Thursday, March 31, 2011

Just Breathe

A place of peace
Long story short: Tuesday I was diagnosed with "asthmatic bronchitis," and it was a wake-up call for me. I was in denial about the whole asthma thing until then. But from this moment forward, I will take my preventive medication as prescribed, drink plenty of fluids every day, and get adequate rest every night. Because I don't want to end up sick as I was ever again.

You heard it here first.

And now that I have regained the ability to inhale deeply, I am going to return to my daily practice of sitting quietly for ten minutes first thing every morning and focusing on my breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth - slowly, slowly. Eyes wide open, thinking sublimated to counting the breaths: one, two, three, four, then start again.

Why is it so hard to break bad habits and so easy to lose good ones?

***

Tomorrow I begin my spring break, ten days without the time constraints imposed by my piano teaching schedule. I will miss my students, but I have big plans for those ten days. I need to work on my income taxes, tackle some home improvements, do some spring cleaning. But my priorities are breathing and writing. Everything else will follow.

***

Don't forget, you have until midnight Saturday to cast your vote for your online book club selection. Just click HERE. We're going to have some good old-fashioned fun - right here on the internet!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What's On My Mind

Me with my dog, Karma. Good Karma. Good Karma.

1. LAVENDER

My friend Lindy posted a recipe for Feel Better Butter on her blog today; it calls for "culinary lavender." Until I read this post, I didn't know there was such a thing. I mean, I love the scent of lavender; I have even grown lavender and dried the buds and used them to sew dream pillows for my friends. But I had no idea that people actually EAT lavender. Well, I did some research and found recipes for lavender jelly, lavender hazelnut bread, and lavender tea cookies. Now I must get some culinary lavender and try my hand at making all these lovely things.

2. SPRING CLEANING

My friend Sherri posted pictures of her hobby room on her blog today; I think it is beautiful. Even though I am so busy teaching piano and writing a novel that I barely have time to work on my hobbies - beading and sewing and knitting and scrapbooking - I wish I had an entire room to dedicate to them. But since I don't, I am considering making over my piano studio during spring break and dedicating a corner to my hobbies. And painting the walls purple.

3. LOVE

One of my friends just reconnected with the love of her life after twenty-seven years apart. Another friend is pursuing a divorce from her husband of many years after discovering a secret affair. Yet another friend is riding the roller coaster of an unwanted separation from a husband who can't decide whether to stay or to go.

Men.

'Tis not love's going hurt my days but that it went in little ways.
~ Emily Dickinson

On May 23, I will "celebrate" the tenth anniversary of my divorce. I have been in a handful of serious relationships since then, but my official status remains "single." And that's okay, because there are a few things I know for sure.

If I had remained in my marriage, I wouldn't be the person I am today.
If I had remained in any of the relationships post-divorce, I would not be writing a novel.
I have loved and lost so many times it is tempting to become cynical.
Despite this, I believe in "happily ever after."

I have Karma, children who love me, girlfriends that rock, jobs I love, and hobbies I enjoy. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and a car to drive - that is, when Casey doesn't need it. ;-)

A woman could do worse, right?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kale Salad/More Book Club


Mm-mm!!

KALE SALAD

1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans or walnuts (I used pecans)
1/2 cup dried fruit (I used golden raisins)
1/2 cup chopped black olives
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh works best)
1/8 teaspoon salt
Kale (I used a 16-ounce bag, pre-washed and chopped)

Combine and toss.

This is the recipe for the delicious Kale Salad Denise made Friday afternoon. Try it, you'll like it! Since kale doesn't wilt, Denise says this will keep in the refrigerator for days; I made a batch this afternoon, but I don't think it's going to last long enough for me to find out. And I cook for teenage boys!

***

I am excited about next month's virtual book club. To join the fun, simply click HERE to help select our first title; the survey will close at midnight on Saturday. I will announce the winner on Sunday, then start reading! We will begin our online discussion right here on Friday, May 13th, but if you can't make it on that exact date, don't worry; I will leave comments open for a week. Just because we can't meet in my living room doesn't mean we can't have a grand old time sharing our responses to a wonderful piece of literature!

FYI, here are links to the books, in case you would like to find out more about them.

1. Balancing Acts by Zoe Fishman
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
6. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
7. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
8. When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt

NOTE: I have been ever-so-slightly critizied for my "girly" choices. Well, this may be our first online book club, but I hope it will not be our last. So, guys, if you have suggestions for next time, speak now or forever hold your peace!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Club, Anyone?

My Jane Austen Book Club is more than just a book club. We now refer to ourselves as The Jane Austen Book, Food and Film Club, because food and film have become integral components of our gatherings. We even have our own t-shirts (see left) illustrated by Theresa and designed and printed by Denise at Conflict Studio Screen Printing.

Our schedule looks something like this. On the designated Friday, we begin at Denise's house with a discussion of our weighty tome (ha!) over snacks or lunch. Last week's menu included Italian grilled cheese sandwiches, two varieties of quiche, a kale salad, and chocolate covered nuts and pretzels. Then, following a short break, we reconvene at Jennifer's house for dinner, adult beverages, and a movie or two based on the book we just finished. Theresa does most of the cooking for the evening meal. Last Friday, we had salad, tortellini with chicken marinara sauce, rolls and cake - a beautiful white cake filled with buttercream frosting and violet jelly decorated with candied violets - in honor of Denise's recent birthday. Click HERE for the recipes and instructions. Thanks Denise, Jennifer, and Theresa!

But I want more! So, inspired by my fellow blogger Laurie Perry, I am starting an online book club. I propose that we select a book, read it at our leisure, and set a meeting date to post our thoughts about what we have discovered. Snacks and adult beverages are optional.

But what shall we read? Click here to take survey before midnight Saturday, April 2nd to register a vote for the title of your choice. I recognize that this is a diverse list, but these are all books in my to-be-read pile and I need help deciding which one to start with! Majority rules. I will announce the poll results on Monday, April 4th; then we will meet on Friday, May 13th to for our online discussion.

I am super excited about this! Come one, come all!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

GRW Meeting Part 2: Gin Ellis Critique Workshop

The insightful Carla Fredd and I

Following Suzanne Brockmann's inspiring message and book signing at yesterday's Georgia Romance Writers meeting, I adjourned to the hotel lobby for the Virginia Ellis Memorial Critique Workshop.

I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but Virginia Ellis was a successful writer and wonderful human being, as evidenced by this short biography as well as this tribute to her. In her memory and to keep her generous spirit alive, GRW created this annual event in which published authors volunteer their time to critique the work of unpublished writers like myself.

I had the pleasure of working with Carla Fredd, who went over the synopsis and first 25 pages of my work-in-progress, titled The Wishing Box, with a fine toothed comb. I am so grateful to her. Not only did she point out to me the extent to which I was "telling" versus "showing"- and I thought I was over that! - and encourage me to go deeper with my point of view, a topic she generously asked Suzanne Brockmann to address during the question-and-answer session following her talk, she helped me to realize that I am no longer writing the book I set out to write, and encouraged me to be true to myself.

My book started out as women's fiction with an element of romance - not a true romance novel, because the main story centered on women's friendship and the internal growth of the main character, a young widow struggling to create a better life for herself and her young son while negotiating the minefield of dating. Think Friday Night Knitting Club meets Bridget Jones' Diary. However, conversations with agents and editors convinced me to go in a different direction; as a result, I added a hero who didn't even exist in my original draft and started my story in the middle so as to follow the "rules" as to when this character had to be introduced. And, of course, there had to be a fairy tale ending.

Interestingly, it was these aspects of the story that Carla questioned most; when I shared my original vision with her and explained the reasons I had made the changes I had, she just shook her head. She felt that my story should begin in Chapter 2, where I had begun it in the first place; she thought it made more sense to introduce my male character much later in the book, like I did in the original draft. And in literary fiction, it isn't essential that the hero and the heroine live "happily ever after," although, of course, they might.

This was a huge relief to me. Of course, it means I have to start over with my revision. And the fact that I am writing women's fiction as opposed to true romance might mean that my book will be harder to sell. But I think one of the reasons I was having such a hard time with the revision is that I was no longer one hundred percent invested in the story; I was writing a book to please someone else instead of telling the story I set out to tell. I am excited about returning to my original outline - with a few twists - armed with all the knowledge of craft and writing muscle I have acquired since I first started working on the manuscript. This will take a little longer, but in the end, I will have a book that I am proud of.

The Wishing Box may never make the New York Times Bestseller List, but it will be the very best book I am capable of writing at this time. And it will be MINE.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

GRW Meeting Part 1: Suzanne Brockmann

Suzanne Brockmann celebrated the publication of her fiftieth novel at today's Georgia Romance Writers meeting.

Suzanne Brockmann and Pam Asberry

A New York Times Bestselling author, Suzanne was witty and wise, warm and wonderful. In a word, she was accessible. And she told me exactly what I needed to hear.

First, she asked if any of us have ever read a book that was so badly written that we questioned the sanity not only of the author who wrote it, but also the agent, editor and publisher who accepted it.

All hands went up.

Then, she asked if we have ever read a book that was so beautifully written that the story and characters followed us for years.

Again, all hands went up.

Of course, the challenge isn't to write a book better than the first book. The challenge is to write a book at least as good as the second one.

Suzanne encouraged us to swear a solemn oath to do just that.

And she had a lot more to say: about going deep with point of view, about The Four Agreements, about character development, about the future of digital publishing. I hung on every word and hope my writing will be the better for it.

Then I stood in line to have my first-ever Suzanne Brockmann novel, Kiss and Tell, signed by the author. My friend and fellow Petit Fours and Hot Tamales blogger, Sia Huff recommended it to me. Apparently, she has read every book Suzanne has ever written, so when I asked Sia to recommend ONE book to me, this was her choice.

