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.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

August antics as summer winds down

Seriously, this summer is just flying by – how about you? Are you finding it hard to believe the month of August is already half over?

The past few weeks have just been a continuation of a very busy summer – with no rest for the weary!

This month I’ve been working through the edits on the fourth book in my series, and preparing the book for a final run through. I’ve really enjoyed the feedback from my editor and as much as I dislike editing my own work, I’m remembering how much fun it is to work through edits from my editor.  It’s also such a great learning tool for me – and feedback from a professional is so helpful when it can make you sit back and review your work from the viewpoint of another.

Ocean Shores sunset
In between writing/editing, there have been a number of other distractions this month involving my day job (we have a new boss after being in limbo for over five months), my health (my back, on-going the past six months…ugh), Piper’s health (yes, still), and just getting away here and there to enjoy what the PNW has to offer before our weather turns on us. One such trip was to the beach where my husband and I celebrated 26 years married this month. I’ve wanted to get to the beach all summer but haven’t had time, so I’m glad it worked out for our anniversary. The month of August also marked the one-year anniversary of my mother-in-law’s passing; it’s always the “firsts” that are the most difficult to get through after a loved one passes away. I saw a quote on Instagram recently from “The Walking Dead” that kind of hit home for me…“The pain doesn’t go away. You just make room for it.” Sad, but so very true.

I also agreed to commit to an author event for the first time in…quite a while. I won’t call it a book signing, really; more like a meet & greet, since I’m not sure how many of the attendees will have actually read any of my books when I come to meet them. What is cute, though, is the woman who is putting the event together. I sent her a copy of No Mother of Mine in preparation for the meet & greet. She’d heard about me and wanted to plan an event with me, but apparently hadn’t yet read any of my books. The book was mailed on a Monday and by the end of that week, she called to say she had already finished the book and really enjoyed it. Again, although I’m a reader myself, it still amazes me how quickly readers get through my 400-page books! I still pinch myself because it is surreal when I take in the fact that readers are enjoying my work and literally devouring my books when they get them. 

The meet & greet isn’t until next month, which is probably a good thing considering how busy August has turned to be. Which means September will be a fun month, not only with the author meet & greet, but also an upcoming writer’s conference, and time spent finalizing the fourth book in the series in preparation for publication. And soon I’ll have the fourth book in the series published, so that I can finally complete my young adult novel and also get to work on another book before the end of the year. 

But I need to get my focus back to August – there’s too much to be done yet this month.

That said, I’m taking a blogging break the rest of this month and I’ll post another update in September. 

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What I did this summer…so far

One more day in the month of July and then we’re sliding right into the last real month of summer. This week, everyone in the PNW will be preparing for a real heat wave expected to hit us mid-week, so I guess many will be sliding into the new month on their own sweat. Temps nearing or over 100 degrees…not optimal for many who don’t have access to A/C because these high temps just aren’t normal around here. If this continues, our summer weather will be holding out until September and beyond. Some will love it, others won’t but Mother Nature doesn’t tend to care what we think.  J

How has your summer been so far? Mine has been a mixed bag, really it has, but I guess that’s what’ll keep the summer interesting.

If you’ve kept up with my posts, you know I’ve had some difficult moments with Piper during the months of May and June. I wish I could say we were all through it, but unfortunately, she has been struck yet again with another infection and she’s back on antibiotics as of last week.  We’ve been in and out of the vet a dozen times over the past two months…I’m sure if she could speak she’d say she hopes this time will be the last. Even with everything she’s gone through, she’s been such a good girl through all this; it’s probably obvious, but I really can’t say enough about how special she is to me.

Home from Hawaii!
June also marked my oldest son’s return home from Hawaii – funny enough, on one of the days when I had to take an unexpected trip back to the vet because Piper had pulled out her drain tube after surgery, I returned home from the vet to find a bunch of luggage in the front hallway. Nothing can eliminate the anxious feelings of a parent better than the knowledge that their kid is finally home safe and sound after a long trip.

Steps while in Orlando!
June was also busy with preparations for a family vacation to Florida where we visited all the theme parks at Disney World over a four-day period, as well as Universal Studios for two days.  

Just a sneak peek...

