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merry go roundI’m a huge believer in “what goes around, comes around”. This holds true for me in my personal life and in business. Of course I expect to be paid for my work, but I don’t always expect something in return for small things I do for others. For me, this is more an acknowledgement that the universe (or God, or Fate, what have you) is set up this way. I truly believe you get out of life what you are willing to put into it. I also know that human nature is generally one of selfishness. We have to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and pay our bills, but when we step outside ourselves and do something to help another person, purely because we can, then we benefit as well. This benefit most definitely may not be monetary, but it makes us feel better about ourselves, our own lives, and our capacity of effect change for other people.

 

As much as I admire huge accomplishments, like those performed by such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, the Gates family, and other proponents of social change, I’m equally as impressed by the small, individual acts of kindness and assistance we can all perform in our every day lives.

 

As writers, we reach out with our words to audiences we may never meet. We extend ourselves to hopefully touch the lives of our readers in some manner. It may be for pure entertainment that readers read our stories, articles or blogs, but even that small touch point means something. If we are successful and have done our jobs correctly, each reader takes something personal away from our work. The interpretations of our words and stories are as varied as the people who read them, but that’s the beauty of it. It is completely and utterly subjective.

 

How can I helpThat’s all very well and good, but how can we really pay it forward? How can we go beyond our work, our lives, and ourselves to help others? It’s really so easy. Whenever a writer shares information with another writer via social networking groups or blogs, or stops in their busy day to answer a question posed on one of these forums, we can help other writers. When we attend a book signing, reading, or seminar we’re giving, we help when we answer questions of attendees. The questions may not seem particularly earth-shattering, but to the person posing the question, it’s important. If we take the time to answer the questions thoughtfully and honestly, we may be helping not only the questioner, but others in the audience who were too timid to ask.

 

I’ve always been a questioner. I listen to what’s being said, then I want to know how, where, why, when?  That’s how I build my own conclusions. I’m not always right, and I don’t profess to know and understand all the nuances of any particular subject, but I ask. As a writer, I also read. I read industry related articles in on-line magazines like Forbes and Writer’s Digest. I read other writer’s blogs for the information they have to share, such as Bestseller Labs, and Writing Secrets of 7 Scribes. When I’m front and center and asked a question, I do my best to be honest and forthright, and if I don’t know an answer, I admit it. No shame in that, even in a public appearance where we’re supposed to be the “experts”.

Paying it forward can be as easy as forwarding an email you know would be of interest to others in your circle. Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter have become the ultimate sharing sites, but there are literally tons of others. I share everything from inspirational quotes that might brighten someone’s day, to articles I’ve discovered from another writer or journalist that I think would benefit someone else.

 

What does this gain me for my work, my books? Maybe nothing, but perhaps just one person will be interested enough to look a little further and see what else I have to say, or share. Maybe they’ll Google my name and see that I’ve written a book, or have a blog and website, and check it out. Maybe they won’t be interested, but forward the information along to someone else who might. The truth is, I’ll never know, and I’m good with that. I don’t need to know what’s in it for me every time I do something. There are enough people like that out there, scrabbling in business to make a sale, to undercut the competition, to lure the customer in. It isn’t that I’m above all that, I was in sales for over ten years, so I know how hard it is to earn every dollar. I’m also far from independently wealthy. In fact, my husband and I are pretty monetarily strapped right now, trying to live on his small pension since being downsized out of a huge corporate company after thirty years service (that’s another discussion altogether). We have to watch every penny that comes in and goes out, but I can still do small things that don’t cost me anything but my time.

 Book writingAs writers, we often feel pressured to “produce”. We’re always working on the current WIP, the next project, marketing, promotion, personal appearances, etc. So who has the time to help someone else? Heck, we may be struggling to figure it all out ourselves. I know I am. That’s exactly when it’s important to share what information we have and come across. It doesn’t take a great deal more time to share a timely article you’ve read with followers on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog. As writers, we also know how important ratings and reviews of our work are, so if you’re reading something, take a few moments to post a review and rating! You know how thrilled the other writer will be to hear your comments, and what it means to algorithms (if you don’t you need to learn about this too, then share your findings).

 

In fact, there are so many ways we can “pay it forward” as writers. Don’t worry about what’s in it for you, just get out there and do it. You may be surprised where it leads down the road.

We're off to see the Wizard...

We’re off to see the Wizard…

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In The Spirit Of Love

I’m often asked why the male protagonist in my novel, In The Spirit Of Love, is a ghost. After all, he’s dead, and really, what chance for a future romance is there?

When I started writing ISOL, I didn’t worry about that. I was concerned with the issues they’d face, the obstacles that would be inherent in both being a ghost, and in loving one. See, the fact is, love doesn’t offer guarantees, it’s often a leap of faith to accept that you’ll be together many years in the future. For that matter, the same goes for life. We aren’t promised happily ever-afters, or even temporary happiness. We have to create them ourselves. Every turn of life could send us tumbling into the abyss. But I’m a romance writer, so I couldn’t help but wonder; what if you loved someone because you were destined to? What if you had to put all the “what if’s” on hold and just love someone because of who they were, not for what they had, or what they could do for you.

As a ghost, Lord Richard Abbottsford is limited in his ability to communicate with the outside world. After almost one hundred fifty years, he’s come accept this limitations. Then he spies Claire Jacobs, who is the exact replica of his long deceased love, and suddenly, the future is rife with possibilities – and love.

Lots of publishers and agents said “rubbish”, it’s too far-fetched. Again I thought, but isn’t that true of life? Don’t we all meander down a path, accepting things as they are, we stop fighting, stop questioning, only to come smack up against something – or someone – who alters our course forever. Doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes rail against our lot in life, the disappointments and hurts, but maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason for it all. Maybe we really are supposed to learn something from the obstacles and pain.

By allowing my protagonists to experience pain and unhappiness, as well as joy and excitement, I hope to instil a sense of hope and expectancy for the future for them, even when it seems impossible there could be one.

 

Movie – Ghost

Ghosts, re-incarnation, visions and déjà vu are all subjects that are kinda out there, but people have been talking about them for millennia. I’ll admit I think a lot of it is hooey, yet some are just so damned unexplainable – what if they’re real. What if the past affects the present, so that our future can change? I for one have definitely experienced many instances of déjà vu, or had dreams that were startlingly real – but those are stories for another time.

Because I wanted to write a story about a woman who falls in love with a ghost, I did a bit of research. Websites such as Ghosts and Stories abound, although I thought this one was fun and interesting. With the story set in England, I also researched haunted English estates and was surprised to discover there really is a Chillingham Castle in Northumberland. I say shocked, because I’d never heard of it before, yet I’d already written that one of the minor characters in the book is from “Chillingham Estate”. Coincidence, I’m sure but again, interesting.

So, back to my original question; why a love story between a woman and a ghost? Because it was a story that intrigued me, and once I started, it wouldn’t let me go. I don’t know if I believe in ghosts, or the paranormal, but I do believe in love, in second chances, and in leading with your heart as well as your head.

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A Balancing Act

It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, or a rocket scientist, or a stay at home mom, we all struggle with finding the right balance in our lives. We want to “find our passion”, but it often seems to elude us. We rob Peter to pay Paul, and then rob Paul to pay Peter back (Peter has a big stick and might come after you).

So, is there really any balance? I believe there is. My circle may look a little lop-sided from time to time, and just like you, I struggle with keeping it all going in a forward motion. To do that, I sometimes have to stand still, while at others, I have to look back. Sound strange? Well, I’ve always believed that you have to be able to have 360 degree vision to really stay on track. My thinking is that this way I’ll at least see some of the blindsides before they get to me so I can duck.

Doesn’t always work, but most of the time it does. Besides, when you stop and look around when you’re stuck, or unsure, of the next move, it gives your brain a chance to rest and consider the options. When you look to the sides, you are able to see if there’s a way around an obstacle, and when you look behind you, you might see something you’ve missed along the way, so you can go back and retrieve it.

Because I’m still working on the final edits for In The Spirit Of Love – yep, thought I’d have them done by last weekend, but here I still am, I keep relating my life to my edits. This whole writing and publishing thing is so new to me, I keep discovering new ways of doing things, and not doing them. When I finished the edits last week, I thought ‘I’m done!” I was sooo relieved. Then after my second congratulatory drink, my husband said, “Are you going to read it through one more time to make sure you haven’t missed anything?” I immediately answered, “NO!”. I was done. I was finished with this manuscript. I wasn’t looking back. I was going to email it to my publisher, Echelon Press, first thing in the morning and be done with it.

Then I started thinking, I’ve been so anxious to get this editing thing over with, and it’s taken me far longer than I imagined, that I was right to move forward, right? But what if I’ve missed something? So I stopped. I realized I’d put so much effort into this “baby”, that I owed it to myself, my publisher and the manuscript, to do all I could to help it stand on it’s own. Heaving a sigh, the next morning I sat down at the computer and began re-reading the story from the beginning – aloud. I’d once read that if you read printed words out loud, you’ll discover errors in syntax, punctuation, or just plain errors.

Well whadya know? I’m finding quite a few more than I’d thought I would. In reading aloud, I’m realizing some of the lines just don’t sound right. Because I’m having to slow down (I read very fast) and really focus on what’s actually written in front of me, I’m discovering errors I hadn’t picked up on before.

So what does this have to do with life and finding balance? It occurs to me that, just like in book editing, sometimes you have to stop and ask yourself, is this the best I can do? Am I missing something? Have I taken on too much, or not enough, to really maximize my potential in my job, my role as a person, as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, etc. Am I doing what matters to me, or am I just doing?

Like 98% of writers, I have to work at another job, because my writing hasn’t given me the life of excitement, money and ease I dream of. It doesn’t pay my bills – yet. Things are pretty tough for us financially right now, but I have my eye to the future and I’m not giving up. I’ve taken on a new job that’s very demanding, but exciting in it’s own right. Because I’m new at it, the learning curve is huge. Just like the learning curve I’m experiencing as a writer. I’m up at 6am to start my day, because I can’t sleep past that ungodly hour (to me it’s ungodly). My brain starts stirring and won’t let me rest. I have things to do, I have things to write, I have a life to live. I definitely feel overwhelmed sometimes – and I haven’t even gotten to the real marketing of the book part yet! I still have a husband, family (even grown children and grandchildren deserve my time – and are part of how I want to spend my time), household chores, etc..

So, like you, I struggle. Every day. But I’m doing what matters to me. I’m working hard at getting it right and loving the process of living. I guess I’m constantly editing my life. I lean too much in one direction, then have to re-adjust so I don’t topple over. My circle of balance isn’t perfect, it’s a little wobbly, but I’m working with it.

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A Kiss At Midnight

A new twist on an beloved fairy tale

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eloisa James’s take on the tried and true Cinderella story kept me interested, engaged and turning pages. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having read numerous versions of Cinderella, but I really enjoyed her romp through the past and into the lives of Kate and her prince, Gabriel. A Kiss at Midnight is a humorous take on the famous fairy tale is rife with great characters, a lovely plot and results in a truly enjoyable read. Thank you to Eloisa for taking me away from life’s cares for a little while and making me smile. I’ll definitely be reading more of this wonderful author again soon.

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People connections

Making the Connections

When writing a book, one of the first things we have to do is decide on the characters who will people our books, and the roles they will play. The interactions between them, their idiosyncrasies, dialogue and the amount of time we give them, all factor in.

 I don’t know about other writers, but I start with the two lead protagonists, then add people in around them as I go. Some I can identify right away, others kind of sneak in and take over larger parts than I thought. Then there are the characters I thought I’d use more of, but for one reason or another, end up taking more of a back seat than I’d first thought.

 For each character, I have to see them in my own head – details of what they look like, their personalities, and for major characters, I also need to have an idea of their history (who, what, when, where). I learned early on to keep a separate profile page to refer and add to as I go, otherwise I’ll forget small details. I’ve discovered this is even more important with serial books. You wouldn’t believe what I can forget between Book 1 and Book 2!

Because I’m currently hot and heavy into the final edits of In The Spirit Of Love, I can’t help but address this issue. As per usual, while editing, (or writing), I think about what’s currently happening in my own life, or my life experiences to draw inspiration from. Well, as my husband and I waved goodbye to my English cousins at the airport the other day, I couldn’t help but reflect on how these wonderful people just walked into my life and took up a place in my heart. Two weeks before, I’d only ever met their mother (whom I’ve loved and respected for years), now I knew my cousin, his wife and their two young boys. With only two weeks, I don’t know them well, but I have a much clearer idea of who they are. I can hear their Lancashire accents clearly in my head, and I know a bit about each of them – yes the boys too – to understand who they are and some of their likes, dislikes and small quirks. I found out my cousin reminds me of his father, whom I really liked, he is a lawyer and circuit Judge in his native country, has a quiet manner, a quick wit, and ready smile. He also feels deeply for his family, and took to my father immediately. He’s also co-written a play that was produced and won an award, and is in the process of co-writing a second one. His wife is a lovely woman who works in the auto industry, has a wonderful laugh, is smart and witty, and works hard to keep her family looked after and all the minutiae of life in order.

Having met them, they are now real to me in ways they weren’t before. They now have a role to play in my life they didn’t before. I want to keep up the relationships we’ve started to form, and this means working at it. Emailing, Skyping, and hopefully, visiting my father’s homeland of England sometime in the next year or two. I’ve learned a lot in my years on this earth so far, and one of them is that people enter your life for a reason. It’s up to us to decide what role they will play and what interaction we allow them. Had I not liked my cousin and his family, I guarantee I wouldn’t attempt to keep in contact. I’d happily wave them goodbye and leave it at that. We do that with everyone in our lives, to some degree or other. Relationships take work, they take an investment of the heart, and they require effort of time. We add new people to our lives all the time. Whether family members we’ve never met before, or work colleagues, or the new cashier at the grocery store we frequent.

My point is, as in life, we need to be flexible enough in our writing to allow characters to enter the plot, show us who they are and what role they’ll play in our story. Sometimes the most amazing characters of all come out of left field. This writing gig is an evolving thing; we don’t always have a clear picture of who our characters and sub-characters are, or how they’ll interact with our protagonists (our alter egos). But if we allow enough ebb and flow, it’ll become clear and the story much stronger for their addition.

Then we edit, edit, edit, till we have crafted the best story, dialogue and characters we can. We can do some of this in life as well. We can choose to surround ourselves with people who are positive, and supportive of us, and “edit” the people who aren’t. This doesn’t mean we can eliminate the negative people in our lives completely, but we can definitely choose what role they play in our lives and how we allow ourselves to interact with them. In doing so, we craft a better story for our lives and enrich the experiences we share. By the same token, we can choose what part we play in other’s lives as well.

We can either be positive or negative influences. I prefer to try to be a positive one to those people whose lives touch mine.

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Ikea got me with this one – I love this commercial. Recently I attended a production of 9 to 5 (musical) at the Huron County Playhouse and one of the lead actors is Lisa Horner, the star of that Ikea commercial. As I laughed and mentally snapped my fingers along to the upbeat songs of the production, I couldn’t help but be impressed with Lisa. It occurred to me that she had to have rehearsed and performed this play numerous times, yet for those of us in the audience, she brought it to life and played her character full out. I wondered how she could do that, night after night, no matter what might be going on in her personal life, or how tiring it might get. But then, she’s a professional – a master of her craft, so she goes out there and gives it her all every single time, and makes sure her audience gets their money’s worth. In an article written by theatre critic, Richard Ouzounian, Lisa comments, “Once the curtain’s up, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other when you’re out there.”  Well doesn’t that just sum up so much of life?

I couldn’t help but admire her enthusiasm and professionalism during the play, and afterwards I began to reflect on that comment. Every single day, each of us has a choice. We can either lay in bed and bemoan our fate and current woes, or we can swing our legs out of the bed and get on with it – whatever “it” is. There’s another well known theatre quote that says, “Life is not a dress rehearsal”, and again I say, “hear, hear!”.

You see, things aren’t always easy in my life. I’ve been the single parent living at or near the poverty line while raising two children; I’ve been let go from a job I desperately needed to support myself and my family; I’ve dealth with loneliness, disappointment, blended families (just try bringing five teens together into something resembling a family), horrible family betrayal, and more financial stress than I feel I deserve; but it’s my choice how I deal with life and it’s bumps (or roller coaster rides). I could choose to sink into the morass of depression and “woe is me”, but that really won’t serve any purpose. I have my days, mind you, but they don’t last long. I choose to look for the positive and revel in the loving relationships I’m fortunate to have in my life. If a day is really a downer, I can always find at least 5 things to be thankful for – that first cup of coffee, the sunshine, the sound of birds in the trees, the love of my husband, my children and grandchildren…

Then about three years ago, I decided to write a romance novel. I’d always wanted to, but wasn’t up for the commitment of time and energy (it takes a ton of both), or had the confidence. But then I stopped worrying whether or not I was a good enough writer, or whether or not anyone would want to read it, I just sat down and started writing. I’ve researched and Googled my way through the process to better understanding of the business of writing and book publishing. I’m no expert, but I’m definitely learning, and as a result, I’m gaining confidence. I’ve met (on-line) some fabulous authors who inspire and excite me, and I begin to feel a part of this new family called “writers”. I am more confident claiming that title and using my learned abilities in my day to day work. I am evolving – again, and I’ve discovered it’s okay be uncomfortable and grow.

So, as Lisa says in her Ikea commercial, “Start the car! Start the car!”.

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Hold close the beauty of each day

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve taken on a new position as Business Development Manager for Strategic Incentive Solutions, a Canadian/US incentive and rewards marketing company. I’m pumped, I’m excited, I’m ready to rock and roll. I’m  ready to get out there and kick butt. But…

Having committed to this writing gig, I also acknowledge that I have to fine tune my time management. No longer can I devote my time soley to my writing, but allocate blocks of time to successfully work at both. Each is time consuming and comes with it’s own set of demands. As I dive into the sales pool again and surface, I know I have to stay motivated in each area in order to make them work. But how to accomplish that task?

Motivation is a funny thing. Typically, humans aren’t motivated to change unless given a reason – an incentive if you will. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Well, you might want to fix it if the same old same old simply isn’t working for you any longer, or if there is an incentive to change or take action. For example, most people will motivate themselves to get up in the morning and go to work because the incentive of a pay cheque waits at the end of the week (or whatever pay period you have). Going to school? The obvious incentive is to gain education and thereby hopefully secure a good job in a field of interest, and get paid for it. What about writers who write a book, article or journal? Again, the motivation might lie in wanting to get paid for the work we do.

But there are other motivators and incentives, as well as the inherent rewards. What about the social aspect of work and school? I remember my children at around the age of eight or nine years old telling me their motivation or incentive to go to class wasn’t getting education – far from it. They were motivated to get up and out the door by the prospect of seeing their friends and playing with them, or doing something neat like a school trip, or being leader of the class for the day. Later in life, when we start working for a living, yes we need that pay cheque, but we also crave the social aspect of working with others. Most of our friends are cultivated from work or the work place, so we want to go there and interact with others.

Then there’s the motivation to succeed, to improve and to grow for it’s own sake. I know I personally am often motivated to do something because I enjoy the challenges, or the learning experience. Every time I take on a new project, I learn more about the subject matter, and about myself. When I travel, I love seeing the truth of the place beyond the commercial glitz (I’m not averse to commercial glitz and enjoy that too!). I love discovering neat little out of the way places, or talking to the locals. So, even though I’m terrified of alligators, I’ll hold a baby one (yep, me big chicken) and go to an alligator zoo to get up close and see the criters, because I’m motivated to learn and see something new.

That brings me to recognition. Most people also seek recognition of what they do, whether in the work place or on a personal level. Recognition can be as simple as a heart-felt “thank you” from a boss, coach or trainer, or it can be as elaborate as getting an all expenses paid vacation to a fabulous destination. In fact, experiential rewards top material merchanise or gift card ones by far, every single time.  Recognition can also come through fame; by attaining that level of notoriety whereby you are recognized by peers and the world at large for what you’ve accomplished, which can be it’s own motivator.

In fact, studies have shown that when employers recognize and reward their empoyees, the confidence in the company increases, production and sales increases and loyalty increases. Getting paid and just having a job aren’t enough to motivate people to do their best, to remain with a company, or strive to excel. When employers and managers see the value in those who work for them, and when teachers, coaches and trainers understand the true merit of incentives and rewards, then, and only then, will they see the kinds of performance they need to reach certain goals. I call this a “thoughtful team work approach”.

The fact is, people are motivated by a variety of factors. Each is as valid as the other, and every person is subject to his or her own motivators. Our jobs as human beings is to find what motivates us to change or do something proactive and use it to our best advantage. In fact, to borrow a military saying, “to be the best we can be”.

Question: What motivates you to achieve success or reach a goal, and how do you act on that motivation?

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