Sunday, November 26, 2017

Reading, journaling and photo challenges, oh my!

Clouds provide plenty of photo ops

It’s the last day of a long weekend, the longest of the year for most, and we now have another holiday under our belts and will soon be celebrating the next. 

But for now, it's a good day to stay in, so I’m enjoying this last non-busy, non-stressful, no-need-to-drive-anywhere-if-I-don’t-want-to kind of day. Yesterday I spent a full afternoon working on my novel and felt incredibly accomplished by the end of the day. Today, I am leaving what I do to the moment or mood and right now, I feel like blogging, while listening to Christmas music. Yes, I'm one of those people this year.  J

As we’re about to move on to the last month of the year, I’ve been thinking about where I am with regard to the goals and mindful intentions I made early this year. Will I have made good use of the 365 days as we close out another year? I’ll be posting my end-of-the-year update next month; some goals I completed, others I’m still working on or maybe haven’t even begun, but I’ll share more about what tools I’m using to reach my goals (or work toward reaching them) with regard to my specific mindful intentions for 2017.

In the meantime, the month of November was about spending time with family, focusing on health (there’s so much crud going around!), and writing.Oh, and reading, of course. And journaling. And taking in the moment to capture photos here and there when the mood strikes me. 

While I’m always reading one or two fiction novels at a time, I’m also reading the non-fiction book, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve already read the book, but I decided to join an online book club challenge and it’s the book they proposed. I decided I liked the idea of reading the book again along with other creative women and hearing how they interpret or relate to it. In the process I may have also found an online writing community, so that’s a plus.

I’ve also been working on a journal that is probably the most difficult one yet…I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to start a bullet (or dot) journal. Not what you expected me to say when you think of difficult journaling? Well, it is. I use paper planners. I love them…I’m a paper planner fanatic, sad to say. But I also make tons of to-do lists or lists in general, constantly, and not always in my planner because the planners don’t accommodate me in that regard. Which means my planner is usually full of loose pages of lists. So, I’ve been looking at the idea of bullet journaling, and began a “test” project for these last three months of 2017 to see whether I’d like it, or stick with it, before I decide to commit to a whole year. So far, the jury is still out. I like the idea, and I know it could probably be the best fit for me with everything I need to keep track of, but it’s a huge change from what I’ve been use to. Either way, I have another month to go; we’ll see what happens.

This time of year can be really stressful for many and lately I’ve felt an aversion to anything that has too much negativity, raging opinions or commercialization. I’m “this close” to unsubscribing from a number of people who clog my inbox with buy-my-latest-item emails and when it comes to social media, I’m more in love with Instagram since I first began using it. Rarely does a post on Instagram make me frown or cringe and I like using it to share my own photos. I enjoy taking photographs because it’s a great way to get caught in the moment, find the beauty where you are and enjoy time to yourself while you capture what draws your attention away from this noisy life. December is the time when we reflect on the year as a whole and I look forward to taking part in another December Reflections challenge by author/blogger/photographer Susannah Conway. This month-long challenge is a mixture of photography and journaling…so, of course, I love it. It’s also a great way to look back on the year, whether in photos or with journal prompts, in preparation for how I’m going to approach the coming New Year.

But now I’m getting ahead of myself – I’ll enjoy these last few days in November before diving into the month of December. 

Whether you read, write, journal, take photos or all of the above, I hope you’re able to find time during this busy season to let the moment or mood strike you in order to enjoy some extra quality time to yourself.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

An extra hour with snow is my kind of day!

An extra hour in the day – it can feel like a gift, those extra sixty minutes. If I have to admit to how I used my extra hour today, it’s probably the time I spent going outdoors to take photos of the snow we were treated to this morning and sharing those photos on social media with my friends and family. October treated us to some very nice weather, but November appears to have other ideas, having shown its hand with a dusting of snow as early as the second day of the month and a good amount today. 
1st good snow of 2017

If I had to pick one of my favorite weekends of the year, this is one of them, because I love the idea of getting an extra hour in my day. Sometimes I use it wisely, other times I don’t, but I like the idea of it, just the same. Of course, six months from now when we turn our clocks back, I often wonder why the heck we still take part in daylight savings because I thoroughly dislike the idea of actually losing a whole hour of my day.

