Category: #upbeatauthors

This week’s topic for #UpbeatAuthors fits in well with where I am right now. Recognizing or celebrating milestones, whether they are personal or professional, is important for appreciating how far we’ve come and keeping us motivated to keep moving toward our goals.

Recently, I reached the 10-year anniversary of when I first sold to Harlequin. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, and it still amazes me that when I look at my bookshelf there are more than 20 Harlequin books with my name on the cover staring back at me. That’s exciting and amazing and something I worked a long time to achieve. But now that phase of my career is drawing closer to its end since Harlequin is ending my line next summer. I still have two more books in my Blue Falls, Texas series to come out, but I’m also using this milestone in my career to pivot in a new and exciting direction.

While I’ll continue offering my wonderful readers more western romance stories through a series I’ll be writing for Tule Publishing, I’m also in the early stages of an indie series that I’m really excited about. It’s my secret project for now, but if you want to keep up with what I’m doing and when the secret will be revealed, I’d love to have you join my newsletter mailing list. I try to keep the newsletter fun with exclusive content, the latest news, and lots of fun tidbits.

I’m also going to start regularly blogging again, bringing readers and fellow writers fun and inspirational content. My plan right now is to have the following schedule:

Mondays — Upbeat Author motivational posts

Wednesdays — Writer Wednesdays, about topics of interest to writers and how I’m pivoting from one phase of my career to the next

Fridays — Fangirl Fridays, in which I’ll squee like a fangirl over something I’m loving, whether it’s a movie, a TV show, new music, a book or series, etc.

I hope you’ll swing by and let me know what you think about my posts and share them with whomever you think might enjoy them.

Now, back to milestones, I’m also celebrating a very big personal milestone this week. My husband and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary tomorrow, Nov. 14. He really is the best guy, and I’m very fortunate to have him in my life. I’m taking tomorrow off from working so we can go do something fun to mark the occasion.

I wish you all a wonderful, productive and happy week!

This week’s theme for #UpbeatAuthors is one simple way to improve your health today. I can boil this down to one word — awareness.

So what do I mean by that? Allow me to tell you a story about myself. Back in February, I had a surge in my anxiety level, and I wasn’t really sure why. I figured, most likely accurately, that it was a combination of factors — hormonal changes, not eating the right things, getting a bit older, needing to lose weight, and, honestly, the depressing state of discourse in the country. I knew I had to make some changes. I had to be aware of the things that were affecting me in a negative way and do something about them.

First, the weight. I knew already how to attack this issue because I’d done it before. I began tracking my calories again in a food journal and as I read more about anxiety and ways to help alleviate it, I also cut out caffeine. Now, on the rare occasion when I have a Coke, it’s the caffeine-free variety. Not diet, however, because I hate how artificial sweeteners taste and it’s my personal, I’m-not-a-medical-professional opinion that those artificial sweeteners are more dangerous to our bodies than sugar if the sugar is only an occasional indulgence and you don’t have a medical condition like diabetes. But I almost exclusively drink water. I also cut out most sweets and exercise portion control on the few occasions I indulge. I eliminated deep-fried foods. Well, honestly, I’d cut out almost all of them already, with the exception of French fries, but then those went bye-bye, too. They’re not remotely healthy and cutting fried foods from my diet had the extra benefit of alleviating some of my digestion problems and discomfort. And when I tried to eat some fries while out of town at a recent conference, I didn’t particularly enjoy most of them and with one exception didn’t even eat half of them. So now I don’t think I’ll even crave fries, which is sort of a miracle. But I like feeling better more than I like to eat fries.

Some years ago I read the book Food Rules by Michael Pollan. One of his rules that really stuck with me was to do the vast majority of your grocery shopping around the outer edges of the store and try to avoid the aisles. Why? Think about it. The outer edges are where the fresh produce, meats, seafood and dairy products are. In the middle is where the processed “foods” that are packed with sugar, salt and preservatives are. Another of Pollan’s rules was to eat real food, and much of what is in the middle of the store isn’t real food in that it can’t be found in nature. It’s made in some company’s chemistry lab. There’s a reason we are seeing epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It’s at least in large part due to what we’re eating.

Both of my parents died of heart attacks, and my dad also had a stroke at the age of 51, a mere four years older than I am now. I want to do whatever I can to prevent myself from following in their footsteps. So I’m eating more real food, avoiding processed foods (having just given up things like deli meats and canned soups, which are full of sodium). I’ve joked that I’m becoming the Queen of Salads, but I know myself and salad all the time will become old really quickly. So I’m mixing in veggies, fruits, the white meat portion of those yummy rotisserie chickens (sans skin). I’m beginning to investigate other things to eat because I’m not a natural cook. I don’t enjoy spending time in the kitchen like some people. I really wish I did. It does help that due to diabetes, my husband tries to stick to low-carb most of the time. But I’m looking for tasty, healthy, easy recipes that don’t have a lot of salt or sugar. If anyone has any suggestions for sources or awesome Pinterest boards with these types of recipes, let me know.

