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July 2016

All in the Name of Research

As a writer, I’m lucky enough to immerse myself in a world of my own making on a daily basis. Sometimes, though, I need a little bit of help to make sure I’m being accurate, truthful, or conveying an experience as clearly as I can to my reader. Research is extremely important in historical fiction, or whenever writing about cultures not one’s own, but it’s equally important in helping to get the right feel of things. So, hard as it is, I make an effort to do good research when I can.

A few of the tougher things I’ve had to do in the name of research:

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  • Spent a sunny day kayaking to scout some perfect Old Florida scenery,
  • Chartered a sailboat,
  • Had dinner with fellow Bad Girlz at a tiki restaurant that’s been in business over 50 years,
  • Sampled countless cocktail recipes to create the perfect signature drink mentioned in my manuscript,
  • Gone to the oldest-school beauty parlor I could find for a shampoo and roller set,
  • Visited Weeki Wachee Springs to see the famous mermaid show to see how it all works,

To further my research and to get the really authentic experience, I sought out The Mertailor for a tail of my own…

Which brings me to the point of this post:

Yours Truly, Swimming in a mermaid tail…. as you do! It’s a tough life, but I do it for the stories 🙂

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

 

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And the Winner is…Not Me

If you’ve ever entered a writing contest, please raise your hand.

17507347 - young pretty woman hands up raised arms, screaming yelling isolated on a white background*Raises hand.

I have a secret to tell you. Well, it’s not really a secret, it’s more like advice for staying sane if you have ever entered a writing contest–Unpublished or Published.

Winning/Placing/Losing…never even coming close to any of the first two (raises both my hands like this chic in the picture) has no bearing on whether you can write well. It has no bearing on whether you will be published. It has no bearing on whether you will sell millions of copies of your books some day.

It’s a contest. Judged by humans. Humans who have their own tastes. And their own bias. It’s all subjective.

That being said, if you don’t have the absolute basic writing skills (grammar, punctuation… read this post).

IF YOU HAVE won or placed, I’m NOT taking anything away from you!! That is awesome!! You should be very proud! Because it takes a kick ass story and kick ass writing to be selected as a finalist or winner. That means multiple people thought your book rocked! And you deserve to feel proud and happy. I’ll take you out for a drink because I am happy for you.

13414384 - man holding a champion golden trophy on white background

This is for the rest of us…the ones who haven’t (ever) placed or won. (still raising my hand). I don’t want anyone to think a contest is all or nothing. If you win you are guaranteed to get picked up by an agent or editor. If you don’t even place you will never be published. Ever!

It doesn’t work that way.

Contest judging is subjective, just like what a publisher or agent likes/wants is subjective. Maybe you wrote the BEST DAMN dystopian Young Adult book that was ever written, but dystopian isn’t selling right now…so you may not get that book published right now.

Shelve it. Keep it for later. Work on something else. It’s not necessarily bad writing or bad story. It’s just not right for right now.

Maybe, like me…your books really suck monkeys in contests. I’ve never placed in a contest for unpublished authors. I never placed in a contest for published authors.

But my book sold to the second editor who requested it. And it was my dream editor. I’m not bragging. I’m just telling you to KEEP YOUR HEAD up. Work on your craft. Keep submitting!

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be proud! A contest win or final is an awesome designation to have under your belt!! Congrats!! If you win or final, and you don’t sell right away, it’s okay.

You will get there!! Keep trying. Keep entering! Keep getting better. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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Body Well Done?!

scooter - CopyThis month we are doing our series on maintaining good health as we pursue our writing careers. When you type for a living, you find yourself sitting A LOT. When you sit a lot, it’s easy to spread A LOT. 🙂 Technology is trying to help our dilemma with things like the treadmill desk, but as for me, I do all my writing from a chair. I really don’t have room for a treadmill desk and let’s be honest, it would be one more piece of workout equipment bought at retail and sold at yard-sale.

I wish I could tell you that I was a vision of health and could provide you with helpful tips on this subject, but I’d be a hypocrite. I struggle with this daily.  However, I refuse to give up on the pursuit of getting healthy. In fact, I was recently taught a very valuable lesson concerning health. I became pretty good at complaining about my body. It’s too soft, too achy, and it doesn’t work as well as it once did.

NOT ANYMORE!

