Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Top Ten Posts of 2012

Tomorrow on December 31st, it will have been one year since I first began this Blog and opened myself up to family, friends and strangers about my passion to write.  Hard to believe a whole year has gone by already but time does have the knack of passing by at a fast pace.
I thought I would end the year of 2012 with a look back at some of my old posts; specifically, the ones that generated the most hits for one reason or another.  Out of 107 posts for the year, here are the top ten:

When dreams wake you up” is the first post on this Blog and also when I finally revealed my secret passion about writing.  How can someone keep something so important from friends and family for so long?  When you truly want something but aren’t sure how those closest to you are going to react, you might tend to keep quiet out of fear or due to a lack of confidence.  What I finally had to realize was that it was my own fear holding me back, not what I feared others would think about me, and it was also my lack of confidence that would hold me back if I didn’t step up to take ownership of what I wanted and believe in myself and my capabilities.  If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
Mystery subject is revealed” was posted after comments and questions from friends and family once they read the news about my book.  Needless to say, there was quite a bit of excitement from everyone and the most asked question was what type of book I had authored.

Don’t let life rule your Passion” is one of my favorite posts and gives some background about how and why I finally decided to stick with my desire to write a book.  My motto of “don’t let life rule your passion” is what helps me limit how the day-to-day grind affects my creativity and my goals with regard to writing.
My reading list lately…” is a post on the types of books I read as I prepared for the huge task of writing and publishing my book.  I will try to post more about books I read but over the past year my time to read has been pretty sporadic and I find I don’t get through books as quickly as I used to.  This is something I hope to change in the coming year because I believe in the advice that reading is an essential part of what it takes to help those who write.

From Hermit to Optimist” is a post I offered after my first week at my new job.  There are pros and cons when it comes to working in an office and I’ve seen both over the past ten months.  Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have started another blog about the ups and downs of going back to work for someone else…
Motivation fueled by Inspiration” is a post I wrote because I found what truly inspired me in order to fuel my motivation to achieve the goals I wanted to reach.

Dogs: a great addition to any family
A (Wo)man’s Best Friend” is another favorite of mine about how important dogs are to our family.  There are some cute photos of the puppies as well. 
Book Cover Revealed!” is when I shared the book blurb as well as the final results of the book cover.

Dare I envy the Powerball Winner?” are my thoughts after taking some time off work about the same time there must have been a huge win from a Powerball drawing. 
Look Who Came to Visit” is what I posted after I finally received my book in paperback for the first proofing.  You can imagine how exciting it was for me to finally hold my book in my hands.

There you go.  My top ten posts for the past year. 
As I noted in my last post, this has been quite a year with the completion of my first book and all that the endeavor has involved.  With many changes also occurring in my personal and professional life, this will be a year to remember.  I look forward to 2013 and what it has to offer as I continue to write and move ahead towards goals that will bring positive change to my life.  I also will continue to post updates here as we move into 2013 and I hope you will continue to follow me as I move along in my journey.

Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Calm after the Storm

Another Christmas has come and gone.  Done is all the planning, preparing, decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping and making an attempt to be in too many places at once in order to spend the holiday with those you love.  Although it is a crazy, busy time of year, I enjoyed every minute of the time I spent with my family. 
But I do enjoy the calm after all the frenzy and activity.

Some may have the Christmas blues…whether it’s after spending too much money, eating too much food, or just doing too much, I guess I can see where the excitement of the holiday leads to a letdown afterwards.  I don’t feel the Christmas blues because I thoroughly enjoy the calm after the storm.  I enjoy looking back at the year, both the ups and the downs, as I prepare for what is to come in the New Year.
It is time to take a breather, look at what has worked, what hasn’t and what is still to come.
It is also the best time to make new plans.
Rainbow over Olympia
To begin looking at new dreams.

To see new possibilities.
Many will be heading into the New Year with the same old resolutions and some will be met while others will soon be forgotten and set aside like last week’s junk mail.  In years past, many of my resolutions were usually the standard type; eating better, exercising more, weighing less, and breaking any bad habits worth losing.  

