Saturday, January 30, 2016

10 Authors I Love (That You Should Check Out)

One of the questions all artists get asked all the time is, "Who influenced your art?" Musicians give a long list of previous artists who inspire their style, their business choices, their image, their music. Painters do it, sculptors, actors.

Writers have that too, generally -- a list of other writers who somehow inspire the way they use words to paint images readers can feel in a tangible way, down in the depths of their hearts and souls. Today I thought I'd share with you some of the authors I love, and how they inspire me to strive to do better for you.

You might wanna get some coffee and a snack though, and settle in because this is a long one. But then again, you are a reader, so that won't bother you a bit, hmm?  *wink*



Diana Gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon is my writing hero. Her Outlander series is both beautiful to read as only a reader, and incredibly inspiring to read and study as an author. Her style (at least, throughout the Outlander novels) is a sort of rambling conversational style that makes you just know that you're digging into something deep and touching, something that will teach you and grow you even as it entertains you. Her characters are beautiful people, if not always in physical appearance than in depth of spirit and breadth of story, and they stick with you long after the novel has run out of pages and the story is over. She has way of weaving a story that you can get utterly and completely lost in, a story that you want not only to read, but to fall into and feel and see and explore for yourself. This talent is only rivaled in modern times by ...


JK Rowling
Joanne Rowling is a genius on the same level as Diana Gabaldon, but with the extraordinary skill of making her work appropriate for children of (almost) all ages. Like Diana, Joanne writes stories you get so lost in that you learn from them without even noticing, until you've finished and you realize that somehow the characters have become a part of you forever. She writes with an incomprehensible depth of soul and spirit, and you just know that her characters are real live people for her -- you know without even an inkling of doubt that she knows every detail about them. She knows them inside and out, knows things that she doesn't even tell you, knows every nuance of what makes them who they are. Or at least, that's what happens to me -- every single time I reread the Harry Potter series.


Frances Hodgson Burnett
Frances Burnett penned timeless stories that have been with me since I was child. She brought Sara Crewe and little Mary Lennox to life for me as a child, and I have since been thrilled to bring those characters to life again by reading them to my children. In kind with the authors I've mentioned already, her stories are written in a wandering style that feels conversational even when utilized in a third person perspective, with a mix of long sentences and short ones that each feel as if they've been lovingly crafted specifically with a reader in mind. I've heard people compare books in food many times in recent years, saying that there is a clear difference between a "fast food book" and a "gourmet read." Well, every moment since the first time I enjoyed either A Little Princess or The Secret Garden, Frances Burnett has been a "comfort food" writer for me. These stories are ones I can go back to at any time, with or without the actual book in hand, when I need to lose myself in a story that offers life lessons, innocent childhood love, and hope that lasts forever.


Mark Twain
Once known as Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain was the author of such priceless works as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and They Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Often censored or even banned for language or portrayal of interracial relations of the setting times, his works were fun, funny, and incredibly amusing. Mark Twain had a perhaps unconventional sense of humor and at times a viewpoint on life that many others disagreed with, but he did have an undeniable skill with words and characters that remains timeless as literature -- despite the more politically correct environment of today. He was the first to teach me that you must write what you must write, regardless of how the content will be taken -- and yet, you must also write it well.


The Bronte Sisters
I was first introduced to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre through the movie, but I loved it so much I sought out the book and settled in for what turned out to be an emotionally wrenching read about love found in the most unexpected (and perhaps somewhat unwelcome) of places. The quality of that particular novel is still in deep rivalry over a hundred years later with Wuthering Heights, an incredible work penned by Charlotte Bronte's younger sister, Emily. Both books are written in the same rambling style that I tend to love best, and thus are full of beautiful prose and rich, deep emotion.


Johanna Lindsey
I'm pretty sure the first romance novel I ever read was Johanna's Love Only Once; I was in middle school and while I loved the story and the characters, the Regency era setting, and the quaint dialogue styles I hadn't previously been exposed to, I was utterly and completely scandalized by the sexuality and erotic nature of some of the writing. I like to think I've grown a lot since then, but also that her portrayal of eroticism and romantic sex greatly influences mine (in that it is sexy and nice to read without being too "vulgar" or unnecessarily detailed). Also, I still love an occasional Regency novel ... they're a sort of "comfort food" to me as well, with the fond memories of my first days spent with Johanna Lindsey's rich and richly entertaining characters.


Danielle Steel
Danielle can hardy be left out of any romance writer's list of inspiration sources. A beautiful story teller with a knack for developing characters that step outside of the books and become real to those who read them, this remarkable talent was one of the first contemporary romance writers I fell in love with. Though I am never too shy to express that her publishers could likely have afforded to spend a bit more time editing her works, I am also quick to admit a certain admiration for the way she could take simple characters with simple stories and weave them into something you wanted to read over and over. A prolific writer with an unbelievably impressive resume, Danielle's Journey was a book that has stayed with me through the ages. It was the first story I read that featured a running theme of domestic violence and a woman's power to escape any situation she found herself to be unhappy in. This book and the characters in it helped me survive at times, reminding me that all things are temporary that no matter who you are or where you began, you have the power to steer your own life. It also helped inspire my courage when it came time for me to write Fighting For Freedom, a story largely inspired by my own personal experiences as a grown child of domestic violence.


Nora Roberts
With over 200 books in her backlog Nora Roberts is, and will likely always be, a legend in the world of romance novels. I'm not sure there's any topic or circumstance that she hasn't conquered, and her talent is rock solid. Her characters are generally spot on, her research is solid, and the strength of romantic love that runs through all of her novels is timeless. As far as the sheer number of successful novels and business ventures, Nora is the prolific writer I want to be when I "grow up," the skilled and constant novelist that I think all romance writers pay most attention to. Her constancy inspires me to keep pushing on in these early days of my career, and reminds me always of the old adage, "Slow and steady wins the race."


Debbie Macomber
Like Nora, Debbie Macomber is a legend among romance readers and writers alike, and is depply inspiring to me on a personal level. She rivals Nora Roberts in talent and skill as well as in her constancy and regularity. Her books are generally what is now referred to as "Sweet Contemporary Romance," sweet, emotional and sensual without stepping over the line into erotic. Her stories are solid and believable, her characters feel real, and there's truly no comfort read quite like a Debbie Macomber novel.


Nicholas Sparks
Nicholas Sparks took the world by storm with The Notebook, and he went on from there to write the kind of quality novel that makes people clamor to see it unfold in real life, the kinds of characters that readers want to be able to touch and see and talk to, the kinds of stories that make us want to bury ourselves in the pages even as the plot lines rip our hearts out and shred them into little pieces. He inspires me to write stories that feel real, that touch real life issues -- stories full of characters that could be you or me, our neighbors or our friends. His novels aren't always sweet; sometimes they delve into the dark and gritty things that make life so unpretty for so many of us -- but they almost always offer hope for love along with a glimpse at the kind of safety and redemption many of us are only wishing for.


Told you it was a long one. Which of these authors have you read, and if you've read them, which is your favorite?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Wow. She's Twelve.

My daughter is twelve years old today.

Twelve.

She's twelve.

Wow.

Twelve years ago today my first daughter was born, and I became an entirely new version of the woman I was before the first breath of air kissed her skin. I forgot about my body and my insecurities, my fears and my inner demons. I forgot my past and for a while there was no future, as I looked down on the most perfect little thing God had ever deigned to create.

She had hair. She had the softest, blackest, most perfect downy baby hair. And her lips? Her little mouth was a perfect pink rosebud, and I spent uncountable moments just touching her. She had been well-scrubbed, as all newborns are, by the nursing staff who were the first to hold her close and see the color of life bloom in her face, but I was the first to bathe her in tears, and I have done it many times in the twelve years since her birth.

Blue eyes. She had -- and still has -- the most solemn blue eyes you can imagine, with a depth of age and wisdom that no child anywhere should possess. They've gone a little green over the course of her life, and now no one can truly be sure which color they truly are. But me? I don't need to label them blue or green. I don't need to know the name of the precise shade of hazel. I only know that I could look into a hundred sets of eyes at any moment and still know which ones were hers.

When she was two, she wasn't terrible at all. She was hilarious, with a boisterous laugh, a perfectly childish sense of joy and lust for life, and a vocabulary only a child of mine could have. The same kid who used big words like "medication" and "asinine" long before she could truly pronounce them is the same one who once laughingly called me a peckerhead when I splashed her in the bathtub -- and yes, I immediately stopped using that word. Mostly. I was so madly in love with her that at times, it was like the rest of the world didn't exist.

At four, she gave me a glimpse of what life would be like without her, and I hated every single second of it. We laugh now at the silly things she said under anesthesia and the way her body and personality changed after she had heart surgery, but the reality of those moments is still sometimes hard to face. As I sat beside her bed watching nurses prepare her for a procedure that was "routine" and "common" and "easy," I faced the hard reality of what it meant when I asked a nurse, "How do you know if the implant moves or doesn't stay where it should?" and she looked at me with serious eyes tinged with sorrow and perhaps a touch of fear, and said, "Oh, you'll know." Then she lowered her eyes and sighed, and left the room. I signed waivers that were pages and pages of legalspeak that meant, "I know my child might die today under your hands, and I trust you with her life."

I held her hand and kept my emotions in check even as my thoughts whirled out of control and my heart shattered into a million tiny jagged pieces, and I buried myself under the guilt of lying to her to keep her unafraid. She didn't even know she was having surgery, barely even understood that something was wrong with her. She thought she was having a sleepover at the hospital that would be fun and exciting, that when the doctors and nurses took her away from me, it would be so that they could teach her magical doctor secrets that mommies weren't allowed to know. She was thrilled and excited while I was terrified and struggling to stand up straight under the pressure. She was four years old.

At five, she met her new baby sister with grace and charm and maturity.  She helped with diapers and clothing changes, bathtimes, bottles. She and I waited alone when she was six and her baby sister went into surgery for the first time (ear tubes, poor thing), and she held hands with me across the waiting room table.

She didn't cry when she started school, but embraced the chance to grow and learn. She didn't cry (much) over bullies and doesn't cry (much) over boys. Instead she faces challenges head on, holds her head high at all times, and carries within her the same unbreakable, unshakable character that keeps her grandmother stubborn and her mother strong. She is largely unafraid (or maybe too impulsive for fear to take deep enough roots), full of life, and sparkling with the lust for experience that makes her who she is.

And she's twelve now, you guys. Not a baby, nor even truly a child anymore. She's smart and vibrant, quick and witty, energetic and outgoing and unbelievably beautiful.

She made me a mom twelve years ago, made me an entirely new kind of woman, a stronger person, willing to set and defend boundaries to shield and protect her, willing to weep and bleed and fight to see that her needs are met. She made me believe in something I wasn't sure I could ever be, made me push forward on days I was sure were too hard.

She made me a chauffeur, a teacher, a nutritionist, a security guard, a counselor. She taught me to be a macaroni chef, allowed me to be a cheerleader, and encouraged me to be a storyteller. I have at times been the lifeguard, the boo-boo fixer, the battery replacement expert. I have been the event planner, the interior designer, the personal shopper, the chamber maid.

But she? She has been entirely more than the sum of all those things to me. And as she takes steps into her teen years and begins to embrace herself as a young woman, I'm incredibly proud to get to stand beside her, smiling over her progress and coaching her through the times to come.

Oh.

And embarrassing her every so often with posts like this. You should see what I wrote in her birthday card.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Updates for RTS16

2016 has begun, and with it, the countdown to March 19th.

On March 19th, I'll be one very busy little author; I'll be spending the afternoon dolled up and schmoozing some of my most well-loved readers at Romancing The Smokies. The event will be hosted by the lovable Donna Wright, the voice behind the Hummingbird Place radio show (BlogTalk Radio -- the Hummingbird Place is your home for romance).

Everything I've heard so far promises that this will be an absolutely amazing afternoon for all involved! The lineup of authors for this event is even the teensiest bit star studded, with several best sellers in attendance and at least one author planning to write a special edition book JUST for the attending readers at her table (no, it isn't me -- I have something else planned. Want to find out what it is and score an awesome gift put together exclusively for the readers attending at my table? Register here for just $39.99 USD while seats last.)

So, who all is coming? Featured authors at the event include Leanne Tyler, Nancy Naigle, Suzan Tizdale, Trista Ann Michaels, Hallee Bridgeman, Shannon West, Sandy Sullivan, JK Ensley, and myself. Other sponsoring (and signing) authors include Juli Alexander, Kate McKeever, Lexi Witcher, Carolynn Carey, Mallory Kane, Debra Parmley, Kris Nacol, Vicki Vaught, and Andrea Renee Smith. Tonya Kappes will be the keynote speaker for the event, and I'm so excited to meet her and hear what she'll have to say!

Really though, you guys probably already knew most of that if you've been following me for very long, so let me go ahead and answer a few other questions that I may not have addressed in this post.

This event is pretty innovative and unlike most other events I've heard of, and I truly love the concept. (I'm secretly already hoping I'll get to say I'm also attending RTS17, and no one is even sure there will be one yet!) However, because it's different there have been lots of questions about what to expect and how the actual event will pan out. Let me start us off with the schedule for the event day:
  • 11 am -- Doors Open to Lunch Guests
  • 12 noon -- Official Welcome 
  • 12:15 pm -- The Luncheon Begins
  • 1 pm -- Keynote Speaker Tonya Kappes
  • 2-4 pm -- Book Signing and Gift Baskets (This part is totally free to attend.)

The luncheon is an elegant fanfare where you'll have a chance to really get to know the author you came to see -- before they go into work mode for the book signing. Each table will be comprised of one featured author, two other sponsoring authors, and five VIP guests, each place setting complete with a VIP appreciation gift from the featured author. During the luncheon, you'll have time to chat and ask questions about your author, their books, their lives, whatever -- it's your chance to get up close and personal. Then you can stick around after the luncheon for a chance to purchase books from your favorite authors (or feel free to bring your own prepurchased books along to be signed at the event). During the signing, you'll have a chance to meet and chat with all of the attending authors from the event, chat with the other attending guests, and maybe even win a door prize gift basket.

I can't wait to meet my readers there!

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Few Things I Learned From Severus Snape (A Tribute To Alan Rickman)

I don't know if you know this, but a few years ago, a genius named JK Rowling wrote a book series called Harry Potter. The series gained a following, Harry Potter became an immortal legend, and Ms. JK Rowling became a success the likes of which the literary world had never seen. In the wake of that success, the books became movies -- movies that gave birth to stars.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint were fresh-faced young actors when the world met them as Harry, Hermione, and Ron, but by then Alan Rickman was a seasoned actor with a solid fan base of his own. He was the villain in Die Hard, the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and he won several awards for his performance as Rasputin in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny.

Perhaps most notably, Alan Rickman was the unimaginably talented actor through whom Severus Snape came to life.

Severus Snape was a complicated character; he was somehow able to turn out as a perfectly seamless cross between villain and hero, and to this day only Ms. JK Rowling can know which side of him was greater. For those who despise him, however few they may be, Severus Snape was a selfish and bitter character who can only be marginally redeemed by the great depth of his story -- especially after his actions in the end of Henry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

But for those who learned to love him ...


  1. It's easy to judge someone ... until you get to know them. It is often unpleasant to walk in someone else's shoes and decide without having all the facts that someone is "good" or "bad," but the truth is, the world just isn't that black and white. It isn't up to you to decide how someone else lives their life. And just like it should be okay for someone else to freely be who they are ...
  2. It's okay for you to freely be who you are. Unless of course, you're a pedophile or a rapist or something, in which case, you should maybe try being someone else because you're messed up. But if you're just a regular person with issues and quirks that make you who you are, with a past that still touches you and problems you probably wish you didn't have, then go ahead and give yourself some compassion. Understand that you are where you are, for whatever the reasons may be, and forgive yourself. Give yourself kindness. Learn to embrace being shorter or taller than most people, learn to appreciate your body for its health, not its appearance. Learn good ways to utilize an overabundance of energy or talkativeness. And if there are things about you that can be improved, improve them with compassion. But stop beating yourself up and listening to people who would make you unable to see the goodness inside you. Be the best you, sure, but be YOU. Because ...
  3. You can't please all the people all the time. It doesn't matter how hard you try, someone is still going to think you're doing it wrong. Either you've overshooting, or you're living under your potential, or you're failing someone, or you're too pushy, or not pretty or smart enough, or too this thing or too that thing. But you know what? Wherever you go, there you are. You're stuck with you, and there's no getting away from that. So the only person you need to truly please is yourself (within the limitations of your local laws and/or religion, of course.) So be a YOU pleaser, not an OTHER PEOPLE pleaser. And because internalizing this one concept will make you so much more true to yourself, you'll be able to ...
  4. Love freely, and love hard. Severus Snape loved Lilly Potter with his whole heart. He loved her so ferociously, it stood the test of time even though she was married to his childhood enemy and had a child with the husband Snape despised. And he didn't try to step in and ruin what she had so that she would turn to him, he was just there, on the sidelines, loving her in the only way available to him. And when he learned that she was in danger and needed protection, he arranged that protection, not just for her, and not just for her and her son, but for her, her son, and her husband. He loved her so deeply and so majestically that what he truly wanted for her was HER happiness, in spite of the loss of HIS. Did it hurt him? Yes, undoubtedly. Just as it will hurt you if you do it. But it's worth it, and I'm sure that when Snape looked into Harry's eyes that last time, he didn't regret one tiny bit of the sacrifices he had made for Lilly's sake.
  5. It's never too late for a second chance. Snape was a death eater. He was a murderer. A liar. A criminal. He was all sorts of horrible things, unspeakable things. But even he had a little bit of good in him, and he had someone in his life who could see it even when he couldn't (and no, obviously it wasn't Lilly). And in the end, all was forgiven as we learned that this horrible, bitter, unspeakably demoralizing character had a backstory that could break our hearts. We hated him for being mean to Harry, and we listened as everyone told Harry how like his father he was, how much he looked like him. Remember, Snape saw that resemblance too. We watched Snape being mean to the students, strict and condescending, and we hated him for it. But we didn't know that he was hardened by so many years of hurting at the hands of others, and that he was using the only coping mechanism he had for self-protection. Most of us hated him when he ... did what he did in the end of Half Blood Prince. But if we were watching closely, we knew why he did it, and as hard as it was, we understood the good behind his motivation. In doing what he did, Severus Snape gave what he had to protect a child who was not yet lost, to save a child from committing a heinous act he could never come back from. And he did it again in Deathly Hallows II. He was a vile, hateful, spiteful, criminal with no compassion and a black, black heart. But he was also such an unforgettable and unspeakably courageous hero that he will always be remembered for his story, his softness, his powerful sense of love and loyalty ... and his sacrifice.

Tonight, my wand is raised for Severus Snape -- and for Alan Rickman, in honor of his flawless portrayal of one of the most complex characters literature has ever seen. I didn't know him, and I won't pretend I did. But my heart hurts for the loss of his life, and for the blow to his friends and family members who now have to continue on without him. I am so thankful for his skill as an actor, for the unfailing kind support he showed to his coworkers always. I'm thankful for the lessons he taught me through his acting, lessons that had nothing at all to do with potions and everything to do with humanity. I'm thankful for his depth of expression, for his realism, and for the dedication he put into making Severus Snape take that final leap from JK Rowling's imagination to mine. Because of him, my heart is forever on ... Page three hundred and ninety four.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Yearly Focus Words

Note: The photo below is not mine. I found it here, which is another great article on the same topic I'm talking about today.


It's January, so this is the time when people are resolving to change their lives. We promise ourselves that we'll lose weight, that we'll work harder, that we'll be more productive, that we'll cook more -- or learn to cook better. We'll start exercising or we'll take up crafting, we'll be better parents, better men/women, better wives/husbands. We promise ourselves we'll get back into going to church.

The list is endless. And it's exhausting, isn't it? Think about it. We make all these promises to ourselves; and to our credit, we do start with a valiant effort. We join a gym because we think that monthly charge will force us to be committed. We tell everyone we know that we're going to accomplish *insert arbitrary goal here* because we think the accountability will guilt us into sticking with something we know we don't really want to do.

Don't get me wrong, commitment and accountability are good things, but the focus of a New Year's Resolution is usually very negative. For example:
  • "This year, I have to go to the gym to get this weight off -- I'm disgusting!"
  • "Ugh. I have got to work harder this year -- if I don't crack down, I'm going to be such a failure!"
  • "I still haven't bought a home / traveled somewhere / written that novel yet ... I'm never going to get anywhere if I don't buckle down and stop being a loser."
  • "Ew. I can't adult right now. It's too hard."

The list is endless too, but why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Why do we continue to begin each new year saying things we know we won't do? Why do we allow ourselves to keep ending each year disappointed, disgusted and disillusioned with ourselves because we didn't do the thing we knew we wouldn't do in the first place?

Still, self-improvement is a good thing, and I believe that with all of my heart. But there's gotta be a better way to do it, right? I believe there is, and I mentioned both sides of my favorite New Year method in my last post. There are two parts to this, but they're easy to implement and with just a little discipline (you have it, so stop telling yourself that you don't), you can make it work for you. Believe me, if I could, you can.

So what are they?

  1. Be Positive: This can be aided with techniques like vision boards, positive affirmations, etc.
  2. Be Focused: Don't make a list of resolutions. Instead, choose one word to focus on bringing into your daily thought process. Keep that one word in mind -- chant it if you meditate, add it to your prayer journal, visualize whatever your word is coming into deeper focus in your daily life. (Find help with this at myoneword.org or oneword365.com)
Last year, my focus word was "Goals." I spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to accomplish in my life -- as a mother, as a woman, as an author. I even wrote my first real five-year plan, complete with a monthly breakdown of goals for 2016 that are intended to take me closer to my ultimate goals. Why? Because "there are seven days in a week, and someday isn't one of them."

This year, my focus word is "Affirmation." I'm going to be focused not only on keeping and maintaining the goalsetting habits and behaviors that worked for me in 2015, but also on encouraging myself and being willing to celebrate myself when I've done something well. I'm also going to be using positive affirmation to keep improving my self-talk, my prayer life, my daily habits, and my self-image.

I plan to share more about this in upcoming posts, but in the meantime ...

What are you doing this year? Do you have a New Year's Resolution, or do you have a focus word like me? If you're willing to share, tell me your focus word or resolution in the comments, and let me know how you plan to improve your life this year.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

I Want To Tell You A Secret.

Last night I was awake for a while (because my mind was far too busy for sleep), snuggled in my bed with my dog curled up against my back (because I block the breeze from the fan when he does that), and I was smiling. So I'm kind of a glass-half-empty type of girl, and because of that, I actually had a moment where I actively noticed myself smiling -- I just had a flash of time where I realized the smile was there, and I decided to keep it.

Yesterday was a good day. My kids were rowdy and I spent the whole day with a headache that made me nauseated, but it was a good day. My kids are (mostly) healthy and happy, active and playful. They are alive and have the energy to argue with each other constantly. My work is something I love with all of my heart, and I get to interact with you on a regular basis. Sometimes I get replies to my newsletter emails from people who tell me how much they look forward to hearing from me, and it warms my heart. So last night, I was smiling.

It was around one in the morning, I think, and I hopped onto my Facebook account (my personal one) to post something, because I was feeling so very (rarely) positive.

I'm getting to a point here, I promise. If you've been with me for long, you know I'm long-winded, but you also know it's usually worth it, so just bear with me, okay. It'll be worth it.

Anyway, I posted that "I'm awesome," and that "you're awesome, too." Which is going to be my thing for this year.

I'm thirty-one; I'll be thirty-two in February, and it has taken me most of my thirty-one years to learn to like myself with this much authenticity. I genuinely like the woman who looks back at me when I stand in front of the mirror. She's strong, she's a survivor. But she's kind and loyal and friendly. She's just the right mix of introverted and outgoing. She's fun, and she's funny. Now and then, I look at her in surprise and I think to myself, "God, woman! You're beautiful."

It took me a long time to get there though, and I know that people who don't really understand the depth of that journey are afraid of whatever it is that shines out of you when you like yourself. I've had men in my life that were too intimidated by it to get too close to me. Friends who would admiringly call me things like "fearless" or "confident" or "strong," even when I didn't feel like I was any of those things. A few years ago, there was a person who was a very cherished friend to me, and we were exchanging past stories about romances and relationships. She had a way of speaking that made everything seem romantic and beautifully poetic, right down to the mundane tasks of everyday life, and I loved that about her ... she could describe washing dishes or changing diapers in such a beautiful way that it made you want to get up right away and go try it. Anyway, she was telling me about a long distance relationship she had been in once with a man from Japan, and how they would travel back and forth to be together, teaching each other the different aspects of life in different countries. I found it terribly romantic, and I said so, somewhat enviously. She, being very perceptive, picked up on what I was feeling, and told me that she felt entirely otherwise. She liked my stories, my stories of being the hurt one, being the abandoned one, being the discarded one. She found my survival to be romantic, and said she loved the inner strength that my life had filled me with, the way I had learned to love myself and to be comfortable in meeting my own needs.

But I told her it was sad that I hadn't met my "one," that none of my personal stories had a "hero."

And she told me that she loved the way I didn't need one. She said that I am my own hero.

And she made it sound beautiful and romantic and just the very tiniest bit powerful.

And I loved it.

And I believed it.

In the years following that conversation, my friend and I have moved on and grown a little apart. She's busy with a new baby, and since the friendship was a long distance one, it was very easy for us to talk less and less until now she's only present in my life when I think of her. But I do it often, because that one thing she said to me changed everything.

I wrote seven books. I embarked -- largely all alone -- on a career I had been too afraid to truly dream of. And I realized, over and over again, how right she was.

And I let it bleed into my work.

In Selkie, Annie doesn't just move on when she finds her husband cheating on her with her best friend. She takes time to heal, time to accept herself and her circumstance. Only then does a new romantic opportunity come into her life. In Courageous, Allie is the one who has to stand her ground, who has to learn to accept herself and build a life of her own, before she can welcome a man into it. In Fighting For Freedom, Christine is having to rebuild everything about herself after walking away from an abuser. And although there is someone there to hold her hand, to coach her and guide her and help her to feel safe again ... she's building herself first.

It's the same thing with the Kingsley Series. In More Than Friends (book four), Michael is rebuilding himself, renewing his sense of life and purpose and solitude. And he does it before the romance begins. In Wrestling Harmony (book three), Harmony has to learn to stand comfortably on her own two feet before she can let anyone in. In Prescription For Love (book two), Cameron has to learn to overcome unspeakable trauma, to trust again, to believe in her own ability to surround herself with good people. She has to retake possession of her life, of her body, of her spirit. She even has a tattoo to commemorate that moment: "I am my own hero."

And in Fat Chance (Kingsley Series, book one), Cassaundra has to learn to love herself first. She has to find that one thing that we're all reaching for, that one thing that none of us seem to know how to find. The fearlessness, the confidence, whatever "it" is that makes a strong person so irresistibly strong.

How does she do it?

How do anyone of us do it??

That's the secret, you see. And it's so simple, some of us never truly get it. The secret is positivity. It's in your self-talk, the way you see yourself, and the things you say to yourself inside the secret places of your mind.

"You're so fat. You're so ugly. You're so stupid. Why are you so weak? You're such a coward. Fraidy-cat. Loser. You're a terrible person. Why do you have to be like this???" That's how we talk to ourselves, in the deepest, most vulnerable places in our souls. It's what we're told every second of every day, maybe not by others, but by ourselves. And because it's the mantra we force-feed ourselves every minute of every day, we take it to heart. We believe it.

And we become it. But we don't have to.

It's as simple as consciously changing that process. Yes, it's challenging. Yes, it takes practice. You have to want to, and you have to want it consistently, for a long time. If you've hated yourself for twenty or thirty years ... you can't expect to change that in twenty or thirty minutes.

But you can start now. Tell yourself something nice, like Cassaundra had to in Fat Chance. Find yourself a song, or a quote, something that makes you feel strong and positive and confident, and keep it with you. Repeat it. Repeat it. Repeat it. And when it doesn't work anymore or it gets old, find another one. Rotate them out.

Use positive affirmations. Make a vision board. Tell yourself, not just that you can be, but that, like Cameron, you are your own hero. That you are beautiful. That you are smart. That you are successful, right now, in this moment.

And then, like Cass, allow yourself to believe it.

Happy New Year, friends.

__________

In Other News:

  • Check out my recent interview with RopinRomance.com, where I talk a little about why I love love so much, my experiences in romantic life, and what I really think about the importance of an HEA.
  • I'm signing books this spring!! I'll be signing at Romancing the Smokies, and my luncheon table still has a few seats! Want to schmooze with me over an elegant catered luncheon? Don't waste time ... get your tickets here.
REAL CHARACTERS. HONEST LOVE. BRANDI KENNEDY BOOKS.