Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving in America. For me it is a time to share a meal with extended family. My husband and I will be going to my mother's house today and meet up with 23 other relatives, including aunts, siblings, and cousins. Our tradition is to share lots of wonderful food, catch up on news of siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins and all talk about what we are thankful for this year.

Here is my list of things I am thankful for:
  • The love of my husband who has taught me much about boundaries, forgiveness, and sticking through the hard times
  • The unconditional love of my parents throughout my life
  • The support of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins through ups and downs
  • The support of friends--some for brief periods of time when we intersected, others for decades of loyalty and support no matter where we moved or how far apart we live
  • Freedom to worship (or not worship), without persecution, as my personal path dictates--far too many countries do not allow this
  • My local church congregation who continuously teach me what it means to cherish the inherent worth and dignity of every person
  • All the teachers who taught me to love reading and education in early life, and all the professors who pushed me in college and let me run 
  • The amazing gifts that nature offers me every day--air to breathe, water to drink, trees to shade me, wind to push me, sun to nourish me, and fire to warm me. 
  • The gifts of children and grandchidren. I never thought I would have the chance for either, but through the magic of step-motherhood I now have both and cherish it
  • Modern technologies that help me communicate with those I love who live far away
  • The work of so many artists who create things to move me, challenge me, heal me--musicians, painters, sculpters, writers, actors, filmmakers, inventors
  • The unseen workers that I too often take for granted--I know you are there and I do appreciate your constancy 
Last but certainly not least ... The ability to wake up every morning and still be alive!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Joy of a Silent Author's Retreat

I've been at the Oregon coast all week with three other writers. All of us come for the same reason--to get away from the daily grind of life and to immerse ourselves in a world of make believe. All of us have deadlines for several titles each year, ranging from short stories to full novels. Between us we have published more than 80 titles. We all of the same goal on a retreat--complete a book and start another one.

Interestingly, we barely speak to each other. In fact, most days I can count on one hand the number of sentences I've said aloud to one of the other writers. We don't even share meals together until the final night. That's because we have different schedules and each person often eats while writing. I'm up at about 6am and write all day until close to midnight. I tend to take a break around 2pm to walk on the beach. Yesterday, I walked in the morning. Another woman here gets up in the late morning and writes until 2am or 3am. Yet another works from 9am to 9pm and walks twice a day--always alone.

Each persons need to stand or walk or putter in the kitchen depends on how the story is going. Sometimes I simply need to walk away from the characters and think about what just happened. Sometimes I'm facing a difficult emotional scene next and I need space before diving in. Then there are the times when I know I'm writing all around what's important. I can't seem to capture that illusive scene and put it on the page. It's clear in my mind, but there are no words yet to do it justice.

On our last full day, everyone is heads down fighting to meet their goal. Finish the book and turn it into the editor for me. Get to the halfway point in a new novel for another. Finish a novella and start a new project for a third. Turn in a short story for an anthology and get to the half way point in a new novel for the fourth. We had a deadline today of 7pm. It is our last day and we will go to dinner together and talk with each at length for the first time in five days. Fortunately, we each made our goals.

I finished a book that I've struggled with every step of the way. Nothing was easy about this book--not the characters, not the themes, not the climax or the denoument. It seemed that for every 10,000 words I wrote, I ended up changing 5,000 of them. But it is finished and now its off to the editor. One of the other writers had to throw out everything she'd written yesterday because she was over her maximum word limit for that story. Then she had to rework the entire manuscript so that the subplot and those characters were no longer mentioned anywhere. She finished too, at 5:30am. She stayed up all night to make her goal.

With our personal goals met, we could all now enjoy the camaraderie of friends who have managed to silently support each other while maintaining complete separateness. We could now toast to our shared success. Our conversation over dinner helped us take the first tentative steps in transitioning back to reality. We still have six hours tomorrow to tie up lose ends, pack up our characters and send them to the back of our minds. We will go home to husbands and children and grandchildren, dogs and cats and horses, laundry and jobs and house remodeling and volunteer hours. And we will each find small bits of time to write, as we always have. We all have another book still due this year. Most of us have more than one to finish before December 31st.

I'm already counting the days until the next retreat.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Nature's Beauty

It's been a very busy month for me between teaching author workshops, distributing new titles, and hiring a virtual assistant. Consequently, I've not been as good about posting. But now with help on the administrative side of things, I should be back to normal within a couple of weeks.

