Goodbye, Girls

I said goodbye to my breasts today.

I was getting out the vacuum, daydreaming as usual, when sudden remorse and horror hit me that I’d be losing a body part in two days. Of course I’d thought about it, knew it would happen, but that wasn’t where my head has been. My attitude over the past two weeks has been that of a pursuer, refusing to play the scared victim, to hunt this cancer down and kill it. If I had to have a double mastectomy, so be it.

But today I realized I hadn’t focused much at all on the fact that in getting rid of this disease, I would never again have breasts–not real ones, anyway. I needed to have a talk, to acknowledge them, to say thank you and goodbye while I still could.

So, while vacuuming the floor, I had a little talk.

“You know, girls, you’ve been great through the years. You showed up in fifth grade right when I was so jealous of my friend, who had the biggest breasts in the class. You nourished my son when he was an infant. And although I complained through the years that you were too small until I gained weight and then you were too big, you’ve always looked good, and I love you and always will.

But here’s the thing. One of you is sick with five tumors, and the other will surely get sick, too. There’s no chance of saving you. So it’s time for you to go so that you don’t end up killing me.”

And I was done. I feel no guilt and no regrets. I am at peace with it all and ready to move on.

Sometimes, saying goodbye is part of the healing process.

Trying to see the meaning behind the review

Publishing your book means getting reader reviews, and that’s a good thing. You want all the reviews you can get because they’re a great marketing tool. However, reading reviews about your book can sometimes be like trying to watch a movie through a rain-washed window.  It’s difficult to tell what the reviewer is implying, what it all means–especially for those one and two-star reviews.

Don’t look for explanations

Reviewers don’t always elaborate on their comments, and if they give a low rating without going into depth as to why, you could easily spend too much time trying to read between the lines.  You might lose valuable writing time wondering what is meant by comments such as ‘The characters didn’t resonate with me’ or ‘Not my kind of book’.  Or, worse: ‘There was so much I didn’t like about this book.’ And then, you might get nothing more than ‘If I could give zero stars I would.’ –which can totally send you to drown your sorrows in that bottle of wine you had tucked away for when you write “The End” on your current work in progress.

What did these reviewers mean? What’s wrong with the characters? What kind of book did the reviewer want? What didn’t she like? And why did she want to give it zero stars? Why, why? Oh, where is the wine?
Okay, stop. It’s all good, really. Unless there is a specific comment that points out an obvious flaw such as a misspelling of a character’s name several times throughout the book, you can stop trying to read into the reviewer’s comments.

Remember, anguishing over reviews keeps you from working on your next book. Overall, you can just keep an eye on the star average, if you decide to pay attention to reviews at all. No one says you have to.


Helicopter authors come across as losers

Another reason not to read too much into a review is that you might find yourself disagreeing with the reviewer’s comments. You might be tempted to respond.

I once read a one-star review stating my book was just another fluffy romance. Obviously, the reviewer hadn’t read it because the story is dark and Gothic: the heroine can’t speak for part of it and is buried alive toward the end. The review was a classic drive-by turd-bullet shot by an Internet troll. I left it alone. It wasn’t worth my time, and interested readers would see the higher ratings and story description. I honestly doubt this review cost me sales.

Reviews are posted for other readers, not for the author’s response.

Even if your reviews are genuine, I don’t encourage responding. Don’t thank a reviewer if she gave your book five stars. Don’t tell a reviewer who gave the book one or two stars that his review was incorrect and then give him reasons why. Never get into a back-and-forth argument with a reviewer. If you do, guess what happens to that review? Instead of sinking into the depths of reviewdom along with all the others, this review and its one star will stick out to readers, who will read your combative comments and conclude that you’re an overly sensitive helicopter author.

Commenting on reviews of your book may cause you to come across as having no life as you hover, waiting to read what she has to say about your “baby”. Honest reviewers want to feel like they can state their opinion–whether detailed or vague–without your comments. If you keep stepping in, your book may begin receiving fewer reviews, which is detrimental to its long-term review average. Reviews are posted for other readers, not for the author’s response.

Focus on your next book

Lastly, understand that the review isn’t about you; it’s about your book. Take reviews as a marketing tool and not as anything directed at you personally. Let it go, focus on what’s important in your life and the people who love you, and keep working on your next book. This is your business, and your product is going to get judged. Reviewers who take the time to rate your book and leave a review aren’t obligated to explain what they loved or hated about it. And I’m sure you know you can’t please everyone.

Say that out loud: “I can’t please everyone. All I can do is write the best book I can. And I am here to stay.”

How to make your story burn with emotion

Have you ever been so moved by a story that when you finished the book, you felt you said goodbye to a good friend, to a world you might never see again? Were you so immersed in the characters and their lives that everything they felt, you felt as well? Do you want your story to be as powerful, your characters as unforgettable?

Following are a few techniques you can use. Some take practice, but that’s how we learn to write: by writing.

  • Emotion
  • Tension
  • Showing instead of telling
  • Deep point of view

Emotion

A great technique writers can use to bring forth this immersion and interest is to bring emotion to your story.
Emotion helps to make your characters three-dimensional. Get right inside the reader’s head with the character’s anger, happiness, jealousy, curiosity. Create sympathetic characters the reader can identify with. The character’s situation should also be such that the reader can sympathize, especially if you’ve set up the story and gotten the reader involved in the character’s conflicts and goals. For example, which one of these two scenarios do you think would resonate with the reader more powerfully?

  1. The heroine is upset because her rival at the school dance is wearing the same dress as she is.
  2. The heroine is upset because her rival at the school dance is kissing the heroine’s boyfriend.

In the second scenario, the situation cuts deeper on an emotional level. The same dress issue might cause some embarrassment, but seeing another girl kiss the boy the heroine loves? That burns.

If you set up the story and the reader has identified with the heroine and has gotten to know her in the first couple of chapters–perhaps discovering this boy is her first true love–by the time the heroine sees him kissing the other girl, the reader might want to jump right into the book and say a few choice words to the rival, and to the boyfriend, too.

Dip right into what the character is feeling at that moment. If this is a turning point in the story, perhaps the black moment, bring home to the reader the character’s anguish and hurt as she watches her rival kiss the boy she loves.

Tension

Tension should be present in every one of your scenes. Make the situation for the character worse, and worse, and worse again. Tension and emotion along with pacing help to make your story resonate with the reader.

Showing instead of telling

This means that you show what is happening instead of merely telling (I was cold vs. I couldn’t feel my fingertips.) You are putting the image into the reader’s head.

Deep point of view

Write the scene as if you are in the character’s head, going through the same physiological and physical reactions to what is happening.

Which of these two descriptions would resonate with the reader more?

  • Olivia’s boyfriend was kissing Britney, the most popular girl at the school. Angrily, Olivia walked up to them and pushed them apart. To Britney she said, “Get your hands off my boyfriend.”
  • Olivia circled like a hawk around the dimly lit room. Where was Mark? He’d been disappearing for minutes at time. Nearing a dark corner, she stopped and stared. Was that him? She recognized his peach cummerbund and bow tie that matched her dress. But what was he doing? She stepped closer.

Oh, God. He had his arms around someone, was kissing her. And not just a light kiss, but an all-out liplock.

Olivia’s mind denied it even as she approached and stood a few feet away.

He was kissing…Britney.

Britney, the most popular girl at the school. Britney, who always got who and what she wanted. She merely had to snap her fingers and boys would come running.

Olivia’s eyes burned with tears, and sudden rage made her clench her hands into tight fists. Britney might get whoever she wanted, but Mark was off limits.

She reached them and shoved them apart. Turning to Britney, she spread her lips in a snarl. “Get your hands off my boyfriend.”

I used deep point of view and showing, not telling in the second example. Also, notice I didn’t use inner thoughts in italics, nor did I use tags. (Mark is off limits, Olivia thought.) There is no need. If you are in deep point of view, the reader knows we’re in Olivia’s head. Using italicized thoughts in present tense and adding who thought it makes for awkward, redundant reading. Instead, use past tense and play out the character’s deep point of view and actions as the scene unfolds.

Practice your writing using these basic techniques, and watch your story burn with emotion.

Use stock photos to generate story ideas

Love at the deskI once signed up for Bigstock’s five images per day plan at a special price that would save me money on stock photos I use for my social media sites. Five images a day seemed a little crazy, but the price was good and I figured I’d make use of them.

For a few weeks, it was easy: I started on holidays and special occasions and collected images to use throughout the year. I downloaded images to use for my Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as backgrounds and ornamental swirl vectors for my website. I also browsed photos of things I love: farm houses with big front porches, home offices, gardens, ancient doors, and home libraries. I downloaded those photos that resonate with me and make me happy.

I then started thinking about images I might want to use in blog posts. In order to find images, however, I had to make a list of future posts, something I’d put off for awhile. In studying stock photos and making my list, I found that my blogging interests tend to run toward relationship issues, emotions, recipes, and what I know about writing. Who knew that looking at stock images would lead to planning blog posts?

However, within the first month, I had run dry on post ideas and stock photos to use with them. I missed a day or two downloading, which bothered me because I had paid for the service up front.

As another morning arrived and I stared at the search bar and categories, I spotted a photo of a dark-haired woman in a white dress on the beach, staring off at the horizon. Who was she waiting for? Or had he left her? Another photo showed a woman, similar in looks to the first one, in a medieval gown hiding in the woods. I then spotted a dungeon-like scene with another female, same dark hair and looks, chained up. Other pictures had similar depictions, but these women had blonde hair.

Then I saw a slew of strange-looking people who looked like they might engage in dark, evil activities, and photos of fairy-like, magical scenes with orbs and fairy dust and stuff.

bigstock-Witch--523418532

A story began to take shape: a historical fantasy involving two sisters, princesses set to marry princes from countries far, far away. The wedding day comes for the sisters but the princes have never shown up, and the ocean horizon grows ominous with black shadows. Soon the kingdom is sacked by evil enemies. Their parents die but the sisters flee through the forest, only to be captured and thrown in a dungeon. They almost succumb to the dark shadowy lifestyle of a sorceress and her daughters, but they escape, and, barely alive, find a magical lake that brings them strength and power.

bigstock-athletic-young-man-outdoor-55633484
The two princesses learn to fight and become skilled warriors who gather an army (of hot guys) to defeat the sorceress and take back their kingdom.

What fun! I selected photos that coincided with my storyline, or perhaps the storyline developed as I perused the photos. Either way, I spent three days searching and downloading pictures for a future novel.

I write in several different genres, so I pondered over a contemporary romance story idea. How about a secret baby plot? A broken and lonely soldier returns from war and finds the woman he still loves and thought he’d lost, and meets his child. Together the family can build a secure, love-filled life and live happily ever after. Stock photos of men holding infants abounded, and I had my pick for a cover or inside picture.

Family In Camouflage UniformI also like to write horror stories, so I browsed for horror photos. So came an idea for a fun-sexy-scary series called Perfect, which will be short stories about a seemingly perfect situation or person. I found cover photos for Perfect Escort, Perfect Mechanic, Perfect Housewife I and Perfect Housewife II, Perfect Camping Trip, Perfect Girlfriend, and Perfect Boyfriend.

Hit The Showers

Just when I think I’m used up on finding photos to generate story ideas, I see one and the trigger clicks. Invariably, I come across a standard, regular-looking stock photo that could be something sinister, a possible backdrop for a horror story. Like this photo of the man with the white towel. What’s under the towel? (Remember this is a horror story for Perfect Boyfriend.)

So that’s how it’s been working for me. I browse photos, a story idea pops up, and I write the tagline into Scrivener with the photo that triggered it. Later I’ll expand on the plot and build the story.

At the end of the plan, I canceled. The websites are up, I have plenty of make-me-happy photos to look at, and I really need to get to work writing the stories that all these photos generated.

Easy liqueurs for gift giving

Fruit LiqueursFor a lovely homemade gift, consider giving a liqueur or cordial. Below are recipes for various liqueurs. If you’re giving these as gifts, I’ve added how far ahead you should make them. Click here for cordial recipes. At the end are hints for packaging ideas.

To sterilize glass bottles, wash in warm soapy water and then dip in water mixed with a little bleach. Rinse thoroughly.

Scotch Liqueur (Make one to two weeks ahead)
2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp. anise extract
1 pt. Scotch
Heat water and syrup to boiling in medium heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and cook until mixture becomHoney Liqueures syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool.
Pour syrup into a sterilized quart-sized bottle. Add anise and Scotch. Swirl gently and place a tight fitting lid on it. Allow mixture to age in a cool, dark place for one to two weeks. Makes 32 ounces.

Galliano Liqueur (Make two weeks ahead)
2 cup sugar 1 cup water
¼ cup anise extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 drops yellow food coloring
1 fifth vodka

Heat water and syrup to boiling in medium heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and cook until mixture becomes syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool.
Pour syrup into a sterilized quart-sized bottle. Add anise extract, vanilla and food coloring. Swirl gently and then add the vodka. Allow mixture to age for two weeks. Makes 32 ounces.

Crème de Menthe (Make ten days ahead)
4 tbs. fresh mint leaves
1 fifth vodka
4 cup sugar
2 cup water
10 drops peppermint oil
2-3 drops green food coloring (optional)

Crush mint leaves in a mortar and pestle. Place in a glass jar and pour vodka over them. Cover and let sit for ten days. Strain, discard mint. Heat the water and sugar mixture on low heat in medium heavy saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Let the mixture cool. Add syrup to the mint-flavored vodka; add peppermint oil and food coloring; stir. If liqueur is not clear, filter a second time. Keeps for one year. Makes 48 ounces.

Chocolate Liqueur (From Busy Cooks at About.com)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp. chocolate extract
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup vodka

Combine sugar and water in medium heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat and simmer five minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in chocolate extract, vanilla and vodka. Pour into a sterilized glass bottle with tight fitting lid and store in a cool, dry place. This can be used as a substitute for Crème De Cacao. Makes 1 pint.

Packaging ideas:
Include liqueur glasses in the gift package.
Carefully arrange glasses with the bottle in a basket or flat box surrounded by fresh fruit and color-coordinated tissue or other filler. Tie with ribbon. Green and gold packaging works well with Crème de Menthe, as does either silver or gold with the chocolate liqueur. Add some mints or chocolate roses. Tiny flowers such as dried baby’s breath complete the ensemble.

Link Roundup: Homemade Soap

Homemade soap is something I want to try making at some point. The molds and ingredients are easily acquired and the finished product makes for a lovely gift. Click on the links below and get some ideas on making your own soap.

Homemade Gift Series #2: Homemade Soap

71 Of The World’s Best Homemade Soap Recipes

44 Ways to Color Homemade Soap Naturally (You can also buy soap colors)

Soap Molds (The plastic molds remind me of the Playdough molds my child used. Most might be too small, though.)

Potty mouths of the 17th century

I’ve come across a wonderful book entitled The First English Dictionary of Slang, 1699 (Bodleian Library, 2010). This book was originally written by a man named B.E. Gent in 1699 under the title of A New Dictionary of Terms, Ancient and Modern, of the Canting Crew, and its purpose was to educate the more refined London classes as to the language of thieves and ruffians—called ‘canting’. The book also contains common slang used by sailors, soldiers, laborers, and lower domestic households.

Ready for a few of these words and phrases? Here we go, and I’ve written them exactly as they are in the book:

Handy Blows: Fisty-cuffs

Puke: to Spue

Fresh-man, a Novice, in the University

Baggage / Crack: a Whore or Slut

Cut: Drunk

Deep Cut: very Drunk

Night-walker: a Bell-man; also a Light Woman, a Thief, a Rogue

Bog-houses: Privies

Nooz’d, or caught in a Nooze: married; also Hanged

Hart: the Sixth year, A Stag, the fifth Year. A Staggard, the fourth. A Brock the third. A Knobber, the second.

Hind Calf, or Calf, the First

Rayn-deer: a Beast like a Hart, but has his Head fuller of Antlers.

Punch-houses: Bawdy-houses

Rot-gut: very small or thin Beer

Scab: a sorry Wench, or Scoundril-Fellow

Slubber-degullion: a slovenly, dirty, nasty Fellow

Stubble-it: hold your Tongue

Bil-boa / Degen: a Sword

Bagonet or Bionet: a Dagger

Dag: a Gun

Twitter: to Laugh much with little Noise; also to Tremble

Vain-glorious, or Ostentatious Man: one that Pisses more than he Drinks

Clack: a Woman’s Tongue

Cull: a Man, a Fop, a Rogue; Fool or Silly Creature

Dells: young bucksome Wenches, ripe and prone to Venery, but have not lost their virginity, which the upright man pretends to, and seizes: Then she is free for any off the Fraternity; also a common Strumpet

Darkmans: The night

Dock: to lie with a Woman. The Cull Dockt the Dell in the Darkmans, the rogue lay with a Wench all night.

Oliver’s Skull: a Chamber-pot

Totty-headed: Giddy-headed, Hare-brain’d

Nug: A Word of Love, as, my Dear Nug, my Dear Love

Antidote: a very homely Woman, also a medicine against Poyson

Want to see more? Click here!

Does the power of positive thinking really work?

Most, if not all, of us have these naysayers in our head who show up sometimes, often when things are going well and our guard is down. These killjoys, wet blankets, prophets of doom-—whatever you want to call them-—pop in just to show us the bad things that could happen in our circumstances and give discouraging outlooks on our hopes, dreams, and plans. We try to ignore the bad thoughts, but they grow. Self doubt jabs us with small, soft balls of worry, or slams us repeatedly like concrete blocks. The day starts off badly and goes downhill from there. Sometimes we fight; other times, we give in and just want to curl up in a dark room and succumb to the distress.

There is a solution, and it works. Say what you want to happen, what you expect to happen. Create daily or even hourly (or more, if things are really bad) positive aspirations for yourself. Utter your plans and goals, wishes and desires out loud, whenever you need to. Some call this prayer, some call it meditation. Whatever you consider it to be, intersperse your desires with plenty of thanks for what you have and what you’ve accomplished, even if it doesn’t seem like a great deal. It is. Write down your accomplishments and blessings if it helps.

Just say it. Make it real to yourself by repeating it over and over. Slowly you change your outlook. You will put the inner naysayer to rest. You realize you do have faith in yourself to reach your goals. It’s all in thinking positively.

Related posts:

How the Power of Positive Thinking Won Scientific Credibility

Law Of Attraction

How do you develop deep, lasting love?

You know those feelings you get when you fall in love: The zinging sensations, the floating on air, the exhilaration, the sparkling newness of it all. Not to mention the physical attraction that hits you like a Mack truck.

The media knows all about these feelings. The media hands the pursuit of love to us in the form of novels, articles, moviessongsgimmicks, advertisements, junk mail…we are inundated with constant reminders of the love we’ll experience if only we find the right person, lose weight, experience that first kiss, buy that diamond, go on that vacation, spend the money. The media knows all about falling in love, and they jab endlessly at our tender emotions and egos.

Fast forward to AFTER—Always Forever Turns into End of Romance.

So you find your perfect love, but AFTER that, the initial spark wears off, and you discover that the person you thought you were so deeply in love with and made you gloriously happy and fulfilled you sexually is just another person with needs and wants that you might not be able to fill. You’re just not happy anymore. The spark is gone. It’s time to get out of this relationship, you decide, and find someone else who will make you gloriously happy. AFTER might take months or years to occur.

But there’s more to love than finding someone who makes you feel like gold. AFTER the shine is dulled, the question becomes, how do you retain deep, lasting love?

Much of it is realizing that the initial crazy rapture we feel is not really deep love at all, but a surface attraction and excitement of something new and different. Or it could be the challenge of the conquest. Or maybe we run after love, intent on filling a void within us, however temporarily.

Whatever the reason, we realize that deep and intimate love for others has to start with love and respect for ourselves. Only when we can love ourselves, unconditionally and steadily, can we develop real love for someone else—a depth of adoration that transcends surface appreciation, a delight in giving to that person without expecting anything back.

A love like this develops over time and takes work, but to have it is the greatest joy on earth. If you attain it, don’t let go. True love is hard to find.

Love in the workplace

It happens. You get a job in a company and love what you do. You spend eight or more hours a day with coworkers who share your skills, education, job interests, and work ethic. Attraction blooms. Maybe you look into the person’s eyes, and you just know. Or it may take awhile.

At some point you find your fingers touching your co-worker’s while reaching for the same menu or sticky note or financial report. You just happen to “bump into each other” more and more in the hall or the break room.  Love settles over the two of you like a light, happy cloak, then tightens its hold until you’re wrapped up together tighter than a straightjacket.

Workplace love. It’s wonderful. It’s exhilarating.

Is it wrong? Depends.

Workplace romances are tricky. CareerBuilder.com says you should check your company policy on dating. And be careful about dating your boss or your subordinate. Nearly one in five people have admitted to dating their boss, but supervisor/subordinate relationships are often frowned upon as these may lead to sexual harassment cases. Social recruiter and strategist Meghan M. Biro states in Glassdoor’s blog that boss/employee relationships can lead to job jeopardy and co-worker jealousy as well as fodder for the rumor mill.

Hey baby, meet me in the copy room after work.

So you’re dating your co-worker. You’re not alone. Glassdoor’s survey revealed that 51% of workers gave a thumbs up on co-worker romance. One in ten people have had sex in the workplace and one in five have thought about doing it. However, 54% agreed that ending a romance led to workplace awkwardness. 38% of people have dated a co-worker over the course of their career, and 31% of these romances led to marriage. While 63% were open about their workplace relationships, 37% kept theirs secret (careerbuilder.com). If you do form a love relationship with a co-worker, keep personal relationship issues outside work and work issues outside the relationship. Glassdoor’s career and workplace expert Rusty Rueff adds that you should keep it confidential until you’re sure you have a lasting relationship.

Health Guidance advises workers to stay away from anyone who is married. Having an adulterous relationship with
someone at work can be detrimental for your career, not to mention your character. Also, keep your hands off each other at work to avoid your own embarrassment as well as discomfort and “get a room” comments among your fellow co-workers. Keep your company emails to each other business as usual since your company may monitor these. Finally, be sure to continue your social relationships with your co-workers instead of limiting your break times to only your love interest.

Five ways to tell if you’re an introvert or extrovert

Do you cringe when you receive an invitation for a home sales party, wedding shower, or group setting? Or do you look forward to being with the crowd and participating in the activities? Do you lose energy in a big crowd?

You may be familiar with the terms introvert and extrovert and already know which type fits you more. Most people are not exclusively introverts or extroverts, but fall somewhere toward the middle with a penchant toward one or the other.

If you’re not sure where you fall on the introvert/extrovert scale, here are five ways to tell:

Introverts

  • Gain energy by being alone
  • Lose energy by being in crowds
  • Prefer one-on-one or very small group settings
  • Think it over before speaking
  • Observe before acting

Extroverts

  • Gain energy from crowds and social situations
  • Lose energy when alone
  • Enjoy being in the thick of things, in crowded situations
  • Tend to speak off the “tops of their heads”
  • Jump right in to whatever is at hand (discussions, situations)

A well-meaning extrovert might mistakenly see an introvert as a shy person who needs help to socialize, and will attempt to bring her out of her shell. This only makes the introvert more uncomfortable with the situation and with the person who is pushing her into the crowd or drawing her out.

Recently I attended a dinner for friends of ours whose son would marry the next day. One woman at the table was outgoing and friendly. She spent the meal talking and asking questions of those at the table, the usual small talk inquiries about where we worked, where we lived, what we liked to do. I answered her questions but didn’t elaborate, and I’m sure I came across as shy or snobby or antisocial. But honestly, answering her questions about myself made me uncomfortable. I didn’t care for it at all. I would rather listen to someone talk than be in the spotlight. Conversely, when the woman asked my husband questions, he loved it. He can socialize all day with others; he is an extrovert and this sort of thing gives him energy and happiness. As an introvert, I was happy just observing and listening.

The first link below is an online test that gives a basic overview of your own extro/introversion. The second is an interesting article discussing the myths (and the facts) about Introverts.

Related posts:

Extroversion Introversion Test

10 Myths About Introverts