Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bloom Where You're Planted

The first time I heard the phrase “Bloom Where You're Planted” in a context that held meaning for me was in 2002. I had reached the end of a military training school and all of us young officers were waiting to find out where we would be stationed. The staff at the school decided to make the assignment process a three part event.

First, an assignment team came down to the school and presented a power point presentation on our options describing the unit, location and number of slots. The only location with multiple slots was Korea. I had set my sights on Europe. There was one in Italy and two in Germany, but at different bases. The only other tour that somewhat appealed to me was in Hawaii. The school threw a banquet dinner for the assignment team, consisting of three members, and unleashed 75 barracuda students to mingle with them. The goal was simple: find a way to make yourself memorable and state what you want while giving a compelling reason for it. Not an easy feat.

The second part of the event was in a controlled environment littered with political minefields. Each class of twenty-five students had the delightful opportunity to have a cutthroat lunch with the Deputy of the school. Objective was pretty much the same as above. The one catch--understand the political dynamic of the staff, know who their favorites were and steer clear of trampling on their toes, and don’t say anything that would piss off the Deputy or cast you in a negative light. No sweat, right?

The final part of the process was like a game show extravaganza. All three classes, totaling 75 officers, gathered in a ballroom. Each class stood at the front of the ballroom as a group while a slideshow was presented set to music, chronicling the last six months we had spent in school. At the end, a picture of each student was put on the big screen, also set to music for dramatic effect, and your assignment was announced with everyone watching you to see how you’d react. This is not a joke. It really happened.

Before they began the big announcement, the commander gave a speech on how to bloom where you’re planted. The words were motivational and quite inspiring, but all I could think was, what blooms in Cannon, NM? I’m no desert rose and not every flower can thrive in any environment. The meaning was lost on me at the time as I watched one officer breakdown publicly when faced with being stationed in Idaho for two years.

When my turn rolled around, I was so nervous my heart throbbed in my throat and my skin tingled. Watching a slot in Germany go to one of the Deputy’s favorites, I held my breath. As the Deputy’s second little pet got Italy, I’ll admit that nausea hit me so hard I nearly puked. Hawaii went to a buddy of mine, which put a smile on my face, but at the same time it was my second pick. I already knew who my rivals were for Ramstein, Germany. As they dropped one by one getting Korea, New Mexico, and Korea, my odds improved, but the gut-wrenching nerves lingered. Finally, my picture popped up on the “jumbotron”, a drum roll erupted in my mind washing out the background music … then Ramstein flashed on the big screen. Joy and relief gushed inside of me and I actually jumped up and down with glee. I quickly tempered my elation as I scanned the faces of the other barracudas who didn’t get what they wanted. Yep, I just admitted I was once a barracuda. How do you think I got the only slot at Ramstein?

Eight years later, I heard a sermon by Joel Osteen on the very same topic of blooming where you are planted. He discussed how life’s challenges and the “challenging” people we encounter are all designed to teach us something to improve. Think of them as sandpaper, he said, smoothing away the rough edges. I found the insight brilliant and it resonated on multiple levels for me. No matter what job we have, what city we live in, who our co-workers or friends may be, each day we have a choice to accept we are exactly where we are supposed to be and face our current circumstances with joy in our hearts.

Of course I am ready to have an agent say, “I think you’re talented and want to represent you”, and to finally have one of my books published. In the meantime, I choose to accept the present as a gift. I will enjoy each day and spend it with loved ones, reading, traveling, indulging in decadent delights, and most definitely writing. As I bloom where I am currently planted, I can hear the angel at my side whispering in my ear, “Grow.”

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Staying On Track

Staying on track when life threatens to derail you with unexpected challenges can be a feat. In the last four months, I’ve relocated for a temporary military assignment, traveled to Kansas for a two week military exercise, supported the UN General Assembly in NYC, and suffered a personal tragedy.

Overwhelmed and fatigued, I had to find a way to steer my life in the direction I had chosen rather than allow the forces in my life to assume control and knock me off track. I decided to focus on my top priorities and let everything else fall to wayside. With my family, writing and work locked in my sights, I stopped blogging, limited emails, and ignored everything that caused stress.

