You Can Do It!

Do you mind if I vent for a second? I know other people have bigger problems than I do–hell, the entire country has Problems–but there is something that’s been getting me down lately. Homeschooling my thirteen-year-old daughter, who we had to pull out of public school due to some chronic health issues. To be clear, I love my daughter–I love both of my children–and her health is critical to me. I am willing to make sacrifices for her well-being, absolutely.

But, in the other column, have you met teenage girls? To paraphrase that Merc with a Mouth and noted child psychologist Deadpool, teenage girls are characterized by long sullen silences and mean comments. This is how I’m spending all day, every day. With a moody teen who misses her friends and is understandably frustrated about her circumstances. Add to that my struggle to remember what little I ever understood about 8th grade Algebra and it’s amazing my life hasn’t become a looping gif of Bridget Jones’ “I choose vodka” declaration.

This time last year, my kids got up, went to school (on the days my daughter felt up to it), and I had the house to myself. For hours! Oh, the glorious solitude. I got to write and play in my own make believe world and, shockingly, got PAID to do it! What kind of nonsense adult job is that? Now, I still have deadlines for books but far, far fewer productive hours (and as a result, fewer paychecks). I wonder if I’m driving my daughter away with all this togetherness. I wonder if I’m too impatient with her. I worry that I’m not enough to keep the former honors student caught up academically with her peers. I say to my husband a dozen times a week, “I can’t do this.” And, yet, since it’s getting done, apparently I….can?

Reluctantly, perhaps. Inexpertly, for sure. With a side of tears and swearing, absolutely. But I am managing something difficult in spite of the self-doubt. One day at a time.

I’ll bet you a dollar there’s something in your life you want to accomplish but you doubt your ability to achieve it. Maybe it’s lose a little weight or learn to knit or write a book or make the world a better place and you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do this.” I bet you another dollar that you absolutely can.

I do not love this new homeschooling arrangement, but my daughter is making straight A’s. We’ve both been learning about algebraic formulas and the Articles of Confederation and how animals adapt to their environment. It is not a perfect educational environment and our progress is slow, but we’re damn lucky that we have the resources and computer and flexible schedule to attempt what other families might not be in a position to try. And I don’t write as fast as I used to, but the fictional voices are still there, talking to me at odd moments, and I record snippets of dialogue and ideas for scenes in the Notes section of my iPhone. Yesterday, I put sentences on a page–not as many as I would have liked, but a paragraph exists now that wasn’t out in the universe before, and I created that.

Books are written one sentence, one word, at a time. Keep slogging forward. Those words add up. One of our math problems last week was whether it would be better to take a job that paid a million dollars for thirty days (where do I sign up?!?!) or a thirty day job that paid one penny the first day but doubled salary every day. To steal from clickbait headlines, THE ANSWER MAY SURPRISE YOU. Pennies add up. Steps walked and calories counted add up. Calls and emails to politicians about important matters add up. And the more you do, the better you feel. Start small–hell, start tiny if you need to. Keep your expectations reasonable and be patient with yourself, but do not listen to that stupid, petty voice that sneers “You can’t do this.” It is wrong, and I believe in you. Surround yourself with people (in your physical world or online) that echo that belief and cheer you on and, in the meantime, I’ll share with you these wise words from Christopher Robin that I’ve hung on my own wall as a reminder.

Now get out there and kick some ass—-slowly, and in manageable tasks with occasional setbacks. But that’s okay. An ass kicked in slo-mo is still an ass kicked.

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I’m Hip Deep Into Lent

It’s blogger’s choice, and I think I want to talk about. . . . Lent. (We could also spend some quality time on how much I love my new cover, but probably not today)

Why Lent? Why not. Last year I was working on the second draft of the novel that will become my fourth release from Kensington, Bless Her Heart, and the Lenten season gave me an idea to punch up the story I was writing. I already knew that my preacher’s wife was going to sample each of the Seven Deadly Sins, but what if she also gave up church for Lent? That lead to this scene:

By this point in the Ash Wednesday service the minister had moved on to Matthew. He droned on about “not looking somber as the hypocrites do” while we fasted. Finally, we got to sit down, and the sermon began. Dour-faced Reverend Ford spoke about the traditions of Lent, the excesses of Fat Tuesday as exemplified by Mardi Gras—that actually sounded fun. He admonished his flock to make sacrifices that would bring them closer to God but pointed out that sometimes it was better to add something to your routine rather than to just give something up. He talked about his preteen daughter giving up soft drinks and how his wife vowed to get up fifteen minutes earlier each day for a devotion.

In essence, we were to find something that hampered us for being the best person we could be and to either add something to address it or to give something up if it held us back. If you drank too much, then give up alcohol. If television kept you from your family, then give that up. If you were unhappy about your physical health, add an exercise regime. The sky was the limit, he said, as long as we examined ourselves and looked at what was holding us back and keeping us from being the person God intended us to be.

Maybe Chad should look into giving up profligate spending and adultery.

No, I needed to think about myself. Not Chad. Chad would mean nothing to me just as soon as I could figure out how to divorce him. I needed to think on myself and what I needed to do because Liza was right: I wasn’t happy.

What could I give up—or add—for Lent? My husband? Nah, he’d taken himself away. Having a baby? That had been taken from me, too. Chocolate? Too trivial in comparison to the other two. What was something I had too much of, something that made me unhappy because it wasn’t good for me. Something—

Church.

The word came to me as if the Lord himself had whispered it, but I knew that couldn’t be the case. Why would God tell me to give up church? That made absolutely no sense. Of course, church did remind me of Chad, and I needed to stop thinking about him so it made sense in a crazy, weird sort of way.

Come to think of it, Chad hadn’t believed in Lent or giving things up. He said that was something Catholics did.

Heck, if Chad thought it was a bad idea, then maybe it was the absolute best idea for me.

If I still missed God after forty days, I could always come back to the fold. Maybe I could even find a different fold, one that better suited me. Having the bank foreclose on Love Ministries might end up being one of the best things to ever happen to me because now I was forced to look for another job and, goodness knew, I hadn’t been doing anything more than stumble through life the past few years.

But giving up church? That’s so. . . wrong.

And what has doing all of the right things done for you?

We’ve just begun Lent, an interesting religious ritual that I’d never really heard of until I started attending the Wesley Foundation at the Unversity of Tennessee. This concept of giving something up was completely new. And daunting. Over the years I’ve given up Cokes, alcohol, desserts. One year—and that was the most painful—I made myself get up 15 minutes earlier than the required time. The idea was to read from a devotional. If I couldn’t do that, at least I had made myself get up instead of hitting the snooze button. I’d love to tell you that habit stuck, but it did not. (It did, you will note from the excerpt, give me a trait that I could give to another character, though. Poor thing.)

This year I’m fasting from social media. When I kinda got meaner than I should have on Fat Tuesday then I knew it was time to take a break. In my defense, I don’t have time for anyone who is mean to my friends. I am not here for that. Either way, I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t want me to call people delusional on the Book of Face. Even if the person in question clearly is. Wait. What? Did I say that? Clearly I need to atone some more.

At any rate, if you don’t see me on Twitter or Facebook, it’s because I’m allowing myself only 30 minutes a day. I think my mental health is improving a little. Besides, it gives me more time to write my Congresspeople.

Now, here is my challenge for you: what is something you can write about that others might not think about? Ever thought about having a book center on Lent? Or the Cokesbury Hymnal? Or death by fire ants? Or a funeral home? Is there anything that you know a little something about that would bring a unique perspective to what you write? Readers, help us out and tell us about some of the most unique premises you have come across.

Oh, and my husband’s dreams of being my houseboy would be dashed if I didn’t mention that Bless Her Heart is now available for preorder at

Amazon

Bam!

Barnes & Noble

soon to be FoxTale, the keepers of the shot glasses

Google

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Where, oh where, did my little plot go?

Last cycle’s topic was plot bunnies and I ended up posting something else, but since this is an open slot, I thought I go for a re-do…

‘Where do you come up with your plots/characters?’ is a question I often hear. Mostly from non-writers, but I know some writers struggle coming up with plots as well. Sometimes it can feel like *everything* has been done so many times there’s no way to make it new and fresh. Keep in mind that two people can write similarly themed books, but they will end up completely different. A writer will always bring their own experiences into the story.

Personally, I get many of my ideas from music. I’ll be toodling down the road taking my kids to school or soccer or gymnastics and my mind will start to wander as it does when I’m driving the same route for the millionth time. A song will come on. And, if the storm is perfect, a story seed will be planted. For me, the characters and plot emerge simultaneously and are dependent on one another. I keep a notebook in the car (or your phone’s notes section works well too) and jot down the idea before I lose it. I have notebooks full of book ideas, some quite well developed, that I have no time to write. (Good problem!)

