Monday, February 28, 2011

I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything

Less than 48 hours after asking 25 of you to "Like" my new author page on Facebook, I have more than double that number of fans, qualifying me to register a username. Thanks from the bottom of my heart to everyone who participated!

It's still not too late to join the fun; click HERE. Remember, everyone who joins will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Missy Teppens' His Forever Love. The contest ends at midnight on Saturday, March 5th.

Now that I have an official "public figure" page on Facebook, I feel a real responsibility to my fans to get the first draft of my novel polished and prepared for publication. As I mentioned in a previous post, my goal is to have the revision completed before my agent appointment at the First Coast Romance Writers' Southern Lights Conference in Jacksonville, Florida on March 12th. Tonight, as I was searching the internet for pointers, I came across a great article, One-Pass Manuscript Revision: From First Draft to Revision in One Cycle by author Holly Lisle. Ms. Lisle's suggestions really coincide with my process; I had already printed a copy of my manuscript (in a different font to help me see it with new eyes) and set aside a new composition book for notes. I am going to follow all her preliminary suggestions and then jump in. Revising 25 pages per day between March 1st and March 10th will get me to the church on time.

But first, I need to submit a couple of workshop proposals for the Georgia Music Teachers Association state conference in November; the deadline is tomorrow. I am really excited my ideas, and I hope I am selected to present this year. Yes, it is hard to work a full-time job, raise children solo, keep a household running, and write books, too. But I cannot imagine living my life any other way.

I am going to leave you with one of my all-time favorite songs. It is quirky but it speaks to me. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Come one, come all!

These are turbulent times in the publishing industry. In order to succeed as a writer, it isn't enough to write a great book. Even landing an agent provides no guarantee.

Kristen Lamb posted a guest blog on Bob Mayer's site recently; in it, she discusses the importance of building a platform. If you are an author seeking publication of any flavor - traditional, e-publishing, self-publishing - you must read this article.

I AM A PROFESSIONAL AUTHOR.

I AM A PROFESSIONAL AUTHOR.

I AM A PROFESSIONAL AUTHOR.

(Just following Ms. Lamb's instructions.)

And in the interest of building my platform, I am blogging today with two requests.
  1. If you enjoy reading this blog and are not yet a follower, please consider becoming one. All you have to do is click "Follow" on the sidebar to the right and follow the directions. Then leave a comment below this post with your email address so I will know how to get in touch with you.
  2. I just set up an author fan page on Facebook; click HERE to "Like" my page. I need twenty-five likes in order to receive a username on Facebook.
The strong individual is the one who asks for help when he needs it. Whether he has an abscess on his knee or in his soul.
~Rona Barrett

Anyone who becomes a new follower or "Likes" my Facebook page will be entered in a drawing to win an autographed copy of Missy Teppens' His Forever Love. Do both and you will have two chances to win; if you are already a follower of this blog and you "Like" my Facebook page, you will also receive two chances.

The contest starts immediately and ends at midnight on Saturday, March 5, 2011. Thank you in advance, my faithful readers, for your support!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow

I have been pushing really hard the past several weeks, and since I am scheduled to work both tomorrow and Sunday judging piano festivals, I decided to take the day off.

I slept late, then went back to bed with a cup of coffee and a book my mom gave me for Christmas and read for hours before having a late lunch with a friend at El Potro in Buford.

Shrimp quesadilla, refried beans, guacamole salad

On my way home, I made a deposit at the bank and picked up a bag of food for my dog.
My kids are out this evening; as soon as I am finished here, I am going to settle in with a glass of wine and a Netflix DVD that has been sitting here waiting for me for weeks.

You have to allow a certain amount of time in which you are doing nothing in order to have things occur to you, to let your mind think.
~Mortimer Adler

I feel good - rested and refreshed and ready to hit it hard again tomorrow.

***

Thursday morning, I dreamt that I was clearing snow from a railroad track in preparation for the coming train. Suddenly, the train appeared; I wasn't able to get out of the way in time, and the train ran over my left hand. Miraculously, I escaped unscathed.

Then I was on the train; seated behind me were four women wearing long calico dresses and granny grasses. They were talking and laughing and clearly having a great time together. Turned out they were on their way home from a writer's conference. They welcomed me into their group with open arms.

I believe the train represents my novel and clearing the tracks is all the work I have been doing writing it. I was afraid the train might crash, terrified it would run over me, but my worst fears were not realized. In the end, I found myself with a great new group of friends.

Reality to dreams. Dreams to reality.

Sometimes it's important to work for that pot of gold. But other times it's essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important decision in the day simply consists of choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow.
~Douglas Pagels, These are the Gifts I'd Like to Give You

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chocolate Wisdom

My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished two bags of M&M's and a chocolate cake. I feel better already.
~Dave Barry

Belated Happy Valentine's Day to me - thanks, Dave!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It is finished...well, sort of...

I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT OF MY MANUSCRIPT YESTERDAY!!!

Now it is printed, hole punched, and in a binder, awaiting revision.

I have pitched this novel three times; the first time, the agent suggested there might not be enough conflict in the story. I have made significant changes to the plot since then; however, I did not fully understand the meaning of "conflict" until I read this blog post by Kristen Lamb, author of We Are Not Alone: The Writer's Guide to Social Media. I find it totally serendipitous that Ms. Lamb published this article just when she did. It is exactly what I needed, precisely when I needed it.

My (ambitious) goal is to have the revision completed prior to my departure for the Southern Lights Conference in Jacksonville, Florida March 12th, at which I hope to land another agent appointment. When I get back, I am going to query like crazy.

And get busy on my next project.

***

I was extremely proud to show my work in progress in its current state of semi-completion to my critique partners at our weekly meeting this morning. In response, they gave me big hugs and enthusiastic attagirls. Also, Lindy fed us quiche and muffins and blueberries.

Lindy, breakfast maker extraordinaire
and the epitome of grace under fire

The three of us have big plans, separately and together. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Gazelle In My Refrigerator

This is what I found staring at me when I opened my refrigerator door to pull out the half and half this morning.

I was surprised, to say the least - but not as surprised as I was one July morning a couple of years ago when I was greeted by this.




One thing is certain: there's never a dull moment around here!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Goodreads

A small portion of my TBR pile.
There are stacks like this all over my house.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to technology, so please forgive me if this is old news to you. But I recently discovered Goodreads, and I just can't keep it to myself.

Social networking for book lovers, Goodreads allows you to select books you are reading, have read, or intend to read and add them to your virtual bookshelves. In addition, you can post reviews, join a discussion group, start a book club, or contact an author. You can even post your own writing, and if you are a published author, you can create a special profile to help promote your work.

Joining is simple; you enter your name, email address and password. Then you can personalize your profile with a picture and whatever biographical information you choose to add.

I have barely scratched the surface of all that is available at Goodreads, but I have become a fan of Steven Pressfield, found a few friends and joined a book group already. One of the user tips says, "Goodreads is about 7 bajillion times more awesome when your friends are using it too. We have proven this. With science." So I am hoping that if you are already on Goodreads, you will add me as a friend (my user name is pamasberry); if you are not, I encourage you to check it out.

See you there!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I'm almost there

Today I crossed the 70,000 word mark in my novel; at last, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Although I expect the finished manuscript to be about 80,000 words in length, I will probably wrap up at about 75,000, knowing I will add scenes in the revision for the sake of continuity and clarity

Because my rough draft is a mess. When I started work on this book, I knew practically nothing about fiction writing; I have literally "cut my teeth" on it. I have changed my mind about so many elements of plot and character since I began that it makes my head spin. Still, I have persevered, although there have been plenty of times I have been tempted to chuck the whole thing and start over. I am so grateful I didn't.

Looking back, I believe that temptation was Resistance.

I just finished a great book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. This book has been in my to-be-read pile for months. Just a few days, my eldest son, Josh, asked me if I had ever read it, as it was recommended to him by a former teacher, and he found it very inspiring. I said no, not yet, but I will get around to it eventually. He said gosh, Mom, it's just a little book; I finished it in an evening; you could probably knock it out in a couple of hours.