When my turn came, I told Suzanne how much her words had meant to me. I'm sure she hears such platitudes all the time. But I couldn't have been more sincere. I'm telling you: this woman is a dynamic and inspirational speaker.

Turns out she is a wonderful writer, as well. Tonight after I got home I curled up in my jammies with my new book and had a hard time putting it down to write this blog post. I am about a third of the way through the story and I am completely hooked.

The rest of what happened at today's GRW meeting will have to wait until tomorrow.

Because I have a book to finish.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Trimming the Fat

My favorite Borders is closing its doors.
We are all having to make tough choices these days.

When I was in my teens and twenties, I was totally invested in the American Dream. I wanted it all: a generous income, a spacious house surrounded by a white picket fence, beautiful friends, two or three kids, a family vacation every summer, a fantasy holiday every winter. My dream turned into a nightmare in 2001, the year I joined the ranks of divorced, single moms. I have much to be thankful for: a job that allowed me to stay at home with my three healthy boys; a home of my own; family and friends who love me. We even made some memories aboard cruise ships and around the Christmas tree. But these tough economic times have forced just about everybody to look inward - to recognize that THINGS don't really make us happy; that the endless quest for more, more, more takes us down a road that leads far away from financial peace and true security. Indeed, I have come to realize there are three things I want LESS of in my life.

CREDIT CARD DEBT
Thanks to the current economic situation, my income has decreased approximately twenty percent in the last year - after all, piano lessons are a luxury, not a necessity - while my expenses have, for the most part, remained steady or actually increased. As a result, my credit card debt has risen steadily every month as I have relied on credit to help me pay the bills when, despite my best efforts, there is more month than money. I have become aggressive about finding ways to reduce spending; we stopped eating out, I clip coupons and shop the sales at the grocery store, I got rid of our land line, cut back on our cell phone and satellite television plans, and reduced the cost of my health insurance premium by almost 72%. I visit stores only when necessary, take a list with me, and avoid places like Target and the mall like the plague.

In essence, I put this family on a "spending diet." There was a great article in the March, 2011 issue of "Oprah" magazine, in which Martha Beck explained that we have a primal instinct to spend. "You see," she says, "our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived by collecting pelts, sticks, fibers, hunks of peat - whatever might keep them comfy in their caves. Thousands of years later, acquiring, just like eating, still flips the switch that tells our primitive brains we're well supplied for hard times." Her conclusion? "To sustain a balanced buying diet, we must flip that switch without actually accumulating more stuff." Makes sense, doesn't it? This month, for the first time since last June, I have a balanced budget; moving forward, I will apply every spare penny towards paying off those credit card bills. My plan is to be debt-free (other than my mortgage) by the time Nathan graduates from high school in 2014.

CLUTTER
The sad truth is a lot of the stuff I'm not buying today would end up being the clutter of tomorrow, anyway. Down with clutter! I am weary of all the piles of unread books and unused music collecting dust in my home; the craft supplies I will never use; the junk-filled drawers that won't shut and the garage that I can't park cars in because it is stuffed to the gills with who-knows-what. I am on a mission to get rid of every single item that I don't use or love. I will enjoy what is left so much more, and there will be a lot more space for the things and people that really matter.

There are dozens of books out there with advice on dealing with clutter; my system is simple. I am going through the house, one room at a time, filling bags and boxes with unwanted items - being ruthless in my selection process - and hauling them to Goodwill, one trunkful at a time. My piano studio is getting the treatment now. After I am finished, each room will get a carpet cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. I will keep you posted.

POUNDS
I have struggled with my weight my entire life, and plan to share that story in a future blog. Right now, although I am at a "healthy" weight - at least according to the BMI charts - I know that I look and feel better about fifteen pounds lighter. Menopause and a diagnosis of hypothyroidism have taken their toll, but now that the hormones have leveled off and my thyroid levels are where they should be, I am ready to give up however many glasses of red wine and however many pieces of chocolate are necessary in order reach what I believe is an optimal weight for me. I am doing it the old-fashioned way: counting calories and increasing my activity level. I am keeping a food diary and making a point to go to the gym (I have a $15/month membership at Fitness 19) at least five times a week. Bonus: I won't need to go shopping for new clothes when I am able to get back into some of those cute tops, pants, skirts and dresses already hanging in my closet.

So there you have it. If any of you battle any of these same issues, feel free to share your own struggles and successes. We are not alone.

A Childlike Sense of Wonder

"Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories."
~ Ray Bradbury

Until the fall of 2009, I was a home schooling mom. My son Josh, now 23, is a home school high school graduate; Casey, a joint enrolled college student, and Nathan, a high school freshman, both entered public school for the first time last August. I loved home schooling my kids. I taught my boys how to read and do math; we shared great books, listened to classical music, went to concerts, and visited museums.

