Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Page-turners in my life

I decided to write about books that have influenced me greatly in my life and in my career. Like all of you reading this, I am a book lover. I've read hundreds of books, many of them definite keepers by super authors. But three stand out.
Belva Plain's EVERGREEN, published in 1980. This was probably the first book I read which I did not want to end. It was a touching and scathing look into a classed society and showed the struggles of women and immigrants. I became a forever fan of Ms. Plain's after this book, and I miss her today.
Colleen McCullough's THE THORN BIRDS, published in hard cover in 1977. This was probably my first experience with true romance which also crosses the divide into main stream women's fiction. It was a rich, full, vibrant story set in a land alien to me and handled beautifully by the author. And, oh, that priest!
Pat Conroy's THE PRINCE OF TIDES, published in 2002. A study in character development, a lush setting, and undoubtedly some of the best "wordsmithing" I've ever encountered. I've often said that I could write for a full week and never produce one paragraph the quality of Conroy's.

So... is there one/two/three books that stand out from all the others on your bookshelf? Have you read any of my top three?  Please comment. I'd love to know if I've read any of your favorites and also if you relate to any of mine.

We're all together in this love of reading. Thick or thin, old or new - books, we love you.

Cynthia Thomason

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Are we there yet?

          Do you have days you look forward to...more than others, I mean?
          My husband, the roommate, sits in wait from the day after Christmas until February 1st. Because then the longest, darkest month with the shortest, coldest days is over. Theoretically. According to his theory, that is. Because I know, of course, that Punxsutawney Phil is going to stick
his head out the next day and haul it back inside rather than freeze to death in the darkness of his shadow.
          When I was a kid, I looked forward to Valentine’s Day because everybody in the class gave nearly everyone else a valentine. And we got candy. Then I looked forward to Easter because there was often a new dress in it for me, not to mention we wore new white shoes to church instead of the black patent ones that hadn’t survived the ravages of winter all that well. We had ham for Sunday dinner, the grandparents came to visit. And we got candy.
          There were other days of excitement. I loved the 4th of July, complete with fireworks. The first day of school was a biggie all the way from the first year to the last. Thanksgiving and Christmas were my favorites.
          I’m not sure when it all changed. When I stopped saying, “Oh, I can’t wait...” about times, events, things. When my emotional February 1st became unimportant because all the days before it were so much fun and so full of life going on.
          At some point—somewhere between my first book in 1998 and my 10th sometime this year or next—it all became about the journey. I still love holidays, but the getting ready for them is more exciting than the actual days. I love having a new book, but the anticipation is more fun to me than Release Day, when my stomach hurts and I’m afraid no one will read it.
          So, as the roommate makes cross-offs on his mental calendar, I just look out the window at the snow. I think about spring, but winter works for me while we get there. I think about my next book and wonder when its release date will be, but in the end it’s the writing, the revising, the anticipating what the cover will look like that make it so much fun. It’s the journey.

Liz Flaherty

Monday, January 26, 2015

Does Writing Give You a Pain in the Neck?

by Patricia Bradley

One of my goals this year is to step out of my comfort zone and what better way than to write a blog about neck exercises and use myself as a model. Scary thought.

Because these exercises have helped me so much, I wanted to share them with other writers or anyone who sits behind a computer all day. As you know writing is sedentary work, and can result in neck, shoulder and back pain. That's where I was a few years ago.

Before I continue, I am not a physical therapist, and if you have any doubts about doing exercises, consult your doctor. 

Burning pain under my shoulder blade and through my neck resulted in a visit to an orthopedic doctor who sent me to a physical therapist. She gave me a set of exercises that stopped the pain and allowed me to get back to writing. 

The first exercise is a stretching exercise for the neck. Sit in a chair, (can be your office chair) and place one hand on top of your head and the other behind your back. Make sure you are sitting tall. 

Disregard all the kitty toys in the floor and the flower coming out of my head.

Next, pull your head over like you were trying to smell under your arm. Hold this stretch for a count of 20. Be sure to focus on letting those muscle relax.  Go ahead, try it. I'll wait.

Doesn't that feel good! 

Now do the same thing for the other side. I do ten of these every morning after I get out of bed. This is after I've stretched my hamstrings (before getting up). If you have tight hamstrings, you probably have back pain. Tight hamstrings = shorten muscles that support your back. And this can cause pain.

The next exercises I do are head rolls and shoulder rolls. For the head roll, I sit straight, and look as far as I can to the left for a count of 10. If I'm looking to the left, I put my right arm behind my back. This gives more stretch.  Then I look forward and press my finger to my chin, pushing it in and stretching my neck. I hold this for a count of 10. Be sure to repeat the first exercise by turning your neck as far to the right as you can. 

The shoulder rolls are just that. Rolling your shoulders, first one way, then another. 

When I started these exercises, I set a timer and did them about every 4 hours. Now I only do them first thing in the morning.

I really want to encourage anyone who sits at a desk all day to find some type of stretching exercise. These just happen to be the ones that have helped me to stay pain freer...if that's a word. At my age, pain and I are old friends. But I believe in exercise. I was facing knee replacement surgery later this year, but since I've been doing a 100 leg lifts with 5 pound weights on each leg, the muscles above the knee are doing their job and surgery has been cancelled. 

What exercises do you do to feel better?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sit-Down Saturday with Catherine Lanigan

So, Catherine, where did you get the idea for this novel?

            When I devised the concept of the Indian Lake Series, this was one of the first story ideas that came to me. Granted, there were more than the first dozen, but this one, set in a vineyard in Northwestern Indiana fascinated me. Just north of us, along the western edge of Lake Michigan are numerous vineyards, that some say, rival those of California. I lived in Stevensville, Michigan for three years back when Tabor Hill Vineyard was just beginning to take root. I also have always been drawn to strong female heroines who will do anything and everything to preserve her family heritage, whether it be a botanical garden in Houston or a farm in Indiana. 

In looking at the cover, if you could add a caption or captions, what would they say?

          This cover is delightful to me, because it reminds me a bit of the movies “A Walk in the Clouds” and “French Kiss” two of my favorite films ever.

How long did it take you to write?

     About six months including a few months to cogitate the story in the very beginning.

What is your favorite scene?

    My favorite scene is opening sequence when Liz catches Gabe stealing her soil for samples. She’s got a shotgun in her hand and she wants some straight answers, which Gabe is reluctant to give her.

Who was your favorite character and why?
     That’s a toss up between Liz and Gabe.  I love Liz’s feisty attitude and her die-hard loyalty to her father’s memory and his dreams, even though they trip her up in her own life.  Gabe is funny, charming and daring.  He’s determined to build a life of his own, away from his father’s shadow, and that takes real guts.

If you could pick fictional characters to play the hero and heroine, who would they be?
          Jennifer Gardner for Liz. She soft and yet athletic and believable in tough situations.
     Ryan Reynolds for Gabe.

Tell us one thing you learned during research.

    I learned a great deal with this research. Though a lot is not in the book, the massive equipment and investment it takes to open and run a vineyard today is astounding. Fascinating was the number of vitners who travel the world and buy grapes from South Africa, Argentina, France and Australia to make that one perfect, unforgettable tasting bottle of wine.

What music would match the mood of this novel?

    Old classic romantic songs.

This is your 3rd book in this series.   Exactly what does that mean to you?

    I feel as I’m just getting started with my Indian Lake series. There are so many romances on my plate in this “town” of characters. I want to write them all!!

What do you plan to work on next?

    Next up is KATIA’S PROMISE coming in May. Right now, I’m working on UNBRIDLED LOVE.
What are you reading for pleasure right now?

          I am reading two political theory books, The Goldfinch, and my order for all the January Heartwarming releases is on its way!

Friday, January 23, 2015

How You Benefit From Generosity by Roz Denny Fox

A friend sent me a flyer recently on improving health and well-being for the new year. I expected it to be news on exercising and eating right. But instead it was all about practicing generosity. According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, generous people tended to be happier and healthier than less generous peers.

Small acts of generosity toward a friend or stranger will improve a person’s mood and even prompt them to pay it forward.

Donations in any form contributes to the greater good of your community. You will feel more connected to other people around you when you serve.

You will feel more grateful. Your kind gesture of help or good will make you thankful that you’re able to help. You will be more satisfied with your life.

Believe it or not, it will lower your level of stress to do a good deed. Being generous releases feel-good chemicals in your brain.

When you feel more relaxed it improves your work performance. Altruism on the job improves your relationships with coworkers, boosts your satisfaction with your work, and makes you more committed to your job.

The flyer listed 5 ways to pay generosity forward. Something that struck me when I read the list was by how many of the ways are practiced by the writers I’m fortunate to know.

Mentor Someone—Mentors help guide people along their career paths. You don’t need a fancy title, just be comfortable enough to share your experiences, give advice, or offer an ear to listen.

Share a Skill—You may be a whiz at creating spread sheets, at using social media, or using a new software. You’ll reap rewards in teaching others.

Use Your Skills to Help Others—If you knit well, knit lap robes for the elderly. Make dinner for a sick neighbor. Simply smile at someone who looks stressed in a grocery store, or in line at the post office.

Write a Kind Note to Someone—It doesn’t matter who you write a nice, short note too, but make it genuine. Tell a former teacher how much they impacted your life. Tell an author how much you like their book. Drop off a note for the barista who always has a smile when you get your morning coffee.

Volunteer—Busy people seem to find time to help with local charities. It only takes a few hours a month to show you care.

I like to give books away to people I think may not be able to afford to buy them because they can’t get out to stores and live on fixed incomes. It’s not a big thing, but at area Assisted Living facilities, some residents still love to read a good romance.

Your small acts of generosity will boost the spirits of persons on the receiving end. It will also encourage them to pay it forward. Kindness begets kindness, and won’t that make for a better world?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Let it Go by Syndi Powell

2014 was not a stellar year for my family, many friends, but especially myself. After all, I'd gotten divorced, moved in with my parents, lost my bid on three houses, had car troubles resulting in repair bills in the thousands of dollars, been diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have a double mastectomy. Not a great year.

As I approached the end of 2014, I wanted to do something to symbolize that I was letting go of all the bad stuff (the anger, the fear, the worry) for the year and starting 2015 with a blank slate. That's when I came up with the balloon idea.

On New Year's Eve, a group of us gathered together before all the night's festivities. We wrote down on Post-It notes all the bad events, feelings and resentments for the year. Then rolling up those notes, we inserted them into a balloon and filled it with helium. We took the balloons outside, said goodbye to all that negativity and released them into the night sky. Almost a dozen balloons were released that night, but more importantly we all were able to figuratively let go of all that had weighed us down that year.

Now that we're in 2015, it's nice not to bring with me the old hurts and fears. I've started anew and look forward to an amazing year. After all, I'm now cancer free and on the road to a new body.

What did you let go of in 2014? What does 2015 have in store for you?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Many Apologies for Being MIA - by Cynthia Reese

My apologies to my fellow Hearwarming sisters, and to those who follow our blog! I have been MIA for a while now.

Part of that has been surgery for endometriosis, which I am recovering from as I write. I am on the mend, and my surgery turned out as well as could be expected, which was very good news to me.

But my incisions are arguing with my laptop! Am I the only writer out there who likes to write lying down on the couch? I theorize that there's no strain to my brain and my words can easily flow while I'm in this position. 

In an attempt to ward off future surgeries, I intend to add another hobby to my list: running. 

I've never been much of a runner. In fact, I've always wondered about people who run pointlessly, with no bear or other beast in hot pursuit behind them.

But I understand from medical research that I will have a 70% reduced risk of ending up back on my surgeon's table if I strap on my running shoes. So there really is a bear behind me!

I have bought the running shoes, and I have been doing some walking as I recover from my surgery. Still, I am very smug in the knowledge that I MUST wait another three weeks before I can start my couch to 5K program.

I hope I like running. I REALLY hope I like running because I REALLY hate surgery. This was my third surgery since 2007, and my surgeon and I have a bargain. If I can make it another five years, he thinks that I will be okay and not need any further surgery, at least for this malady. 

In the meantime, my incisions are just going to have to knuckle under. I have a manuscript that needs to be finished and revised by February 15 if I am to keep my promise to my wonderful editor Kathryn Lye -- and I intend to do that.