Month: June 2015

When grandma comes to visit

imageThe year is 1979. I am twelve.

In the backyard of my home, there is a black telephone attached to a pole. It looks like the kind you might find in an old phone booth. It rings nonstop. I look around hopefully, waiting for someone to answer it. No one does.

I think: Maybe, if I wait long enough it might stop ringing?

It does not. Instead the ringing persists, growing louder. After staring at the telephone a moment, I pick it up cautiously.

“Hello,” I say.

“Hi! Tell me about yourself,” an older woman speaks with enthusiasm.

“Who are you?” I ask.

“Never mind that. Just tell me all about yourself. What do you like to do for fun?”

“Who are you?” I say again, feeling stubborn. Why does this lady think I’ll answer her questions if I don’t even know her name.

“Hurry. I don’t have much time. Do you like school? Do you have a boyfriend? I want to know all about you.”

“Listen, lady,” I say,” annoyed. “I’m not answering any of your questions unless you tell me who you are.”

“It’s…it’s….,” she struggles, clearly torn. Eventually, she realizes that she has no other option if she wants to continue the conversation. “It’s grandma,” she finally sputters in my ear.

I stare at the phone dumbfounded. Both my grandmothers have been dead for years. I never knew them.

I hear a click, and the telephone is disconnected. I awaken to the sound of a dial tone in my ear.

When dreams speak
This is obviously a dream, but I can’t shake it. It was nothing like the nightmare I’d had the week before, which featured Bigfoot on a white horse. (It was the late 1970’s, remember. Bigfoot was all the rage:)

Could I have been speaking to the spirit of my long-dead grandmother? And if I was, what did she mean when she told me she didn’t have much time? Why would there be a time limit to our conversation? Wouldn’t a ghost have all the time in the world? And couldn’t she spy on me from the other side to know if I had a boyfriend or not?

So many questions, but for me, the dream remains elusive — staying just out of reach of my logical and enquiring mind. As much as I want to ignore it, I can’t. It disturbs me, forcing me to deal with questions that lack satisfying answers.

Despite all of our scientific advances, little is really known about our dreams. It is believed that most of us dream every night, although many people don’t recall or pay attention to them. That’s a shame because psychologists say that dreams can reveal many aspects of our lives. They can bring to light and offer solutions to our problems. They can help us understand and accept deep emotions — the kind that are so painful to contemplate, we bury them deep within our subconscious.

Maybe, this is why I find myself exploring dreams in the Mind Hackers series. Although the heroines would prefer to ignore them, like the ghost of my grandmother, their dreams haunt them — engaging them in compelling conversations and hinting at clues to mysteries that must be resolved along the way. Clues that cannot be unearthed in any other fashion.

Getting back to grandma
When I recount the strange dream to my parents the next morning at the breakfast table, they find it oddly entertaining.

“Now doesn’t that sound just like your mom,” my mother tells my father, giving him a strange look. She turns to me and adds, “Your grandma was always asking her granddaughters if they had a boyfriend. She loved soap operas and romance. If she were here right now, that’s exactly what she would ask you.”

Their acceptance lends validity to the visit.

Many years pass, and I dream of grandma again. This time, she hands me an antique movie camera and has me peer through the lens to see still photos strung together of other long-dead relatives. She has a message, too.

But that’s a story for another day…nothing like a good cliff hanger, right?

I’d like to think grandma with her love of soap operas would approve.

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Stop and smell the lemons

imageSunshine, porch swings, peonies, lemonade, tea parties, beach glass, sundresses, gospel music, lazy days, hammocks, a good book, warm summer nights, drive-in movies, scenic bike rides, campfires, festivals, massages, vanilla custard, Edgewater Beach, guacamole, romance…these are a few of my favorite things.

But today is Father’s Day. So my favorite things must give way to my husband’s, which are antique cars and airplanes. Plus, its cloudy and raining right now. So there’s no sun to be had for someone who kicked off this post with sunshine.

When life sends you lemons…
Speaking of rain, no one is immune from a little drizzle, not even a romance author. I have been working hard to get MIND WAVES into the hands of editors and agents — professionals willing to read the manuscript and provide constructive feedback. So it was with no small measure of excitement last week that I clicked on an email message from an editor who indicated that she had read the first part of the story.

And didn’t like it. Not one bit.

The message described several major issues with the writing — from shifting points of view to a lack of clear focus and not enough dialogue that moves the action along. It is clear from her message that if I hope to have a chance of publishing the story, I’ll need to go back to the drawing board and do some rewriting. Probably, a lot of rewriting. Maybe the whole thing. I have some work ahead.

At first I felt deflated, like one of those saggy helium balloons left over from a party. And then, I started to think about it, and I began to see her email in a more positive light. True, I have a lot of work ahead. But she wasn’t trying to tear the story apart. No. She was offering constructive criticism — feedback that I can use to get better.

So, I wrote her back.
I thanked her for reading the manuscript and told her that I was going to follow it. I mentioned that I have been working hard to improve my writing and am seeing the results of this in the second story, CROSS WAVES, which I would love to share with her when ready.

And guess what? She wrote me back and told me to send the second manuscript to her, too.

…make lemonade.
Yes, I still have work ahead. But somehow, I feel like I made progress. Because now I have some advice to use to get better. And I have a editor willing to take a look and work with me. Really, for a first-time author, this cup of lemonade sure tastes sweet.

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Let your little light shine

image“This little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine.”

Sing with me now.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.”

Great little gospel tune, isn’t it? It was written by composer and teacher Harry Dixon Loes around 1920. Most claim it takes its source from the bible when Jesus tells his listeners, “You are the light of the world.”

I heard it often as a child and always thought of it as a metaphor for our spirit or soul — a nice idea or sentiment but not meant for listeners to take literally.

BUT (and there’s always a big BUT when it comes to the paranormal), what if there is a light that shines forth from each of us, unseen by the naked eye, but real, nonetheless? And what if YOU were one of the few that could see it?

That’s the difficulty facing the heroine in my current work in progress, CROSS WAVES. Not only does she see lights around everyone she meets, but each person’s light gives off a different color that helps her make sense of what they are thinking and feeling. And she is so talented at this particular skill, that she can track missing persons by drawing their light to herself. Sound intriguing?

Of course, every good fantasy novel has some basis in reality. In the real world, proponents of the little light call it an “aura,” and they claim that certain gifted individuals can see it. Others say the lights are caused by a medical issue, such as a migraine or neural disorder, and are not magical or mystical.

I would call it all hogwash, accept (gulp, out with it Amanda), I have seen them frequently myself. When I first noticed the strange lights hovering around my teachers and classmates in grade school, I referred to them as my “bad eyes.” I figured I would stop seeing them when I received my first pair of glasses and contacts in high school.

BUT… the lights didn’t stop
Rather, they grew in intensity, and as I got older, I saw them more frequently and in strange venues — conference rooms, restaurants, rock concerts, etc.

To me, the lights appear to correspond to an individual’s energy level, which is why I think I tend to see them around public speakers, who typically are energized. Often, they are colorless or white, but I have seen the lights as blue, green, orange and black.

Is it the shape or construction of my eyes that cause the lights? Do I have a medical problem? Or am I being fanciful in imagining there is something more?

Maybe, it’s a little of each. Whatever the cause, I hope I’m fanciful enough to produce a novel that will keep your interest and stay with you long after the final pages have been turned.

So, let your little light shine. But remember, someone could be watching.

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Five things I didn’t know until I wrote my novel

imageIt’s only been a little more than two months since I finished writing my first novel, but I have learned a lot of BIG ideas in that time. Here they are, in no particular order:

1.) Writing the book was the easy part — I am naïve. I thought that I would write the book, send it off to a few agents and editors and someone would express interest in reading the manuscript. Not so. First, comes the pitch, which is your query letter. Your query is a cleverly crafted, succinct summary of your book, free of grammar errors, marketing fluff and cheesy lines. It must describe the plot, the hero, the heroine and the hook — that special something that will draw the agent in and make them want to sell your book. It must not be too long or too short — opinions vary widely on what the proper length is, but if it can be kept to one page, that seems to be about right. Expect to rewrite it dozens of times before you get it right and even then, it may not be right. You’ll know because you’ll send it out to a dozen agents and half will not write you back. The other half will write you a nice form letter rejection. Develop a thick skin. Most would-be authors can expect to be rejected 100 times before getting a bona fide offer.

2.) You must be social media and computer savvy — Worldwide, more than 2 million books will be published this year. It is a crowded marketplace. Publishers rely on authors to market themselves to increase sales. That means you need to develop a following before you have published the book. This seems contrary and intimidating for a new novelist but is a necessary part of the process. If you don’t have a personal website, author Facebook page, and Twitter account at a minimum, you’d best get busy developing these tools. It doesn’t hurt to use other apps like Pinterest and Instagram to post photos that lead to your website, too.

3) You must go to conferences — I did not get any offers to read my manuscript until I went to my first conference — then I got three. Pitching a book in person is A LOT easier than pitching your novel in a query letter. You will have the opportunity to ask questions and showcase skills, such as your ability to be articulate and sell your novel. The agent/editor can get a sense of your personality and whether they might enjoy working with you. Plus, at conferences you can talk to other writers, hear from interesting speakers, take workshops, and buy books. The time spent is well worth the effort and beats the cold query any day.

4.) You must enter contests — Being able to state that you are a contest winner in a query letter is golden. Since agents can get up to 500 queries in any given week, you can use the extra credit a contest win provides to stand out in the slush pile. Plus, entering a contest requires your manuscript to be judged, which means it will get read by other authors, agents and editors, and you will get feedback. Getting professional feedback on your manuscript can help you improve your writing, which will eventually lead to a publishing deal.

5.) You must be patient — Some time ago I completed an exercise in a book called StrengthFinders. It identified my top five strengths based on 40 years of research by Gallup, which analyzed and recorded the traits of highly successful people. When my results came back, I was a little surprised by my number one trait: Activator — a person impatient for action. There’s no worse project for a person with activator in their makeup than writing a novel. The whole process is a lesson in patience. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait. I guess I’m still working on this one.

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