When something new popped up, if it conflicted with one of my top three priorities, how to handle it became simple. Although I stayed under the radar in my writing groups and my friends feared that I had let life’s difficulties get the best of me, I’m happy to say that was far from the case. I’ve finaled in four more writing contests and completed a major revision of my first ms Kindred of the Fallen. I trimmed as I revised, but the ms bloomed from 95k to 107k words. After adding more conflict, action, and the hero’s POV, I have polished my pages, checking for character consistency, flow, and to ensure I didn’t leave out or accidentally repeat critical bits of information.

As the season has changed and autumn is now in full swing, I’m reminded that life is fluid and dynamic. There is a time for all things and nothing ever stays the same, good or bad. I have chosen to embrace the good as it comes and to manage the bad with a positive frame of mind.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In Remembrance

This is not the post I had planned. This is the type of post no one plans.

Yesterday, my sister-aunt, Jannie Tucker-Williams, passed away. Although she was my aunt, I add sister to the title because we were very close in age, grew up together in the same house, and in every way that mattered she was my big sister.

Jannie was the most luminous person I've ever known. She took supermodel pictures, with a dazzling smile, and always seemed to radiate light as if her heart were made of sunshine. She put the S in Savvy, Sexy, and Spirited.

If you have an older sibling, then you know they are not always sugar and spice and everything nice. Yet, on long summer days when I was little, as she griped about picking me up from day camp, she still bought me an ice cream cone from Mr. Softee or took the scenic route home so I could swing by the "special" gumball machine I loved. She taught me about boys, listened to my first day of school fashion woes, threw surprise birthday parties for me, and showed me how Halloween could be the best holiday of the year with a little imagination.

I live the life of a vagabond and never worried about staying connected to my family back in New York. Why? Whenever something happened that I needed to know, Jannie picked up the phone and called me. If I dropped off the family radar for too long, Jannie tracked me down. She was the first family member I confided in about my aspirations to be an author and she was the first volunteer to read pages. She understood the importance of patience and compassion, and the world was a better place because she was in it.

She had been sick for a few years, and in and out of the hospital numerous times over the last year. But the news of her passing came as a devastating shock. Whenever she went into the hospital, no matter what happened, regardless of test results or the need for intubation, she always came back out. She battled cancer, heart attacks, and a deteriorating lung disease that required a transplant with grace and unwavering optimism. She was a survivor.

I learned the meaning of strength and courage from her.

She passed away one day after her fourteenth wedding anniversary and thirty-six days shy of her forty-third birthday.

She was my cheerleader. She was my friend. She was remarkable.

Jannie, you ARE LOVED.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Nothing is Ever Easy

Nothing in my life is ever easy or goes as planned, to include a trip to Lake Como, Italy. In the days preceding the trip, volcanic ash threatened to cause delays. On the day we were scheduled to fly out, I checked Easyjet's website and to my relief all flights scheduled after 0900 were in the clear. The courier picked us up early and we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. After we checked in, I got to work on critiquing my CP's pages. As the passengers corralled around the gate, waiting to board the plane, a young woman informed everyone that the crew failed to show up and our flight had been canceled. We were directed to pick up our luggage and to proceed to one of two stations to make other arrangements.

We divided in the hopes of cutting down our time standing around waiting. My husband went to retrieve the luggage and I dashed to one of the stations, claiming a spot near the front. As the line crawled forward, we noticed, thirty feet away, ten Easyjet employees sat at check-in desks, with no customers. Yet, management neglected to direct any of the free employees to assist the 150+ passengers standing in two lines. An Italian gentlemen in a cashmere canary yellow sweater stormed to the front of the herd and confronted a lurking manager. Although the gentlemen blasted the manager with a wave of his hand and in Italian, I knew we were of like minds. How do I know even though I don't speak Italian? He too pointed out the ten employees, sitting around, laughing, but not helping any of us. The manager was quick to defend his position, stating that the employees were scheduled to go home "soon". Thirty minutes later, the employees did in fact leave.

Once we made it to the front of the line, we were given two options: fly out from the current airport the next day at 1830 or fly from Gatwick (1 1/2hr away) the next day at 1300. We chose Gatwick. No bus transfers were offered and no apologies were given.

The bright side: more time to work on my CP's pages.

That night we gave thanks we have enough money to live a comfortable life and could afford an additional hotel. Many who were not so fortunate had to camp out in the airport.

The next day, we landed safely in Milan, rented a car and drove up the narrow roads along Lake Como to reach the Grand Hotel Serbelloni in Bellagio.

After a romantic stay in "la perla del Lago di Como", exploring the quaint streets, browsing the expensive shops, and indulging in culinary treats, we loaded the car and headed to our second destination. Although the Grand Hotel had old world class, we wanted to check out the new posh Five Star to grace that side of the lake, Casta Diva Resort. Modern, luxurious, and totally us.

What should have been a thirty minute drive, with a view to die for, turned into a 3 hour ordeal that tested our marriage. I have a small bladder so as an expert traveler I'm careful to moderate my liquid consumption. My dh had a large breakfast and wanted to leave before I had sustenance, as I subsist on coffee until about noon and while on vacation I throw in a croissant. I didn't mind since after a quick jaunt down the road, taking in the sites and snapping a few pictures, we'd be able to eat at the Resort. Did I mention I suffer from low blood sugar?

The GPS that dh brought from home was set, our quick course mapped, and fifteen minutes into the drive I assumed it was safe to sip on water. We made it to the highlighted point on the GPS, but there were no signs for the Resort and the street number we were looking for wasn't posted. Although we searched for Via Caronti, we were on Via Enrico Caronti and surmised we may have been on the wrong road. DH whipped out the iPhone and pulled up a different map. Once again, we drove up and down this narrow road without success, passing a construction crew that began to recognize us. One worker insisted on waving each time we drove by in humiliation.

We called the place, no answer. We stopped strangers and asked for directions. No one had heard of the Casta Diva, but they all directed us back down the same road. I suspected one young lady knew the place as she gave us directions, but we were at a loss to fully understand. We called again. Simona picked up and insisted we had the right address. She spoke with such certainty, we suspected we had lost our minds. Then she asked if we had an appointment. I explained we had a reservation. A communication hiccup followed due to my lack of Italian and her lack of English.

At this point, my dh was livid. I was desperate to go to the bathroom and on the brink of a blood sugar meltdown. The bright side: we didn't turn on each other. We were tempted, but instead we turned our outrage on the elusive Casta Diva. We spotted the police near the construction site and I begged my dh to ask them. In NY, cops can always point you in the right direction. The case was the same for us once in Germany, why not Italy?

My dh returned to the car, steaming! The location of the construction was the entrance to Casta Diva. As we pulled in, we were led to a clear space where we could park the car and wait for Simona. The construction manager apologized for the inconvenience as he didn't know we were coming. Simona arrived confused as to why we were there. DH threw a few wicked looks in my direction since I booked the place, but with a pat on my leg, he quickly redirected his frustration toward Simona.

After five phone calls and twenty minutes, Simona discerned that Expedia messed up. Apparently, they had three weeks of rain which delayed the completion of construction and Casta Diva had to back up their opening. Expedia was supposed to contact us, and we later found out that they did, but we were already in Italy. Simona apologized profusely, but she clearly didn't know where to go from there. She told us her GEM (general manager) was coming to fix the problem and to give us a tour. As we followed Simona down to the property, we both shook our heads. the last thing either of us wanted was a tour. I wanted to eat, hit the bathroom, and move on. DH wanted a refund, a better explanation, and then to move on.

I got out of the car and paced like a cage animal, wondering if they had any working toilets on site or if I had to crawl behind a bush, when Giancarlo swept in with a smile, flair, and Italian charm.

He regaled us with the tale of how Casta Diva came to be after eight years of toiling and payoffs to the mafia. He had to elbow his way in to the Five Star elite club that did not want the swanky and modern Resort encroaching on their business. The main building was an eighteenth century treasure that had to be renovated without stripping away the essence. We meandered past busy workers, taking in his vision, springing to life before us, complete with dramatic classical music in the background.

Giancarlo's description of the Bellini bar made me giddy, but the tour of the spa suites made me swoon. Each was designed after the elements and can be rented for 3 - 8 hours, where guests can relax, sipping on champagne in between treatments. I have never seen anything like it, and when it comes to spending a chunk of cash on pampering, I've seen a lot.

By the time he finished the tour, we had been booked in another hotel of our choice, and he offered two free nights at his Resort in a suite, of course. It wasn't until we were on our merry way, high from the experience or perhaps Giancarlo's spell, that I remembered I had to use the facilities and my hunger returned.

The next hotel was okay by comparison, but restaurants abounded in walking distance. At least it had a gym, and a spa, and I got a much needed deep tissue massage.

Our goal was relaxation, and we didn't want to feel like we had to hustle around and see a lot of attractions. I only had one must see thing on my list, the Villa Balbianello, where parts of Stars Wars II and Casino Royale were filmed. For those who don't know, I'm a film fanatic.

Although we had highs and lows, we achieved our goal to relax and soak in a place so divine it oozes magic.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Novel Writing is like having a Drug Addiction

I'm currently on vacation at Lake Como, Italy. It is idyllic! I will blog all about my adventure next week, along with posting a couple of pictures. Although I'm taking a break with my dh and relaxing, I'm also still writing. My eyes pop open between 0600-0700 and my brain insists my body get out of bed to write while my dh is still sleeping. Once my dh rises, he hits the gym, which gives me an extra hour to plug away on my laptop. After we've dressed and I've gotten my mandatory jolt of java, I'm in vacay mode for the rest of the day.

In James Frey's book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, he says what counts most about becoming a published novelist isn't talent. "We are all something else besides novelists, but if you are not a novelist in your heart, at your core, you are a dilettante and should not bother trying to be a novelist." Frey goes on to explain talent is not in short supply. You will find it in critique groups, at writer's conferences, and in workshops. Many individuals have a strong voice, write in a fresh way, create dynamic characters, and churn out witty dialogue.

"But most of these folks with so much raw talent will not make it as novelists. Why? Because they lack what's truly necessary: self-discipline, dogged determination, and stick-to-itiveness....The writing of a novel takes a great deal of time and the expenditure of a great deal of emotional and mental energy. Time normally spent with friends and loved ones will have to be sacrificed. Few novelists play golf, go bowling, or watch much television. Novel writing is like heroin addiction; it takes all you've got."

Frey is candid and doesn't hold back in his book. Before I started writing seriously, I watched on average 15 -20 hours of television per week and saw at least 4 movies per month. Now, I squeeze in 5 hours of TV with my dh per week after my brain is kaput and I'm lucky if I can get to the movie theater once a month. Being a serious writer doesn't stop when you're not in front of the keyboard. Dialogue comes to me in the morning just after dawn. While in the car driving to work or on the plane going on vacation, I'm plotting, creating pickles for my characters, hatching escape plans, pushing myself to find a way to up the ante.

Novel writing does require all you have, but it's important to find time to recharge. Surrender to your muse, but don't let the process drain you dry. Although novel writing is my passion, it is not my life. I strive to strike a healthy balance, where I don't lose sight of what's most important: good health, great food, steadfast friendship and the love of family.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Do you believe in Karma?

As I scurry to prepare for my upcoming deployment next month and a last minute trip to Lake Como, Italy next week, time is slipping away from me. I'm a planner, so when I feel overwhelmed I create a schedule. Life decided not to cooperate this time. A friend asked for my assistance with a federal job application. If anyone has ever applied for one, you know what a bear they can be. My deadline for feedback is Sun. My crit partner met editors and agents at RT and received requests for partials and fulls from her pitch ... BTW yippie! I need to review her first three chapters, deadline is Thu while I'm on vacation. Then I need to provide feedback on the rest of the manuscript a week thereafter. I have a writing/revision laundry list of my own, but I agreed to help my friend and my awesome CP.

Why? Besides the fact that's what a friend is suppose to do, I believe in Karma. Rather than dwell on the naughty things I've done in my life and hold my breath waiting for the hailstorm sure to come my way someday, I like to focus on the brighter side of life. The more I help others and give to the universe, the more I will receive.

I recently resigned from my federal job. Gasp ... shriek. I've heard the rule for unpublished writers: don't give up your day job. I've also heard I'm crazy to walk away from a federal job, where it only takes five years to get vested, and I could get credit for my active duty military time. First, breaking the rules can be so much fun. Dare to live outside the box and I guarantee you will enjoy life more. Second, a touch of insanity is like a pinch of salt bringing out the flavor in a dish or a splash of color adding life to a mosaic. People may call me crazy, but I've never been called dull.

I decided not to hold on to a job that wasn't bringing me joy and run on the hamster wheel for five years because there may be someone else in the world who might want my job, love doing my job, and might be made happier if they had my job. I know I will be happier having more time to focus on my passion.

Once again, releasing my job and letting someone else in the universe have it is all about Karma and having faith in an abundant universe. I believe the type of energy you put out in the world will come back to you.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Truth in Fiction

How much truth is in my fiction? For a story to feel real to a reader, I believe a healthy dose of truth must be layered in every page and shine through the fiber of every character. The degree of truth needed depends on the genre. The success of a historical romance novel, for example, is rooted in accuracy and authenticity. With paranormal romance, creating laws for your world and remaining consistent is more relevant. But regardless of genre, to connect to a reader, truth woven into fiction is vital.

All three of my novels open in New York City, as will my fourth, Valkyr Rising. I do venture to other locations, but I like starting in a place I know and love. The energy of NYC runs in my veins and to this day dictates what type of cities I'm most drawn to. In order to paint a setting I must see it in my mind, and if I've been there before that's even better. If I haven't, I do extensive research to ensure the details are vivid and the flavor of the locale is rich.

In my second book of the Kindred series, my main characters, Serenity and Cyrus, go to Morocco. After I wrote the book, I wondered if I'd gotten the description right. So, my husband and I went there. I'm pleased to say there is no substitute for knowing a thing first hand, but thanks to the Internet there is no excuse not to make your setting feel realistic, provided it is set in a "world" that a really exists or once did. Even if a world is created in one's mind, the details will make it come alive.

To create realistic characters, many writers draw from people they know. I do as well, but I like to infuse my characters, female and male, with a chunk of myself. I pluck bits of truth from my own life and throw them into the mix of my plots and character reactions. I can tell when an author has reached too far or has gotten a thought, action, or snippet of dialogue wrong. I'm sure many of you can as well. The words echo in your mind and your gut screams that the passage you just read was BS. There is a difference between disagreeing with a character's choice or action and not believing it.

I pepper my stories with the truth of my past, hopes, desires, and regrets. Although I can say with a wicked smile, I have few regrets. For my characters, I sprinkle in my soul and add a full cup of my heart to make them spring to life and to give my stories backbone.

The fun part for any reader who knows me will be sifting the truth from the fiction.

How many readers enjoy learning about the author through the characters? How many writers dare to expose themselves in their books: the good, the bad, and the naughty?

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Beauty of Britain in the Spring: IM2 Early!

Forget about Paris in the springtime. Nothing compares to England in the spring or summer. Britain's landscape is evergreen, but at this time of year, rich and lush beyond reality. The sun finally reveals its glory, the days are impossibly long making you dare to believe night may never fall, and pools of sunbeams adorn the ground--expansive seas of rapeseed. England in the springtime inspires hope, love, and poetry.

The other great thing about England in the spring and summer: early blockbuster movie releases. My dh and I saw Iron Man 2 yesterday. Right now, I'm typing with one hand and biting the knuckles on the other, I can barely contain my glee. Where do I begin? Robert Downey Jr. He is perfection once again as the narcissistic, hunky playboy, who really doesn't need a publicist since he does a fine job of promoting himself. The movie is big, explosive, engaging, sexy, and it will not disappoint. Is it better than the first? I would say it is on par with the first, but takes the storyline deeper.

The movie picks up six months after Tony Stark announces to the world he is Iron Man. Mickey Rourke does an impressive job, without going over the top, playing the clever villain Whiplash, a composite of Blacklash and Crimson Dynamo from the comics. He left the brash and comical performance to Sam Rockwell, who plays Justin Hammer, Stark's rival. And I believe Hammer is well-served by Rockwell. Scarlett Johansson is quite Va-Va-Voom as Black Widow. Kudos to Jon Favreau for giving her a kick-ass, albeit small, fight scene, instead of simply making her eye candy. I must admit seeing her in that skintight costume made me wish I was ten pounds lighter and more agile. I'll have to blow the dust off my Pilates DVD.

Movies are a lot like books and I believe writers can learn a great deal from films. IM2's flaw is its sagging middle. Both a book and a movie should explain how a character gets to a certain point/solution. If the director, Favreau, rushed it, the movie would have suffered loss of depth. An action movie must seize depth where it can in my opinion. If a movie is all gunfire and car crashes, the audience can get desensitized and the big scenes can lose impact. There have to be moments when we take a breath and watch the character get to the next stage. My dh referred to those breathers as dead spots.

Every story is not meant to be a rollercoaster ride, but a writer must find a way to keep the tension/conflict on the page and avoid the dreaded dead spots, where our readers will skim. Fortunately, movie directors keep films around two hours and there's little chance someone is going to walk out while RDJ figures out the cure to his palladium blood poisoning.

If you are an Avenger fan, this movie will be foreplay heaven. It tickled me silly with little wet dream teasers about what is to come. Pun definitely intended. The tantalizing clip shown after the credits roll will only satiate those who are waiting for 2011. That's all I'll say about the clip because I don't want to give it away.

For IM3, my dh and I agree, we'd like to see a villain who doesn't require a mechanical suit. Go see IM2. Don't over analyze it and have a great time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The P Word

The other day, someone questioned me about why I have a website and blog when I'm not even published. The person, who shall not be named, even used the p word ... premature. Take a deep breath fellow writers and exhale slowly. The question did not fluster me. It was easy to answer because I asked myself the same question. As for my blog or website being "premature", to that I say the person simply used the wrong p word.

I didn't consider creating a website or starting a blog until I took a workshop on building an Author Brand. A great class that taught me about the importance of having a web presence before you're published. I'd never really given any thought to what I wanted my "brand" to look and feel like. I thought you write the best book possible, struggle to find an agent, then the publisher does the rest once you've finished your final edits. Say it with me people, NAIVE.

Publishing is a tough industry to break into with fierce competition. Landing an agent is like finding a unicorn. To catch the attention of these mystical and elusive creatures you have to hone your craft, produce a great novel, and show them you understand this is a business, which requires work on the part of the author long after you've finished writing the book. After the workshop, I still debated about when to create my presence on the web. Then I read an interview by super agent Holly Root and she said that she actually checks to see if a potential client is already out there on the web. I kept reading interviews. She is not the only one. Many authors advise the aspiring and naive to get started sooner rather than later. The pros will far outweigh any potential cons.

A farmer does not sit and stare at a barren field wishing for a bountiful crop. In order to reap a harvest, you have to till the soil, plant the seeds, and water it (yeah, I'm a city gal) or pray for rain. Success does not happen in a vacuum.

Someone once said success is when preparation and opportunity collide. I think it was Oprah :). Every book I write is me tilling the soil. This blog and my website are the seeds I have planted. Trust me, I am praying for rain.

One day, my magic 8 ball hasn't revealed when, my opportunity will come and I'm the kind of gal who likes to be Prepared.

Fellow writers, what steps have you taken to prepare for publication? Wise authors, what preparatory steps did you take that helped with your first sale?