I’m not sure if you noticed, but I missed my last blog date because I took a hard tumble. I could barely move my hand much less type a post. I’d like to say that the fall was from something exciting like rock climbing, but in all honesty, it was just a clumsy misstep from one deck landing to another. While I was recovering the awesome Sally Kilpatrick filled in for me. Thanks again Sally. You rock!

Now that I’ve piqued your curiosity, I broke a crucial bone in my foot, badly sprained my wrist, and took a nice hit on what my father loved to reference throughout my youth as my hard head. 🙂 It hurt! It hurt really badly! It still hurts! That was seven long weeks ago, and I’m still dragging around on a knee scooter and according to my doctor, I have at least another three weeks to go. My family has jumped in and helped out with household responsibilities, however seven weeks later, my mental health is taking its toll. Who would have thought I’d miss loading the dishwasher or walking the dog? All I want is the use of the body I became so good at complaining about. I have a greater appreciation for simple things like getting my own water or making my word count.

Please know that I’m not telling you my story for sympathy, that’s for sure. There are so many people with bigger health issues then my broken foot. I’m telling you this because, maybe like me, your body isn’t as healthy as you’d like it to be. Perhaps you also complain about how you look or how achy you feel. I’m telling you my story in hopes that you will start to appreciate the body you have this very second. Not the one you’ll have ten to twenty pounds from now. I challenge you to be thankful for your body and your health just the way it is!

I’m not saying we should settle here. Should we strive to be healthier? Absolutely! These past few weeks have been enlightening. I want to do more for the body that has done so much for me, by making better food choices, exercising daily and clearing the mental clutter from my mind. I want to show my gratitude for a body well done!

How about you?

Remember to Dream Big!

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Lemony Things

Sometimes life is lemony.

We all have days, weeks, months, even years when our arms are full with all the lemons life has dealt us. We work to make lemonade from the pile we carry around as we’re told to do, but sometimes we end up with lemonade, lemon pie, lemon drops, lemon pound cake, those lemon squares with the powdered sugar on top, and still lemons left over. What’s a Bad Girl to do?

Earlier this week I encountered some lemons of my own. It had been a long week sprinkled with a bit of lemon zest here and there at #RWA16 and I was ready to get home and hug my family. So I was all smiles on the airplane headed for the east coast.
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Only the plane never left the ground. After getting off the plane twice, they announced that the flight was canceled and we walked back out of the gate for the third and last time. Thankfully I found the ingredients for lemonade nearby since Jeanette Grey and Sydney Carroll were on the same flight.

I’m not going to gloss over this part. There was about 30-45 minutes of panic over all the lemons: We’re stranded. We need to get home to our families. I can’t even tell my husband what happened, because he’s on a plane today too. The red eye out is already booked up. Where do we go? What do we do?

But then I remembered what I’ll call Lemony Law #1: You have friends who love you no matter what.

So we rescheduled our flights, called an Uber to take us to the Airline’s designated hotel, and paused to take a selfie. 🙂
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But what we found when we got to the hotel was even better. The hotel was across the street from the attraction we’d regretted not making time for while we were in town: Anthony’s Fish Grotto and the Maritime Museum. And our hotel wasn’t too shabby either.

Which brings me to Lemony Law #2: Don’t let the lemons steal your joy while you make that lemonade.
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After relaxing in the room for a while, we walked across the street, ready to experience anything the day had to offer. If you’re going to be stranded somewhere, I highly recommend San Diego.

Lemony Law #3: Sip that lemonade like you’ve never sipped lemonade before in your life. Work it! Sip it! You never know what sights you’ll see along the way.
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Ship

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We finally got home yesterday after being tourists and eating at the fish grotto. There was much rejoicing over airplanes that actually lifted off the ground. But we’ll always have the memories of the day we were stranded in San Diego together.

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Lemony Law #4: You have family who love you no matter what. Hug them often, especially after extended time away.

If life has thrown lemons at you lately: a rocky point in your career path, health problems you’re struggling to overcome, or simply a canceled flight home, find a way to make lemonade, and enjoy it to the fullest. After all, every one of us has to drink lemony things on occasion.

*sips lemonade with a smile*

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The Fight to Stay Happy

This month on the blog, we’re tackling the issue of staying healthy while on this crazy writing train. Heather and Trish both talked about physical health and things they’re doing to stay active. And I was originally going to chat about that. How I made myself a treadmill desk (take that, guy at Lowe’s who asked if my husband would be able to figure it out), and how I’ve started taking my dog for a two-mile a day walk.