But I want to do more than that. 
The days after Christmas and all that hustle and bustle is a great time to reflect and consider what the New Year can bring.  It is also the best time to reflect and consider what you can bring to the New Year.  Rather than expecting change to happen just because we are moving into a New Year, it is more beneficial to take ownership and make something happen.  Positive change is what it’s all about…which includes what you can do for yourself and for others. 

And positive change is the plan for me. 
I began this last year when I first posted on NewYear’s Eve my big secret about my passion to write and the fact that I had completed a book I hoped to publish.  I later made the decision to take another job so that my husband could make a big move in order to find true happiness with work.  I pushed myself to learn the ins and outs of publishing and I eventually published my book as an eBook and then in paperback.  Through others I learned about promoting and marketing my work and held my first book signing.  I joined National Novel Writing Month and won the challenge by completing more than 50,000 words of my second book in less than 30 days.  I opened myself up to family and to strangers not only with my writing, my book and a Facebook page, but I have continuously been open throughout the process of writing and publishing on this Blog. 

Without question, it has been quite a year. 
Next year doesn’t have to outshine the current year but it doesn’t hurt to try and I don’t want to lose the positive momentum.  I have a lot to look forward to with my writing and with my personal and professional life; it is all very exciting and holds nothing but promise.  I resolve to do what I can to stay positive, work hard and enjoy every single moment of what is to come in 2013.

"Approach the New Year with resolve to find the opportunities hidden in each new day."
 ~Michael Josephson~

Sunday, December 23, 2012

No More Pep for Holiday Prep

Preparing for the holiday season this year has been quite the challenge.  Not only am I working elsewhere so that I’m not always at home or setting my own hours, I have been fighting one of the worst colds I’ve had in quite awhile.
It was dumb luck that I took three days off the end of last week in order to help set aside time to shop and prepare for Christmas.  I say dumb luck because rather than finish off my holiday to-do list, the days off from work were spent resting, sleeping and doing my best to avoid seeing anyone.  No one wants to see me when I’m feeling poorly.  I’m just a tad cranky and not really fun to be around.

Three days of my long weekend were a loss but at least I can say I caught up on my sleep.  Even so, I may need another long weekend after today because the past two days have been jam packed with shopping, baking, wrapping and preparing for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. 
Even with all that I had to get done, I am fairly impressed with myself when I can say I’m not completely stressed out.  I’m tired but I’m not frazzled.  I’ve stuck to my guns and I’ve done what I could, minimized what I had to and I’ve let go of the need to do too much.  I’m about as ready for Christmas as I can be and I’m looking forward to time spent with family as we fill our bellies with good food and delicious treats.

Soon Christmas will be over and we’ll be looking on towards the end of the year and what the New Year will bring.  We’ll be offering up New Year’s resolutions as proof that we’re ready to change whatever bad habits we formed this year or during years past.  But rather than looking ahead too far in advance, right now I’ll enjoy my feelings of contentment as I look forward to what the next few days will bring as I spend some quality time with my family. 
Happy Holidays and many blessings to you and your family.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Prep after Procrastination

With less than a week until Christmas, I’m feeling the pressure of preparing for the holiday.  Some years, I’m very good about preparing and I actually begin shopping late in the summer and through much of fall.  I just pay more attention to cool or unique gift ideas and if I see something a family member might like, I buy it and set it aside as a gift.  But then there are years like this year…when the whole idea of buying gifts is just not my first thought, or second or anywhere near a high priority.
So I’ll admit I’m just a tad behind.

Okay, I won’t lie…I’m very much behind.
We finally got our tree up last weekend, about a week later than usual.  But at least we do have a tree.  I enjoy the tradition we have as a family when we go to the local tree farm so that we can pick the perfect tree.  Of course, we all tend to pick different trees but eventually we all find one we can agree on.  We do this every year, rain, snow, sleet or shine. 

