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Awakening the inner artist

tummy-yoga-400I love a challenge. I love giving myself a clear deadline, daily or weekly goals, and going for it. I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with checking that task off my list. And if you follow me on social media, you know I also love yoga.

So when my studio asked me if I wanted to participate in their 30-day challenge — a daily yoga class, thirty days in a row, I didn’t have to think before I said yes. Finally! A valid excuse to wear spandex and Uggs every day.

Studies show that yoga boosts creativity, and I can attest that it’s true. Without getting all new-agey on you, yoga helps me to focus, to quieten my mind from all the millions of distractions I encounter every day. It opens me up for new ideas and thoughts and lets my subconscious takes over. An hour on the mat unknots my plot knots in a way a gym class can’t. It’s the reason I was able to pound out book number three — all ninety thousand words of it — in five short months.

But #yogaeverydamnday?

It sounds great in theory, but I also have a life. I have a family and a job and girlfriends I love spending time with. Can I really commit? Can I really haul my sore and tired bones into the studio every single day for a whole month?

Ask me in thirty days.

Fourteen years ago today

I was at the Habitat for Humanity office in the Netherlands, writing copy for a donor newsletter. One of my colleagues returned from a meeting with the news. There had been attacks on America, on American ground soil.

This was back in the days of dial-up and sketchy internet, and the lone office computer with a connection to the outside world was ancient and slow. The news sites were swamped and took forever to load. I didn’t get the full picture, but I got enough to know it was bad. I grabbed my stuff, picked up my kids from their schools and daycare, and drove home, where I watched the horror unfold on CNN International.

I think I’ve said it here before, I always had a problem with being called an expat. The word has all sorts of connotations, thanks to the little prefix at the beginning. Expelled, exiled, expatriated. Yes, I was living out of my country of citizenship, and yes, it was a voluntary move, but I’ve never liked the assumption that living abroad made me any less of an American. In fact, I’d dare say the opposite is true, that nothing heightens your feelings of national pride like being the stranger in a foreign country.

I remember a lot of things from that day in September, and from the days and weeks afterward, but the thing that sticks with me the most was the kindness. Dutch friends and family called with their condolences. Neighbors and other moms and strangers on the street, as soon as they realized I was American, expressed their solidarity. The unemotional Dutch, a culture known for their stoicism, cried real tears for me, an expatriated visitor from another country. Never have I felt more American, and never have I loved the Dutch more.

Those of us who lived through that day don’t need a hashtag to remember, but I’ll put it here anyway: #neverforget.

#amwriting but wish #amreading

I’m currently deep in the middle of writing my third book. Like, thirty thousand(ish) words to go and a looming deadline deep. Yoga pants and messy hair and not enough showers deep. Deeeeeep.

All that goes to say, when I sat down to write today’s blog post, I couldn’t even contemplate coming up with another 500 words. Sorry, y’all, but I got nuthin’.

But Women Unplugged is a blog about books, and raving about other people’s books is so much easier than talking about mine, so here are a few I love from brilliant fellow authors.

81L-XdfdbgLJonathan Tropper is an automatic buy for me. I don’t even bother reading the back cover, just point my mouse at the one-click shopping button. He makes me laugh, he makes me cry, he makes me wish he would write faster. I love all his books, but How to Talk to a Widower is my absolute favorite.

51CXyA2LniL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Allison Winn Scotch has such a great voice, and she writes characters I want to be BFFs with. Time of My Life is not her latest, but she smashed it out of the park — and onto the NYT list — with this one.

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A hunky chef, a snarky writer, and a story that sticks with you long after you turn the last page. The First Husband is a charming tale about finding your soul mate, and my favorite of all of Laura Dave’s novels.

51dx30Ray5LBridget Asher has a new one coming out this fall and I can hardly wait. Her last one, Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, is heartbreaking and hilarious, a love story within a love story, and bonus! It’s set in beautiful France.

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I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this one. Julie Buxbaum writes so beautifully about love and loss and the secrets we hide from our families and ourselves. After You will haunt you long after The End.

If you read any of these, I hope you’ll let me know what you think!

On letting go

1155x510-amsterdam-6About a month ago, I did something I swore I would never do. With only 15,000 words to go until The End, I walked away from a manuscript. Just…closed the file and let it go. I guess you could say I gave up on it.

It’s not that that story wasn’t good, because it was. But with two published books under my belt, I now know a book is not just about the words on the page. It’s about a solid hook and unique characters and market trends and a pretty cover and all those millions of things big and small that all add up into a publisher’s ability to sell that sucker. And as much as I loved this story when I set out to write it, somewhere in the process it lost a little of its sparkle. Somewhere along the way, I’d lost the thrill in writing it. Even so, I was determined. Finish or bust, because the alternative seemed so much worse. All those words and time wasted.

And yet?

And yet.

Around the same time, a new idea began brewing in my head. The characters were real, and boy were they vocal. They began talking in my head, and they wouldn’t shut up. The stories they tell me are heartbreaking and shocking and so much better than the story I was struggling to finish. Any writer will attest: when characters like that come along–when a story grabs you by the guts and refuses to let you go–you better believe you sit down and write it. I opened up my laptop, and the words started flowing. This new story is killing me a little to write, but then again, those are the best stories.

Maybe I’ll pick up that old story again, and maybe I won’t. But first I’m going to finish this one, because it’s awesome.

ps. What does that picture of Amsterdam have to do with my new story? Absolutely nothing. But it was pretty, and I thought you might like it. 😉

The real Holland

When I moved to the Netherlands all those years ago, we lived in a beach town on the North Sea. Back when we lived there, it was one of the few villages where the stores were allowed to open on Sundays, so folks flocked there in the weekends, especially those when the sun made a rare appearance. And anytime the mercury nudged up into the seventies, the beaches were packed, with Dutch and foreigners alike.

The street where we lived was a couple of miles from the beach, and a world away from the tourists. Every single person who lived on our street was Dutch, and their families had lived and worked in the village for generations. A hotel owner, a butcher, a handful of farmers. I was the only foreigner, and believe me: everybody knew it.

Especially me.

I lived there for about five minutes before I decided that becoming Dutch was my number-one goal. Not just learning the language, but sucking up the slang and the accent and the culture until I was felt and sounded like one of them. I understood my neighbors within a couple of months. I felt competent in about six. By the end of the first year, Dutch people stopped answering me in English and assumed I was one of them.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 8.17.45 AMThings in Amsterdam are different. Walk down any street here, and you’ll hear more foreign than Dutch, not just from the tourists but from expats, and I’ve yet to meet one who speaks decent Dutch. Why bother? Everyone here, from the old lady selling flowers to the guy driving the tram to the kids playing on the streets, speaks English and German and French and if you’re lucky a passible Spanish and Italian. My point? If I had only lived here, in Amsterdam instead of in that tiny village on the North Sea, I wouldn’t be half as Dutch. I’d be just any other American expat.

Saying you’ve seen Holland when you’ve only visited Amsterdam is kind of like saying you’ve seen America after a few days in New York City. As awesome as Amsterdam is, it’s not the real Holland. The real Holland is a tiny village surrounded by farms or fields of tulips for as far as the eye can see, where English is something you hear on TV, and not from the people living in the house next door. I am who I am because I’ve experienced them both.

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