Sometimes the strongest person in the room isn’t the one at the head of the table, the one shouting, the one at the center of everyone’s attention.

Sometimes the strongest person is the quiet one, listening, learning, studying everyone else.

Sometimes the strongest person is the one who doesn’t join in the drama that never solves a problem but looks good to others.

Sometimes the strongest person is the one who seems to do everything for others, forsaking their own needs.

Strength comes from knowing who you are, where you want to go, what you want to accomplish then getting there. It comes from knowing who you should include in your journey and who you should leave out.

I’m in the process right now of creating the main character of my next series of books and the above quote is a great clue to the enigma that is Vivienne. Like Carrie in Burnouts and Steve in Popstars she is somewhat of an antihero. Her natural place is not at the center of attention. But Vivienne is a little older than the other two characters and much more secure in her introversion. She may not have a clear vision of exactly what she wants from life (in the first book), but she is confident in her skills and abilities.

I love that her strengths are the opposite of the classic (and obvious) definition of strong. Vivienne is the quiet girl who is easily overlooked. She’s the willing ear for office gossip, the team supporter who bakes brownies for the Monday staff meeting, the girlie-girl in the pink sweater and lace. She’s the dark horse in the race to the top who surprises everyone, except herself, when she’s presented first prize then walks away from the cheering crowd to find her next challenge.

But it’s also Vivienne’s introverted nature that I hope isn’t overlooked by readers. There is a temptation to create an over-the-top character that stands out in the crowd. There is a definite risk in pinning an eight-book series on the power of quiet. But, like Vivienne, I can’t walk away from the challenge. All I can do is let you, my readers, get to know her as well as I have and hopefully fall in love the beguiling nature of a powerful introvert. 

Fantasies, Dreams and Goals

January is goal setting time. If you doubt me, study the covers of almost all the major magazines. This is the time of year to start on that body you’ve always dreamed of so you will look fabulous living in your stylish house that is so organized it’s virtually self-cleaning.Then it will be time to start on the perfect wardrobe for spring and summer. It all sounds so damn good, every January, before it starts to crumble, sometime in early February. 
Much of what they are selling (and we crave) is fantasy, some is dreaming, very few are goals–and that accounts for the massive failure rate.

There was a segment on Good Morning America this week about a new diet that was guaranteed to zap your belly fat, specifically. It made me cringe (and crave avocados, because it was all about avocados). Following this diet definitely wouldn’t hurt anyone. The suggested foods were all healthy and could help with weight loss. Where I saw it as dangerous was that it continued to foster the fantasy that we can change the general shape of our bodies with the right diet and exercise. And this idea is sold to us as a goal, something that we can reach if we just try hard enough.
 After years of working at Weight Watchers and watching people shrink before my eyes I can tell you that when you lose weight you get a smaller version of what you already have. If you come from a family of women with big hips, or butts, or bellies, or boobs, diet and exercise cannot change this any more than it can change your height or eye color.

According to Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, author of “Meet Your Happy Chemicals”, we buy into the fantasies for a reason, the rush. Just anticipating a joyful event releases dopamine in your brain, so it feels great to think about how we are going to feel when we have a movie-star body. It’s actually a high. This high would be a good thing, if that which we are fantasizing about was even a possibility. When it is an unattainable goal it guarantees a swim in a pool of the depressing brain chemicals, or the February feeling of I suck because I didn’t do what I planned to do (which is a really sucky feeling.)

Now for the good news (and some of that dopamine). Dreams and goals can produce the same high, but you have a much better chance of actually getting to the place where you get a flood of happy brain chemicals on a more consistent basis.

Dreams (by my own definition) are longer term, loftier goals, but with in the realm of possibility. I would love to travel Europe for a summer someday. Right now my budget and lifestyle make this impossible, but Europe will still be there when my kids are off to college and if I work at it I might have the money to do this. I anticipate a summer filled with happiness and doing that gives me a wonderful endorphin rush now. My definition of a goal would be a short-term, somewhat easily achievable task. My goal today is to produce a quality blog post. I get a lot of joy from doing this and part of that is knowing I have the means to accomplish it and I’ve pulled it off before. 

The other good news is that fantasyland does have a place in our lives. Getting a happy high from thinking about living in a castle with Prince Smouldering-Hot or a penthouse with a billionaire is anything but wasted time. Fantasies are a window to your soul, a look at the ideas that fuel you. There are reasons you fantasize about one scenario versus another and those reasons are the key to finding some dreams and goals that can also make you very happy. If you don’t allow yourself to take those flights of fancy, you miss out on the clues. There is also nothing unhealthy or wrong with taking a dip in the happy pool just for the fun of it. Knowing it’s unrealistic can make it so much more fun and really free your mind to get creative.

Now for the big wrap up…I tie all this into reading…cause that’s what I do. It’s not easy to go from cleaning the bathrooms to movie-star goddess in our heads. We don’t often allow ourselves time to fantasize. And often we don’t have a clue how to find all the clues hidden in our souls. They need a spark. Enter the novel. Someone else’s fantasy, expertly told, can be that spark. Creativity isn’t born in a vacuum, it is always sparked by an idea from someone else. Novels allow us to live other lives in our heads, try them out, and enjoy experiencing the feelings of the characters. They can take you to places that don’t really exist, or warm-fuzzy places in your own memories. 
If I’ve sold you on the idea of reading to get to your happy place, let me throw another your way. Buy a fantasy today…(on sale!)
 click here to go to Amazon and get in on the sale:

Blogging from My Blanket Fort

Mark your calendars because this Sunday (1/18) I’m starting my second 99 cent sale. This time you can get Popstars, Friends & Lovers for less than a buck. Yes! All three in one book for the cheap thrill price of 99 cents. And here’s why…

This sale is for all of you who are ready to join me, reading my days away in my blanket fort until spring.  (At which time I will move my reading spot to the hammock on my back porch).  If you have friends and family that need cheap reads for their blanket fort winter days, please pass the news along. Sale start Sunday! Cheers!

2015 In The Key of Life

2014 was a huge year for me. I turned 50, jumped out of an airplane, got a tattoo (my first), published two novels, and went on two cruises. It was a World Cup year (a big deal in my world) and my favorite novel ever, Outlander, came to life in a fantastic series. In the midst of all this my husband was sent on a four-month business trip and we had all the typical drama of a family with two teenagers. It’s enough to make me exhausted just reading about it. Having lived it (and loved most of it) I am ready for 2015. Because 2015 will be a year of slower, quieter, less…and I’m really excited about that too.

I have a Greek key of life bracelet my mom gave me. She told me the design (see exhibit A) represents the pattern of life, some up, some forward, some down and even a step or two back. It’s based on the twisting, turning flow of a river. I love the design because it’s beautiful, simple, ancient and wise. 

Exhibit A

2014 was definitely a moving-up-and-forward year and now ancient wisdom tells me its time for slowing down and taking a step back to gain perspective. It’s not that I plan to sit and watch the year go by. It’s more a time to start planning and laying ground work for another banner year in 2016 and/or beyond. It’s a time to recover and regroup–a much-needed lull.

I’ve already started meandering into my lull year. Over the Christmas break I cleaned out closets. (A cheap thrill if there ever was one.) I saw the movie “Wild” and I was re-inspired to get back to hiking, something I’ve always loved, but rarely made time for. There is nothing like a walk through the woods alone to recharge my batteries. I love to cook, but 2014 was a year of hastily thrown together dinners that took minimal time away from all the other excitement. In this slower year I can make time for made-from-scratch. 

I’m still writing, and have plans for at least two new novels in 2015, but I’ve vowed to get off the marketing merry-go-round long enough to develop a solid platform. Self-publishing is a rapidly changing industry where you can chase your dreams down all kinds of expensive, dead-end paths. I took a few of those detours last year and learned a some frustrating lessons. This is a good time for me to stop and put the horse before the cart before I start out again. 

The other thing I love about the Greek key is that it is continuous. In America we tend to see trends as one way. We love the drama of the slippery-slope theory–“one step in the wrong direction and its all down hill from there.” But ancient wisdom (and my own life thus far) tells me otherwise. There will be set backs and slow years. There will be days and even years when you seem to be spinning your wheels. Times when the most exciting thing you could put on Facebook would be “Cleaned out a closet today!” Which can suck when your friends are all posting pics of the degree they just finished or their dream vacation in Europe. That’s when I remember that all those cleaned out spaces make room for new things in my life or make it easier to pick up and move on to something or someplace new in my next up year.