Since I’m behind on shopping, I’m going to have to scramble to finish by this weekend and I’ll probably want to tear my hair out as I fight traffic on the roads and too many bodies in the stores.  It’s my own fault…I procrastinated and because I’ve done this before, I know what to expect.
I know what I’m up against so I’m glad I made the decision to take today and the next few days off from work.  I just need time to breathe; to catch up.  I need to get away from the routine of work so I can commit to days not scheduled around a clock.  And, as it turns out, I needed the time to rest.  I caught a nasty cold and it is kicking my butt.

Because I’m not feeling well, shopping will have to wait as I take today to rest.  I enjoy being home and I especially love having all day to write.  It’s also a good day to stay in as I watch the winds whip through the trees near our house.  It is an amazingly blustery day! 
During my long weekend, I expect to finish Christmas shopping, as well as get a lot of writing done and in order to stay true to tradition, I will be baking.  This is one part of the holiday I enjoy…making Christmas cookies with my boys.  They tire of it sooner than I do but until that point, it is a fun tradition I will always enjoy. 

There tends to be a lot of stress when it comes to this time of year as everyone searches for just the right gift.  The rest of the year is stressful enough so I like to focus on what really brings me joy.  It’s not all about the perfect gift or who gets what from whom…it’s about the time spent with family as we make memories together.  It is the season of giving but should not be in the spirit of what will I receive in return.  It’s about tradition or even making new traditions but should not add to the level of stress we are already under from the day-to-day grind. 
Pushing the stress aside allows for an enjoyable holiday and that’s the best gift I can give to myself and to those around me.  I hope you are also able to enjoy this last week before Christmas with less stress and more enjoyable memories.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

When Writing feels Right

I realized I’ve been quiet regarding the status of book #2 in the Jorja Matthews Mystery Series.  I will say I’m having a lot of fun writing the second book and while I have tentatively named it, I don’t want to give the name away yet in case I decide to change it.  There’s just something about sharing too soon that makes me feel a bit superstitious. 
I will tell you though, that while the first book is about mothers, the second book is about fathers.  No Mother of Mine was about what mothers could be capable of doing or what mothers might be perceived as having done and the second book in the series is along those lines with regard to fathers.  Those who have read the first book know there is at least one question with regard to a particular father.  It is in the second book when many answers will come to light while other mysteries involving fathers must also be solved.

What I am able to share with you might be limited, but I can share with you my excitement. 

I’m excited to write about the same characters I have grown to love and I enjoy bringing in new characters with their own histories and secrets.  So far in this book we have an alleged crime of murder, spousal abuse and kidnapping.  We also have old hurts and past tragedies that make it difficult for some to move on.  When one of the characters is attacked, it raises questions regarding who might be involved and it sheds light on a few secrets some wish would remain hidden. 

As with the first book, the characters in this book often keep me guessing and I won’t say I know exactly how the book will end.  The characters speak for themselves and it’s my job to tell their stories, not tell them how I think things should go.  If it feels right as I write, I know I’m going in the right direction.  If it doesn’t, I look at other possible angles and try again.  When the writing is effortless, like it was with the first book and is seemingly the case again this time around, you move ahead with excitement and wonder at what the story holds for you…even if you are the one writing it.

Whether you are a writer or you just read about writers, you might not understand my writing process but it is what works for me.  Some use strict outlines, others don’t.  At this point, I still don’t use an outline and while I have numerous notes about what I expect might happen in the story and what I expect each character to take part in, there are times when I discover otherwise as I write.  My notes are only guidelines to help me with my writing but they certainly do not generate a specific path I must stay on regardless of what my characters want.  I thoroughly enjoy letting the characters come to life and speak for themselves.  When a story is forced, I believe a reader can tell.  But when the story takes on a life of its own and becomes a joy to write, that too is felt by the reader as they immerse themselves in the story. 

It is the joy I’ve found in writing that makes me wish I had started much sooner than I did but looking at the would-haves and could-haves is not in the cards.  Back then, my writing may have felt forced and might never have actually felt right to me.  It is because of my experiences and the life I have lived that I am now able to write like I do.  Instead of wondering where I’d be now if I had started ten or twenty years ago, I’ll stick with the knowledge that I finally took the chance to do what I love to do and that there are still many more years of writing ahead of me. 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hitting the Curve Balls

Do you ever have one of those days? 
How about one of those weeks?