But do we have to wait for daylight savings to gain that extra hour? Or can we easily find an extra hour or more every week depending on how we use our time? 

Well, of course it depends on whether we use our time wisely; it’s just not always that simple.

I’ve come to recognize that the concept of time management is going to be a lifelong work in progress; there’s just no getting around that. Not because it’s a difficult concept to learn, but because life happens. Things change. You may get to a place where you have it all figured out but then discover you have to adjust your schedule around new obligations, other people, different schedules. What you learn is how to adjust your expectations of how to manage your time depending on what you currently need to account for.

As we move into this new month, I’m preparing myself so that I can stay on task. October had a lot going on, and I don’t expect November to be any different. What I have always liked about November is that it can be a good month to find the extra time to stay in and write and is also the reason taking part in NaNoWriMo can work for me. However, with many things to focus on currently, both personally and professionally, I had to admit to myself that I just wouldn’t be able to find the extra time needed to join and commit to NaNoWriMo this month. 

Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that while you may be able to find extra time in the day, you might not be able to find time for everything you’d like to do. I gave up joining NaNoWriMo for that reason. I feel good about my decision and I know there’s always next November, or even Camp Nano in the spring or summer before that if I so choose.

Instead, I’ll be completing the tasks necessary to publish the fourth book in the Jorja Matthews’ mystery series, as well as other to-do’s I need to focus on in order to prepare for the end of the year. This upcoming New Year will include many changes for me, leaving me with a lot to complete in order to accommodate these changes. As those who know me are aware, I’m not one to nonchalantly take on change, so I’m making good use of the time I have to prepare myself. Regardless of the fact that change is coming and my time management skills will again be put to the test, it is all positive and exciting and I am eager to see what this next year has in store.

In the meantime, I think I’ll make more use of my extra time today to enjoy taking more photographs. 

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The season begins with fun, frights & fitness

I guess the letter of the day is F!  Sorry, couldn’t help myself…

The month of October has been a mixture of fitness and fun, both of which are competing with my time to write on the weekends. Other than the months I’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo, if I look back at this season for the past five years, I’m fairly certain I’ll find that it is not always the most productive when it comes to writing. 

Horror Nights in CA
The fall and holiday season is my favorite time of the year, hands down, and this year I finally decided to take part in something I’ve been interested in attending for a long time: Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. I love Halloween and I enjoy scary movies so the chance to finally see what Horror Nights was all about was like a dream come true. And I was not disappointed. It’s really difficult to put into words just how much fun we had or how incredible the haunted mazes were, especially when the mazes are based on some of my favorite horror movies. For those of you who don’t enjoy Halloween or horror movies, or being frightened…period, I’m sure it’s hard to imagine taking part in this sort of experience, but for me it was a fantastic way to start the season. Speaking of the season, for those of you who do enjoy Halloween and ghost stories, don’t forget to check out my short ghost story if you haven’t already: 1313 Psycho Path ($0.99 e-book or $5.50 paperback).

Mt. Rainier near Paradise

That’s how we started out the month with fun, and only a week later added fun with fitness with some day hiking at Mt. Rainier. This spectacular mountain is a majestic offering from nature that is basically in my back yard, so to speak. Some of the trails were clear, if just a little damp from trees constantly dripping moisture, while further up the mountain we hit a good amount of snow, which gets me in the mood for Christmas. J Only a week before I was strolling around in California wearing shorts and sandals, but on the mountain hiking boots, jeans and layers on top were a necessity. The mountain was impressive, as always, with views that only awe and inspire. I look forward to returning, especially in the spring when a new season and showcase of beauty will be waiting for me and my camera.

