Thursday, February 28, 2013

Work less, accomplish more -- really

Yes, really.

An article in the New York Times caught my eye with the headline, "Relax! You'll be more productive." Intriguing.

The gist of the article is that we need to rest more to increase productivity. Apparently the work-a-holics aren't as productive as those who work less hours and take the occasional vacation.

"The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy."

It gets even better. The author discusses an interesting method to writing a book. He says that his productivity has been better when he works in three 90-minute sessions with rest or restoration between sessions.

It's a good article. Read it yourself: Relax! You'll be more productive

The photo shows one of my favorite spots to rest and restore myself, my hammock. Ahh.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What writers can learn from Jennifer Lawrence's trip up the stairs

It's okay to be human.

Look at poor Jennifer Lawrence -- she tripped while going to receive her Oscar for best actress. Being the professional she is, she recovered immediately and even made light of her predicament saying,"You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell, and that's really embarrassing, but thank you." 

I could relate to Jennifer. I've been known to "test gravity" myself on occasion.

Honestly, I think her oops moment only served to make her more endearing. She was relatable. Who hasn't tripped and tried to make a graceful recovery?

Here's where this ties in to writing: perfect characters have imperfections. Whether they're good or bad,  the characters we create must be relatable. We like less-than-perfect people and we relate to them.

So the next time you're creating a character be sure to rub some of the polish off. Make them ordinary, and give them some minor flaws. Let them act like real people who sometimes trip or spill a drink or walk into the kitchen and forget what they're there for.

And also, if you haven't seen the movie that Ms. Lawrence was in, Silver Linings Playbook, go see it! It was one of the most satisfying movies I've seen in a long, long time.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Inspiring thoughts

See that photo? It's of a hiking trial in Maroon Bells outside of Aspen, Colorado. I walked that trail a few years ago. It wasn't all that difficult, although this particular stretch was interesting. Uphill. Stumbling over rocks when I was already weary. But doable.

I think of the writing journey in much the same way. Difficult. Interesting. Uphill. Occasionally stumbling. Weary. But doable.

One of the inspiring thoughts that has motivated me for years came from a sermon I heard in the early 90s. The pastor, Robert Emmitt from Community Bible Church in San Antonio, said, "It's better to try and know for sure than to do nothing and always wonder."

If we don't act on our dreams and goals we'll never know what we could have accomplished.

What inspiring thought has gotten you to act on your dreams?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Yes, I've got another book hangover, and this one's really bad. I can't stop thinking about Julie Cantrell's lovely novel Into the Free.

I loved everything about this book: the cover, the soft texture of the cover, the title, the era, the characters, the pacing, the beautiful and heartbreaking words.

Sigh. I've got a hangover, and I've got it bad.

Here's the blurb:

In Depression-era Mississippi, Millie Reynolds longs to escape the madness that marks her world. With an abusive father and a "nothing mama," she struggles to find a place where she really belongs.

For answers, Millie turns to the Gypsies who caravan through town each spring. The travelers lead Millie to a key that unlocks generations of shocking family secrets. When tragedy strikes, the mysterious contents of the box give Millie the tools she needs to break her family's longstanding cycle of madness and abuse. 

Through it all, Millie experiences the thrill of first love while fighting to trust the God she believes has abandoned her. With the power of forgiveness, can Millie finally make her way into the free?

Saturated in Southern ambiance and written in the vein of other Southern literary bestsellers like The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, Julie Cantrell has created in Into the Free—now a New York Times Best Seller—a story that will sweep you away long after the novel ends.

Millie's story got under my skin. I grieved for her small, desperate world, and loved (most of) the characters in it. Told through the eyes of a young girl, Into the Free takes you on a journey of discovery. I yearned for peace and purpose for dear little Millie. Through it all, there was an underlying glimmer of hope that this girl would eventually find her way out of her life and into the free. Ms. Cantrell's prose was lovely and heartbreaking at the same time. She spun scenes with a delicate hand that painted vivid images in your mind. This is one of those novels that lingers in your thoughts long after you close the book.

I was delighted to learn there will be a sequel to Into the Free, and I can't wait for it to release!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Loving in spite of imperfection

Happy Valentine's Day. I've been thinking about my loves (my darling family), and that made me think of our kitchen table.

A few years ago I refinished my old 1990s table with a beautiful coat of purple and dark brown paint.
Boy did it turn out great. See?

It looks sleek and glamorous and chic (IMHO). We refinished the table in November of 2008 and I’m still thrilled with it.

I was cleaning off the table yesterday and couldn’t help but notice how smudged and scratched it had gotten. It’s been rubbed up.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t bother me one bit. All the scratches and marks were from sharing meals and living life with my family over the same table that we’ve gathered around for more than 18 years.

So here’s the thing: sometimes life’s messy. In the give-and-take of living we rub up against one another. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s wonderful when family and friends step in to give you the perfect piece of advice or offer a cautionary word. I think that kind of rubbing has a polishing effect. And sometimes when we're all rubbed up, the best thing is to love in spite of the rough parts.

My table illustrated that fact to me. It’s scuffed and scratched, but still beautiful because it’s my sturdy, reliable table. I hope that the scuffed and scratched me is still as appealing to my loved ones, and I know that those I care for aren’t any less valuable because of their scuffs and scratches.
Sometimes life’s messy and we get a bit scuffed up, but that's okay. Scuff marks just add character.

I wish you love and peace today, friends!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Liar, liar pants on fire

I'm not particularly gullible person, but I have a tendency to want to believe what people say to me. I speak honestly to others and expect the same in return.

I'm stumped when people lie. And when they lie about stupid things, I'm even more stumped.

Have you seen any of the Lie Witness News episodes that appear occasionally on Jimmy Kimmel Live? They're quite remarkable. He sends a camera crew out onto the street to ask people about an event that never happened, and they go on and on lying and lying.

Here's one clip of them discussing the Super Bowl a week before the event took place. Why, oh why are people compelled to make up elaborate stories to go along with the lie?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Flight of the Earls


I finished Flight of the Earls last week, and I can't stop thinking about the characters I met. Fortunately, it's the first book in a series.

Here's the blurb: When famine strikes in 1846, Clare Hanley leaves Ireland for the promise of America. But the journey isn't what scares her the most, it's the fact that her older sister and uncle emigrated five years earlier---and vanished! Arriving in New York, can she overcome her fears and a terrible secret that could destroy her family?

I so enjoyed the fast pace of this story, and I'm looking forward to reading the entire Heirs of Ireland series. It feels like one of those epic series--like Winds of War or North and South. You just want to keep reading.

I'm delighted to know the author (we're represented by the same literary agency), and Michael agreed to visit my blog.

   Michael, what is your favorite turn of phrase or word picture, in literature or movie? 
What I miss most from the classic black and white movies is the importance of dialog. We’ve gotten so distracted by special effects, violence and loud noises that we’ve lost our appreciation for brilliant character interaction. My favorite movies are Humphrey Bogart’s because of how well the dialog was written and executed. If you look at a film like Casablanca, there are so many all-time classic lines written into that one script.

But in literature, for me Hart Crane’s poem The Bridge offers the quintessence of stunning word pictures. “How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest, The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him, Shedding white rings of tumult, building high, Over the chained bay waters Liberty.” Crane brings the Brooklyn Bridge to life by describing its abstract qualities…and to great effect. As a writer, we know each word has to have a unique purpose and carry so much weight or we lose our readers. Word pictures are so critical to our success and you’ll see them on pretty much every page of Flight of the Earls.

   Which compliment related to your writing has meant the most and why? 
One of the wonderful things in releasing Flight of the Earls has been hearing how much people have appreciated the descriptive qualities of the novel. Many people share how they could vividly experience the plot and characters and settings as if they were actually in the book themselves. I was concerned people might find the writing too heavy, or too classically based in nature, but so far it has seemed to resonate, and in fact, there seems to be a real hunger for this type of prose.

BUT…there is no question that it’s the change a reader experiences after finishing a novel that is the greatest complement to the author. I mean, why just entertain, when you have the unique opportunity to inspire? Several readers have shared how they have related to the journeys of the characters in Flight of the Earls and it brought encouragement to their own personal challenges. Ultimately, if people aren’t being brought closer to God, and feeling a renewed sense of hope, then I’ve wasted quite a few words. About 105,000, in fact. 

   How much of yourself do you write into your characters? 
The competition to get a book published is so intense. There is so much talent out there. The struggle to have a reader discover you in this over-saturated world of media bombardment is so difficult. So, you as the author can’t afford to hold anything back. You can’t hide parts of your being and personality in the attic. You’ve got to drag that all down and blow the dust off of it. How much of me are in the books? All of me in one shape or form.

   What would you like to tell us about Flight of the Earls? 
The novels of the Heirs of Ireland Series are unapologetically built on the spiritual foundation of my Christian beliefs. But I wanted them written in a way that everyone could enjoy them without feeling pummeled by dogma. I specifically wanted a believing woman to feel comfortable sharing the book with her non-believing husband. I’ve been incredibly encouraged to see Flight of the Earls being embraced by people in secular society and by those of many varied faith backgrounds. That was my hope and prayer for the novels.

   How can readers find your book on the Internet?
You can go to my website at to find some links to online retailers or you can go directly to your preferred vendor (be it, Barnes & Noble,, etc.). But, I would encourage you as well to make a visit to your local bookstore and bless them with your purchase.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

When Donkeys Talk: A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity

A few years ago, I was contacted by a young author who requested I consider reading his book for endorsement. I usually don't read a lot of non-fiction, but I felt compelled to agree to his request. I'm glad I did. Mud and Poetry: Love, Sex and the Sacred was a refreshing change from my usual reading.

Author Tyler Blanski is a fresh voice from the younger generation, and his newest book, When Donkeys Talk: A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity, has recently released. While I haven't read this one, I 'm happy to point you toward it. Check out the endorsements and reviews, and read the first few pages. I'm sure you'll be hooked.

Tyler says the book is "an invitation to dust off the wonder and awe of Jesus and his Gospel, to rediscover that we live in a world packed with the miraculous in the corners. In a way, it's a published prayer."

His prayer is that the book will encourage readers who have become jaded to fall in love with Jesus all over again, to inspire them to a deeper conversion, and to bless the weary hearted.

And doesn't that sound like a good thing?