Baggage ~ by Lexa Fisher

Photo by ​Caroline Selfors​ on ​Unsplash 

How often do you think about the emotional or mental baggage you carry? It may be the slow burn of a grudge you’ve held for years, the barbed sting of insults you’ve felt, or the grating result of bad service. Maybe it’s a friend or grumpy co-worker who comes to you with a complaint, or just feeling that life isn’t fair. You try to help by listening, nodding, and offering suggestions, but a solution doesn’t seem to be what they’re after. No, it’s someone to share in their suffering, someone to carry their problems for them. On top of your own. 

Photo by ​Jeremy Bishop​ on ​Unsplash
An article in ​NBC news​ goes into detail on the effects of this mental load on our health and how heavy it really feels, like straps digging into our shoulders. We may also be just as guilty of unloading our own problems from time to time. My first recognition of this situation happened when I read Catullus’ Carmina 22 in Latin class: To each one of us one’s own mistakes have been assigned; ​Sed non videmus, manticae quod in tergost --but we do not see the knapsack that is on our own back.  


“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” is a saying I’ve seen in various forms.​ If something isn’t making your life better by giving you happiness, comfort, fond memories, why hold on to it? Have you ever taken a vacation for which you packed way more than you needed? Emotional baggage is just like that. Lighten your load by mentally opening your carpet bag and as you pull out each item, ask yourself how it serves you. Do you really need one more negative thought? Say goodbye to that burden.


Photo by ​Максим Степаненко​ on ​Unsplash 

Talking through our problems with friends can be cathartic. Having to put into words, spoken or written, how we feel often identifies the real problem as well as the feelings we harbor. But let others carry their own bags, just as you carry your personal baggage. You don’t have to be callous or uncaring, and it’s better for the unloader if you help them recognize problems as their own. It’s far better for someone to resolve issues in a way that matters to them, in a way that they can manage, and at the time they are able. So lighten your own load, and don’t take others’ burdens home. 


Photo by ​Jed Owen​ on ​Unsplash 

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Resources: ​https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/your-emotional-baggage-holding-you-back-ncna877596

Holding a grudge is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2015/04/07/resentment-is-like-taking-poison-and-waiting-for-the-other-per son-to-die/#12155c71446c

https://fakebuddhaquotes.com/holding-onto-anger-is-like-drinking-poison/

(Musical) Life Begins At??? ~ by Greg Hancock, Antique Singer Songwriter from Devon, UK

     
There is no shortage of articles, blog posts and even whole websites dedicated to exploring the fact that the music industry is changing fast. Most concentrate on two things: the rise of technology and the demise of live music. Both of these are things I will mention later but I want to focus on a positive aspect to the rise of technology that is relatively new too...
     I got my first guitar when I was about ten, and after learning the usual four chords, soon lost all interest in doing things the “right” way, and in learning to play other people’s songs. This meant I was not the kind to lead a campfire singalong... in fact for most of my life the very idea has filled me with horror!
     No, I very soon discovered that making up my own songs was
much more fun and much more interesting. I had no idea what I was doing of course, but soon found that I could come up with words that fitted a chord sequence in a new way which gave me a lot of satisfaction. Since childhood then, I have never stopped this activity. What HAS been missing until relatively recently is recording, and performing in public.
     Looking back now, I think this was probably down to shyness and anxiousness that others might not think my songs were as brilliant as I did! In thirty years from the age of 20 to the age of 50, I think I performed my own songs in public no more than three or four times. Guitar playing and songwriting became very private activities for me and the knowledge that the songs would not be performed perhaps allowed me to explore depths of personal honesty and chord weirdness that would have been unthinkable if they were ever to be exposed to public scrutiny.
     So... my fiftieth year... was a strange one. In January 2012 I was living in Abu Dhabi where I had been for a decade. I was single. I had money, a respectable job, a lovely flat and two beautiful cats I had adopted in Saudi Arabia several years before. By December, I was living back in the UK, married, completely broke, jobless and living in a small rented flat with just one of the Saudi cats remaining. It took some adjusting!
     
One of the few advantages of the UK was the delicious warm brown ale that the English do best. My local pub was full of a very eclectic crowd of people, but I was pleased to see a wide age range and felt quite comfortable there. One evening it turned out there was an open mic night. My earlier instincts kicked in and I thought it would be dreadful... but it wasn’t. I was knocked sideways at the quality and variety of the performers. More surprising was the respect and appreciation shown to one or two of the musicians who were even older than me...and to be honest, not that great. My show-off attention-seeking gene suddenly kicked in and I resolved to come and show what I could do the following week. As the day approached I was amazed at how nervous I felt about it all. I practised for hours, and kept changing my mind about what to play. However, the evening came and I took my guitar and put my name on the list.
     I am sure it wasn’t a great performance! My fingers trembled and my voice wobbled, but I did manage to do three original songs and halfway through the second one became aware that people were actually listening and paying attention. Unexpectedly, this gave me confidence rather than greater self-consciousness and I actually started to enjoy myself.
     When I had finished, I found myself chatting and exchanging music gossip and ideas with a whole host of others who were there. People as young as 17 up to others in their 60s were equally interested and interesting. Several of the people I met that night have remained good friends, and I really felt I had tapped into a social network that I would find very satisfying.
     In less than a year, I felt able to try to get gigs on my own. Just corner-of-the-pub and restaurant gigs, and mainly requiring covers, but still letting me cut my teeth about performing in public – and actually paying just enough to be able to live a little more comfortably. I often felt a bit conscious that I was the oldest person in the venue... but again, I found that nobody else seemed to care about that if they liked the way I played, so I stopped worrying about it!
     When I recorded an EP of five songs, I could only afford three
hours of studio time, so I asked two friends who were much more experienced musicians than I was to learn the songs, and we recorded everything in one afternoon. I really didn’t know what to do with the finished EP but having asked around I did send it off for local radio play and review. The response was amazing to me. Hearing my music on the radio was very encouraging and gave a new confidence to go further. As a songwriter, I think I was always able to fit clever sounding words to a tune. What I lacked was anything interesting to say, and so fell back on the clichéd themes of love and loss of love that is the norm. I never really believed in that stuff though, and my efforts sounded horribly insincere to me. It really wasn’t until I was in my forties that I started to think I might have something to say about things that might be of interest to others. I learnt to comment but not explain. I avoided the pronoun “I” and told stories in the third person even when they were in fact very personal. I think both these tricks can lead to a more comfortable listening experience for the audience. Self-confessional music can be wonderful when done by the likes of Joni Mitchell, but can also be slight squirm-inducing and tedious when lesser artists try it. Especially perhaps when they are older.
     