I’ve also had to focus more on fitness during the work weeks this month, because I finally began physical therapy for my back. Not only do I have a back injury I’m trying to heal without surgery, the amount of sitting from my day job and my writing can increase the pain I’m in, which is really an issue when I’m trying to stay put and remain focused on a project. Just writing this post has taken me much longer than normal, since I’ve had to get up and walk around at least a handful of times to try to walk off the pain I’m feeling in my lower back. 

Oh the joys of injuries and aging…but I’m optimistic. I like what physical therapy is doing for me, I’m still able to partake in yoga, and I’ve always enjoyed walking so I’m happy it’s an activity that doesn’t hurt. With some other changes I’ll be making, I expect to make great strides in my health when the New Year begins.   

Life is all about balance – so this weekend we stayed put, giving me the extra time needed to write, to blog and relax a bit. Sometimes we need to get away to switch things up and sometimes we just need to stay home to recharge.

I hope this weekend you’re either taking part in something fun, or using the time to unwind.  Either way, enjoy the day!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Carrying on with calm – another book event under my belt

The month of September was not lacking when it came to how busy life can get in a single month.  My head is spinning a little when I look back at the past 30 days. When it comes to my personal life, my day job and my writing, there has been a lot going on lately!

While the days are busy, much of my attention has involved making changes so that I can more effectively focus on my writing career. That includes getting myself back out there as an author. The first part of September I attended a writer’s conference – a much-needed day out to mix and mingle with other like minds and to meet and learn from seasoned and bestselling authors. And then a few days ago I had my first book signing in…quite some time, now that I recall the last book club meeting I attended as a guest speaker.    

I had at first only called this most recent event an author meet and greet. My expectation was that maybe only a handful of the attendees would have heard about me or even read any of my books beforehand. The exposure, as well as the practice of speaking in front of a group, can only be a good thing, so I was more than willing to take part when one of the residents wanted to schedule an event so that other residents of the community could meet me.

I should have been more nervous before arriving but, honestly, I didn’t have much time to think about it because I had worked at the office that morning, taken a long lunch to attend the Celebration of Life for my great uncle who had passed away a few months ago, and then spent a few more hours at work before heading to the venue.

When I arrived and entered the room where the event was to take place, I barely had time to prepare myself because the room was already full of people! Apparently there was a snafu with the time and many of those who were present thought the event was set to begin a half hour earlier than the agreed upon time, so that when I arrived to get set up, they were all waiting for me to begin.

This is where my lessons in life come in handy. I just had to go with the flow…you know the saying: keep calm and carry on.

Since two different times may have been posted and there were others who were still likely to arrive, the host asked me to hold off until our agreed time, just in case. My husband was with me and he took it upon himself to entertain the early attendees with stories and humor about the two of us and his perspective as the husband of an author. I wasn’t able to listen to all of what he said, but based on the amount of laughter I heard, I could tell he was doing a fantastic job.

When the time came to begin the event, and even more attendees had arrived, I was humbled by the number who had come to meet and hear from me. My husband told me that there were close to 40 attendees present, which is a terrific turnout for someone who is still at the beginning stages of getting their name out there. I shared with the group my journey as a writer and while I couldn’t recall now exactly what I covered during that hour, I pretty much spoke from the heart. I had a great time and afterwards, as I met some of the attendees on an individual basis, I felt good about the fact that they appeared to have enjoyed themselves as well.

With another book event under my belt, and the number of chances I was given that entire day to lose focus or falter, I feel great about the fact that I was able to keep calm and carry on. I’m still learning as I go, but what’s great is that I’m paying attention and able to make use of what I’m learning.  J

Until next time, carry on and have a great week!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

When social media “speaks” to you

I have a love-hate relationship with social media and I’m likely not alone with my feelings. Over the past several years, as I’ve continued to grow as an author, I’ve read many posts and books about how or why we should use social media in our endeavors as we try to get our name out to readers. 

