A Love Letter to Autumn

Halloween cat in leavesIt’s no secret: I love autumn. I know a lot of people who hate it, who get depressed by the shorter days, the creeping cold, the leaves changing color and falling to the ground, a metaphor for death.

Not me, though. I love it.

I love that first morning you wake up and there is no haze over the mountains, the air is as crisp as biting into a nice Macintosh apple. You have to put on a jacket to walk the dog, knowing that by the time you get back, you’ll be shedding layers.The leaves scritch across the sidewalk with the blustery wind and crackle underfoot as you swish through them. There’s  the smell of woodsmoke in the air, as well as the smell of dead leaves and rich, damp, earth. A fine layer of frost rimes the grass in the mornings, and etches crystals on your windshield.

Harvest MoonThe moon is a ghostly sickle in twilight sky, or a giant orange orb, or a shining silver globe that bathes everything in a clear, cold light so bright you could read by it, throwing the shadows into sharp-edged relief.

And the night sky. Oh, the night sky in autumn! The stars are so brilliant, and the skies so clear that you can see star fields beyond star fields, as though someone scattered handfuls of diamond of all sizes on a black velvet cloak. There is Cassiopeia, with the running “W” of her throne, and low in the autumn sky, the Big Dipper. There, too, is Venus in the early evening, and sometimes later on Saturn and Jupiter as well. By winter, the familiar sight of Orion’s Belt will greet you, but for now you stand huddled in your coat, watching the horse’s breath come out in plumes, and glance up at the starry sky, grateful for this moment in time. You can hear coyotes howling in the distance, sound traveling in the clear, cold air, and it makes you shiver.

waiting for dinnnerThe afternoons are tinted with a yellow light, so rich and warm as it shines through the nearly translucent leaves and lights them within like Halloween pumpkins. Everything is orange, and gold, and red, colors that do nothing for you at any other time of year but that you embrace come autumn. The horses have become furry; you can place your hand against their skin and have hair come up between your fingers. The dog races ahead on the trail, stopping alertly to listen to the forest, and you listen too. It calls to you, tells you to keep walking, that this day is yours and that you must enjoy it while you can. What other season can give you both leaves and snowflakes falling at the same time? You carry the camera with you wherever you go because you have this compulsion to capture the light, the color, the dog frisking among the leaves and immortalize it. It doesn’t matter that you’ve walked this same path a thousand times before. There is the hope that perhaps this time you will take that one photograph that utterly seizes the essence of the moment and stores it for all eternity. One day, you’ll want to look at these images again and remember how rich and blessed you were in this moment.

Autumn Dog Walk2It does seem to me that autumn is shorter every year. It’s not entirely my imagination–I read a report that stated due to climate change, our autumns are roughly two weeks shorter than they used to be. And I know, too, there is something about the change from October to November which spells the end of autumn for me. The light becomes harsher, slanting into the whiter spectrum of the season to come. The skies are pewter more often than not. The leaves are brown, what few remain on the trees. November comes in with a vengeance, stripping the trees of their glory and spitting sleet in your face. It reminds you that winter is coming. Now, I love winter almost as much as I love autumn. I spend almost as much time with the camera trying to collect images for my memory treasure chest. But I won’t lie, I don’t look forward to the deep cold. It was fifty-five degrees in my bedroom this afternoon. After I turned on the heat, I got it up to fifty-six. Give me another month or so, and I’ll be moaning about how miserable I am. 🙂

Fall roadBut I will always love autumn.

In less poetic news, Walk a Mile was listed as one of October’s Recommended Reads by Prism Book Alliance! It’s up there with some of the best stories from some of the brightest stars in the genre, so I am delighted and pleased (and surprised) to be among such a stellar crowd. If you follow the link and leave a comment at the post, you’ll  be entered into the giveaway for your choice of one of the recommended reads. What are you waiting for? Check it out!

I had this one perfect day…

Fall PerspectivesAutumn is my absolute favorite time of year.

The nights are cooler, and the cat creeps onto the bed to purr beside your ear. The mornings are crisp and clean, and have a bite to them like a juicy Red Delicious. The humidity has lessened, and for the first time since summer began, you feel as though you can take a deep breath.

The light is changing, too. The sun that slants through the trees on your morning walk has a kind of golden tint as it illuminates the leaves. They are turning colors now, and falling to crunch underfoot, mingling their dry scent with the mulchy smell of the damp earth underneath. By the afternoon, the light is incandescent, and makes you want to blink sleepily in its beam like a lazy cat. The light spectrum will turn whiter as winter approaches. The trees will be naked and bare, the skies leaden with the promise of inclement weather. But for today, you have autumn.

PumpkinsAutumn is wood-smoke and pumpkin everything. It’s putting on a jacket in the morning and taking it off by noon. It’s buying hot chocolate for the first time since last winter and thinking about making sausage balls for Thanksgiving. It’s snuggling under a blanket beside the people and animals you love while reading a book. It’s the crackle and hiss of logs on the fire in the hearth. But it doesn’t last. This glorious time of year is so very brief. Before you know it, winter will be here.

WAMBadgeTemplateI have a lot to do this week, next month, and before the end of the year. I’m both excited and nervous to be launching the next story in The Sixth Sense series from Dreamspinner Press. Walk a Mile is now available for pre-order and will be released October 3rd, which is when the Book Tour with Pride Promotions will begin as well. I still have blog posts to write, and need to set up the guest bloggers for the month of October here. I haven’t written a word on the WIP in weeks because I’ve been so busy launching this story, and I know that I should be working on the new project now. That’s just the writing side of things. I have several major end-of-year deadlines coming up as part of my Day Job and I can’t neglect these things or put them off until the last minute. So I have a lot on my To Do list today.

But here’s the thing. I had a choice this morning. I could either have taken the dog for a short walk by the house, where we would have met the bare requirements for getting a little exercise (and blowing the stink off of him so I can get some work done), or I could have taken the extra time to run out to the national forest and take a walk we’d both enjoy. I looked down at his graying muzzle, noting the cataracts in his eyes, and thought, “He is autumn. He is only here for a little while. If tomorrow was his last day on Earth, would you regret not having taken him out to the forest?”

H and fall leavesAnd so we went to the woods.

I still have blog posts to write. I need to go to the grocery store or I will have nothing to eat this coming week and no time to go shopping for food. The list of things I need to do, the fears and concerns I have worrying me right now are a little like having rats in the walls of your house. You know you have a big problem and you know you need to deal with them, but you can’t get at them and that makes solving the rat problem tough. But that one decision made this morning opened the door to other thoughts, other considerations.

I have this one perfect day. This one ephemeral moment in time in which I can walk my dog. or ride my horse–or I can run errands and pound out blog posts that will hardly interest me, let alone someone else. This light won’t last forever. This glorious weather won’t last forever.  And after all, isn’t that why we live? To be in the moment, to live it to its fullest? To bite into that apple and feel the juices trickle down your chin, even as you savor the sweetness of it?

I can write blog posts well into the night. I can take the dog with me and go grocery shopping after dark. But today, I’m going to throw the saddle in the back of the car and head out to the barn. Because I have that one perfect day today. And I’m going to make the most of it.

Look of Eagles_resized

The Fab Five Redux: Or, What’s Coming Up Next?

Bradford PearsI got tagged by Charlie Cochet as part of the Fabulous Five meme, where authors answer four specific questions about their writing styles and then tag five more people to do the same the following week. Well, I got tagged by Anne Barwell the week before, and my answers haven’t changed since then, so I will link you to that post instead. 🙂

In the meantime, what am I up to? Well, I’m still waiting for a cover and a release date for book 2 in The Sixth Sense series. Walk a Mile, the sequel to the FBI paranormal mystery Unspeakable Words, should be released sometime in early October from Dreamspinner Press. As part of the run-up to my own release date, I’m hosting a bunch of authors here: Susan Mac Nicol, Chris T. Kate, Bee Snow, Louise Lyons, Kindle Alexander, and Suki Fleet will all be featured in the coming weeks! Also, starting tomorrow, I’ll be one of over one hundred authors and publishers participating in the Fall Into Love Party on The Romance Reviews website. There are over a hundred prizes to be given away, and the grand prize is a $100 gift card! My Q&A will go up September 5th, and the answer is somewhere on this website–so be sure to take a look around for it!

Look of Eagles_resizedAs for today itself, I’m enjoying the holiday weekend here in the US. We’re having a cookout tonight; this morning I’m headed out for a trail ride. I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend, yourself! Stay tuned for the first author guest post: coming up tomorrow, Susan Mac Nicol will be stopping by as part of her Love and Punishment tour! be sure to check it out!

Let it Go is more than just a Disney song

Spring Kitty_resizedThursdays frequently wind up being frustrating for me. Ostensibly, they are my day off, but I typically have them so carefully orchestrated so that the whole day is spent rushing from one task after the other, for fear of being late and causing the whole house of cards to tumble down.

For the past six months, I’ve been spending a good bit of my Thursdays working off board for my two horses at the ‘retirement’ farm. My Old Man has been there for years now; this past spring, I had to move my no-longer-young mare there for financial reasons. Since caring for a community of horses, many of which are blind, lame, and need medication, is time consuming, I spend about 2 hours in the morning taking care of the herd–only to have to come back in the evening and do it again. My goal has always been to get out there early, hurry through my tasks, and rush home so I can do laundry, get groceries, and try to get some writing done before I have to head back out again. Thursdays are also the only night I can get to my yoga classes, and for the last month I’ve been skipping it. Well, that’s catching up with me, especially since I dropped all the other expensive manage-the-pain therapies I’d been doing for years.

I already had to skip the morning walk with the dog in order to meet a client before doing the first feeding, but today, instead of rushing through the chores, I decided, “Screw it. I’m taking my time.” Why? Well, the biggest problem about Thursdays is not how much I have to do but my attitude toward it. Far better to let go of the expectation of ‘getting something done’ and just be there in the moment doing what I’m actually doing.

BridleSo I took the time to appreciate the choreography of herd interactions–how the horses all know where they are supposed to go, and how doing things out of order upsets them. The last thing you want to do with a herd is let a submissive horse get pinned in a corner by a dominant one, so at feeding time, there is a lot of opening and closing gates so that the right horses end up in the right slots in the right order. It’s kind of beautiful when it all works smoothly. When you make a mistake, however, or one horse slips past you, ears pinned and teeth bared, there is the potential for serious injury (yourself included) if you don’t intervene right away.

