Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Writer's Empty Nest

By Angel Smits

        Saying goodbye is always hard to do.  And it’s even harder when you’ve never actually met the person.
        As a writer, I meet someone new every day.  Granted, a lot of them are technically figments of my imagination, but still they’re full—living, breathing—people.  At least they seem that way to me.  (Other people maybe not so much.)
Over time, I spend a lot of hours with these people—sometimes more than with my real family.  I get to know them because I live inside their heads.  I hear what they think, see what they see—and sometimes do what they do.  (Research trips can be such fun!)
After doing five books in my CHAIR AT THE HAWKINS TABLE series, I’m now writing the last sister’s story.  Just saying that makes me sad.  Not that this is the last story for this series, but these brothers and sisters--and all their assorted friends and lovers--are finding their happy endings.  They’re moving on and I, well, I’m saying goodbye to them.
Oh, just like kids who’ve flown the nest, they pop in for a visit now and then, dropping by to tease or help a sibling in a scene.  But they don’t really come home to stay.  To be honest, I’m not sure I’d know what to do with them if they did.  I like their completed stories, the lives they’ve found.
One trick that many of my writing friends do to help them get into a character is to use actors/actresses as models for their characters.  Tons of us have “borrowed” characters from TV or movies to inspire stories.  It’s a great learning tool for one.  And it helps with the visuals.  But recently I found another benefit of doing that.  

In my second Super Romance, SEEKING SHELTER, I used the actor Christian Kane as the inspiration for my hero.  His music, his looks and his voice were my hero, Jace Holmes.  Recently, my husband and I watched some shows that Christian Kane was in (LEVERAGE) and it’s like going back to my story.  My characters are coming home to visit!  Part of me wants to go back and write more story—a lot like wishing your kids were little again, I guess.    
But just like my kids, I need to let my characters go and move on, even though the idea of writing a recurring character is tempting.  Besides, there’s always someone new to meet with a new story to tell.  And how exciting is that?  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Embracing Who We Are

I know the title of this blog post sounds like the title of a self-help book, but maybe that's fitting because the heroine of my May book, His Last Rodeo, reads a whole lot of self-help.  Kit Hayes has a broken heart, and is trying to figure out how to recover.  

As the story unfolds, her self-help books become an ongoing conversation between her and the hero, Tyler.  He's kind of fascinated by, and loves to tease her about, whatever self-help book she's currently reading.

But as I wrote this book, it became clear to me that Kit and Tyler's story wasn't about self-help as much as self-acceptance.  Kit had to learn to accept who she is, and not allow one person's rejection to devalue that. And Tyler, returning home to an unsupportive father, and struggling with a learning disability, had to learn to accept himself as well.

Which got me thinking about the rest of us.  How we are bombarded with information every day about how we should dress, what our weight should be, how many friends we should have, what we should eat.  We see pretty photos of our friends on social media and wonder if we should be as happy, active, and interesting as them.  But the truth is, if we get too caught up in all of those shoulds, we can end up feeling like we aren't okay just the way we are.  

I’ve had my own recent run-in with The Shoulds.  I’m turning 50 this year, and that saying, ‘50 and Fabulous’ keeps running through my mind.  I’m turning 50 so I should be fabulous.  I should be confident, and organized and strong.  But frankly, it’s not the most fabulous time in my life.  An injury to my leg has prevented me from exercising, and I’m busy with a young child, so it’s not like I’m running around (or hobbling around) looking amazing and doing a lot of glamorous, interesting things.

I was feeling almost guilty.  Like I was letting all women down with my lack of fabulous-ness.  Until recently I realized that, just like Kit and Tyler, I need a little self-acceptance here!  I need to let go of how I imagine I should be at this particular age, and just accept where I’m at, and enjoy it as much of it as possible.  Maybe my current form of fabulous is just hanging in there, doing physical therapy, trying to be a good mom and write a good book.

Every time I release a book, I do a themed giveaway in my author newsletter. And this time around the theme is to appreciate how wonderful we are, just the way we are.  So make sure you hop on over to my Facebook page (my website is down! How un-fabulous!) and sign up for my newsletter, if you haven’t already.  I found some really sweet items, like this cute bag, and I’m looking forward to sending this message out into the world. 

You are wonderful, just the way you are!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Do one thing a day that scares you by Piya Campana

“Do one thing a day that scares you” is the sort of suggestion I usually ignore because it doesn’t fit into my cocoon of books, Netflix and chips. But I definitely saw the value in it on my vacation to Belize in March.

Belize is a wonderful country to visit because it has so much to offer—if you like the beach, there are the sunny Cayes. There is ample opportunity to snorkel, scuba dive and kayak. The inland offers beautifully preserved jungle, fresh-water swimming holes, Maya ruin sites and a vast cave system.

Friezes on El Castillo at Maya ruin site Xunantunich
In the ten days I was there, I did many fun and exciting things I’ve done before, like swim in the ocean, read on the beach, explore new cities and eat at least four times my weight in local food (if you visit Belize, be sure to try the fryjack, the papaya, the rice and beans, the stew chicken, the conch curry…). And for the whole trip I had been looking forward to one particular expedition. Well, sort of.

It was with a degree of fearful excitement that I had been describing the ATM tour to others before I left for Belize. ATM, or Actun Tunichil Muknal, is a large cave an hour from San Ignacio, in the Cayo district. It is believed to be a Maya sacrifice site and is home to calcified human bones (including a nearly intact skeleton called The Crystal Maiden), pieces of ceremonial pottery and cave formations that were apparently modified into altars or carved in certain ways to create silhouettes and cast shadows of faces, figures and animals.

No cameras are allowed inside (thanks to one tourist who dropped theirs during the tour a few years ago, breaking a thousand-year-old skull), but that turned out to be fine with me! Because after a forty-five-minute hike through the jungle and shallow rivers, as well as a swim into the mouth of the cave, I needed both hands and all of my energy in the next three hours to squeeze through tight spaces, climb down into tunnels of rushing water and scale slippery rocks as we made our way around.

When we weren’t swimming through the cave’s river system, we took off our water shoes to walk the dry chamber areas in stocking feet to get up close to the artifacts. It was dark, damp and cool and we occasionally shared the space with some cute little bats…and a huge spider that I studiously avoided. I was grateful for my headlamp!

While wildly outside of my comfort zone, the ATM tour was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

In the spirit of pushing limits, what’s a story idea you’ve always wanted to explore but were too afraid to? Please tell me in the comments!

And if you’re interested in learning more about ATM and seeing some photos, here’s a good resource.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Spring is Here ~ @AuthorKristina Knight

by Kristina Knight

Hey, there, everyone! April is almost over and that means spring is definitely here - at least in our area...and at least for today!

bebe and I have been taking in the scenery at one of our local nature preserves, and the scenery has made me so glad that I live at a lake. Ask me that again once December rolls around and I might say I was crazy...but when the weather warms up, and the flowers begin blooming, and the lake is starting to warm...its just perfect.

Here are three of my favorite things about spring:

3. The nights are still chilly. I'm over the super-cold, below-zero temps, I swear. But I do like a little bit to the air. For me that bite has a smell, it's sharp like the perfect cheddar. I smell it in the fall, too, before the first snows fall, but in spring it is just a bit sharper.

2. The feel of warm sunlight through the windows. There are moments when I just stand in the sunlight and bask, along with Hazel the Pup and Angel the Dog. Its the promise that things are changing and will continue to change, a reminder that I'm not always in control and that it okay.

1. The color. I'm not sure about where you live, but here in the winter it is very stark - grey when there is no snow on the ground and brilliantly white when there is. When we drive along the lakeshore there is a vast tundra of white and grey jumbled together and its pretty. But once spring comes, the grass turns green, the tulips bloom and it seems as if all of that starkness softens into every color you could imagine.

Kristina’s new book Famous in a SmallTown, is the first in her brand new SlipperyRock series and releases May 1!

Lifestyles of the small-town famous
Forced to leave Nashville after a scandal, Savannah Walters has come home to Slippery Rock, Missouri, with a bruised ego and her singing career in jeopardy. As if that isn't humiliating enough, on her way into town she's rescued by her swoon-worthy childhood crush, Collin Tyler.

His hands are full running the family orchard and dealing with his delinquent teen sister, so Collin doesn't need to get involved with someone as fiery and unpredictable as Savannah. But the intense attraction between them can't be denied. And when disaster strikes, they'll both be surprised by who's still standing when the dust settles.

Kristina Knight is a contemporary romance author, part-time swim-kid wrangler, and full-time Thin Mints enthusiast. You can find out more the book and Kristina on her website, and feel free to stalk follow her on FacebookTwitter or Instagram

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Question of the Month: What Are You Looking Forward To This Spring?

Spring is in bloom across the US, and we hope it's warm wherever you are, too! The nice weather has us wondering: what are you most looking forward to this spring?

Amber Leigh Williams: Springtime means a return to the beach! It's a struggle in summer to enjoy it because of 100+ weather and visiting crowds so springtime is our chance to grab as many beach afternoons with sun, salt and serenity. I love watching the kiddies rediscover seashells, dolphins and stingrays (these from a distance) and chase sand crabs, herons and seagulls. Plus, the hub brings home fresh Gulf fish. Nothing like a little kingfish or pompano for your dinner table!

Kristina Knight: Baseball! From Spring Training all the way through the World Series, I just can't get enough baseball. And I prefer going to the actual games, but I'll watch my favorites (Go Tribe!) on TV...or even listen on the radio if we're on a roadtrip.

Claire McEwen: I love the wildflowers in spring, and this year, after so much rain in California, the flowers are just gorgeous.  I also love the longer days, and we usually get some really great beach weather before the summer fog starts rolling in.

Tara Taylor Quinn: I am most looking forward to the return of my desert heat! It’s like an instant gift of a soothing hot tub without the water, or need to dry off! Anytime I want or need it, I just step outside and my body relaxes and spirit finds calm.

Jo McNally: Since moving to the South from the Northeast five years ago, I have a whole new love affair with spring. There is nothing genteel or subtle about a Southern spring--everything just bursts into blossom (seemingly overnight), and the world is suddenly full of color and perfume and birds singing. It's sort of an "in your face" springtime here, and I love its total lack of propriety!

Kris Fletcher: We moved at the end of August, so this will be our first spring in our new house. I'm excited to reclaim a couple of rock walls on the property that have been overgrown with brambles and picking out flowers to start there. And I can't wait to see what plants are already here, waiting to pop up and meet us!

Jennifer Lohmann: I'm with Kris. I also moved into a new house, so spring has been a time to discover what's growing. The Viking and I have ripped out some ugly shrubs, planted a pollinator garden, and are making plans for azaleas, a sitting place by the creek, and raspberries. I'm sure that's too much to conquer this spring -- but it's nice to imagine!

Sharon Hartley: Kayaking!  I love venturing out on Tampa Bay in my kayak to bird, but am a total wimp when the weather is chilly.  I really miss my kayak during the winter, but the days are beautiful and clear now  -- time to get back out on the water. 
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