize that we’re in pain, that pain is bad, and that getting out of pain would be a good thing. It’s a perfectly rational train of thought. That’s what happens to Audrey, and to some extent it’s what happens to many people who struggle with addiction.

One interesting thing that’s happened since the book was published is that some readers have told me that I was, in fact, telling their story. One woman approached me after a reading and said, “This is my story.” She went on to explain that she had gone through a rough divorce and that some friends had turned her on to drugs. She eventually stopped using, but she was glad to see someone talking about her experiences in a sympathetic way.

AM: Your next novel, which I can’t WAIT to read, The Grievers, comes out in May, 2012. What’s it about? 

MS: I’m calling it a coming of age story for a generation that’s still struggling to come of age. It’s about a group of friends who attended a fairly prestigious prep school in their teens and are, in their late twenties, finally coming to terms with the fact that the world won’t be handed to them on a silver platter. At the same time, they’re dealing with the tragic death of a classmate and their alma mater’s efforts at using the tragedy to turn a fast buck. As heavy as the material may sound, there’s also some levity in there. I was lucky to get some advance praise from a few of my favorite writers, including Beth Kephart who wrote, “Raging cluelessness has never been this funny or, in the end, this compassionate.” That about sums it up.

AM: What books do you most enjoy reading? Can you read and enjoy your own?

MS: I love everything from the paranoid futures of Philip K. Dick to the magical realms of Neil Gaiman and the twisted present-day reality of Chuck Palahniuk. I’m also a big fan of Don DeLillo and Kurt Vonnegut. Lately, though, I’ve been reading short story collections. Two of my recent favorites are Steve Almond’s God Bless America and Robin Black’s If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This.

On occasion, I might look at a passage or two from one of my own books, particularly when I’m gearing up for a reading, but for the most part, my books just sit on the shelf like neglected houseplants.

AM: Ha! I have a few of those. (Neglected house plants, that is.) What do you hope readers will gain from your writing?

MS: To me, a good book is a friend of the mind. I want readers to feel at home in the worlds that I’ve created, to pick up one of my books and enter a mental space where they’re completely welcomed and never judged, a place where they can be human and see what it means for other people to be human, too—to revel in the glory of our shared imperfection.

AM: Any tips for up-and-coming novelists?

MS: Read a lot, and read a wide range of books. On occasion, I meet would-be authors who tell me they don’t read much because they don’t want other people’s writing to influence their work. This is a ridiculous position to take, and writers are the only people I know who tend to take it. Graphic artists, musicians, and standup comedians all steep themselves in the work of those who’ve gone before as well as the work of their contemporaries. Why? Because they recognize that they’re part of an ongoing, ever-evolving dialogue. And the better writers recognize that, too. Writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Also, keep at it. I wrote four novels, each incrementally better than the last, before I wrote The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl. There were many points along the way where I thought I should just stop writing. Usually these points coincided with rejection letters. But I kept at it largely because I couldn’t keep away from writing. I’d have an idea, and I’d have to start playing with it, developing it. If you have stories to tell, then keep telling them and keep working on them. And do it because you love writing, not because you think there will be some kind of major payoff somewhere down the line. Writing itself is the payoff.

AM: Brilliant. Thanks again for doing this, Marc. Best of luck in all of your ventures!

For more information, visit MarcSchuster.com and his blog, Abominations: Marc Schuster’s Random Musings and Ephemera.

To purchase, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl, visit Amazon.com.

*******

Have you read Wonder Mom and Party Girl? Any thoughts to share with Marc? I always love hearing from you.

Cinnabon’s Healthy Cousins

The first time I attempted whole grain cinnamon rolls, they came out like little brown hockey pucks, only harder. But hey, they were nutritious. Slather on some frosting and bon appetit! Sort of. I happen to like grainy, dense foods. But I and my stomach continued to dream of soft, doughy, healthy Cinnabon-style treats most anyone would enjoy. The kind you instantly crave at the airport. One whif and OH MAN…!!!

Okay, enough confectionary lusting. Several attempts later and I’ve done it, I think. If you try them, please share your thoughts!

CINNAMON ROLLS WITH WHOLE GRAINS, BLUEBERRIES AND LOTSA YUM!