For some, you might say it’s been one of those years!
It has been quite a year for us, I’ll admit; with a lot of curve balls masquerading as changes and uncertainty.  Getting through tough times means you either have to roll with the punches or do your best to fight through whatever comes your way but no matter what, don’t lie down and take it till it beats you.  I’m not always the best about following this particular advice but I know you should also stay positive.  You have to hope and eventually expect that there will come a time when whatever difficulty you are facing will pass or at some point get better.    

So how do people stay positive during difficult situations? 
As life continues to throw curve balls, I’ve learned that the best way to stay positive is to have someone right there by your side.  Whether it is your spouse, a best friend or another family member, remember to keep them close and to be honest about what you are going through because no one should have to fight through any difficulty by themselves.  Having the support of a loved one and a positive attitude will beat being alone and negative any day of the week.

Everyone deals with difficulties throughout life; we duck many curve balls and every so often we get lucky and hit a few out of the park.  But what really matters in the end, after you’ve been thrown more curve balls than you thought you could manage, is how the challenge changed you, how it strengthened your relationship with your love ones, what you were able to learn from it and whether it made you stronger, wiser and more able to take on the next challenge sure to come your way.
“Experience is not what happens to a man;
it is what a man does with what happens to him.”
~Aldous Huxley~
Whether we wish it or not, we all have to be prepared for more curve balls in life.  And whether we admit it or not, most of us still have a lot to learn as we face each new challenge.  I know I won’t say I’ve learned all I can learn from the obstacles I’ve had to face so far.  I admit there is always room for improvement when it comes to attitude, expectations and growth.  When it comes to life’s curve balls, I will do my best to stay positive, duck when I have to and when I’m able I will attempt to swing my hardest.  Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to show life you’re not afraid to take on a curve ball or two. 


Sunday, December 9, 2012

When Curiosity leads to Murder, Part II

To follow up with my last post, I’ve been on a few road trips which have allowed me to visit about a dozen states, their parks, national forests and national monuments.  I have many favorite sights from each state but one of the most surprising was during our visit to Wyoming a few years ago.  The surprise was the unexpected beauty we found as we traveled through the Big Horn Mountains.  It wasn’t our first trip to Wyoming but it was the first time we were heading east through Wyoming on our way to South Dakota. 
Fallen City
Another unexpected discovery in Wyoming was what appeared to be a car at the bottom of an outlook called Fallen City in the Big Horn National Forest.  To some it might not seem like a big deal but after we returned home, my curiosity got the best of me.  I had to see whether I could find any information to determine when or how someone might have ended up at the bottom of that valley.  I thought the most I might find would be an article about a terrible crash after someone missed a corner on some cold, snowy, icy night. 

I certainly did not expect to find a tale about murder; especially one that occurred three decades ago…
Imagine the mountains covered in snow on a cold fall morning when three bodies are discovered in a cook tent; the deaths presumably the result of asphyxiation caused by a faulty stove.  However, once the scene is disturbed and the bodies are removed, it is discovered the next day that the three men had actually been shot at close range. 

During the investigation about a week later, police questioned one particular coal miner.  It is unknown exactly what the miner may have told police but the following day it was discovered he had driven his vehicle off the mountain at the outlook called Fallen City.  Unbelievably, the miner survived that crash and while recovering in the hospital, he confessed to killing all three men in the cook tent.  His story was that they had stolen some of his equipment and when he went to their camp to retrieve it, he felt threatened by them so he shot and killed all three before retrieving his belongings.  There was apparently no real physical evidence to back up his story other than an item found in the cook tent which the miner claimed was his.
So what do you think so far? 

