Saturday, November 21, 2015

Overcoming Setbacks

Life is full of setbacks. This we all know. But it is how we overcome them that is important, right?

I recently got dealt yet another setback with my health. I had mono two years ago - and I was very, very sick.  Fast forward to today: test results show that my mono has reactivated. This is a rare occurrence, but as I'm learning, my body doesn't follow "normal" medical patterns. I have bizarre reactions to things and my doctors are fond of telling me that "I always have a surprise" for them. This isn't comforting, actually, because I'd rather know what is wrong with me and address it then wander around for months on end with no idea.

Despite having mono again (albeit not nearly as bad as last time), I've still got a deadline to meet for novel revisions for my agent. And meet that deadline I will. It means buckling down and focusing. It means not wallowing in misery and dwelling on how I feel. It means eschewing the lure of the Internet.

To prepare for this task, I've lit my candles, have my fireplace going, and have soothing classical music playing in the background. It's a chilly, yet sunny day outside, which means I'm not tempted at all to spend any time outdoors and really can't anyway with my health. And of course, my cats are keeping me company.
Not my fireplace, but one at the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London

It's the little things that can get us through the toughest situations.

And now, it's time to tackle those revisions.

What are your simple tricks for overcoming setbacks?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Writing, and Odds and Ends

On Writing and Deadlines

Deadlines can often feel like the enemy. But for me, they spur me to action.

Case in point. I need to get revisions on my novel to my agent by Monday, the 23rd. With that date firmly planted in my mind, I have been able to stay focused on those revisions, fight back procrastination (usually), and stay engaged with the writing process.

So after that wonderful holiday in England and a few weeks recuperating, I'm back to writing. Nose to the grindstone! And I love it. Having a hard and fast deadline and being accountable to someone makes it much easier to do the work.

A Few Odds and Ends

I've come across some really cool online events lately and wanted to share.

The Vintage Secret Santa Gift Exchange

Oh my stars. When I read about this, I couldn't wait to sign up. A secret Santa gift VINTAGE gift exchange with other vintage lovers? Yes, please! Head on over to Chronically Vintage and sign up. What a great way to start the holiday season! #vintagesecretsanta

The Pinterest Story Board Party

Elisabeth Grace Foley is hosting this writing-related blog party over at her blog, The Second Sentence. If you're on Pinterest and use it for storyboarding, you'll definitely want to join.

What about you? Anything fun to share?

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Where Have I Been? Across the Pond...

Oh, my poor blog, how I have neglected you! And honestly, blogging is something I really enjoy doing. I can't believe I haven't posted anything since September, but life was awfully complicated the last few months. And in October, it was complicated in the most delightful way!

I went to England for nine days. It was glorious and wonderful and frustrating and difficult and so, so many emotions rolled into one.

This is my third trip to England and this time, I took my 15-year-old daughter with me. The original impetus for going was to see Benedict Cumberbatch play in Shakespeare's Hamlet. When they made the announcement that he would be performing, I had a year and a half to save the money for the trip, so it was the perfect opportunity.

Therefore, most of September and the first few weeks of October were spent planning our trip. We left on Oct. 16 and came back Oct. 24. We spent a few days in London seeing all the usual tourist spots...


Parliament, the London eye, and of course, the iconic red double-decker bus.

The Thames next to Parliament.
Buckingham Palace. The Queen was in residence as evidenced by the flag.
...and some of the not-so-usual spots like Churchill's War Rooms and the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

The Map Room in Churchill's War Room. This is almost exactly like it looked during World War II.

The Sherlock Holmes museum!

Sherlock's violin.
We then went to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet. Oh my. It was quite glorious. He did an amazing job.

On Tuesday, we set off for Salisbury in southwest England to visit the Cathedral and take in some peace and quiet. I like London, but it is a city - dirty and busy and full of people - and my introvert nature had a really hard time after awhile. So I was more than ready to take a nice, leisurely train to Salisbury!

We were rewarded when we got there: a perfect, beautiful day of sunny skies and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery:

Salisbury Cathedral in the distance!

Calm. Quiet. Clean!

The River Walk.
We went to Salisbury Cathedral. I'd been here before on my first trip (back in 1995), but my daughter wanted to see it, so I was more than happy to go again. It didn't disappoint the second time around. When one walks into a cathedral, the enormity of the structure, the amount of time and skill it took to create, is breathtaking.

The worship hall.

One of the many prayer chapels.

Beautiful stained glass windows.

Detail of the ceiling work.

The Prisoner of Conscience Window

Organists have been here since 1463!
The Salisbury City Centre is absolutely charming. Salisbury is a medieval town and many of the buildings are original. The people are friendly, the atmosphere is relaxed, and it is altogether a different feel from London. I relished every minute of it.