While my absolute favorite place to “be” was Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, my favorite ride by far was at Disney World, in the newest addition of Animal Kingdom. Avatar’s Flight of Passage is nothing like any ride I’ve ever experienced since we first began going on theme park vacations more than ten years ago. I really can’t put into words how absolutely amazing the Flight of Passage is, but if you ever get the chance to experience it, do it. You won’t be disappointed.

Very alert & just about ready to fly

Let’s see…what else? 

Oh yes, birds. 

This summer has been quite the experience with birds. Not just the normal characters who visit every summer, although I would like to see more owls than I have so far. No, this summer we’ve been treated to quite a few baby birds. The first family was a nest of robins in a shrub in our front yard – one we had planned to cut way down because of how large it had gotten. But once we realized there was a nest of babies, we had to put that plan on hold. When the babies finally left the nest, the plan to cut down the shrubs was halted yet again when we discovered a new nest with more baby robins in the other shrub. 

Cheez-it B&B for birds

And baby robins weren’t our only guests this summer; we also had some swallows who decided our porch would be a good place to start a family. Their home was probably like no other, but it worked for them and all six babies thrived in this odd-looking nesting box. It was seriously fun to watch them grow as they received food from their parents, and then watch as they learned to flutter and fly and finally move on. We don’t have cats right now, or this situation would have made me very nervous!

The month of July has been busy with family events just about every weekend – to include a wedding reception, an outing to the zoo with my two great nephews, hanging out at the annual Oregon Trail Days and a family reunion at our house just yesterday. 

I think I’m ready for some free weekends during the month of August, if I get my way…I have a book to complete! 

I hope your summer so far is a fun one to write home about – carry on and stay cool!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Christmas in July, and other distractions

The weather we’ve been enjoying in the Pacific Northwest has made this an enjoyable summer, so far. Other than the 97 degree heat I was treated to my first day back from Florida last month, our weather here has been pretty outstanding. The burn bans are starting and soon there will be talk about the lack of rain, but we’ll be subject to wet weather soon enough. I’m in no hurry to see it just yet.

We’re hosting a family get-together the end of this month and about the end of June and beginning of July, I figured I better stock up on some items I thought might be good to have on hand for some summer kid-friendly fun. I also needed a new umbrella for one I had accidentally broken. When I went shopping, I was shocked to see that the summer items were either completely gone, or were down to a limited quantity tucked away in a clearance corner. In place of where they had been were school supplies.  Kids hadn’t even been out of school a month yet! I visited a couple of different stores looking for items on my list and also discovered the appearance of fall and Thanksgiving items. Good grief. By the time parents finally decide they should shop for school items (those who don’t know better), they’ll probably be shocked to find Christmas items instead.

I eventually found an umbrella, which I discovered was broken when I got it home. Ugh. I had to take it back, only to learn that the color I had chosen was no longer available. I was left with the choice of a bright lime green, light brown and dark brown. I settled with the light brown and called it good - and it had been marked down even lower since I purchased it so that I also received some cash back in return. J Finding the other summer items I was looking for was a challenge, but I finally crossed off all but one item from my list.

I’ve also noticed that there have been quite a few Christmas movies on t.v. lately. I happened to notice them one day when I was scrolling through the guide to see what was on. Eventually, when I saw more Christmas movies on the guide another day, I realized they have been playing more often than not this month on some channels. I guess people really do enjoy watching movies with a Christmas theme in July. 

We’re technically only, what, a month into summer? I don’t want to think about the holidays yet, or the change in the weather we’ll be heading towards, or the thought of having to wear coats or sweaters to keep warm, or worrying about driving to work in the snow. 

Do you ever frequent the magazine racks at the bookstore?  Do you notice a new trend that has been receiving wider audiences?  It’s the art and practice of mindfulness. However, in order to achieve that required mental state, part of it includes focusing on the present moment. That’s a difficult task when stores constantly pull us from the moment by thoughts of what’s to happen months and months away from today. For some it may be easy to ignore that pull, but for others, like those with children still in school, they are forced to focus on that future moment or risk missing out on the items they’ll need and which won’t be available when they finally go out in search of them. Unfortunately, the offering of seasonable items a season or two in advance is a tactic the stores will likely never change since it appears to be a competition of who can get their items on display first.

So I bought my umbrella and other items I needed for the gathering, I ignored the school supplies, and I quickly perused the fall and Thanksgiving items, before shaking my head and telling myself I did not need anything from those shelves at that moment.

Then I drove home, took off my shoes, and walked barefoot in the yard out to my gardens to check on my veggies and herbs while listening to the sound of the birds around me. The sun is warm and inviting, the smell of the herbs is invigorating, and beyond the birds and a slight breeze, the quiet of the woods around me is relaxing. Grounding myself in this way reminds me to keep focusing on the present, to enjoy these moments, for soon enough the clouds will constantly cover us, the gardens will be gone and going barefoot will not be an option if I want to keep warm.

I’ll enjoy fall and the upcoming holidays when it’s their time, but for now, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy these beautiful summer days. I hope you do too!



Sunday, July 2, 2017

Bi-yearly check in…already?

What travels faster than the speed of light?  I’m beginning to think just your average year! A bit of an exaggeration, I’ll admit, but still…we’re already moving on into the last six months of the year – how did the first six months treat you?

My last check in was the end of April, and it feels like a lot has happened in just the two months since that time. I’m still doing what I can to continue to improve on my monthly intentions, so that I can continue to have good progress on my tasks and expectations, both personally and professionally. As I review my original list of mindful intentions for 2017, here’s how I’m doing now in that regard:

Reading and writing - I am still reading almost daily, both fiction and non-fiction. Whether I can sink into a good mystery or thriller, or read a new book on writing or inspiration, I’m always on the lookout for new options to add to my reading list. I’ve discovered, however, that lately when I read fiction I’m having a difficult time wearing just my “reader” hat…because my “author” hat likes to stay put sometimes. I tend to read stories more critically, or I compare them to how I like to write, or I see a mistake or misspelling and realize even the work of well-known authors aren’t perfect. But regardless of which hat I’m wearing, being a reader is in my DNA and will always be a constant in my life.

And, when it comes to my own writing, the fourth book in my series was sent off to the editor for review this past week. It’s such a huge relief for me to finally be at this point! I took so much time off after losing my dad, and then soon after with the illnesses and later the loss of my step-mom and my mother-in-law back-to-back, it was just really difficult to keep my head where it needed to be in order to keep up with my writing or stay on a regular schedule. Everyone deals with grief in their own way; I just had to figure out how to deal with mine, rather than what was expected or what I thought others expected from me, and I've had to push through my fears. It doesn’t have to be a lonely journey, but you do tend to travel that road alone. What works for you might not work for another, and sometimes it takes awhile to figure that out.

Growth, gratitude, focus, letting go - following up on the above, I have dealt with some serious blows but I have also grown through them, learned from them, and I have accepted the process of letting go of what I cannot change and of what might hinder me. I’m grateful, not for the bad parts, but for what I’ve learned from these past few years. It hasn’t broken me, but has made me stronger and has helped me focus on what matters most and for that, I am grateful.

Be mindful, be present, balance, strength – part of my new mindset involves being mindful, so that I can continue to find calm in the chaos, let go of hindrances, be present in each moment and find a better balance in life. I’m also constantly focused on how I can better myself with building strength and being more active. Yoga, meditation and journaling are just a few activities that help me in all those areas. 

Less clutter – I moved on from the house, after cleaning out quite a few closets and drawers, and we finally tackled the garage. It was a chore, but it felt good to go through everything, store items in bins or throw them away if necessary, and it felt especially good when we were able to haul off two truckloads of large items that had been taking up way too much space. There’s still a little more work to do, but it’s a manageable task compared to what we started with.

Travel, adventure, family – May and June were busy months when it came to travel and family. My oldest son, who has been living in Hawaii for the past year, came back home. Some might think it was because Hawaii was too expensive, but that wasn’t the case for him. He actually did very well and enjoyed living as an islander. But he decided it was time to come home and as a mom, you can imagine I’m thrilled to have him living nearby where I can visit with him more often, not to mention enjoy the holidays together. Only a week after he came home, we left as a family for a vacation to Florida. In June, no less, where the heat and humidity likely match, or was a bit worse, than where my son had been living in Hawaii. We’d sweat buckets during the day before the rain clouds came in the afternoon to soak us and lower the temps a bit but other than that, we had a great time and an unforgettable adventure.