The other place chock full of ideas is the news or special interest stories. I’m going to scan the current headlines….brb… See, here’s a story about Beau Biden’s widow, who is now dating his brother, Hunter. Stepping back, the premise and conflict would make for a great romance, historical or contemporary.  One of my favorite recent clips is of two 5th graders, Zoe and Noah, on Ellen who have a love-hate relationship. I want someone to write their story all grown up! Childhood frenemies to lovers is a great trope. And don’t get me started on all the political stuff going on…a political thriller about a CNN journalist (*ahem* Jake Tapper) who uncovers a Russian conspiracy and has to go on the run from bad guys? Yes, please!

I also want to mention something authors don’t talk about too much…It’s called writing ‘On Spec.’ It’s where a publishing house has a concept in mind and they tap a writer to make it happen. My Cottonbloom series was supposed to be a spec project, except I couldn’t write the idea my editor suggested (for reasons I won’t go into here.) So my editor told me to brainstorm some new ideas. But, there were constraints. It had to be a “summer themed” series with an overarching plot to tie the books together. The release dates were set before the story had been conceived. I pitched what came to be the Cottonbloom series to my editor. She loved it and the rest is history.

I’m currently writing another spec project for my editor. This one was a little different in that my editor handed over a high-level synopsis of what she wanted. Now, some authors might consider this as constraining to their ‘muse.’ But, I thought the concept was interesting and am taking it and running with it. Plus, a good author/editor relationship means you can change things as the story develops. Which I already have. If the opportunity to write on spec presents itself to you, don’t dismiss it out of hand, you might find it interesting. (By the way, Entangled is always looking for spec writers. Check out their Wishlist page.)

If you’re still having a block coming up with something that excites you, go through #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) on Twitter. Editors and agents detail in general terms the kind of manuscripts they’re interested in. It might just get your creative juices flowing. The downside is that by the time you actually have written it, the agent/editor might have moved on, but that doesn’t matter if you’re excited about it!

Where do you get your plot/character ideas?

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Calling It Quits

Recently, I did something that was incredibly difficult for me. I pulled the plug. I gave up. I walked away from something I’d put a lot of time and effort into.

That’s right. I trashed a work in progress.

To give you a little bit of background, I’m a (very, very) slightly reformed pantser who used to trash manuscripts all the time. I’d get excited about the premise for a project, pound out twenty thousand words or so, then realize there was no conflict and no point and get distracted by the next shiny idea dangling in front of my face.

That all changed a few years ago when I finally threw up my hands and recognized that I needed at least a liiiiitle bit of a plan in place before I started a project. Beginning to do some very basic outlining helped me ensure that a plot bunny had some depth to it—enough to get me to the end of it, at any rate.

The difference was immediate and dramatic. I started six projects and finished six projects. Everything was going great.

Then I had a kid.

My little bundle of joy is the light of my life, and for a few months there, she was also the destroyer of productivity and concentration. Desperate to get my writing career back on track in her wake, I started a new document. Something short and light. Something sexy and fun.

Something with no plan.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t go well. As will probably surprise absolutely no one, I pounded out about twenty thousand words and started to stall out. There wasn’t enough there there. The short, light, sexy, fun story wasn’t a great match for my brand.

In short, the project just wasn’t going anywhere.

The moment I realized this, naturally, I panicked. I’d been slogging away at this thing for a month, killing myself to try to write a few hundred words a day during my daughter’s naps and after her bedtime. This was blood, sweat and tears we were talking about here. And yet. I had to face facts. It wasn’t working out.

Resigning that manuscript to the dumpster pile was one of the harder things I’ve done in my writing career. I won’t say that it was a total loss. After a few months of self-imposed maternity leave, I probably needed to warm up a little before getting back up to speed with my writing, and working on a one-off project wasn’t a terrible way to get in the saddle again. Still, I’d been doing so well. I’d been staying focused. I’d been finishing things.

But in the end, I had to remember – there’s no point throwing good time after bad. I closed the file. I mourned.

And after a few days’ reflection, I went back to the drawing board, this time with a plot bunny I hope is a better fit for my brand, my voice, and my readers’ expectations. With characters that make a little more sense to me. Probably without as much of a plan as I should have, but with at least enough of one that I’m pretty sure I can make it to the top of the hill before my engine putters out.

