Category: News

Today is launch day for a new happiness and creativity effort called Upbeat Authors, the idea for which came to me as I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. To put more positive messages out into a world that seems too often to have nothing but bad news and messages of anger, hatred and negativity, I posted on Facebook that I wanted to form a group of authors who would post weekly messages of happiness and positivity. It was obvious within minutes that this was an idea that many fellow authors liked and needed. Our number grew to more than 225 in only two to three days.

I came to read Rubin’s book when it was suggested to me in the aftermath of a large and scary panic attack I had in early June and the subsequent anxiety I’ve been wading my way through. As I searched for physical reasons for my body acting the way it was (it appears it may be at least partially due to a hormone deficiency), the experience made me want to reexamine my life and search for ways to make it happier, more fulfilling and rewarding. Not that I don’t have a happy life. I just think sometimes we can all benefit from slowing down and taking stock of how we’re doing things and see if there are better, more pleasing ways. I had already begun to try to stay away from negative messages that seem to come from all directions these days – social media, news, things you hear in the line at the grocery store. It’s hard sometimes, partially because my old journalist tendencies like to stay informed. It’s a delicate balance. I read books about making physical changes such as eating and exercising to improve health, the various viewpoints on anxiety and how it comes to torment so many people, and positive ways I can make changes regarding my career. It was Rubin’s book, though, that gave me the idea of how even very small changes, often in just how we look at things, can make a big difference.

That realization was the idea behind the theme of our first week of Upbeat Authors, which will be identified by the hashtag #upbeatauthors on social media. Each week we’ll have a different theme designed to help support and inspire fellow authors, our readers and anyone who could use a bit of positivity, a fresh and happy outlook on life and how to live it. This week’s theme is simple pleasures. Each author will be sharing graphics, social media updates, blogs, etc., on this topic and what it means to them. My choice was the peace that can be found by getting out in nature to take a simple walk away from all the electronic devices and the attention they capture in our daily lives. One of my favorite scents is that of a forest after a rain. Then there’s the salty scent of the ocean to be found as I walk along the beach. The sound of the waves is soothing as is the sound of running water over rocks in a creek. This communing with nature always brings a sense of relaxation and stress relief. It’s easier to smile, easier to breathe.

But it’s not only a simple pleasure that costs nothing. Studies have shown that getting out into natural spaces provides physical and mental health benefits. In addition to the physical activity, according to one study referenced in this article from the New York Times, walks in even a “leafy, quiet, park-like portion” of the Stanford University campus led to a decrease in participants’ tendency to brood, or to think about the negative aspects of their lives.

In Scotland, woodland programs are being used to good effect for patients with long-term mental health issues. 

In Japan, heading to the forest for health benefits is known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. According to some studies, it reduces the stress hormone cortisol and increases your immune system defenses.

While I have no doubt there is a scientific explanation for the benefits of spending time in nature, I think at least part of the reason we feel good when we do is because of our historic ties to nature. We once lived much closer to it. We didn’t have to make the effort to spend time outside in the green, breathing fresh air and enjoying the quiet only interrupted by birdsong and the wind in the trees. But while the modern world has conveniences, for sure, we have also perhaps lost a peace of mind and natural stress relief we once had without even thinking about it. It seems perhaps that Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson agreed.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. —Robert Louis Stevenson

So if you’re stressed, anxious, depressed or just need a break from the modern world, I encourage you to indulge in the simple pleasure of getting back to nature for a while. Soak it in and let all the bad stuff flow out.

And I hope you’ll look for the #upbeatauthors posts across all platforms today and each Monday. We hope they brighten your day, and we’d love for you to share them with others. The more people we can reach with messages of happiness and positivity, the better.

 

 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the past several months — about writing, my health, my outlook on life, the future, the world in general, etc. While these might seem like disparate topics, I realized that I can put them all under the heading of What Makes Me Happy. I made this realization while reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, in which she chronicled her varied efforts to improve her everyday happiness. The book is a New York Times best-seller, and Rubin has a popular blog about the same topic.