My thoughts are I can’t believe the bodies were removed before anyone saw even a glimpse of blood to give them some indication that the deaths were caused by more than just a faulty stove.  I’m thinking this is a botched investigation from the very beginning.
Once a confession is obtained, of course, the police arrest the subject and the state moves on towards prosecuting the miner at trial.  During the trial the jury heard the miner’s confession and heard first-hand from the miner what happened from his point-of-view when he took the stand and claimed self-defense.  When it was time for the judge to instruct the jury before deliberation, the defense made a point of arguing that the jury could only be instructed on First Degree Murder and not Second Degree Murder or even Manslaughter.  The argument was all or nothing and when the prosecutor was not prepared to argue why the reduced charges should be an option, the judge agreed with the defense.  This meant the prosecutor had to prove the miner killed all three men with premeditation. 

Based on the evidence, or lack thereof, this made it more difficult for the state to get a conviction and in the end the jury could not agree on a verdict.  According to some accounts, it appears the jury did not believe the miner was an innocent man but that they would have liked the option of finding him guilty of a lesser charge. 
Ending with a hung jury, the state brought the miner to trial a second time; this time in a different county and before a different judge.  Where the state may have had a chance for a conviction during the first trial, the state did not stand a chance during the second one.  It started when the judge ruled that the miner’s confession was not admissible and would not be heard by the jury.  When a jail witness popped up as an informant against the miner, the evidence the state might have had was short-lived when the judge removed the witness from the stand after discovering a state agent was in the courtroom when he wasn’t supposed to be present. 

And the case for the state just went downhill from there.  The jury learned that the bodies had been removed before anyone had even realized the men had been shot and, even worse, that the state had actually lost the bullets after they were removed from the bodies.  This time around, the miner did not bother to testify.  He just watched his defense attorney poke holes at the state’s case.
I guess you can imagine what happened next.

The second jury, while they also did not believe the miner to be innocent, decided that the state had not proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt.  They acquitted the miner and set him free. 
Did the story end there?  It depends on how you look at it.  The victims’ families still had to live with only the miner’s confession on how and why the men had to die.  They had to live with the fact that, while the miner may have been guilty of a crime, the state had not been able to put together a good case in order to convict him of the appropriate crime.  However, the story took a turn for the worse with regard to the miner, not too long after the second trial.  Apparently less than two years after the miner was acquitted, he passed away.  I don’t know how, as that isn’t clear, and whether this even brought any relief to the victims’ families, I would not venture to say. 

I’ll never know whether the vehicle we saw at the bottom of that outlook was a vehicle from a recent accident or one that occurred decades ago.  And I really can’t say whether this story is completely true or only partially true, which is why I decided not to list names of the victims or the defendant here.  But one thing this story proves is that no case is clear cut, even when there is a confession. 
And what this case showed me is that when your curiosity takes hold, pay attention. You just never know the stories you might uncover.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

When Curiosity leads to Murder, Part I

I’m a day late in posting because I had quite a bit of writing to do on my book.  When the story takes you someplace and you get in deep enough, it is very difficult to leave in order to turn your attention to something else.  So instead of blogging, I stuck around with Jorja to investigate cases. 
Investigating.  It is what I really enjoy, whether I’m conducting the investigations, reading about them or writing about them.  I am extremely interested in criminal law, always have been, and I think my naturally curious nature made me very good at what I do.  As a defense investigator I may not always discover the absolute truth but I do my best to get the whole picture of what will be provided to a jury in order to verify what information they will use as they deliberate after the trial.  The truth is in there somewhere; they just have to figure out whether the information they have been provided is enough to prove guilt or reasonable doubt.

Sometimes that job is not as easy as it may sound.  Have you ever been on a jury?  For a serious criminal matter full of details and packed with witnesses who remember details differently than the next person?
Some cases are simple.  Others are not.

I could describe any number of cases I’ve worked to give you examples of the good, the bad and the ugly.  But instead, I’d like to tell you about an interesting case I learned about quite by accident while on vacation and only due to my own curiosity…
Big Horn National Forest
Have you had the pleasure of driving through Wyoming? 