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated or raw sugar
1 packet active dry, rapid-rise yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees, approximately)
1/2 cup warm soy milk
1 tsp salt
1 egg
2 – 3 cups whole wheat flour
1 – 2 cups white or white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup spreadable butter w/canola or olive oil (or soft regular butter)
Fresh or frozen (thawed/drained) blueberries
Frosting of choice

Instructions:

  1. Mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Set it aside for later.
  2. In a small bowl or mug, dissolve yeast and 1 tsp sugar in warm water.
  3. In a large bowl (mixer bowl if possible) combine milk,  granulated sugar, canola oil, salt and egg. Add yeast mixture and 2 cups of flour—1 white, 1 whole wheat. Beat until smooth, either with a hand mixer, large spoon or your mixer’s dough hook. Gradually add more of each type of flour until a stiff ball forms. Continue to knead by hand or machine. (If you hand-kneed, about 8 minutes should do it. In a mixer, it’s more like 5 – 6.)
    If it looks like this (EW), add flour.
    It should look more like this—doughy and firm, not sticky or crumbly. Think…elastic.

  4. Place dough into a large greased bowl. Cover with a thin cloth and allow it to rise someplace warm, like under your overhead oven light, until doubled in size—about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Punch down dough and let it rest for 5 minutes. (Okay, most bread recipes say to do this. I never do. Do as you wish. Just please don’t turn me in to the baking police.)
  6. Roll dough out onto a floured surface into a rectangle. (I roll out a large circle and cut a rectangle. You can make fun little blobby things with the leftovers. Up to you.)
  7. Brush the softened butter over the dough. Sprinkle on the cinnamon and brown sugar mixture then the blueberries.
  8. Tightly roll up dough and pinch edges together to seal then cut 8 rounds. (Recipes usually suggest slicing round with thread or floss. I use a knife. Karate CHOP!)
  9. Coat the bottom of a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or canola oil. (Whatever size floats your fancy.) Place the rolls close together in the pan.
  10. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  11. Top with frosting, if desired.
    **I frost only the ones we’ll eat right away. Otherwise, the frosting soaks in. Serving the frosting on-the-side gives partakers the option of extra sweet or none at all.

If you’d like some festive music to accompany your baking adventures, check out EVERY DAY IS CHRISTMAS. It’s available for viewing/listening here and for purchase on iTunes. Proceeds benefit the National Center for Adult Literacy.

These rolls have become a holiday staple in my kitchen. What would we find in yours?? What sweet treat do you wish was nutritious? (I just make uptake the challenge… ;))

Fa La Ha Ha Blog Bash

So I, er, I mean a random blonde went to the post office to buy stamps for her Christmas cards. Here’s what went down:

Blonde: May I have 50 Christmas stamps?

Clerk: What denomination?

Blonde: Oh my God! Has it come to this? Fine. Give me 6 Catholic, 12 Presbyterian and 32 Baptist.

Laughing yet? I hope so, because laughter is good for your heart—literally. A study conducted at the University of Maryland Medical Center showed that people with heart disease are 40 percent less likely to laugh with ease. Research has also linked laughter with an improved capability to manage stress and fewer instances of stress and anxiety. (Geesh… Sign me up!)

I’ve always admired people who guffaw at just about anything or find hilarity in popular comedies I find treacherous to sit through. But just when I suspect I lack some funny bones, something comes along and strikes me as FUUUUU—NNY. I start laughing and can’t stop until tears pool in my eyes, my belly aches and my bladder control grows questionable. Y’all kept me laughing through my Naughty & Nice fun. I figured it was time to reciprocate.

Recently, this was my HAHA inspiration:

HAAAAAA!!!!!!! See what I MEAN??? This hat isn’t only hilarious, but so darn useful. A few potential uses, off the top of my HEAD. LOL! (*slinking down* Okay, not as funny.)

With a turkey hat, you can:

1. …bring light to a serious situation. Imagine, you’re sitting at a table full of relatives who have as much in common as lightbulbs and kumquats. The silence is so thick, you fear breathing. You bust out this bad boy and every straight lip curves upward, or opens wide to LOL.

2. …make a statement for animal rights. (For added power, carry a sign: “You think eating animals looks goofy?”)

3. …start a fashion trend. (Hey, if Zubaz could do it…)

4. …keep your as head as warm stuffing.