This week I am in Bend, Oregon on a little mini vacation.  On the way over, I witnessed something I've never seen before--clouds with rainbow colors. There was no rain in site, nor was there an actual rainbow anywhere.  It just felt like a real blessing to see it. It was about 2pm as I was driving east only Oregon Hwy 26 just before Madras.

Of course, as soon as we got to our lodgings I had to look this up.  Here are some interesting things I learned:

The phenomenon is called different things in different parts of the world: sundog; fire rainbow; and circumhorizontal arc came up the most.

What natural process creates it? I assumed there was rain in the clouds. Evidently it's not rain, but it happens when sunlight shines through Cirrus clouds which contain ice crystals. There are all kinds of rules about how high the clouds are and the angle of the sunlight as it hits the clouds. (click on the last picture in this post to get the facts)

Looking for other images online, I found a number of them.  Below are my three favorites. Each is linked to the website that talks about it.

All I can say is that seeing it made my day!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Value of Persistence and Tracking

Persistence is one of those words that parents hold up to their children as an important life value. Why is it that we can be really good at persisting for some things, and then really bad with others. I've always been a persistent person. I tend to know what I want and keep striving to get there no matter how many roadblocks get put in the way.  I did this throughout my education--elementary school through university. I've been the same way with work choices.

However, there is one thing that has eluded me for most of my adult life. That is getting regular exercise. There have been times in my life when I did well with exercise. Those times usually involved an activity I loved (jazz dancing, tennis) or a boyfriend's passionate occupation (scuba diving). However, as I've become older and settled in my ways, it seems that days go buy easily without me hardly moving. Given a choice between doing something that takes a lot of mind work (reading, writing, researching) versus moving around, I'll always go for the mind stuff. I know I'm not alone in this. I have family and friends, and lots of author friends, who suffer from the same sedentary lifestyle I lead.

My doctor, and friends who have been successful with weight loss, have all told me all I have to do is walk 30 minutes a day. I'm a world-class rationalizer when it comes to non-movement, so it's taken me a couple years of hearing this again and again before I decided to actually put it into practice.  So, let me share with you a few things I've learned a long the way with the hope that you don't let these things top you.

First, forget that 10,000 steps a day goal. That is WAY too many to start with and if you go for broke in the beginning you will hurt yourself and just stop. Find out what your norm is and then work up from there. DO NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT WHATEVER THE INTERNET SAYS NORMAL IS. By the way that 10,000 steps a day is a myth.

Also, stay away from Internet ideas about what is "normal" for daily step counts when not even trying to exercise. I saw estimates ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day. One evcen claimed that 6,000 was the norm for just doing our daily routines. Well either I'm very abnormal or all the "normal" people are twice to three times as active as I am during their days. Given the obesity rate in the U.S. I have a feeling I'm in the majority and those 5,000 steps a day "normal" people are in the minority. However, it took me a while to throw out the guilt for being such a lazy butt.

I'm a tracker. It provides me daily statistics and, for me, information is critical to keeping me on the straight and narrow. So I decided to start from MY normal and work up from there. I bought a cheap pedometer for $12. No fancy fit bit for me. I wasn't going to be some athlete who was measuring her heart rate and miles walked or run and sharing it with the entire world to compete. Just so you don't feel bad I will share my first three days of tracking. I did 1,450 steps on Sunday, 1,040 on Monday, and then an amazing 2,375 on Tuesday. Who knows what happened on Tuesday I did another 1,000 steps than the other two days (I think I probably went to the grocery store that day).

Now that I knew what my normal was, I set some achievable goals for the first couple of weeks. That was to get to 3,000 steps every day, and to strive for 5,000 for two of those days. It wasn't so easy, but having the intention helped and tracking it every day made it clear to me. I learned that a 15 minute walk around the block yielded 800  steps for me. Wahoo! I also learned that if I set a timer and get up from the computer once per hour and just walk around the house for a couple minutes I could get nearly 150 steps each time--that's another 500 to 800 steps in a day. Before I knew it (okay three weeks of tracking), I was reaching 3,000 regularly.

After I could hit 3,000 five out of seven days in the week for two weeks in a row, I set a goal of hitting 5,000 three days a week and at least 3,000 the other four days. That took me another six weeks to accomplish. An important part of accomplishing that was to convince a friend of mine to become my walking buddy three days a week. If I had to actually walk for 30 minutes I needed someone to talk to along the way, and preferably someone who was not into speed walking. Then I color-coded my spreadsheet and put bright yellow highlights every time I made 5,000. Yes, I am easily satisfied with bright colors as rewards.

Now, I'm 13 weeks into my tracking and I'm aiming for 7,500 steps at least three days a week and 5,000 all the other days. 7,500 gets a pretty green highlight. :)  I don't know how long it will take me to make this next step. I'm guessing a month or more. It means really changing my daily life routines and adding that 30 minute walk into EVERY day, and something longer three days a week.

Will I ever make to 10,000 regularly or even 7,500 regularly? I don't know. I don't know if that is a reasonable goal or necessary (see linked article above). What I DO know is that I feel better and that I do look forward to my walks. In the meantime, I've lost ten pounds over the 13 weeks and that can't hurt.

I'm not saying, yet, that I'm persistent with exercise. I still prefer to stay home and read, work on the computer, write my stories. But the joy of walking is peeking its head into my conscious and the way I feel is making me better at concentrating when I am sitting. I just need to get to the point where that joy of walking is more than 50% of the time. Then I will achieve persistence.

If you are having difficulty with the whole exercise thing, or you've already found a way to keep yourself moving every day, drop me a comment here. If we all share what works, it can only get better.

In the meantime, if you see me walking in the Portland metro area, or at a reader event or conference, say Hi and feel free to join me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How Do You Choose to Read?

With the rise of ebooks, I've wondered if I was reading faster, slower, or the same as when I read a paper book.  I think that I read faster because I can scan ahead a bit and I can certainly turn pages faster.  But that is only a hypothesis. I don't have a way to prove it. I do love the feel of paper books, but as I've downsized over the past two decades I've realized that storing all those books was not an option. Now I read books almost exclusively on my ereader or tablet.

There are some things I still prefer to read in paper. My newspaper is one of those. I tried the digital download when The Oregonian tried to get everyone to switch. It didn't work. I'm even paying a little extra on subscription so I can continue to get it delivered to my door every day.

Reading the newspaper in the morning is a wake-up-and-face-the-world ritual for me. I like spreading it out on the dining room table as I have my coffee in the morning. I like taking my time, beginning with the "happy" sections and as a I wake up moving onto business reports and eventually world news. Also, both my husband and I like to work the NY Times Crossword and the Jumble puzzles. Impossible to do that digitally. He does Sudoku too. Not me.

I came across this reading test recently. It takes less than a minute. This would be a measure of your digital reading speed. Warning, there is a three question test at the end to see if you remember anything you read, so don't cheat by scanning unless you are good at knowing what the details are to remember in a scan.

As I survivor of the Evelyn Wood speed reading tests when I was in elementary school, I'm happy to say I did better than I did then. IN elementary school I was trying to improve on a 300 wpm speed in about fourth grade. I vaguely remember making it to 450 wpm and my teacher not thinking that was very good. The test above placed me at 517 wpm. I will never be a 1,000 word per minute reader. I enjoy the words too much and I do read aloud in my mind providing emphasis and inflection. So phooey on speed reading. :)

How do you like to read? Paper? Digital? Combination? What about audiobooks? I've heard that people who read fast don't care for audio books which tend to move at about 150-200wpm. I've never been a big audiobook reader because I can't control the scanning if I'm getting bored or want to know the answer to a question right now. I can scan a page when I'm reading on my ereader or in a paper book.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day as a Celebration for Peace

I did as most people in the U.S. did, that is celebrate Mother's Day with my mother.  I traveled to my mother's home, brought her flowers and took her to dinner. Every time I visit with her, I learn something new about who she is, what she wants, and what she sees as her life moving forward. Though my father died last December, she is still a vibrant woman who loves life. At age 82 she still has that openness and agility to accept whatever life may bring her way. I must admit I admire that immensely.

Mothers Day as we know it today was founded in 1908 by Anna Jarvis who wished to commemorate the memory of her mother through small rituals performed in church and in towns. She later wanted to expand it across the U.S. What propelled the celebration forward was getting the financial backing of John Wanamaker, a wealthy Philadelphia department store owner. It took years of campaigning, until 1914 when Presidentt Woodrow Wilson finally signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Soon after Wilson's signing, commercialization of the holiday became the norm and, in later life, Anna Jarvis tried to get the day removed from the calendar because it had morphed into such commercialization that she no longer believed it served the purpose she had conceived.

Julia Ward Howe

However, I would like to talk about an earlier idea for the celebration which was initiated in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette. Her idea for an official celebration of Mother's Day in the U.S. was not as a day for exchanging cards, going out to dinner, or sending flowers--not even as a day of memory for mothers. But rather it was a day asking all women to exercise their moral and political responsibility and stand up for peace. She exhorted them to use their minds and will to find a way to stop war by convening an international congress of women to actively look for ways to bring peace.

Howe, also a poet, was the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic used in The Civil War. She was devastated by all the death and destruction of the war and wrote a passionate appeal to women, popularly called the Mother's Day Proclamation.  She requested that June 2nd be the designated day of the international congress of women. Unfortunately, this day was celebrated most in Boston each year and did not ever have a chance to become an official holiday. As you can imagine, in 1870 women were still not allowed to vote and held little power. Yet, I marvel at her belief and consistent activism in trying to make a difference.

In reading her proclamation I can hear her voice bemoaning the carnage of war, and her belief that women had both the political and moral responsibility to stand up and find a way to stop it.

Here are her words:

Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.

Arise, then, Christian women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! Say firmly : We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace. 

—Julia Ward Howe
 Julia Ward Howe (September 1870), "Appeal to womanhood throughout the world.", An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera (Library of Congress)

Today many women still celebrate Mother's Day with a march for peace. As we continue to live in separateness from one another--to not understand or even try to understand other races, cultures, belief systems, then I fear we will continue to support violence.

I believe that woman around the world have more reason than ever to make a difference and have the unique ability to do so. I do pray that one day we do find a way to stop war.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring Brings New Life and New Habits

It's hard to believe it's almost the end of April and spring is blooming all over. It seems that it was only a few weeks ago that the winter holidays were passing and we were celebrating the new year.

I've been taking pictures on walks as Spring keeps bringing new revelations in my local area. These walks always bring a smile to my face and make me feel hopeful about the year to come. These pictures were taken in the first week of April when cherry blossoms were blooming in orchard park--a small park behind my home. Now we have apple blossoms, pear blossoms, and most bulb plants are definitely out of the ground--daffodils and tulips are plentiful.

To add to the whole rebirth and new life this spring, my husband and I found out on Easter that a second grandchild is on the way. Nothing is more reaffirming than knowing that life moves forward--whether through spring blooms, new babies, or simply a realization that no matter what happens we can move forward and embrace life again.

This has been a challenging 2015 so far for me. My father's death in December and the subsequent responsibilities after that were more trying than I gave them credit in the first couple months. So, I've been struggling in the first few months of 2015 to once again find the right balance of family, additional chores, non-profit volunteer work, managing finances for multiple people in my life, maintaining better health and getting exercise. I have managed to do all those things by trying a variety of schedules over the last couple of months--some more successful than others. Now I need to add back my full-time writing career.

There have been many times in the past two decades when I've been off my writing game for a month or two. Times when my work life became too crazy with travel. Or times when major events happened--marriage, births, job change, retirement. But this time it has been five months. I admit it is really hard to get back on a regular schedule.  Writing requires giving myself permission to take the time and make the space for creation of long work. I don't mean physical space. I mean psychological space. That place where I push out all my preconceptions of the world and allow whatever forms to be taken into account.

Short stories are never a problem. I can do those usually in a day or two (outside of editing). A short story allows me to dip into a world, present a type of vignette, and then get out and feel satisfied. Longer work requires daily commitment and making that space. It's like meditation. My normal world must be shut out so I can let the other worlds in--the worlds that my characters embody, that my themes require. A longer work forces me to make that psychological space every day for more than a day or a week--often for more than a month. It requires me to form a habit of writing and, when I break that habit, it is easier to let go and not re-commit again than to find a way to fit in the time and to make that space.

I've heard from some authors who say they can't "not write." They have so many stories begging to be told that it drives them crazy not to write. I have that same experience. However, telling a story that is the length of a novel (50,000 to 90,000 words for me) takes a daily commitment. No matter how much I want to tell that story it is never easy. I have to know my characters like I know my best friends. I have to pay attention to them and their struggles in the same way I would with my siblings. I have to listen, evaluate, discuss, help make decisions and move the story from challenge to coping to success. All of that, for me, is a type of psychological work that I am unable to do in 15 minute bursts. It takes more concentrated time and commitment.

For all of you who have suffered loss or massive change in your life, and find yourself unwilling to engage with your characters problems and leave the security of your "normal" world, I empathize with that struggle. I can only say that what has worked for me is to do small bits at a time. It's kind of like desensitization. I take only one chapter and step into the void with my characters with a promise that I can withdraw if it gets to be too much. Then I do it again, and again, and again until I can find a way to remain present in that world but not in so much empathy with the characters struggles that I can't continue. I have been doing that a few thousand words at a time and it's helped. I've written five short stories in the past few months--dipping into my three worlds for my three different series. It is definitely frustrating not to have made more progress on the longer works. But it's helped get me to that point of forming a new habit and not being scared to go back there.

I turned a corner last week, finally putting all the pieces together; and now I'm ready to return to my 10,000 words a week schedule. What I need to do is to figure out how to make the time for that. Now that I have very successfully avoided this by filling all my time with other things, I need to once again create a schedule that allows for five to six hours a day of writing.

Because of all that has changed in my life, the new schedule will be very different from what I had last fall. That means forming new habits. That means struggling with keeping those goals every week as the new habits solidify. Now it's time to execute the plan. Finally, I'm ready.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Live Radio Interview

I'm excited to let everyone know that I've been asked to do a live radio interview with Tan Talk 1340 AM.  They are a talk radio station in Clearwater Florida who cover the Tampa Bay region with a reach of about 50,000 listeners. My segment will be at 11am Florida Time (8am for all my fans here on the west coast) on Tuesday, March 31st. 

Patzi Gill runs a weekly show called "Joy on Paper" where she discusses everything books. The primary emphasis of the show is to be inspirational for authors and readers.  They want everyone to get a good idea of the variety of books available and the variety of markets and ways to get a book out there or to find a book.

I'll be talking about my Chameleon series of books and the YA market in general.  Patzi will be doing the interview and there will be a chance for listeners to phone in and ask questions as well.  So, if you are in the Tampa Area, tune in to 1340 AM. I'd love to hear from you.  If you are not within the listening area, you can listen on the web. They stream their live programs on their website Tan Talk 1340 AM.  They also do post them as a Podcast a couple of weeks later.

Truly excited and would love to know that some of my fans, authors or readers, will call in to talk with me on air.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Who was St. Patrick? And why do we still celebrate this day with such abandon? Whether that is dancing jigs, dressing up, wearing green, or getting drunk, St. Patrick's Day is a long held tradition in America and a day where nearly everyone claims to have some Irish blood.

This evening, I will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day at a bookstore--Jacobsen's Books--with other authors. We will talk about our Gaelic characters and settings and play some games of truth or lie (Blarney). It will be lighthearted and fun, and I hope that I get to meet many readers. St. Patrick's day has always been a special day for me and it has been a part of my personal heritage.

It happens that my ancestry, on my father's side, is Irish. Though my mother's side is German, I have always identified most with my Irish side. My great great paternal grandmother came from Ireland as a part of the huge migration during the potato famine as a single woman (many young women were sent to America unmarried). My great grandmother, who I knew all of my childhood and died when I was 19, traveled by wagon train as a child and settled in Idaho. I have heard many stories about her travels and travails growing up, and in many ways they mirror that sense of angst and the ability to overcome tragedy and still find the beauty in life that is a part of so many Irish ballads. I have memories of my parents singing Irish ballads around the house and always celebrating St. Patrick's Day with parades and wearing the green and going to church. My family were not drinkers so I don't have that memory. Whenever I asked about my details of my ancestors, my great grandmother would say: "You don't want to know them. They're all a bunch of drunken Irishman." This likely explains our tea-totaling ways.

What is it about St. Patrick's Day that captures the public imagination? I think it is a combination of a great story filled with a hero who overcomes adversity, has a single-minded faith/belief in his destiny, and is able to achieve it in spite of many hardships. Everyone loves the hero's journey when it ends in a happily-ever-after. And even if it doesn't end happily-ever-after, we still admire the martyr who tried and failed but still saved his/her soul. It is those stories that readers love the most--stories of hope no matter the odds are the ones that that transcend our world and present a different view of life.

Interestingly, St. Patrick was not actually born Irish. He was born around 373 A.D. in the British Isles near the modern city of Dumbarton in Scotland. His real name was Maewyn Succat. He took the name of Patrick, or Patricius, meaning "well-born" in Latin, after he became a priest. What we know of his early life is from his own writings in his Confessions which he penned late in life, along with whatever the Catholic church has taught about him and his past after his beatification. It is hard to know what is true and what is not, as all records of his life are written from the perspective of his service as a priest and the lens of someone who deeply espoused that God was in every part of his life and all that happened was part of Gods plan. Indeed, the church's need to also portray him in that way reinforced that, as I assume the oral history also did in that early time of Christendom. 

The Confessions are written with a strong belief of God being always with him, leading him even in darkest times, testing his faith, and then saving him from a life of slavery to call him to the priesthood with the sole purpose of converting the Irish--the very people who enslaved him in the first place. In any case, it is a quintessential hero's journey that captured the imagination of many in Ireland and around the world.
Maewyn's (Patrick) childhood was probably easier than most in the 4th century as his parents were well-educated for the time. Both his father and grandfather were clergy and of high social standing in the Roman empire. But in the 4th century the empire was failing and unable to support all of the areas it had conquered. Britain, being an island separated from the empire by the sea, was often beset by pirates and kidnappings. When Maewyn was 16 years old he was captured by an Irish chieftain named Niall and taken back to Ireland as a slave. He was then sold to
Milchu, a high priest of Druidism. Maewyn became a shepherd assigned to take care of his master's flocks. 

I can only imagine how difficult it was for the son of Christian clergy, used to being in a position of high-esteem, to be enslaved to a Pagan high priest. In his Confessions he writes of this time as a test of his faith and through daily prayer he grows even more assured of his beliefs. It is during his enslavement that he dreams of shepherding the Irish toward Christianity. After six years of slavery, Maewyn found an opportunity to get away and fled through the bogs, walked over mountains to the sea, and was finally able to escape by ship. The ship got lost and ended up in France. Luckily he knew something of France as that is often where clergy studied. He found his way home over about 200 more miles to finally be reunited with his family. It is not surprising then that he followed his father and grandfather into the clergy and eventually became a Bishop. He returned to Ireland late in life (late 40's/early 50's) to spend his remaining years converting the people to Christianity. 

I must admit, if I had escaped slavery the last place I would want to go is back to the land that captured me. Although being 40 years later, I imagine a lot of things had also changed and the Irish were likely more ripe for conversion. I have often wondered if this was indeed his choice or if there was some political motive for the church here. In any case, he was quite successful at converting the masses. There are many stories (again from his Confessions and the church's documentation of his miracles) that grew up around his time in Ireland as a priest. These stories have St. Patrick facing down chieftains, including the one who enslaved him, clearing all the snakes from the island, and working miracle of healing, raising the dead, and all kinds of "magic" that was much better than what the Druids could conjure. In every instance, he credits the power of God--often wielded in such a grand fashion that all would bear witness to it. It is said that St. Patrick received safe passage throughout Ireland because in a battle, set by the Druid high priest, of Druid magic vs. the Christian God of miracles, St. Patrick won every time. Though he never converted the Druid high priests, he was allowed to safely travel throughout Ireland to share his message with others.

How much of St. Patrick's actual adventures in Ireland is factual is hard to know. History and myth have always been intertwined--particularly in the early centuries when written history is reflective of the single point of view of those who are able to record it--in this case the Catholic church. For me, personally, each miracle claimed has an uncanny resemblance to other miracles in the Bible--from driving the snakes into the sea like Moses parting the water to healing the sick or raising the dead like Jesus--that I find it easy to discount it and attribute it to a combination of uneducated people not understanding how the world works and to the need for church records to present St. Patrick in a certain light. 

In any case, even myth has a basis in reality as it is an amalgamation of oral history which represents a "feeling" of events in relation to cultural beliefs at the time. It is history relayed by the people who lived it and the faithful who believe it still today. Certainly it is heavily embellished by memory and faith but, as with all myth, there is some germ of truth. I do believe St. Patrick was a good person who believed in his path and faced adversity to follow his beliefs. It is a fact that most of the Irish people left the teachings of the Druids and followed the Catholic teachings. My ancestors were all Catholic. I grew up Catholic until my parents became protestant during Vatican II (that's another story). I have a soft spot in my heart for Catholicism, its ritual and the deep faith required of priests and nuns.

For me the story of St. Patrick and what he survived and then later accomplished reflects what I have come to know as the Irish spirit. That is the ability to overcome hardship and continue with purpose based in one's beliefs. Though the current American view of the Irish is generally a group that works hard and plays even harder, I think the Irish are just as diverse and unique as individuals anywhere. Some are serious and some are not. Some are deeply religious and some are not. And many are in-between. In any case, it is a proud heritage to have or adopt.

I hope as you celebrate St. Patrick's Day, in addition to the revelry and crazy happiness of letting go, you might take a moment to consider your own path in life and what drives you forward. For some people, the path is well lit and distinguished from an early age. For others, like me, a time of wandering in the wilderness or traveling many interconnected paths is necessary before one becomes clear and accepted. 

For me it is telling stories and sharing those lives--real lives and fictional lives--that embody a hero's or heroine's journey toward a fulfilled life. Stories of overcoming difficulties and tragedy, of choosing a path that is meaningful and helps others, a path that in the end provides a happily-ever-after for the soul has always been my path. It just took me 45 years to believe it enough to follow it with abandon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

V-Day Celebrations and Other Things

I'm one of those people who really does enjoy celebrating every holiday in some way. Usually that means getting out of the house and away somewhere. However, I'm also one of those people who would prefer not to be celebrating with hundreds or thousands of other people in the same place. I know some people are energized by big crowds. I'm not one of them.

Part of my Valentine's Day celebration was spent at Jan's Paperback's with four other authors. We were greeting customers, helping them find books and generally talking about romance and books. It was a very pleasant way to spend my afternoon. Customers came in mostly in twos or threes. Just enough to actually be able to chat, if they wanted. In the pic to the right are authors Pamela Cowan, Sarah Raplee, moi, and Susie Slanina. Mercer Addison was also there but left before this pic was taken. We tried to include her by standing in front of her excellent historical romance books.

Then on Tuesday--after the three day weekend crowds had all gone back to work--my husband and I headed to the Oregon Coast via a longer scenic route out hwy 103 and then hwy 202 to Astoria. We have always enjoyed traveling together and this was no different. We took a short hike off Hwy 202 to see Fishhawk Falls, drove by the Wildlife Refuge where a herd of Elk were grazing in the meadow. Our primary destination in Astoria was the , Columbia River Maritime Museum. I always knew the Columbia River entrance was one of the most dangerous in the world because of shifting sand bars; but the museum really drives that point home. I learned a lot about the river, the history of sailing and trading on the river, and the great work of the Coast Guard in rescuing fisherman both in the Pacific and on the Columbia River.

 Ships line up awaiting a pilot to join the ship and bar pilot to navigate into the river. They then pick up a river pilot to help them head up the Columbia River to ports far away.

We ended the evening with a nice pub meal and a celebration with a tasting of eight different stouts at Ft. George Brewery.  February is their "festival of the dark arts" where they brew about 15 different kinds of stouts. No, I didn't drink 8 pints of Stout. I'd still be there under the table asleep if I did. My husband and I shared a sampler tray of 8 and played the game of trying to figure out what each one was based on the descriptions. We were right on four out of the eight. Then we each settled on the one we liked best. I fell in love with the Murky Pearl Oyster Stout. Believe me, if I hadn't tasted it I would have NEVER ordered it based on the description. But it was delicious.

A wonderful day, beautiful weather, and lots of great conversation, dreaming, and laughing with my husband.How do you like to spend your Valentine's Day?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Setting Stretch Goals and Achievable Goals

It's been awhile since I posted. Life got in the way quickly toward the end of 2014. My father entered the hospital with pneumonia the day after my last post. He died on December 10th with his family surrounding him. In the past month, I have allowed time to process all of that--both emotionally and physically as I and my family went about the business of living life with loss and all the legal followup that must be done. This not only put me behind at the end of the year, but also put me behind already in 2015.  However, that is the nature of life--to provide changes in a path that forces you to stop, reconsider, review, and find a new path.

I usually spend the week between Christmas and New Year's taking stock of what has happened in the previous year and making new goals for the coming year.  I didn't really get to that process until about a week ago.  Some of my goals are similar to what they were last year. Others are a little different.

My word count goal has diminished from last year. This year it is 400,000. Last year it was 500,000 and I didn't make it. I only did a little over 300,000. It wasn't just the death that stopped me from making my goal. I actually started slipping toward the end of August. But, like many people, I was convinced I could make it up. It really meant two books and a couple short stories for that last 200K. Then there wasn't time.

One might ask, why go for 400K when you've already proven you can't do it.  First, I always set "stretch" goals. Those are goals that I know with good focus I can achieve, but also know that if something big happens in my life I'll miss them. I ALWAYS dream big. My goals are hard enough that I need to believe in the big reward to keep myself going. Of course, then the key is not being horridly depressed if the big reward isn't quite what I thought. However,  I can learn from failure too. I can readjust my dream if it proves completely unrealistic. On the other hand, I've had big dreams throughout my life and if I hadn't had them I would have settled for much, much less. I would have settled for never going to college because the truth is there wasn't money to do it. I would have settled for never seeing beyond our national borders because it is very easy for me to cocoon in my own little space and surround myself with all those things that are familiar and safe. I would have NEVER been a writer or published because I learned early in life that a steady, consistent paycheck was the only way I could survive. 

Dreams are important. But they don't happen without incremental goals to get there. And then taking action to meet those goals. If I fall down on any one of those steps--dreaming big, setting goals and a timline, and then consistently taking action--I would not have accomplished most of what I have in my life

So why 400K words when last year a barely got over 300K? First, last year I had some darn good excuses in life rolls for not making my word count. However, I also know there was a good amount of wasted time that I can wrangle into something more this year.  Also, I'm dropping the number from 500K of last year to 400K in order to accommodate some things in my life that are not word count related. Honestly, 400K is 8,000 words per week for 50 weeks. That leaves me two weeks of vacation time. That is only 1,600 words per day for five days a week. For me that is 6-1/2 double-spaced pages of writing each day. My posts on this blog average 1,000 words. Really, very doable. No excuses.

By choosing 400K instead of 500K, I'm allowing myself time for editing, plotting, admin stuff around my writing career and running two businesses that relate to my career--Windtree Press and Indie Author Prep. It also allows me to do my volunteer work which takes about 10 hours per week on average.

Outside of writing a have three other goals that are "must haves" for me to keep a balanced life. I didn't do so well on these either last year. But this year I am putting solid intention behind them instead of leaving it to when I happen to think about it. These non-writing goals are:

Walk every day -- It's hard to believe but I can very easily not leave the house for days on end. I can be glued to my computer and the walking I do is limited to going up and down the stairs in my house. Believe me, long term that is NOT good for me.  To make it more likely I will do this, I haven't even put a goal of how far I have to walk. I just have to physically leave the house and stay out there walking for AT LEAST 10 minutes.  If it is raining, I put on my raincoat and at least get up to the mailbox and back. I know it sounds small, but for me this is a huge deal. I actually LOVE to walk. But tearing myself away from my computer to do it is very difficult.

Spend time on something else three days out of every month --Take a minimum of three days (24 hours) out of every month where I do no writing work. Instead I spend time with my husband, my friends, doing something other than my work. Last year I did some of this when I collaborated with my husband on music and lyrics for a couple of original songs. It was both challenging and freeing. Most important it really made me happy. I also do try to connect with friends and family regularly. But I need to set aside time for this--not just let it happen when I'm procrastinating doing work and am already stressed, or doing it because I feel guilty for having ignored them for a month. It must be intentional!

Take a "vacation" once every quarter -- I don't necessarily mean the go-away-for-weeks-on-end type of vacation. Though that will be a goal in a future year, right now that isn't in the budget time- or finance-wise. What I mean is to take a vacation with my husband from all the "must do's" in our lives. It might be just one day that we spend hiking or just sightseeing. It might be two days that we go somewhere and spend the night and disconnect from electronics and those things that keep us constantly at attention.  We did do this a couple times last year, but again it was more of a last minute thing instead of being planned. I am focusing on intentionality with this.

Something I knew intellectually, but hadn't taken into my heart, is that I HAVE to make time to reconnect, renew, and remember that I am sooooo very fortunate to have the people in my life that I do. They all love me. They all put up with me, and rarely ask things of me. I need to be more present with them. Doing that will provide balance and I will be renewed. Whenever I do it I am so thankful.

What goals do you have? How do you find balance?