When the creative flame burns low

lighted candle

Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

It’s not writer’s block…exactly. I can still write. It’s just that the past few days have been very emotional in my family, and for the first time this summer, I actually don’t feel like writing.

My creative flame has turned from a roaring fire in my breast to a flickering candle flame. So I’m using the time as wisely as I know how. I’m proofreading and fixing what I wrote this summer while my fingers burned with creative fire. And every now and then, maybe I’ll dash off a poem if the spirit moves me.

And I’m promoting! Becoming Magic is making the rounds on the internet right now. I’m over at Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews today talking about what makes my hero Connor especially charming and what’s next in my “new kind of romance.” I hope you’ll join us and while you’re there, enter the drawing for the $50 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

And no worries! The writing flame will get stoked at some point soon. And I’ll be off and writing in a mad dash once more. I just have to be patient and feed the tiny flame until then.

Imagine all the dreamers…

“Imagine all the people living life in peace…”

What do you see? What image does John Lennon’s timeless lyric call to your mind?

A world without war, certainly. But then what? No classes? Everyone working day by day to make the world a better place? A kind of idealistic commune where we may work in the fields or the kitchens or serve as doctors or govern, but we all eat at the same table?

I used to wish for something like this. World peace, my mind whispered at my birthday parties when I blew out the candles. World peace, I thought as I blew a dandelion’s fluff into the wind. World peace, I wished and puffed a breath at an eyelash. World peace—as a coin plinked into the fountain.

World peace.

It’s only now as I face my forty-seventh year on this planet that I realize, the only people who ever wish for world peace are people like John Lennon. When he said, “You may say, I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”, I wonder—did he realize that the other dreamers are all people like him? Artists, thinkers, philosophers. True utopians who visualize a world where everyone binds together for the common good, allowing more time for dreams and artistic pursuits. More time, but possibly less fodder.

The common good of all humans is not likely to be something the human race will ever agree on. Think of the centuries-old Israeli-Palestine conflict. Russia’s imperialistic aspirations. America’s opportunistic cherry-picking of which international conflicts to be involved in. None of this is work worthy of a utopian society.

And so, as I look forward to the new year, I resolve not to wish for world peace any longer. I resolve instead to devote my work and my words to the common good.

RIP John Lennon. I’m afraid you were the only one.



There’s something rotten in the marketplace of ideas


By Downtowngal (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was trained as a journalist. I didn’t practice long (about a year and a half), but I remember some of what I learned in the journalism school I attended.

One of those things was the theory called “the marketplace of ideas”. It’s the cornerstone of freedom of information. It’s the idea that out of a vast mix of many ideas, the truth will emerge. In other words, truth is the idea that gains the most traction when all ideas are allowed to be expressed.

This is a great concept, and I thoroughly support it for the most part. But every now and then, in this huge marketplace, the smell of rotten fruit is overwhelming. I smell it most strongly on social media, where far left and far right media are quoted as facts.

I worry that the marketplace of ideas was not intended to be placed next to today’s information superhighway where people are too busy to pay attention to the fruit they pick up. Is that fruit actually something they want to consume? Or was its sweet smell concealing something much more rotten?

In today’s age of too much information presented too quickly, you need to be careful what you believe and what you pass along. Ask yourself: Is the information you pass along based on real fact? Where does it come from? What other ideas has that source put forward? Are you passing it along because it sounds like truth or because it sounds like the truth you want?

Treat the marketplace of ideas like you treat any roadside stand you may stop at to pick up fruit for your family. Look at each piece of fruit carefully. Examine it for rotten areas. Think about where it comes from. Because wormy ideas are causing a great deal of sickness in this world.

50 Golden Things: Happy Anniversary Mama and Daddy!

Today is a pretty special day for my family. It’s my mother and father’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. In honor of their special day, my brothers, my kids and I came up with a list of fifty golden things that mean something special to us. I was in charge of typing it up and printing it out…and I forgot to print it out. So instead, I thought I’d share it with all of you. And here it is:

For Carl & Gerry Garren
on their 50th Wedding Anniversary
June 30, 2013

You may think we never had much gold,
and maybe we didn’t—if you’re talking about money, anyway.
But here’s a list of fifty golden things
we learned to appreciate because of your love:

1. Golden sands of Jekyll Island
2. And speaking of which, The Golden Isles!
3. Yellow roses
4. Butterball turkeys on Thanksgiving
5. Daffodils in spring
6. Honeysuckle in summer
7. Golden highlights in polished wood
8. Macaroni and cheese for lunch
9. A gold pen in Daddy’s front pocket
10. Honeybees and butterflies
11. Juicy fruit chewing gum wrappers
12. Gold crosses on simple gold chains
13. Daddy’s gold Oldsmobile
14. Gold and silver tinsel on Christmas trees
15. Yellow flames in a charcoal grill
16. Golden hamsters—like Frances!
17. Goldfinches at the birdfeeder
18. Lemonade on a hot summer day
19. Golden leaves in the fall
20. Gold foil wrappers on chocolate Easter eggs
21. Lemon meringue pie
22. Jack-o-lanterns
23. Sunny days in the hammock
24. A chipmunk’s golden fur
25. Golden music from the old stereo
26. Little Golden Books!
27. Butter on the rolls at Berry’s
28. Candlelight in a “blackout”
29. Gold print on the black leather cover of a Bible
30. Lamplight on a snowy day
31. Laughter is golden…and we had a lot of it
32. Golden tans in summertime
33. Fireworks on the Fourth of July
34. Full moons
35. The Golden Arches and Happy Meals
36. Yellowed pages of old books
37. Golden corn on the cob…fresh from the garden
38. Cornbread with pinto beans and fried potatoes
39. Sunflowers
40. Lightning bugs
41. Little golden pancakes shaped like animals
42. Pinecones
43. Acorns
44. Hot honey lemon tea…best medicine for coughs!
45. Popcorn from our popcorn popper
46. Flashlights…and shadow puppets on the wall
47. Sunsets
48. Gold bows on Christmas and birthday presents
49. Bouquets of buttercups and dandelions
50. Your gold wedding bands

For these and every other multi-colored thing
you’ve given us, thank you. We love you!

The advent of Freddie Falcon Flye: My moment outside my comfort zone.

Yesterday I took a day off from my life as a fabulous writer of southern romance and women’s fiction, and the reason is pretty spectacular. Check him out:


Yes, that’s a cute little baby pup. He’s my birthday present. (My birthday, incidentally, is Friday.) I started out thinking I wanted a kitten for my birthday, because, honestly, I’m more of a cat person than a dog person. But then my path crossed this little pup’s, and it was love at first sight. Seriously, I fell in love with his picture. You see, he was an auction item at my kids’ school (hence the name, Freddie Falcon–named after the mascot), and I handled putting auction items on a Facebook page for the school. So I was ONE of the first to see Freddie’s baby picture. And I fell in love.

Here was the quandary. Freddie was not part of the silent auction. Silent auctions are easy. You pick a couple of things you’re interested in and write down your number and check back a couple of times to make sure you haven’t been outbid. Very simple for someone like me who doesn’t like to draw too much attention to herself and really isn’t comfortable at all in the limelight. I know what you’re saying. “Oh, come on. She writes romances. She takes stuff from her head, writes it down and publishes it for other people to read. And then she asks us to buy it. Now she wants us to believe she doesn’t really want us to pay attention to her?”

Yeah. But that’s different. It really is. Most of the time when I’m writing, it’s not like it’s coming from me at all. I mean, my heroines couldn’t be any different from me. I went from writing Alicia (Where the Heart Lies), who has to be my most courageous heroine to-date and way better of a person than me, to Cady (Ducks in a Row), a deeply flawed woman who is extremely selfish and someone I hope I’ll never be. Cady was fun to write, and I won’t deny I have some of her same foibles, but at times I really didn’t like her very much. And I wondered more than once if Alicia was a little too perfect. Her only real flaw was self-doubt.

So you can see that I don’t write my life story when I write. These characters are not me, and I always feel like they are the ones in the limelight. Live auctions require active participation and if you win a sought-after item, it’s you people are paying attention to. But I was in love with this little dog. What to do? I made a resolution to step outside my comfort zone. I try to do that every now and then anyway, so it’s nothing new, but this was really terrifying for me.

As luck would have it, I left the auction for a moment on an errand and came back after Freddie’s lot came up. I walked in, stood there frozen at the sight of the puppy picture I’d fallen so hard for on the screen. Moment of truth. Did I dare? My heart was pounding in my throat, I stood at the back of the auction, sick to my stomach, terrified, as the auctioneer called for bids. Then something in me snapped into place and my arm went up with my bid card. Oh my God, I did it!

But now I was in for it. The bids went on and the auctioneer called out again. I raised my hand, half afraid I was going to fall over in the too-high heels I’d worn. I longed for flipflops or even flats. I’m standing there in a cocktail dress in high heels participating in a live auction. Was this really me? I don’t wear cocktail dresses, and the only heels I wear are on my cowboy boots. My head whirled.

And then it came down to me and one other bidder. A couple of friends came to stand next to me for support. Maybe the other bidder loved that puppy, too. Probably she did. The parents of the kids who go to this school are wonderful people. No matter who bought him, he was going to be pampered and loved and played with. All these thoughts rushed through my pounding brain and I realized I’d lost track of the bidding. I whispered to my closest friend: Am I the high bidder? Not yet, she hissed back. My hand went up and Freddie was mine.

I am not joking when I tell you I still hadn’t recovered when they brought him to me and I held him for the first time, but the panic went away. I’d done it, and although it might seem like a small thing to anyone else, it felt like a huge triumph to me.

And that’s why I took yesterday off from almost everything. Everything except playing with my kids and my new dog, that is. We’ll call it a breathing moment.

What would it be like to be a dead author?

I’ve been needing to update my blog for a while now, but I like to have something to say before I start out and recently my head has been too full of other things to come up with a decent blog post. My mother would say I’ve got too many irons in the fire. The truth is, I bounce from one project to the next and rarely have a moment to come up with something real to say. For instance, this week I’ve been rewriting a submission at the request of a publisher, cataloging library books, updating a Facebook page and trying to keep up with all my other regularly scheduled activities. Add to that my new quest to actually SELL the books I already have published and you end up with a whirling head and no time to BREATHE (pun intended).

Today I stopped for a second while I was working on the library books. I stopped because I had come across a nice little paperback of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. I’ve never read this novel, but I love books in general, and this one had obviously been read. Plus, I’m fascinated by dead authors. What must it be like to die knowing your books are read the world over and will be read for years to come as Conrad did? Hemingway is another one like that. Did he die knowing he was a legend? I’m pretty sure Samuel Clemens did, although he probably figured the joke was on us. And what about authors like Poe who died penniless? Would he feel better about his life knowing his work has lived on as long as it has?

Libraries are full of dead authors, and they’re much more fascinating than the live ones, if you get right down to it. My friend Ellen Meister has a book coming out in a couple of weeks called Farewell, Dorothy Parker that I absolutely can’t wait for. Leading up to it, Ellen has maintained a Facebook page for Dorothy Parker, and it has been fascinating reading. I was never a huge Dorothy Parker fan (and can’t swear I am now, either), but I definitely include her among the ranks of dead authors I’d love to meet. And since I can’t, I’ll just have to read Ellen’s book, a novel about a woman who meets Dorothy Parker’s ghost.

I hope there’s a literary heaven somewhere and I hope Poe is treated with as much respect there as Papa Hemingway. I like to think they all know when their books are read by someone who loves them…or even a high school student who reads it because he has to.

Change for the Children: Making Kindness a Habit

Over the past few days, I’ve struggled a lot not to be political in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. It’s been tough, because, as my husband tells me, I’m very passionate about certain things, and, in my eyes at least, there’s no room for compromise. So keeping my mouth shut can be a challenge for me.

But by keeping my mouth shut, I’ve heard some surprising stuff. I’ve learned a lot about the lack of care for the mentally ill. I heard our president say that we as a society needed to change. I heard a resounding silence from gun supporters. And most surprising of all, perhaps, I’ve heard many, many people saying we all need to be kinder to each other.

I could ask when we stopped being kind to each other, but I’ve found it’s much more effective to start at home base. When did I stop being kind? I was a very kind child, I think. I never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. When did that stop? When did I become an aggressive driver who’s willing to honk at other motorists for the slightest infringement, the irritable mother, the uncaring neighbor, the shopper who’s in too much of a rush to let someone cut in line?

Okay, so I’m not horrible. I’m not always irritable and pushy, but I’m much more likely to be that way than I was early on in life. The only thing I can figure is that as I’ve gotten older, unkindness has become a habit with me. So how do I cure this habit?

I think journalist Ann Curry, of all people, has given me the answer. If you are on Twitter, check out her twitter feed. She started out calling for everyone to commit themselves to 20 acts of kindness (#20acts) to honor the twenty first graders killed at Sandy Hook. Some of her followers suggested they expand this to include the adults killed trying to save the children (#26acts). It’s a wonderful idea, and for more reasons than I think Ms. Curry considered.

I believe you can become addicted to kindness. Think of the good feeling you get when you do something kind. Consider the impact of getting addicted to that feeling. How long does it take to form a habit? If you commit to performing 26, or even 20, acts of kindness, might it be possible that you would want to keep going? I’m hoping so. Judging by the number of positive responses Ms. Curry has garnered, I think she may have started a movement with some real power behind it, and if all those people form a habit for kindness because of her, she will really have accomplished something lasting.

Will a kindness habit cure the world’s problems? Probably not. But perhaps if enough people are more considerate and kinder because of Sandy Hook, more problems could be solved. Maybe we could learn to compromise and care a little more, and maybe fewer people will want the guns that are made to kill without mercy.

So far I’ve accomplished a rather unimpressive three acts of kindness. They weren’t things I wasn’t planning on doing anyway, but I tried to go a little beyond. I have plans for two more, and I’m watching for opportunities to act kindly on impulse. I think those acts might go the furthest toward accomplishing a real change in our society.

End of summer post and celebration; Get WEEDS AND FLOWERS free!

The end of something, the beginning of something new. I’m looking forward to this year, but I always find it difficult to let go of my kids at the end of the summer, to turn them over (part-time), even to the teachers who share my quest to bring out the best in my offspring. Every year, they get taller, smarter, more beautiful until it breaks my heart to look at them because I know someday I have to let them go completely.

Take a breathing moment. Get a hold of the motherly “perklempt”, if I can be excused for quoting Saturday Night Live.

And on to the celebration part. In a couple of weeks, my youngest will follow her brothers into the world of school and I’ll be free at least four mornings a week, four hours a day, to write! Ah, the beauty of it. I’ll get a lot done, right? Right?


At any rate, I am celebrating back to school this week by giving away WEEDS AND FLOWERS for five days. That’s right, you can save 99 cents! I know you’re speechless. If I could give away all four of my novels and the couple of anthologies I’m represented in, I would, but W&F is the only one I have control of the price. At any rate, starting at midnight, you can download it for free. If you’ve already read it and enjoyed it, tell a friend about it and maybe they will download it. (And by the way, I’d love to have a couple more reviews!) If you do like W&F, maybe you’d like one of my other books, as well. (hint, hint)

And if you’ve never read any of my books before, well, free is a good place to start, right?

Contest and taking a break…or a breathing moment!

The days are getting shorter. Have you noticed? It’s no longer almost light at nine o’clock in the evening. The lightning bugs are still around, though. The oppressive heat has eased off a little and the sky is clear blue today. It’s August. Four months left until the Christmas season, two months left until Halloween, and only a week and a half left of summer break.

All this is my long-winded way of saying I’m taking a short break from the blogging thing. You might have noticed my teaser a few days ago. I want to do a something about Romance vs. Sex in fiction (not real life, although maybe I’ll mention that in reference to how it influences our preferences in fiction). I’m working on that and a couple of other things right now, but mostly I just want to enjoy these last few days of summer with my kids.

That doesn’t mean that my spy contest for Foreign Affairs isn’t still on. I will announce the winner of the random draw on Wednesday evening, so go check it out here: Mission Possible.

Get outside, kick a ball, go swimming or biking or take a walk. Breathe in the last bit of summer.

Music that isn’t mine or why there’s a gay woman in Where the Heart Lies: About Lulu.

I’m sitting here in my house listening to music that isn’t mine. We’re having work done (leaky windows), and the workmen have music. It’s good music, and I know you need something to listen to when you work, so I totally understand and don’t mind. But that music that isn’t mine got me thinking.

Why did I decide to put a gay woman in Where the Heart Lies? Heaven knows when I was writing her character, I felt like I was listening to somebody else’s music.

Lulu is a divorced mother of a five-year-old girl who befriends Alicia when Alicia moves to Hillsborough. Lulu is tough. She divorced her cheating husband and took over his sex shop in the heart of downtown Hillsborough. (Okay, there is no sex shop in downtown Hillsborough and probably never has been. I made it up, so don’t go looking for it!) Lulu worries about how her sexual orientation will affect her daughter, whether she grows up with one mommy or two. She’s able to shake off the disapproving looks and whispers that follow her around. She’s not a gossip, but she does enjoy the power of knowing who shops with her, and she hates the fact that her mother thinks her ex-husband “turned” her gay but she’s resigned to it.

Freud would probably say that Lulu is a part of me, but I don’t think that’s right. I think Lulu is a conglomeration of the things I’ve learned about the gay community over the years, even from my limited contact. Because I listen, I can hear their music, even though it isn’t mine.

I wish we could all remember to listen to other people’s music. Whether you’re ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative or (like me) somewhere in between, listen. Every community, every family, every individual has music and a story. Listen to it. The music may not be yours, but you might appreciate it, even if you don’t enjoy it.