He was right. Once I started, it was hard to stop; I raced through the first half in about an hour. For some reason my reading was interrupted; although I intended to get back to it that evening, I didn't make it until this morning.

I am convinced that was Resistance, too.

"There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance."

In the first section of the book, Pressfield defines Resistance - anything that distracts us and prevents us from doing what we are meant to do, whether it be a creative activity like writing, a diet or health regimen, education, charitable work, or commitment to a relationship. In the second section, he discusses how to fight Resistance by becoming a Professional, meaning someone who has truly committed to doing the work, showing up every day, no matter what, sticking with the job until it is finished. Finally, he discusses the spiritual ramifications of battling Resistance - invoking the Muse, if you will.

This is powerful stuff.

Towards the end, he explains how Resistance feeds on fear, and that we experience Resistance as fear. And the greatest fear of all is the fear that we will succeed.

"We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us. What will become of us? We will lose our friends and family, who will no longer recognize us. We will wind up alone, in the cold void of starry space, with nothing and no one to hold on to. Of course this is exactly what happens. But here's the trick. We wind up in space, but not alone. Instead we are tapped into an unquenchable, undepletable, inexhaustable source of wisdom, consciousness, companionship. Yeah, we lose friends. But we find friends too, in places we never thought to look. And they're better friends, truer friends. And we're better and truer to them. Do you believe me?" (pp. 143-144)

Oh, yes, Mr. Pressfield, I believe you. It's happening to me already.

And I'm going to stop calling myself an "aspiring novelist." Yes, I aspire to be a published author. But I am writing every day. That makes me a writer. Period.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Romance Writer

The Georgia Romance Writers met this morning. I am fairly certain that I would have given up my dream of being a published author long ago if not for this amazing group. I have learned so much at monthly meetings, critique workshops, and the Moonlight & Magnolias Conference, and I have met many wonderful writers, including my critique partners and the Petit Fours & Hot Tamales bloggers, all of whom have become cherished friends in addition to being respected colleagues.

Today's speaker was local author Tanya Michaels who shared her insights on finding, honing and protecting your "voice." What a thought-provoking talk it was! I was struck by how much a writer's unique voice resembles a composer's musical style. For example, even if I am not acquainted with a particular work of classical music, I can usually identify the composer simply from the way the music sounds; Tanya believes it is the same with great writing. I sincerely hope that, through my efforts on this blog as well as working on my novel, I am finding my voice as a writer.

After the meeting, there was a book signing. Tanya signed my copy of His Valentine Surprise.

Oh, how I wish my eyes were open in this picture!

I also bought a copy of Leslie Tentler's new romantic suspense novel, Midnight Caller, and got it signed.


The eyes are a little better here.

* * *

Then, as if the day hadn't already been rewarding enough, my critique partners and I went out to lunch to celebrate Pamela's birthday tomorrow.

Happy Birthday, Pamela!
The necklace was my gift to her. I made it myself.

After a grilled reuben sandwich, fries, and a lovely draft beer at the Brick Store Pub on the square in Decatur, we wandered down to Jazmin for pedicures.

It was 70 degrees here today, definitely flip flop weather. Now my feet are ready.

* * *
Ahhh. Another day in the life of a romance writer. Except it occurs to me that I haven't actually done any writing yet. Oops! Guess it's time to sign off and get my five hundred words finished.

"I write for the same reason I breathe - because if I didn't, I would die."
~Isaac Asimov

Friday, February 18, 2011

Come and see me!

It is my turn again to post with the Petit Fours & Hot Tamales bloggers. Please stop by and read my thoughts on inspiration. Then leave a comment - I want to know what you think!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Giving Back

This week, I took my piano students out into the community.

Tuesday night
Sunrise at Webb Gin Assisted Living Center
Lawrenceville, GA

Wednesday night
Courtyard Gardens Assisted Living Center
Lawrenceville, GA

Thursday night
Garden Plaza Assisted Living Center
Lawrenceville, GA

I am extremely proud of everyone who participated. As you can see, the kids looked fabulous; as you can imagine, they played beautifully. Not only did they share their musical talent; they also gave of themselves, mingling with the residents at the conclusion of each concert, shaking hands and giving and receiving hugs.