I also took the time to appreciate the Old Man. He’s thirty years old now, and he no longer has any front teeth. He’s swaybacked, and despite eating $75 worth of grain every 2 weeks, I can’t keep any weight on him. But he is still happily puttering around the property, gumming grass and eating his mush–as much as I will give him twice a day. He still comes up to me looking for scratches and snuffling my pockets for treats. I’m sure if someone who didn’t know better saw him, they would accuse me of animal neglect, but he’s the equivalent of a 95 year old man and he looks it. I worry about him with the coming winter, but I also know he’s had wonderfully long life. I don’t regret a single moment since the day I bought him as a three year old for 89 cents a pound.

I also came to a decision today about the Mare Who Lived. This weekend, I’m going to bring my tack out to the farm. I’ve received permission to ride the fields out there. There’s no arena–just open fields–and my mare is a bit hot for just a simple trail ride, but I feel like I have to give this a try. If we survive the attempt, I’ll let you know. I’ve just put far too much of my life on hold to let *this* go. I look back at all the things I’ve let slip through my fingers waiting for ‘the right time’ or a better situation and I should have taken them when I could. When I had the chance.

There are other things we need to let go of, however. While I was taking my time at the farm this morning, I got a text from work: could I come in and see a patient that can’t wait until tomorrow? Well, there goes the carefully orchestrated day… but since I had accepted that I wasn’t going to rush around like a chicken with its head cut off, I was able to shrug, pick a time that would fit into the schedule, and say yes.Had the call come in before I’d made the decision not to rush, I probably would have been seething as I hurried through my chores, anxious to get home in order to salvage a little writing time.

All I needed was an attitude adjustment.

I know that attitude is everything, and I wish I could understand how to make that work for you when deep down you don’t believe you have what it is you’re faking. I can’t fake feeling beautiful and sexy when I don’t. I can’t fake confidence in my writing when I don’t have it. But I look at that picture of the cat in the flowers I posted above and recall how this little tomcat could prevent my 95 pound German Shepherd from leaving the house simply by sitting on the porch and staring at him through the door.

My boy would get to the door and back up, saying, “I can’t go out there. Dat bad cat’s out there.” And nothing I could do could persuade my dog it was safe to come out with me. The tom has since tamed down and been neutered and vaccinated. The dog will now walk past him without batting an eye, and occasionally will try to engage in play. The cat runs up to us when we’re outside and shoulders into the dog, taking a swat at his legs as the dog re-enters the house. They’ve reached a level of detente that they are comfortable with. But I am still amazed that a ten pound cat could stare down a dog ten times his size without even hissing.

That’s attitude. Or Catitude, depending on your POV. Because that cat was utterly confident of his ability to take on my dog and win–and my dog knew it. I think I could use a little Catitude. I’m a little too quick to listen to the negative self-talk because it is familiar, something I’ve heard my entire life: from family, from frenemies, but perfected by my self. I’ve been working on it. On dressing up for no particular reason, other than I know it makes me look good. Wearing something I like is empowering to me, be it a favorite necklace or a good pair of boots. That’s why I am so fond of International Walk Like Beckett Day. It’s not about how you look–it’s about how you think you look. And with little feel-good boosters, I can get there sometimes.

Writing is a different story. Or is it? I strongly suspect the only thing holding me back is my own negative self-talk. Chuck Wendig wrote this great blog post the other day about self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy, and it’s simply brilliant. This one line jumped out at me: And suddenly your doubt has the hunger and gravity of a collapsing star. Wow. Yes. Been there, done that, own the T-shirt, sing the song almost every day. Go read the rest of his post, it’s awesome.

But as I’m sitting here, just as earlier I contemplated the stupidity and necessity of trying to ride my horse again, it occurs to me that I’m my biggest roadblock. And I don’t have as much time left as I used to. So it’s kind of now or never, you know? I got an email last night from one of my friends who is an author–a ‘real’ author, someone who got published back when you had to have an agent and legacy publishing was the only way to go, and the walls were steep and topped with guards ready to pour boiling oil down upon your head for daring to approach the gate. I know, I’m a real author with a real press behind me, but there’s that doubt, you know? The one that says if not for the digital revolution, you’d be papering your walls with rejection slips. Anyway, in response to my saying I’m not good enough to write x-y-z, she tells me that I’m capable of writing anything I put my mind to, that is it the voices of little-minded people running down my confidence that’s holding me back. So… what if she’s right? What’s the worst that can happen if I assume she is? I’ve got nothing to lose by trying.

I’ve got two hours before I have to be at the next task on my list of things to do today. I can get a lot done in two hours.

Tennant You Should Be Writing

Summertime Memories: QTA’s Blog Hop & Giveaway!

qta_is_it_summer_yet_blog_hopThe forsythia is blooming, and so are the daffodils, redbud, and hyacinth. The pear trees have blown most of their blossoms in a flurry of snow-like showers. Cyclists and joggers have magically appeared once more, and my mare has shed out her winter coat.