And we went on nature walks. My inspiration in those days was a teacher from the Victorian era named Charlotte Mason. She encouraged her students to go outdoors in all kinds of weather, commune with nature, and record their observations in notebooks. Charlotte's students painted with watercolors; my boys and I drew with colored pencils. I am no artist, but the point wasn't to create art. The point was to SEE. It was powerful. And my children's notebooks were beautiful.

Experiencing the world through the eyes of my children helped bring back the sense of wonder I had lost since leaving childhood, and I am determined to hang onto it. Last Wednesday, as I left my critique partner Lindy's house, I noticed a bed of violets on her lawn. I love violets, so I stopped and took a picture.

Then I noticed a patch of dandelions, so I took a picture of them, too.

Now I am aware that violets and dandelions are considered weeds, and people spray their lawns with toxic chemicals to get rid of them. But I happen to think that perfectly manicured grass is highly overrated. Besides, dandelions have magical powers. After a dandelion flower goes to seed, if you pick it carefully, close your eyes and make a wish, then blow all the seeds away, your wish will come true. Of course, you have to blow EVERY single seed away - similar to blowing out all the candles on a birthday cake. Knowing that, how can you NOT love a dandelion? I am even considering having a picture of a dandelion gone to seed tattooed onto my ankle. That's just how special I believe them to be.

Have you lost your childlike sense of wonder? Try skipping across the parking lot from your car into the grocery store. Blow some bubbles through a wand. Color a picture with a box of crayons.

Make a wish on a dandelion.

"Never lose the childlike wonder. It's just too important. It's what drives us. Help others."
~ Randy Pausch

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Finish what you start!

"Best advice on writing I've ever received. Finish."
~ Peter Mayle

Here is a great link for all my writer friends: a free course on how to finish your novel by Timothy Hallinan. He says this information is for you "if you've started a novel but are having trouble finishing it, or you want to start a novel but aren't sure you'll be able to finish it." I bet many of you fall into one of those two categories.

I have a lifetime of experience in two subjects that a lot of folks have thought about doing or would like to be able to do better. One is playing the piano; the other is writing. I am here for you! If you want to learn the piano, sign up for lessons. We can do them in my piano studio or via Skype. If you want to write a book, read Timothy Hallinan's tutorial. Seriously. It's that good.

***

My life is topsy turvy right now, with many uncertainties and a handful of big decisions to be made. But there is one thing I know for sure. I am going to finish my revision of The Wishing Box by the end of this month. And then I am going to move on. Because I am literally exploding with ideas for new projects.

Is there anything you have always wanted to do that you haven't tried yet? If so, what is it and what is stopping you from getting started and achieving your goal?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tips For Better Ideas

I am constantly seeking new ideas. Whether I'm considering blog topics, brainstorming the plot of a novel, designing a piece of jewelry, or simply trying to decide what to make for dinner, I am on the lookout for something interesting, unique, and fresh. My friend Pat sent me the link to this short video, "Tips for Better Ideas." I found it quirky and inspiring. I hope you will, too.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Living Loud

It has been quite a weekend.

I crossed Item #50 off my Amazing Life List.

I took Nathan for a haircut and commiserated with Jody. We have big plans. I'll give you a hint.


Can you guess?

I helped my friend and critique partner Lindy celebrate her 39th birthday at Cafe Istanbul in Decatur. Great food, great atmosphere, great friends. I can't wait to go back!

Happy Birthday, dear Lindy!

I ran a few errands; I spent some time in the sun; I did a spot of spring cleaning. And I cooked Mexican food - chicken and veggie quesadillas, refried beans, rice and salad - and hosted a second birthday celebration for Nathan.

My boy's got swagger.

Yep, the weekend went by too fast. Don't they all?

But I needed it. One of Julia Cameron's best pieces of advice to creative individuals in her books The Artist's Way is to "fill the well," to replenish the creative reservoir - to take the time to turn inward to relax as well as outward to observe. I did plenty of both. I feel refreshed and invigorated.

So first thing tomorrow, it's back to work. I've got to finish the revision of The Wishing Box, get the synopsis of Hilda (working title) written and off to the agent from last weekend, and outline the two books I've got in my head. Maybe I am a fiction writer, after all.

"We only live once, but once is enough if we do it right. Life your life with class, dignity, and style so that an exclamation, rather than a question mark, signifies it!"

~Gary Ryan Blair

Friday, March 18, 2011

Where I've Been, Where I'm Headed

I felt nostalgic yesterday. It was St. Patrick's Day, and I looked back fondly on last year's celebration, a wild night of debauchery with one of the bachelors from the past. Ha! But there was sadness mixed with the happiness. Sadness about what might have been and never will be. Happiness about the unexpected twists and turns my life has taken since then and all the possibilities the future holds.

***

It has been one of those weeks. Yesterday, Casey was in an auto accident and totaled his car - the one we have no collision insurance on. But all I can do is be thankful that no one was hurt. Meanwhile, Nathan turned fifteen and got his learner's permit this afternoon. Now I have three young men out on the roads of Atlanta. It is hard not to worry.

"Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorry. It only saps today of its joy."
~Leo Buscaglia

***

This time last year I was playing the "dating game" and fighting illness. Now, as I approach the ten-year anniversary of my divorce, I am single and healthy. I am doing work that I love and embracing friendships and projects that I cherish.

I've come a long way, baby.

I'm not exactly sure where I'm headed. But I stumbled upon a couple of great blog posts this week.

First, this one, about how bloggers engage community. I would love to develop a community. Of women in the throes of reinvention. Because I know I'm not the only one. Maybe I will even inspire someone to get out of her comfort zone and be the person she's always dreamed of being, do the work she's always dreamed of doing. There's no time like the present.

Second, this one, a piece of "narrative nonfiction." I had never heard that term before. But I think it's possible that's what I'm meant to write. I have been making a big effort to be a fiction writer. But on the heels of rejection, I am experiencing a crisis of confidence. Maybe I don't have what it takes to write the great American novel. My strength has always been writing nonfiction - clear, concise prose that requires very little editing - as opposed to fiction, which I can't seem to get right, no matter how hard I try.

I have so many stories to tell. I just have to figure out how best to tell them.

Readers, talk to me. We're all in this together.

Facing Rejection with the Petit Fours and Hot Tamales


I'm blogging with the Petit Fours and Hot Tamales today. Click HERE and join the conversation!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Goal Setting. Keep it to yourself? Or share it with the world?

If you have three and a half minutes, watch this little video. If you don't, proceed with my discussion afterwards.


When it comes to goal setting, the internet is full of conflicting information. It seems apparent that people who write down their goals are more successful in achieving them than those who do not. However, as Mr. Sivers explains above, research shows that sharing your goals with others - with the purpose of making yourself accountable - might make you less likely to succeed. Apparently, talking about your goals approximates the thrill of actually meeting them and removes your motivation to take action towards them.

Maybe that explains why my self-imposed deadline for completing the revision of my manuscript - as declared on this blog - has inched forward, week by week, month by month. Sigh.

This excerpt from 10 Creativity Tips from Donald Miller has been useful:

"I think half the battle of a creator is in finishing their projects. I wonder how many of the world's greatest creators never created anything great, because while they may have had the intelligence and even the skill, they weren't finishers. Finishing is part of the art.

A guy I met once ran into Norman Mailer at an airport and asked him what he was working on. Mailer politely declined to answer the question, saying that when he talks about a book to too much, it steals his motivation to write it. I agree with Mailer, and I also think it was a brilliant way to get out of answering a question most writers are asked 50,000 times a day! Regardless of his intention, it's true that when we talk about our work, we give ourselves the feeling that we are working on something when truthfully, we aren't."

Do you write down your goals? Do you keep them to yourself, or share them with others?

***

Monday, I submitted my application for PRO status in Romance Writers of America. To qualify, one must have completed a manuscript of at least 40,000 words, and either have a publishing contract OR a rejection from a recognized literary agent. I sent in a CD with my (unrevised) 70,000 word manuscript and a copy of one of my email rejections. Woot! Woot!

This morning, I revised another twenty pages of the manuscript. By the end of the month, I am determined to have the revision complete and ready to query to other agents and editors. As Steve Martin said, "I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper." But now I am ready to put it behind me. Yes, it is the book of my heart. But it is also my FIRST book. I have many more stories to tell. And now that I have some experience under my belt, I believe I will do a better job with the next one.

Regardless of where my journey ends, I am happy to be on the road.

"A year from now you may wish you had started today." ~ Karen Lamb

Where do you want to be a year from now? What is preventing you from starting today?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nathan's Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday, dear Nathan!!

My youngest turned fifteen today. FIFTEEN? How can that be? Where have the years gone?

He had to catch the school bus at 6:10 this morning and I had piano students until 8:30, but we celebrated with birthday cake and ice cream after I finished teaching. Since my cupboards are practically bare, I was forced to bake from scratch. It turned out it didn't take much more time than opening a box, and the results were so much better. I may never buy a cake mix or canned frosting again.

The yellow cake recipe I followed was nothing special, but the frosting was truly delicious - light, creamy, and fresh tasting. Here is the recipe.

FRENCH SILK FROSTING

2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate, cooled
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons half and half

Beat powdered sugar, butter, chocolate and vanilla in small mixer bowl on low speed. Add milk gradually; beat until smooth and fluffy. Frosts two nine-inch layers.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Southern Lights Writers Conference, Part 2

I am home from the Southern Lights Writers Conference, sponsored by the First Coast Romance Writers of Jacksonville, Florida. It was my first-ever out of town writers conference, and I am so glad I went.

The speakers were great. First up was New York Times Bestselling author Cheryl Wilson with a lecture on world building. Since I write women's fiction, I didn't think this workshop would be relevant to me, but Cheryl explained that world building crosses genre; by the time she was finished, I was ready to try my hand at writing a fantasy series - look out, J. K. Rowling! Next, writer Renee Ryan shared twelve steps to writing success. All of her suggestions were spot-on, but one I hadn't considered before was "Study movies like a writer," perhaps even turning the sound off in order to truly understand action versus dialogue. Finally, Vic DiGenti offered tips for spicing up plot using characters, dialogue, setting and point of view. We even did some writing exercises.

Cheryl Wilson also gave the keynote speech, "Preparing for Success." On the heels of an agent pitch appointment that didn't go so well - although she did ask me to send her my synopsis - I really needed to hear Cheryl's words of encouragement. Write what you love. Master your craft. Develop friendships with other writers. Forgive yourself when you fall short of your own expectations. Refill the artistic well. Thanks, Cheryl.

Cheryl Wilson and Pam Asberry

Speaking of friendships with other writers, it was a pleasure to see author Ava Milone again.

Lindy Chaffin Start, Pam Asberry, Ava Milone

And after the conference ended, there was just enough daylight left for a quick drive to Jacksonville Beach.

Lindy Chaffin Start & Pam Asberry, cold but happy

There was an hour and a half wait for a table at Joe's Crab Shack, so we dined at Campeche Bay Mexican Restaurant instead. It turned out to be a great choice. I should have taken a picture of my fish tacos but I was so hungry that I ate them before the thought occurred to me. Next time.

During the drive back to Atlanta, Lindy and I discussed our writing goals and put our heads together to come up with ways to better organize our days so we can meet our personal and professional obligations and find more to write. Anything is possible. I am more determined than ever.

Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Submit, submit, submit.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Southern Lights Writers Conference, Part 1

So happy to be here!

My critique partner Lindy and I are in Jacksonville, Florida, looking forward to the Southern Lights Writers' Conference tomorrow. Sponsored by the First Coast Romance Writers, the conference will feature keynote speaker C. L. Wilson along with Renee Ryan and Vic DiGenti. Also, I have an agent pitch appointment at 11:20. Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Waking Up in the Land of Glitter

My work in progress might fall under the genre of "crafty lit" - a term coined by artist and author Kathy Cano-Murillo. In such books, the main character does something with her hands, whether it is quilting, knitting, cooking or scrapbooking; How To Make An American Quilt, The Friday Night Knitting Club, even White Oleander falls into this category. The heroine in my story works in a bead shop and designs jewelry. Kathy Cano-Murillo's debut novel, Waking Up in the Land of Glitter, revolves around three women who do crafts.

Much of the story takes place at La Pachanga, a hip Mexican eatery and art gallery in Phoenix, Arizona, owned by Estrella "Star" Esteban's family. Talented and hardworking but irresponsible and flighty, Star makes a foolish decision that brings a blight on the establishment, straining her relationship with her parents and causing her beloved boyfriend to leave her. To atone, she volunteers to make centerpieces for a national craft competition. Assisted by a couple of unlikely companions - her best friend, Ofelia, whose attempts at crafts are an abomination, and a local television celebrity who is known for her craft ability but secretly hates crafts - Star attempts to follow through on a promise for the first time in her life while learning the true meaning of family, friendship and love.

The beautiful front cover , which literally sparkles with glitter, drew me in, and I stayed hooked all the way to the very last page of this well-written tale. The multi-talented Kathy Cano-Murillo has taken her love of art and crafts and woven it throughout her story in such a way that it almost becomes a separate character. If glitter speaks to you, if you enjoy making things with your hands, if you love strong female characters, if you appreciate a good love story - you will love this book.

Leave a comment at the conclusion of this blog post before midnight Saturday to be entered in a drawing to win a $10 Amazon gift certificate - so you can buy yourself a copy of Waking Up in the Land of Glitter or Kathy's latest release, Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing. More on that next week; be sure to come back so you don't miss out!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Serendipity

Serendipity is the act of finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it. It happens to me all the time. Often, when I reflect upon a discovery, I am unable to recall the exact sequence of events that led to it. But there it is waiting for me, like a starfish on the beach.

Here are a few treasures I uncovered today.

1. Anna DeStefano blogged about "locked and loaded" external conflict in novel writing. This was precisely the information I needed as I struggle with my revision, trying to turn my story into a page-turner.

2. Jolina Petersheim blogged about the force that compels some of us to keep writing even in the midst of the current "publishing apocalypse." This is one of the most beautifully written posts I have ever read, and gave me a ray of hope on a day when I was seriously questioning the wisdom of investing so many hours in a book that seems so far from ever being published.

3. Kristen Lamb blogged about writers maintaining sanity in the effort to build platform. (After I finished her post, I went ahead and bought myself a copy of We Are Not Alone - The Writers Guide to Social Media.) For the first time, I truly understand what platform is and what it isn't, and I am giving myself permission to be who I am - nothing more and nothing less - here on my personal blog. Like my bio says, my life has many facets, and I need to let them all shine through here, even as I continue to plug away on my manuscript, making sure that the finished product will be so great that you all will want to buy it and read it - and give extra copies to your to your ten closest friends and family members.

Just kidding.

I meant TWENTY closest friends and family members.

I intend to continue blogging daily, but you can look forward to a wider range of topics; for example, I will include my crafty posts - after all, the heroine of my novel is a jewelry designer. (However, my music education blog, Notes from the Piano, will remain separate.)

The fact is, I do not know enough about the craft of writing to provide authoritative instruction on the topic - certainly not on a daily basis - although I can certainly guide you to some wonderful online resources, like I did today. And maybe if I am honest with you - about my dreams and schemes, my struggles and successes, my fears and failures - I will inspire you to try something you have always wanted to do. Whether it's writing a book or playing the piano or knitting a scarf or trying a new recipe, there is joy in the journey. And, my oh my, how one thing leads to another.

It's serendipity.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bon Mardi Gras!!!

Pamela, Lindy and Moi in our holiday finery

On this most festive occasion, I have a couple of special links to share.

1. My friend and critique partner Pamela Mason has composed a Mardi Gras tale that she offers as a gift to the world. Click HERE to read it, but you're going to have to be patient, as this is only the first installment. Well done, Pamela!

2. My friend and Jane Austen Book Club cohort Theresa Rice has written a blog post on Creamy Creole Pralines, resplendent with history, legend, a recipe, and a spot of jazz. Theresa's blogs don't sit flat on the page; when I read them, I feel like I'm watching a live performance starring the author herself. Mark my words: one of these days, Theresa will host her own television show on the Food Network. You heard it here first!

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Tonight, I am looking forward to a quiet celebration here at home, just my manuscript and me. This morning, I discovered a huge discrepancy in my time line, requiring extensive rewriting; still determined to complete my revision prior to leaving for the Southern Lights Writers Conference on Friday, I must continue to push. It's pay now, play later; wish me luck!

Monday, March 7, 2011

And the winner is...

Thanks to everyone who "liked" my new author fan page on Facebook. The winner of the autographed copy of Missy Teppens' His Forever Love is DEBRA BECHT. Congratulations, Deb! With this giveaway, I am renewing my personal commitment to good, old-fashioned book reading. Although, technically, reading a book on my Kindle might not be considered old-fashioned...

I like to start my mornings with a cup of coffee and my laptop. Minutes turn into hours as I find out all the latest about my friends and fellow authors on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, email, and blogs of every shape and size. (My username is PamAsberry if you want to look for me.) I value the personal connections; I acquire valuable information and insights. Like the caffeine in my morning joe, social networking is stimulating - and addictive. And sometimes I wonder if I am getting too much of a good thing.

I was an avid reader at a very early age. As an elementary student, I always checked out the maximum number of books allowed from my school library, and was given the privilege of choosing from the "adult" section in the bookmobile when I was in the sixth grade. Carolyn Haywood, Lloyd Alexander, Louisa May Alcott and Charles Dickens were childhood favorites. My appetite remained voracious through high school, when I discovered science fiction and fantasy, Ayn Rand and Hermann Hesse, romance novels and Gone with the Wind. I was wild and free - on the inside, at least. If you knew me back in the day, you might have called me as a bookworm. But I wouldn't have been offended. I would have simply shrugged my shoulders and moved on to the next chapter.

Everything changed when I got to college; I was too busy poring over textbooks and writing papers and practicing piano - and partying with my friends - to read for pleasure. I don't remember reading much those first few years of married life, either. As a matter of fact, it wasn't until I became pregnant with my first child that I seriously picked up a book again. But then it was to educate myself - first on pregnancy, then on child development and home education. And I read to my kids - many wonderful books by all the greatest authors for young people. I have delicious memories of those days; I hope my boys do, too. I still have a large collection of picture books and chapter books; maybe I will share them with grandchildren one day.

In the meantime, my little boys have grown into young men; they read for themselves, and I have given up on trying to solve the riddles of parenting. So the past couple of years, I have spent my free moments working on my own novel and reading nonfiction selections books on the subject of writing craft. But there hasn't been much time leftover for digging into a juicy novel. It seems selfish, decadent, a waste of time.

Or is it?


In his great book On Writing, author Stephen King says the following:

"The real importance of reading is that it creates an easy and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one's papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn't, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor."

Those are strong words. But they ring true. I will feel better - and write better - if I eat less figurative junk food and opt for solid nutrition. My goal is a book a week.

Describe your reading habits. What was the last novel you finished? Recommended or no? Why or why not?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Got sleep?

I had the hardest time concentrating today. Usually, all it takes is a tepid shower and a couple of cups of coffee to turn me into a lean, mean working machine. This morning, though, even the change of scene - and a third cup of joe - provided by the nearest Starbucks didn't do the trick.

I mentioned my attention deficit in an email to my critique partners around lunchtime. They dared suggest that I try some...drum roll...sleep.

The audacity! I thought. I get plenty of sleep! Five or six hours every night, whether I need it or not. Even though, admittedly, sometimes I feel guilty about giving up and going to bed.

I decided to do a bit of research. The consensus is that adults require an average of seven to eight hours of shut-eye daily, and that chronic sleep deprivation can affect not only the memory and the ability to process information, but also increase the likelihood of work-related or automobile accidents and contribute to serious health issues such as heart attack, stroke, obesity and psychiatric problems.

Wow. And I thought being tired just made people cranky.

My dog gets plenty of sleep.

Finally, I read this fascinating blog post by Martha Beck; she says that during periods of intense creativity, restructuring takes place in our brains, necessitating extra sleep. If that's true, I probably should be sleeping at least twelve hours out of twenty-four, because everything I am trying to accomplish - from teaching piano to revising my novel - is requiring creativity I didn't even know I possessed. My brain must be some kind of wrinkled gray transformer.

We live in a society that wears sleep deprivation like a badge of honor, and my demanding schedule and chronic insomnia make a wicked combination. But the bottom line is I will write better if I rest better.

I'm going for seven hours tonight.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

When life gives you lemons, blog about it!

It's been one of those weeks.

On Tuesday, the ATM machine accepted my deposit, then gave me a black screen of death - without crediting my account for over $1000 worth of checks.

On Wednesday, I broke my front doorknob, with the lock jammed in the out position so the door couldn't be shut completely.

The locksmith said I am a magician.

Then today, at a routine eye exam, I learned that I have cataracts. I hear what you are thinking: Pam, you are much too young for cataracts. Well, it turns out they are quite common in the over-40 set. Ahem.

There was a time in my life when a series of events such as this would have thrown me into a pit of despair so deep and so wide I might not climb out for days. Maybe even weeks.

But I feel positively lighthearted. Three of my Petit Fours and Hot Tamales sisters received wonderful news recently. (1) Carol Burnside got a release date (June 1st) and a beautiful cover for her forthcoming novel, "Bittersweet Obsessions." (2) Susan May sold her book about her uncle, a flight surgeon during World War II. (3) Sandra Elzie received a contract for a biography of former crack addict and prostitute Lisa Hensley. And three of my friends - Lindy Chaffin Start, Pamela Mason and Julee Johnson-Tate - launched writer blogs this week. I am beside myself with pride for these ladies' accomplishments and gratitude for their friendship.

Not to mention my own work is going well. I am flying through my novel revision; I am beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. As a matter of fact, I can hardly wait for my agent pitch appointment next weekend.

With all this great stuff going on, how could I let a few minor mishaps get me down? I very calmly made a claim for the missing checks with my bank (spending a total of less than an hour on hold), got the door knob repaired (for half the amount I was originally quoted), and bought a glamorous pair of sunglasses (polarized lenses, with both UVA and UVB protection) hoping to slow the progress of the cataracts.

Then I went to Shenanigans and let Jody have her way with me. Again.

The new and improved 'do

How has your week been?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A CHOIR OF ANGELS by Marilyn Baron


Just ten days ago, my friend and fellow Petit Fours and Hot Tamales blogger Marilyn Baron's humorous, supernatural e-short story, "A Choir of Angels," was released by TWB Press. I suggest you run - not walk - to the publisher's website immediately and buy yourself a copy.

Rhonda Paver has been eagerly awaiting the announcement of her daughter's engagement. In anticipation, she has hired a wedding planner and organized every detail to perfection. All that remains to be done is to help Hayley select her wedding gown. And Rhonda has promised to sing at the big event.

The only problem is that she dies before she has a chance to fulfill these commitments.

During their journey to the hereafter, her curmudgeonly angel guide attempts to explain her situation, but stubborn Rhonda refuses to take no for an answer. Find out how she outwits death - and the devil himself - in this delightful, imaginative tale.

To read "A Choir of Angels," you can purchase a PDF eBook file or find a Kindle, Nook or OmniLit link at TWB press (click HERE) or search Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook or Omnilit.com by name or title.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PFHT Contest Announcement

I started my revision today. Following the guidelines in the article I cited in my blog postyesterday, I first wrote down my theme, a 25-word summary of the entire book, a one-line story arc for my main character, and a novel synopsis of less than 250 words. By the time I finished all that, I had time to revise only ten pages pages of manuscript, leaving me with fifteen pages to complete before I go to bed tonight. But I can already see that being clear on all these elements will make it easier to remove anything that does not move my story forward.

My big red pen is ready and waiting.


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The Petit Fours & Hot Tamales Recipe for Success Write-Off begins tomorrow. The grand prize winner will receive a critique of the first twenty pages of an unpublished manuscript from literary agent Chelsea Gilmore of the Maria Carvainis agency. Click HERE for contest rules; nothing would make me happier than for one of my followers to win! Good luck to all!