I am happy to report that as of this past Saturday, I passed the 20 pounds lost mark since February. I’m about halfway to my weight-loss goal. And now only am I feeling better, but it was gratifying that people noticed, not gonna lie. It was also a wonderful feeling that while preparing to go to the RWA Conference, I didn’t experience the depressing trek to the clothing stores to buy bigger clothes. Instead, I was able to “shop” the back of my closet where I’d stowed some of my favorite conference clothes that were in a smaller size.

Also in the realm of awareness, I’m aware of the fact that I have a tendency to go all-in or cold turkey, so I’m making myself read differing views on various health topics. For instance, I had a higher than normal blood pressure reading when I went for my first visit to the hormone doc last week. Of course, being me, my anxiety shot up. At least it did until I did several things:

1. Made myself make some adjustments to what I’m eating (eschewing processed foods like deli ham and turkey as well as canned soups)

2. Read that taking too much sodium out of one’s diet (depending on one’s health condition and doctor’s recommendations) can actually cause harm, so I didn’t need to overdo it

3. Pulled out my blood pressure cuff and started taking my own readings twice a day — once in the morning and once in the evening. They were significant lower than what I got at the doctor’s office, and I read that there is something called White Coat Hypertension that makes a person’s BP elevated when it’s taken in a doctor’s office. Also, the chart included with my cuff shows that the time of day I was at the office is typically when a person’s BP is highest during the day. Other factors such as having not eaten as healthy the previous week because I was away from home, some anxiety about this initial visit, and being a bit sick with a sinus mess could have affected the number as well. I will, however, take in my cuff and have it checked for accuracy the next time I have an appointment. I’ll also exercise daily and watch what I eat with an eye to improving overall health.

So, back to that anxiety I began experiencing in February and which came to an ugly peak in early June when I had a massive panic attack while traveling alone. I knew I wanted to avoid medication for anxiety and its potential negative side effects if at all possible. I’m more of a fan of a more natural, holistic approach when that works. I’m not opposed to taking meds when I need to (I take allergy and asthma meds every day, for instance), but I don’t want that to be my first choice if there are more natural ways of fixing the issue. From my reading, I discovered that often anxiety can be a result of something physical going on in your body. I did a lot of reading about perimenopause and its symptoms. I was experiencing a lot of the things associated with that stage in a woman’s life — hot flashes, anxiety, panic attacks, fatigue, dizziness, etc. So on the advice of a friend, I ordered some lab tests that I could administer at home and send to the lab. Turns out my progesterone was super low. But I’d also read about how hormone replacement therapy can up a woman’s risk for things like breast cancer, which scares the living daylights out of me. So I read about bio-identicals and am going that route. I’m hoping after a while my symptoms will go away.

But I’m not depending solely on progesterone cream and supplements. I’m doing other things to attack my anxiety head-on. I’ve started seeing a therapist to do cognitive behavioral therapy, partly in the hope of overcoming my fear of flying and making travel long distances easier. I’m exercising and just started yoga. I am using the free Yoga with Adrienne videos on YouTube that someone suggested in the wake of my panic attacks. I’m doing deep-breathing and relaxation exercises, including during the 10 minutes before I take my own BP readings. I read a lot about anxiety and how to deal with it. Even my therapist quickly identified that I’m the type of person that if there’s a problem, I want to learn about what causes it and how to alleviate it. Now, I can’t sit here and say I’m cured of anxiety because I’m not. When I have an ache or a random pain or a dizzy spell, things that a normal person might ignore, I experience a surge of anxiety that it’s something horrible happening to me.

I suspect this fear has built inside me because of the passings of not only my parents but also my mother-in-law when she was in her 50s. She was outwardly a healthy person but was diagnosed with stage-four cancer before she knew she was even sick and passed away five months later. I think that fear of something being wrong and not knowing until it’s too late has buried itself deep in my brain. But now I’m aware that these fears are most likely not rational; yes, it can happen, but I can’t live with that constant fear hanging over me. And while it might take a bit for my awareness to filter through to the non-rational part of my brain that fears imminent demise, I’m getting a bit better at being able to say to myself, “It’s just anxiety. It’s not real. Just ride it out.” I wish I could snap my fingers and banish my anxiety forever, but that’s just not how this works.

