Monday, January 31, 2011

I Interrupt My Regularly Scheduled Blog with a Change in Plans

I had a great weekend in Georgia with my writing friend. There's nothing better than banging out words all day, talking about the words during breaks, hashing out plot problems, and planning our future words. However, all this writing and work on my current WIP along with my early winter travel schedule means I am making a minor change to my blog schedule.

Drum Roll Please

I'm switching my blog days from Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to Tuesday and Thursday postings. This will give me a bit more time to focus on querying and my online class work. DIGGING OUT OF DISTRACTION will continue to feature Debut Novel Interviews with my writing friends, and my own ramblings about life, the universe, and everything (remember Dr. Who? I do!). As always, I hope to give my readers a dash of the silly along with the serious. And finally, I am toying with a Shout Out Your Success feature for the blog.

So stay tuned! This will be a fun year!!

And now? Back to my regularly scheduled writing program!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

On the Road Again

I'm heading to Atlanta to see my dear friend. We'll write, we'll talk, we'll drink beertini's or wine. We'll plot and we'll have fun.

The best part of life is the people you'll meet along the way!

Who are your favorite people?

Winner of Karen Johnston's book is Diana Quincy! Woohoo!!

And just for fun, here's Willie Nelson singing one of my favorite tunes:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Break Out the Bubbly & the Dark Chocolate: Celebrating Author Karen Johnston's Releases

Please join me in giving my dear friend and critique partner Karen Johnston a warm welcome as I celebrate her two middle-grade book releases. We've been exchanging pages and manuscripts for five years now. Her critique is invaluable to me and I credit her with helping me hook agents with my query letters. I had the unique pleasure of critiquing her debut release THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE. I loved this civil war mystery and ghost book. BIG BOYS DON’T SPY was fun to read as well. Karen has a witty, fun voice that is perfect for all young readers. And as a writer-friend she is an unstoppable and fearless supporter. Her positive, optimistic outlook is always a ray of sunshine in my life. Whenever I feel down about my own future, she perks me right up. I hope you enjoy getting to know one of my favorite people. 

How did you end up becoming a writer?
I guess if you’re asking when did I become a writer of fiction, I would have to say right when I went into advertising after college back in Covent Garden, London. Writing copy to sell a product is the best form of fiction, right?
To be serious, it was after having my kids. After moving over from the UK to the green pastures of New Jersey (south Jersey—all peach orchards and corn) my husband and I (we are both British) with our three little American children, decided I would stay home to take care of the boys. And as much as I loved my offspring, I knew I would go insane if I didn’t do something else, so I signed up for an online course. I had a choice of art history or writing articles for magazine. I chose the latter and never looked back.
 Oh Karen, I can totally relate to needing an intellectual outlet when one stays home with the children. I'm so glad you chose writing articles! You've moved on to novels, too. What is your favorite genre to write today?
I am currently writing young adult fiction and I love it. I love meeting the teenage family with whom I’m about to spend the next nine months. I love the drama, the raw excitement, the hope, the utter despair and the incredible depth of emotion. Give me a teenager any day.
 Are you a plotter or do you follow the muse?
 A little of both. I have a whole wall of how-to writing books (I have a particular fondness toward Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder) and dip into them on an almost daily basis. At the beginning of a new project, I have grand ideas and plans to write a full and complete outline before writing one word of the story, then a character witters away in my ear and I just have to throw plot holes to the wind and start.
 I'm impressed that you read a bit of a how-to book every day. I have to get back into that habit. I will start with SAVE THE CAT. You're a busy writer, Karen. How do you relax after a writing day?
A glass of chilled Chardonnay in front of a rerun of Entourage. Who can resist Ari Gold?
 *Smile* Who indeed? What do you read? What are your favorite genres? Who are your favorite authors?
My taste is eclectic. I read everything from every pink trimmed young adult novel out there to a dose of women’s fiction. I just read Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. Couldn’t put it down. I also devoured Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee and of course, Life of Pi. My favorite authors include Sarah Dessen and Melissa Kantor, Kurt Vonnegut, Anne Tyler, Jane Smiley, John Irving and Nick Hornby. Love love love Nick Hornby.
Sarah Dessen is one of my favorite YA authors. My darling teen and I read them all. Tell me more about your current project. What is it about?  
A young adult novel about desires and choices (still in its infancy). Just met the boy next door—he is soooo not the typical boy-next-door and is driving me potty.
Any new releases?  
I have two middle grade novels published. My debut novel THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE came out in 2009 and just before Christmas, my latest novel BIG BOYS DON’T SPY about a twelve-year-old boy obsessed with spying, hit the shelves.
You know I loved reading both books as your CP, but I've often wondered where you get your ideas for your stories?
Great question and one I get asked all the time when I give my school presentations. Really they come from all sorts of places. Life. Kids. A germ of an idea that has a party in my brain and, if I’m lucky, gives me an invite.
I love the visual image of a "germ of an idea giving you an invite" the story. How long were you trying to get published before you got the “call?”
I had been writing for three years (fiction) before I got the call for THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE. I had written a women’s fiction before that, and although it had secured me an agent, it did not sell. My agent (at that time) did not represent children’s, so I queried the novel myself.
You always amaze me with your fearless approach to querying! How did you celebrate the new book contract?
With a lot of chocolate—kind of the same thing I do when I commiserate over a rejection. Oh dear. Actually, that’s not quite true. I celebrated the sale with a rather large cheesecake, too, and lots of smiles and hugs from my boys and hubby.
Do you currently have an agent?
Yes. I do have an agent. I recently signed with Curtis Brown.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. Perhaps bend a few rules. And write every day.
Nothing new there, I know, but this is one of the few professions where everyone starts off in the same place. Every single writer is unpublished first.
What encouragement can you give writers who face rejection?
It’s so SUBJECTIVE. Like art and wine tasting. What works for one person may not work for another. Trust your instincts. Believe in yourself, and work hard. 
Working hard is the most important part. And writing every day is key. You taught me that trick. Other writers reinforced it. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
Making time for family and friends yet still finding time to write every day.
It is hard to juggle and balance the real world with our fiction worlds. Did anything change after the "call?" What surprised you most afterward? 
That nothing actually changed. I was a writer before I was published and I’m still a writer.
I love your take on writing and the call, Karen. Thanks for stopping in today and visiting me on the veranda. Keep us posted about your current YA. I'm a lucky person because I get to read it before you sell it! But today another person will also get a chance to win one of your first two books by leaving a comment on this blog.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cooking Up a Storm or Winter Weather Watch #2

We're awaiting another weather event. Snow is predicted. I am in denial. Therefore, I shall only say this: I've got a blow dryer, three snow shovels, and all hands on deck if I need them. I hope I don't need them. I really do. I'm lighting candles and sending up desperate momma pleas for no more snow.

Why? First of all, I've paid my dues on the snow front as a child, teen, young adult, and woman. I moved to Alabama. This is the south!! I want southern sultry weather. Snow does not have a place here anymore.

Second of all, I have work to do. Serious work. And I'm not just talking about writing. I'm talking about Cooking Up a Storm. One that doesn't include making allowances for weather events where fluffy white stuff falls. I am on duty as cook de jour for my husband's colleague's family.

Life happens folks. And sometimes when life happens it is pretty sucky. Like a cancer is diagnosed and a young mom is fearful for her hubby and scared for her children. And when life happens, I get cooking! I am a Church of the Holy Casserole and Crockpot kind of gal. I can't cure cancer. I can't kill mean, bad ass cells, but I can cook. Yes, I can pray. I can ask for help from the universe and I do. But I can also help in practical ways. And this is my gift that I can give to them.

Snow is not allowed to interfere. Period. The. End. I have an SUV, and I'm not afraid to deliver.

Now I'm talking about cooking on full-speed ahead mode. I'm talking 2 crockpots running at the same time and one homemade casserole ready to roll. I'm talking about packaging the food and making it easy to freeze and microwave.

Yes, I am a doer. I always have been a doer. I can't sit still and wait for answers. I don't do well with not doing something to help if I have the ability and the resources to do so. So I hear crap news? I think to myself how can I help? And this is how I help best.

I'm a cook at heart. Had I not been diagnosed with a deadly food allergy, I'd probably be a food critic or chef. I love to cook (and I love to eat). The culinary world's loss is the writing world's gain because now I cook up stories, but I digress. I just want to make healthy, nutritious, and healing food for these people.

I'm cooking up a storm tomorrow. I know I can't use tomato bases in my recipes because of the acid (thanks to a nurse/friend's advice). So here's what is cooking at my house tomorrow:

Christine's Crockpot Chicken

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut in half
12 or so new potatoes, cleaned with skin on and halved
1 pound carrots peeled and cut into large pieces
1 bag frozen pearl onions or frozen onions or 1 fresh onion chopped
1 cup white wine
1 cup light chicken broth, no MSG and low sodium
garlic powder
dried whole rosemary
fresh ground pepper
salt (optional)
Penzey's Tuscan Sunset (salt free) or Salt free Italian Seasoning

Spray a crock pot with Pam cooking spray. Layer potatoes, onions, carrots, and onions. Then add cut up chicken breasts. Combine wine and broth. Pour over the mixture. Sprinkle all spices on top of the mixture to taste or to coat. (I never measure this). Cover. Cook on low for 6-8 hours in crock pot. Avoid stirring the ingredients if you can till the very end. Serve with hot rolls. The broth is excellent. The whole house smells like a wonderful, aromatic Italian trattoria. :-)

From Fix It & Forget It Lightly/with some adjustments
Gone All Day Casserole 
Submitted By Beatrice Orgish

1 cup uncooked wild rice (I use a brown and wild rice mix) rinsed and drained
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
2, 4 oz cans mushroom stems and pieces, drained
1 large onion, chopped (I'm using frozen chopped onion)
1 clove garlic minced
1/2 cup slivered almonds (I'm omitting due to small children & possible allergies)
2-3 pounds boneless round steak, cut into cubes
2 Tbsp. oil (I'll use olive)
3 cups low salt beef broth

 Place ingredients in crock pot in order listed. Cover. Salt and pepper beef, brown in skillet, transfer to Pam coated crock pot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours till rice is tender. Stir before serving (or putting in freezer containers). Enjoy!

Martha Stewart's Great Food Fast'sHomemade Macaroni and Cheese (with minor adjustments)

1 pound elbow macaroni
4 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup all purpose flour, spooned and leveled
4 cups milk (I've made this with skim, but am using whole for the recipe)
1/8 tsp. cayenne (I'm NOT adding this for others, but do for my family)
1 1/4 cups yellow cheddar cheese, shredded
 1 1/4 cups white cheddar cheese, shredded (I am doing 2  1/2 cups yellow/orange cheese)
coarse salt
fresh ground pepper
8 oz ham, diced into pieces
bread crumbs (I make my own & freeze), but store bought is fine

Preheat oven to 375 (in this case I will not cause I'm prepping for my friend). Prepare pasta, drain, and reserve. In a 5 quart heavy pot, melt butter. Add onion, cook till soft. Whisk in flour to coat onion. Add milk in a steady stream and whisk till no lumps. Cook, whisking often till mixture is thick and bubbly and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Stir in cayenne (not in this case). Add cup each of cheddar cheese (I'll add two cups yellow/orange). Season with salt and pepper. Toss pasta with mixture, fold in ham. Transfer to baking pan. Set aside. Mix the bread crumbs and 1/2 cup cheese. Top pasta with bread crumbs and bake till top is golden. About 30 minutes.

I'm sending it ready to bake, with crumb mixture. 

I hope you try these recipes. They're yummy. and the next time you see people who might need a helping hand, maybe these recipes will come in handy!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Spirit of Peace

A lot of terrible things happened while my darling teen and I were snowbound. The shooting in Tucson, the deaths of innocents, the devastating floods in Australia, the ongoing wars, and the tensions between nations.

I can't help everyone, but I can try to advocate giving where we can to those who are affected by these situations. Yes, I have my personal beliefs and political leanings, but I believe we are all more alike than we are different. Most people want to do good, not evil. I blogged about Peace on Earth on Christmas Eve with the Romance Magicians, my Southern Magic blog group. You can read about it here. If you want to help the people affected by the floods in Australia, check out The Pink Heart Society's efforts to get books to Australia.

This year as we pursue our goals and our reach for our dreams, let's try to live a life filled with a spirit of giving and a heart filled with understanding. Let's look for ways to connect with other people. Building bridges is so much better than tearing them down.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Time to Party: I'm Another Year Older and--Hopefully--Wiser

It's my birthday today! I'm another year older and another year, I hope, wiser. Popping champagne and celebrating with my family tonight with a yummy dinner out. I'm not sure where we'll go, but it is always a treat for me to hang up my apron and be served for a change.

Yes, it's true. I'm getting "older." But I don't care. I look younger than my age, I'm in fairly good health with the exception of a pesky thyroid, and the people I care about are still kicking around the block. Life is good. Sure, every new year brings a change that isn't always pleasant. The pesky thyroid has wrecked havoc with my weight, but heck, I'm not huge. I'm just normal. Another change has been with my eyesight. I have all these little glasses tucked in different rooms just to read labels and books. The good news is that my diminishing ability to read up close has also had the pleasant side effect of my not being able to see all my blemishes or any additional wrinkles that might line my face.

Note: I do have a "magnifying mirror." I only use it to see those pesky hairs in my chin so I can pluck them.

Some people get all grumpy about turning another year older. I've read blogs about it. The people who are most freaked out are usually a lot younger than me. To be honest, I've never worried about getting older. I have enjoyed each age and each adult stage so much that to moan and groan about some silly number seems ridiculous. After all, I've gained so much besides pounds and wrinkles and a few extra chin hairs. I've gained a greater sense of myself and who I am and who I want to be when I am fully cooked.

I am by no means fully cooked. I have so much more to learn and to accomplish. I celebrate my birthday with joy because I love life. If I have a choice between celebrating oh, let's say, 35 or 85, or not being here at all, I pick either age.

As long as I am breathing, I have my cognitive abilities, and I can move around with relative ease, who am I to complain about a number? It's not a score. It is a number. It doesn't define me. It only means that I'm still here.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Snowville, Snowmageddon, and Snowcropolis: Winter Weather Update

News Alert: Southeastern USA hit by huge snow storm. Many citizens in Alabama & Georgia woke up on Monday morning to discover 8 to 12 inches of snow on their property.

For some this was a most unusual occurrence. Other than heading to their local grocery stores to stock up on milk, bread, and cookie supplies they had no idea how to cope with this amount of snow. Entire bread aisles were decimated. Only a few forlorn potato rolls remained.

And now, straight from the snow ditch, here is my Eye Witness Report:

*Southern school districts canceled school on Monday long before the snow began to fall. So on Sunday night a few neighbors got together to celebrate the snow storm threatening the region. We drank copious amounts of wine, ate foods laden with fat and cholesterol, then danced in the snow like giddy kids rather than behaving like grown ups.

*Monday morning I woke up and walked out into the Winterland. I had never expected to stand in 8 inches of snow again after moving to Alabama. I took pictures. I expressed aloud my awe at the serene white beauty blanketing my yard and neighborhood. My neighbor grumped, "It is just heavy and a pain." I knew I'd have to shovel, but I had three in the attic. And I owned snow boots. I'd lived in the North. I was prepared.

*Monday morning continued: I shoveled snow with help of tired teen. Darling Hubby was out of town for the week. We were alone, but we had hope that reinforcements would arrive. Grumpy neighbor finished his driveway and stomped back inside his house never to be seen again. Then our neighbors to the right emerged with their two children. The one year old cried when she stepped into the snow. The four year old climbed my snow mountains. They were incredulous about my shoveling. I persisted knowing all too well what would happen if it got packed by tires, melted, iced over again. Finally, the husband asked to borrow a shovel. Great, thought I. Help is on the way and we'll work together. Nope. Apparently my fond memories of neighbors helping out neighbors with the shoveling task threatened to remain merely memories. Onward ho! Teen and I dug out her car, parked it in the garage, I finished the driveway just as reinforcements arrived. But they reestablished my faith in humanity during snow events.  We finished up my neighbor's driveway, I loaned out all my shovels, one person returned the shovels along with a fine bottle of wine. She lived two streets over and was very grateful for our help.

*Day Two of Snowville:  School canceled. Teen got sick on Tuesday. We raced to doctor. Strep. We hunkered down and watched other people play in the snow while we watched hours and hours and hours of reality television. Teen slept a lot. I managed to write my word count goal.

*Day 3 of Snowmageddon: School still canceled. Teen feeling better. A diet of Anytizers, cookies, and ice cold lemonade helped her recuperate. I looked over at the wine rack. Plenty of wine remained. Now we watched movies, continued eating foods that were not in the milk and bread category, connected to our friends via the Internet. My GRWA friends were surviving. Their children had overrun their houses. Cocktail tours started earlier and earlier.

*Day 4 of Snowcropolis: Another "snow day." Ennui is setting in. The longer we sit around the house eating cookies and swilling our drinks, the less motivated we become. Teen is much better. We shower, throw on makeup, escape the neighborhood in my SUV, drive to Target, eat lunch at Atlanta Bread Co., and go to Hobby Lobby afterward. When we return home, I decorate for Valentine's Day. I need to see some color again.

*Day 5 of Snowland: School is officially canceled. Writers are barely making their word goals, myself included. Teen escapes to the theater with a group of friends. The roads are clear, but not in the eastern part of the city so while learning can't occur, watching  movies and hanging with friends is not a problem. I eagerly await Darling Hubby's return. A teenager is easier to manage than children under the age of ten during this kind of week, but I miss having "adult" conversation. When he does arrive home, he teases me and says, "You just missed your drinking buddy." Possibly true.

Snowmageddon is officially over. Disrupted schedules are slowly returning to normal. Church has resumed, meetings are being held, and school will be session on Tuesday (Monday is a holiday for us). Teen has Destination Imagination and HS Musical Rehearsal on Monday. I'm heading to the gym to try to undo all the damage the cookies and wine have done to my middle, and Darling Hubby is catching up on paperwork on his day "off."

Snow in the south is a force to be reckoned with and I hope I can put my snow shovels back in the attic for the rest of the winter season.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Yesterday I blogged about my personal definition of success in my debut blog for the Petits Four & Hot Tamales. I called it My Success Story. If you haven't already checked it out, you can read about it here.

One of the most important personal beliefs I carry is that an Attitude of Gratitude and a Spirit of Encouragement will bring me greater happiness in life than all the material trappings of success. I have so many examples of successful people in my life who have taught me that it isn't the things you get, it's the way you live that counts when we are measured by a power higher than our own egos.

I have many personal favorite examples of success. My husband's Grandma Glover is one of them. She was a loving wife, mother, and grandmother who spent the majority of her life in the state of Texas. She didn't have books on shelves or make lots of money, but she had an Attitude of Gratitude and a Spirit of Encouragement. I don't think I ever heard her say an angry or spiteful thing in all the years I knew her. She was a truly humble soul. She gave of herself every day, and she met each day with joy in her heart. I often tell my husband that I want to be like Grandma Glover when I "grow up."

Grandma Glover had a wisdom that came from age, from sacrifice, from loss, and from faith. I admire that quality in my Dutch best friend's mother and father as well. They are not movie stars or celebrities, but they are amazing parents and grandparents. They shower their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with love and affection. They honor their family with their words, their acts, and their presence. They are who I want to be when I "grow up."

I often read the obituaries for name ideas. Sometimes I find more than a name. I unearth a success story. I  discover a two column spread about a person who passed away after a long life. Everything written about the person describes a humble soul, a spirit of service, and a loving heart filled with a zest and a joy for life. That this person will be missed is clear in the depth of the praise for acts as simple as being a loving Pop Pop, or a friend to all the rescue animals, or the Best Momma in the World. I want to be one of them when I "grow up."

So I practice an Attitude of Gratitude and a Spirit of Encouragement while still stumbling over my own ego at times because I really do want to "grow up."

Who do you want to be when you "grow up?" Do you have any favorite stories you'd like to share with me? Who influences your spirit and heart in a positive way?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Blogged on Petit Fours & Hot Tamales

Today I debuted on Petit Fours & Hot Tamales and shared My Success Story. Come visit me and say hello.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Petits Fours & Hot Tamales-My New Ongoing Guest Blogger Gig

I'm really excited to announce my new guest blogger gig with the Petits Fours & Hot Tamales blog hosted by some fabulous writers with the Georgia Romance Writers of America. I joined GRWA almost two years ago after I attended my first Moonlight and Magnolias Conference in 2009. Sure, I was already a member of two groups in Alabama, but I'm a social girl and this group was so welcoming I couldn't resist becoming a part of their vibrant writing chapter. 

I learned about PF&HT while I was there and I've followed their blog ever since. They keep things hopping with interesting blogs and four amazing events including the Brenda Novak Auction to benefit Diabetes. I've met several of the members during my visits to Atlanta for the meetings. They are gracious, kind, and fun-loving. So when Debbie Kaufman, a 2010 MAGGIE WINNER, called me to ask if I wanted to become part of their online blog world, I felt very honored by their request. 

Now I have a tangible way to be a part of my GA writing chapter via an online commitment. I seem to have an online trend going which works well for me given my time and distance constraints. I'm also the online workshop moderator and coordinator for my wonderful Heart of Dixie Chapter. And I love blogging once a month for my super Southern Magic Chapter on their Romance Magicians blog. Now I will blog once a month with PFHT and, even better, I get to help out with the Brenda Novak Auction

Here are some of the things that make PF&HT a fabulous blog.

*Author Cara Marsi is doing a travel post on Rome, Italy on January 16th.  
*February 6th, PF&HT blogger, Marilyn Baron, has a travel post on her cruise to New England.  This is a feature they started as a way pass on some inside information to authors that they might not have known about a location or to maybe give them an idea for a new location for their books.
*There is a new feature for the Guest Chefs where she is featuring The Call story (I got this from Carol's wonderful The Call post).   
*They post book reviews each weekend and even share a spot with another review blog called the Romance Dish. They have a special page listing all the reviewed books as well as a page for all the locations we've featured on our travel page. 
*There is a free reads page and they are planning another story to come out this year.

So come over and visit me tomorrow. I'd love the company at my new ongoing blog gig!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Honorable Intentions

I attended church for the first time in over a year. I've been avoiding walking into the sanctuary for a myriad of reasons which had more to do with time than my personal belief system. However, having raised my daughter with faith and a whole lot of Wednesday night potluck church gatherings, I'm not surprised that she jumped into the big church youth group and began singing in their choir this year.

There is no way I will let my child sing in choir without her mother (and her father when he isn't traveling) sitting in the pews to encourage her. So I dragged myself from my personal church: the Church of the Holy Comforter and dressed up for the traditional service.

Confession: I'm a contemporary worship kind of gal so putting on nice pants and a dressing up for church is rather foreign to me. I'm glad she will sing in both types of services so I can wear jeans every once in a while. What can I say? I'm not into the formality of it all. But ... I digress.

Despite a lack of coffee, very tired eyes, and not really knowing anyone at this gargantuan church (I think they have over 3000 members) I'm glad I went to the early morning service. First of all, the singing was amazing. The choir did a fabulous job, and I was so happy to be there to encourage them. These teenagers rehearse every Sunday and are hardworking, dedicated kids. It's always nice to see motivated and caring teens. They give me hope for the future.

Second, I enjoyed the little rituals. The hymns I knew, the fellowship, the benediction, and the sermon. The benefit of going to church, regardless of one's belief system, is the connectivity and the familiarity of the shared knowledge of the faith. It is comforting. And because it was early, and traditional, most of the congregation was older. The people who attended the service were so nice to the teenagers afterward in sharing their encouraging and kind words.

The connectivity, the familiarity, and the shared knowledge within a church group (or a mosque group or a synagogue group...) build bonds. They cross bridges. They teach us to go the extra the mile. They remind us that we are less than we think we are as individuals. They tell us that we can be far greater than who we are by practicing humility and honoring others before ourselves.

And that was what the pastor preached about today. Honoring each other. He couched his sermon in the framework of the family. Honoring our parents AND honoring our children. I believe the concept of honor needs to extend that way in all our interactions. Just as we honor the great mentors in our lives, we must also give honor to those who are at the beginning or in the middle of their journey toward reaching their goals and their dreams.

To honor is to "give weight" to a person.

I think sometimes people forget that it is in honoring all the people in our lives that we truly learn humility. Me being me, I also began mulling over how we react if we are treated in a dishonorable fashion. There are so many gray areas in our lives. Areas where the rules are unclear, they are muddy at best, and we trip over them. We stumble in our response.

Confession: I am a well-known stumbler. I try not to stumble as much as I used to, but I figure when I stop stumbling, I'll be in a better place. No one is perfect. Least of all me.

What about when someone dishonors another? Or oneself? What do we do with the feelings that accompany being dishonored? Do we hold them in a grudge bag? Do we return the negative treatment? Do we ignore it? I've been taught that gentle rebuke is allowed which is usually followed by an apology and then the act of forgiveness.

What if the person dishonoring another person has power over that person? Then what is one's recourse?

I believe that forgiveness is still called for in that situation. This doesn't mean I recommend letting someone continue to treat another person with dishonor, but it does mean it is easier to move on and away from feeling hurt and angry if we do internally forgive that person. At the end of the day, the act of forgiveness and redemption is for us. It sets us free to move on.

Confession: Forgiving and forgetting are not the same to me. I am not honoring my spirit if I allow people to abuse me in any way, shape, or form.  No one should let another person abuse them and break their spirits.

How do we forgive a person who treats us with dishonor? The minister today said something that rang a big bell in my head and clarified my heart.

He said, "People are doing the best that they can given the backgrounds and baggage they have." Personally, in my heart, all I can do is try to understand why someone behaves a certain way. I don't have to like it. I don't have to acknowledge it or condone the behavior, but I can honor a higher power than myself and give that person permission to do the best he or she can. And then I can move on emotionally and mentally.

Maybe in honoring the principle and the belief that all will be well despite our human failings, I will discover the deeper meaning of humility. My heart's desire is to walk in the world with a modest view of myself regardless of how much I achieve or accomplish because I want the people in my life to feel encouraged to grow in their own life journeys.

And I seek out others who share that core belief regardless of their faith, their culture, their educational background, or their history.

So I am adding another goal to my list:

Practice humility and treat others with dignity, honor, and respect.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Top 5 Priority List Times Two & Professional Goals for 2011

On Wednesday I realized I needed two top 5 priority lists. One list for my personal life and one list for my professional life. At what point did that change? There wasn't one point. There were tiny steps made along the way and they built into a mad dash. What started as a dream five years ago has slowly evolved into more than a dream. 

It is my reality.

What is your dream? What steps will you take to make it become a reality? I've shared my ways and the lessons I've learned from other great mentors. I credit Cheryl Richardson's LIFE MAKEOVER book for helping me to focus on the core of my dream. I challenge you to find your core this year. Find a way to make your dream become your reality. Start taking those baby steps. And please share them with me. Remember, what is working for me won't necessarily work for you. But the deal is to figure out what will work for you and live your life with intention and purpose.

This year's top 5 lists for the quarter and my affirmation statement are:

I enjoy being organized and streamlined as I focus on pursuing my professional writing career, personal, and family life goals. 

Top 5 Family Priority List for 2011/First Quarter (Jan.-March)

1. Continue building a healthy lifestyle through exercise, diet and fun.
2. Darling Teen's extra-curricular, education and college preparation under control in areas of online courses, parking, room fix, school trips and testing.
3. Household chores streamlined and a grid made to which all will adhere to help me keep house clean and under control.
4. Create a Comprehensive Schedule based on career and personal obligations to incorporate goals and life events.
5. Build a social community of friends which will enhance our family and marriage as well as bring joy into our lives.

 Top 5 Career Priority List for 2011/First Quarter (Jan-March)

1. Write every day and work on four book series with emphasis on first book.
2. Schedule built to incorporate writing, volunteer, marketing, building brand name, and business objectives.
3. Professional development through querying, submitting materials, entering contests, learning technology, building brand name, ongoing craft classes.
4. Maintain online workshop information/courses, develop personal and prof. blog schedule, send one newsletter article in per month to HOD Newsletter editor.
5. Attend at least two chapter meetings per quarter regardless of chapter to maintain positive writing connections.


*clean and organize office to get ready for the new year
*Finish discovering 4 book series and characters
*Write 5th book 1st Draft and Revise
*Start work on 6th book in 4 book series/Discover/Draft/Revise
*Query 10 agents a month
*Revise 4th book full and resend to agent
*enter 4 contests at a minimum with at least 3 manuscripts at all times including the GH
*Attend Moonlight & Magnolias
*Attend RWA National Conference
*Pitch at both conferences
*Revise 1st book for fun
*build name bible of all names I’ve used in my books
*maintain personal and guest blogs
*continue learning about WordPress
*build my brand name via social media, newsletters and workshop
*work on retreat idea with writing friend
*get an Agent
*get a publishing contract
*find a professional mentor
*streamline writing and business of writing with proper schedule
*Review digital and e-publishers for submissions
*take at least two master classes in craft
*judge at least two writing contests
*set Top 5 Priority Lists and review every quarter
*coordinate online workshops for HOD
*read for fun
*continue learning and growing in my craft with online courses and craft books.
*attend at least 2 chapter meetings per quarter
*send in one article per month to my HOD newsletter editor
*be courageous, strong, and focused in pursuing my dreams and goals.

The last goal is my favorite. Be courageous, strong, and focused as I pursue my dreams and goals

I wish you all the same as you pursue your goals and dreams. Be courageous. Take risks. Fly. Soar. Be strong. Build a network of support. Gird yourself with knowledge. Be focused. Put your dream first and make it a reality. 

And know that one's definition of reality is personal and fluid.

May 2011 be your year to shine!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A New Year and A New Perspective: I'm a Professional

Every year I reflect upon my accomplishments before I set forth new goals and ideals for the new year. I shared my methodology for developing new goals at the beginning of 2010. And I pretty much follow this method every year.

This year I sat down to write my list of twenty-five accomplishments for the year and wrote over forty! Why so many? Because I wasn't just reflecting upon my work/writing accomplishments. No. I was reflecting upon my life and family accomplishments as a wife, a mother, and a friend.

I'm proud of all that I accomplished as a writer, but I am also very proud of my personal accomplishments. It's been an interesting year filled with challenges. My hubby had a hip replacement surgery, I taught my daughter to drive, I said goodbye to my father-in-law, I hosted friends and family for visits, I traveled from here to NYC with my daughter on an epic road trip to tour colleges, I recommitted myself to building a community in my new city in Alabama, and I explored new places.

This was a great year.

As I sat down to renew my focus for 2011, I realized that with all the different hats I wear, I can no longer limit myself to just one set of 5 Top 5 Priorities. No. I am officially a full time writer with many goals, priorities, and commitments. I am also a mother, a wife, and a friend. These two areas of my life need to be separated and treated differently. Therefore, I see myself as a career writer who needs to organize her life accordingly.

And so I made two top 5 priority lists for this first quarter. Each list will be reviewed every quarter. And even better, my darling hubby agrees that I need help with the household duties because I am "working" now. Now I have two master schedules. A schedule for writing and handling all the marketing/business/volunteer duties alongside my household schedule. And the family minions, Darling Teen and Darling Hubby will help with household tasks.

It has happened. By taking myself seriously as a writer, and by gradually increasing my workload and my commitment to my dreams, I have become a professional career writer. Sure, I don't get paid (not unless you count the quarters I pay myself), but I am a professional. And the proof is in the way my family and friends view me. I'm not just that lady who hauls her teen to voice lessons or who does laundry. Nope. I'm the "writer in the family."

And I like it.

Self-respect. Taking myself seriously. It means being taken seriously by others.

Try it this year. Respect your goals, your ambitions, your hopes, and your dreams. You might discover that others in your world do the same.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Break out the Bubbly and the Dark Chocolate: Celebrating Vicky Dreiling's Debut Novel HOW TO MARRY A DUKE

I'm very happy and excited to open up a bottle of my best champagne for my friend and writer Vicky Dreiling. She is an inspiration to me as a writer, and friend. We're celebrating her debut novel, HOW TO MARRY A DUKE which releases today! 
Pop! Pouring bubbly and breaking out the dark chocolate.

How did you end up becoming a writer?
I’ll skip the girlhood diaries and the journalism major in college. J I actually bought my first romance by accident; in other words, I didn’t know it was a romance until I got it home. The book that hooked me on romance was Judith McNaught’s ALMOST HEAVEN. One day I decided to write one for grins. I might never have gotten serious if not for another chance occurrence. I confessed my secret hobby to a friend who just happened to have seen a notice for a romance writing class. On a whim, I signed up.
I love Judith McNaught. Her stories always made me cry. No wonder you enjoy writing regencies! Are you a plotter or do you follow the muse?
It depends on where I’m at in the process of creating the book. The muse suggests a subconscious process to me. Plot is a conscious process. Premise is essentially a concise description of the overall plot of a novel. I knew the premise for HOW TO MARRY A DUKE before I wrote a single word. The idea came to me as I watched The Bachelor TV show.
Once I know the premise, I focus on character, and this is the stage in which I rely on the subconscious or the muse. I have some top-of-mind ideas, but I do not trust them. Those initial ideas are too surface. They lack the emotional complexity necessary to create flawed, lovable, and unforgettable characters. It’s not a process I can control well, but I can bring it forth by thinking about the characters right before going to bed. Then I’ll wake up the next morning with a key scene playing DVD-style in my head. These key scenes contain revelations about the characters’ pasts. During the actual writing, the emotional complexity continues to develop primarily on a subconscious level for me as well. As a result, I’m often surprised by what I discover about the characters while writing.
However, I am a big fan of Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY and keep those stages in the back of my mind while writing the book. I definitely believe learning craft is essential.
            I just bought Vogler’s book and can’t wait to read it. He’s a master. How do you relax after a writing day?
I have two fulltime careers. I don’t relax; I collapse in bed. J  Seriously, I take little breaks and catch up with friends on Twitter, Facebook, and email. One of the hardest things for me is that I’m an extravert and lose energy if I don’t get people contact.
What do you read? What are your favorite genres? Who are your favorite authors?
I primarily read historical romances, although I enjoy Young Adult as well.  My favorite authors are Loretta Chase, Sophie Jordan, Sarah MacLean, Mary Balogh, and Janet Mullany – among many, many others. J

What is your current project? And any new releases?

I just sent book two in my three-book contract to my editor. Revisions are next on the agenda. Once those are completed and accepted, I’ll start the partial for book three. HOW TO SEDUCE A SCOUNDREL will be out in July 2011 and features two characters from HOW TO MARRY A DUKE: Hawk and Julianne.
Where do you get your ideas for your stories?  
The story ideas for all three books in my current contract involve spoofs on modern day dating/reality shows.
Oh, now that sounds interesting. I can’t wait to read your debut novel. How long were you trying to get published before you got the “call?”
I wrote my first Regency historical over a decade ago. Surprisingly, that first book did extremely well in major contests and was a Golden Heart finalist. I got a lot of agent and editor requests. I did massive revisions without promise of contract for an editor, but it all happened too fast. I was trying to learn the business and craft at the same time. It was overwhelming. The rejection broke my heart, but things happen for a reason. My personal life underwent big changes, and I ended up returning to university to finish my degree. I spent several years ramping up a marketing career. Once my kids got older, I returned to writing and sold the second book I wrote, HOW TO MARRY A DUKE.
I’m glad you didn’t give up your dream, Vicky. How did you celebrate the new book contract?
I met my friend Karen for lunch and margaritas. That night I attended a friend’s book signing, and afterward, we went back to the same Mexican restaurant (I wasn’t driving I promise!). I’ll always associate Chambord swirl margaritas with my first sale. J
Was the “call” an actual phone conversation or an email or a snail mail?  

My agent notified me on a Thursday afternoon that two publishers had made offers on my book. I went to bed knowing I would sell a book the next day. Imagine trying to sleep after getting that news. J The next day, my phone rang every thirty minutes or so as my agent reported the latest offer. By noon CDT, I’d sold my first book in a three-book deal to Grand Central.
I know I wouldn't have slept a wink. Wow! What an exciting night. Now that you're published, what advice would you give aspiring writers?
There is a magnet on my refrigerator with a quote from Winston Churchill: Never, Never, Never Give Up.
In the face of rejection, and not giving up, what encouragement can you give writers who must face rejection and keep writing?   
Fear is your worst enemy. Kick it to the curb, and do what you think you cannot do.
Do what you think you cannot do! Wow, I’m going to put that on my inspiration wall. Great advice. You obviously know how to battle back fear so what is the most difficult part about writing for you?
The first sentence. J  
Giggle. What is the most surprising thing you discovered after you received the call?
I was a bit intimidated before getting my revision letter, but I got really excited as I read the changes. Love my editor. She's brilliant! xoxoxo

Vicky, your new book sounds delicious. And check out the gorgeous book cover! Amazing. I know I want to order HOW TO MARRY A DUKE today at Amazon. And one of our lucky commentators will win a free copy of this fabulous book. Yay!! Popping more champagne to celebrate!