Friday, March 24, 2017

The Baby Steps Between "Om" & "Aw"

Amber Leigh Williams

Summer 2010
I stood in the check-out line at Academy Sports + Outdoors wondering why. Why must I buy this? I hadn’t gone into the store to buy the cylindrical item tucked under my left arm giving off the faint whiff of fresh thyme to passersby. In fact, I’d been coerced to walk from one side of the mall to the other by my much more fitness-minded hubby so that he could upgrade his weight bench. Serves me right, I guess, for making him spend an hour-and-a-half tucked between the intimate stacks of Barnes & Noble. Truthfully, I blamed him. He’s good at many things. One is the art of the impulse buy. Another is offering the delicious/devilish temptation to nudge agonized individuals such as myself into making an impulse buy. “This is ridiculous,” I kept saying. “I won’t use it.” He stood behind me with his barbell and his 25's. “Yes,” he murmured with a slight hiss that made me think of the Snake. You know the one; the one we sometimes blame for mankind’s misfortunes. “Yes, you will.” I didn’t have to turn to see the man’s certified understanding. Sometimes he knows things. Or maybe he just knows me.
The next day, I unlatched my impulse item and rolled its contents out in the middle of the bedroom floor. The yoga mat was the Kelly green of Irish hills (my favorite color). The room smelled instantly like the inside of an herb garden. The trusty yoga book I’ve had since I was sixteen stood at the ready, flipped to its beginner pages. It’d been a while since I had done this. A very long while. But the man was right, I reminded myself. I needed it.
This was the year my anxiety levels had skyrocketed. The medication my long-time physician had prescribed had only made things worse. I was having multiple panic attacks on an exhausting everyday basis and I was done - drained mentally and physically. The hubby seemed to think that exercise was my best recourse. You don’t have to have a thyroid disorder like me to know how unmotivated one can be when confronted with the prospect of voluntary sweat. So instead of running, Pilates and every other form of cardio, I chose to compromise with an old fallback – yoga.

My grandparents in front of their "Paradise" lakehouse
Yoga was a comfort to me long before my high school health teacher encouraged me to give it a go. How vividly I remember summer and winter weeks spent with my paternal grandparents. My sister and I became quickly acquainted with after-lunch quiet time. We were given the choice between reading and napping during this half-hour period while talk and play were discouraged – and, to my sister’s horror, absolutely NO television. While she tried to find the quietest way of bending the rules, I sought the pages of my books and hoped silently that she would get herself into trouble. More vividly, I remember the sound of the metronome tick-ticking from the next room where at any given point I could raise my head and see my grandparents engaged in an impressive sequence of advanced yoga poses. I remember the low sound of one of their voices as they read cross-legged from a well-worn, leather-bound yoga tome and the deep inhales and exhales that proceeded with each flowing movement. As I advanced into my early teens, I frowned over their daily regimen. It should’ve been ridiculous – my beloved Pitty Pat and Gramps stretching, twisting, contorting into the odd shapes the book told them to. Frog, Cobra, Tree – what would be my son’s personal favorite, Happy Baby. But it wasn’t ridiculous. They looked natural and at ease. After, they seemed more contented. Centered. Some days, verklempt. Once, they did give my sister and me a shock, however, when we tiptoed into the kitchen of their winter Gulf-facing condo to grab a stealthy snack and were confronted with both of them doing head-stands in front of the wide glass balcony doors, the turbulent blue vista beyond them. In truth, the shock quickly faded into admiration. My sister and I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to duplicate their rock-steady mien. Talk about balance and core strength!

The yoga did calm me down between 2010-2011. In fact, it wasn't long before the hubby's "You're going to be okay"'s morphed into a smiling "You're okay." I prided myself on talking myself down with a daily dose of om. It’s leagues better to heavily meditate than to heavily medicate. I might even sometimes point to yoga/meditation as the culprit for my first pregnancy, which fell within a year of my Kelly green purchase. In my third trimester, when my blood pressure began to increase, I turned to prenatal yoga. It worked beautifully until Week 39 when my son entered the world. Shortly before his fourth birthday last year, he started preschool at home. I noticed his tendency to learn better from movement. We introduced kiddie yoga to our repertoire. Within a few days, he had mastered Tree Pose (not easy for those who squirm). We spent an exciting week warming up for lessons with dinosaur-themed yoga. And my not-yet two-year-old can do an impressive Downward-Facing Dog - barking, of course.

Yoga Baby #1 and I call this one Heart Pose <3
That trusty yoga book is still on my shelf but I’ve since moved on to power yoga. It gives me an energy boost in the morning and the added challenge of two kiddies using my Warrior, Pyramid, Plank and Wheel as their living Limbo sticks. (“How low can you go, mama?”) I prided myself recently on getting the hubby excited about starting Bedtime Yoga to help soothe his troubled sleep cycles. I could tell you I do it for the flexibility and the balance of both body and mind. Truthfully, I do it to reacquaint myself with the quiet inside my head. You don’t have to preschool two youngsters or wrestle bouts of Generalized Anxiety Disorder to need a little more om in the space between your ears. And thanks to yoga, I'm a better human. I'm a more present wife and mother. I'm more courageous and strong. It might even make me a better writer! (Added bonus the day I can finally Chin-Stand or Peacock like a rock star.) Namaste, Super readers!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The surprising things we say

By Senior Editor Victoria Curran

I once told my neighbor to leave me alone. I wasn’t joking and I blurted it out with a lot of emotion and I barely knew the woman. She turned and went into her house and shut the door. Surprise: we haven’t really been close since. It was about six years ago and even if I lose my memory to dementia I’ll never forget that, as an adult, I once said “Leave me alone” over the fence to another adult! Who does that?

I walked back into my house in shock. Did I really just say that using my outside voice? Why did I say that? In my life, I am the hero not the villain, so how can I salvage sympathy after saying such a hurtful thing?

Of course, I knew why I was talking to her in the first place and why I had a lot of emotions churning in me. I’d moved in a year earlier—my first house, bought with my own stash and a hefty mortgage—and within a month, she’d erected one of those splash pools against our property fence with the motor sitting on a plastic pail, grinding away 24/7. My house didn’t have air-conditioning so I had to open the windows and live with a deep bass thrumming through my body all that first summer. I tried to come up with solutions (heroic and villainous): donation of two cinder blocks to replace the plastic pail, suggestion that she didn’t need to run the motor at night when the sun wasn’t creating algae (that’s when she first started to sense we weren’t kindred spirits, I think), looking up municipal bylaws to see that I was right: you can’t erect a pool against a property line, it needs to be four feet away…should I call the police (?!) (for the record: I didn’t), spending my new homeowner fast-dwindling cash to convert my house to central air....

For months, I agonized over this pool motor and couldn’t let it go.

Until the next summer when my neighbor started pulling out equipment and assembling in the exact same spot. I snapped and raced over to the privacy fence to quickly suggest that she run a longer line and situate the motor to the back of the property where it wouldn’t be against our fence…knowing that she now hated me and the only time I ever spoke to her was to complain. I was incredibly nervous but also desperate to make my summer bearable before the pool was in place. I was highly motivated and my obstacle was myself: I hate confrontation and somehow I couldn’t communicate with this person without being inflammatory.

As I opened my mouth and began to stutter out my convoluted request, I saw over the top of the fence that it wasn’t a pool she was erecting, it was a trampoline. I stopped stuttering mid-sentence, and said quite brilliantly, “Oh, you’re not putting up a pool. You’re putting up a trampoline.” At this point, my neighbor, who hadn’t said a word, wasn’t looking at me (couldn’t look at me?). And that’s when I said the infamous, “Leave me alone” and she turned and went into her house and shut the door and I staggered away in shock.

I told my colleagues this story right after it happened and one of them made sense of it for me. Apparently “leave me alone” was my go-to catchphrase at that time. Once it was pointed out to me, I heard myself say “leave me alone” at least once a week. “Leave me alone” in Victoria Speak translated into “Oh, sorry, never mind. I was wrong” in Normal Person Speak. I often said it in meetings! Who knew? (I hope I’ve grown out of this phrase.)

I never had a chance to redeem myself to my neighbor, to translate “leave me alone” for her. We never developed that “hail fellow, well met” relationship that men on the street do so well. Last week she put the house up for sale and it sold in two days (for $110,000 over asking, of course, because this is Ontario and what is going with real estate???), so that’s the end of my journey of villainy. Cross fingers.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’ve been reading incredibly well-written romances with the most fleshed-out dialogue that distinguishes character from character within the same stories, which is a masterful technique. And I’m also reading romances where characters have rich inner dialogues but say lovely, sweet things in their outside voices…possibly because their creators are worried about their likeability and are worried about losing reader sympathy. It’s powerful stuff: that struggle between wanting something and the needs that drive us to take actions that risk losing that thing we want.

Kudos to the Harlequin Superromance authors for bringing this struggle to the page. For motivating their characters to that breaking point and letting ‘er rip! However, unlike me, I wish all of your characters redemption by the end of their journey.

Victoria, heroine

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Question of the Month: SuperAuthor Drinks

The Superromance Authors have a bit of spring fever (or maybe deadline fever, we aren't sure which) and are feeling particularly silly. This month's question, is definitely a silly one (but we hope you'll also find it delicious!), here we go:

If you could name a drink after yourself, what would it be called (bonus answer: what would it be made of)?

Kris Fletcher: This one is a challenge, because I really don't drink much, but I guess that if I could name a drink for me, it would be called the a Laughing Maple. The ingredients would include maple syrup, Newfoundland Screech, and sparkling apple cider. Slightly sweet, kind of strong, and definitely bubbly - my kind of drink!

Amber Leigh Williams: Banana Pepper Rita - I'm copying the ingredients of your basic Agave Ginger-Rita. With its mix of simple ginger root syrup (for spice), lime juice (for a dash of sweetness), tequila (cheap for frugality's sake), an egg white (for substance) and salt (because who isn't a little salty?), it reminds me of the saying - "I'm spicy like a pepper but sweet like a banana!" Add a banana pepper for an amuse-bouche and salt the rim!

Kristina Knight: I have about two drinks a year, and neither is adventurous, so I'd create a non-alcoholic sort of a drink. Something with a little mint and cocoa (not much of a coffee drinker, either, I know, shocker!), and iced. Definitely iced. I found this recipe for Hot Cocoa Affogato this winter...and I think it should be renamed Kristina's Cocoa Delight because it's right up my alley!

Nan Dixon: I'm all about Prosecco and it mixed with--everything. So Nan's Spicy Sparkler would be -- Ginger Simple Syrup, Prosecco and maybe a dash of pomegranate syrup for color.

Jo McNally: This is a tough one! I'll go with Jo's Sparkly Irish Martini - edge the glass with sparkly gold sugar (because I'm all about the bling!). Fill halfway with champagne (because I have champagne taste), and top with Guinness (my beer of choice). Don't mix - the two liquids stay in separate layers (like my multi-layered life) until you drink. This is a twist on a yummy drink called an Irish Black Velvet. Perfect for St. Patrick's Day, which is a major holiday in the McNally household!

Jeannie Watt: Take a lot of money to the liquor store and buy the best single malt scotch you can afford. Go home and pour 1.5 ounces into your best glass. Add one drop of water to open it up. Sit back, sip and enjoy life. I call It Jeannie's Sanity Saver.

Claire McEwen: I'll be hanging out drinking with Jeannie...  because I LOVE a great single malt!
But, I also make a drink that I'll call a Clairita.  Mix tequila, limeade or lemonade, and soda water.  Add some sprigs of fresh mint.  It's so refreshing and yummy!

Anna Sugden: Great question! Hmm Should it be something related to shoes, or penguins, or hockey? Given my series, it should probably be A Perfect something … and definitely served on ice! Let’s go with A Perfect Fizz. Since Nan’s taken all the Prosecco (and she’s too far away for fight for it LOL), I’ll make it with Mio Sparkling Sake, a splash of apple juice, a dash of pomegranate juice and a slice of lime.

Heatherly Bell: This is easy, since I just did something similar on my page. I'd be made out of cream, pineapple and rum. Blend together with ice, serve with fresh chunks of fruit, and call me a Pineapple Bell.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Heroines Battle Dark Forces...and Thick Thighs - Dana Nussio

I got you with that headline, didn't I? I was sitting here trying to come up with an interesting blog topic, and great heroines came to mind. What makes us a love - or hate - a heroine in fiction? What makes a Scarlett O'Hara or Josephine March - or a Katniss Everdeen for that matter? And what makes us care about them?

Sure, great heroines are stronger, often wiser and just better than the rest of us. They are heroines, after all.  But I believe their flaws, their insecurities, their mistakes are the things that help us to relate to them. Those details show us that beneath their superhero capes, they're just like us. They worry that others are laughing behind their backs. They're unsatisfied with the face that looks back at them in the mirror or the thighs that rub together beneath their skirts, even if someone out there will find them perfect just the way they are.

Let's start with my three examples: Scarlett from Gone With the Wind, Jo from Little Women and Katniss from The Hunger Games. Though all three are strong women, who fight their own battles - one for her home and way of life, another against the limitations placed on women of her day and the the last, for her very life in a cruel game - we can relate to those parts of them that make them human. Scarlett's pettiness. Jo's hot temper. Katniss's lack of sensitivity and reluctance to lead.

In my March Superromance, Falling For the Cop, some of my favorite things about my heroine, Natalie Keaton, are her insecurities and her flaws. The biracial daughter of a single mother, Natalie is uncomfortable with secrets involving her heritage as well as with her body. She is convinced she is too tall and gangly, instead of thinking of herself as willowy, the way her hero will see her. She is closed off and unforgiving and quick to blame all police officers for the mistakes of a few in that high-speed chase that changed her family forever. In other words, she's as complicated and imperfect as the rest of us. Only she gets to meet Trooper Shane Warner. Lucky Natalie!

Yes, besides being some of things I most enjoy writing in my own characters, I believe that character weaknesses and insecurities help us to connect to the protagonists in the stories we love. Their journeys move us, change us. Their attempts to overcome these frailties signal to us that we, too, might vanquish some of our own. That they might convince us that we can escape from a burning Atlanta or lead a rebellion against an oppressive government as well? Those are just bonuses.

So here's the challenge: Name some of your favorite heroines, and share why you feel you relate to them. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Contest Winner...

A contest winner from February!

Those who know me best will be the first to tell you that sometimes I get a little distracted.  And that's exactly what happened with my February blog post!

I'm so sorry folks, but I forgot to pick the winner of these cute greeting cards!

So I just did a drawing, and, drumroll please....

It's Denise!  Also known as dstoutholcomb.

Denise, please contact me at and I'll get the cards in the mail to you!

And thank you to everyone who commented that day!
~ Claire
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