I think I’ve come to this point where I’m examining what makes me happy because of a variety of reasons: my age (I just turned 47 this year); some bouts of anxiety which I’m addressing; world events and an unfortunate increase in negativity on what feels like all fronts; changes in the publishing industry, including the closing of my line at Harlequin next summer and a bout with burnout, that have me reexamining how I’ll make a living from my writing the the future; and a desire to make the most out of the rest of my life without putting panic attack-inducing stress on myself. I need and want balance, positivity, and fulfillment.

As I’ve been examining all these aspects of my life, I also realized that I wanted to share thoughts that I hope might also help and inspire others — be they readers, writers or both. I also realized I’ve been woefully neglecting this blog and the opportunity it affords me to share my thoughts and experiences in a form that won’t quickly disappear down someone’s social media feed. So I’m going to do my best to blog a few times a week about things that I hope you find helpful and hopeful.

First, I’d like to talk about a simple action I took last month and am continuing that is helping me find my creativity again. I think because tight deadlines had me writing the same type of book (even though they are all different in terms of plot and characters) for several books in a row, I started suffering burnout and lost any joy I once had in writing. Getting words down each day felt like a slog through thigh-high mud. It got to the point where I did something I never thought I would — renegotiated the delivery dates on the final two books on my current five-book contract. I hated asking for this because I pride myself on always meeting or often beating my deadlines, for being dependable, a go-to author for my publisher. But as soon as they agreed (bless them), the sense of relief was tremendous. Granted, that extension of my deadlines will leave the last book on this contract in an unsure position at the moment. I still have to write it and deliver it, but it’s original release date is past when the line is ending. But in my efforts to focus on the positive, I have to believe that the story will still make it to my readers in some fashion. There’s nothing I can do, so I have to let it go and not worry about it.

Okay, back to creativity. Fellow author Diana Peterfreund posted to a writer’s group I’m in about an idea-generating event she took part in called Storystorm, which began as Picture Book Idea Month by children’s author Tara Lazar several years ago and later underwent a name change. Once Diana explained it, we did a modified version in this group. The idea is very simple and yet very effective. You write down an idea for a story (novel, novella, short story, a catchy title, an interesting character name, etc.) for each day in a month. Some days you might not think of anything, and other days you might have a flurry of ideas. The goal is to end the month with at least 30 new ideas. They don’t have to be fully-formed synopses; that’s the beauty of it. It frees your mind up to just play with snippets of ideas.

This came just when I needed it. So I raided my stash of paper supplies and pulled out a brand new Mary Englebreit notebook and paired it with a cool purple gel pen Sally Kilpatrick gave me for my birthday (Thanks, Awesome Sally!). I came into the challenge late, halfway through the month, but I was so excited that I’d caught up with 15 ideas within a day or two. And I kept it up after the challenge was over and now have 41 ideas in my little notebook. Some are a little more clear in my mind while others are just vague notions; some are no more than a series of connected character names. Another is an idea for how to engage readers more. I find myself looking everywhere for snippets that could turn into story ideas. It’s made me more observant, more excited about my chosen field again. Only now that I’m feeling that excitement again am I fully realizing how much it had left the building.

3 Seas Literary Agency, led by my agent Michelle Grajkowski, is having a great holiday giveaway this week. While collecting 29 recipes from 3 Seas authors, you’ll be earning entries toward the giveaway of a $300 gift card to Amazon, Barnes & Noble or iTunes. Many of the authors, myself included, are doing additional giveaways on our sites or social media platforms (my details included below).

To find out the rules and all the details about the contest, visit the 3 Seas Facebook page here.

To enter my additional contest for a chance to win 5 surprise books from my backlist, be sure to sign up for my newsletter here and like my Facebook author page here if you haven’t already. I’ll choose a winner at the end of the week. Remember, reading books curled up in a blanket with a hot cup of hot chocolate, coffee or tea is a great way to pass the winter months. And books make great holiday gifts. :)

And now for my recipe, one that was given to me by a co-worker years ago after I nearly inhaled all the cookies she’d brought to a work function.

PISTACHIO CREAM CHEESE FINGERS

1 cup sugar
1 cup margarine or butter, softened
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 3/4-ounce package instant pistachio flavored pudding and pie filling mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ounces (3 squares) semi-sweet chocolate or 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon shortening

In large bowl, beat sugar, margarine or butter, and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; beat well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In medium bowl, combine flour, pudding mix, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to cream cheese mixture; mix well. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least one hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets. Wet hands to avoid dough sticking to your hands. Shape teaspoonfuls of dough into 1 1/2-inch fingers. Place on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 9-12 minutes or until set. Cool completely. In small saucepan, melt chocolate and shortening, stirring constantly until well blended. Drizzle a small amount of chocolate over each cookie. Allow chocolate to set before storing.

Happy baking and Happy Holidays!

Showrunners Director Des Doyle introduces the film at the premiere at the Television Academy.

No, one of my books hasn’t been made into a film, although a girl can dream. But I recently had an exciting trip to Hollywood, my first. A couple of years ago, I happened upon an announcement of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a documentary film called Showrunners, about the creative forces behind the development and running of television programs. These include names like Joss Whedon, Damon Lindelof, Ron Moore and Jane Espenson, among others. As I read about the project and the perks available at different funding levels, I felt myself becoming more and more excited. Anyone who knows me or who even follows me on social media knows that I’m a big fan of quality TV programs. I derive not only pleasure but also inspiration for my own writing from well-written TV shows, things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly and Doctor Who.

A large Emmy at the side of the theater

In fact, though I’ve never met Joss Whedon, I credit him for preventing me from quitting my journey to become a published novelist. Several people have heard my “Summer of Buffy” story, but for those who haven’t it goes like this: It was the summer of 2006, and I’d been trying to get published for a decade. I’d left my full-time position as a magazine journalist the year before to pursue the dream full-time, but those intervening months had continued to be filled with rejections from publishers. I was at an emotional low, wondering if I should just quit and start applying for journalism jobs again. After all, I couldn’t make myself write. Why bother? It was just going to be wasted effort anyway, right? Instead, each day after my husband went to work I stretched out on the couch and watched TV. I’d borrowed the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD from my friend Jody Wallace. I’d never seen the show (I know, gasp!), but it seemed every writer I knew talked about it in worshipful tones at writing conferences. Let’s just say that when you’re watching 8-10 episodes a day, you start going through seasons quickly.

White Witch, book 1 in the Coven series

That summer, I ended up watching all seven seasons of Buffy, all five seasons of Angel and the first season of Eric Kripke’s Supernatural. And even though I wasn’t thinking about writing, a writer’s brain is never truly not thinking about writing. Somewhere in the back of my brain, an idea started to form. By the end of the summer, that idea wouldn’t leave me be, so I sat down and rough drafted a young adult novel called Coven. That novel eventually got expanded into the opening trilogy in my Coven series, which was bought a few years later by Bell Bridge Books. Though that wasn’t my first book sale, it was the book that kept me going, got me excited about writing again, and won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award the next summer in the Young Adult category.

So, yes, I credit TV and excellent TV writers with the eventual achievement of my dream of becoming a published author.

Now, back to the Kickstarter campaign. In my mind, I was thinking two things: 1) If I donated at one of the top levels, I could go to a Hollywood premiere and meet some of the showrunners as well as the forces behind the documentary, and 2) It couldn’t hurt to meet people in the TV/film industry if I wanted my work to eventually be translated to TV/film. It might not help, but it couldn’t hurt. I talked to my husband about it because it wasn’t an insubstantial amount of money for a writer who isn’t hitting the New York Times list on a regular basis. J.K. Rowling, I am not. At least not yet. :) He, being the awesomely supportive guy he is, said he was okay with it. So with my heart beating rapidly, I hit the donate button.

The premiere was initially projected to happen the next May. But as often happens with creative endeavors, obstacles presented themselves (sort of like how my current book is progressing). The director and producers were apologetic, but I was like, “Dudes, stuff happens.” I’m sure they got tired of my periodic questions about timing when I was trying to make sure I didn’t schedule conferences, speaking engagements or vacations that would conflict with the premiere. There was no way barring severe illness or me croaking that I was going to miss that event.

The Southwest Chief

Over the course of the past couple of years, I’ve communicated via e-mail with Director Des Doyle and Co-Producer Ryan Patrick McGuffey, two really nice guys from Ireland. By the time I found out a couple of months ago that the premiere was going to take place in October of this year, I was looking forward to meeting them as much as anyone else. I appreciate dedication to and passion for a creative endeavor, and they had it in spades. Through nothing more than e-mail conversations and Facebook posts, I could tell how hard they were working, along with the rest of their team, to bring Showrunners to the screen. It wasn’t unlike the months or years of work that go into developing an idea for a book, writing that first draft, several rounds of editing, providing information for the cover design, etc.

I indulged my love of Disney with my first trip to Disneyland.

When I found out the premiere date, I booked my trip via Amtrak (I like sitting on the train watching the world go by and having time to write without interruptions). I also grabbed my friend Lara Hansen and headed to the mall for something to wear to the premiere. I am a girl after all. Since I was going to be going all the way to California from Tennessee anyway, I decided to go a couple of days early and visit Disneyland. I’ve been to Disney World several times and love it, but I’d never been to Disneyland. So I spent two days walking around Disneyland’s two parks, riding rides, eating ice cream and enjoying the Southern California sunshine.

With the Showrunners gang

Then it was up to Hollywood from Anaheim and dinner with Des; Ryan; two other Kickstarter backers; Tara Bennett, who wrote the companion book; and Executive Producers Jason Rose and Jimmy Nguyen. We went to Cafe Med on Sunset Blvd. As I sat there and chatted with everyone, all very lovely people, I thought about how a young girl growing up in rural western Kentucky in the 1980s could have never imagined eating at a restaurant in Hollywood with filmmakers. It was sort of a surreal moment, which would be followed with more surreal moments the next evening.

With Jane Espenson

Finally, the big night came. The red carpet premiere of Showrunners was held at the Television Academy, complete with big Emmy statues on the sides of the theater. Prior to the showing, I got to hang out in the “green room” and met Janet Tamaro (showrunner for Rizzoli and Isles), Hart Hanson (showrunner for Bones, and a really nice, fun guy) and the fabulous Jane Espenson, who has written for or been the showrunner for eight wonderful shows of which I’ve been a fan, including Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood and Once Upon a Time). I kept thinking about how good friend and fellow writer Tanya Michaels would possibly pass out if she were there. She adores Jane (and the writing sprints she does on Twitter) as well.

At the appointed time, we were led into the theater, which was already nearly full with guests, many of them Television Academy members. I ended up sitting on the end of the second row next to Jane, across the aisle from Damon Lindelof (showrunner for LOST and currently The Leftovers). I did mention surreal, right?

With Bones showrunner Hart Hanson (second from left) and fellow Kickstarter backers Jennifer and Michael

The film was a great mixture of behind-the-scenes truth telling and humor. I and the rest of the audience laughed out loud many times at what the showrunners had to say. The next “I can’t believe this is happening, and if I’m dreaming don’t wake me up” moment came as the credits rolled and I saw my name listed with the other Kickstarter backers. I might have uttered an “Awesome.” I can only hope that Jane Espenson didn’t think she was sitting next to a dork. But seriously, when is my name ever going to be in the same credits as Joss Whedon again?

After the credits finished, several of the showrunners involved came out onto the stage for a panel discussion moderated by Tara Bennett. In addition to Tamaro, Hanson, and Lindelof, the panel included Matthew Carnahan (House of Lies), Ali LeRoi (Everyone Hates Chris), Mike Royce (Men of a Certain Age and the cancelled-too-soon Enlisted), and Steven S. DeKnight, showrunner for one of my all-time favorite shows, Spartacus (yes, I’m the girl who had a pendant made of Agron’s shield). It was a great panel, and I soaked up every moment, knowing that the magical Hollywood evening was coming to an end.

With Spartacus showrunner Steven S. DeKnight

As I went back to my hotel and packed to head home the next day, I thought back over the entire experience. I’d met some really interesting, talented and nice people, and I came away newly energized to write really good stories and to finally try out that scriptwriting software I bought to adapt one of my books. After all, a girl can dream, but the dreams have to be accompanied by hard work. Luckily, I’m used to both.

If you’d like to learn more about Showrunners or get a copy for yourself, visit the official site here.