5. …make others fear they’ve gone crazy. (“What do you mean, what’s on my head?”)

6 …eat herb-seasoned bread bits to your heart’s desire.

7. …play the “put this on your head game.”

8. …top off your turkey dinner Halloween costume.

9. …give the gift of laughter to everyone on your list. Think about it: Christians, Jews and atheists may disagree on certain points, but they ALL have heads. They also either eat or avoid chicken. You simply can’t go wrong. (Since the hat isn’t edible, no worries on whether it’s kosher.)

10. …create holiday memories to last a lifetime. (Yep, planning on this myself.)

***** All this for only $10.99 $6.49 at Amazon! ;)*****

Whether you have no trouble seeing the light in grim situations and laugh out loud at everyday scenarios, say, turkey hat wearing, or can’t recall the last time you chuckled, I hope you get a kick out of these fabulous links. I know I did.

Lucy Writes a Novel, by M.G. Miller: A hilarious walk down the slush-pile memory lane.

Funny Christmas Cookies, featured by In Erika’s Kitchen: Darth Vador, Bacon & Eggs and Kim Kardashian’s behind. (Need I say more?)

Urban Word Wednesday: Manolescent, by Natalie Hartford: Natalie’s weekly word series never fails in making me laugh.

For the Golfer in Your Life: The Potty Putter (Yes, You Read That Correctly), by Natalie Hartford: The photo alone is giggle-worthy.

When Words Fail, Eat More Friggin’ Pudding, by Coleen Patrick: When lyrics go wrong, laughter goes right.

Fifty-Six of the Best (or Worst) Similies Ever Written, featured by The Journal Pulp: Also the funniest similies!

Are You Sexy and You Know It? LMAFO You Are!, by Tameri Etherton: If you’ve ever wondered when togs become underwear…

The Grinch is Pregnant, by Myndi Shafer: Myndi makes such a great case, she could be a lawyer by day, standup comic by night.

Great Expectations, by Kristen Lamb: Why a little boy dug through horse poo with glee (and you should, too).

Author Marc Shuster referred me to clip and it’s been popping into my head routinely since. Even if you’ve seen the entire film, this scene is precious as a stand-alone:

Now, if we could just get Buddy to don a turkey hat…

Speaking of which, I have a Naughty & Nice challenge for y’all. Order your own turkey hat and take photos or video of you wearing it. (No Photoshop allowed, you non-GGs!) If five of you do so and blog about it, I’ll sport mine in public and share the embarrassment  goofy awesomeness in a post.

In the meantime, I love hearing from you. Are you an easy laugher? What’s your personal “turkey hat?” How many of the real deal are you purchasing today? 😉

Naughty & Nice Part II

GOODY GOODY TELLS ALL SOME

The original “Goody Two Shoes” was an orphan named Margery Meanwell, featured in a children’s story by English professor John Newbery in 1765. Margery endured much of her life with only one shoe until a rich man came along and completed her pair. She ran around telling everyone how grateful she was and later married a rich guy—supposed proof that her virtuousness paid off.

Not all modern definitions of goody goody are sweet, however. The MacMillan Dictionary lists ‘public nuisance,’ ‘know-it-all’ and ‘yub’ as synonyms.

In my view, there are two kinds of goody goodies: those who aspire to seem good and those with genuinely good intentions. The best GGs—the ones we’d probably all prefer to hang out with—are not only a bit naughty (as I explained in my previous post), but naughty to be nice rather than for selfish gain. Since my intentions were good, I felt comfortable sharing my naughtiness. And thanks to your warm and hilarious responses, I’ve been seriously entertained for days. You’ve kept me smiling, laughing, blushing and, at certain points, perspiring.

“She’s braver than I,” a few of you wrote. (By “brave,” I wondered, did you mean crazy? Hmm… LOL) Some of you said you’d never divulge your naughtiness for fear your mother might see. (This part was easy for me. If my mom read my list, she’d likely laugh, reminisce with me and likely suggest a few additions…) So why did I do it? A few reasons. One, I felt the urge to. Two, I’m by nature a blurter, which is different from an exploiter, but not exactly brave. (Urge + Blurt = Spill… More on Blurt Syndrome soon. :)) And three, I took author/blogger supreme Roni Loren’s advice to heart.

