My August Reads

Here it is nearly the end of August; September is right around the corner. Soon school will be back in session, routines will be more in force and I’ll be back to blogging every week. For now, we’re still settling into our new home and getting used to the house and the neighborhood. As well as welcoming rabbits, squirrels, dear and raccoon to our yard, we have a family of quail that stops by fairly often. Mom (or maybe Dad) stands guard on a fence post while the rest of the family scurries along the ground. Fortunately, Team Sheltie has yet to see the quail parade. We might build a quail house next year. It’s on the list. Right now though, I’m busy revising No Right Thing, doing some freelance editing jobs and organizing my office. Oh, and finding a few minutes here and there to read. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

On the patio: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Before bed: Ageless Soul by Thomas Moore

In the kitchen:   We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time by Jose Andres and Richard Wolffe

Books read to date in 2019: 37

Fitness . . . Just Another F Word?

For some, the mere mention of the word fitness sends us into, well, fits. One friend of mine is convinced fitness is the ultimate F word. She’s a nurse with a job that keeps her active and on her feet, but that’s not the case for us writers. Writing is, by nature, a sedentary activity and so are many writing-related activities. Things like reading, research, and interviewing people for background information are almost always done sitting down.

Since this Wednesday marks National Women’s Health & Fitness Day, it’s a great time to look at some of the ways writers can get out of that seat and stay active.

Get a treadmill desk. You’ll get used to it quickly (I did) and you’ll find your energy, creativity, and general fitness improving. If a treadmill desk isn’t doable for you, consider a standing desk, or sit on a balance ball chair. Any of those options don’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition; I switch from my sit down desk to my treadmill unit multiple times a day.

Set a timer so you remember to get up and move around, ideally every hour. Some writers go so far as to do push ups and sit ups during their break time. I am not one of them.

Take a daily walk. Team Sheltie demands a walk several times a day, even in inclement weather. I normally take them out first thing in the morning and again just before dinner, but in the winter when the light levels are low, I sometimes switch it up and get them out midday. Invariably, I come back to my desk energized and primed to write.

Look for reasons to be active. Gardening keeps me upright and moving (and my muse seems to really like digging in the dirt). Work in a hike when you visit with a friend. Cycle to the library or the grocery store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Small things, simple things, but the small, simple things add up.

Stretch. My weekly yoga class is a lifesaver, not only for my cramped and tight muscles but also for reducing stress. You don’t need a class to do yoga, however; the stretches can be done anywhere you have a few feet of floor. Pick postures to loosen your shoulders and neck from being hunched over the keyboard (bow pose, eagle arms, fish or ear to shoulder) and your hips and hamstrings from sitting (lizard, half-pigeon, the warrior, or the bridge).

Finally, baby your hands and wrists. It may not be part of being fit and active, but injuries to hands and wrists will curtail output, which could lead to depression, which could lead to more time on the couch. Check your posture; improper posture when typing can strain your wrists. Use an ergonomic mouse with a track ball and alternate hands. Stretch and flex your wrists and hands regularly. I like to use a squeeze ball; I keep mine on the desk as a reminder to use the thing (it doesn’t work sitting in the drawer). Finally, seek help the minute you feel pain. I’ve successfully treated wrist pain with acupuncture, while other writers rely on physiotherapy, ice or a wrist brace.

Happy healthy writing.

Writers and Their Pets

Today is National Pet Day. Writers love their pets as much as anyone else.

For years Dean Koontz resisted bringing a dog into his life, though they appeared frequently in his books. Eventually he agreed to adopt Trixie, a retired golden retriever service dog. Koontzwent on to publish a book about Trixie (A Big Little Life) and much love and many dogs later, Koontz continues to be devoted to the breed. His current golden is Elsa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diana Gabaldon is also a dog lover. Her Twitter feed occasionally features pictures of a pug (a grand pug if the comments are to be believed) or one of her dachshunds. For a time, Gabaldon was an ambassador for Bianca Associacao, a Portuguese shelter that rescues and rehomes 600 dogs and cats annually.

 

 

 

 

Lately Stephen King is a slave to his corgi, Molly.

Cats are also beloved by writers. Hemingway adored them, and at one point while living in Cuba his house was home to over fifty of them.

I had a cat once, for about a decade. Juna was a stray who adopted us, and even though I’m allergic I couldn’t say no. She used to wake me up every morning by delicately licking my eyelids. It did nothing for my allergies but it was good for my soul.

 

 

 

 

Then there was our beagle, Sugar. She was named by our daughter, and appropriately so. Sugar used to delight in ferreting out any sweet treats left by the kids in their backpacks when they came home from school.

 

 

 

 

Before we had kids, we had our rescue Pekingese pups, Clementine and Winston. The latter was named for Winston Churchill and the former was named for his wife (and, yes, there is a visual similarity; google Clementine Churchill)

 

 

 

 

Today we share our lives with Team Sheltie.

They keep us walking and laughing and enjoying life. Happy National Pet day to your beloved companions!

An Attitude of Gratitude to Kick Off 2018

Last January I started a gratitude jar. Whenever I thought of it – sometimes every day or maybe a few times a week – I’d jot down something I was grateful for and slip the colorful Post-It note into a jar. This practise has been around for a while; I’m sure you’ve heard of it.

I sat down and read through my 2017gratitudes last week. A clear pattern emerged. The largest number of gratitude notes focused on the support of friends: the walks and talks, watching movies together, sharing meals, laughing and commiserating. Gratitude for the books I read and the movies I watched came next, closely followed by gratitude for the beauty of nature; for the food I managed to grow in the garden; and for enjoying the best margarita of my life, thanks in part to the company (waving at you Keith and Carol-Anne).

There was gratitude for Mr. Petrol Head’s successful surgery; gratitude for letters and emails I received thanking me for my work; and no small amount of gratitude to my family, including Team Sheltie who share my days.

It occurred to me as I read through the notes that virtually every gratitude depended on the energy of someone or something to make it happen. The energy of a reader writing a thank you note . . . the energy of a friend making time to visit . . . the energy of nature providing such spectacular sunsets.

I’m doing the gratitude jar again this year. As I slip in the first few notes, I can’t help but see the same trend emerging. So this time, along with being thankful for the thing I write about, I’m also sending up a whisper of thanks for the energy behind the action. Happy 2018! 

 

My November Reads

Every year when we switch back to standard time and fall back an hour, the familiar cry goes out on social media: why do this? Why not stay with daylight saving time all year long? I don’t have an answer, but until this year I’ve always been happy to make the switch. I love getting the extra hour of sleep at the time of the change, and I also love that it’s lighter in the morning and darker earlier at night. I guess it suits my personal biorhythms or something, especially as fall rolls around. This year, however, Luna has had trouble adjusting to the change. Dawn – referred to around here lately as yawn – comes earlier than we’d like it to and crawling out of bed has been a bit of a struggle. I’m slowly adjusting. The coffee is set to brew even earlier and I’m taking advantage of the extra time to get in a little reading before the writing day starts. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

At the gym: She’s Not There by Joy Fielding

On the Kindle: The Copycat Killer by Lea Tassie

In the office: Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier

Books read to date in 2017: 70

The Essentials

Last week’s blog about writing gurus was sparked by a Susan Wiggs talk I attended a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in that post, Wiggs had some questions for the audience. Question one revolved around our writing gurus. Her second question was this: What are your three essential writing tools?

I don’t need much. In fact, it would be pretty accurate to say all I need is either a notebook and a pen or some kind of word processor. That’s it. I’m a minimalist at heart. Less is more in my world.

Given the choice, however, I do like a nice pen. Black ink over blue, a rollerball over a ball point and it needs to feel good in my hand. I can’t quantify that; it either fits well or it doesn’t. It’s like pants. Some look great on the rack but you never really know whether they’ll work until you try them on.

I also like a notebook with pockets. Once I get rolling on a book I tend to make notes or collect pictures, bits of trivia, anything that might contribute something, however small, to the work in progress. Having a single place to keep everything saves me searching through piles of stuff later on.

Last but not least (and the hardest to come by) is quiet. I love quiet for first drafts especially. I’m not one of those writers who produces well in a coffee shop. I don’t want people peering over my shoulder, talking to friends, playing music. I like to create in isolation. Unfortunately, Team Sheltie doesn’t do quiet all that often. Neither does the band that moved in next door. They practise a lot. A LOT. During the day. When I like to write. If they don’t stop soon, I may be adding another essential to this list: a pair of headphones.

What essential tools do you need for your creative work, writing or otherwise?

Book Buys for 2016

 

teamsheltieThe snow days have arrived. Team Sheltie is happy and I am too. I love a good snow day, especially when my holiday shopping is done and I can relax by the fire with a book. I’m giving books to friends and family this year and I have a few on my wish list too. I’m after Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, What if This is Heaven by Anita Moorjani and The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.