For me, it’s still a work in progress and since the “rules” and available media tend to change on a regular basis, a WIP it will always be. 

I’ve stuck with Facebook, not because I particularly like it but because it’s what I know. I have continued to use this blog, although I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing right when some months have a huge spike in interest above others – which means trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong the rest of the time. I have not dabbled with Twitter, at all, because I honestly don’t have the mental energy for it. Pinterest interests me, because I like the concept, but if I ever try it, it will be for my own use to pin what helps me with my stories. And I thoroughly enjoy Instagram, but only personally, as I have yet to become daring enough to use it for my author self.

There are more options, but who the heck has the time to keep up with all of them while also writing and publishing books? Some authors do, I’m aware, but possibly because they have a team of people helping them. It’s too much for just one person to tackle on a regular basis and any attempt to do so will eventually result in major burnout.

When I think about the above options, I realize Instagram is my favorite because it is the only social media I take part in that never irritates me. I enjoy the photos, videos and quotes all shared by those I follow. Other than some new ads that now pop up every so often that I may not be interested in, Instagram has been quick to figure out what I like or don’t like so that even the ads aren’t rubbing me the wrong way. Hopefully, that won’t change.

Facebook, on the other hand, is a different story. And I’m talking about my personal page, not my author page. There’s just too much when it comes to drama, opinion, politics, anger, belittling, negativity and photos or videos shared that I don’t particularly wish to see. The world can be an ugly place and I’m not saying we all need to hide our heads when it comes to what’s going on around us, but FB is all very subjective and I’m tired of using any social media that embodies that ugliness as a whole. Some might say I need new friends, or I should follow more positive pages; but that’s the point…my friends and pages I follow aren’t the issue. Since FB tends to pick and choose what you get to see, I’ve seen more of a trend of the ugly over the inspiring. I guess it’s what FB believes followers like to read.

So I was surprised this morning when I decided to view my FB news feed. After scrolling through a few updates from friends and family, there appeared before me posts with a more positive theme…one after another, again and again, these were the types of messages I was reading:

To be happy let go of what’s gone, be grateful for what remains and 
look forward to what is coming next

Life should not be a journey to the grave… (basically, make it a life worth living)

8 things to remember when going through tough times…

Let it go…

...breathe – don’t quit

Life is beautiful – soak it in and be grateful

Find yourself again

Now, I don’t require a pep talk from FB every day, but it was nice to scroll through my news feed and see these types of positive messages over the more negative ones. I’ll be making some serious changes in my life soon and it was a breath of fresh air – a positive push, even from random feed on social media, can help you feel you’re headed in the right direction. 

Will this change how I use Facebook? I won’t quit my FB timeline, but monitoring the news feed still won’t be a daily habit since I doubt this positive feed trend will continue. My timeline and my Instagram feed are more than enough for me right now. 

So did my social media “speak” to me this morning or was I just on the lookout for what might inspire me and answer some internal questions?  I’m not going to admit to my computer or any social media having that much power over me…instead I’ll chalk it up to pure coincidence.  One of my favorite quotes about a coincidence is:

Coincidence it will be.  J

Happy scrolling – and have a great week!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Always a student, in life and in art

Life is full of lessons, along with a number of sides you look forward to or hope to avoid, and topped with promises and regrets. Regardless of the lessons we experience, we will usually learn something from them, whether about others or about ourselves and hopefully any change we go through is only for the better.

I’ve had my share of life lessons the past few years and while I’m not exactly sure how someone else might describe how these experiences have changed me, I would say that the lessons I’ve learned have brought about an intense desire to switch things up so that I can experience life differently. It’s been a work in progress, with some bumps and bruises along the way, but I am eagerly moving toward making those changes happen.

When we experience a change in ourselves, it may be immediate or gradual, or we may not notice it at all while others around us do. What we can only hope for, really, is that we don’t remain stagnant or unwilling to learn or refuse to understand how an experience has affected us.

That’s the way it is in life.

And that’s the way it is in fiction.

When life is hard, for readers anyway, we enjoy escaping by reading. Taking part in the lives of characters who are going through possibly similar experiences, or even if they aren’t, who are going through some sort of adversity which will help us take our mind off our own problems for a bit.

Characters we read about, with needs, fears, issues and family drama, jump off the page when we read about them, and if the book is written well, they appear to us as real individuals we continue to think about even when we aren’t reading. Books are truly magic and a great break from reality. 

As with real people, characters should not remain stagnant.  Readers appreciate changes in a character; it makes them more believable. As a writer, I get lost in the story I want to tell and might not always appreciate the fact that my characters, who are like real people to me, may not be showing the reader how much an experience has changed them. Or are they changing, but I’m not aware of it as much as I should be in order to express it on the page? I need to have a serious conversation with my characters, if that’s the case. J As an author, I’m continuing to learn the tricks of the craft and the art of writing and while I continue to learn, I trust it will benefit my characters and beyond that, those who enjoy my books.

This bit of insight, which I knew but might have gotten off track from, is the result of my time spent at a writer’s conference yesterday.  Attending these conferences never fails to increase my desire to continue to learn because I am reminded there is so much more to writing than just writing. It may seem daunting, I certainly won’t ever know everything, but while I continue to learn I’ll become a better writer and continuous learning will only feed my desire to live a creative life during my journey as an author.    

It's time for me to get back to being creative. Have a great week and keep reading!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

One of the most difficult posts I’ll ever write…

Hi everyone – I had thought that my update for the month of September would be to fill you in on my book status and when the fourth book in the series might be available, or how the writer’s conference went or even how my own book event turned out.

But I’m writing now, sooner than I expected to, in order to share the saddest news to you from my author self. I’ve suffered another loss, and this time it has affected me in a way I hadn’t put any thought in to when I first began to write my mystery series.

Piper - using her paw to get my attention
I’ve shared with you in previous posts about my dog, Piper, who has dealt with some health issues the past few months. Piper is also the only “real” character in my mystery series and I have thoroughly enjoyed adding her cuteness to the personality of her fictional alter ego. 

Sadly, the issues that continued to plague Piper came back with a vengeance this past week. We attempted another surgery to remove the infection, and a new mass in her neck, but I’m heartbroken to share that a few days after surgery, complications arose and there was nothing more we could do. I was with her when she passed, I’m so thankful for that, but saying goodbye was gut wrenching for me. She was my little shadow, my muse, my writing buddy (always lying on the floor in the office with me when I was plugging away these past five years) and her absence will be felt…Every. Single. Day.

When I first began writing this series and decided to add Piper as a character, I never thought about what it would mean to me if something ever happened to her. Whether or not I could continue to write about her, no longer having her by my side. Whether I could continue to share her personality traits or quirks in the series, when I wasn’t around her to see them firsthand every day. 

Whether I’d want to continue to share parts of her with others, when I couldn’t have her here for myself.

These thoughts had never occurred to me…

Admittedly, as I review my latest novel and read over what I wrote about Piper in the story, it’s difficult. I want her here, with me. Admittedly, it’s only been two days and I need some time to heal. However, when I sat down today to work on my book, and as I let myself become immersed in the story, something happened I did not expect. It felt good to read about her. It felt good to imagine her healthy…hanging out with her owner, going for walks, playing outside, riding in a vehicle. Doing what dogs do, rather than how I’ve seen her the past few months due to her illness.

And I felt her here, with me. 

She’s no longer physically here with me, but she will always be by my side, in spirit at least. As a “character” in my series, the memory of her will continue to live on through my books, and because of that, she will live forever.