Our plans were thwarted the next day. We had wanted to go to Wilton House, a grand estate a few miles from Salisbury, but we discovered on their website that they were closed for the season. We were heartbroken. But we decided to use the time to become further acquainted with Salisbury. During our time in Salisbury, we'd take a walk from our charming bed and breakfast to the city centre along the river walk. It was a beautiful stroll.

Then back to London we went. I was quite sad to leave Salisbury behind, as was my daughter. She's always wanted to live in London, but after experiencing London and then experiencing Salisbury, she'd much rather live in Salisbury! I don't have a problem with that at all. :)

In London, we took our last day there to visit The Who Shop (all things Doctor Who!) and then headed over to the Imperial War Museum. This is my second visit to this museum, but last time I went, I was not a World War II historian, so it was much more meaningful this time around. Plus, they had some new exhibits. The Holocaust exhibit was very well done and very sobering.

The Imperial War Museum

A boat used during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

A Nazi eagle from the Reichstag.
Why was our trip frustrating and exhausting as well as wonderful and amazing? Well, a few things. My health for one (I was running on adrenaline the entire time and as recent days have shown, I'm paying for it now!), but more importantly, it was navigation. I never use public transportation for anything here in Nebraska. I drive everywhere. I don't have to worry about Tube tickets and changing stations and train times and all the rest. Getting from point A to point B was challenging. Thankfully, after our first day there (where we got lost on the Tube, ended up running smack into a Free Palestine! rally complete with a helicopter and police presence, and then my bank card wouldn't work and I couldn't get any money, but that is another story...), I figured out how to navigate the Tube and also downloaded some very handy apps on my phone. But honestly? I'd rather take a Taxi or walk. When we left the Barbican Theatre late Monday night (where Hamlet was performed) I ponied up the money for a taxi home. It was much easier (and safer) than taking the Tube.

Wonderful and amazing? Well, I was in England. I am a Anglophile and I love this country and its culture. I loved eating fish and chips and scones with clotted cream and jam, and staying in a glorious Bed and Breakfast in Salisbury (travel tip: if you are going to England, stay in B&Bs! I have done that the past few times and have had a much better experience with them than a regular hotel) and watching my daughter's delight and fascination in experiencing a new country. I loved seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in person and seeing Shakespeare performed. I loved talking to English people (our B&B hostess was such a delight) and soaking in the beauty of the country itself.

Although we were ready to come home after our time there, I was a little bit sad to leave. I could easily live there a few months out of the year (maybe during our horrendous summers!), and there is so much more I want to see and experience.

But that is for the next trip!

A Note on Blogging...

I am going to make an effort to blog more. I miss it. And with my big trip behind me and life settling back to normal (here's hoping!), I'm going to try and blog at least twice a week. That's the goal!

On Writing...

I'm working on my novel again and it is wonderful! Plus, it's autumn and the trees are gorgeous, the air cooler, and November is here!

Thursday, September 17, 2015


My health has been so up and down lately. I have had more bad days than good, and to be perfectly honest, that scares me. Finding the energy and motivation to do what I want to do are hard to come by. Will it be better when autumn finally arrives and the temps aren't being like a yo-yo, going up and down over and over again? Because my body certainly doesn't react well to it.

I've been coping by watching lots of classic movies, interacting with people on Twitter, and trying to rest.

But I'd rather be writing.

I've been thinking a lot about writing, but keeping my eyes open for more than 20 minutes at a time isn't easy. And when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, brain fog is unfortunately one of the symptoms.  I often lose my train of thought, can't focus, and have trouble finding the right words. Some days are better than others.

I have to keep pushing forward, though. In fact, I found this on Pinterest today and it really seems to fit:
I refuse to let this disease win. I may have to compromise on the bad days and allow myself to not do a darn thing but rest, but that's ok. The important thing is that I keep going.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Season In Your Story

The last few days have blessed us with cool, crisp breezes and temperatures reminiscent of October. It's been glorious. It's no secret that I loathe summer. I'm pretty sure I have the opposite of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) as people generally understand it. More sunlight makes me depressed. For the majority of summer, I fight from falling into the black pit of despair. I'm listless, and a gray cloud hangs over me most of the time.

But when autumn comes, oh, I come alive. Pure, unadulterated joy infuses my heart. 

It's funny, then, that my love for autumn is often reflected in my stories. Stories set during the summer are harder for me to write (even if they do line up with the historical events) and my characters often gripe about the heat (what can I say? Every character does embody a few traits of the author!). Likewise, stories set in the autumn are not necessarily easier to write, but my characters enjoy the weather much more. Writing descriptions of autumn feel effortless, and the story itself feels more alive than do those set in different seasons.

But no matter what season it is in your story, for me, it almost becomes a character in itself . My last novel was set in the harsh Nebraska winter and it was a metaphor for what my main character endured. He fought against the prevailing winds of prejudice and bitterness, and it was fun to use the winter season to reflect those same attitudes. 