Is it summer yet? That’s what QTA is asking right now, as part of their “Is It Summer Yet?” blog hop! Participants are invited to share their favorite summer memories and link back to the blog hop, so that readers can jump to the next participant and get in on their chance to win some cool summer prizes, including an iPod Shuffle! Be sure to check out the Rafflecopter on QTA’s page and enter the Grand Prize Giveaway! Comments left here on this post will enter the reader in a giveaway for my combination of two short stories: Summer Fling. So be sure to leave your email address in your comment if you’d like to be considered for my giveaway here today!

You know, I can’t think of one particular summer memory that stands out–rather it was summers in general that were special to me when I was growing up. Every summer, from the time I was about six until I was nine or ten, my parents sent us children to stay with our grandparents for a good bit of the summer. My grandfather was the pastor of a large church which held a vacation Bible school each summer. Now, I know what you’re thinking–I can hear you going, “Huh?” right now. But this vacation Bible school was like no other I’ve ever heard of since. Every morning for three weeks, a school bus would collect us from the church parking lot and we’d drive for what seemed like hours until we reached what was only known as “The Farm.” For the next hour, we’d dutifully attend Bible study as taught by my grandfather, and then we’d be released like a herd of wild horses down to the lake owned by the church. We swam like fishes all morning–in and out of the lake, on the docks, down on the sandy beach, and back in the water again.

happy womanAt noon, we’d tramp up the hill to the large open-air pavilion, where the women of the church had been preparing food for us all morning. We’d fall on it like hungry wolves! For the next hour, we were forbidden to go back into the water, presumably to let our lunches digest. We’d play tetherball if the weather was nice, but most of us couldn’t wait to get back into the lake. From 1 pm until 4 pm we’d swim again, then load back up in the bus to head home for the evening, sunburnt and exhausted, and thoroughly satisfied with our day.

I learned how to swim at the Bible school. I also learned how to play chess, and the card games Rook, Hearts, Go Fish, and Jack-Change-It (which is a lot like Uno). When it rained, we did crafts instead of swimming, making Plaster of Paris representations of The Last Supper, or boiling marbles until they cracked so we could glue them on burlap with fake leaves and call them grapes. I don’t remember any bigotry, or hatred, or politics. A simple Bible lesson in the morning and then hours of the most fun I’ve ever had. It was the best part of the year, and the best part of growing up. My grandparents accepted us for who we were, warts and all. I don’t ever recall a harsh word or anyone even losing their temper with us. I grew up in that church. When I went off to college and tried to find another church to call home, I was struck by how…inadequate…I found most of them to be. I finally found what I thought to be a good one, with a minister that reminded me of my grandfather, who didn’t preach politics or hatred but spoke plainly of how best to walk with Christ each week. Then his wife asked for a divorce–and his church fired him. Fired him because a divorced man was unacceptable to them as a minister. I was shocked and saddened, and began searching for another church to call home. I never found one.

For most of my adult life, I’ve searched for the kind of loving acceptance I found in my grandfather’s church. Perhaps it was naive of me. But the church I grew up in changed when my grandfather retired, and religion seems to have changed as well in the years since my childhood. And while I still have strong religious beliefs, I no longer believe in the Church as an institution, which saddens me. Because most of what I hold dear is an abomination to this new Angry Church, and I can’t hold with the intolerance and enforced ignorance I see coming out of the Church today.

But those summers were sweet. Oh, so sweet.

Be sure to leave your email address in the comments below if you’d like to be entered in the giveway for an e-copy of Summer Fling! Also, go back to the main list on QTA to enter the Rafflecopter and hop on to the next blog!



Don’t Let Social Media Interfere with Your Writing: Day 7 of The Boys of Summer Book Tour

Small_Banner_Boys_of_SummerWow, so The Boys of Summer Book Tour is in its second (and final) week) What a blast we’ve been having so far! Yesterday was incredibly busy. I had a meeting with my writers critique group in the morning, and then a live Twitter Chat–which was incredibly fun if a bit frenzied! I should receive a transcript of it sometime today–that should be interesting! I also went out to the barn to ride the mare in the afternoon (brrr, it was near freezing here, which made for an…ah, invigorating ride).

Right, so, I have a post up on Sid Love’s blog: Sex in Your Stories: The Goldilocks Effect. How much sex should you put in your stories? What’s too much? Too little? Just right?

I have another post today with Kathy from Book Reviews and More on social media and not letting it interfere with your writing (oh, the irony–I’m working on piece right now that keeps getting side-tracked for that very reason!) Anyway, do come on out, drop by the blog posts, leave a comment and check out the Rafflecopter for additional ways to enter to win a $50 gift card from Amazon. Thanks!

chocolate chip_wikipedia.orgI’m working on a free holiday short story featuring Rick and David from The Boys of Summer–to be posted on the last day of the tour (Dec 22) on my website! More details to follow!


An Epiphany Before I Go…

That FaceFunny, it took an internet gif to save my life from the internet. I was watching this funny gif on Tumblr, in which a young man keeps getting photobombed by his dog. Apparently there are a lot of these gifs out there because it keeps happening. I’m scrolling through the comments, which were along the lines of how this dog was ruining everyone’s life because of the cuteness, and I caught myself irritably telling my own dog to go lie down.

To go lie down so I could look at a gif of a man interacting with his dog with love and joy. WTF is wrong with me?

In that instant, I got an entire snapshot of my life for the past seven years. Working too many hours, spending too much time on the internet. Hopping endlessly from Live Journal to Facebook to Twitter to Tumblr looking for someone to have a conversation with. Incidentally, these last seven years corresponds to the time my dog has been on the planet. His life is half over and I have spent a good bit of it telling him to go lie down because Mummy’s tired and she needs to chill out on the internet for, I don’t know, the next four or five hours. When the hell did I become that person? When the hell did I become my mother?

Baby HawkeyeWell, fuck that shit. No, seriously. I’m done. Sure, I’ll pop up on a semi-regular basis to post updates or share some thinky-thoughts like this one. I’ll wave at my friends on the internet and I’ll RT someone else’s good news. I’ll fulfill my current commitments to blogging and touring.

But I can’t be a writer if I’m always online. I can’t be a writer if I have put my life on hold. Writing is about living on paper–but you can’t do that if you haven’t lived in person. And I am not going to be the person who shoves aside the dog when he only wants a piece of my attention. A being who wants me to interact with him. I only have THIS dog once, and like a bright meteorite blazing across my night sky, I’ll only have him a little while. This dog. This horse. This man. None of whom care if I’m successful or how much I weigh, or if my hair is falling out, or anything–as long as I’m happy. And by God, I’m going to go out and grab my happiness by the horns, wrestle it to the ground, and bring it back to the ranch.

Because I’m DONE being the internet’s bitch. 😉


Sunday Moment of Zen: Why sometimes NOT writing is the answer

I hope everyone has had a lovely Sunday and got to do something they really enjoyed. I certainly did, and I want to share it with you today!

K_fall leaves
One of the things that is really important to my mental health is spending a certain amount of time outdoors each week. These past few years, I’ve been very slack about doing this–I used to be an avid hiker and I used to ride competitively. The barn where I kept my horse was dog-friendly, so after I rode, I would take H for a run in the woods. In terms of efficient use of time, it was pretty good. 🙂 Then we moved to a different stable with a no-dogs rule and I was forced to separate out my dog walking time vs my horse riding time. Work got crazy and I found myself in a different location every 48 hours. My mare went lame to the point that I decided to retire her from competition, and I had a hard time finding a good place to walk H–most of the places we go require dogs to be on leash the entire time, and let me tell you, it is hard to *walk* a big, active dog sufficiently to exercise him–H needs to run every day until his brains come out his nose just so you can live with him. More and more, I found I could not do everything: if I got the dog out, I ran out of time to ride. If I rode, I didn’t get the dog out. And if I wanted to write, I had to chose what to give up that day.

One of the things I discovered when I was determined to make up for a week’s worth of not writing by spending my entire day off at the keyboard was that I couldn’t concentrate. I needed that physical activity as much as the dog in order to settle to my work. My friends who are into yoga talk about ‘being connected’ and ‘grounded’, and I have always had a hard time with these concepts because my mind is forever stewing about the past and worrying about the future. I have a very stressful job, and I find it hard to let go at the end of the day. There are still times I wake up in the middle of the night, recalling cases I mishandled more than twenty years ago and not able to forgive myself for being young and inexperienced. Lately, the stress has gotten to a point where I am not managing it very well anymore. Writing used to be one of my main stress relievers, but not so much these days. What has changed?

Blue Ridge_fall
Well, for one, I haven’t been getting that weekly dose of ‘outdoors’.

I’m at a crossroads in my life right now. I am reaching a point of burnout with work, which just so happens to correspond with a severe cut-back in hours. I’m surprisingly calm about this at the moment because I recognize that I could no longer maintain the pace I’d been working for the last three years. My health (both physical and mental) has deteriorated. My creativity is practically zilch. I find myself wanting that creativity back again more than anything else. So perhaps having less money but more time isn’t such a bad thing.

Bank Jump_cropped
If you’d asked me three months ago what I would choose: a Sunday writing at home or a Sunday galloping across open fields, I probably would have chosen writing. Why? Because my writing time has been so short-changed for so long that I couldn’t imagine giving up a whole day to do something else. But my writing has been stilted and mechanical for so long that even when I get the time time write, I often end up wasting the entire day piddling around on various social media sites, only to wind up with a grand total of 300 words and a serious case of depression.

One of the lovely things about working with animals is that they keep you very much in the present while still offering wonderful opportunities for operating in that level of consciousness most conducive to brainstorming creative ideas. A walk in the woods with the dog, or a half hour cleaning stalls or grooming a horse frees my mind to explore all kinds of wondrous ideas, and many a time I’ve had a ‘eureka!’ moment while out at the barn. I’d come home ready to write because I worked out something that I’d been stuck on while performing a mindless physical task. Talk about your Zen moments!

Jumping K
There are other times, like today, in which you must be in the present in order to function safely. “The future” is the jump that you are approaching. The past is non-existent. There is only the now of the sound of hoofbeats on the turf, the feel of the wind whipping past your face, and the 1700 pounds of muscle and blood beneath your legs. Losing focus at this juncture might get you a run-out at a scary fence or worse. This is a ‘connection’ I can understand–making myself one with the horse as we navigate the terrain and the jumps. Not paying attention could get you dumped when a group of deer suddenly appear in the woods alongside you, or cause your horse to stop abruptly because she feels the disconnect and is not sure if she should jump the obstacle or not.

Log cabin
A day like this is spent in moments of the here and now. The tension of crossing a running stream with a young horse in the group, who is uncertain about the process. The patience needed to work through an exercise until both horse and rider understand it. The fall leaves blanketing the mountainsides. The red-tailed hawk soaring overhead. The exhilarating, heart-pounding thrill that comes from galloping uphill to a fence and knowing your horse is going to take it joyfully because your joy is hers.

Look of Eagles
I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you need to step away from the keyboard and live life before you sit down and try to write about it. Even if it means cutting into your precious writing time. A day spent staring at a blinking cursor isn’t productive. I’ve also finally accepted that I can’t do it all every day. Some days I’m going to get the dog out. Sometimes I’ll make it to the barn. Some days I’ll choose writing over both. There will be nights when I choose to watch a movie with the BF instead of write. On a good day, I’ll do one of the other things I love AND write. I cannot live by writing alone. I cannot live without writing either.

I’m hoping my creative mojo will come back now that I am no longer working 60+ hours a week. It had better; I’m sort of banking on it. 🙂

Why We Need to Celebrate the Small Successes

I recently came across a post being shared on Facebook. The blog post, written by a former competitive ice dancer, was titled Yes, My Thighs Touch (And I am Absolutely Fine). That post really struck a cord with me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

The world of competitive skating places a lot of importance on personal appearance and weight as being major factors in how well you will succeed, so it is not surprising to me to read that blogger Jamie Silverstein has recovered from an eating disorder. I grew up in a household with someone who had anorexia. I know intimately what that is like, what havoc it wreaks not only on your body, but also on everyone around you, too.

What struck me was how healthy and reasonable Silverstein’s attitude was toward her body now. That is something I still struggle with myself, even though I was not the one with the anorexia. I don’t often post pictures of myself on the internet. A) I think that’s asking for unwanted commentary and B) I only have about four pictures of myself that I do not utterly loathe. In fact, one of the few things that can make my boyfriend angry with me is if I go through the photos on the camera after one of our trips and delete all the ones of me. “Those are my memories,” he said once, when I had deleted every picture I was in.

I see his point. That doesn’t change the fact that I have always believed myself to be an unattractive person and inherently unphotogenic. So I am posting this picture here taken of me in my twenties to prove a point. At the time this photo was taken, I was convinced I was the ugliest girl on the planet.

Beach 3_croppedI’m posting this picture because, while I could never lay claim to Super Model status, I obviously was not a troglodyte either. But you could not convince me of that. I’d grown up my entire life hearing how plain I was. How I would need to work extra hard to make friends because I wasn’t attractive. How I would need to be tough and independent because I couldn’t count on some man coming along to take care of me. I wore glasses and braces, therefore, I was ‘doubly handicapped.’ I was as ‘homely as a mud fence’; something I’d never seen but it sounded dirty and disgusting. And I once overheard a neighbor comment to my grandmother how beautiful my sister was, but that I ‘grew on you after a while.’ Like I was mold, or something.

I’m sure the messages I received were not intended to be hurtful. I suspect my mother simply wished for me to be a strong individual and to aspire to be more than an extension of a husband. In many ways, I’m glad I learned this lesson. I do *not* let my self-worth depend on the presence of a man in my life. I studied hard in school, got a professional degree, and work in a challenging career. I have a wonderful relationship with a man that I love that is based on mutual respect. I don’t expect him to ‘rescue’ me. We take turns taking care of each other.

But I do not think I am an attractive person. I’d reached a sort of resigned peace with my personal appearance until the last couple of years, when health issues began to erode my trust in my body. This has also been compounded by the fact that I am getting older. In fact, if there was such a thing as Aging Anorexia, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had it. Every fine wrinkle, every new ache or pain, each tiny suggestion that I am not as young as I used to be is magnified in my eyes. I can go from “Damn, my knee is bothering me a bit,” to “I’ll have to give up horseback riding” to “I’m going to lose my independence” in a matter of minutes. I know it’s not rational. That’s the insidious thing about these wild misconceptions we hold over ourselves–even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against the belief, we persist in holding on to it. When I was younger, I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough. Now that I’m older, I am not successful enough. I’m packing twenty extra pounds I don’t know how to get rid of, and I would give anything to look like the younger me again–the one I thought was so ugly. And my irrational fear of losing my independence? Well, my independent self was the only thing I was taught to rely on.

Bridge_Abbey resizedKind of ironic, eh?

So this post by Jamie Silverstein really resonated with me. Because here she is saying, “You know what? I’m not perfect–and I don’t have to be. What I am is pretty darn good as it is.” What she is, by the way, is not defined by her body or her appearance. It is who she is as a person.

I do see the value of such self-acceptance, much as I see the BF’s point about not deleting pictures of his trip simply because I don’t like them. But up until Silverstein’s post, I couldn’t really buy into the self-acceptance thing because it has always felt like an excuse: a reason to toss up your hands and stop trying to be better than you are.

It wasn’t until I read this post that somehow a little light bulb clicked on and I realized that if you truly accept yourself for who and what you are, you’re going to try to take better care of yourself. You do this because you care about your body and what you put into it and no, Goldfish crackers and a can of Sprite doesn’t qualify as a decent breakfast by anyone’s standards over the age of twelve.

You know what else I got out of this post? It’s the little goals that count. You know why? Because there are more of them in our lives than the big ones. You might never win an Oscar, or have your book turned into a movie, or be awarded a Nobel Prize. But every day is filled with little goals hard-met and won, and for some reason, because we live in this mindset of Mega-Success or Go Home, we discount the little things as not being meaningful. Not being worth mentioning

Snow_Casey resizedThey are the only things that really matter.

Because the problem with only celebrating the Big Goals, of only valuing the Big Goals, is that we use them as an excuse not to attempt anything. If I can’t lose twenty pounds in two weeks, then attempting to get healthier by making better food choices and getting more sleep and making time to exercise, well, that’s just pointless, isn’t it?

If my next release isn’t the breakout novel that puts me on the top of the bestseller list on Amazon, then why bother writing? If the horse has to be retired from competition before we ever made it to a Three Day Event, then why bother riding her anymore?

The truth of the matter is that most of us will never be bestselling authors with Hollywood banging at our door begging to turn our story into a movie. We’re not going to the Olympics. We’re not going to be Super Model thin or Super Model pretty and we’re not going to be ridiculously wealthy.

But I wrote and published a novel within the last six months–and I really don’t know many people who can say that. The Boys of Summer is my first independently published novel. Yes, I made mistakes, but I am damn proud of that work and it is getting some fine reviews. I might not have ever made it to a 3-day with my mare, but I have participated in a riding clinic taught by an Olympic coach with her. And tonight, I climbed the ridge behind the house with the dog trotting alongside. The sun was setting behind me, and the pale ghost of the moon was rising in front of me, and there was row upon row of mountains in varying shades of purple and blue all around as far as the eye could see. I felt as though I was looking at a photograph of the ocean, and the mountains were waves caught on film. That made me one of the richest people on the planet.

redbud resizedYou know what else celebrating the small successes does for you? It keeps you here in the moment. It anchors you to the present. It’s what makes you feel accomplished when you crank out 1500 words at the end of a brutally exhausting day–and count that as an achievement instead of berating yourself for not having written more. It’s recognizing that the most important thing you could be doing right now is acknowledging the dog that just placed his head in your lap to be petted. There is no room for regret or fear for the future when you are living in the moment. Animals do it all the time. The walk that the dog is on right now is the best walk ever. I want to learn how to hold such moments in my heart for longer than a few seconds.

Denying ourselves the value of the small successes sets us up to be disappointed again and again. Because it’s like saying that unless you can climb the sheer cliff face without using any finger or toeholds, without pausing on a ledge to catch your breath, that you’re not really a mountain climber at all. We’re lying to ourselves when we discount the small successes. We’re telling ourselves that the Photoshopped image of success is the real one and that if we were without imperfections, we could have that life too.

The best part about celebrating the small successes is that they are different for each of us. Everyone of us has the potential for a small success. Maybe you went for that walk after dinner when you are normally too tired to get off the couch. Or you finished that home improvement project you’ve been working on for weeks. Maybe you walked away from that doughnut. Maybe you ate the doughnut. It could be the thoughtful gift you mailed off to a friend who’s been down, or you said no to that drink, or you decided to see a counselor, or your gif is being reblogged on tumblr, or you called your mother, or you’re just having a Good Hair Day.

Recognize those moments for what they are: a great beam of sunlight breaking through the clouds. They are what life is all about.backlit clouds resized

Because I could spend the rest of my life mourning what I am not. I’ve already wasted a lot of time doing that. To continue to so so will only prevent me from being what I can be.

Embracing the Courage to Follow Your Dreams…

I’m starting to get a good idea now why people travel. As someone who hasn’t traveled a lot herself, I’d always assumed it was about the journey to see things you’d never seen before. Stained glass in a cathedral in Rome. A Saturn 5 rocket in its entirety. The Hope Diamond. The Greek Isles. A quintessential British fishing village in Cornwall.

I’m beginning to see that it really about the journey itself. Like the poem, Ithaca, which I’ve always loved but never fully appreciated, the story is in the journey.

You might think the title of this blog post is cumbersome. Well, it is. I chose it because while I know many people with the courage to follow their dreams, I don’t know all that many with the courage to *embrace* what that means.  Case in point: I came across this wonderful cartoon illustrating the words of Astronaut Extraordinaire Chris Hadfield (my new personal hero, in case you hadn’t noticed). What a wonderful cartoon about the sacrifices we have to make when we set out on the path of following our dreams. But what amazing rewards are there for us if we do so. I confess, however, when I set on the course to become a writer, I wasn’t prepared for the sacrifices I would willingly make for my passion. Less time riding the horse. Annoyance with the dog when he still wouldn’t lie down and be quiet after a long run. Watching an hour or two of television a week instead of my usual shows nightly. Telling my boyfriend I’d be along to bed in a few minutes as I am typing and when I glance at my watch next, two hours have passed. And the guilt. Oh, the guilt. Sometimes it hurts knowing how much of the brief time I have with my animals that I’ve wasted these past years. I’m conscious of that in general, having made choices that hurt me professionally, personally, and economically because they were the right thing to do at the time. What was less apparent to me was how much I resented the fact that I’d made some of these choices. How much I resented that I’d put my life on hold for so long and now it was taking me a long time to really find my way, what I was meant to do with my life.

I just came back from an amazing weekend at Galaction 3 and ComicPalooza. What an experience! 20 K plus fans from all over the world, gathering together to celebrate their love of their fandoms. One of the important things about fandoms is that they give us permission to think big, dream big, and act out on these fantasies even when the reality is not possible. No, I will never pick up everything and head through a Stargate into the Pegasus galaxy as part of an expedition but I can take the lessons learned from my favorite characters and work hard to follow the dream that is a bit more within my reach. I can emulate the characteristics that make a character a personal favorite–the courage, the toughness, the honor, etc. and use them in my daily life to achieve my goals. That’s what heroes are for, after all.

A Black Widow Fan!

A Black Widow Fan!

One of the things I’ve discovered about traveling is that it takes you out of the hum-drum everyday existence of our lives and puts us in new situations. I try new foods when I’m on vacation. I talk to people I’ve never met before, I have the most interesting conversations. When you are mired in the day-to-day routine of your life, it is difficult to have much to say sometimes. I think social media is a bit to blame for a creeping dissatisfaction that I’ve experienced in my life recently. When I was new to the business of social media, I wrote a post titled Does Facebook Make Us Depressed? While my views have been tempered through the years, I still feel the same about many aspects of social media.

After all, I haven’t lost 50 pounds, won 50 million dollars, or had a number one book on the best seller list for 50 weeks. I rarely go anywhere special. While I love taking pictures with my little point-and-shoot camera, they’re nothing spectacular and there’s a limit to how many pictures of horses, dogs, and flowers people want to see. My day-to-day workday is emotionally draining (and not something I want to relive in a blog post unless I do so to be rid of it). The fact is, my life is pretty boring most days. It’s hard to find something meaningful and worthwhile to blog about on a regular basis. And yet social media is how most of us interact with our friends these days, so we tend to natter on about the minutia of our lives just so we’re there with our friends. I misplaced my phone earlier today and you’d have thought I’d lost a thousand dollars with the way I panicked and began searching the car for it. The relief I felt when I found it was enormous. Not because I found my phone. Because I found my *connection* with my world.

But I learned some interesting things about myself this weekend. I met a lot of people from all walks of life (and I do have more to say about my experiences at Galacticon). And a couple of things struck me. Most of the people I know don’t have it easy. Many of my friends and acquaintances are just squeaking by. For a long time now, I’ve felt bad when I want to whine about the circumstances in my life because I know so many people who have it ten times worse. I also know that just because my problems are comparatively mild, that doesn’t discount the impact it has on my life.

However, a chance conversation with a woman beside me on the flight home really opened my eyes to this idea of embracing the courage to follow your dreams. At first glance, someone who decided she wanted to compete in dressage on an international level might seem like someone smoking crack. But this woman had a plan. She was giving it her all. She’d committed to it in the way that my favorite quote about persistence had done:

Nothing in the world can take place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. ~Calvin Coolidge~

And she embraced it. She sat there in the seat beside me, saying, “Sure I could have taken the corporate job working 80 hours a week for $40 K a year, but I’m making almost that much now and I’m happy. I have health insurance, I have a Roth IRA. I’m not being stupid about this. Just because it’s not putting me on a fast-track to making more money down the line doesn’t mean that I’m crazy. Well, okay, maybe the riding horses part does.”

She showed me on her iPad the lovely photos of the horses she’d gone to look at that weekend as she shopped for her next FEI prospect. This is not one she looked at, merely an example of what an FEI dressage horse entails.

We talked of sport horses and science-fiction, of corporate America, and of personal happiness. And I realized that while I was very good at comparing myself to others and seeing where I didn’t stack up, I was forgetting some of the most important things.

I made these choices. I chose to make less money working for myself than to stay in a job where I was expected to work 60-70 hours a week for 9.5 vacation days a year that I could not ever take consecutively. I chose to move to a small rural town where I could keep my big horse and my big dog and enjoy having the things I loved around me instead of working in a big city for more money in a job that made me suicidal. I made a choice to stop competing my horse because I wanted her to still be around for me to love more than I wanted another ribbon or trophy on my wall. Yeah, my life can be tough sometimes, but I chose it. I chose to start writing again and I allowed it to consume my life. And you know what? I can also chose how I feel about this. I can either piss and moan about my troubles and the incessant, grinding toil that is my life, or I can embrace it, cracking the bones and sucking out the marrow because it’s mine.

No, it won’t make it possible for me to magically pay the bills if there’s no money in the checking account. No, it won’t erase the weird food intolerances I’ve developed in the last few years or prevent me from getting cancer, or make me look like I did when I was 23. But I do have ultimate control over my attitude and I choose to embrace the choices I’ve made to become a writer.

Oh! Speaking of which, I just found out today that The Boys of Summer has been listed on Goodreads Best M/M Romances Published in 2013! (How’s that for a sneaky segue, but it’s true, I just found out a little while ago!) How astonishing is that? It’s been out only six weeks! I am delighted and terribly flattered too!

The Boys of Summer400x600