Monday, July 16, 2018

Some Things I Learned From a Beta Reader

Beta reader: beta reader is a test reader of an unreleased work of literature or other writing (similar to beta testing in software), giving feedback with the angle of an average reader to the author about remaining issues.

If you're a lucky writer, you have a handful of these. You are blessed if their feedback is honest, insightful, and motivating. I've been struggling with my novel, Dreaming of You and Me, a novel I actually finished almost six months ago. The main problem as I see it as I look back, is I wrote this novel really fast--the first draft I completed in a month. 

There are definite advantages to writing a novel quickly.
1. Probably the most important, fast writing is more conducive to being "in the flow." Don't know what I mean? According to Wikipedia, 
Concentrating on a task is one aspect of flow.
In positive psychologyflow, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time. I also have other blog posts on it flow-versus-trance

2. When you're writing quickly (and daily) you don't have to go back and reread (as much). It's easier to keep track of where your characters are, what they're thinking, and where your story is heading.

But, and this is huge, when I'm writing quickly, I tend not to fall in love with my characters the same way as I do when I'm spending months in their company. This was my problem with Nora and Cole, and I couldn't put my finger on it. Thankfully, I had an insightful and honest beta reader point out where I had tripped up.
Cole: His character arc is never really spelled out. He needs to vocalize why he wants a wife and a family and why he believes Nora is the answer.
Nora: Nora needs to recognize that because of the abandonments she's suffered, she's really not in a healthy state of mind--no one would be--and starting a relationship from where she's at would be a recipe for disaster. This requires a scene of some heart-to-heart dialogue. 
What I love about Indie publishing is also what I hate about it. I love the autonomy and the freedom to write what I want, when I want. But I also wish I had a team of editors who were (almost) as invested in my work as myself. (I say almost, because I doubt anyone else could be.) But I do think it would be great to work with a publishing team who had, as my friend Warren Buffet would say, "some skin in the game."
My new goal is to make enough with my writing that I can hire my own dream team. And that means I need to be working on books rather than my blog...

Friday, July 13, 2018

Do You Ever Second Guess Your Decisions?

Did You Ever Second Guess Your Decisions? Do you have a few regrets--things you wish you had done and things you wish you hadn't done? Me, too. Or at least, I did. I'm still learning as I go, which is somewhat depressing, because I'm not young, but also, in a sense, freeing.

Here's a few examples. For many years, I felt bad that I hadn't served as a missionary. It was just always something that I wanted to do, but put aside because I wanted to marry my husband. I in no way regret marrying, but for a long time, I had just wished that it had happened a few years later. Of course, this would have had a domino effect on a lot of other life choices that involved not only me but others--when I gave birth to my first child would be a major time-line alteration. Anyway, all those thoughts aside, the regret that I hadn't served as a missionary when I was young had niggled in the back of my mind until I went and visited where my sons had served their missions and the thought struck me like a blow to the gut. I could never have done what they did. I couldn't have lived in those conditions. I'm pretty sure that I would never have been able to handle living with someone for 24 hours a day. And the countless hours of rejection...It's something I simply wouldn't have been able to do. And of course, the opportunity to serve isn't over. It's something that I look forward to doing with my husband in the near future. And, even if for some strange reason that doesn't come to pass, I can still serve where I am. I try to think that I'm doing just that.

Another realization hit me just a month ago. I could never be a full-time teacher and a writer at the same time--something I've often kicked myself for not trying. Last month I taught at six workshops in one day at a middle school. And it was fun being with the kids and creating stories, but by the end of the day, the back of my legs ached, my throat was scratchy, and all I wanted to do was curl up on a sofa with a book. The thought of doing that five days a week for six hours a day AND trying to write my own books? Impossible (for me.)

The other day, Tuesday, in fact, I was feeling sad and sorry for myself because I knew that other than my walking partner I wasn't going to see anyone all day. My husband would be busy until late at night and I had nothing on my calendar except for writing a book that I'm feeling meh about. (This is typical at the 100 page mark for me.) But on that day, I had a rush of texts from my friends, my daughter, who had no idea I'd been feeling sad and sorry, called and asked if I wanted to get pizza, in the end, my husband came home for an hour or two before he had to go out again, and I had plenty of social interaction plus I'd been able to lift myself out of writerly mehness and my characters were once again witty and charming.

I shared this experience with a friend, who said, why don't we just trust the Lord that He knows what we need and he'll provide? And I replied, but maybe the Lord expects us to create our own lives? There are scriptures that support both ways of thought. 

Proverbs 3:5-6
5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

SECTION 58 of the Doctrine and Covenants

26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

Plus, there's the old adage The Lord helps those who help themselves.

I think there's a balancing act between works and faith. We work and have faith that as long as our works not only serve ourselves and our families but those around us, we'll be blessed. And as long as we face every decision with faith, we won't need to second guess.

So, what do you think? Have you been guilty of second guessing your decisions?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

How I Lost 14 Pounds Without Feeling Hungry

I recently lost 14 pounds. I'm about half-way to what I consider a-healthy-for-me weight. I'm somewhat embarrassed by my weight-gain because a lot of factors (and foods) helped me get to where I was, but even though I think it's important to acknowledge the factors and food, what I want to talk about today is how I lost fourteen pounds in three months without feeling hungry or deprived. And I'm doing this mostly because my daughter asked me to. This is for her, but also for anyone interested. (And I figured a lot of people would be interested, because I know that I've struggled with my weight for years.)

Anyway, here's how I finally lost weight:
I eat a lot of vegetables.
I go on really long walks.

I've been following Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. recommendations, but I'm not a 100%. I'm also involved in a Gideon Games challenge, but I'm not even very good at that, either. And even though I know I would be a lot more successful if I adhered to her plan with undeviating diligence, I'm struggling to find/create a forever life-style. But I would recommend Susan's book to anyone interested in dramatically improving your life.

Here's the benefits of the diet I've enjoyed:
It's cheap.
It's easy.
It's filling.
I sleep better.
My digestive problems melted away.
My food cravings disappeared.
Menopausal symptoms (hot flashes) dramatically decreased.
(These last four items are much more of an incentive than how I look in my clothes.)

Here's what I eat and when:

9 a.m. oats, berries, half a banana, almond milk and a handful of cashews.
(I soak 1 ounce of oatmeal in 6 ounces of almond milk over night. In the morning I add the fruit.)
2 scrambled eggs with turkey sausage and peach salsa and a piece of fruit.

1:30ish p.m. 8 ounces roasted vegetables, 4 ounces of lean meat, and a piece of fruit.
a salad with lean meat, cheese, fruit, nuts, and salad dressing.

6 p.m. 4 ounces lean meat with 8 ounces vegetables.

Some of my new favorite foods:
sweet potatoes with butter and cinnamon
roasted vegetables drizzled with olive oil and seasonings
zucchini lasagna

Anyway, I hope this helps. And daughter, this is for you, and for anyone else interested in a happier life.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Seattle Trip

Last week I went to visit my 97 year old dad in Arlington, Washington. He's a wonder. Still lives alone. Drives. Takes care of his home and garden. I consider myself lucky that he's still with us and that I have a reason to visit beautiful Washington. Here's some photos.

My dad's back yard.
This is Fort Casey on Whidbey Island. It's the perfect setting for a James Bond chase scene. Or a terrific game of Hide and Seek.

Taken at the Seattle Center Chihuly Glass Exhibit. My photos can't really do his work justice.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Why I Write Essay for the 1888 Event

On Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to read at the 1888 Center in Orange, California. You can read more about the venue here. (It's pretty cool.)
There were 17 readers and I was probably the second most memorable because somewhere, somehow, I lost the first page of my essay and I had to ad-lib and recite from memory. (I said I was second most memorable because there was a there was a theatrical woman whose essay was more of a dramatic reading, plus it also had shock-value which I won't share here because I'm not into graphic descriptions of body parts.)

Anyway, I wanted to say thank you and kudos to the 1888 Center for all their support of the arts, show off my pictures, and share my essay. See below.
Dr. Seuss was my first love. When my mom left me in the children’s section of the library I’d find Horton and the Cat. My mom hated the good doctor and refused to check-out his books. He was my secret, guilty pleasure. Eventually, I read about Narnia, Oz, and Green Gables.