So back to the topic of this post and the theme of the week — one simple way to improve your health today. Be aware of what your body is telling you and take the appropriate action. Oh, and stop eating processed and fast foods. Eat real, fresh food as much as you can. Your body will thank you.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein

This week’s topic for #upbeatauthors is about fostering creativity. While what I’m going to talk about below focuses on writing, the piece of advice I’m sharing can apply to any creative endeavors – crafts, music, art, sewing, costuming/cosplay, basically whatever creative outlet refills your soul and/or is how you make your living.

It’s a simple piece of advice, really, but one we might overlook because we tend to find the thing we do well and stick with it. But what if we’ve done that thing so much that we begin to burn out or run out of ideas or lose the joy in doing it? Been there and done that. This is when we step outside of the box we’ve either put ourselves in or found ourselves in due to contractual obligations. If you find yourself in this situation, do something totally different.

Do you write sweet romance? Try a dark suspense. Do you write long, lush historical? Try a romantic comedy novella. Feel like you’re stuck in a rut with your quirky cozy mystery series? Try your hand at a piece of micro fiction set in some part of the past.

Sometimes writing something completely different in tone, content or length is just the kick in the pants you might need. You might instinctually make different word choices, sentence lengths, character traits and plot progressions because this is just an experiment and that knowledge frees you up to play. You can think of the experience as a palate cleanser or a jump-start to your creativity, but you might be surprised by how much you like the experience.

A few years ago, I took a short break from my normal writing to take part in the launch of Amazon’s Kindle Worlds project. They contracted with authors to write short pieces set in established worlds to the mutual benefit of the authors, Amazon and the world’s copyright holders. I wrote three pieces set in the world of The Vampire Diaries. I’d never written fan fiction before, so it was a totally new experience and a lot of fun. I always say that you don’t have to take every opportunity that comes your way, but it pays to at least be open to those opportunities. They might provide your creativity (and perhaps even your bank account) with unexpected benefits.

Have you ever done anything completely different from your norm to give your creativity a kick in the posterior? Is there something you’ve never tried that you’d like to? Why not work it into your schedule now?

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”  – Christopher Reeve

I came across that quote recently while I was working on a freelance magazine article about an equine riding therapy program. It really spoke to me, even more so when you think about all Reeve went through.

As I think back through my life, I can see the absolute truth in his quote. So many things followed that same progression – managing to pass trigonometry in high school, getting accepted into college (the first in my family to do so) and managing to pay for it, becoming a published author. There were nights when I was taking trigonometry that I would cry because I just couldn’t figure out my homework. It was doubly frustrating because I was a good student and I was depending on my grades to get into and pay for college. Trig just wasn’t how my brain was wired. With help from my best friend and my patient and understanding teacher, I managed to pass, albeit with the only C I ever got. And I was actually grateful to get that C.

My path to getting my first book published was a long one, also filled with tears and frustration every time I got a rejection letter. It took me 11 years of working my way through the impossible and improbable stages to get to the inevitable one. Despite all the rejection, at some point I decided that I wasn’t going to have put all that effort into something only to quit or fail at it. Call it determination. Call it stubbornness. I figured the longer I worked at it, the better my chances of selling. And eventually I did, though not before a lot of self-doubt had bombarded me.

Now I’m facing having to rethink my career. My line at Harlequin is closing next summer, which means my current contract is likely my last with them. I still have a lovely working relationship with my editor and senior editor and everyone I’ve come into contact with at Harlequin, but the numbers are not in my favor. There are probably 80-100 of us who are in the same or similar boat. There simply isn’t enough room to move us all into other lines that are continuing, so I’m thinking about other directions and what is best for me at this point in my life and career. I look at the really successful self-published authors and that’s what I want to aspire to, along with getting a new publisher for my young adult novels, which don’t do particularly well in the realm of self-publishing like other genres such as romance do.

So I have a bit of the impossible (“I’m too late to the game” and “It’s so hard to break out in a crowded marketplace”) and improbable (“It’s not realistic to think I can make five figures a month”) going on in my head, but I’m trying to believe in the inevitability that I will become a bestseller and not only replace my Harlequin income but surpass it. I’m doing lots of reading about positive steps such as mastermind groups and setting goals, the latest market news and promotional strategies, keeping up my daily story idea journal that I blogged about here. While I’m attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference this week, I’m going to soak up all the useful information I can and come back to plot out further strategies for getting to that inevitable stage. After months of not being excited about writing, I can feel the stirrings of excitement again and that, in itself, is exciting.

Being part of this new #upbeatauthors group is definitely helping me to keep my mind pointed in positive directions instead of negative ones. I’m hopeful that all the positive messages that are being shared by the group are helping all of you as well.

Since I’m a lover of quotes, share your favorite quote about being positive. I’ll give away a signed copy of one of my backlist titles to one commenter.