Be brave, dream, create – these may be the hardest or the most fun, depending on the day or the mood, but these are also intentions I never wish to forget or discover buried under all the daily, common or necessary tasks. I am brave, I can’t help but dream and I love to create. Those traits are what make me, me, and they are intentions that will always make me feel complete when I stick to them. 

So that’s my bi-yearly check in. With half the year under my belt, and a better mindset and positive attitude as I move along, I am ready to take on the next six months! 

Until next time…take care and read on, or write on, if you’re also a writer.  J

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Piper’s own little mystery – a month-long saga

For those of you who have read my books in the Jorja Matthews’ mystery series, you’re aware that my protagonist has a rescue dog named Piper. For those of you who know me, or who have read about this fact in previous posts, you also know that I actually do have a Lab-mix named Piper. Other than Jorja, who is loosely based on my life as a private investigator, Piper is the only character in my books based on an actual…being.

Piper just wasn't feeling well
Since my last post on Mother’s Day, I’ve been very distracted with a mystery surrounding Piper after she began to have some serious medical issues with her neck. It actually began just before Mother’s Day weekend when her neck began to swell up. I called to schedule a vet visit but wasn’t able to get an appointment until the following week, which seemed to be okay at the time. But then during Mother’s Day weekend, that changed completely when her neck became so swollen, it caused the area to rupture. 

Nasty business, that. And just a bit scary.

The vet looked Piper over and discovered she had an abscess so they kept her overnight to drain it and get her started on some antibiotics. I took her home the following day with high hopes that all would be well and she would heal soon enough. 

More than a week later, on the day she was to return for a simple follow-up appointment, her neck had begun to swell again. At the vet’s office when they were looking her over, the area ruptured again. Our vet was not equipped to help any further and we had no choice but to take Piper to an emergency vet. This time, the ER vet prescribed different antibiotics and placed drain tubes in her neck to avoid any further swelling until the area healed.

But Piper was able to pull both drain tubes out within a couple of days - I think she was getting sick and tired of having her neck messed with. And I really can’t blame her.

Even without the tubes, the area continued to drain so I kept ace bandages wrapped loosely around her neck to catch most of the drainage and I watched her like a hawk for the next week until her follow-up appointment. By the time we went back to the ER vet for a visit, the swelling was much better, but we could clearly see a mass just below her jaw line that appeared to be more than fluid. An ultrasound had already been used and no tumor, foreign object or injury had been seen, so the reason for the mass was still a mystery.

This was getting serious because we had no answer and yet she still had a condition that would obviously continue to cause issues.

Our only other option was to think about exploratory surgery - to at least remove the infected tissue, and hopefully discover the underlying cause of the infection. Obviously, I couldn’t let her continue as is, that would have been cruel. There really was no other option, so we scheduled her for surgery last week, having no idea what to expect but with a hope and a prayer that the vet would finally figure it out and fix our girl.

After dropping Piper off that morning, I waited all day for a phone call and could barely focus on anything else but what news I would get. The surgeon had multiple surgeries that day, some more serious than Piper so the wait was understandable. But by the time the surgeon called me that evening, I was beyond worried. I was scared.

Chunk of wood found in Piper's neck
But the surgeon had terrific news when she called – after removing almost all of the tissue and finding nothing (at that point even she thought she wasn’t going to find the underlying cause), the surgeon was finally rewarded with the answer to the mystery when she was working on the last infected area. Buried deep in the tissue she found a small chunk of wood! Her guess is that Piper was chewing on a stick and that a piece of it punctured through her throat in an area that heals fairly quickly, often within a day or two, so that after the puncture healed, the wood was stuck inside the neck.

Mystery solved!

Piper home after surgery - feeling better already!

That small piece of wood is probably the most expensive piece of wood I’ve ever purchased, but my relief is priceless, especially after discovering Piper’s condition was caused by a foreign body, rather than a disease or illness of some kind we might not have been able to heal her from.

We’d do just about anything for our kids, as most parents would, and that includes when it comes to our fur babies. If you’re not an animal lover, then you might not understand, but when your pets are part of your family, it can really affect you when you see they are hurting or sick.

So that’s what’s been keeping me distracted for the past month. Just thought I’d share Piper’s story and the mystery I’m glad we finally solved. 

Until next time – have a great day!