So this is where I come on to my main theme. One of the things blamed for the decline in the music industry is the developments in technology that have been so extraordinary in the last fifteen years or so. As it became possible to listen to music on the internet without paying for it, the listening habits of many also started to change. However, it is this same technology that has made it possible for many artists to get their music heard. Simple home studios can be set up very cheaply and the resulting recordings can easily be good enough to be presented to radio stations and so on. Neil King who runs FATEA in the UK, often mentions that his mail bag is filled with new music from people who in previous years would rarely have considered sending it in: older people, family people and people from diverse backgrounds.
     Now, the decline in live music as a mainstream activity for the majority of younger people is undeniable. It is increasingly a niche activity. Music no longer defines youth “tribes” as it did from the 50s to the 80s. The stars of today and the future are not musicians or even DJs – but online playlist curators. Social media interaction and online gaming are what many young people use to define themselves as different from their parents’ generation, and those are the places they will receive their main influences from. It’s true that some young people are as obsessed with music as my generation was, but they are more likely to be musicians themselves and to be actively making music. A large audience made up simply of interested listeners and fans is becoming increasingly hard to find. People just don’t go out so much – for various reasons – and spend less when they do. It is very noticeable that the majority of people involved in the world of acoustic folk, blues and roots music are middle aged or older. These days, when performing, at 56 I am sometimes amongst the younger people at the venue! The quality and skills of some of the younger musicians coming through is utterly mind-blowing, but they too are having difficulty finding opportunities to play to their contemporaries, relying on the old codgers who will still buy tickets and CDs to provide some sort of income. 

     As a case in point, just this week I attended a sell-out gig by a local band who are all extraordinary musicians and are doing some very original but upbeat and quite poppy material. The age range in the band is 24 – 28 years old. Two of the band are teachers at a music academy and about a third of the audience was their students. The other two thirds probably averaged between 38 and 45, with many my age and older. The reflections from the light show on the large number of bald heads was dazzling!
     The result I think will be a severe decline in the number of musicians who can actually become professional and not rely on other paid work to make a living. Maybe for a few years when very young, it is fun to live in a van and have only enough money to survive each day...but it really isn’t fun when you’re older – I’ve tried it. Even some of the most popular and in-demand musicians lead a precarious hand-to-mouth existence today.
     This is where technology comes in again to assist. I have decided that I am far too old for a full time career in music. My life is too complicated with other commitments, and I like online shopping too much! However, this no longer means that I can’t get my work heard. I can be part of a large community of like-minded people of all ages, and all around the world. Many of the people I have got to know online, through following their music, or through radio chat threads etc have become real friends in the analogue world too. I can have regular interactions with some of the musicians I admire and respect the most... and have also been able to form real friendships with some of them too.
     I can record and get my recordings out there to people more

easily than was ever the case in the past. I can also have total control over what I record. I curl up on my sofa with a cat or two and network mercilessly online, constantly on the lookout for opportunities. I keep up to date with what other musicians in my field are doing, and can use the reactions of others to what they are doing as a guide to what to encourage and what to avoid in my own music. I have never written with an audience in mind. I continue to write for myself, but it’s very satisfying in middle age to find that there are others who “get” me and like what I do....and they’re not all the same age as me!
     Technology means that it is much easier now for older- and perhaps less photogenic – artists to be active in the music world. There is no longer an urgent need to get a record label deal, an agent or a manager.
     (Although if anyone fancies it, I’d would love to have all three!)

 To get in touch with Greg, click on WEBSITE


History of St. Patrick's Day ~ The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th, the feast day of  St. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland. Born in Roman Britain in the late 4th century, he was kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave. He escaped but returned about 432 to convert the Irish to Christianity. By the time of his death on March 17, 461, he had established monasteries, churches, and schools. Many legends grew up around him—for example, that he drove the snakes out of Ireland and used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. Ireland came to celebrate his day with religious services and feasts.

It was emigrants, particularly to the United States, who transformed
St. Patrick’s Day into a largely secular holiday of revelry and celebration of things Irish. Cities with large numbers of Irish immigrants, who often wielded political power, staged the most extensive celebrations, which included elaborate parades. Boston held its first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1737, followed by New York City in 1762. Since 1962  Chicago has colored its river green to mark the holiday. (Although blue was the color traditionally associated with St. Patrick, green is now commonly connected with the day.) 
     
Irish and non-Irish alike commonly participate in the “wearing of the green”—sporting an item of green clothing or a shamrock, the Irish national plant, in the lapel. Corned beef and cabbage are associated with the holiday, and even beer is sometimes dyed green to celebrate the day. Although some of these practices eventually were adopted by the Irish themselves, they did so largely for the benefit of tourists.