But then I decided I wanted to talk about the other side of things: our mental and emotional health.

Whether you suffer from a mental illness or not, there’s no avoiding the fact that this industry takes a toll on everyone. I’m not exactly a seasoned veteran, but after a few years in the business, I’ve taken some steps to help me stay focused and happy.

  1. Do not look at the reviews. Ever.

I learned this very early on in my career. And learned it totally by accident. I stumbled upon a review—a three star review, I believe—and I can’t even recall now what it said. All I remember is that one small sentence in there froze my writing mojo for weeks. Weeks. So, nope, I steer clear of Goodreads and Amazon. And while sometimes I get sad that this means I miss out on some lovely words from lovely reviewers, it’s what I have to do so I can continue producing words.

  1. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else.

I’ll admit this is the one I struggle with the most. It’s a constant battle, and one I rarely (if ever) intend to engage in, yet it happens. I’ll be strolling along on Twitter, minding my business and being totally jolly, when suddenly a PM announcement for a fourteen book deal for nine figures gets posted and it’s from an author whose debut came out a year after mine*. And then suddenly I’m looking at my backlist and my advances and my upcoming deals and comparing them all to Ms. Nine Figures, and then I’m on a downward spiral ain’t nobody got time for.

On days like these (and there are many. Many, many, many.), I just repeat over and over again, “Their path is not my path.”

Sometimes it helps. Sometimes I need ice cream. Either way, it’s a great reminder that no two careers are alike.

*totally hypothetical situation, in case my hyperbole wasn’t clue enough

  1. Meditate

This is something I’ve just recently started trying after I saw Marie Forleo mention in one of her videos that she does it as a way to clear her mind and increase her productivity. I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure if it’s made a significant impact on me or not, but I enjoy doing it. I downloaded the free app Stop, Breathe & Think, and I really love having those five+ minutes just for me to do nothing but chill and clear my mind. One neat thing with the SB&T app is that you can select which kind of meditation to do based on your mood and how you’re feeling emotionally/mentally. So if you’re feeling anxious, it’ll suggest a specific meditation to help relieve that.

  1. Gather thy tribe

There is absolutely no freakin’ way I’d be able to survive without my tribe. I have several friends—most of whom are writers—who I use as sounding boards, venting partners, and shoulders to lean on. Whether it’s a plot point I’m stuck on, an ad I can’t figure our, or if I want to whine about Ms. Nine Figures, they’re there with their (how’s that for a grammar lesson?) pom-poms and words of encouragement when I need them. I would be so lost without that connection and support system.

What about you? What steps have you taken to keep yourself happy mentally and emotionally while writing?

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I Like To Move It, Move It!

Let’s be real for a second: This writing gig ain’t the healthiest around. Add to that the fact that my day job is also desk bound, and I spend a lot of time sitting on my arse. The zinger is, if I don’t get some kind of physical activity or exercise on a regular basis, if I don’t move, I go full “Meh.” Mentally, my brain feels so full I can’t pick any one task to tackle. Physically, I become lethargic. I think they call it malaise in historical novels. 😀 Or is that ennui? Whatever it is, I come down with a big ole case of it. But, with a full time job and a child now in elementary school, specific classes at set times (like spinning or Zumba) are difficult to manage, if not downright impossible.

For me, the key is convenience and a flexible schedule. During the school year, on a week day, I wake up before 6am and I get home a little after 6pm. I don’t want to spend another hour at the gym, away from my family. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way. At least 3 days a week, I work through lunch and, around 3:30pm, I go downstairs to the gym in my building, and I squeeze in a workout. I crank up my Spotify (good tunes are key), and I do some elliptical and lift weights. I love weight training. It’s hard work and often times I’m sore the next day, but the work out makes me happy. The endorphin, the results, the fact I can pick up my 50lb kid with little effort – all of it makes me happy.

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Now that the days are longer and we don’t have to be at school so flippidy-flappin’ early, I’ve gotten back into swimming. Morning swims are like this weird, cardio-heavy meditation for me. I swam competitively in high school, but I’m not 16 anymore. Swimming is hard, y’all! But in the water there is quiet and calm. Despite my panting at the end of each 100m, it is peaceful. When I’m swimming, I think of little else; only my stroke and my breathing, my form, and my progress. When I finish, I’m exhausted but exhilarated. Every day, I can swim a little farther. I leave the pool, just as the rest of the neighborhood begins to stir, and I feel balanced.