When’s the last time you scrapped a manuscript? What made you decide to pull the plug? And in the end, looking back, do you think you made the right call?

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Burn Out is Real…and it’s Scary

I’m a burn out. Wait, wait! Let me rephrase that. I am burnt out.

I am in the process of writing my fourth book in a year and a half… During that time, four other books released. I know there are some amazing authors who can kick out a book every two months — or one month. I wish! But that’s not me, and I know that.

Let me be clear…I’m not complaining. NOT ONE BIT.

But I am admitting…
I’m burnt out.

As a debut author who had never signed a contract before, I didn’t realize how grueling a publishing schedule would be. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to just put my head down and write as I did for years before I even tried to get a book deal.

Sure, I knew all about the other things that go into being an author—the editing and editing and editing, social media, marketing, conferences and continuing education workshops, author events and signings and more editing…and, of course, writing.

I signed my first contract in February 2015 and I haven’t been able to catch up yet. As soon as I signed that contract and put myself under a real deadline: Reality happened. Exhaustion and stress and life unraveling happened.

Real life doesn’t stop when you get a deal. And for me, it got a whole lot more complicated.

An entire re-write of my fifth book is staring me in the face. Minutes click quickly toward the date that it’s due (again). So how do I get my mojo back? How do I muster up the strength and energy to write the best damn book I possibly can?

I went back to my favorite place to write. A local French bakery in the “Noda” neighborhood of Charlotte called Amelie’s. It’s got such an eclectic vibe. There are always people there. Creative people. Business people. (Not that those two can’t be the same,) All ages from toddler to Betty White.

I settled into a seat and put my head down. No Internet. No writing companions. Just me, the music (because you guys know I need the music) and my laptop. And I wrote my ass off. I was there from 6pm to 2:30 in the morning. The next morning, I jumped out of bed and was back at a cozy table with black coffee and a delicious breakfast sandwich (eggs, spinach and asiago on a croissant—in case you want to get the full picture) by 8am.

The words were flowing. The ideas kept popping. It’s almost as if I had to get out of that pocket of life that was stifling my creativity and go back to this vibrant, happy coffee shop where I’d written so many words previously—before the contract.

Life. Moving. Jobs. Deadlines. Marketing. Motherhood. Social Media. Events. Separation. Moving. Kids. Time. Love. Loss.

There’s always going to be something. Find your happy place and get back on track. If that doesn’t work—mix it up. Try something you’ve never tried before (I just started yoga again after 9 years). Go where creative people are. Find meet up. Be in the presence of individuals who like the same things you do. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Find yourself. <3

After a few more sessions at Amelie’s, I’ve almost finished re-plotting and restructuring my current work in progress. And I’m going back tonight.

 

P.S. Photo: A scrumptious berry tart and dark chocolate covered strawberries. Happy Valentine’s Day to me. 🙂

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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Find Your Focus

Perhaps you’ve seen the concept of a Word of the Year around the interwebs. The idea is to pick one word that resonates with you, something you want to really strive toward for the year.

The last couple months I’ve struggled to find my focus. I’ve fallen behind on multiple projects, hadn’t read a book in two months, and felt checked out from life, to be honest. It was like I was in a complete brain fog all the time. So it should really come as no surprise that for my word of the year, I chose FOCUS.

I picked this for so many reasons, but one of the key things for me was that it fit into all the different parts of my life. In my professional life, the word will serve to ground me and remind me of the goals I’m striving toward. I need to buckle down and focus if I expect to get anything done, because, uh, it’s just me. If I don’t do the work, mama don’t get paid.

In my personal life, the word will serve as a reminder to be present. So often my kids will tell me a story, and I find myself zoning out, thinking about the bathroom that needs to be cleaned/the groceries that need to be picked up/that appointment that needs to be made, and I totally miss what they’re saying. That kills me. Because before long, my twelve-year-old is going to be a fifteen-year-old who doesn’t want to talk to his mom.

FOCUS, as a WOTY, has proven to be incredibly inclusive of all aspects of my life. And while I haven’t been 100% successful with it thus far, I will say that having the word has helped me, well, focus.

Some key steps I’ve done to help implement my word:

  1. Limiting social media and/or phone time. I’m allowed 30 minutes a day of Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. And let me tell you, those thirty minutes fly by. Some exceptions are made if I’m learning something on SM. For instance, if one of my FB groups is having a discussion on productivity hacks, I take the time and read the responses. But if it’s just me screwing around and liking posts, that’s got a time limit. Likewise, if I’m having a conversation with a human being, the phone is down and I turn my attention to the person speaking so I’m completely present.
  1. Meditating. Of course I’ve known about meditating for a long time. True story, when I was in seventh grade, it was the “cool” thing to do, so I did it one night. And by did it, I mean I fell asleep while pretending to meditate. As an adult, I meditated for the first time several months ago, thanks to the suggestion of Marie Forleo. It didn’t stick with me then, but I picked it back up in November, and it’s been a saving grace ever since. I like the Stop, Breathe & Think app (it’s free!) because it’s easy to use, has customized-to-your-mood meditation, and offers both guided (with non-annoying voices!) and free-form where you can set a timer and background noise and go to town. I like to do this before I settle in to write for the day, as it helps clear all the other stuff I seem to have floating around in my head lately.
  1. Planning. True, this might not work for everyone. In fact, if you are normally a fly by the seat of your pants kind of person, having a plan—or even having to do a plan—might make you lose focus. For me, it’s the opposite. I like having that task list that I can easily reference to see what needs to be done next or what I can do when I find myself with some free time. That’s helped me work toward my goals—especially business—more than anything.

We’re only a month into the year, but I’ve found these three things have really helped me stick to my word of the year and be more present in my daily life, whether that be personal or professional.

Did you do a word of the year? If so, what did you choose?

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Writers Who Lunch

Writing is a pretty solitary pursuit and, mostly, I enjoy this part of “authoring.” At my day job, people are constantly asking me for this, emailing me for that – tons of communication for 8 hours a day. I enjoy the not talking-ness of writing. However, if you attempt to author alone, you’ll quickly go crazy from the pressure, confusion, millions of questions that arise, and the stumbling in the dark that comes with publishing. In short, you need people. Writer people. But sometimes this is tricky.

I attend ~one conference a year, but one conference isn’t enough interaction. My chapter meetings mean more than 4 hours of drive time, and I have a child at that, “I will participate in a variety of activities that require my attendance every Saturday” age. Thus, I can’t make most meetings.

The solutions to this issue aren’t ground breaking, but they are worth recognizing in case anyone out there is in a similar boat. Allow me to present:

Writers Who Lunch

No matter where you are, geographically or in your career, you too can be a writer who lunches. All you need is another writer within about a 20 mile radius and a place to eat. Then, you get together every 4 to 6 weeks, share all that you’ve learned lately, solve the world’s problems, or just vent for an hour. It’s up to you.

Just last week, I met up with Laura Trentham and Fran Fowlkes for our January lunch. I think we’ve been doing this for 2 years now. (Two years?!?! How has it been two years?) Topics included everything from deadlines to deodorant, agents to ad campaigns. Lunch lasts about an hour and a half, and that little stretch of time is vital.

The Quarterly Meet Up

I have these writer friends who insist on living either far away from me or way far away from me. It takes more planning and effort, but we do our best to get together in a variety of ways. In February, some of us will attend When The Heart Dreams in Charlotte, NC. (Are you going? You should go!) In the spring, we’ll either meet up for shopping or a trip to the salt mines (not even kidding).

This summer, there’s the RWA National Conference in Orlando, Florida, where I hope to see my way far away from me friends (*pointed look at way far away from me friends*), and this fall there’s…well I don’t know. I’m not that organized. But there will be something!

How do you and your writer people stay in touch? Any fun suggestions for the at-large, super busy writers out there?

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Reflecting and Looking Forward

My husband and I just passed the one year mark since we sold our house, packed up and moved to the Florida coast. It was the culmination of close to two years of work to downsize and simplify. I admit I envisioned calm, serene, simple days ahead during which I’d take leisurely walks on the beach and write flowing prose. Well, 2016 had other things in store.

new-years-eve-1941665_1920My father-in-law got really ill and my husband had to spend three and a half months in Kentucky with him while he was hospitalized and then as he recovered. No matter where you stand, no one can deny that 2016 was a year of upheaval and too much ugliness. We also lost a lot of iconic figures from my youth. It was so bad that people began to dread seeing a person’s name trending on Twitter or Facebook, afraid they’d also been claimed by 2016. I mean, it was truly a sucky year for celebrity deaths. George Michael was one half of the duo Wham, whose album Make it Big was the first cassette I ever bought with my own money. I grew up with the original Star Wars series, so Carrie Fisher’s death was traumatic. And the cast of my all-time favorite show, Firefly, will never be able to all be together again since we lost Ron Glass, who played the wonderful Shepherd Book. On top of all this, I began suffering from a particularly nasty case of burnout. Where once I could write 15 pages a day with little problem and turned in my books early, I struggled to get two books finished and turned in on their due dates. I wasn’t late, but it felt like it to me. Cutting it that close causes me stress.

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At the National Naval Air Museum on Pensacola Naval Air Station, home to the Blue Angels.

But the year wasn’t all bad. I did go for walks on the beach, bought myself a beach chair and umbrella and would sometimes take them to the beach to work. Though I still really miss my friends in Nashville, I got into a pretty regular schedule of long lunches with the two other writers I know in this area, Lenora Worth and Sherry Lewis. My husband and I have done a little exploring, visiting the National Naval Air Museum in Pensacola and the lovely Eden Gardens State Park in Santa Rosa Beach. I met some really cool actors at DragonCon, including a personal favorite, Arthur Darvill from Doctor Who and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. I attended my first writing conference in two years in September. And contrary to my natural tendency to want to please people, I got up the courage to renegotiate the delivery dates on the final two books on the current contract so I didn’t have a mental meltdown. The relief I felt after doing so was tremendous. I felt like I had time to take some deep breaths, not work over the holidays and take some time to refill my empty well of inspiration.

The fishing pier and beach a couple of miles from our apartment. A lovely place to go walking.

The fishing pier and beach a couple of miles from our apartment. A lovely place to go walking.

Before moving, January was one of my two least favorite months. In Tennessee, it is often gray and cold. I hate being cold and the gray weather was depressing. Today (it’s Jan. 11 as I write this), here in Florida it was sunny, in the 70s and I had the windows open. This difference helped me to make plans for the year ahead. Yes, there are goals related to writing, but I made the decision to not push myself so much and to do some fun things I’d been putting off. Thus, I signed up for a beginning sewing class (with the idea of eventually being good enough to make my own cosplay outfits) and I’m getting back into genealogy, including doing one of the Ancestry DNA tests to learn more about my family history. I’ve already signed up for the Novelists, Inc., conference this fall, and I’ll be attending the Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando this summer. And Disney fan that I am, I plan to have some Disney parks time in there too since the conference is being held on property. I’ll be back at DragonCon, letting my geek girl flag fly with my geek girl peeps. I set a goal on Goodreads to read 50 books this year, and I plan to meet that goal.

goal-976853_1920And if I don’t finish everything on my to-do list each day? Well, I’m going to try not to stress about that. One of my main goals is to alleviate all the stress that is under my control. I think I’ll be happier and healthier. I’m going walking every day and listening to books and writing-related podcasts. Basically, I want to craft my days so that I lead a happy, well-rounded life.

Do you plan for the year ahead? If so, did you approach anything differently this year?

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Music to My Ears

If you were to peruse my playlist, you might find yourself scratching your head. I have a rather eclectic taste in music, and what I listen to depends a lot on my mood. I don’t typically listen to music when I write like some writers do. I’m a “write in the quiet” kind of person. I’m too easily distracted by the lyrics and want to sing along instead of concentrating on my story.

I have come to a point in my life where I now hear songs in the grocery store, sometimes in Muzak form, that were popular when I was a teenager. I’ve darn near danced to After the Fire’s “Der Kommissar” while shopping for produce.

With my bestie, author MJ Fredrick.

When I first started to develop my own musical tastes, I gravitated toward pop. I used to listen to America’s Top 40 countdown with Casey Kasem each week. I can remember having a tape recorder sitting next to the radio so I could record my favorite songs. I’d hate it when they cut them short, talked over them or someone came into my room and said something, thus ruining the recording. My first true favorite band was Duran Duran. I still own a Duran Duran T-shirt, though not from that era. I bought it to wear to an ’80s-themed birthday party. The first cassette I bought with my own money was Wham!’s Make it Big.

As I moved into high school, it was all about rock and the hair bands. I started going to concerts of my choosing (Poison, Warrant, KISS) rather than the third-tier country I’d been dragged to in my youth with my parents. (NOTE: As an adult I lived in Nashville for 21 years, literally 12 miles from the Grand Ole Opry, and I still don’t like country music, except for the occasional song and Johnny Cash.) I watched Headbangers’ Ball on Friday nights because we lived in the boonies and didn’t have MTV.

My love of rock and metal has survived into my current mid 40s. I still routinely turn up the radio loud in my car and rock out while everyone around me is listening to country or, shudder, talk radio. I listen to bands like Shinedown, Ghost and Metallica. But the part of me that loves TV and movies also discovers a lot of music that way, some of it rock and some of it indie. One of my newest additions is “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo, which is in the trailer for Logan, the upcoming Wolverine movie. Another is Ruelle’s “War of Hearts”, which is used in this scene from Shadowhunters (Warning: Spoilers!)

I’m a huge fan of movie soundtracks, traditional Chinese music (such as that on the House of Flying Daggers soundtrack), and Celtic music, both traditional and Celtic rock from bands such as Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, Seven Nations, Enter the Haggis and others. I also love Scottish pipes and drums from bands such as Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

Okay, your turn. What is your favorite genre of music? Favorite singers or bands? Do you have eclectic tastes, too? What genre is your least favorite or like nails on a chalkboard to you? What are the latest songs you’ve added to your playlist.

Note: You can click on any of the hyperlinks in this post to hear samples of the music mentioned.

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When Ideas Come Buzzing Around

The Bad Girlz have been talking about “plot bunnies” (a term for something that sparks a story idea) and what some of our most memorable have been.

My weirdest bunny was a wasp.

It’s fitting really, since sometimes an idea will start buzzing at the edge of my subconscious, disconcerting me. My anxiety runs the gamut from “what if I can’t do this idea justice?” to “when the hell will I have time to tackle this idea on top of my other commitments?” and the neurotic classic “what if someone else beats me to an even better version of this idea?!”

Yeah, ideas can be uncomfortable, but at least I’m not outright allergic to them, as I am with wasps. After I was stung on the leg once, the swelling was so bad I couldn’t wear pants for over a week. Thankfully, I’ve only been stung three times, but all the scenarios were the same: Tanya was minding her own business, winged red monster drops from the sky, HOLY SHIT WHY IS MY SKIN ON FIRE? Oh. Wasp sting.

The last time it happened, my husband and I were honeymooning on a tropical beach. This resulted in a first aid intervention where nobody spoke the same language but there was a lot of animated gesturing toward my butt. So, anyway. Wasps. Don’t like ‘em.

After my honeymoon but before I sold a book, I was house-sitting for a friend. She’d given me the code to open her garage door/disarm the alarm so that I could enter the house, but there were three wasps circling the key pad, looking as if they were considering a new place to call home. I didn’t know what to do. Short of breaking a window, that key pad was my only entrance into the house. The dogs inside (BIG dogs) had obviously heard me drive up and were barking like crazy. If I didn’t let them out soon, there could be accidents or exuberance-based damage. I sat in my car, feeling like a fear-riddled moron, hoping the wasps flew away.

And I started to imagine a heroine who had her life in total order (so, clearly the opposite of me) and is used to being seen as poised and in charge. But everyone has a vulnerability. When she was a kid she fell into a wasp nest and is now seriously phobic. She meets the hero as he’s trying to propose to his girlfriend at an outdoor restaurant when the heroine runs from a wasp and crashes into his table. Once I got in the house, I started jotting notes about this heroine and by the end of summer, I had a full manuscript.

In the writing world, sometimes we have face-to-face pitches with editors at conferences. My first one was a disaster. Actually, disaster would have been an upgrade. I was so nervous I forgot my own name and began babbling all of my faults (“I’m not sure I’m funny.” “I can’t write a sex scene to save my life.” “Mine may be the worst synopsis you’ll ever read.” WHY, TANYA, WHY? For the love of humanity, stop talking!!!) Anyway, the editor was stone-faced throughout, probably wondering how far away the nearest hotel security personnel was. Then I said something about the wasp-fleeing heroine crashing into the hero’s table while his marriage proposal is getting rejected and the editor cracked a smile, praise the Lord. She requested the first three chapters of the book and called me two weeks later to ask for the whole thing. She didn’t buy that story, but it was the first time I got close to a sale and she DID buy the next romantic comedy I sent her (The Maid of Dishonor, still available in ebook.)

I still don’t like wasps. But sometimes when I see one through the safety of double-paned glass, I have to grin. You never know when an idea will strike or how it might help your career.

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