The Importance of Being Earnest ~ by Andi Lawrencovna

Oscar Wilde is one of literature’s most favored sons. He’s written so many truly inspiring works, was heralded as a genius of his times, and his plays are still being performed, analyzed, critiqued, and emulated today…
     And I have not read a single one of them.
     It’s true. I’m not a “traditional literature” fan. If you ask me who my favorite authors are and expect some great literary answer…you’re not gonna get one. My favorites are romance authors, and, yeah, okay, I’ll admit it, smut authors. Gah, I do love me a good smut novel, it just helps me relax. That doesn’t mean that I don’t LOVE Poe, because I do, or even Robert Frost, but he’s poetry. I just PREFER less “literary” authors.
     But that’s a different discussion entirely.
     This discussion is about “being earnest,” and not in the satirical sense of Wilde’s play.
     His play was all about deceit and eschewing cultural norms and breaking those traditions. Everything un-earnest as could be. But in today’s society, we need to look at the actual meaning of that word, and try very hard to uphold it, because it is too easy to lie and way too easy to get away with lying.
     This could turn ranting really quickly, so I’m going to keep it as “not-ranty” as I can.
     Over the course of the past year, there have been a TON of scandals in the literary world, most of which probably never made national news, unless you were an author and were made aware of the issues. 
     From Cocky-Gate to Ghost-Gate (okay, that’s not what it’s called, but I wanted it to rhyme), it looks like the literary world is filled with frauds or, at the very least, with people out to make a quick buck without considering the people they’re stepping on to do it.

Let’s recap:
     Cocky-Gate: author copyrights/trademarks the word “Cocky” so that no other author can use it on their covers.
     Cover-Gate: author tries to trademark a super generic action cover template that pretty much most genre specific authors use to format their own covers.
     The Stuffers: authors “stuff” their books with additional pages to increase pages read in Kindle Unlimited to try and get more money.
     Ghost-Gate: author has ghost-writer write her stories for her and ghost-writer plagiarizes other authors' works to write those stories.

     Phew. That’s a lot of them. And those are just the “big” ones. The small ones are about authors lying about what they’ve made and what they owe and why they can’t owe it yet and so forth… Fun stuff.
     Let me point out, though, that stories of unethical, un-earnest business practices are in no way, shape, or form, only applicable to the literary world. 
     I’m just an author, so this is where I see it the most.
     
It seems to me that “we” have begun a movement towards the “quick” buck mentality. Whatever we can do to make a dollar, we do. And that is a gross over generalization, I know, but bear with me here.
     I have personally seen authors lying about so many things just to get one up on someone else, that, in complete truth, my heart is breaking.
     In the golden ages of Enlightenment, artists and authors were heralded as heroes. They didn’t have super powers and they weren’t the “save the world” types, but their paintings and their writings could bridge the gap between disparate communities and shed light on those other sides around them. 
     They were politicians with pencils and paper, not trying to control a government, but trying to bring about a change in the people who could affect greater change around them. They were respected as those who were giving everything they had to a bygone art and were listened to because of this.
     Nowadays, if you’re not making a political statement, why should I read or look at what you’re doing?
     Nowadays, if you’re not part of the scandal, you’re not someone I want to hear about. (And that’s from both sides, victim and villain. If you’re neither…why should I care about you?)
     Nowadays, it’s not about the art or how much effort the artist put into the work, but how fast they can get those works out, and how many people they can sell them to, whether or not those words are actually read after being purchased or not.
      Nowadays…an author can write the same story with different character names and call it a new book, and another author can steal those words and say they’re their own, and there’s no honor among thieves, but it’s the thieves who are making the money, and the artists who have their heads hung in shame because they don’t know how to make the world remember what their works are supposed to be about and the wonderful truths that are hidden within them…

     Oops…ranty, sorry about that…

     No, wait…I’m NOT sorry. Because “sorry” is just another way to get trampled on. At least for those who mean it. The victims apologize because they don’t want to be linked to those who are perpetuating the problem, and the villains apologize because we’re conditioned to hear “sorry” and want to forgive.
     I’ve done nothing wrong, and yet my forgiveness has only ever gotten me squashed in the dirt and left behind.
     But that’s not the person I want to be either. I don’t want to be the Bitter Bill who can’t let go. I don’t want to hold on to all of these horrible, hateful situations where the only thing I can do is vent and write a blog post that changes nothing.
     I want to be a change.
     There are so many truly wonderful people, wonderful authors out there who are bowing our heads in shame at these others’ shameless actions.
    No more. 
    It’s time for those who ARE earnest to get some standing ovations, so to hell with the “Gates” up above, I have some new ones I’d like to start putting out there:

   
 Charity Gate
: authors band together to bring forth an anthology or a campaign where the proceeds benefit an organization truly needing help and funding from good, honest souls.
     Help Gate: authors have an “open-question” policy, where those who need help have someplace to go to ask for it, whether it’s about the process of writing, to publishing, to starting to build an audience, we’re there for each other.
     Author Gate: authors cross promote their fellow artists on their own feeds without any thought to getting something in return, just because it’s the right thing to do because we’re all artists, and art needs to be uplifted.

     It’s not cocky, it’s not supernatural, it’s not steps at all, it’s people trying to do what is right for others, because they care.
     I have been so despondent and down over the past couple of months with everything going on in the world, that sometimes I forget about the good things too, and how much we can do by just being a little bit more earnest to each other.
     So yeah, Oscar Wilde in his satire had it right, probably, I don’t know…I read the description on Wikipedia, so grain of salt this, okay?
     Being honest and truthful, being respectful and kind, even when the world around you is not…is hard. But you accomplish so much more this way, than through lying. And I’d rather lose a buck by being earnest, than gain a million by being like them.
     In the end, the Importance of Being Earnest isn’t about anyone else but you, and when we see all those who are not, remember, we’re all on the same path together, and if you reach out a hand to help someone else up, they’ll be there in return when another tries to push you down.
     I refuse to be stepped on anymore. And I refuse to step on anyone else.
     And today, I will begin being more earnest…at least about the important things in life…because, seriously, I really “honestly” do only weight 135 pounds like it says on my license, swearsies!

The Hawaiian Legend of Naupaka: A Forbidden Love ~ by Jacquolyn McMurray



Over several years of employment with the Hawaii Department of Education, I've had the great privilege to work with many Kupuna (Hawaiian elders). Kupuna are traditionally masters of the oral tradition of storytelling, moʽolelo.  One particular Kupuna I know always starts her stories with, “It is said…”

In this legend of two lovers, storytellers explain why the naupaka plant’s blossoms are half flowers. 


There are many versions of this legend. Here’s my rendition.



It is said…

Two hula students, Nanau and Kapaka, spent long hours together memorizing dances, practicing protocols, and reciting ancient chants taught to them by their Kumu, their teacher. And despite Kumu’s warnings against it, they fell in love.

When the lovers could no longer tolerate Kumu's prying eyes, they broke the kapu that forbade them to be alone together and slipped away in the pale light of the hoaka, the crescent moon.

Happy in their deceit, they met night after night, despite the moon's growing light. On the fourteenth night of their meeting, their Kumu saw them cross a stream. Enraged, she chased them all the way to the beach and insisted they stop spending time together.

Determined to stay together, Nanau and Kapaka hid in a cave until Nanau heard their Kumu drawing near. He kissed Kapaka and told her to stay in the cave while he diverted Kumu toward the mountain.

Now Kapaka did not want Kumu to catch up with Nanau, so she jumped out of the cave and blocked her teacher's path. The women struggled, and in this struggle, their voices rose and reached Nanau. 

Nanau looked down the mountain, and by the light of the moon, he watched Kumu strike Kapaka to her death. No longer wanting to live, Nanau called to Kumu to come take his life as well. Still filled with anger, Kumu ran up the mountain and struck Nanau with a rock until he fell at her feet.

It is said...

Laka, the goddess of hula, changed the lovers into shrubs--one blooming in the mountains and one on the beach--separated for all time. 

Villagers named the plant naupaka, a combination of the names of the slain. It came to pass that each plant hosted several small, white, half flowers, none complete by themselves.


To this day, the naupaka shrub only grows at the beach and on the mountain, nowhere in between.


Stay tuned for more Hawaiian legends in my future posts. 

Not a Guilty Pleasure ~ R.L. Merill

     Greetings and thank you to Grace Augustine for inviting me to the Originality By Design blog!
     I want to start by sharing part of an email I received today:
     “I'm a graduate student...and we're working on a podcast episode with the general theme of Guilty Pleasures. We came across your group (San Francisco Area Chapter of Romance Writers of America), and we'd love to speak with you.”
     At first I was flattered and excited...and then I paused at the theme.
     Guilty Pleasures.
     This was my answer to the person:
     Thank you for reaching out. I would be happy to talk about the romance industry on your podcast. Before we go any further, I’d love to share my thoughts on the subject of guilty pleasures and we can go from there.
     

I will say that it is the belief of many of us that reading romance novels is actually not a guilty pleasure. We’ve been taught that romance novels are something that we should feel guilty about when actually reading of any kind is an important way to fulfill oneself, especially for women who work hard and rarely have time to themselves. Romance brings hope to those who read it.
     I recently was reminded of this when I sent out interview questions to other authors I was featuring on my blog. I asked what their reading guilty pleasure was and several said “None. I never feel guilty for reading what I want to read, for doing something that makes me happy.” We beat up on ourselves enough as it is!
     After we had a phone conversation, they asked me to be on their podcast and were very interested in this perspective. I am proud to be representing Romance Writers of America as VP of Communications for the San Francisco Area Chapter and I’m very excited to take up the sword against the notion that genre fiction—specifically romance—is trash, smut, or a guilty pleasure.
     I have met some of the most brilliant people during my five years as a member of RWA as well as in the romance community at large. I’ve attended conventions and workshops as well as countless events on Facebook where I’ve met incredibly talented people. We have doctors, lawyers, even politicians in our midst. We have stay-at-home mothers, authors working two or more jobs, and parents of special-needs children all writing stories of love, hope, strength, endurance, and resilience. 

     The majority of the time, our community lifts each other up and cheers each other on. I’ve made great friends and received support from some of the most talented and brilliant authors writing today. Writing romance has fulfilled me in ways that my 25-year career as an educator doesn’t always. So why should I look at the stories I write and read as a guilty pleasure?
     I’ve been asking authors for their reading guilty pleasures for

my Friendy Friday blog posts for a while now and recently three best-selling authors Kimberly Kincaid, Avery Flynn, and Sarah Hegger all said, “None. I don’t feel guilty about doing something that makes me happy.” Their answers inspired me today as I spoke to the podcaster on the phone and encouraged me to write this blog post.
     There is nothing to feel guilty about when you experience art. Whether it be live music, a painting in a famous museum, or reading a story about a pirate conquering the seas and stealing the heart of a fair maiden in the process, you’re taken on a journey and given the opportunity to step outside yourself for a little while. Did it make you happy? Is it hurting anyone? No? Then why the guilt?
     As a mom of two busy teens and various pets who teaches 70% of the time and writes romance novels whenever I can, I have enough guilt. I feel guilty I don’t have enough Algebra skills to help my son with his homework, or that I really don’t want to see the latest emote on Fortnite. Or I feel guilty that I can’t go to my daughter’s track meet because my son has a standing appointment at the same time. Or I feel guilty that I don’t get to see my mother more than once a week sometimes, or that I don’t have time to take on a board position for the kids’ swim team. I feel guilty every day for my messy house or that I still haven’t called a contractor out to fix that door. I feel so much guilt. 

     
But I also recognize that part of taking care of my family is taking care of me, and I do that by writing. It helps me work out things that are bothering me, it makes me happy, and it’s a way to connect with people who share my passion for hopeful love stories. And guess what? My family supports me, and I know that by chasing my dreams I’m setting a good example for my kids. I have zero guilt about that.
     I’m excited about this upcoming interview, which I will share on my social media and in my newsletter just as soon as I have links. I’m excited to share this important perspective and my hope is that somewhere a person who is reading the latest contemporary, paranormal, LGBTQ or science fiction romance will hear it and not feel like they have to hide their book cover while riding on the train to and from work, or keep their preferred reading habits quiet around co-workers who only value “literary fiction.” We have got to stop tearing each other down. Reading is good for the soul. Period. It improves vocabulary, it enlightens the reader to the plight of others who are perhaps different from them, and it takes the reader away for fifteen minutes or three hours in a day when life is pummeling them from every direction. These are all good for you. Reading—no matter what the subject—is not a guilty pleasure and we should stop calling it so.
     Now go grab the book on top of your TBR pile and feel zero guilt about it.
     

Thanks for reading today. If you would like to learn more about my books and the world of Rock ‘n’ Romance, please sign up for my newsletter-y thingie at  www.rlmerrillauthor.com. You can also follow me at www.facebook.com/rlmerrillauthor
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I love chatting with readers and other authors and I love sharing my favorite music. I have playlists for all of my books on Spotify and my reader group shares their favorite tunes on Music Mondays. Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance

A Thread in the Tapestry of Life ~ by Joanne Jaytanie

Once upon a time, there was a girl who dreamed of becoming a professional singer. But her father informed her, she was going to college to get a degree in something ‘practical’. 

When it came time to apply for colleges, she wanted to specialize in interior design or fashion design. Much to her dismay, her father said; “no daughter of mine is going to school in New York City…You can’t make a living designing clothes. Who’s going to hire an interior designer?” 

And so, this girl decided to be a rebel – at least as much of one as she could get away with and majored in Retail Management. But she wasn’t sure she wanted to work in retail for her entire life and decided to broaden her field of study to business management with a concentration in personnel.

During her early school years, she discovered her first diary. Writing in her diary gave her a safe place to spew out her inner fears, worries, triumphs, and failures. She continued this practice during her college years and as she ventured into the working world.

She soon realized adulting was a full-time job and put away her diaries. But before long she once again started writing. This time, instead of jotting down thoughts and ideas in a journal, she tried her hand at creating a story. She cherished storytelling and it wasn’t long before it dawned on this girl that she’d been telling her story her entire life.



One day a friend invited her to learn the art of stained glass. She loved designing her pieces and working with a multitude of glass textures and colors. She enjoyed it so much that she tried her hand at running her own stained glass business, got a few sales, but reached the conclusion this wasn’t something she wanted to do full-time.

The years flew by, and still, she wrote. It was a creative outlet, something she kept bringing back into her life. That’s when she finally understood her passions always revolved around the arts. Then one day her first story went out into the world. It was thrilling, humbling, and a bit scary knowing that others would read her words.


Do I still wish I could’ve made a profession from being a singer? Yes, but that doesn’t mean I have to give it up. I sing daily; in the car, making dinner, the times I’m stuck on my work in process, and in the shower - cause doesn't everyone sing in the shower? I sometimes wonder what it would’ve been like to be a fashion designer or interior designer. But, if I chose even one different path, I wouldn’t be where I am now or have the family and friends I cherish. 

Living each day means making choices. Each turn we make leads us on our life’s journey. Choose wisely and embrace the threads that make up the tapestry of your life. 

Until next time...
Joanne 



When the Words Won't Come ~ by Kristine Raymond

My work in progress has been 'in progress' for some time now.  Like all of my books, the story started out strong, then floundered as I got towards the middle.  Maybe that's because I'm a panster, not a plotter.  I always know how my story is going to begin - and end - but the in-between is sort of fuzzy.

I'm not sure if what happens to me can be classified as 'writer's block'.  It's more of a 'words interruptus' sort of thing.  There's nothing preventing the advancement of the story, as the definition of 'block' suggests.  Quite simply put, the words don't yet exist in my brain.  At least, not the ones I'm looking for.

Many an hour (or day) I've spent staring at a blank screen, wondering how it's possible that, after almost 52 years of life, the process of stringing a sentence together eludes me.  After five years of this same phenomenon repeating itself fifteen times, I've come to accept that the words will come when they're ready, however frustrating and disheartening the wait may be.

So, I occupy my time with other pursuits - podcasting, designing promos or covers, giving interviews - anything to advance my brand until the day comes that I wake up with a head full of words, so many that I can't get them down fast enough.  And it'll happen.  I know it will.  I just need to be patient.  

What's that?  How can I be sure?  Because the proof is sitting on my shelf.



Juggling Life ~ by cover model and body builder, Scott Nova

     In Pennsylvania, next to the Monongahela River sat a small coal mining town that barely had 3 stop lights. Masontown; where I first picked up a weight in a weight room. I wish I could say it was from then on that I lifted weights, but sadly it wasn’t.
     I stayed skinny, bullied, and within a small circle of friends for a long period after that. But I was always drawn to the Adonis type

bodybuilders and wanted to train and look like that. I didn’t set foot back in a weight room again until around 2007 when I went to the fire academy and realized I was seriously undersized to do that job. I worked hard and ate everything in sight, and at first paid that off in small gains here and there. It wasn’t until I met Lesley, that things really changed for me in so many ways.
     Up until then, I ate anything in sight. But most of that is the wrong stuff to eat to pack on muscle. So, I hired the coach she was using for her bikini competitions and he took my physique to the next level when coupled with Lesley’s amazing meals.
     I had dated Miss Pittsburgh while in college, and she got me interested in modeling. She introduced me to a few folks in Pittsburgh but I kept hearing that I was too skinny, and that was the story of my modeling career until many years later. I had done some semi-serious events locally in Columbus, OH, but didn’t make a dime. In 2010 I was introduced to the romance cover industry while RT was in Columbus. I couldn’t make it to that event but went to RT-LA the following year and haven’t turned back.
     

My first cover came out in 2012, and almost 300 later, I'm still going strong. I’ve watched some of the most respected publishers fall, and the rise of Amazon as the primary source for getting your books out there. I always knew I wanted to approach modeling, specifically cover modeling, as a business. I monetized it very quickly, not too many models were getting paid all around the process of shoot, cover, promo. There weren’t hundreds of signings across the globe like there are now, either. In my short 9 year career so far, the landscape has changed tremendously.
     My career was at a nice stride in 2013-2015. Released scores of covers, many on sets of books for many authors. My largest to date is an 8 cover set that 4 authors did together, titled, The Son’s of Dusty Walker. I was on a 4’x8’ sticky on the wall at RT-Dallas in full color, as they say, and so I was very happy with my modeling side-hustle. Sadly, in 2016 it took a real fall because the MC genre became very popular and my look just didn’t fit that. The floppy hair, heavily tattooed look was in and moving like a freight train. I started promoting myself to the larger authors that maybe didn’t have control over their covers, but distributed their own marketing and promotional items. I starred in several live-action trailers for a half dozen large name authors. I did some professional voice work and even shot some of my own trailers.
     I never stopped going to RT, as I found I was well received there
and with the sheer volume of folks attending, I was almost always guaranteed to land 3-5 covers. I frequent Lori Foster's events in Cincinnati, OH. She puts on an amazing event and it's like seeing so many old friends. This past year in Reno, NV, RT called it quits. I was sad. RT was where I got my big breaks and made some very lasting friends. Hell, I even ended up on ABC Nightline, thanks to RT-Vegas, being interviewed at the outside bar area. I gotta say, that’s probably the absolute highlight of my career so far, and I doubt I’ll surpass it, for a skinny kid from Masontown, PA that just truly enjoys being a father, husband, and weight-lifter.
     I also have to attribute so much of my enjoyment for traveling to cover modeling as well. Up until I traveled for this industry, I hadn’t gone much outside of Pittsburgh, Columbus, and an occasional trip to Ocean City, Maryland. Now, thanks to traveling with Lesley and for shoots, I’ve seen Miami several times, Dallas, Vegas twice, Reno, Denver, Chicago several times, New Orleans, Atlanta, the mountains of Maryland, Seattle twice, San Antonio, and my next home, the mountains of Western North Carolina. And I have SO much left to see in JUST this country. And I’ve stayed in some of the nicest hotels as well.
      The reason I started this off by talking about where I started my weight lifting journey is that without the weights I’d never had a chance to be a model. Cover modeling is so many things for sure, but the one thing that is constant is that you have to have some sort of physique. Maybe not that of a shredded bodybuilder or Adonis type figure, but something that would be able to wrap the eyes and fantasies of the readers around the book.
     I don’t intend to model for another decade. I have a plan for my end game, but it takes time to develop. I am always thinking, shifting, and learning from either my mistakes or others' mentorships. I hope that I leave a nice legacy in this industry, as it's been good to me in so many ways. 

     
It's been amazing to share covers with my gorgeous wife. We’ve both taken the journey of fitness together, as well as parenthood. She’s helped me with decisions in this industry and allowed me to go on these trips and become Scott Nova, and take the hundreds of photos with my fans and authors alike. When Lori Foster or Christine Feehan get their phone out to get a selfie with this kid from podunk western PA, I’m genuinely smiling. I couldn’t be happier.
     I’ve got big plans coming, big things in this industry. I can’t say what they are, but it won't be with me in front of or behind a camera, and I’ll leave it at that. I will say, it will be debuted, when it's ready, in a VERY big way.
     I’m going to wrap up now and bid you adieu and thank you for your interest enough to finish this article. I hope it wasn’t too painful to read as I am certainly no writer or English language giant. But, before I go, I want to say thanks to some very important people to me in this industry. Certainly, being in this thing for 
almost 10 years now, I can’t name everyone. But there are but a few: 
     Cindy Walker – thank you! From the bottom of my heart thank you for spending a LOT of time on the phone with me explaining JUST what in the heck this wacky cover modeling industry was/is.
     Kim Killion and the WHOLE Hot Damn Designs crew – thank you. Your willingness to take a chance on me in 2011 for a shoot is what got me moving. It let me see the business side of it and I’ll forever be thankful.
     Sheila English – what can I say...you’ve introduced me to more people in this industry than I feel I could ever have met on my own. And you’re an awesome director and writer. Thank you!
     Jo Carol – thank you! I’m grateful that you always fought for the models, and always thought to include me in so many events and signings.
     My Mom and Dad – Thank you! My mom actually drove me down to Pittsburgh for my first ever casting call.
     Lesley – my gorgeous wife, thank you! You kept the fort held down at home so many times while I was traveling and shooting. You were never jealous and never stopped thinking that I could get back in shape when I’d get lazy lol. I love you!
     Authors – THANK YOU!!!! Thank you all so very much from the bottom of my heart, because without any of you willing to put me on your piece of property, your art, your work, I’d not be a cover model.

Thank you!
     Scott Nova


More Common Than Not ~ by Grace Augustine

Actress, Teri Garr
Actress, Jamie-Lynn Sigler
Stock Car Driver, Trevor Bayne
News Anchor, Neil Cavuto
Scottish Playwright, Roger MacDougall
Author, M.J. Hyland
Canadian Meteorologist, Janice Dean
Lawyer and Civil Right Leader, Barbara Jordan,  Actor, David L. Lander,  Country Music Artist, Clay Walker,  Actress, Annette Funicello,  Actor, Jack Osborne, Wife of Senator, Ann Romney,  Actress, Selma Blair, Author, Grace Augustine

     This list is just a beginning to the one million people who have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system.
     Multiple Sclerosis shows no favoritism. It doesn't care that you are rich or poor, it doesn't care that you are famous or a regular Joe/Jane, it doesn't care about your social status. It attacks when least expected, sometimes with barely noticeable repeating symptoms, sometimes with symptoms that send you to the emergency room.
     March is National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month and today is the beginning of National Multiple Sclerosis Week--March 10th-16th.  In this first of two posts this month, I want to address the clinical aspect of this disease with hopes that it will bring understanding to those who know little about it or who confuse it with Muscular Dystrophy.
     Multiple Sclerosis...the name means "many lesions." I see you scratching your head and wondering what I mean when I say lesions. To explain that, I must explain what MS, Multiple Sclerosis, does to the central nervous system.
     Our bodies are equipped with a computer...our brain. From our brain stems our spinal cord and our Central Nervous System (CNS) Within that spinal cord is a colorless liquid that surrounds our brains and our nervous system and protects it. The fluid feeds nutrients to our brain and spine and also removes waste as well as protects our brain against injury.
     From our spinal cord millions of nerves stretch throughout our bodies. The nerves are covered by myelin, another protective mechanism. Think of your nerves as a copper wire with a plastic coating (myelin) that may help you visualize my next statement.
     In people who have been diagnosed with MS, their bodies produce rogue T-Cells and B-Cells...cells that are instrumental in controlling inflammation. These rogue cells attack the myelin...the plastic coating on the nerves...seeing it as a foreign matter that it needs to rid from the body. As these cells eat away this protective covering, nerves are exposed, and instructions from the brain to these nerves are interrupted. The nerves now have lesions on them. These lesions are located on the spinal cord and in both the white and gray matter of the brain.
     Because of the nerve damage done by these rogue cells, many things go wrong. Eyesight is affected, or it may be speech, or it may be a numbness and tingling in extremities. It could be cognitive, it could be a number of things that prevent our bodies from working properly. The biggest thing is fatigue.
     Well, can't you rest? You ask.  MS fatigue is different than what the normal person experiences. It is a brutal, all encompassing weariness that prevents you from moving. You have zero energy, you cannot think, you have fog brain, and so much more.
     What can be done to treat the lesions?  At this point, not much. It is all speculative and all preventive. The disease modifying drugs that are available are many, but physicians still have no clue when or if they do anything to curb the progression of MS.
     What is the process for confirming an MS diagnosis?
     1. See your physician and discuss frankly all of your symptoms, regardless of how minor you think they may be. It will give a better picture of what is happening in your body. You will then be sent to a neurologist, a specialist dealing with the Central Nervous System and diseases that affect it.
     2.  Your neurologist will order an MRI with contrast to determine if and where lesions are located on your spinal cord and brain.
      3.  Some neurologists may order a lumbar puncture--a procedure that removes spinal fluid from the spinal cord to check for Oligoclonal Banding. Following the procedure, you will need to lay flat for a few hours until the fluid returns to normal pressure.
     4.  After all of the testing has been completed, you will meet with your neurologist for the results and a plan for care will be discussed.  Several options will be discussed and it will all depend on how the MS presents itself in your body.
     The one thing I want to impress upon you, if you are reading this and either have been diagnosed or suspect you may have MS...you are not alone. Do not be afraid to ask for help. I am more than happy to visit with any who need an ear.
     For me, I was diagnosed in 2003 at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota by five different neurologists who each examined me then collectively met to compare their findings.
     I wrote a book, So You have MS. Now What? about my personal journey with MS. It contains a lot of practical and clinical information. You can find out more about it on my member page by clicking HERE.
    In my next post, I will address what YOU can do to help find a cure to this autoimmune disease.
    




Give In to Win ~ by Cynthia Land

     If you're a typical type-A personality, the mere notion of giving in or surrendering is a non-negotiable. You're in it to win it, you won't give up when the going gets tough. However, in the practice of yoga, we are asked in the Eight Limbs to regularly give up to a power greater than ourselves. We are asked to recognize when we, on our own, cannot make the thing happen. Sometimes this has to come with great effort.
     When I arrived at the practice of yoga, I often gave up in life,

because I perceived things as being too hard. I was at the opposite end of the spectrum, I guess, and yet I kept coming back to yoga classes. I really wanted to do handstands, forearm stands and breathing exercises even though they were hard. There was something about the tiny incremental victories that enticed me to return. I was also blessed with gifted teachers who encouraged me to keep trying. Twenty-two years later, I still can't do a handstand in the middle of the floor, and my arthritic back would prefer I not do the upward facing bow pose. Interestingly, those poses just don’t mean that much to me anymore. My yoga focus has shifted from asana to meditation.
     In the real world, we can apply the practices of yoga to solve real world problems. Leaders of Fortune 500 companies talk about the value of meditation in their daily lives. Some CEOs have even left the demands of the 24/7 work cycle to slow things down and change their approach to and even their definition of success. This doesn't work for everyone, but the point is that it CAN work. Moving faster isn't always the answer. Driving yourself harder isn't always the best choice. As trite as it may sound, the best leaders are those able to delegate responsibility to the people around them by recognizing talent in others, hiring them, and being willing to lean on them.
     Bringing this back to the notion of surrendering to a higher power... first you have to have one. This can be the hardest part of the task if you've had negative experiences with the big "R" of religion. Many don't even WANT to believe in a higher power, thinking that the whole thing is hogwash because of bad things that have happened to family members, loved ones, or to themselves. Or you’re simply not interested in what's on offer. That's totally understandable. Yoga doesn't ask you to join a church. Yoga doesn't require you to idolize a strange deity (even though some yoga poses are dedicated to odd deities). The Eight Limbs of Yoga, as written in the Yoga Sutras, suggests that if we want to completely free ourselves of the bounds of our bodies and minds, we're going to need some help and that help is going to partly come from a higher power.
     As I move through my day, I'm fairly Cynthia, or self-powered. I accomplish tasks simply through my own years of experience and know-how. On occasion, I run across issues that I simply have no idea how to solve. I am completely dumbfounded. Googling doesn't help me. My first course of action is to ask someone I think might know something about what I'm doing. I've made some pretty random phone calls in my career. My first job as a journalist might have helped in this regard. I'm naturally curious and I like to ask questions.
     Asking for help might be harder for others who have to overcome fears of appearing "stupid" or simply not knowing who to ask their questions. This can take practice, just as yoga is a practice. We're never perfect, but we get a little better every time we practice. We might be uncomfortable as we start, but eventually we yoke to the practice and this is in the literal meaning of yoga.

     
Yog in Sanskrit means: to yoke. Students of yoga are encouraged to find a teacher or guru. I know lately there's been a lot of hullabaloo about teachers who took advantage of students, but this is the exception not the rule. A teacher lights our way, points out the difficulties, and guides us through life as seen through the lens of yoga.
     I turn to the Eight Limbs of Yoga on a daily basis; I'm checking in on my motives (ahimsa), I'm working to make my life and environment just a little cleaner (saucha) and I have daily conversations with my higher power, who I choose to call God. 
      No, I don't see burning bushes or anything quite that spectacular, but when I get really quiet and listen, I listen for a still, small voice that nudges me in the right direction. I'm always astounded by what is revealed. Sometimes it's big, oftentimes it's small. Sometimes I'm guided to do something as simple as hold someone's hands. What a delicate but well-meaning gesture. Something we could use a little more of in these times.

A Magical Thing Happened ~ by Linda Boulanger



Ten years ago, something magical happened. I joined Facebook, met up with an old friend, and we did a thing... We wrote a book together! Now, as exciting as that is, this post isn't about my book. It's not even about old friendships or Facebook. What it IS about is having dreams and finding ways to make them come true. This is my journey...



I think about dreams a lot. I even wrote a post about goals and dreams in January for this blog. I think I think about them so much because I'm working on making mine come true. There's a quote that says A DREAM WITHOUT A PLAN IS JUST A WISH. I ran across another one when I was looking for the first. It said: YOU CAN MAKE A WISH, OR YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN. I realized ten years ago that I don't want to wish. I want my dream come true.



As long as I can remember, my dream was to become a published author. Somewhere there is a folder full of stories written through high school and early college. Then came my first "real" job... and my first completed manuscript. Only I didn't do anything with that one, or the handful that came after it. And when another wonderful part of my life took hold, I put my dreams on the back burner to get married and raise a family, and I was content... at the time.


As the years rolled by and my oldest got a little older, I started volunteering at the Middle School Book Fair instead of the Elementary one. Two things happened that first year. 1. The Hunger Games was hot off the presses and the librarian couldn't get them in fast enough for the kids to buy. The fervor sparked something in me. A forgotten desire, though I left it there to kindle and did something else--the 2nd thing, which was to wander over and straighten up the books on the parent section. Low and behold, something blue and pretty caught my eye. James Patterson's Sundays at Tiffany’s. My, oh my! You know what we got paid in for working the Book Fair back then? Books! And I couldn't wait to get home and crack open a bona fide, adult level book! No pictures. Just words. And I devoured every one. Then my niece loaned me all her Janet Evanovich books. It took me all summer, but I read until my eyes hurt, rested them only as long as I had to, then picked up the next book.

Then I realized something. I had forgotten how much I loved books and the weaving together of the written word! How could that have happened?! How could I have traded my romance novel obsession for picture books and Junie B. Jones?! How could I have put aside my desire to write?

Because priorities change and I had been doing the most important thing to me at the time. I was tending to my children, doing my best to instill a love of reading in them, and focusing on broadening their worlds. But that didn't mean my dream had died. If anything, it had gotten stronger.

One day my oldest convinced me to watch the Gerard Butler version of Phantom of the Opera with her. I enjoyed it but was so flabbergasted that it didn't end the way I wanted that I ranted and raved off and on for a couple of days. Finally, she looked at me and said (respectfully, of course), "If you don't like it that much, then write your own version."

Talk about being given a dose of my own medicine! That was exactly what I would have told her. But you know what? I did write my own! And then I wrote another story and another. Notebooks full of woven words tumbled out of my brain, and they made sense! I was so proud of what I'd done, even as I lovingly stacked them away in a file cabinet drawer.

At least another year passed. I was still writing but realized I wasn't willing to subject myself to a publishing house. Potential rejection wasn't high on my list!

That's when I joined FB and ran across a buddy from high school who asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. Without hesitation, I told him I had always wanted to be a published author. He said, "Let's make it happen" and you know what? We did! Suddenly, there was a plan! We researched options...He found a place called CreateSpace that would allow us to print our book and gain access to Amazon for selling. I learned interior formatting. He already knew PhotoShop so designed us a cover... and we wrote and wrote and edited and hashed things out over numerous phone calls... and we got it done! 



That first book, a combination of 23 short stories written by the two of us, changed my life. It didn't top any lists, didn't make a splash in the Amazon book pool (probably not even a tiny ripple), but it opened a whole new world for me. That one book was the first step to fulfilling my dream. It actually did fulfill my dream, to a degree. I was a published author! Only I had so much more inside that needed to be written, characters whose stories were waiting to be told, worlds that needed to be built. So I kept writing and will continue because that's how you make your dreams come true. You find a way and you don't quit.

I've taken some detours on my path. My college and high school aged children still take priority, and I've taken on a cover design business that allows me to help others achieve their writing dreams. But I continue to write and to publish, and each time it is just as magical as the first time.

In June, I will be releasing another book as part of the Between the Tides multi-author box set. It's a part of my Wings & Whispers series. Behind the scenes, I'm also writing on a new Historical Romance series and progressing slowly on the next book in my Paranormal Time Travel series. I'm not as fast as some, but every time I put words on a page, I know I'm working on my dream.

Slow and steady. One word at a time. That’s my plan. How about you? Have you found that magical thing that has been the spark to ignite your dream come true?




I'd like to add a huge THANK YOU to my friend Patrick Sipperly. Thank you for believing in my abilities, for not just telling me I could do it, but walking into the process of writing and publishing a book with me.  Without that chance meeting with an old friend via social media, I feel certain I'd still be dreaming about my dream... It would still be a wish. Instead, we made it happen!

Baggage ~ by Lexa Fisher

Photo by ​Caroline Selfors​ on ​Unsplash  How often do you think about the emotional or mental baggage you carry? It may be the slow bu...