Since I again noted down what I read through 2016, I thought I’d share some titles to help you buy for the readers on your list.

For fiction lovers:

First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Phillips is the undisputed Queen of character-driven romance and her latest novel doesn’t disappoint. Private Eye Piper Dove has been hired to trail former Chicago Stars quarterback Cooper Graham. It’s all spark and snap from the minute they meet. There’s a touch of mystery in this one too. Perfect for the romance reader on your list.

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan. Polly escapes to a seaside British town after a relationship ends. In an effort to forget things, she begins to bake bread . . . the locals hear about it . . . and so does a reticent local beekeeper. A cross between chick lit and women’s fiction with a dash of romance.

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin. This debut novel by Sharon Guskin centers on five-year-old Noah who has overpowering memories of a past life, a life that seems to have ended with many unanswered questions. Desperate, Noah’s mother turns to an aging psychologist who is near the end of his own life but is still willing to take on one last case. Captivating with a number of twists and turns I didn’t see coming.

Close to Home by Lisa Jackson. For the suspense lovers on your reading list. Vowing to make a fresh start, Sarah McAdams has come home to renovate the old Victorian mansion where she grew up, but there are some horrifying secrets buried within the house. If that’s not enough for you, teenage girls are going missing . . . and Sarah has two girls of her own.

With Malice by Eileen Cook. This YA thriller has the 18-year-old heroine in a hospital bed for a large part of the book and yet it still manages to hold your attention and draw you forward. Jill Charron wakes up in the hospital after a car accident she was involved in during a school trip to Italy left one person dead. Jill can’t remember what happened . . . she only knows she’s at the centre of a murder investigation.

For food lovers:

My Kitchen Year: 136 recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichel. I love Reichel’s writing and the only thing wrong with this book was that it had to end. The book chronicles the year after Gourmet Magazine unexpectedly closed its doors putting Reichel, editor-in-chief, out of work. Facing an uncertain future, Reichel turned to the one place that had always provided solace: her kitchen. The book follows the changing seasons and her struggle to adapt to a changed life; it also delivers some of Reichel’s favorite recipes.

Oh She Glows by Angela Liddon. We try to eat vegetarian once or twice a week but I’m not a vegan. This vegan cookbook, however, could turn me into one. The recipes are amazing. You feel healthy just reading them. If you’re gifting this book, buy an extra copy for yourself. And check out Liddon’s blog too.

For non-fiction lovers:

10% Happier by Dan Harris. Subtitled ‘How I Tamed the Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story, Harris’s book is smart, brave and funny. Harris is an ABC news correspondent and after a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America he knew he had to make some changes. His search for a deeper understanding of what makes all of us tick and his ultimate solution to destressing led him to meditation – or as he puts it ‘sitting around and doing nothing.’ He went in a skeptic and came out a believer, and in the process he gained some helpful insights. Highly recommended.

Unearthed by Alexandra Risen. As Risen uncovers and revives a large, neglected garden in the centre of Toronto, she comes to understand, accept and make peace with her past. A deeply personal testament to the healing powers of nature.

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Told in an exchange of letters between mother and son, this book came about because of Cooper’s desire to get closer to his mother after she suffered a brief but serious illness at the age of 91. It’s an interesting glimpse into the private life of two public people, and Cooper’s journalistic take on things is quite a contrast to his mother’s sunny optimism.

And shameless self-promotion time: My Laura Tobias title Million Dollar Blues is now available in ebook format at your favorite ebook retailer.

Happy gift giving!

My September Reads

booksheadphonesIt’s been a year since I relocated my writing space from a cozy bolt hole in the basement to an office on the main floor of our house. I knew it would be an adjustment but I was looking forward to paring down, cleaning up and starting fresh. My old space was small and L-shaped with a single window overlooking my herb garden. My new office has higher ceilings, a large window that lets in more light, and a symmetrical shape that lends itself well to lots of shelves and two desks – my walking treadmill desk and a more traditional sitting desk. Team Sheltie loves that I’m upstairs. They love it so much that they’re in the office whenever I am. Luna dozes on the rug beside me when I write and Trace guards the door. He is the patroller of noise. He doesn’t like it; he’s convinced it’s out to get me; and he’s sure that barking his disapproval will make the noise go away.

Did I mention that the retired neighbor across the street has set up a work station in his driveway and regularly uses his power saw for a project I’m pretty sure is due for completion sometime in 2022?

There may be a set of noise cancelling headphones in my future.

When the noise gets to be too much, I escape into a book. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

On the Kindle: The Cinderella Weekend by Jenny Mills

At the gym:The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

In the evening: The Heart’s Code by Paul Pearsall

Books read to date in 2016: 55

It’s all in the Details

Mule DeerOne morning last week, I was walking Team Sheltie down an urban street about a block from home. The sun was up but it was early and hardly anybody was around. The dogs were charging ahead, in tandem, heads down and on the scent of something. They didn’t see the deer. I didn’t see it either until the subtlest of movements caught my eye. A leaf caught on the wind, a squirrel? I glanced into the yard I was passing and there it was – three arm lengths away and partially hidden by a hedge. It was so still that for a second I thought it was a deer statue (a nearby homeowner has one). Then I saw its ear twitch. It was the subtlest movement, hardly noticeable, but it was enough to tell me I was closer than I’d ever been to a wild deer.

In the moment before I walked on, one thing stood out. Not its size, or its stillness or the flash of fear that flickered in its brown eyes (though later I’d think about all three). Instead what captivated me was the softest whip of chocolate fuzz that I saw on still-forming antlers. That single detail summed up everything I needed to know about the creature in front of me. It was a sweet, young deer, harmless yet vulnerable. The sight also brought an unexpected rush of emotion because it reminded me of the down of my children’s hair when they were infants.

Details, in life and in novels, speak volumes. And those antlers did.

Just One?

favoriteIt’s always fun to be interviewed or contacted on Twitter. Because Stepping Out will be released in mid-February, and because The Art of Getting Stared At is up for a couple of reader’s choice awards, I’m receiving lots of tweets and emails. I’ve even been interviewed for a couple of blogs which is both cool and a little weird (as a former journalist, I’m used to asking the questions, not answering them).

Last week, a theme of sorts emerged.

I was asked to identify my favorite color, my favorite meal, and the book that had changed my life. In other words, a kind of favorite too.

The last question was posed on Twitter and I wasn’t the only writer asked. There was also a deadline. A book club wanted to know as they were discussing our latest releases the next day. I read tweets from the other authors offering up their single life changing book. I mulled and fretted and walked Team Sheltie and got my daily writing done and mulled and fretted and went to the gym and mulled and fretted some more. Eventually, I responded with several tweets saying I couldn’t pick a single book because different books had impacted and changed my life at different times. I picked a couple: Charlotte’s Web, Mrs. Mike, Karen, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Alchemist, The Lovely Bones. But there were so many I left off: Green Eggs & Ham changed my life because it taught me to read; Jonathan Livingstone Seagull changed my life at thirteen because it affirmed for me that there’s more to life than meets the eye; every single Junie. B. Jones book I read to my daughter changed my life because I saw the importance of humor in storytelling. Interview with a Vampire changed my life because it opened my eyes to a completely different style of writing and a new genre. Lady of Hay changed my life because I read it and said, “I want to write a past life novel too.” And I did.

I can’t pick a favorite color either. I adore the pale green of a seedling bursting through the soil. The blazing orange of a sunset. The black of my velvet throw. The rich purple of an amethyst cluster. The voluptuous white of summer clouds. The shocking red of fireworks. Even gray, which I never really thought much of before, has become a favorite. I’m letting my gray hair shine and, to me, the color speaks of authenticity and courage. Because in our culture, it is still far more acceptable for men than women to embrace their gray hair.

Don’t get me started on food. How can people pick a favorite food? Or even a favorite meal? A last meal? Faced with that challenge, I’d be starting my last meal several weeks in advance. I’d feast on crepes and smoked salmon . . . avocado and shrimp on a ciabatta bun . . . baby greens with my homemade raspberry vinegar . . . juicy peaches with wedges of brie. . . dim sum . . . curried scallops and biriyani rice . . . scones with clotted cream and chunky strawberry jam . . .spicy basil tofu . . . and steamed crab and mushroom risotto and a fatty rib eye and baked potatoes loaded with everything and French press coffee and popcorn with lots of butter. Lots and lots and lots of butter. Oh, and halloumi cheese. Maybe not with the popcorn but crispy fried halloumi would be in there somewhere too.

I can’t pick a single favorite anything. Except when it comes to love. I do have a favorite man. I married him. I also have a favorite son and a favorite daughter but someday, when they commit to their ‘one and only,’ my list will surely expand. I hope it does. For their sake and for mine. For them because we all deserve a life filled with love. And for me because I like my favorites multiplied.