When I asked for Roni top blogging tip, she said, “Be genuine and be uniquely you. Your blog is about letting people in and getting to know you (and all your quirks and weirdness).”

Wisdom to blog and live by. It feels good to let our true selves out. So whether or not you feel up to playing the Naughty/Nice game yourself, I challenge you to live and write with gusto and authenticity—be a first-rate you, rather than a knock-off someone else. Then please share your bad self with us!

Okay. Enough philosophizing, right?? You came for the GOODS. So without further ado…

THE RESULTS

None of you guessed right, that 10 of my 12 items were true. But I don’t have the heart (or perhaps the ability) to keep my mouth fully shut. So here goes…something. 😉

I’m so naughty, I (really):

1. Got picked up by the cops.
for skipping high school with a friend. Thanks to our GG reputation, our parents and teachers thought we’d been abducted. We were walking home from Cheapo Records clutching CDs and Beatles posters when a cop car pulled over and presented a photograph….of us.

2. Punched a well known artist in the nose…and broke it.
…because he stuck his tongue in my mouth first. Though the experience stunk, I’m glad to know I have that in me.

3. Had a lengthy fling with one of “world’s sexiest” celebs.
I’d say more, but GG’s don’t kiss and tell! (Sorry, Tim!) The two of you who deemed this probable can have the scoop if we ever meet in person. Then again, you’re writers! Use your imagination…

4. Walked naked through Times Square on a dare.

5. Walked naked through Times Square because I felt like it. 

6. Had air-sex with an invisible man on TV.
Since many of you seemed unsure of what air-sex is, here’s an explicit how-to video:

Ha! You watched it, didn’t you, you naughty person! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. (If you skipped the video, watch it now. Innocent clip, I promise.) In this case, Karen was partly right. My character (I was an actress at the time) fell in love with a mime. Mr. Mime cheated on me with an air-woman. What else was I to do??? Thank goodness I didn’t end up carrying his mime-baby. Whew!

7. Spat in a teacher’s face before knocking him into a pool.
…because I’m a complete hydrophobe; I couldn’t even float or dip my head below water at the time. Mr. Mean forced me into the deep end, putting my life at risk. My response was a jerk reaction. (Pun intended. ;))

8. Peed on the Audobon.
Many of you got this one right. When nature calls…

9. Touched a monk. And liked it.
Apparently one GG’s friendly, affectionate gesture is a monk’s nefarious act. I met the cute little guru at Manny’s guitar store in New York. He asked me all about guitar strings, music I like…and man, I really thought we bonded! Imagine my heartbreak when, as we posed for a photograph and my friendly arm wandered (No, not there!), he lurched away, commanding women “never touch monk.” I gave him my card, but he never called… *reaching for tissue*

10. Stole Jesus.
This item is what led me to post about Goody Goody-dom in the first place. More soon…

11. Said the F, S, B and D-words out loud. ;)
Once I realized that I hadn’t sworn out loud, I made it my mission not to until a high school friend needed some serious cheering up. With my heart racing and palms sweating, I opened my mouth and let ’em rip! As we laughed and cried together afterwards, I knew my saving up had paid off.

12. Broke into a house.
…because I locked myself out, again. Not glamorous or saucy, but true. I have leg bruises to prove it.

So what do you think? Am I as good as Margy Meanwell or a yub on Santa’s naughty list? Most importantly, what can you do to live or write more authentically?

For MORE Naughty & Nice fun, check out Amber West‘s and Anna Beth‘s posts. You two are rockstars for participating! Being the GG I am ;), I’ve decided to send you both healthy baked goods. Email or Tweet/message (@AugstMcLaughlin) me your address.

JUST ADDED: Check out Tim L. O’Brien’s Naughty or Nice List. Naked Rover, cow tongues and more…

The Gift of a Name: A Special Guest Post by Mark B. Saunders

Earlier this year, my friend Diane Israel asked if she could put me in touch with Mark Saunders—a friend of hers who had launched an online health publication. Flattered, I welcomed the introduction. I soon learned that his publication’s tag line, “Enliven the body, Awaken the mind, Free the spirit,” suits not only its content, but Mark’s personal philosophies and how the venture came into fruition. It seemed a no-brainer that I’d not only contribute articles, but remain a fan.

Today I’m thrilled to bring you a special post by Mark Saunders—an editor, publisher and human being we can all learn from. I hope you find his story as inspiring as I did.

*****

The Gift of A Name
by Mark B. Saunders

My business partner and I were less than a month away from launching this super cool health and wellness website when my partner received a long-term consulting offer that was too good to turn down. Suddenly, months of preparation went right out the window with the baby and the bath water.

Now what am I going to do?

Shortly after receiving the news, I did what I usually do when things feel overwhelming: I went for a bike ride. I honestly don’t remember much about the ride other than repeating optimistic platitudes to myself like: Don’t fight the river; there’s a reason for everything; something wonderful will come from this; there’s a lesson here; no effort is wasted. But most of that inner monologue was designed to keep me from pulling over during the steepest parts of the hills and just sitting down by the side of the road and staring off into the distance while the cars whizzed by.

When I got home, I made a half-hearted attempt at yoga—my other major stress reducer —then crawled into the hottest bath I could stand. Some of my best thinking happens in the bath, frequently in the company of the New York Times. As I sat there, sweating in the near-scalding water, I realized that I wanted to go ahead with this business idea on my own—even though I knew nothing about the technical aspects of creating and maintaining a website.

OK. What are you going to call it?

I didn’t have a clue. The old name just popped out of my former partner’s mouth when we were brainstorming about what separated us from similar websites. “Wait! That’s it. That’s the name!” As I stepped out of the tub, pink from my chest down, a voice inside my head said, Name it after your dad. Call it Bartlett’s Integrated Health Journal.

That’s too easy, I thought. But after a week of pondering other potential names, I couldn’t come up with anything I liked half as much. Then it was a matter of calling my dad and asking him if it was all right to use his name.

Although my relationship with my father is great these days, that hasn’t always been the case.

Delving into the details of my family’s dysfunction isn’t necessary to get across the idea that our family was profoundly screwed up. Like most people, my father did the best he could with the tools he had at the time; unfortunately for both of us, the trauma I experienced as a child was beyond my dad’s skill set. Like the doctors and therapists my father sent me to, he lacked the necessary tube of “Humpty Dumpty Superglue.” (Although he could recite “Humpty Dumpty” in German, which made my sister and I fall down with laughter when we were children.)

Our father-son relationship suffered the kind of collateral damage that doesn’t heal easily or overnight. There were years where we didn’t speak to each other; I was hurt; he was disappointed and we were both angry. Not exactly the sort of environment that fosters the resolution of deep-seated emotional issues.

It has taken decades of therapy, failed marriage (both of us), a cancer diagnosis (mine), and a very messy dis-engagement (mine), during all of which my dad had my back. Slowly my hands have unclenched; slowly my daily experience has shifted from a steady stream of self-hatred to memories of a very painful time; slowly forgiveness has seeped in.

Despite our emotional travails, one of the gifts I inherited from my father was his orderly scientific way of thinking. He’s a doctor, after all. Thinking logically, systematically was something his trade required and something I’ve wanted to emulate. Though I wanted him to be proud of me, I also just thought that sense of organized mental mastery was cool.

When I asked my father for permission to use his name for my website, I wouldn’t say I was surprised that he said “yes,” but I was definitely pleased. When people ask about the site’s name, it feels good to say I named it after my father. It’s also a great icebreaker for conversations about why I decided to undertake this project. Now that Bartlett’s is six months old, I can actually say I’m proud of it.

***

It turns out that everything I told myself on that bike ride was true: fighting the way things unfold is futile; it appears that larger forces were at work; something wonderful did come of this string of events (www.bartlettshealth.com); the lessons learned were many and my persistence was rewarded in the end, with almost no wasted effort.

Best of all, my dad and I have an ongoing dialogue about health-related issues, which consistently spills into everyday chats about life, people we care about and our favorite sports teams (of course).

Does he like the site? Is he proud of it? I think so, and it certainly gives us plenty to talk about in a very logical and orderly way.

*****

What about you? Have you given the gift of a name? Overcome challenges that could’ve been deal breakers? Any insight to share with Mark? I always love hearing from you. (And psst! Don’t forget to pop by next week for Goody Goody, Part II… ;))