It was a great way to celebrate the conclusion of piano festival. I have the best job in the world. And I work with the best students on the planet.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring is on its way...

The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds
And swells the leaves within.
~William C. Bryant

I believe I have some idea how a bear must feel when he crawls out of his cave at the end of his long winter's nap. S
omething has definitely shifted inside me as a result of the sunshine and warming temperatures we have been blessed with here in metro Atlanta.

Our 7-Day Forecast

The fog has lifted from my brain and the tension in my shoulders - the result of constant shivering - is relieved. Breezy and energetic, I am ready to crawl out from under the five layers on top of my bed and venture outdoors; I am overwhelmed with a sense of optimism and well-being that I haven't experienced in months. Instead of chili and brownies, I crave salad and strawberries; I am eager to explore the local farmer's market, make my semi-annual pilgrimage to Amicalola Falls, sip a cool beverage on a sunny patio, take a ride on the back of a motorcycle.

I am ready to trade the turtlenecks for tank tops, blue jeans for capri pants, and fuzzy boots for these.

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yes, I have triceps.

Several years ago, I read about an exercise video called Basic Training that incorporated the use of a Body Bar, a weighted, padded fitness bar. At the time, I was doing a three-mile walk in my neighborhood several times a week and felt that it was keeping me in reasonable shape, but I wanted to add some weight lifting to my routine. Since I couldn't afford a gym membership, this seemed like a reasonable alternative.

The first few times I attempted to work through the video, I failed. The body bar is four feet long and weighs "only" nine pounds; it seemed it wouldn't pose much of a challenge. But after lifting that nine pounds up and down over my head a few dozen times, my arms started to feel like rubber - as did my legs after a few dozen squats, and my abs after a few dozen crunches. But I persisted, eventually mastering the workout, and kept it up for several years.

I'm not sure what happened to that healthy routine, but at some point it fell by the wayside. I'm not even going to try to explain the weeks/months in which I have failed to exercise at all, although I will say that a handful of breakups, menopause, and a couple of serious bouts with bronchitis contributed. Instead, I am going to forgive myself and move forward.

Because it is too easy to use extreme heat or extreme cold as an excuse not to exercise, I joined a bare bones gym, Fitness 19, last January. There are no step classes or shower facilities, no smoothie bars or saunas - just your basic cardio, strength and free weight equipment, a few lockers and a restroom. Since all I really need is the elliptical machine, it's perfect for me.

I have made it to the gym three or four times a week, on and off, for several months now; Monday, I decided it was also time to return to my Body Bar routine. My VHS bit the dust long ago, and was replaced by the Total Body Express DVD. I still work out to Basic Training, which uses the Body Bar to work on every main muscle group, but this DVD also includes Body Bar Basics, Hard Core Abs & Back, Armed and Dangerous, and Below the Belt, each designed to target specific areas of the body.

Yes, it was hard; yes, I did it. Yes, I have triceps; they have been screaming at me in pain ever since.

My goal is to do the Body Bar workout two or three times a week and get to the gym (or outdoors) for some cardio - either the elliptical machine or power walking through the neighborhood - the remaining days.

I think I can. Do you exercise regularly? What inspires you and keeps you motivated?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day


Yesterday got squashed, situated as it was between piano festival and this dreaded holiday. Too tired, sore and sad to sleep Saturday night - will I never learn to wear sensible shoes when I know I am going to be on my feet all day? and will I never meet a man who makes good on his promises? - I napped on and off all afternoon, in between chapters of my luscious novel and bites of chocolate (thanks, Jennifer!) I needed the time off. But by nightfall, I was feeling guilty: about the writing I haven't finished, the ten pounds I need to lose, the laundry barely started, the clutter in my home, the price of gasoline, the situation in Egypt. The self-loathing was at an all-time high.

Why do I do this?

