SO MANY THINGS IN MY HEAD!

A few things in the old brain today.

IMG_0306My first thought is about my poor cat, Poppit, who is, quite probably as I type this, having his little testicles removed by the vet. He’s going to be so angry with me when he gets home from the vet. I hope a nice can of cat food will help him forget. Yes. I will be doing my best to pamper a feline later today.

The next thought I’m entertaining is about France. I’m going there in a month. I’m excited. I’m 588px-Regions_de_França.svgnervous. I’m scared. But mostly, I can’t even begin to imagine any of it. I think it’s going to be surreal.  I need to figure out what clothes to take and I must read up on different facts about the country so I’m not completely ignorant. I’m blessed to be going with two friends who both speak French. As long as I keep my mouth shut, I might not embarrass myself too much. Note the words, “might” and “too much.” This leaves some wiggle room.

10374448_10152816308736454_3968303323509060046_nAnother thought is because I’m going to France I’m going to miss my niece’s high school graduation, and that is very sad. Miss Molly is precious to me and it really bites that this trip fell at the same time as her graduation. Both of these things are once in a lifetime events. So, I need ideas for an amazing present for this special girl. I’ll take her out to lunch the week before I leave so I can celebrate her special day.

Last on my mind is the hug-fest I attended last weekend. It was actually a writing conference, but IMG_080311139418_10152833292632143_1179165526800934718_nseriously, these people are like family to me. Yes, I learned things about writing and marketing, but the big bonus was that I reconnected with such incredibly interesting people and met a few new writers I hadn’t known before. I learned some things, too, but really, I feel like the main thing I walked away with is knowing I have found my tribe… my place in the world. I love chatting and learning and laughing with these fine friends of mine. Some of them are older than me, some younger, most smarter, but all of those I call friends touch a very special place in my heart. It doesn’t get too much better than that.

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Tell Me About Your Book

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I hear this all the time:

“Tell me about your book!!”

  • First of all, I’m a writer because I’m not really very good at summing things up quickly. I need about 50,000 words to make a point.
  • Secondly, I’m writer because I don’t really like to talk.
  • Although I have ideas to express, the notion of people looking at me while I express them, makes me panic.
  • But there’s another really good reason it’s difficult for a writer to give a short description about their books. It’s because an author’s book is like their baby.
  • If someone were to ask a parent to sum up everything about their child in a few minutes, the parent would probably have a hard time encapsulating the entire personality and character of their son or daughter.
  • The kind of things a parent or author might say if they were pressed are, “They’re nice! They have a big heart! They’re smart!”
  • But unlike parents of actual children, Authors want you to buy their babies.

So this idea of a book being an author’s baby will help me explain the writing process, which is another question I often hear: “How do you write a book?”

First comes the gestation period which all happens in our minds:

  • The author comes up with the idea for a book.
  • We think about who the characters will be.
  • We come up with the issue the characters will need to solve.
  • We decide where the story will take place.
  • Then, just like giving birth to a baby, we birth our books.
  • The difference is the delivery process is the actual writing the book.
  • When we finish the book, it’s like the first time we hold our new baby. We love it, and stare at it, and think it’s wonderful and amazing, and a miracle.
  • But we don’t really see our baby like other people see it. We love our baby no matter what.
  • But a relative might come over to see the baby and leave thinking, “That’s a funny looking baby!” or “Man, that baby is fussy!” or “I can’t believe they let that baby have a pacifier.”
  • So although you love that baby like only a parent can, you have to step back and raise it properly.
  • It’s the same with a book. We have to see our story through the eyes of many readers to make sure it makes sense.
  • We need to answer questions like, does it flow, is it believable, is it well written and properly formatted, is the cover the best it can be?
  • I’ve learned it takes teamwork to make a great book.
  • Critique groups, and beta readers, editors, and cover designers.
  • When the book can pass all of these stages, just like a young adult passes all of their classes in high school, then the book can then go to college — the editor, then on to the real world — the reading public.

 One important thing I’ve learned is, The time to publish a book is not when it’s done, but when it’s GOOD! I’m still working on making the next book in the Rosewood series good enough to join the real world. Thanks for your patience.

I’m still working on making the next book in the Rosewood series good enough to join the real world. Thanks for your patience.

WHY GO TO WRITING CONFERENCES?

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So a few years ago I was at a writing conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

Writing seminars often have sessions about the importance of getting over the typical introverted nature most writers have and getting out to do public speaking gigs.

I have experienced quite a bit of fear when it comes to public speaking, so I raised my hand and asked the speaker, “Do you have any tips about how to relax before a speaking engagement?” The speaker never even got a chance to answer.

Business cards from surrounding classmates were immediately shoved in my face and they began to give me advice.

  • One offered a class in mindfulness
  • another espoused visualization
  • someone else was going on about yoga
  • and the man directly beside me… a life coach, who looked oddly enough like James Coburn was saying, “Do this with me… breath in…hold it…now breath out… long, slow breaths. Again!”

The speaker and I exchanged a little knowing glance, and I thought, “Man. Writers are weird! Wait a minute. I’m a writer!” That’s when I realized I was right where belonged.

That’s when I realized I was right where belonged.

So, assimilation? Is that what conferences do for us? Is this where we meet others of our species? Maybe it’s where we see in the mirror dimly? Or allow others to see who we are… or maybe to see ourselves more clearly.

By the way, if you’re in the area, The Nebraska Writers Guild will be having their spring conference soon. Sign up if you have this little inkling that maybe, you too, are kind of weird! If you are, maybe you’re a writer!

When I Knew

Rheumatoid hand X-ray

Every year around spring, I decide I should exercise more. Due to this annual spring epiphany, my husband and I have an outbuilding… a chicken coop, to be exact… full of the fitness machines and good intentions we’ve purchased over the years. In the spring.

Around four years ago, that time of year came, and I again decided to give fitness a chance. (World peace might be more achievable.) So that day, I asked my husband to go out to the coop and get the elliptical machine and bring it to the house for me. Being the good man he is, he did.

So, he put the equipment on the patio as it was covered in dust and cobwebs and I set about cleaning it up. Once clean, it was time to bring it into the house. I thought about calling him, but it was nice of him to do the major heavy lifting. I figured I could surely get it in the house on my own. Couldn’t be that heavy, right?

Turned out, it wasn’t. Nope. Weight wasn’t the issue. Its collapsible construction, however, was. When I grabbed it by the back bar and tilted it toward me it collapsed like an accordion being thrown in its case by a polka band member. Front bar met back bar with a slam… my fingers crunched between the two.

I screamed, and being the big baby I can be sometimes, started bawling like Lucy when Desi told her she had some ‘splainin’ to do. I worked to pry my fingers out of the contraption. Then I jumped around holding my throbbing hands up in the air like if I performed a super-duper dramatic pain dance and cursed loudly, somehow my fingers would be cured.

Of course, it didn’t fix a thing, and when I finally slumped down on the back step all I could do was stare at my waffled fingers and continue to sob. But quite honestly, I wasn’t really crying because my hands hurt, although they did. I was crying because I was dead sure my fingers were all broken and darn it if I wasn’t right in the middle of writing a novel. If my fingers actually were broken, I would never be able to finish typing it!

And, that’s when I knew… I am a writer.  

FYI. Didn’t get fit. Didn’t break my fingers. Finished writing Casting Stones. Made millions. HAHAHA. No. Not really. But hundreds. Absolutely hundreds!

IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE…

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I just returned from speaking at my hometown library. For the most part, it went well. The communication prior to the event was excellent. They had a special parking place for me, which I thought was very professional. The director of the library introduced me, which I truly appreciated. The library did an excellent job of promoting the event, and they had a nice crowd gathered. I felt welcomed, and many audience members came up afterward to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation and what a good job I did. I sold quite a few books, too, so that was lovely! All in all, it really was a great experience.

But…

Doesn’t there always seem to be a “but” somewhere? Why is that? I suppose because I put it there. I could focus on the 99% that went right. But I hit a snag with one thing that blemished the experience. One cranky woman, a tactless person, who felt it was her job to correct me. Between the people purchasing my books, and those telling me how much they enjoyed my speech, one persnickety woman, with the mindset her job is to make sure people don’t feel too good about themselves, told me, loudly, that I used incorrect tenses in a sentence on one of the slides in my presentation. She also made it clear she didn’t like the cover of my next book.

Several people around commented about how rude she was (after she left because quite frankly, I think most of us were frightened by her!). Honestly, I thought it was kind of humorous. She clearly had to make others feel wrong, to make sure people knew she was right. Insecurity is an ugly thing.

And yet, here I am having a little rant about how rude some people can be. Truth be told, she was right about the grammar. One of my power point slides had these words: “An author’s book is their baby.” You probably see the error. “Author” is singular and “their” is plural. I should have written, “An author’s book is her baby.” Grammar isn’t my wheelhouse. I’m a creative type, focused on the bigger picture. It’s why I pay a professional editor before I ever publish a book. As far as her opinion about the cover of my book not being attractive, it’s her opinion. Everybody has one. Did she need to share it? No. Do I care? Well, regarding the grammar issue, yes. It’s good for me to remember I’m always being judged whether I like it or not. Was it polite? Kind? Good manners? Uh… no.

What did Mamma use to say? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I think sometimes when we criticize, the dirt we sling at others lands on our own face. But hey, I smiled and said, “thanks for the comment.” My face is clean! Food for thought for those who feel that need to correct others. Manners make the world a nicer place.

And now that I got that off my chest, I can focus on what a nice opportunity the library gave me to promote my books!

The Best Intentions

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It’s said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This type of saying is called an aphorism– a pithy observation that contains a general truth. Another example would be, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Every week I say I’m going to do a blog post here. Every day, many times a day, ideas pop into my head about potential blog topics. Truly, my road is well paved. I’m this way with ideas for meals to make, rooms to clean, cards to send, and exercises to do. Spring and summer are just around the proverbial corner, so soon I’ll be intending to weed, water, mow, plant, paint, and Lord knows what else.

And yet. I haven’t done any of these things of which I intend to do. I feel like I need to do some kind of penance. Bless me reader for I have neglected my blog. It has been three weeks since my last entry.

In the same way, I intend to work on the book I’m writing. I intend to flesh out an outline for a new story floating around in my brain. And always amidst the things I intend to do, I humor the idea of doing dishes, vacuuming the rugs, sweeping and washing the floors and doing the laundry. Guess what usually wins. Facebook. Email. Texting. Reading. And now that I’m up early in the mornings and off to work, when I get home, napping has become the forbidden fruit I can’t seem to deny myself.

I guess I’ll have to admit it. I’m a procrastinator. I don’t think I used to be, but I don’t remember being so doggone tired all the time. My eyelids must be weighted. They insist on closing. And with bleary eyes comes a foggy brain. Once again, my intention was to write a great little post full of pithy observations, and the most I can conclude is, I’m a neglectful and tired, procrastinating writer. Luckily, there is this nicely paved road in front of me. I hope it leads to a couch so I can nap.

Play Nice

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Oh sigh. I must opine. Well, must… no, a gun isn’t at my head. But sometimes this old brain of mine gets stuck on something, like a record that skips.

My question for the day is, “What’s Wrong With Facebook?”

My answer is, “The same thing that’s wrong with real life. Poor Communication Skills.”

We all go to a party with a smile on our face and the hope of fun discussions and lots of laughs with people we know and plan to meet. But, not every party is that much fun. Sometimes people get snippy for whatever reason. They disagree with each other, or they just have a bee in their bonnets. The moon isn’t aligned with Jupiter, or whatever. Sometimes people are being too careful, other times, not careful enough.

I guess people are simply good sometimes and bad sometimes. Some days we’re compassionate and considerate of how we affect others. Some days, we are more selfish and want our own way or prove we’re smarter so we can feel better about ourselves, I suppose. Some days we feel forgiving, and other days we put our foot down and say, “No. Not okay!”

This is why we have manners, etiquette, and rules for professional behavior. We’re supposed to say please and thank you, be a good hostess, an appreciative guest, thoughtful of other’s feelings, careful not to be rude, not just on social media, but also in real life.

Of course, there isn’t a great deal of that going on in real life, so Maybe I’m being old-fashioned suggesting it should be observed on social media, I suppose. The only thought I’d like to emphasize is that Facebook or Twitter or whatever brand of social media you’re using, is just another tool to communicate. It’s no different than when we write letters or call people on the phone. Seriously. I see no difference at all other than the format. Maybe someone will enlighten me as to why it’s just not the same as “back in the good old days” when we drank out of hoses and rode our bikes till the sun set, then went home for supper.

And just like with letters and phone calls, there are times when it’s fine to be casual, and other times when it’s important to be more formal. My opinion is that it’s never a good time to be unkind or thoughtless of other’s feelings. Does it happen? Sure. Have I done it. Yup. (looks down, shoves hands in pocket and kicks the dirt with the toe of my shoe.)

No matter if it’s electronic communication such as texting or Instagram, or social media such as Facebook, or even if it’s a letter written in  pen, or a message spoken into a telephone, or a face to face discussion… it’s all the same beast: communication. If you wouldn’t stand in front of someone and say it… don’t say it anywhere else. Be nice. Share your toys. Don’t kick sand in the other kid’s faces. Don’t be a bully. Behave. And most importantly, Don’t make me turn this car around!!!

Harness the Elephant

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Being a writer is like riding an elephant. On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun. Our perspective from up there is wonderful. We harness this big animal and it’s incredible to know we could bust through just about any boundary with the beast’s strength.

But then there is this sense of responsibility and guilt that shoulders its way to the front of our conscience. At least it does in my conscience. I’ll call her Prudence.

Prudence says, “Hey. Who do you think you are, riding this elephant?”

“Shut up,” I tell her. “Get to the back of the brain and don’t harsh my vibe.” Apparently, I’m cool and I talk like a Hippy.

But Prudence is a pushy gal. Harder to get rid of than one would think. She exists just to spoil my fun, deflate my ego, knock me down a peg. I hate that… that… (insert a variety of nasty names.)

Writing a scene is fun. But taking the scenes and turning them into full-length books is quite another thing. Sometimes a story flows out from our fingers like magic, but then someone else reads it and we see through their eyes it doesn’t have that certain something. Maybe there is no story arc. Maybe it lacks a solid plotline. Maybe there is no depth to a certain character or no consistent voice to another character. You steered your elephant through the wrong walls and plodded down the wrong road.

Now… how do you harness that beast back up again?

Well, that’s where I am with the next story in the Rosewood Series. I bulldozed my elephant and wrote that book. Then I looked it over. I had other people read it. And I realized I was way, way off the right road. So, I called a do-over. I’ve turned the elephant around and I’m riding it back to the beginning and starting down a new path.

For the reader, this means Flames of Rosewood won’t come out when I thought it would. I thought I’d have it on the shelves by now, but, no. It will probably be May before it lands on pages and eBook formats. I’d apologize, but in the end, I’ll have a better story for my readers to enjoy. Prudence was right… this time. There is no easy way out when it comes to writing a good book. I have to take the path less traveled. Especially as an Indie author. I mustn’t be reckless in what I publish. If I expect people to pay money for my books, I have to give them a book I’m proud of, and a book they’ll be glad they read.

So, yes, I can ride the elephant, but I have to take it down the right path. Be patient, gentle readers. We’ll arrive eventually, and then, off again we’ll go in another direction, imagining scenes and making up characters, high in the saddle with Prudence safely at the back of our conscience… for the time being.

Juggling

Juggling

It’s been a while, but this week I officially rejoined the working world. I have been enjoying a sabbatical from working for others. I’ve been my own boss for the last seven years. During my non-working years, I’ve taught myself how to write books, and that has kept me quite busy. Probably because I did what I always do. I got involved. Joined writing groups. Met a ton of new friends. It’s been great. And I’m not done. Six books under my belt, and one more I’m fussing over like a perfectionist, which honestly, I’m not, is just the beginning. I have more stories floating around in my head. But, the truth simply is, my time to write will be cut down quite a bit and so, I’m going to need to learn how to juggle.

Oddly enough, I actually do know how to juggle. Like with actual balls. In the air. No, I’m not good at it, but I used to, once upon a time, be able to cross over juggle and circle juggle. Only 3 balls, but hey, it was still juggling.

There have been times in my life when I juggled as many as three jobs at once. And certainly, when my kids were young and I had my photography studio, I juggled owning a business while raising kids. But, it’s been some time since I’ve tried to keep things up in the air without letting them fall. It gets harder as I get older. Mostly because I can’t remember anything as easily as I once did.

My hope is that by working, my memory and ability to think quickly and accomplish things will return. I think it will. It’s like riding a bike, right?

So, after my first week of work, these are some of the things I had forgotten:

  • One does not just make copies. One fights with a copy machine.
  • Copy Machines and Duplos do not fight fair. They have ink as their weapon. My fingers are covered with it today.
  • Paper does not instinctively want to go around rollers and get spit out. It has a mind of its own and likes to wander off and get all jammed up.
  • When learning new thing, one can never find a whole piece of paper to jot a note on. Only small notes sized pieces.
  • When you write on a note-sized piece of paper, say a really important number someone is going to call and ask for, you WILL lose that piece of paper. This is 100% guaranteed.
  • Computers are the devil. You will have a battle royale with Windows 8. It will not be pretty.

Although I’m now occupied with working 13 hours a week as my church’s Parish Assistant (so seriously, I can’t even swear at the copy machine when it jams) I intend to keep writing. I’ll just have to learn how others do it while working day jobs. In other words, it’s time for me to dust off my juggling skills. We’ll see if this old dog can still hunt.

The Bending Willow Trilogy—Charissa Stastny

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1367813145I’m so tickled to tell you about a friend of mine. A friend I’ve never met, but one I have a lot of respect for just from following her blog and reading her books. She has such a good heart. We meet so few people like that and when you meet one, it’s important to keep that kind of positivity in your life. This world needs all the good examples we can get!

I picked some questions for Charissa that tell about her Bending Willow Trilogy, but even more importantly, questions that share the essence of  Charissa —a person with a beautiful soul. Her books are exciting, heart warming and well written, but when you read about her, you’ll see her goodness and that is what shines through in her writing.

Read her books. You’ll thank me.

And now, I’m honored to give you a glimpse into the author, Charrissa Stastny. She loves her family and they love her. She loves life and God and writing and she’s fun, too. Read about her and see if you don’t agree!

  1. If you could revisit one day in your life, which would it be? In 2009, I spent a week with my grandma taking care of her. I would revisit any of those days and just drink in her smile and laughter.
  2.  Tell us a little about your family. My husband and I are high school sweethearts and married after his mission. We have four children—3 daughters (one married, one serving a mission in Korea, and one still in high school) and one son (in high school). We love being together and our favorite activities include biking, hiking, camping, and going to Disneyland.
  3. Do you have a favorite comment or question from a reader? After my husband read my first book, he commented, “It would have been better with a zombie in it.” Since then, the Search and Find feature on Word has become my best friend. I always use it before I send out drafts to readers because, unfortunately, my husband is skilled at sneaking zombies into files. There is nothing worse than when the masculine hunk in my story tells the girl of his dreams that ‘he wants to eat her brains.’ Ugh!
  4.  How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing? Quite a lot. There is always one character I identify with—usually the shy, awkward one with a good heart who doesn’t know how to accessorize. My cool characters are my dreams of how I wish I could be. It’s fun as a writer to live vicariously through our characters.
  5.  Where did you get your inspiration for this book? My muse started with a door-to-door salesperson. An Israeli girl named Suvi with a nose ring and a vivacious personality knocked, charmed me into buying one of her oil paintings, and then talked to my daughters and me for an hour. After she left, a story started to form around her in my mind. As I wrote my imagined story for Suvi, I wanted to help my own daughters be aware of hidden secrets people carry so that they would be more merciful in their judgment of others. We never know what awful circumstances and experiences have led someone to act in certain ways.My little brother was my inspiration for my James character. He served a mission in Guatemala and I used his letters he wrote home to cast Elder Hinton. I tease my brother that James Hinton is him…only cool!
  6. Did you put real experiences in this book? In Eyes of Light, the missionary scenes are almost all taken from real-life experiences my brother had while serving in Guatemala. I found his letters captivating and used them to form my character James. In Secret Keepers, there are several scenes—like the Garden tomb and Wailing Wall—I described from being in Israel as a college student. I also stayed on a kibbutz in the Galilee and based Suvi’s experiences there on mine.
  7. What is one silly fact about you? I can do a ‘mean’ monkey imitation, actions and all. When I did this at Biblical zoo in Jerusalem, the monkeys spit at me though. I don’t know what that means.
  8.  If you could have plastic surgery, what would you change? Nothing. I think wrinkles are earned and are a sign of wisdom. I’ve worked and lived too hard to let some doctor take that away from me.

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