The novel I'm writing now, however, it set during autumn, and it's actually a lot easier for me to write since the season itself is nearly here and because it's my favorite of all four seasons. It will give me an opportunity to observe the changing weather, the leaves turning glorious shades of red and gold and brown, the scent of earth beginning to prepare
for its long, winter slumber, and use it in my story. It will give it an authenticity that might be lacking.

It's not always possible that your novel will be in the season you're currently experiencing in whatever part of the world you live in. But when those two do mesh, it's an opportunity to slow down and really take in everything that season has to offer to infuse your story with the sights, smells, and sounds occurring around you.

Weather is a big part of our world. It affects so many different things - how we dress, what we eat, our activities, how we feel. So, too, should it affect your character. 

How can you use weather in your current story? Share your ideas in the comments. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Battle Worth Fighting

The mind is a persnickety thing. I wish I understood more how the brain works, but I know that not even neuroscientists can fully understand the intricacies of it.

But sometimes, I really wish I could make my brain just behave already. (If you said that in Austin Powers' voice, you get 10 points!).

The plot for the novel I'm working has given me fits. I've deleted several chapters and started over - twice.

But then the angels sang and suddenly, there it was: the plot I'd been searching for. And as I began to draw up a basic outline, all these terrific scenes kept bombarding me and I got so darned excited about this novel again that I experienced a giddiness that is part and parcel of why I write.

Fast forward to the next day's writing session. I didn't even want to open my laptop. Tonight, I don't want to, either. Fear, or resistance (Steven Pressfield's The War of Art tackles this topic and is a book every writer and artist should read), keeps holding me back.

But why? Why do I have this unease in the pit of my soul when I think about actually writing that lovely plot I came up with? It's utterly bizarre to me. And I can only think that it boils down to one thing: that what I write will not be as good as what is in my head.

That's a pretty common fear for every artist. I have struggled with this in the past and I know I will continue to struggle with it in the future. What we create is usually not going to be as good as how we envision it in our heads. I'm sure it has something to do with those neurons and synapses and all the rest of that complicated yet perfect creation called our brain. What we envision in the mind that creates such vivid, incredible dreams somehow doesn't quite translate perfectly to the physical world of reality.

Every time this happens to me, I have to fight it. I have to give myself permission to create anyway. Let's face it: perfection doesn't exist. We can always change a word, delete a sentence, and tinker endlessly with a manuscript even after we've been through it sixty times or more. Giving ourselves permission not to be perfect is the key.

It's hard, which is why it is a continual battle.

But it is a battle worth fighting.

It's okay to whine and moan for a bit and say, "Why can't it be easy?" Relieve some of the pressure and let the air out of the balloon, so to speak. But then, you must get to work. Start writing, ignore that voice in your head that says you're doing it wrong, and immerse yourself in the world of your story.

Remember that perfection doesn't exist, but neither will your story if you don't write it.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Dreaming of a Life Not Yet Lived

I admit it. When I see people living abroad and embarking on an adventure, I'm slightly envious.

As a kid and a teenager, and heck, even into my early 20s, I always wanted to live abroad and experience new cultures. I even applied to go to graduate school at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Unfortunately, I didn't make it, but that didn't stop me from dreaming about it.

Life has a way of taking our plans and turning them completely around, and I think that can sometimes be a good thing. Shortly after I found out I wasn't accepted to Trinity, I met the love of my life, got married, and had a baby 9 months later. That baby, my daughter, is now 15 and I absolutely could not imagine life without her.

I also went to graduate school two years after she was born and earned my master's degree in history. My thesis led to me getting a contract for my book, Nebraska POW Camps, and has led to numerous speaking engagements and lots of other opportunities. In fact, I'm pretty happy with where I am in life. I've published lots of nonfiction, have an agent who is shopping around my historical novel, have a wonderful marriage (though it's not perfect - it's really HARD sometimes, but that's what marriage is!), a gorgeous daughter, a good job that has given me insight into the state where I grew up that I didn't have before, as well as teaching me about academic publishing, and the ability to be able to afford a few trips overseas here and there. My last trip to England was in in 2008 and I'm taking my daughter with me this time when we go to England in October.

Despite all of this, there's still that thirst for adventure. And if my health would cooperate more (if you're a new reader, I have rheumatoid arthritis) I tend to wonder what leaps of faith I could take here and now.

Picture I took of the Chesterfield Church. Derbyshire, England, 2008
Part of the problem, of course, is that my husband has already had those adventures. He lived in Germany for 8 years, and he's pretty content to stay right here in Nebraska. But me? Heck, I'd love to be able to live in the UK for a few years, travel all across Europe, visit my family in Italy, and see and experience new cultures. Whether my health would allow that is another question. But still...I'd really like to try!

Living the routine, dare I say "safe" life is ok most of the time. I've lived in the same state my entire life and it hasn't been bad. I go to the same job every day, live in a modest house, have great friends and family, and am quite content with how my writing career has progressed.

But that siren's call to adventure catches me every once in awhile and I wonder, "What if I just took a leap of faith? What if I decided to move overseas for a year, experience it, the good and the bad?"

My daughter is convinced she will live in London once she graduates from high school. And to tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind at all! Now if we can just convince hubby to join us...

Monday, August 03, 2015

What Are You Reading? August Edition

During these long, hot summer days, losing myself in a good book is a must. And now that Poldark is over (the season finale was last night and it was SO GOOD), I really need books to tide me over! Fortunately, there is a plethora of terrific historical fiction coming out soon (thanks for the heads up, Goodreads!) and I am hopeful that someday soon, my novel will be one of those available! 

I usually have more than one book going at a time, so here's what I'm reading now:

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I love Morton's writing - it's so lush and lyrical. She pulls you into the story and creates an incredible world.

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous. This is the second time I've read this book, but it's for research. It's about a woman who was in Berlin during the last days of the Third Reich, and what she saw and endured when the Russians came. 

With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge. This is the definitive memoir of the Pacific War as told by Sledge. It's brutal and gripping. The HBO miniseries, The Pacific, took a lot of its content from this book. Again, this is for research, but it's a book that every World War 2 historian should read.

What are you reading?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

On Adversity

What's on my mind this Sunday evening?  A lot.

My little family has suffered quite a few setbacks this year. It hasn't been easy to weather these times, but one thing I do know: it has brought us closer and made us stronger. I take comfort in this Bible verse:

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."--2 Corinthians 4:8-9

"Hard-pressed" to me means that I am being molded and shaped and compressed - in other words, I am being strengthened. And there is joy in that.

When I look back on my life at all the struggles I've been through, I can see how they have made me stronger, more resilient. They haven't made me harder; instead, they've made me more compassionate. And doesn't this world need more compassion?

Adversity is not a curse - it is a blessing. Without it, we would not be able to connect with those who are suffering and offer them hope and understanding. Without it, we would be weak and easily broken.

Our culture likes to think that we should be happy all the time. I reject this. Sometimes, the things that make us happy can actually destroy us. "Being happy" doesn't necessarily equal "good for us." We've lost that in the cultural narrative, I think, and it's dangerous. I may want to eat a slice of pie and a cookie and two pieces of cake every single day because it makes me happy - but I won't be happy when my health deteriorates because of it. That's a small example, of course, but useful nonetheless.

Instead, we should be open to experiencing all that the human condition has to offer, even if it means we go through rough times. How else can we relate to others? How else can we truly live? How else can we learn?

Embrace life, even the bad times, because yes, it does build character, and it does make you stronger and it does make you more resilient. And even better? You can help others. People who see you going through adversity, enduring it, not buckling under, can find inspiration from you. And yes, you are definitely allowed to "lose it" sometimes - I've had several times in my life when I've cried and wailed and wondered, why me, God? But the point is, you keep moving forward. Always forward.

One day at a time. One hour, one minute, one second.

Remember this:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Writing: Setting the Mood

I'm a person who loves to be cozy. During the autumn and winter months, I thrive on snuggling under blankets and wearing long sweaters. I love sipping hot cocoa and making thick, hearty soups.

I need to feel cozy when I write, too. It sets the mood, makes me feel comfortable, puts me in a safe, warm place where I can put my thoughts on the page without fear of reprisal. That's why I usually can't write in busy cafes or parks. Being around too many people makes my introvert nature scream.

On summer evenings, being cozy can be a bit tricky. Using a blanket is likely to give one a heatstroke (especially in the middle of July) and sipping cups of warm cocoa just makes me hotter than I am already (thanks, menopause!).

So what do I do? I light candles. I turn on my lamps (no harsh overhead lights for me!). I turn on my classical radio station. I don't need to worry about shutting off the television because in this room (my living room), there IS no t.v. - and that's on purpose. I wanted a room I could retreat to without the lure of the blaring box. And of course, my cats always join me. (I'm beginning to think cats are integral to the writing process! Or maybe that's just me).

Lulu and Slick - being cozy!
One feature of summer that I thoroughly enjoy is listening to the cicadas singing outside. They're singing right now as I type this, and it's soothing and calming, reminding me of those long summer days when I was a kid and had nothing better to do than read all day and enjoy the freedom from adult responsibility. Oh, if only to go back and have a summer like that again!

Combined, all of these these things help put me in the mood to write. And for a few hours or so, I can forget the outside world and immerse myself in my fictional world.

How do you set the mood for your writing time?