The greatest magnifying glasses in the world are a man's own eyes when they look upon his own person.
~Alexander Pope

Still exhausted, I fell asleep watching Desperate Housewives and slept soundly until my alarm went off at 6AM. My first thought? It's Valentine's Day. Yuck. My second? Get up, you lazy bum, you have SO MUCH to do.

ENOUGH.

I am good at setting goals, at making a list and checking it twice. I take care of everything, I take care of everyone, and I wonder why I am tired all the time. So this year I am giving myself a very special valentine.

I am going to take care of myself FIRST.

Love yourself first and everything falls into line.
~Lucille Ball

I am going to eat healthy food, even though it costs more and takes more time to prepare, and go to the gym every morning BEFORE I do my writing. If I'm sleep deprived, I'm not going to drink coffee to make up the deficit, knowing that just perpetuates the sleeplessness; I'm going to create a soothing nighttime ritual and be in bed, lights out, by eleven o'clock, period. I am going to make a date with myself once a week - I'm not sure what night yet - to give myself a facial, to soak in the garden tub, to polish my fingernails.

I am going to take advantage of every opportunity to get out into the sunshine.

I don't judge other people by the amount of work they do, by their clothing size, or the amount of dust on their furniture. I know they are doing their best, and I love them just the way they are. Shouldn't I be equally supportive of myself?

And it occurs to me that the better I feel, the better I will be able to give.

The truth is if you did nothing more than find ways to feel good more of the time, you'd start to magnetize your dream with more and more power and speed.
~Sonia M. Miller, Attraction Distraction

Makes sense, doesn't it?

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
You are the guy who'll decide where to go.

~Dr. Seuss

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Great Day!

Today was Central Gwinnett's National Federation of Music Clubs Federated Festival, and my students did me proud; they received 26 "Superior" ratings, 2 "Excellent" ratings, and I came home with 4 thirty-point cups and 4 fifteen-point cups. I am thankful for the efforts of all the participating teachers - especially the event's committee co-chairs - as well as my students and their parents. I have the best job in the world!

My Jane Austen Book Club

Pam, Theresa, Denise and Jennifer

I am posting after midnight again, but I just got home from spending the better part of the day with my Jane Austen Book Club pals.

We started this afternoon with our book discussion at Denise's house. Always a gracious hostess, Denise served a lovely lunch: pasta salad, tossed salad, bread with olive oil, and assorted cheesecakes. Our assignment was Mansfield Park, but three of the four of us hadn't quite made it to the end, so we called today's meeting "Part 1" and set a date in March for Part 2. We had plenty to talk about, sharing our divergent views on Fanny Price, her cousin Edmund, Henry Crawford, Mrs. Norris and all the rest, and how we relate to certain characters and story elements based on our personal experiences. My friends are intelligent and insightful; I learn a lot from them.

Next, after a brief pit stop at home, I headed to Jennifer's house for move night. Also a delightful hostess, Jennifer supplied us with adult beverages while the fabulous Theresa put the finishing touches on dinner, a fabulous south-of-the-border feast: tamales, quesadillas, Mexican rice, a salad, and all the trimmings. Then we watched the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma and indulged in another fabulous chocolate dessert. Our evening concluded with some serious girl talk. We may not have solved all the world's problems, but I do feel that I have a better handle on my own.

It is taking us longer than we anticipated to get through all of Jane Austen's works, but it is indisputable that I have read more Jane Austen than I would have without the encouragement and support of this group. It all started with my bucket list. If you have a must-read list of books that you just can't seem to get around to, I encourage you to find a group of like minded friends and go for it. You might have to put in some extra time at the gym to work off the extra calories, but you won't regret it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Millet Muffins

I tried making muffins again this morning, and these turned out just right. Here is the recipe, adapted from the Bread Beckers' recipe for basic muffins.

MILLET MUFFINS

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour (I used fresh milled red wheat)
1/4 cup whole millet
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup buttermilk (I substituted 1 cup milk mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar, but buttermilk works better)
1 egg
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup honey

Measure dry ingredients into mixing bowl. Add liquids and mix just until well blended. Drop by spoonfuls into greased muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees* for 15 minutes. Remove from tins. Serve warm with your favorite muffin spread on the side. I like butter and orange marmalade.

*The Bread Beckers' recipe says 400 degrees but that didn't work so well for me yesterday.

Let me know if you try these muffins!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

YESTERDAY...

I failed to add a single word to my novel. I didn't even write my morning pages. I missed posting to my blog - the first day I didn't post since January 1st. I added nothing to my Etsy store. Heck, I didn't even cook dinner.

But you know what? The sun came up this morning. Right on schedule.

***

TODAY...

I promised my critique partners I would bring homemade, whole wheat muffins to our ten o'clock meeting.

I got up at 5:15, helped Nathan with some homework, saw him off to school, and put 24 muffins in the oven. Failing to allow for dark muffin tins and an oven that runs hot, I burned the muffins. Ever so slightly.

Since it is almost an hour drive to my critique group meeting, I didn't have time to bake more muffins. So I selected the six least-burned muffins and took them to the meeting. My friends loved them. They said their children loved the leftovers, too.

***

Christina Aguilera has received a lot of flack for flubbing the lyrics of our National Anthem at the Super Bowl. Yes, I recognize that she is a professional, and there are certain expectations around being a professional. But I also recognize that she is human and therefore, outside the recording studio, subject to imperfection.

Her performance Sunday evening was nothing if not heartfelt. I might prefer a more straightforward rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, but I wouldn't expect that from Christina. And despite my preference, like many of the players panned by the cameras during her performance, I was moved to tears by the raw emotion of her presentation. As a matter of fact, even though I know the words to the song by heart - and many of our nation's young people do not - I failed to even notice her slip-up, as caught up in the moment as I was. But, as my boys say, haters gonna hate.

***

TOMORROW...

Perfection is overrated. Period. Give yourself permission to fail - to fall short of your goals once in a while, to burn the muffins, and to utterly miss the mark in your attempts at creativity. The sun will come up tomorrow, anyway. And then you can try, try again.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Long Story Short

Weekend update...
  1. My novel remains unfinished. I added several thousand words to my word count over the past couple of days, but I'm still not quite there. There will be no more opportunity for any marathon sessions for a long time - the next few weekends are already over scheduled - so I am upping my daily goal to 1000 words/day. That puts me about two weeks from completion; wish me luck!
  2. I participated in my first-ever craft link party. Click HERE. I am #34.
  3. I went to the gym. Twice.
  4. I ran some errands; I picked up a new toner cartridge (why are they so expensive?) so I can print a hard copy of my novel when I am ready to begin revision and I bought a new straightening iron to help maintain my fabulous new hairdo. I haven't been able to make it look as good as Jody did; maybe the new gadget will help.
  5. I watched the Super Bowl - sort of. I kept track of the score while I cleared my beading space and dealt with the piles of clothing that had accumulated in my bedroom/bathroom/closet. Go, Packers! Go, Steelers! I enjoyed the half-time show, although as a classically trained pianist, I probably shouldn't admit that. The vocals were less than spectacular, but I thought the performance overall was amazing. And Fergie looks fantastic. No jiggles anywhere. I wonder how much time she spends at the gym?
And that's that. The weekend is gone, and I'm not really sure where it went. Weekends kind of remind me of a three-day cruise I went on a few years ago; I barely had time to decompress, and then it was over. But I have much to look forward to in the days ahead. Onward.

***

Want some cute earrings for Valentine's Day? Sweetness abound on my ETSY site. Check these out:

Purple Crystal Heart Earrings

They are even prettier in person!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Gearing Up for Valentine's Day

I love holidays, and Valentine's Day is no exception. When my boys were growing up, I organized valentine craft parties for our home school support group so our children could have the whole box decorating/card exchanging/sugar orgy experience I had enjoyed so much as a little girl. And I have appreciated the diva delights that come with being the object of someone's affection - such things as a nice meal out, a box of gourmet candy, flower arrangements of every size, bunches of balloons and build-a-bears, depending on the gift giver's style.

But now my boys are too big for valentine parties and, in my current single state, it isn't likely that I am going to be showered with roses or chocolates. This is causing me a certain amount of anxiety, so while the big "V" is still a few days away, it isn't a moment too soon to take steps to head off the Valentine's Day blues.

I started today, by treating myself a holiday read, His Valentine Surprise by Tanya Michaels. Tanya is a local author; I had the privilege of meeting her at last year's M&M Conference and working with her during the Pitch Workshop. That's right; she helped me rework my pitch before I presented it to the agent and the editor at the conference. She was warm and wise and sweet and funny and I am really looking forward to curling up with this book and a glass of red wine on February 14th. And since Tanya will be our featured speaker atGRW on the following Friday, I will have the opportunity to get my book signed, as well. I can hardly wait.

Do you have any special Valentine's Day traditions? What is the best gift you have ever received? If you are single, do you find ways to take care of yourself?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Free Audiobooks

A portrait of Jane Austen

I love technology, but I am never the first to jump aboard a bandwagon, and I am definitely not the girl the girl to ask if you want to find out about the latest and the greatest. So you might already know what I am about to tell you. But I am so excited that I have to share anyway.

There is a free app for the iPhone and iPad called Audiobooks that allows you to listen to over 3500 classic books for FREE. I fell in love with recorded books when I was home schooling my boys; we spent hours in the minivan, driving to and from field trips and appointments, and while we logged all those miles, we listened to great stories. We got most of our recorded books from the library, as audiobooks tend to be somewhat expensive compared to their ink-and-paper counterparts.

The next meeting of the Jane Austen Book Club is coming up soon, so I have just a few days to finish our current novel, Mansfield Park. I am a fast reader, but I have a lot on my plate right now, little time for reading and even less money to spend. So you can imagine my delight upon discovering the Audiobooks app. I found a free download for my Kindle too, and I read as much there as I can; in between, when I am in the car or at the gym, I listen to the Audiobooks version. It's the best of all worlds. At the rate I am going, I should be able to meet my deadline with time to spare.

It's a good thing, too, because I have made a solemn vow to finish writing the first draft of my novel THIS WEEKEND. So I have less time to read than ever. Wish me luck!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Who needs a therapist when there's Jody?

I finally fell asleep about four o'clock this morning. I didn't quite make it to the car dealership for my oil change at seven, but I arrived at Shenanigans Hair Studio & Spa just in time for my eight thirty appointment.

Most of the women I know indulge in certain pampering rituals, professional services that they simply cannot do without. Some splurge on facials or a bi-weekly mani/pedi; others swear by acupuncture or hot stone massage. Me? I spend money on my hair, highlights and low lights and a stylish cut, thank you very much.

There isn't a word to describe my natural hue, although "mousy brown" comes pretty close; to add insult to injury, there are now little flecks of gray. I hate to admit this, but I was seeing a lot of both - the mousy brown and the gray - because I hadn't been to see my hairdresser since the end of September. I simply didn't have the money. Can you say "dark roots?"

And yes, I know that over-the-counter hair color products are inexpensive and plentiful. But I can't even select the right shade of foundation or lipstick without assistance. There's no way I'm going to experiment on my hair.

Anyway, my appointment was with Jody, the shop owner. A friend referred me to her when I was going through my divorce, and I have been faithful to her ever since. When I paid her that first visit, my hair was long and thick and straight and its original color. Bor-ing! But I had worked hard to grow that mane out; I was very protective of it, and Jody totally respected my wishes, giving me the tiniest trim and nothing more. Gradually, though, I grew to trust her, and started granting her some leeway with both style and color. Over the years, I have been a redhead, a brunette, and a blonde; my hair has been long, short, and everywhere in between. After she refused to give me either a curly perm or dreadlocks - both bad ideas, I realize now - I stopped asking for anything and just let her have her way with me. It's great not having the responsibility of decision. I simply walk into the shop, put on an apron, plop down in her chair, and let her work her magic on me.

She has been there for me through thick and thin; she knows me better than just about anyone. She has sunny spirit and a big heart, and does much more for her clients that just give them great haircuts.

It is always a thrill for me when she is finally finished and she spins that big chair around so it faces the mirror and I can see the results.

The fabulous Jody and me (with no make-up but great hair)

The services she performed for me today cost about the same as an hour of therapy, but at the end of our session, I had a whole new look in addition to a whole new outlook on life. Thanks, Jody. You're the best.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jack Of All Trades

Photo by Josh Geyer

"Jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one."

That's me. A true Renaissance woman.

In the beginning, I was a little girl who dreamed of growing up to be a piano teacher. Towards that end, I earned a Master of Music degree - although in this day and age, a doctorate is really essential in order to be considered a "master." I got married, established a home studio, and strived to be the best piano teacher I could be.

A few years later, my then-husband and I started our family. I ran the household and raised children; piano teaching dovetailed with those tasks, as I had hoped they would. To further help make ends meet, I got a part-time job in a sewing machine store; I learned how to sew and I learned the art of sales. I made clothing for myself and my boys; I taught classes in quilting and heirloom sewing and English smocking and sold sweatshirts I painted myself.

In 1994, we moved to Atlanta. Piano teaching fell to the wayside, but I taught my boys how to read and write and do arithmetic; we baked cookies and made nature journals and went on field trips. I wrote articles and spoke to home school groups about the teaching methods I discovered; I even developed an all-day seminar on how to homeschool.

Long story short, my marriage ended in May, 2001. I continued to teach my children while returning to my roots as a piano instructor. Ten years later, I have relinquished my role as home schooling parent but taken on the challenges of jewelry design and fiction writing. My life has become a three legged stool: Asberry School of Music, The Wishing Box, and Author Pam Asberry. Single parent and dog whisperer, friend and sometimes lover.

I expect a lot from myself. I work sixteen-hour days and actually feel guilty when I sleep. The only thing I'm absolutely sure about is the piano teaching; the rest is a time-consuming experiment, a leap of faith. But there's no going back. I'm honing my skills, making personal connections, pushing the limits of possibility. My universe keeps expanding.

Today, though, I felt myself coming apart at the seams. I woke up exhausted, my body ached, and the weight of the world was on my shoulders. My piano students have a festival and performances at area assisted living centers looming in the next couple of weeks; I must continue to improve my photography/marketing skills and add new pieces to my Etsy site; my novel is begging to be finished and revised.

But wait, there's more. My children need me. And I am oh so tired of waking up alone.

Still, I dragged myself to my weekly meeting with my critique partners, my forever friends. I printed my five pages and arrived armed with ideas. The three of us had a lovely breakfast and completely nailed down our first group project. Then there was a tiny disagreement over something absolutely trivial and I completely fell apart.

I cried all the way home.

I'm not sure how to fix this. I don't know how to prioritize when everything is a priority; I don't know how to do the next thing when there are so many things to choose from. My daily schedule would exhaust a machine; I never quite live up to my expectations, but I feel that I have to keep trying.

Oftentimes, I wish I didn't want so much. Sometimes I think I am too smart for my own good; other times I beat myself up for the stupid decisions I have made.

And if I ever knew how to relax, I have completely forgotten.

As my children often remind me, I am beyond middle-aged, as it is highly unlikely I will live to be 102. So what am I doing, trying to reinvent myself at 51?

I'm doing the best that I can, that's what.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My TBR Pile

That's short for "to be read."

I'm not sure what this says about me, but I am actively reading six books right now.

These are the old-fashioned, paper and ink books in the stack next to my bed.
  1. Waking Up in the Land of Glitter by Kathy Cano-Murillo
  2. Escaping Into the Open by Elizabeth Berg
  3. Life Makeovers by Cheryl Richardson
  4. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
And these are queued up in my Kindle.
  1. Blessing in Disguise by Tamara DeStefano
  2. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Actually, I am reading seven books, if you count Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, which I am listening to, read by the author, on CD in my car.

Of course, there are many more books in my library, both paper and ink and on my Kindle, waiting to take the place of these six. It will take me all of 2011 to properly get through Life Makeovers and The Happiness Project, but I will probably finish the rest all at once; that's usually the way it goes.

Quality bookmarks are essential.

What is in your TBR pile?