Working out and swimming, even the teensiest bit of run-walking I’ve recently added, keeps me balanced and my brain works better. Even if I spend ~8 hours a day at a desk, I’ve swam half a mile or I’ve walked 1.5 miles and ran .50 (running is hard too, y’all!). Whatever it is, I’ve done something that is the opposite of sitting at a computer. This helps me focus on what I need to do at the desk jobs. I love writing and I’m lucky enough to really like my day job, but I the only way I can continue to enjoy them, is by taking the time to move.

What do you like to do to move it, move it? 😉

 

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The Importance of Movement

I couldn’t tell you the number of articles and blog posts I’ve read that talk about how writing is a sedentary profession. And it is, just like any of the millions of office jobs held by people around the world. We know that having such a job, we have to be conscious of things like weight gain and circulatory problems that come from sitting too long at a time. But having such a job, where we sit in a chair and look at a computer screen for hours a day, also has other repercussions that hamper our very ability to move.

physiotherapy-567021_1280A few years ago, all those years of sitting at a computer began to catch up to me. My range of motion suffered, and there was a persistent ache in my bones. Was I just getting older and everyone had to deal with this? Maybe to some extent, but I also started going to both a chiropractor and a massage therapist every few months. It helped and I liked them both. So when I moved to a different state, I had to begin the process of finding both types of professionals again. Luckily, I think I’ve been able to do so. I’ve only been to the massage therapist once since moving here, but it was nice to have that feeling of relaxation afterward.

I typically get deep tissue massage because it really helps release the tightness in my shoulders that comes from typing. Another thing that I didn’t expect when I first started going to a massage therapist was how much the sides of my hip joints hurt when she worked on those areas. She said that’s also common with people who sit a lot. Besides just simple relaxation, massage has a lot of benefits, helping to alleviate anxiety (which I admittedly have some issues with), digestive issues (ditto), headaches (ditto), TMJ (beginning to have issue with this), fibromyalgia and circulation.

massage-1237913_1280When we first moved to Florida, my main concern with finding a good chiropractor is that I tend to have a rib in my back that sometimes pops out. Yeah, that’s all kinds of fun. It did so while we were loading our moving truck — really bad timing. But since finding my new chiropractor, he’s been working on an issue that I’d never had fixed before. I didn’t have full range of motion in my neck, hadn’t for years. My neck didn’t want to adjust one direction, and my previous chiropractor didn’t want to force it. And I agreed because I was having horrible images of my neck breaking if he did. The new chiropractor showed me my X-rays of my head and spine in my neck leaning forward on its own and how that was causing calcification on the lower vertebrae in the front of my neck to hold my head up (the human head weighs between 10 and 11 pounds, not unlike carrying a bowling bowl around on top of your spine). He said this was more common in the past 20 years when we’re always looking down at devices (phones, tablets, etc.) and at computer screens. This was going to cause more issues as I got older if not corrected. He did say that most chiropractors are no longer even taught how to adjust the C1 vertebra (the one out of place, at the top of the spine where it connects to the skull), but he said that if that C1 is out of place it has a cascade effect on the rest of the spine.

wellness-589770_1920I was admittedly nervous when he showed me just how much he was going to have to turn my head and how, and when he said that at least initially it wasn’t going to be pleasant and I might not like him very much. It took several visits before he was even able to begin to adjust it (or I was remotely comfortable with him trying). But the first time it moved noticeably, so much pressure alleviated and the headaches I’d been having every day disappeared. I’m not going to lie and say that those adjustments are a piece of cake now. They’re over quickly, but they’re still unpleasant, but I have more range of motion than I’ve had in years and I’m thrilled not to have constant headaches. I was also given neck exercises to do at home to help keep things stretched out and moving. But a word of caution — make sure if you ever go this route or have it checked out, go to a chiropractor with experience in this area. There are even chiropractors who specialize in C1 adjustments or at least are upper cervical specialists. Do your research.

Whatever methods you find for relieving tension and pain (I’d love to know everyone’s suggestions), I hope you’re able to do so and thus be able to continue writing the stories you love to write and that readers love to read.

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