The Only Way to Fail is to do Nothing

No one wants to talk about, or even think about, failure.

Fear of failure is what keeps us from acting, from trying new things, from fulfilling our dreams.  Because there’s that little nagging voice in the back of our heads that whispers, “What if you fail?  If you don’t try it in the first place, you can’t fail.”

Lies, I say!

I used to subscribe to this way of thinking…for years, in fact.  I have always been writing, but I haven’t always written original stories like I do now.  I spent years and years living in the wonderful world of fan fiction, both reading and writing it.  I was comfortable playing with other people’s characters, but create my own?  Well, that was downright scary.

What a daunting task!

Even after I woke in the middle of one mid-October night in 2006 with a fictional name on my lips and an idea to write a story based on my late grandma’s life, I still didn’t fully embrace conquering my fears.  The momentum of excitement over the idea drove me for a few weeks.  I created a family tree with character names, read my grandma’s accounts of what it was like growing up in the early twentieth century, took notes, and even wrote two chapters.  Over the next two years, I turned out two more chapters.  In early 2009, I had four chapters and not much else.  

Of course, during this time, I was prolific with writing fan fiction.  That took center stage.  But write an original story?  I’d have the idea in the back of my mind and think about sitting down to write more, but I rarely actually opened the document.

I told several friends that my dream was to be a published author.  I had a couple of people who would ask how my story was going.  My answer: It’s not.

And as much as I wanted to be an author, I didn’t really think it would seriously happen.  Ever.

Then a funny thing happened in March of 2015.  I wasn’t writing much fan fiction any longer, my life filled with taking care of my kids.  I thought, “Why don’t I just try it?  I’ll commit myself to writing for fifteen minutes a day, every day, and see what happens.  Even if I never publish it or share it with anyone, at least I can say I wrote an original story.”

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Ten months later, I had my first draft.  A few months after that, I had a final draft and tried querying agents.  Scary, right?

It wasn’t scary at all, but rather liberating and amazing!  I couldn’t believe I’d done it, and I was now serious about writing more books, already in the process of writing two more manuscripts.  

I was prepared for rejection from agents, as I had read a lot about the process.  Few unknowns get their foot in the door.  That was okay with me, because the bigger accomplishment was writing and then editing the story!  I had looked my fear of failure in the eye and owned it.  It wouldn’t be a failure to me if no agent picked it up, because I had done something to be proud of.  I self-published the book, and now I’m living my dream.

The failure wasn’t in not traditionally publishing it.  Nor was it is not making a ton of money or having a load of people read it.  

Because I wrote it.  I tried, really made the effort.

The only way I would have failed would have been to not write the story AT ALL.

So you try something and decide it’s not for you, or you start something and give it your all and it doesn’t pan out.  Okay.  You did NOT fail.  You tried, really tried.  You didn’t let fear dictate your life.

I have come to firmly believe that the only way we fail is to do nothing.

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

That’s in the same spirit as my belief about the only way to fail.

Be bold.  Be courageous.  Be triumphant.

Because life isn’t meant to be lived in a box.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

 

Review of Emilia: The Darkest Days in History of Nazi Germany Through a Woman’s Eyes by Ellie Midwood

Warning: contains spoilers.

emiliaEvery so often, a novel feels so real that the characters seem to be breathing right off the page.  Emilia is one of those stories.

The title clearly states what this book is about, but it doesn’t give away the horrors that the protagonist, Emilia Brettenheimer, endures during World War II.  Emilia is a young Jewish woman who grew up in Germany, but her family is forced to relocate to a ghetto.  She lives with her parents and three brothers, two of whom are considered useful workers in the ghetto.

While living in the ghetto, she thinks her life has surely taken a turn for the worse.  Food is hard to come by, at least enough food to thrive.  She begins, out of desperation, to give away the family’s hidden gold and then her services, in the sexual sense, to an SS guard named Richer, in exchange for enough food to feed her family.

She becomes pregnant with his child.  Just when she is on the brink of wondering what to do, things turn even darker.  Her mother, Hannah, and she are carted off to a labor camp in Poland after the unthinkable happens.

We all know the horrors of concentration camps.  Emilia’s baby is aborted, and she is put through a harrowing procedure that renders her no longer able to have children.  I cannot imagine the physical and emotional pain that would have involved.  Being a mother, having my children is one of my greatest blessings.  To take that away from a person is to say they are somehow not worthy of being a parent, that they are subhuman and should be allowed to be neutered or spayed like an animal.

The one saving grace poor Emilia has is her new friend, Magda, a red-headed girl about her age who finds something to be grateful for in the midst of hell.  Magda explains that an attractive young woman like Emilia could use her looks to get on the good side of the SS guards and get more food.  It’s a matter of survival.  The game they’re playing has no real winners, for a young woman loses her innocence to get a piece of bread.  Some of the guards are no less than bears, the sex nothing less than pure rape.

What Emilia had with Richer was heavenly bliss in comparison.

Things continue to unravel.  Emilia’s life spirals downward, for how can she hope to survive this horror, let alone hold to the belief that there is any mercy to be had?  

The war ends, but the price of survival is too much to pay.  Embittered to the point of hatred for her tormentors, and understandably so, Emilia tries to make her way in this new world.

Yet there are people in Emilia’s life who have been the balm of healing, those who have shown her a better way.  Will Emilia, broken and battered from her experiences, choose to hold onto her shattered pieces, or will she manage to rebuild her live, one piece painstakingly at a time, to create the masterpiece of forgiveness, wholeness, and love?

Ellie Midwood’s extensive knowledge of World War II is evident throughout.  She writes Emilia’s experiences with gut-wrenching rawness.  It hurts to read, but you can’t stop.  Perhaps to experience just a small fraction of the pain a Jewish woman would have endured during those years is a testament to us all of the horrors of humanity and one of the lowest points of history for mankind.  To think there are things going on like this in the world today is an atrocity.  This fictional book raises awareness to a very real evil.

5 out of 5 stars

Buy Ellie’s book here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

Review of First of September by Kathleen Joyce

21150214_1907201166200024_3636356680373994494_nYou know that cozy feeling of holding a warm beverage, wrapped in a blanket, and curling up with a good book by the fire?  That’s Kathleen Joyce’s cozy mystery…with a murder or two in the mix.

I admit that I haven’t read many cozy mysteries, but the appeal is inviting from page one of First of September.  The main character is a 46-year-old divorcee named Clare Harrigan, who lives in charming fictitious town Amelia Bay in the Pacific Northwest.  Clare is a potter and mother to grown children, and she has a group of the best friends a girl could ask for–the group tight since childhood.

Only one of the members of the group, Addie, turns up dead.  The police are saying it’s an accident.  Clare doesn’t think so.

She knows Addie, after all.  Just before Addie turned up dead on the beach outside her home, she seemed excited to be starting a new life.  Add to the mix that Addie hated swimming and being near water in general, so when her body turns up near water, Clare knows something isn’t right.  Amelia Bay is a small town that talks, and Addie has some secrets from her past that haven’t been forgotten by everyone in town.

The police don’t take Clare seriously at first.  But as another murder shortly follows, Clare and her friends can’t help but be involved.  The sleuthing begins as page after page Clare, Bev, Liz, and the other ladies discuss their thoughts and findings over wine, coffee, and food described with such detail that the delicious smell comes right off the page, inducing hunger in the reader.

Of course, these ladies aren’t just content to sit around and talk.  They get involved, sometimes whether they like it or not.  They question possible suspects and go looking for evidence at the crime scene and around town.

All this action is written with care and loving detail.  There are especially beautiful passages where Kathleen describes the outdoors or the interior of a home.  Being an interior decorator earlier in her life, it shows that Kathleen knows what she’s talking about.  The same is true when she writes about the process of pottery.  She writes from experience, and this is a nice touch.

When I got to the end, I was surprised who the murderer was, and it’s my bet that you won’t be able to guess whodunnit.  Kathleen’s easy flow of her prose keeps the reader guessing with every page turn.  Her characters come to life off the page.  I truly cared about them and what happened to them.  All in all, this is a well-rounded novel for this author’s debut book.

And the best part?  Clare’s story isn’t over!  First of September is just the first book in a series!

5 out of 5 stars!

Purchase First of September here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

Saying Goodbye to Toxic Friendships

We all do it.  We eat the chocolate cake because it just tastes so damn good.

And then some of us hate ourselves in the morning for the indulgence, and we wonder why (WHY?) we ate it in the first place, knowing it’s choke full of bad stuff–fat, sugar, calories.

Like that chocolate cake, we just can’t say no to some friendships.  Yes, even the bad ones.

At least the cake doesn’t talk back to us…unless we mean by the extra cushioning around our butts telling us, “Thanks for the calories, honey!”

But I digress.  Perhaps I’m being so goofy because the subject matter of this blog is really quite serious and not an easy thing to tackle.  Okay, big girl pants are on.  Here we go.

I’ve had my share of what I call toxic friendships, from the time I was a little girl, well into my adulthood.  As a kid, it’s common for friends to make fun of each other.  The pressure to be cool–to look cool, at least–is high.  When the opportunity presented itself, I could be just as mean as some of the girls who taunted me.  

In seventh grade, I had two friends who took me shopping at the mall to basically give me a makeover because my clothes weren’t cool enough.  The funny thing is, they didn’t want to actually spend any of their hard-earned allowance money on me.  No, I was supposed to do that.  So why the guise of them taking me on a shopping spree?  I wound up buying some tacky outfit that was bright and didn’t match, which was my style back then–much to their dismay.  And these girls were my closest friends at the time.  We still hung out, but looking back, I’d say the pettiness of that day was due more to our ages than true backstabbing.

I think it’s safe to say that kids can just be plain mean, even to their friends.  But adults?

Yes.

I had this notion as a child that when I grew up, everyone would be mature enough to treat each other with respect.  While I find that most people are kind, there are those who seem generally unhappy and pour their misery onto others.  When it’s a stranger I’m dealing with who is unpleasant, it can get to me, but I know we will go our separate ways and never have to cross paths again.

But when it’s someone who I consider a friend who treats me like a rug to wipe their shoes on, especially frequently, this is a big red flag that this is not a healthy relationship.  Let me be clear that abuse is not okay in any relationship, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, or whatever.  Sadly, many people will stay in bad relationships, including friendships, out of a sense of obligation or guilt.  They feel like they owe the other person something, often because the abuser holds something over the abusee’s head.

Chances are the abuser is unhappy because they have a poor image of themselves, but this doesn’t make is all right to hurt others.  Now, we will say and do hurtful things from time to time, but if this is done frequently, if the abuser apologizes and yet still continues to exhibit the same sorts or behaviors, or the abuser makes the abusee feel like it’s their fault, this type of relationship needs to end.

I have had a few friendships over the years where the friend was someone I was very close to.  We spent a lot of time together, much of that time good and fun.  I knew these people as well as myself–at least I thought I did.  I am not going to toot my own horn, but I believe I am a good friend, at least I try to be.  I offer my support, lend a listening ear, give hugs, and have given more when I felt it was needed.  

Sadly, not everyone returns what is given.  While it is better to give than to receive, I believe that a true friendship should be equal.  If one person is doing all the giving, that is draining.  There are times when I may need my friend’s support, and if time and time again it isn’t given, something is wrong.

I had a friend in my early twenties who I hung out with three to four days a week.  I would go running to her the moment she called, sometimes to the dismay of others in my life.  We would go out to eat or go to the bookstore, always buying books.  Unfortunately, I was the one who usually had the money, so I often spent it on her as well.  She once told me I was her source of entertainment, and that hurt.  This went on for a couple of years, and while we had great talks and there were plenty of good times, I knew this friendship wasn’t healthy.  I ended it shortly after getting married.

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I had another friend who often gave me the silent treatment, leaving me to wonder what I had apparently done to upset her.  When she finally would talk to me, I was always the one to blame, and to this day, I still don’t know why she thought I was the type of person who would cause her pain, on purpose or inadvertently.  She confessed in tears once that she was unhappy because the things she wanted out of life had been denied to her, yet all her friends had them–marriage and kids.  While this was heartbreaking and understandable, her misery projected onto me and others wasn’t right or fair.  That friendship also ended.

Another friend burned me on three occasions over about a year.  Until that point, our friendship was a good one, but life circumstances had us going in two different directions.  She would post things on Facebook that were clearly aimed at me, although she didn’t mention my name.  She knew I would see those posts, however.  For some reason, she was jealous of me, I think, and instead of being happy for me, she took out her displeasure on me.  There were times when I was going through a very tough spot with my autistic son, and she knew this.  Instead of being supportive, she attacked me, saying I had a huge support system and shouldn’t have complained of feeling alone.  Raise your hand if you know how it feels to be alone, even when surrounded by people!  

The sad thing is, I forgave her twice.  We talked through things twice.  I asked her not to play games with me again, but by the third time, it was too much.  It was obvious she wasn’t going to respect me enough to talk to me face-to-face.  Friends don’t play passive-aggressive games.  They talk through things.

When I discussed these toxic friendships with my therapist recently, she said that I had to just keep those doors closed, as much as it may hurt.  I told her that it felt like someone had died when each of those friendships ended, especially the most recent one.  She said, “You’re right.  It is sad when a friendship ends on bad terms, but you have to keep moving forward.”

She is right.  See, the thing is, I forgive these people, but I cannot forget the pain they’ve caused me.  I forgive them so I can move on.  I wish them well in their lives, but I cannot be a part of their lives.  Forgiving doesn’t mean I’m saying it was okay what they did, but it’s so I can heal and realize the blessings of the good people in my life.

Toxic friendships can ruin other relationships.  You can wind up devoting too much of your time, energy, resources, money, and heart on people who will just drain you and hurt you.  This takes away from the blessing of those who treat you well, who love you, who support you.

So if you have a toxic friendship, I urge you to weigh the options.  As hard as it might be, consider shutting that door, however that needs to happen.  Other doors will open.  You will breathe fresh air.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.” -Tuesdays with Morrie

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My great aunt Alma and my grandma, Emma, circa 1931

Today, I am going to share something very special to me, something close to my heart.  Below is the true story that inspired my first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow:

When I was fifteen years old, my grandmother was terminally ill. Months earlier, she had had a sarcoma removed from her leg and had undergone radiation therapy. She was given a clean bill of health in February of that year (1995). Shortly thereafter, she went to the hospital because she had fluid in her lungs, and when they did a scan, they found a spot: the cancer had metastasized to her lungs in a matter of months. Although given two to six months to live, her time on Earth would be much shorter than that.

The day she was released from the hospital and placed under Hospice care, I wrote a letter to her, telling her all that she meant to me, how much I loved her, and how much I would miss her. I expressed my heartfelt admiration of her courage to face what lay ahead. And I asked her to send me a sign once she reached Heaven, not because I was afraid she wouldn’t go there, but because I needed the comfort.

Two weeks later, she came to our house. It was the week before Easter, and she was to spend the time with us, and her sister from California was to come in as well. On the night she arrived, she was still walking and talking. Although thin and weak, she was still herself for the most part. I remember her eating an orange in the family room as I talked to my best friend on the phone.

The next morning, she never got out of bed. The day was gloomy and overcast with thick clouds of early April showers. We thought it might just be the weather or the fact that she had been transported the night before. I overheard my dad speaking to his brother on the phone that morning, saying he didn’t think she would live more than 24 hours. In denial, I refused to believe such nonsense. All I had ever known was a life that had my grandma as part of it; to imagine otherwise was unthinkable!

The pastor from her church came that afternoon to visit, and while doing math homework in my bedroom, adjacent to the room she was in, I heard his voice through the walls, uttering the twenty-third Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff: they comfort me.”

She was asleep most of the day, and the couple of times I approached the darkened room where she lay so still on the bed, I think I was afraid. At the time, I didn’t understand why I was feeling that way, but I think now it was because I couldn’t reconcile the figure I saw in that bed with the figure I knew of her warm smile, cheery eyes, and rosy cheeks.

Some relatives came to visit in the mid-afternoon, and she seemed to brighten some, even laugh at a few jokes. My family was originally planning on attending a concert at the high school that evening, but due to my grandma’s condition, my parents remained home with her, and my brother and I attended by ourselves.

A couple of hours later when we returned home, it was dark and still raining slightly. We parked on the street because there were a couple of other cars in our driveway, and I felt my heart skip a beat as I rushed up the driveway and into the house, not wanting to believe the worst. The first sight that greeted me was my mom walking toward me, her face lined with tears, and she was shaking her head. I knew without having to ask. To this day, over 20 years later, the events of that entire day as are clear as if they happened yesterday.

Standing in the kitchen were my uncle, my dad, and the pastor. We held hands and formed a circle as the pastor said a prayer. I left the kitchen to go to the spot where Grandma had been, but she was already gone from the bed. I saw the men from the funeral home carrying her out, covered in a sheet.

She was truly gone. That night, I dreamt that my mom died, too. While my parents were away the next day taking care of everything, I was at home in the company of my best friend, and it continued to rain. I found it in me to laugh some, finding a pair of checkered pants that was so hideously out of style, but my grandma wore them, anyway. I pulled them over my own clothes and just laughed, mostly because my best friend could always make me laugh. We were visited by a cousin and her husband, who had brought over dinner, and the four of us laughed some more. There was something therapeutic in this, although it was also a brief escape from the reality of the situation.

The wake was two days later, followed the next day by the funeral. It rained in all the days between my grandma never leaving the bed and on the day of the funeral. My letter to my grandma was read at her funeral by the pastor. The Lord’s Prayer was sang by the co-pastors, a husband and wife team. My grandma’s favorite hymn, “The Lost Chord,” was played. As the family followed the casket down the aisle, I was a sobbing mess, and my brother, who was walking alongside me, put his arm around me. I remember briefly trying not to laugh, as we had this weird thing about never touching each other as teenagers, so hugs were forbidden.

Much of the graveside service was a blur, but we stood under a tent as the rain continued. A dinner was served, and then it was over. We were on our way home. That evening, the rain finally stopped. I was in my room when I heard my mom exclaim, “Cyndi, come here!”

I ran into the front window and looked outside. Stretched across the sky was a rainbow! I smiled and knew this was my grandma’s sign to me! There was no doubting that, and to explain this away as mere coincidence is an insult to her, her memory, and to our Lord of miracles. My mom and I turned away for just a moment, and when I looked back, it was gone. To catch such a brief moment in time when that rainbow appeared was not coincidence in the least. Only my mom and I saw that rainbow; it was meant for us.

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My grandparents, Howard and Emma Grundman, circa 1942

I had the idea for the story back in October 2006.  I woke in the middle of the night with the name “Hannah Rechthart” on my mind.  “Hannah” means ”favor” or “grace.”  “Rechthart” means “right heart.”  I started writing down character names and researching.  Many details from early in Hannah’s life were taken from an autobiography my grandma wrote in high school and another she and her younger sister, Ida (whom Irma is based on), wrote later in life about growing up, called “The Billhardts of Fuller Avenue.”  I also spoke extensively with my mom and had my own memories to work with for Hannah’s later years.

I composed four chapters between October 2006 and January 2009.  Then I had my first child and my second, and the story sat for years, until I started writing in earnest in March 2015.  It may have taken a decade to finally sit down and write it all out, but only by God’s grace and my grandma’s legacy was that inspiration possible.

It’s been over twenty years since my grandma passed away, but in writing this story, I hope I was able to convey with the love I’ve always had for her that she was a wonderful person.  

May you see many rainbows in your life, wherever you go.

The Letter I Wrote to Grandma:

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Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Why Reading Matters: From a Little Girl Who Hated Reading

The second hand seemed to take an eternity to make one lousy rotation.  Tick.  The minute hand moved the slightest fraction.  A minute is forever to a seven-year-old sitting on the living room couch next to her mother, the simple supposed easy-reader book between them.

“Go ahead.  Sound it out.”

The mom’s words could have been encouraging.  Should have been.  Maybe they had been the first, second, or even the third night of this routine, but after weeks of spending what Mom insisted was “important quality time,” the girl heard only impatience in those words.

Trips to the library to pick up books for these evening readings were boring.  The little girl only marvelled at the graffiti-riddled bathroom walls while she stood in the stalls.  Talk of renovating the library in an otherwise nice suburban city had begun.

Reading “x” number of books to get enough stars on that huge poster board chart the teacher had at the front of the classroom with every student’s name and progress on it was perhaps the only motivator.  It was a race to see who could get enough stars to earn another free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut for the Book-It program.

Mmm.  The thought of a pepperoni pizza just the right size with that melting cheese, on a rare occasion when the family actually went out for dinner…

“Cyndi, please pay attention.”

The little girl sighed.  Too many exceptions to the rules of long vowel sounds and words like “thought” and “rough” and soft and hard “c” sounds… Why did reading have to be so difficult?

So, she trudged through another ten page book with a few words on every page, perhaps taking fifteen minutes that felt like fifteen hours.  All the while, the clock…tick…an eternal minute… tick…tick…

pablo (1)At the end, the girl rather thought these reading sessions were almost as bad at the numerous times she’d fallen while learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  The neighborhood had wooden fences lining the sidewalk in every yard, and going down from the bike, hands out in defense, meant a hundred splinters in the palms…then the painful hour or two of sitting on the bathroom floor while Mom removed them with the tweezers…one by agonizing one.  Yep.  That was what reading was like for this girl.

This girl was me.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t read.  I just didn’t want to.  This general dislike of reading continued as I grew older, and although I managed to usually get a B in English, it was the subject I struggled with.  I was the kid who would rather watch the movie instead of read the book.  In fourth grade, we were assigned C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I remember trying to read, only to find myself bored after a couple of pages.  I watched an old cartoon movie version from the 70s, which lacked much of the detail of the book…which plainly showed when test time came.

Interestingly enough, when the class was assigned The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, I loved that book.  Although I’m not sure what it was about this book that captured my interest, to the point that I was reading ahead, I think it might have been the intrigue of a swan who wrote on a chalkboard he wore around his name to communicate with a little boy.  I remember very little about that book all these years later, but it was probably the first book that I enjoyed reading.

By fifth grade, I still wasn’t much into reading.  Then at the class gift exchange for Christmas, I got a Babysitters Club book (by Ann M. Martin).  I was at the age where the prospect of babysitting appealed to me, and the thought of a bunch of girls my age or a little older having a club for babysitting sounded super cool.  I could relate to the characters in the story.  Maybe that was my first indication of a love for reading: needing to find something I related to.

I read that book quicker than anything and for pleasure.  The Babysitters Club series would become my first books I actually read for pleasure.  I spent that next three or four years engrossed in them, anxiously waiting for the next book to come out.  I spent my hard-earned allowance money on them and got them out of the library.  Suddenly, library visits were exciting.  I was seeing that there was a difference between reading what I wanted and having to read for school.

Still, the reading for school didn’t sit well with me.  As I progressed through junior high and had to do summer reading, I remember groaning over it.  I had a whole summer to read a lousy book, which seemed plenty of time.  As you can well imagine, I put off most of the reading until the last minute.  Reading Jurassic Park during the same summer when the movie was out was kind of neat, however, because I felt like I was reading something current.  Perhaps part of my dislike of reading stemmed from the fact that most of the stuff we were forced to read in school was historical.  I remember how deeply it struck me when reading Jurassic Park that there was a time before humans walked the earth and there would be time after.  At 13, such a thought was beyond my world.  It got me thinking.  It was also the first time I heard about DNA.

Once I was in high school, I read the assigned books and did well in English class, although it was never my favorite subject.  I was writing poetry since I was 10 or 11 and short stories, but writing for English class was a different matter.  By this time, my homework load was so large that I really didn’t have time to read for pleasure.  I worked part time at a movie theatre, was in marching band, did Aikido, and, of course, had a full course load at school.

My tenth grade English teacher didn’t like that I thought outside of the proverbial box on the test on symbolism in The Scarlet Letter.  I barely managed to pass that test.  Looking back, being forced to conform, to read what only was assigned, to write the answers that we’d been lectured on were the “right answers”….well, I didn’t like that.  Only my eleventh grade teacher (a laid-back guy who seemed like an older hippie and more like a college prof with the messy office, beard, and just-got-outta-bed hair) seemed cool.  He was unconventional.  He told us it was okay to use “I” when writing our papers.  We read a lot of poetry and just talked about it as a class.  Our individuality was encouraged.

As strict at my twelfth grade English teacher was, she was a little spit-fire.  We studied world literature that year, and it was the first time I learned about many of those cultures.  My eyes were being opened to a world much larger than American and British lit.  It was amazing.  And she challenged us.  She was the type of teacher you loved and hated and would always remember, always appreciate, always respect.

I suppose this bigger-world picture is what first got me interested in reading nonfiction, most specifically Egyptology.  I spent the better part of my late teens and early twenties reading about ancient Egypt for fun.

Once in college, I was pleasantly surprised by English 101.  We read current stuff.  Again, much of my beef with reading in English class in high school was that everything was so old.  I didn’t relate to it.  Reading Tuesdays with Morrie, which had only been written two years earlier at the time, was a love-affair with a book for me at age nineteen.  I breezed through the pages, finishing it way before schedule.  Life and death.  Living life to the fullest.  Appreciating every moment.  That was what I took away from that gem of a book.  Current affair topics like racism and sexism and such were what we read about and discussed.  This stuff felt relevant.  It was like someone had opened the window after spending years in a stuffy room.pablo (2)

College was another time in my life where I spent much time reading textbooks, so my time to read for pleasure was limited.  I’d taken more to writing fan fiction, engrossed with meeting people online who had common interests as me.  I read a lot of fan fiction as well, so since I was reading in my favorite genres, it was the escape I needed at times.  I got that escape from writing, too.

Fast forward a few years.  I was 23 and done with college, working as a research technologist.  A good friend encouraged me to pick up the Harry Potter series, of which four books were written at that time.  I’d seen the movies and enjoyed them, so I thought, “Why not?”

I devoured those books, all four of them, in two weeks, which was record time for me.  The fifth book was scheduled to be released that summer, and I joined thousands of others in anticipation.  I.  Could.  Not.  Wait.

So began my love of reading that I never would have imagined possible when I was seven.  Even as I got older, I didn’t love reading most things.  My reading for pleasure was severely limited to fan fiction, not actual books.  But hey, it was something.

I couldn’t tell you all the books I’ve read since 2003 (when I was 23).  According to Goodreads, it’s something like 400.  Most have been fiction, but some have been nonfiction.  I spent a few years diving into the classics, like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and discovering a love for the way the authors could paint a picture with their worlds and melt or stab my heart at the same time.  I marvelled at the beautiful poetry of the prose of older books and came to appreciate them deeply, relating to the characters in a way I never imagined when I was younger.

Then I read Jane Eyre in 2006 and loved it so much, I mourned the fact that Charlotte Bronte had been dead for a hundred and fifty years.  She felt so alive through her words.  It was like her breath was on every page.  I longed to discuss her masterpiece with her, what I felt was her heart’s song.  That was the first time I’d felt that passionately about a book.  Those dead authors we’d studied in school suddenly seemed very much alive.

And so I have continued on this love affair with books.  Reading matters as deeply to me as writing now, and it’s thanks to those books I mentioned above (and some great teachers and friends who encouraged my reading) that I love to read.  I am constantly reading something, usually many books simultaneously.

Reading matters because we can lose ourselves for a few hours to another world.  We can be Frodo on a quest to destroy The Ring or Harry Potter in search of the Horcruxes.  

Reading matters because it makes me a better writer.  Even if you’re not a writer, you can appreciate the art of a well-crafted book.

Reading matters because of stories.  Story is the essence of life.  People have shared stories since language existed, long before the written word.  We want to explore the human condition in all its forms, its beautiful messiness.

And guess what?  I’ve recently reread some of the books I “had to read” in school: The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.  Twenty years later, my perspective is different.  I can see those characters through the lense of a mature woman instead of a child.  I also revisited Jane Eyre and felt just as much in love as the first time.  

Reading matters because those books are like old friends, always there to comfort us and bring us home.  That’s quite something coming from a little girl who hated reading

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

The Benefits of Joining a Writers Group

There it was for probably the hundredth time on the sign outside my local library: writers group, meeting 8/18 2-4:00 PM.  Okay, maybe not the hundredth time, but how many times did I drive past the library, which is about two point five miles from my house, and see that group advertised and not do a darn thing?  The sign was one of those LED types that showed all the happenings at the library, from book discussion groups to story times for children.  And my library had a writers group.

Of course, every time I saw that sign, I wondered, What do they do at those meetings?  Do they just sit there and write?  Do writing exercises?  Or do they read each other’s work while there and comment on it?

I imagined a small group, maybe four people tops, sitting around a table with pens in hand and paper in front of them.  These folks were nameless and faceless and voiceless.  Strangers.  I couldn’t really believe that there were actually other people in my own city who were writers like me!

I’d been writing for over a year last August.  I was content with my progress at creating a finished book and self-publishing it, but I’d had to ask several friends to read it and edit for me.  Looking back, I feel like I was pulling teeth in some regards, because only about half of them got back to me, and I didn’t wish to push them into doing something they may not have wanted to do in the first place — except that they probably would have felt guilty had they said no to reading my first draft.  

While I was grateful to that group of friends, I knew that to ask my friends again for help of such a magnitude would be too much.  I was writing two more books, and let’s be honest — most people aren’t writers and editors.  

So I thought, Why not give this mysterious writers group a try?

On August 18, 2016, I approached the library with a mixed feeling of nervous energy and excitement.  Every footstep carried me closer to the light brick building I had known and visited plenty of times in the thirteen years of living here.  But this time was different.  I held tightly in my grip the first chapter of my current work in progress, thinking I needed to bring something along.

I entered the library and asked the lady behind the circulation desk where the writers group met.  She directed me to a meeting room near the back of the building, past the computers.  When I stepped into the room, at least ten people of all ages (well, thirty and up) were seated around the table and all looked at me at the same time.  The chair at the head of the long table was unoccupied, so I took a seat and offered a smile.

The woman to my left and the man to my right immediately introduced themselves to me, and a minute later, the man who ran the group (and worked at the library) told me his name (let’s call him Jack) and asked me to tell them a little about myself.  I was at ease in this group, for they were welcoming and pleasant.  And I wasn’t the only newbie that day.  Another woman (let’s call her Kate) about the same age as me (mid-thirties) was there for the first time.  Kate smiled at me across the table.  I was at home.

I sat there for the next two hours and got a handle on how the group functioned.  Everyone present had read everyone else’s work and had made comments on the content and suggestions for grammatical or punctuation changes.  As they went around the table, whoever was next in the lineup got their turn to have their work critiqued by the others.  Not everyone spoke, but most did.  I could tell most of these folks had been meeting for a while.  Their easygoing manner was inviting.  There was plenty of humor.  No one was offensive or rude.  It was like stepping into a group of good friends who were hanging out and enjoying some good food and drinks.

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At the end, Jack asked me what I thought and if I’d like to come back.  “Yes!” I said.  I gave him my email address, and he explained how the group worked: They met every two weeks.  I needed to send him up to ten pages of my stuff before the first week was up, so he could then send out everyone’s stuff about a week before the next meeting, giving us all enough time to read and comment.  

I was so enthusiastic that I sent him my chapter the very next day, even though I had a week to do so!  And so began the tradition that’s continued for almost a year.

People have come and gone from the group over the last several months, but there is a core group that keeps coming.  I have had the pleasure of reading what I consider good stories from a variety of genres from these folks: regular and cozy mysteries, romance, horror, nonfiction, short stories, sci-fi, and more.  There have been a few recent additions to the group who have become core as well, and it’s been amazing to see how the dynamic has stayed positive and inviting, with the humor never far away, since I joined.

What’s funny is that some people will shy away from joining groups like this out of fear.  If you’re a writer, maybe you just write for yourself, and that’s fine.  There are, however, many writers who want to get their stuff out there.  They write for their own pleasure and to share it with other people.  To allow fear of what others might say about your work is debilitating.  If you are serious about publishing your work, others will eventually read it…at least I would assume that’s what you want if you’re publishing it!

There have been times when what I submitted to the writers group needed some work, sometimes quite a bit of work.  I have gotten tough to swallow feedback, especially when it’s right in the moment.  Let’s face it — our writing is kind of like our baby, our kid.  We sort of fall in love with it (at least some of us do), and it’s hard to hear someone rip it apart.  Okay, that was harsh.  I have not had my stuff ripped to shreds.  No one in the group has ever discouraged me from writing or said I was wasting my time.  No one name calls or says that the work of another is only good for wiping someone’s backside.

Constructive criticism is meant to build up.  It may be tough to take, but swallow it down and let it digest a bit.  Realize that not everything you write it going to be stellar.  Some of it’s downright crap.  And that’s okay.  Because you know what?

You and I, we work at it again and again.  And come back better and stronger for it.  I am extremely and deeply grateful for my writers group.  I have told them this a few times, and I hope they believe it.

I recently finished a whole manuscript with them.  Ten months of edits on that baby have improved the story tremendously, and without this group of amazing people, I wouldn’t have been able to have the finished product I do.  

If you’ve been looking for a writers group, check out your local library.  If your library doesn’t have one, maybe there’s one in the next city over or in the county.  In this digital age, there’s no excuse not to pop online and do a search.  If you’re still out of luck, perhaps suggest to someone at the library that they start a group…or even offer to run it if they don’t have someone for the job.  If you know at least a couple of other writers who are looking for a group like this and they’re local, start a group that meets in your homes, a coffee shops, or wherever works for you.  But make the commitment to meet regularly.  Have a routine, a schedule.  Hold each other accountable to it.

If none of that works, there are plenty of groups online.  It’s not as great as face-to-face contact, but it’s better than nothing.  Facebook has loads of groups for writers, but I recommend 10 Minute Novelists.  This isn’t a group to share your story directly, but every Tuesday is Buddy Day, and you can ask for someone to read your story and edit, often in exchange for doing the same for them.  Don’t expect people to line up to read your stuff if you aren’t willing to give back.

Besides the invaluable feedback on my stories I’ve gotten from my writers group, I have made friends with them.  There have been times when the subject matter of a story has triggered something for someone in the group, and real life stories have been shared in that meeting room.  Stories of loss and heartache.  Tears have been shed.  Hugs given.  Our hearts bared.

We’re writers.  We write about our deepest fears, desires, and our heart’s song, so why wouldn’t we also express those thoughts face-to-face?  That sort of genuine interaction isn’t easily come by.

Friendship.  Constructive criticism.  People reading your story.  Improving your writing.

What’s not to love?  I’d say it’s a no-brainer.  Go join a writers group!

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog at the end of every week and a book review blog the 15th of every month.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful