Monster – A Poem

I don’t do poetry. I’m not good at it, simple as that. But once in a while there are feelings that seem better expressed with a few words.  I wrote this during one of those moments when your heart is bleeding and you don’t know what to do to stop it. I’ve said it often, writing is my therapy and somehow just writing it down makes it feel a little better.

The Monster

Loneliness is a monster

That chews on your heart

Sucks up your brain

And swallows your soul.

Nothing worse than this fear

Of being alone in a crowd

Succeeding but no one to share it

Passionate and nobody caring

Talking but no one listening

Crying and nobody seeing it

Hurting and no one noticing.

Loneliness is a monster

I want to slay but can’t fight

A monster who’s winning

My joy for life as the prize.

 

P.S.- If you feel like this, know you’re not alone and that even though that’s no consolation, there is a strange comfort in knowing someone else somewhere understands how you feel. Never hesitate to reach out to a friend, a therapist, maybe even a stranger…and when everything else fails, write it down. There is magic in the written word.

 

Finding balance (Or How Not To Go Bonkers)

Finding balance

(Or how not to go bonkers trying to make it as a writer.)

I was reading a friend’s post recently where she mentioned having dreamed all her life of becoming a writer because as an introvert it seemed to be her dream job–on her own, quietly writing away, never having to interact with others.  Like her, I found out how fanciful that dream was. Being a writer may have been at one point an introvert dream job but today is nothing but.

woman-865111_1920

If I was still wondering whether the madness that has become my life since my first book was published was a normal occurrence in this profession, every panel I attended at RT-Atlanta confirmed it certainly was.  Ever since RT I have attended another workshop for authors and the refrain is always the same: market, promote, interact, do, do, do…

Being a writer, it turns out, is not that different from being a parent–nobody ever tells you that after that baby’s born you’ll never have another moment’s peace.

headache

Don’t like to interact with others? You’re in the wrong business.

Don’t like to toot your own horn? Wrong business. No one will do it for you (unless you pay them handsomely)

Never been much of a salesperson? Well, honey get ready to become a salesman extraordinaire.

There are promos to post, reviewers to chase down and win over. Adverts, teasers, banners to design, set up and post. Giveaways to organize, swag to either buy or make, signings, symposiums, workshops, and conferences to attend… are you tired yet?

Oh yeah, and there’s the small matter of actually writing–editing, revising, blurb and synopsis drafting, submitting it to publishers or, if you’re self-published, formatting, finding a cover designer… holy crap, it never ends.

There are online takeovers, interviews, blog tours, newsletters… it’s truly insane.

Daffy Duck

So how do you keep from going totally bonkers? Several writers at RT mentioned a schedule. “A schedule? What’s that? I thought us authors were supposed to be a wild bunch that go with the flow, allowing the muse to determine our path, no deadlines, no commitments.” Right!

So a schedule, as simple an idea as it is, it’s the perfect little tool that may stand between sanity and total madness. I haven’t quite mastered it yet but I fully intend to. Here are some resources that may help you–and me–find that much needed balance in your life as a writer. In the meantime, don’t be shy and share your wisdom in the comments. What does your schedule look like? What things do you do to keep sane among the chaos?

Advice on how to plan your writing day

Useful forms and templates 

Inspiration from famous writers 

An Introvert In The Crowd

My New Year’s resolution was to be more outgoing and challenge myself to attend lots and lots of writing-related events.

Let me explain why this is important and difficult to me. I’ve always been an introvert. I love people and I do like socializing, but when that involves crowds bigger than two or three it all becomes too stressful for me. Even in small groups, socializing always requires at least a few hours (a few days being ideal) of decompressing and quietness afterwards. I lack the self-confidence that would allow me to feel comfortable hanging out with people I don’t necessarily know very well. My anxiety makes me question everything I say or do constantly (it’s exhausting) and if I decide to just be silent–which I do more often than not–then I chide myself for being unsocial and unnoticeable. Such is the life of a true introvert; we don’t want to be noticed but also don’t want to vanish into the background–and we envy those who always seem to so effortlessly steal the limelight.

funny-introvert-comics-52-574432b5eda51__700
I have challenged myself all my life in this arena. As a young woman I chose a profession that wouldn’t give me the option of NOT being around people and speak in public. I was a tour guide, in charge of large groups of people. I not only had to “herd” them from one place to another but also deliver long, detailed speeches about the places we were visiting, often in more than one language. I loved it, but everyday I had to go home and bury my head in the sand for a while.

speaker-2148213_1920
Before that, I worked in a ClubMed-type resort where I had to crawl out of bed super early and–oh the horrors–sit and make small talk with the guests during breakfast (in French). I also had to get on stage every night and perform some kind of skit–sometimes a lip-synced musical, a mime, or a comedy skit. So out of my comfort zone.

stage-1015653_1920

I’m used to being always uncomfortable in social situations–doesn’t mean I have to like it–but I now fear it is hurting my writing career. So I challenged myself again and booked myself into various writing-related events. I just came back from RT Atlanta, one of the biggest romance writers and readers convention in the US.  I had a lot of fun meeting and getting to know my publisher and all the ladies that work for her–editors and writers. What an amazing team I’m part of.  I’ve been back for three days and my neck and shoulders are still recovering from the tension of meeting new people.

eye-2274884_1280

 

Yesterday I attended an outdoors book sale where I met two other romance writers and in spite of my lack of confidence I actually interacted with the public and even sold a couple books.

In August I’m sitting on my second panel of the year. It’s not an easy thing for me to do even if I will be talking about one of my favorite things in writing–world building–but I’m hoping to put myself “out there”, make myself recognizable and network.

I have signed up for meetings, workshops, book signings…I’m doing the branding, marketing “thing”. It’s exhausting and gratifying all at once. Take my word for it; it’s not easy being an introvert in a very extrovert world.social battery

How many introverts out there? Do you ever challenge yourself? Share your experiences with us.I’d love to hear from you.

 

The Vexing Issue of Time

The great J.K. Rowlings once said, “Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.”

Ruthless writing.jpg

It’s heartwarming and validating to know that even the great writers of our time, those who have met with immeasurable success and I would kill to have as my best friends (well, most of them) and/or mentors still struggle with the same problems a writer of little or no renown like me. Unfortunately it doesn’t make the issue any less vexing to the likes of writers who like myself have to actually fight for a few minutes of sacred writing time in a world that demands your attention 24/7. And when you do stand up like “a Hungarian Horntail” to defend that time you are viewed as selfish and/or neglectful of your responsibilities (even when those so-called responsibilities comprise of watching your husband sleep in the recliner with the news blaring on the TV) .

coffee latte art with woman hand

 

I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I had to vent. I have had one week of what should have been blissful free time while my students are enjoying their Spring break, and for the most part I did manage to write a bit (and edit), but I was looking forward to a great many days of having nothing else to do but catch up on my long overdue reading, great TV shows and movies, and yes, time to indulge in my two WIPs without guilt. It didn’t happen quite that way.

time to write

I had family over for most of the break. Don’t get me wrong: it was great to see and get to interact with these ladies. I had fun. Just not the writing “fun” I so yearn for–you know, those peaceful moments when you can write without feeling (or made to feel) guilty you are not being the good host, or washing the dishes, or cooking a healthy meal. The moments when you can reach out to your laptop the minute you get an awesome idea, or that instance when you figure out that character who’s been bugging you for weeks.

book with heart.jpeg

Tomorrow I go back to my day job and my sweet (however energy-sucking little creatures they may be) students which leaves me with a very short daily window to get any writing done and no time or energy to read or do other activities that inspire me to write.

sunset-1815991_1920

I’m already looking forward to Memorial Day Weekend! Who’s with me?

Becoming a Writer- A Journey of a Lifetime

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Or maybe just wiser. But I found myself philosophizing my path into becoming the writer I am today and what I hope to be in the future.

I have always loved writing. And I do mean always. I have been creating stories and characters since I first learned how to write. I think I was probably making up stories in my head even before I knew how to put them down on paper (I’m ancient. There were no computers back then).

meditation-1023497_1920

Many years ago (I won’t say how many but it was before the advent of the electronic mail) I decided to try the publication route. Until then I had written for fun, for myself. But I wanted to share my stories with the world, as terrifying as that was. So one day, when my oldest son was still a newborn, I wrote a novel, went to the library to check out a copy of the Writer’s Market, and began spending the little money we had on good quality paper, copying, and stamps. I still have the records from back then when the rejection letters came one after another, ripping my heart and my dreams to shreds.

I know now I wasn’t ready. I really wasn’t. I realize in hindsight that my whole life has been a long practice run for what was ultimately that moment in time when I decided to submit something during a PitMad on Twitter and got published.

social-media-1233873_1920

My childhood years when my father took me and my sister on road trips around my country, visiting different places and learning new things were all research trips. Those years that our family lived in different places in Africa, learning new languages, new ways, news perspectives on life? Research. My days as an animateur at a Club Med-type resort were nothing else than groundwork for characters and plot twists. The earthquakes I lived through, the hurricane, the tornado scares…fodder for stories. Losing my dad, my grandmother’s many strokes, my c-section, yoga lessons, medieval re-enactment events, being bullied as a kid and as an adult, having a son with a mental illness…you get the point. Every step of my life is now a piece in a rather vast bank of ideas and resources for my writing. I feel blessed I had such a rich life so far (even though I always thought it was a boring life) and I pledge to use it in all my stories.

photgraphs

Some people take years to finish one novel. Others take years to gather enough material to write many stories. Which type of writer are you?

P.S. -Here’s a poem I wrote a while back about the sounds of my life (I’m almost sure I have posted it before but I’m too lazy to go look for it) that sort of summarizes the sources of my inspiration. I’m no poet so I apologize in advance. I hope you enjoy it at least a little bit.

The Sounds of My Memories

How does a memory sound?

My memories sound like ocean waves breaking against the sand,

Christmas songs sang out of tune,

Hail Marys and Our Fathers whispered at night.

My memories sound like my father saying goodnight

Or the last time we said goodbye.

They sound like my mother’s voice calling us to the table,

Teaching us to be kind.

My grandfather doubting men ever walked on the moon

And my grandma reminiscing about her honeymoon.

The sound of the Chestnut Man yelling

Quentes e boas!” in the cold of the street.

The whistle of the Knife-Sharpening man,

Early in the morning, drawing us in.

An old pop song playing in the background,

The sound of pots and pans in the kitchen,

The national anthem playing on TV at midnight,

What’s up doc?” and “I tawt I taw a putty tat”.

My memories sound like jet planes

Landing and taking off,

Tighten your seat belts” and “Please, don’t smoke.”

My memories squeak like airport dollies

And old airplane rolling stairs.

They are thunder and wind of an African storm,

The roaring of the fast waters of the Congo River,

The incessant bartering of women at the market,

The pleads of the beggars in the streets,

The moaning of the sick and the lonely.

My memories whistle like the wind on Scottish muirs,

And growl like the Puffins at Dunnottar.

The crystalline sound of my baby son’s laughter

And the Scottish accent of my four-year old.

Carolers singing throughout the night,

A medieval tune played out of sight.

Whistle and “Captain Aboard”,

Crowds of Navy families crying goodbyes,

Or celebrating hellos.

The silence of a Pacific Mountain,

The peace of the Puget Sound.

My memories have so many sounds.

They whisper in my ears,

Quietly, soundlessly sometimes.

They yell at me,

Loud and piercing other times.

They are echoes of my past,

Little souvenirs of feelings, thoughts, impressions,

Tiny mosaics that made me strong enough to last.

 

 

A Constellation of Stars

I hung out with a constellation of stars this past weekend. Okay, maybe not exactly real stars (like in the heavenly bodies) but certainly with stars in their eyes. I speak of the fellow romance writers and all around amazing women I met during my stint at pretending to be a famous author at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

Last year I came across (can’t even remember how) information about this yearly festival and that there was a chance–however slim–my books may be picked to be represented there. Nobody can blame me of being unenthusiastic. In fact I am at times stupidly optimistic. At the time I had one book published and one under contract and nobody knew who the hell I was (that part still holds true today, I’m afraid). But I had to try. I have missed so many good things in my life for being overly-cautious or just plain not confident enough, that I have decided in recent years to be brave even when it seems I’m just being impulsive. I went for it. The worst thing that could happen was none of my books would be picked and I would be out of four softcovers.

VABokFestHeroines

I entered both the book I had out and the one that would be published before the deadline of November. As it turned out I sent copies of Desert Jewel after the deadline already. Imagine my surprise when not only was D.J. picked for the Festival but I was picked to be a speaker. A speaker! You know, talking in front of people I don’t know.

Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep the week leading to my panel. Especially after I received the questions the moderator, Her Awesomeness herself, Madeline Iva, who gave me an awful lot more credit than I probably deserved. Those questions were hard!

Paranormal Romance Panel 3 authors

I relaxed significantly after talking to my co-panelist, the fabulous Pintip Dunn and equally amazing Margaret Locke. Knowing that they had both dubbed it the Torture Panel because of the difficulty of the questions made me feel a whole lot better about it, strangely enough.

I could not have asked for a better moderator or co-panelists. What a fantastic group of women writers. I hope I didn’t sound too stupid because I definitely had a lot of fun.

Even though I didn’t sell one single copy of my book (kind of used to it) I had a proud moment when the winner of  a raffle picked the poster of the cover of my book over these other great books and told me she was going to try and convince her book club to read it. Score!

20170325_093446

All in all it was a great weekend. The other authors, the city of Charlottesville, the panels (who would have thought that listening to the male voices of audio romance books would be this exciting?), having two of my friends there to cheer me on…it was out of this world.

Note: If you’d like to hear (because you won’t be able to see us since it was recorded from a distance) our panel, Heroines of Destiny hop on to my Facebook page where I have posted it and some other pictures from the event.

Challenging My Introvert-Self

If you follow me you probably know by now that I’m an introvert. I love people, but I need my quiet and alone time. I love meeting with my friends but if I meet with more than a couple at time, I need a day or two to recuperate. It physically drains me.

I don’t go to concerts (unless it’s a classical music one and  I can sit in the dark while listening to it) even though I love music because I can’t handle the crowds, the noise, the constant movement…I hate being like that sometimes!

morning-1035090_1920

Now that I am a bona fide published writer I discovered that I must try and do what does not come naturally to me if I want to make an impact with potential readers and/or potential publishers. It’s not the first time that I’m called to challenge my introvert-self. My first career, a tour guide in Portugal, required me to speak to a bus full of people (in different languages) on a regular basis. So, my new year’s resolution for 2017 was to put myself out there.

My first chance is coming up this Saturday as I will speak in public to a room full of people (hopefully it won’t be empty) as part of  a three-author panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book. My partners in crime have a lot more experience than I do.One is a New York Times bestselling author of YA fiction and winner of a RITA award (not to mention she’s a Harvard graduate) and the other is a full PAN member of the Romance Writers of America which requires the author to have sold quite a few books. I am neither.

VABokFestHeroines

I am a second language learner who has always loved to read and write. I have a couple degrees in two countries and I have sold very few books in spite of having three out. Needless to say I’m a freaking nervous wreck.

In May I will be travelling to Atlanta for the great RT Book Lovers Convention where I will meet my amazing publisher and a bunch of other authors. I’m so excited to meet them all but very nervous as well.

And to further challenge myself I just applied to be a speaker at another big writers’event in September (not sure my proposal will be accepted but…hey!). Apparently I’m a sucker for punishment, lol.

Moral of the story? Not sure there is one but, if you’re an introvert like me, know that you can do it. It’s not easy and you may not sleep the week preceding the event (yeah, I’m pretty exhausted) but you CAN do it! Introverts of the world unite…even if in a different place and by yourselves (paraphrased from a FB post I saw a while back. Sorry I can’t remember the author’s name).

FotB_2017_Natalina

Roller Coaster Ride

Living with someone who suffers  from a mental illness is like being stuck in a roller coaster ride for life. At first it’s scary but you can ride it out knowing–or hoping–the dips will eventually end but after a while, the non-stop changes in direction, rises and falls begin messing with your sense of equilibrium.

roller coaster dip

My youngest son was always an active, bright, and adventurous kid. There was never a boring moment with him. He could be just as sweet as he was horrible and he came to earn the nickname of Houdini because there was no restraints that he couldn’t break from. By the time he was three or four he had figured out how to unlock all the children’s safety locks in the house. Car seats were no challenge for him, and when I bought a four-point harness to keep him in child seats at restaurants and coffee shops, his future career as an escape artist was looking very bright indeed.

Art was strong in this one. He loved dancing, singing, and playing instruments. He was playing the guitar in fourth grade and joined the strings orchestra in fifth. By the time he was in high school he was playing with local orchestras and being spotlighted as a soloist. In his senior year we had the opportunity to visit New York city with his orchestra and he decided then that’s where he was going to study music.violin-374096_1920

All his dreams (and mine) came crushing down one evening when he walked into our living room and declared to my husband and I that he was Jesus and like Jesus he must die in order to save his friends. At first we thought he was high on something but this went on for days afterwards with Facebook posts and strange and scary behavior from him. He began going to bed with whatever “weapon” he could find (gardening tools, kitchen knives) because they were after him. Who they were was never established.

He would get in his car and drive for hours sometimes in the middle of snow storms or tornado watches and often would stay in the car all night because “the house was not safe”. It became quite apparent to us that something had shifted in his mind. His behavior became more erratic and risky to himself and us at the house.

canvas-1905732_1920

Since then he has been hospitalized five times before we finally managed to find the right cocktail of meds that made him stable. He was stable for a few years until recently when he lost his balance again. The roller coaster began again…

Living with a mental health patient is difficult enough, but the system makes it even more difficult. As parents of an adult we have no rights whatsoever. Patient’s rights to confidentiality–which I totally believe in most cases–dictates that someone who is going through a psychotic episode and thinks everyone is literally watching and out to get him has to be the one deciding about his treatment options.

This roller coaster ride means sleepless nights followed by days when your body is at work but your mind is at home wondering what he’s up to. It is long days at work followed by hours of mind-exhausting nonsensical rants, followed by more sleepless nights. It means not having a single knife or headache medicine readily available because they have all been hidden somewhere safe, just in case.

woman-73403_1920

I never liked roller coasters, not even as a child. I don’t like anything that keeps me off balance. I don’t even like rocking chairs because of that. The universe sure has a warped sense of humor to put me in this ride and keep me in constant chaotic shifting and turning. I want out but know I am stuck on this ride for life. He’s my son and I love him. Seeing him unstable and suffering kills me one cell at a time. And there is nothing I can do to help him.

 

NOTE: This last return to our roller coaster ride was due in great measure to unwise choices my son made. It is totally possible to control most mental illnesses these days as long as you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices; such as taking your meds regularly, getting enough sleep, keeping partying to a minimum, and staying away from any substance that will make your condition spin out of control. At some point my son became very comfortable in the knowledge he was stable and decided he didn’t have to be cautious anymore. Thus the sudden “dip” again. He is now on the right track and staying away from everything that may cause him trouble. Of course, there is no guarantee he will stick to it forever. I’m cautiously hopeful…

Germ Attack and Getting Old…

I’ve been hit by the bug. Not sure which bug but definitely a nasty, unwanted bug that has made me feel miserable for the past week and sent me back in my work load another couple weeks. Normally I write a lot when I’m sick but this particular germ brought a nasty headache with it. My brain feels as if someone has put my head in a vise for a few days. Four days of utter misery and a diet of meds. On the positive side I’ve lost weight. On the negative side I haven’t got anything accomplished. No grocery runs, no cleaning, no lesson plans, no yoga, no writing.

sickgirl

I bring this lovely subject matter up because I have come to realize that getting old sucks big time. Let me explain. Three years ago I would have bounced back this thing, be back at work and go to exercise afterwards. I remember having minor surgery in the morning and going to work in the afternoon. I used to think my friends were “milking” it when they acted as if they were dead after a simple cold. I had done it all; surgeries, wisdom teeth extractions, colds, even an ulcer without having to barely take any time off work. Until about a year ago when I had another of my repeat-offender surgeries in the morning and decided gleefully to go to work in the afternoon. Big mistake! The difference one year made. Something changed. I thought I was going to die. As soon as the anesthesia began wearing off I was in hell. So sure I could bounce off it as I had done many times before, I had refused any pain medicine. I had never needed it before, why start now? Because apparently your body just had it, foolish woman! 

tisana

Same with this cold. I’m not suffering from the flu or any major illness. It’s a freaking cold. And it is kicking my butt. Everything hurts from my head to my toes (and I mean that literally) and all I can gather energy to do is sleep. The simple act of getting dressed and driving to the store down the street to get meds left me exhausted. Is this what I can expect from now on? Is this what getting old feels like? Can someone get me off this ride please? It’s not fun anymore.

From the Ashes of Hate

Caution: venting ahead.

I’ve been so disappointed with humanity lately. I woke up today feeling exhausted and felt even worse after listening to the news. Those of you who know me or follow me here and/or on Facebook know that I very rarely talk about politics, religion or sports (you may laugh about the last one but being married into a sports-fanatic family this is a no-no subject in our house). Being a woman of a certain age means I have been through many things the younger crowd can’t even imagine (now I really sound like my grandma).

political-signs

When I was ten my country went through a revolution. The fascist government that had been in power pretty much since royalty became a thing of the past was deposed after a military coup. For the next decade we lived and breathed politics—and what people who had been repressed for far too long thought meant freedom. The music we heard, the movies we watched, the shows on TV, the conversation at the coffee shop were all around politics.  It took a long time to go back to the regularly scheduled program of life in the global stage. I don’t want to go back to that.

I am tired of all the arguing and finger-pointing that has been going on for the past year. Worse, my heart breaks every time I watch news of violence in the name of ideologies that profess tolerance and peace. What the hell are we doing?

hand-pointing-out-1465802608efl

I hear from friends who have “unfriended” friends and family members because they were on the “other side” (whatever the side may be), husbands and wives fighting over politics, hate spewing from people’s mouths no matter where you turn to. I’m tired. I feel cranky all the time. I go to yoga, find my peace but as soon as I leave the studio it hits me again, that anger that permeates the air of lately.

I thought we, humans, had evolved but it seems like we take one step forward only to take many more backwards. Freedom is our right, but let’s not forget what the definition of freedom is. I had to take a class on economy and politics when I was in college. I don’t remember much about it but there is one thing I will never forget; the way individual freedoms were defined. It goes like this: you’re free to do whatever up to the point when it begins infringing on somebody else’s freedom. That’s where it stops. I have lived by that tenet ever since. There’s been a lot of people stepping over that line these past few months.

freedom

I have friends in both sides of the debate and it’s been painful to watch as one side attacks the other. And you want to know what the irony (and scariest) part of it all is? As someone who has never supported one side or the other exclusively and is an expert at observing (a major perk of being an introvert) I hear the almost exact complaints from either side. The left blames those on the right for the same things the right blames those on the left. It’s insane. It’s exhausting and serves absolutely no other purpose than creating an environment of anger and negative energy.

Yesterday, for the first time in a long while, I felt a glint of hope that we may yet be peaceful and rational people. From the ashes of what has been a troubling wave of hate and violence, something beautiful emerged. I’m so proud of what women across the country (and some males) managed to do yesterday (Jan 21). Crowds of thousands across the country marched in solidarity and peace to demand the respect we deserve as human beings. Ladies, I’m so proud of being a woman in the US today. Thanks you for protesting in peace. You give me hope.

womansmarchyoga

Note:  I didn’t make it to the March because of my fear of crowds (anxiety issues) but together with a few other women I celebrated the occasion at yoga by focusing on the fifth chakra (voice) and in solidarity with all my friends who were marching in a super crowded Washington D.C.