When my mom grew too sick to visit the library, a lady from our church brought her a stash of romances which she kept in a big box beside her bed. Weekly, this good friend replenished the box. My mom didn’t know I read her books; it was like the Seuss affair, only sexier. Reading became my escape from a horrific and scary situation. Immersed in a story, I didn’t have to think about the life and death drama taking place on the other side of my bedroom wall. Books were my hallucinogenic drug of choice. In college, I studied literature and fell in love with Elliot, Willa, and too many others to mention. (This had no similarity to my dating life.)

I’m no longer a child living with a grieving father and a dying mother, nor am I the co-ed in search of something or someone real, nonfictional. I’m an adult blessed with an abundance of love. I love my God, my husband and our children, my dog, my friends, my neighbors, my writing group, the birds outside my window.
Because I’m a writer, I also love my characters. I adore their pluck, courage and mettle. I admire the way they face and overcome hardships. But, as in any relationship, I sometimes I get angry with them and think that they are too stupid to live. At those times, I have to remind myself that they exist only in my imagination unless I share. Writing for me is all about sharing--giving back to the world that has so generously blessed me.
I learned a long time ago that the world is full of life and death dramas. Sometimes we need a story to help us escape. And most of us won’t be fortunate enough to have a church lady deliver us a big box of romance. We have to seek out our own entertainment, and in today’s world we are bombarded with so many ways to fill our time and divert our attention. But books never run out of batteries. We can go to the library—or if you have a tablet, online—and there are thousands of stories to choose from, and they’re free. Books introduce us to unknown worlds, courageous thinking, different point of views.
Sometimes I get caught up in the creation of a story and the pleasure is all mine. But when the slogging is hard, when the words won’t come, when the characters are wooden and boring, I remember my younger self, my dying mother, my grieving father, and I write. Not because I enjoy it, but because someone, somewhere, might need to escape into a story.
(Photo from 1888 Center website)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Book Review: When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Since I stopped playing Spider Solitaire at the beginning of June, my reading as sky-rocketed. Plus, I've been traveling and books make the very best traveling companions.

I read Daniel Pink's When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing because a friend recommended it. To be honest, it took me a while to get into it. Mostly because I wasn't sure I agreed with his premise. Timing isn't everything. No one wants to believe it or admit it, but in the game of life LUCK is huge. 

The prophet in Ecclesiastes says it best:
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11 

But then I realized even the prophet made a reference to time, and my attitude shifted. Here's a few key points that made me stop and think:

We're smarter, faster, dimmer, slower, more creative, and less creative in some parts of the day than others.

In our naive twenties and thirties, our hopes are high, our scenarios rosy. Then reality trickles in like a slow leak in the roof...Yet we don't remain in the emotional basement for long because over time we adjust our aspirations and later realize that life is pretty good.

Like beginnings and mid-points, endings quietly steer what we do and how we do it. Indeed, endings of all kinds...shape our behavior in four predictable ways. They energize us, help us encode, edit and elevate.

A life of meaning and significance isn't to live in the present, it is to integrate our perspectives on time into a coherent whole, one that helps us comprehend who we are and why we're here.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Author School Visits and Other Adventures

Last week, I had the privilege of teaching writing workshops at Maywood Middle School. I hope the students enjoyed it as much as I did. There were six English classes plus an after school writing workshop.
I've presented this workshop to adults and high school students numerous times, but this was my first foray into middle school. The stories the students came up with were incredibly imaginative and fun. In fact, one of them is still bouncing around in my head and begging to be written!

The way I run my workshops is I give out assignments to groups of students. Each group is to create either the protagonist, setting, villain, mentor, friends, or love interest. Then we take our characters and walk them through the classic hero's journey. It's always an adventure to see where we end up!

My most successful (for me) workshop was at an alternative high school for high risk students. They came up with the plot for what is now my YA novel, Menagerie--which was originally a stand alone book, but because I loved my characters so much, it morphed into a trilogy. (You can read more about that here. WHERE I GOT MY IDEA.)


 But every workshop is a heady flight of imagination, and working with the kids always reminds me of how it felt to be an age when anything and everything feels possible. I love being a grownup and I especially love the life I've been given. I would never trade my life in for a do-over. Not because I haven't made mistakes, but mostly because I would be afraid that I would muff things up and somehow lose the friends and family I've been blessed with. I do love spending time with the students and maybe, hopefully, teaching them about the power of stories and how they can shape our lives.

For more information on my workshops: