Thursday, February 23, 2017

My Musical Muse: Ep. 1

Music is, aside from the writing itself, the biggest part of my creative process. Every now and then I come across a song, artist or album that I just connect with. It's one of those moments where you feel the lyrics and the rhythm in an emotional way, and it just fits. Or maybe I'm weird and don't emotionally connect with a lot outside of music. Whichever it is, this is currently my muse.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017 Has a New Name.

As I wrote in a previous post, every new year, I name the upcoming one based on what I hope to figure out, do, or achieve in those 365 days. To be honest, I'd struggled trying to find a fitting name for 2017 as I had plenty of plans and goals but no simple way to sum up what I wanted. That was until I stumbled upon this quote by, oddly enough, Brad Paisley.

"Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one."

It struck me as I read it ... 2017 is going to be my Year of Intent.

intent [in-tent] 1. something that is intended; purpose; design; intention. 2. the act or fact of intending, as to do something.
My past has been riddled with poorly managed time, effort, thoughts, etc. I've looked back at those who've experienced the same amount of hours as me, doing similar things, who've accomplished so much more. Never once have I begrudged their success. In fact, I celebrate their various achievement more than they even know. But in some ways, I compare my accomplishments to theirs. Not in an unhealthy or competitive way, but the way that says: Look at the things they've done. Look how far they've come and grown, because they've managed their efforts wisely.

So this will be my year of deliberate intent. I'll deliberately plot my time, setting and keeping my schedules as purposefully as I manage my finances. I won't feel selfish for investing in me, my family, my home, or my career. There's enough time for all of it if I focus my attention.

I'm going to intentionally enjoy life! I'm going to take every moment to be grateful, to revel in each and every day given to me, because we aren't promised tomorrow. Living in the now has been something I've always struggled with. When I reach a goal, I don't take time to celebrate it; I ask, "Now how do I get to that next level?" But we have to take time to appreciate where we are and how much we've gained or overcome. So each day will be lived with purpose and gratitude.

When I'm writing, I won't get down on myself for not doing more in any given day; I will celebrate what I did get done with no pressure for tomorrow. When I'm spending time with my family, I won't think about the housework that hasn't been done or what I need to do next for my job. I'll intentionally give my attention to my husband and children when it's their time just as I will when I write or am focusing on self-development. Each thing benefits the other.

My mind has been my greatest gift and my onerous weakness, because I haven't always given my thoughts purpose. My mind runs away with itself -- sometimes to create magnificent worlds and new creatures or to think of fun ways I can bless those I love ... but sometimes to steal my joy by getting caught up in too many possibilities or to listen to those niggling voices that tell my nothing is ever enough. 

But, 2017, you're about to be a different year. One full of INTENT.

Be present, guys. Live intentionally. Happy New Year and here's to a purposeful 2017.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lift As You Climb - You Won't Climb Alone.

Image result for walk humbly
I love success stories. I especially love success stories that involve people who've overcome tremendous struggles to achieve their goals. In the past few years, I've witnessed fellow authors grow to New York Time bestseller levels and sign movie/TV deals. I've seen many commit to leading their lives in a more health-conscious way, losing 50+ pounds or giving up sugar after years of being a slave to the sweet dictator. Many of my friends have grown spiritually and emotionally, courageously severing ties to toxic people and situations and bravely choosing to step outside their comfort zones in order to find themselves. A few have even gotten to a place of being debt free. And I commend you all.

Image result for it takes courage to grow up and become who you truly areIn the words of E.E. Cummings, "It takes courage to grow up and become who you truly are." You should celebrate your accomplishments! BUT remember your past, where you came from, because you can't help someone up if you're standing over them ... or constantly reveling in your own success.

Thankfully, most of my friends who've overcome their obstacles or who've grown beyond their dreams have used their journey to inspire others. They take opportunities to shine from a place of humble success. There are those on the other side, as well, which is unfortunate considering how far they come to really only celebrate alone. Because how can you help someone grow when you're always focused on your own awesomeness?

Image result for lift as you climbAs the beautifully-inspiring founder of Utopia Con, Janet Wallace, says, "Lift as you climb." Remember this life isn't about how much you can achieve for yourself. It's how you can use your own life lessons to help others reach their dreams, which in turn, will help you! Nothing motivates you quite like seeing how your own growth/struggles/achievements inspires others. If YOU (vs your process, method, lessons-learned, etc.) are the focus of your "inspirational/motivational" movement, consider why you're telling people what you are. Is it to make yourself feel good about what you've done? Or are you actually showing someone, "Hey, this is what worked for me. It might help someone else."

Humility truly is the most attractive thing you can wear.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A New Year - A New Name

Several years ago, my wonderful friend and personal Yoda, Elizabeth Isaacs, introduced me to her New Year's tradition. Anyone who knows me, realizes how much I truly loathe New Year's resolutions. Most of the time, it's a poor excuse for good intentions, and more often that not, you don't fulfill them, and you wind up feeling like a failure. This reaction often leads to you reverting back to old habits with a vengeance.

Back to my point, Beth told me her tradition was to name her new year based on what she hoped to accomplish in those 12 months. Be it personal growth, emotional development, getting your finances straightened out, or choosing a healthier lifestyle, her method meant your upcoming 365 had purpose. By naming it, it'd become more than a 'hope so,' and shifted into an actionable goal. Just like a baby or a pet, when it has a name, it feels more real, tangible. And you connect with it.

I began doing this back in 2015 when my year was titled: The Year of Self-Discovery. I spent the majority of my 30+ years on this planet doing what was expected of me vs being true to myself. It goes without saying, 2015 was a mess in more ways than one. Life kind of fell apart that year, because I'd decided "good enough" wasn't good enough anymore. Understandably, 2016 needed some help.

The following year was named: The Year of Personal Development. I spent 12 months putting my life back together. It started with replacing all the bad I'd weeded out with good things. I lost 60 pounds. I refocused my attention on bettering my situation and state of mind, so I could be a better mom to my kiddos. I tried new things, new jobs, new experiences. I read a lot of non-fiction aimed toward enhancing life and overcoming the garbage from the past. I grew ... and grew. In fact, I grew more in 2015-2016 than I had my entire life leading up it. A lot of is was painful, like quitting a bad habit and having discomfort of missing your 'go-to' fix. I chose the harder road, but what was waiting at the end made that harrowing trip worth every moment.

Now, we're mere weeks away from 2017. I know last year was pretty rough on many. So I encourage you to take a day or week to decide what happened in the last 12 months that you'd like to see different in the future. What would bless you most to have, do, or accomplish? What really gets your heart beating fast when you see it in your life? You'll know it when you find it. But give it a name!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

...but that isn't believable.

YA. Young-adult. Teen reads. However you want to say it, it's a genre that's been up in the air for the past decade or so. By publishers' standards, it's generally accepted that the main character falls between the ages of 12-17. Since the dawn of novels like Twilight, readers' ages have branched out in both directions. In fact, according to Publisher's Weekly, over half of readers who choose YA are in fact over eighteen with the majority being in the 30-44 year old range.

With readers being older than the characters they're reading about, YA novels have a taken a hit for being "unrealistic," "immature," or "over-the-top." While I agree those issues can pose a problem, I think many forget the true age of these characters. Don't you remember being seventeen? Just getting out of bed was cause for melodrama. That's the life of a teenager. I was a pretty reserved and level-headed teen, but I also remember that feeling of can't-live-without-you first love ... the love I thought would last forever. I remember the pain of not fitting in and constantly worrying about saying the wrong thing. Of feeling like a total pariah because I was different than everyone around me. Of getting stressed because my skin wasn't cooperating or freaking out because my favorite shirt was dirty, and I as supposed to meet my friends at the mall in an hour. 

Everything in my life was a code: blue, the-world-is-on-fire, how-can-I-continue-like-this level of importance. 

And that's how it should read in YA. People want to hate on insta-love. They get down on conflicting emotions and love triangles. They hate that characters seem "weak" or "indecisive." But at seventeen, it's impossible to decide what outfit you're going to wear that day let alone what your future holds, relationships or otherwise. 

We've lost sight of what drew us to YA to begin with: the innocence and the passion in each aspect of life. It's the time when you feel the strongest, the purest. You aren't jaded by the soul-sucking aspects of adulthood. You're free to feel things at their fullest, without reservation. You throw caution to the wind, and you live. That's the beauty of being a teen. It's not an excuse to act out or be reckless. There are boundaries even in youth. My point is, as a teen, you're a walking ball of crazy, and that's how it's supposed to be.

So, the next time you pick up a YA novel, appreciate the struggle of your high school aged character. See life through their rapidly-changing lenses. Relish in the victory being asked to the dance by their crush. Weep at the loss of their first love. Feel with every part of your being because you know they do.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An Open Letter About My Divorce

Our society has led us to believe it's our right to know what's going on in everyone's lives. We live in a constant stream of who cheated, who had liposuction, which Hollywood stars are dating, what actress overdosed, which athlete was arrested for driving intoxicated, blah, blah, blah... it's never ending. You see it in the checkout lane at the grocery store. You read it in the popup ads while you're scanning your email. Your friends share that post on Facebook, again. You can't escape it. In fact, like many others, I find myself avoiding social situations because of the constant drama. I don't want my personal business out there for the world to judge. I'm hard enough on myself; I don't need anyone else criticizing my life when they know nothing of my circumstances. 

I'm not one to share things from my real life, online or otherwise. My struggles and victories when they come at a personal level, are personal. Being an introvert, the attention is sometimes hard for me to handle. I have to remind myself quite often though, that God didn't make us to exist within ourselves. What is the point of my life if it doesn't impact others? And like it or not, beautiful or ugly, open or private, ALL of us impact those around us.

Messages have flooded my inbox lately regarding some changes that have just come to light. Many people are only now learning of my divorce that's been a year in the making. It's not because I've tried to hide it, but because in my mind, it didn't concern anyone outside of my ex-husband and our children. That isn't me being cold or distant. I know I have those who love and support me and who want to help me any way they can. I appreciate them so very much. Being who I am as a person however, I've learned to cope more efficiently on my own.

I've gradually come to realize though, while my desire to keep things to myself, it doesn't make up for the fact that my decisions impact the lives of those around me. So while the facts of the divorce can remain private, the impact most certainly cannot. My former marriage was perceived to be the stuff of magic. We were the "ideal" couple, the powerhouse duo. To say the news has come as a shock to most would be an understatement, because perception is reality. I've heard how many viewed us as this seemingly perfect couple and the heartache they felt at hearing the news. While my ex and I are handling this new situation with an ease that can only be attributed to God and the commitment to work through things for the sake of our children, I believe it's been as hard or harder on those around who love us -- our families who saw us together for 14+ years and our friends who knew us before we ever started dating ... it's an enormous change and incites a feeling of loss.

For that, I'm truly sorry.

It genuinely breaks my heart to have to share this news with those who have been there from the beginning. To those around us who viewed our marriage as unbreakable and rock-solid, I apologize for the pain our split has caused you. It genuinely hurts my heart that my own divorce might cause other couples to doubt their stability simply because, "If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone."

There is a certain awkwardness in knowing how to respond, act, or react now, I recognize that. And there is still some hurt among our friends and respective families. It's okay to be upset. I've lost some connections over our choices, and that's okay, too! But I want to assure everyone that even though we're divorced, he and I are getting along wonderfully. Our children, though there has been a time for transition, are thriving, happy and hopeful. I appreciate each and every one of you who have been kind and supportive throughout the process. I know it isn't always easy trying to navigate those waters of change when you don't have all the facts. It's human nature to want to "know," but you've respected my privacy, and I really can't thank you enough.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Interiew with the Lovely Kallie Ross.

Seventeen year old Ollie Miller is ready to leave all of her hurt feelings behind, but moving on seems impossible while living next door to her ex-best friend, Mateo. When curious earthquakes begin to shake and rip open the foundation of her small town, the ground becomes as unsteady as her feelings for him. When they fall, they fall hard…
Ollie’s disastrous attempt to save Mateo’s brother from falling into a curious chasm results in their descent into a cavernous wonderland. Ollie, Mateo, Jesse, and Alexis search for a way back home, and encounter a mysterious tribe of natives. Gabriel, the next in line to lead his people, is granted permission to guide them to the surface. On their treacherous journey, an overzealous elder threatens all of their lives, because he can’t risk them exposing his people, or the power he wields. The group discovers ancient secrets, unexpected truths, and uncharted feelings. Ollie must find a way out or risk being stuck in the caves forever—or worse, dead.

Today I'm thrilled to be interviewing the beautiful Kallie Ross. I had the honor of meeting Kallie for the first time at UtopYA Con in 2013, and instantly fell in love with her sweet spirit and smiling face. So when her first novel debuted over the summer, to say I was excited is an understatement. And omgosh, don't you adore that cover?

Without further ado, the lovely Kallie... 

* How did you come up with idea for Descent? 
The idea for Descent was unearthed during a hot, dry Texas summer when a natural gas drill was erected in the field behind my former home. Kids ran through sprinklers and picked giant sunflowers for two months before the first earthquake was reported. My first thought was that one of the underground reservoirs would cave in, and our entire neighborhood would be swallowed up in a sink hole... As you can imagine, my mind took and ran with it from there! 
After the local media covered the multiple tremors, the natural gas company put a stop to drilling temporarily. I headed back to the classroom (teaching High School English), and I immediately wondered what a group of my students would do if they fell into an underground world. My imagination got carried away the thought evolved into brainstorming and research. I knew that if there was any believable life found under the surface of the earth it would be in a labyrinth of caves and it would derive from our own documented history. 
* What inspired you to write a novel that takes place primarily underground?
Caves and caverns are fascinating! I remember going to Carlsbad Caverns  in my elementary years, and wishing I could climb in, through, and around all the crevasses and chasms. Growing up, we all have fears. Mine vary (being in an elevator that’s free falling to being eaten while still alive), but being underground is the perfect balance of fear and intrigue for me, so writing about it felt challenging and exhilarating.
When I started working on characters for Descent, I wanted my main character to have the same enthusiasm. Ollie's story unfolded when I decided to base it amongst shadows, a mysterious light, and a ruthless villain. This underground wonderland is where her past, present, and future collide. 
* I'm totally a name person. Some of your characters have unique ones. What factors went into choosing those you did?
Keeping the historical integrity of the backstory of the tribe Ollie encounters was a big part of naming the characters. I knew there needed to be an ancient sound, even if the tribe had evolved from it’s original language and location. I actually studied some Hebrew to make sure that the names of characters, food, and traditions were authentic. 

I love giving my characters names that mean something. It builds them into 3D characters, and pulls them out of the page for me. I chose Olivia (a.k.a. Ollie) because of its correlation to the olive tree, and the uses of an olive branch in Biblical times. Hopefully, she’ll bring some peace and prosperity underground with her. Keren means glorious dignity. She’s the daughter of a leader in the tribe, and while she yearns to know more about the surface she also can’t help but seek the approval of her father. I’m really looking forward to having fun with some new characters in the second novel.
* The idea behind noor (the light certain underground tribal members can produce) and how it's used. How did you come up with that notion?
This one’s easy… The characters had to be able to see underground, and the tribe had to be able to survive underground all of these years. The light in most ‘center of the earth’ novels is made out of the earth’s core, but I wanted the noor to be more than just light. I wanted the tribe to attribute more to the light, like guidance, nourishment, and security. The most interesting truths about the mysterious light are still to come…

* Your characters are so much fun! And I love that your brothers Mateo and Jesse are Latino. Were any of your characters influenced by yourself or people you know?
I’m so glad you asked me this question! I have to give credit to a few of my students for Mateo and Jesse. I taught two brothers (Christian and Edward) a few years back, and their  relationship just stuck with me. They were devoted to their family and it’s Latino heritage, but they also fought with each other about everything. I have a lot of students I’d love to turn into book characters, but it will take a massive amount of time to work them all into a story of their own. 
Alexis is another character that I hold dear. She is loosely based on my sister when she was a teen. My sister is a year younger than me, and while she loved her girl-friends, she always had a boyfriend in tow. Alexis is colorful, sarcastic, and at times self-consumed… And, my sister is still two out of three of those as an adult! ;)

* Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I like to think both, but if we were getting specific I’d have to say I’m more of a plotter. I love working on character building exercises, outlines, and research. There are moments when ideas just come to me, and I have to rearrange the outline, but I know it’ll be worth it in the end. There are some twists and turns I can’t plan for in the plot, they just have to work themselves out while I’m typing. 
* What inspires you?
Courtesy GutterLily10 - DeviantArt
Ooooo… So much! Music is a big one. I have a playlist for Descent, and it contains the songs I listened to most while writing the book. History as a whole inspires me as well. While I’m drawn to the fantasy and science fiction genres, there has to be an element of truth (from our own world) to the story or backstory for it to resonate with me. Nature is a world of inspiration that I like to lose myself in from time to time. Whether it’s hiking or a picnic, there’s something about the bluejay’s song and the wind’s cool caress that removes me from the routine and into the resplendent. Some other inspirations are a great cup of coffee, anything dark chocolate, and visiting museums.
* I know you're a mom and probably don't have a lot of it, but what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Splurging on any of the above inspirations is considered a win on a day that I have laundry, carline, and cooking to do. I think the biggest splurge would be collecting a few days worth of free time and creating a writerly weekend to dive into a few chapters at once. On a selfish note, if writing had nothing to do with the free time, I’d love to travel through Europe. I think I’d take away a lot of inspiration while riding trains from city to city and taking in the culture and art! 
* What awesomeness can we expect from you in the future?
I’m working on the second book in The Lost Tribe Series. Descent is only half of the story. I’m hoping to have Defend finished and released by Summer 2015. I also have a high fantasy novel in the works… Lots of mind games, murder mystery, and otherworldly mayhem happening. I’m not great at multi-tasking, so I only write one novel at a time. My fantasy novel will have to wait a few months for me to jump back into it.

Rapid Fire:
* What 3 things would you take to live on Isle Kallie: A pencil that never grows dull, a journal that always has blank paper, and my husband.
* Favorite book character: Anne of Green Gables & Elinor Dashwood
* Best YA read this year: Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers (The most elaborate, breathtaking bow to wrap up His Fair Assassins Trilogy.)
* Top 5 favorite authors: This is so not cool… So, I’m kickin’ it old school. Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Shakespeare, and J.K. Rowling
* Your life’s theme song: I love music so much, that this seems cruel! With that said, this year I’ve listened to ‘We Come Running’ by Youngblood Hawke a million times! It’s more of a challenge song for me, it reminds me to keep my mind on what’s ahead.

HUGE thanks to Kallie Ross for the interview! 
Check out her books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and everywhere books are sold.
You can find more about Kallie and her books here:
Twitter: @KallieRoss