Wildlife in Big Horn
I’m not talking about Yellowstone National Park, although I have seen most of it and it is worth the trip.  I’m talking about driving east from Yellowstone and through the Big Horn National Forest.  That part of the state is absolutely beautiful.  We also saw a larger number of wildlife driving through the Big Horn National Forest than we did at Yellowstone.  Yellowstone did offer a variation: elk, a lot of bison, deer, mule deer and even a mother bear and her cub.  Through the Big Horn we saw elk, moose and so many deer I lost count after I got to 60.  We also saw a lot of cows, many of them wandering on the road rather than the fields, and a tree completely full of turkeys.  Along with the numerous sights of wildlife, the scenery was just spectacular. 
Fallen City in Big Horn
One particular area really caught my attention.  After passing through lush green fields, we drove alongside the mountain and came to an outlook we learned was titled the “Fallen City.”  An odd name, you might think, but if you look at the hillside above the valley at the rocks jutting up through the trees (called a massive boulder field) it is really quite something. 

As we stopped to check out the Fallen City, take photos, stretch our legs and take a break before we finished heading out of the mountains, we caught sight of something at the bottom of the valley.  The object appeared to be a vehicle.  We used the regular camera, the binoculars and even the video camera to try to get a closer look and while it was difficult to see much, we assumed the vehicle had been down in the valley for quite some time. 
That particular trip took us through eight states before we arrived home after a 17-day road trip.  You can imagine we saw quite a few attractions and distractions, any of which would have been on my mind for days and weeks to come.  But even after I arrived home, I could not forget about the car, or what appeared to be a car at the bottom of the valley at Fallen City.  I decided to do some research, to see why the car ended up over the cliff, who was involved and if I could find the truth behind the story my imagination was beginning to put together.

What I found was not what I expected. 
What I found was a story about a case that was said to have occurred some 28 years before.  If the accounts I read are true, it involves murder, a confession, a botched investigation and two jury trials ending with a result you might not expect... 

To read Part II, check back this weekend when I post again on Sunday. 


Sunday, December 2, 2012

In My Book, What Counts is Family

If you did not notice the new NaNoWriMo badge on my Blog or catch the post on my Facebook page, the 30-day writing challenge I took part in is now over.  And I completed it with words to spare!  There were about eight days during the month when I wasn’t able to write at all but by the 29th my final word count was 50,803.  I am extremely proud of myself for taking part in this challenge, sticking with the challenge and also for winning the challenge.  I’m also happy with how much I’ve been able to put together for the second book in my Jorja Matthews Mystery series. 
In spite of the above, the writing challenge could not have ended any sooner.  This weekend was my first weekend without taking part in the challenge and it was, I will admit, a nice little break.  But the break was not much of a break at all.  Instead, my days were busy for a much more important reason than writing.

What is more important than writing?
My family, of course.

My youngest is turning 15 years old so this was his birthday weekend.  From the time I got off work on Friday, the days were full with shopping in preparation for his party, hosting his birthday party on Saturday, enjoying time with family and then going out to dinner to celebrate Saturday night at his favorite pizza place called The Rock.  I don’t know how many locations The Rock is actually located but if you haven’t checked them out and at least tried their beer-battered fries, you are missing quite a treat.
Today should have been a day to catch up around the house and write but we had yet another birthday to celebrate.  So off we went to celebrate with family in honor of our nephew, which also meant more pizza and more cake.  I turned away the pizza but just could not say no to the cake and I’m glad I didn’t.  It was extremely tasty.

I think I mentioned in my post about Thanksgiving that I thought a diet would be in the works between Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.  I can’t imagine what I was thinking.  I completely forgot about the birthday parties and also at least one Christmas party I’ll be going to.  The more I think about it, a diet just doesn’t seem to be appropriate this time of year.  I hate diets anyway. 
Moving on from the “D” word, the weekend was busy but it was also a lot of fun.  I enjoy my family and love spending time with them.  They are what make the days brighter and lighter when the everyday grind tends to feed off our soul.  So while I did not accomplish much with my writing this weekend, I am very pleased with what I did accomplish…my son is happy, he has thoroughly enjoyed all the fun we had this weekend and the memories will last him until next year when we do it all over again. 

In my book, when all is said and done, that’s what really counts.