Category Archives: WORDS

Fake News? Or Freedom to Report the T R U T H? Sinclair Broadcasting Crossing the Line into Trumpville

As a journalist and graduate from University of Georgia, I am proud that UGA’s journalism dean, along with 12 others, signed a letter in protest to Sinclair Broadcasting. Sinclair, owner of more than 200 TV news stations in America, is continuing to create controversy. Or, better said, Sinclair Executive Chairman David. D. Smith, needs to attend a journalism ethics class and should consider resigning. Who thought it would get worse after Mr. Smith denounced ALL print news outlets as ‘meaningless’ last month?

On April 3, New York Magazine published statements by Smith saying, the print media “serves no real purpose.” The story included this quote:

“The print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble which accounts for why the industry is and will fade away. Just no credibility.”

(My guess? He’d rather we all read tweets from President Trump and ignore scientific evidence showing global warming, or photos of white hats pulling chemically burned bodies out of rubble in Syria, or FBI proof that our last election was tampered with.)

Sigh. I usually stay away from controversial, non-positive topics on this blog. But guess what? Our freedom of speech and the public’s right to be informed are at risk. Forcing TV news anchors to read a letter that says other news outlets are publishing “fake news” is out of control. News anchors have reached out to friends (including one of mine) upset and saying she had no choice, but to read the letter given to her on the air or she’d be fired.

“Fake News” threats are just a bully’s means to hoist control and not be held accountable for truth. That’s all. It is similar to President Trump’s ‘fake news’ claims, which are clearly his means to cause confusion and fear in Americans—trying to plant a seed of doubt so we won’t believe what we read or see on television news. Shame on Mr. Smith for forcing his broadcasters to read a letter verbatim on air accusing other journalists, without any proof, of not doing an accurate job. I’m proud so many journalism deans and department heads took a stand.

To read more about what Sinclair did, and how the company also recently withdrew a $25,000 contribution to the National Press Photographers Association’s legal fund, go to Poytner Institute’s thorough article: 13 J-school deans and chairs issue letter of concern to Sinclair.

I’ll close with this thought to Mr. Smith:

Your beliefs, your politics and your business agenda, have NO place in the newsroom. Journalists are trained to report news as thoroughly as possible by garnering multiple sides to every story, outlining multiple viewpoints and finding original sources. The journalism industry won’t die, because our society is now flooded with bloggers who don’t use multiple sources when reporting, and a President who likes to tweet personal reactions not based on facts. Our society needs journalists now, more than ever. If this makes you uncomfortable, then perhaps the news business is not for you. Your letter, that was forced to be read verbatim by professional journalists—without letting them tell viewers that they did not write it, or that it was commentary, not facts—vomited on American journalist standards and ethics. In the coming weeks, I hope more academics and journalists take a stand.

 

 

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To Self Publish or Not … One Writer’s Positive Experience

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Today I met with a talented poet and artist who self published her first book in 2017 with Amazon, for less than $2,000. That’s amazing. And it’s gorgeous. Shani’s Whispers of Grace is a delicious compilation of paintings and spiritual poetry, inspired by her time in silence “with Shiva” at the holy hill of Arunachala in Tamil Nadu. Mystical, lyrical and emotional, Shani could have sought out an agent and tried to publish traditionally. Instead, she chose to self publish and to hire a friend to create her cover. As we chatted today about her next book, now in the works, we both began discussing the pros and cons of the self publishing route. As most of you reading this know, I’m pitching agents and have written three novels, now working on my fourth. Intrinsically, I worry about the costs of self publishing and managing all the self promotion, printing costs, pr costs, platform management and search elevation, contractual issues, etc. by my self. I’ve always held agents in high regard and read experts advice such as Shawne Coyne (who published this article today lauding what good agents can do: What it Takes: Art + Commerse = Better Art.).

 

But after speaking with the kind-hearted and spiritual Shani today, I see that in the end, whether a writer decides to self publish or pursue traditional publishing, it all boils down to expectation and time. Shani is happy to let her book grow organically through word of mouth referrals (including mine, buy it please!). She allows placement to happen organically within appropriate settings, such as spiritual book stores, or yoga and meditation retreat centers. As Shani said: “if I touch one soul, I am happy.” She isn’t bogged down by what frightens me: all the time consuming PR, self promotion pitching and travel and speaking engagements. And her work is doing just fine since she kept creation costs relatively low.

I love her perspective and choices. Because in no way does her choice to self publish affect the quality of her craft. In fact, I think this journey of Shani’s has allowed her to focus 100% of her time on her art, and perfecting that art, without worrying about the business side. She lets her art speak for itself—and it does.

I love this last line of her poem Song of the Self: “It is only the Supreme non-dual “I” that destroys ignorance and pure Knowledge shines forth as Self.”

I think all of us writers could learn from Shani. When one continues to write for the sake of writing and for the gift it gives us by honing the craft—while enjoying the journey—the writing will intuitively and intrinsically get better. And it is more likely that an author will make deep connections with her readers as well. From the heart-felt intention of creating an inspiring piece of art, for the sake of art, that art, in turn, will flourish and the right organic opportunities will arise.

Thank you Shani for your words of wisdom today. I can’t wait to see your paintings and your next book!

Namaste ~

Laura xo

 

Finished your novel? Think again. How the editing process is endless…

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So I naively thought I was DONE editing my third novel Between Thoughts of You. Lets just say today was humbling and frustrating. On a happy note, a publisher in the UK agreed to read 10,000 words. Yay! Right?

Sort of.

My freshest version of the manuscript was saved via pdf. The publisher didn’t want to receive a pdf format or my entire novel. That caused a little anxiety. See, after editing my novel four times and sending it to beta readers, I had saved the final version in pdf form back in February before going to a writers conference. I think I edited the word docs of each chapter so many times that I actually have 3 of every chapter saved. Don’t ask me why, but that’s how it turned out. I like to have the option of seeing and re-visiting they way the longer chapters feel, so I keep earlier, longer drafts. To give the UK editor what she wanted, I had to highlight the first three chapters within my pdf version and then copy and paste it onto a fresh word doc. Sounds easy right?

But then the editor in me, couldn’t let it go. I read the three chapters upon pasting them and realized there were formatting issues. AND a few words were missing. To add to my mounting anxiety, I found one tense that didn’t quite work. Of course, I decided at the last minute, that one entire sentence of the final paragraph of Chapter 1 had to go. Then I decided, what the Hell, I really need to re-visit the ENTIRE manuscript.

Why? WHY? WHY am I like this? Seriously?

Two mocha’s later (which I had given up last month) I’m in a complete caffeine panic. I’m thinking: “No wonder one of the agents at the conference passed on my book! She saw the tense problem. She didn’t like the last paragraph of my first chapter either.”

Dread entered my heart and anchored my ass to the chair. I had to fix this.

“Wait!” I screamed out loud in my empty house. It dawned on me that I had sent the exact same three chapters to two other agents—my top choices—before making the changes I made today. That was bad. Really bad.

I need a rewind button.

A mild version of PTSD crept into my veins. I couldn’t breathe. And I’m a damn yoga and meditation teacher. So I started deep yoga breathing and mentally repeated “This isn’t 2015, chill out.”

In 2015 a friend who has written 10+ novels introduced me to her agent. This agent, who works at one of the largest agencies in the world, loved the synopsis and first chapter of my 2nd novel Uriel’s Mask. But I had made the rookie mistake of thinking my novel was ready for a major agent to read in its entirety, before I had edited it many, many times, and with only a few friends as beta readers. This agent had me sign a contract that I wouldn’t submit to anyone else for six months. I was beyond ecstatic. And then seven months later, she passed. It was too long. The word count needs to be under 90,000 words for first time writers. Why didn’t anyone tell me that? And, it had too many characters. Uriel’s Mask is a southern, semi-historic family saga. First time authors today need short books, with short chapters and with few characters. Again, that wasn’t told to me in my MFA program, and my favorite authors often have long, deliciously complex novels. Sigh.

When I was getting my MFA in New York, it was a completely different publishing landscape. My first novel, Lucifer’s Laughter, a psychological murder mystery inspired by my days as a newspaper crime reporter, had been my MFA thesis. And it got accepted by the first agent I pitched after sending only a few chapters. That agent was the amazing Anita Diamant Berke, who had rep’d VC Andrews, author of the Flowers in the Attic series. A few weeks after she signed me, she died of a heart attack and her entire agency went into a tail spin. I was broke and owed more than $40,000, so took a job as a magazine editor in Atlanta, met my husband the first week there, and then life got lifey with kids, editing jobs, etc.

Enter today. I’ve returned to writing fiction. But in 2015, I had the mentality of someone submitting to agencies in 1996—thinking my work didn’t have to be perfect before going to an agent. It does. Today’s submissions need to be ready for publication. And first time authors should be warned that agents like to pitch short novels with character-driven, not-too-complicated plots. They are easier to sell to publishing houses who don’t want to invest and lose too much on first time authors. It makes sense. But I didn’t completely understand that in 2014/2015. I do today and am grateful to the handful of agents who let me know.

My third novel is shorter and with two main characters. It has tight, easy-to-read chapters. I paid attention to the agents’ advice. So today’s discovery of a few missing words, a wrong tense and a lengthy sentence, sent me into a complete panic. Sigh.

I have to let go. I will not re-send up-dated chapters to the two agents now considering the work. That might send a red flag. Or be confusing. But maybe I should?

The kids are in bed and I feel the urge for another mocha and an all night editing binge.

HELP!

 

 

The Reality of Writing of a Novel

I SO adored the blog post by Emily Gould, “How Much my Novel Cost Me.” We must have been sisters in another life. Honestly, I can relate to the experience of getting an MFA in New York. Of having “broke” trust fund friends. Of augmenting my writing by teaching yoga, for very little…And, of course, of the reality of how much debt one can go into when writing a novel. My first book, the thesis of my MFA program, cost me almost $40,000…and then after my agent died, I took an editor position at a magazine in order to pay off debt. I can also relate to the ticking clock need to have a baby! Insert two children and nearly 10 years of NOT writing fiction, and now I’m back at it, working on my 4th novel.

If you are an aspiring author, read her post as she outlines her years in debt, what she learned and how her book deal came about. Yes, you may go in debt, even if you get a book deal. And no, getting a book deal won’t guarantee your happiness. It might, however, help you to feed your cat, to pay off debt and to start the next novel without too much fear of not being able to buy groceries or make the rent for a few months while you write!

 

Enjoy. Thanks Emily for the wonderful post. (Read it HERE.) I look forward to reading your next book!

 

View story at Medium.com

The Artists Guide to Finding Time Step 2: Trust the Universe

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Photo by Chloe Moore Photography

Hmmm, what does THAT mean, I imagine many of you fellow writers and artists asking. When a yogi says you need to “trust the Universe” it can sound vague at best and spiritually superior at worst. But as a writer for 25 years and a yogi for only 8, I can tell you that trusting the Universe requires specific actions in order to create more, produce more, and live in an abundance consciousness that can create a vibration of attraction and opportunities. And it’s a daily achievement, as each day will be different. But if you, like me, are focussed on your art and know that it is what you are born to do, then trust your instinctual voice and your universal guides—even if you aren’t completely sure you believe in their existence. If you do, you will banish your FEAR that is ultimately what is standing in your way in the first place, right? The FEAR of not being good enough. The FEAR of ‘who am I to think I can be X (insert: published, artist with gallery exhibit, musician with record deal, etc.)? The FEAR of what if I don’t make it? The FEAR of what if I can’t pay rent?

These are all serious concerns, for sure, but what you focus on grows. I’m not advocating everyone throw caution to the wind and go bankrupt, but there is more time in a day than we actually realize. There are ways to find more time to slip into a creative space on a daily basis. There are ways to minimize fears, produce more effectively and live with more joy—while you’re reaching for your dreams. This way, you can enjoy today, the moment, so much that reaching your goal almost doesn’t matter. Why? Because you’re living your art, living authentically, and enjoying your life more. Here are tools that are currently working for me:

  1. Reduce the hours at work in your day job so you can focus more on your art. Over the years I’ve encountered this lesson time and time again. At one point, I left a high paying consultancy gig with a New York PR firm. Why? Because it was taking up all my time and I couldn’t actually finish my 2nd novel. (The first I wrote in graduate school moons ago, so this was my second attempt to return to fiction in more than 12 years!) I also recently let go of co-managing a yoga studio because the hours were long, the work labor-intensive in the heat (a hot yoga studio) and I was exhausted after taking care of the kiddos every night and not actually writing. So now I just teach yoga classes and write for magazines when an editor reaches out. Yes, the money is less, but I finished my 3rd novel and am now jamming on my 4th! My days feel yummy. I enjoy the hours I write and I love the balance I’m creating.
  2. Start your day early and set positive intentions. If you aren’t a meditator, consider it. You can literally download free guided meditations from DavidJi (one of my favorite human beings) or from The Chopra Center and just listen for 15 minutes with ear plugs. All have messages to light up your agni (internal fire) and help you tap into your intuitive, creative center to manifest your dreams. We often have to let go of mental baggage, or negative fear-based programming from childhood, that trigger our less-than thinking. We have to let go of that and embrace our Divine right to infinite possibilities.
  3. Commit to your art every day, even if some days that means a mere 30 minutes. This is hard, I know. Some days I don’t write or work on my fiction. Those days are usually consumed with a sick child, or work from a day job that required extra time. But I’ve realized that the more I try to stick to this goal, the easier it is to achieve. By letting go of social media and 15 hours a week at a low-paying day job, I’m able to find an hour or more every day to write or pitch an agent, or enter a contest…getting me closer to my goal of publishing traditionally.
  4. Put aside art-focussed weekends. If you are single without children, you can really do this. 🙂 If you are married or a single parent, this can be a little challenging. I’ve asked my former mother-in-law to watch the children for weekends when I needed to get away, flying her across the state to help, even if I just went down the road to write. I’m also considering swapping kiddos for a few hours every other Saturday with another single mother who is an artist, so we both garner more time and our kids get to play. Find creative solutions!
  5. Take breaks to exercise & breathe deeply. This is important, especially when fear is creeping back in. If you can’t afford yoga classes or a gym membership, exercise in your house, or jog or take a walk. And breathe. Take 3 deep breaths, holding them at the top, then releasing slowly, visualizing all the stress melting away with the breath.
  6. Pay attention to the energy you surround yourself with. If you listen to the news first thing in the morning, or read your social media scroll, or check your email—before meditating or planning out your day—you may sink into a fear-based mentality. If you often talk with relatives or friends who doubt your abilities and don’t support your artistic endeavors, think about cutting down your time with them. Start to allow in other artists or supportive friends if you aren’t all ready. Find them via Meetup groups or start your own. Cut off the news and turn on music that inspires you when you’re home. Create the energy that fosters creativity.
  7. Read from the experts! Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird and many others, is beyond inspirational. Check out her Ted Talk video: 12 Truths I learned from Writing and Life. Steven Pressfield, author of 17 books, is another favorite of mine. The Art of War is Pressfield’s eye-opening book that explains why artists and writers often stop or get discouraged, just when they’re on the verge of a breakthrough. He describes it as the Universal Law of Resistance that manifests in procrastination, self-sabotage, fear, arrogance, self-doubt. His weekly advice can be emailed to you as well, a helpful tool of inspiration!

Believe in yourself. Be good to yourself. You are on this planet for a reason. I’ve come to believe that art is the universal language of love and compassion. It is a worthy endeavor. Anyone who tells you differently, must never have cried during a movie or at the end of a novel or when finding that perfect song that speaks to his soul. And isn’t that sad to imagine? To me, nothing trumps that soul connection via art.

Have a beautiful day. As always, thank you kindly for reading my humble suggestions and prose.

Laura x

The Artists Guide to Finding Time

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I wear many hats, but my purpose in this lifetime is to write and to publish compelling stories with characters many would not pause to consider or feel compassion for—people on the fringe of society, whose inner light is rarely acknowledged. This is my passion. Yet it seems that all my other ‘work’ demands my primary focus. Intention plus Attention, Manifests. Yet most of my Attention, for years, has been drawn in too many directions. I am a single mom who has been raising her two boys solo for nine years. I am the author of three novels seeking representation, as I desire to publish traditionally. I am a freelance journalist who writes for magazines. I am a yoga teacher who has taken 5 yoga trainings and led a yoga and writers retreat in Greece, hoping to run more! My ex lives in Europe and I have no family help, so I have few weekends off to re-charge, and no help when a kid is sick or there is an emergency at school. I guess you can say I am a master juggler. Yesterday a friend told me she can’t find time or motivation to write/create her blog because she has too many demands, yet she has no children or full-time employment. Our demands, are our demands, however. What we focus on, grows. If we focus on fear and lack, we will scramble in too many distracted directions and lose our willpower.

I am finally mastering the balance and carving out more time to focus—even within my hectic schedule. Trust me, between school runs, lunches, dinners, homework, soccer games and practices, violin performances, Taekwondo, volunteer requests, yoga classes I teach, etc…My daily life can become a blinding, dizzying, depressing grind that used to relegate my passion for writing to a mere 30 minutes a day—and that was on good days! I’ve now cut out the major fat, the time-suckers and distractions and am working on my fourth novel. If I can find more time—trust me—you can too. I want to help. Here is the first of a five-part-series on how to find the time to create:

First, cut out ALL the distractions. By that, I mean, ALL SOCIAL MEDIA HAS TO GO. For a year. It’s been seven months of no social media for me in my first year cleanse. During this period, I finished my 3rd novel (click here for excerpt), edited it four times, attended a writers conference and submitted the novel to agents who are currently considering it. Also during that period, I taught yoga classes, helped manage a studio, worked with private clients, attended a meditation retreat, raised two humans by myself and dealt with health issues. If I had stayed on social media, I would have been sucked into its time-wasting trap—losing momentum, motivation and self confidence—while wasting valuable time better spent writing. Now I know all authors and artists need a “platform” to sell their art. But while you are still struggling to create & produce art and then garner an agent or deal, social media needs to go. Here’s why social media is not only a waste of time for budding artists and writers, but it actually makes us less creative, less authentic, and less productive:

  1. Social media thwarts momentum. Why? because it turns the focus outward and not inward. You may be half -way through that novel, or composition or mural, and suddenly you become overwhelmingly self-conscious and fearful and less sure, losing your drive to move forward. We lose our ability to connect deeply to our core and hear our intuition (the birth place of creativity) and our desires, when we focus on others: on what they are doing, how they are doing it and and on how others feel about us and what we do. To create, we need to turn inward, tap into our inner power, our inner passion, our inner purpose and JAM.
  2. Social media drains our Motivation and lessens our Gratitude—which can spur bad habits that actually suck more time away from our projects becoming successful. Looking at what others are doing, can thwart us from realizing our dreams and we can become filled with thoughts like:  Maybe I should be going out more? Those drink looks good, I need a happy hour. I need to have a spa day, why don’t I get to have a spa day? I love her dress and shoes, I haven’t had a new outfit in years. etc etc. Yes we all need balance, but spending more, getting hung-over, or spending money we don’t have or time with negative friends, will NOT help.
  3. Social media lowers self-confidence by comparing our lives and our projects with others. This is an expansion of the last point. Artists often live with less before they are published or discovered. If we compare our lives by what we have or own and are constantly filling our minds with visions from Instagram or Facebook of ‘friends’ new houses, new cars, new relationships we can develop thoughts of fear and lack, that dissuade us thinking in affirmative powerful ways that manifest. Thoughts like: I should be doing more. Or I’m not as good as him. Or I need to focus on money-making projects or pick up more part-time work in order to get a date like his. etc …
  4. Studies have shown that even a mere 20 minutes of social media photo sharing or scrolling increases anxiety, depression and feelings of lack. Studies proved social media lowers self-esteem and it creates disrupted sleep patterns (likely from light erupting from a phone by the bed). One study says that not only does social media foster addiction, but it re-wires the brain to become more addictive and reactive in general. All thwart inspiration to create authentically and powerfully.
  5. The more time we spend on social media, the less we take ourselves and our art and our passions seriously. Sure, you may post a pic of yourself painting or writing, and love the 100 likes you receive, but are you really delving into the project for hours, connecting to your inner voice, inner guides and moving forward in a powerful way? Answer this truthfully.

So, my advice, drop the Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook for a year and gain back the two—or more hours a day—to focus on your art, your potential, your inner fire.

Next installment covers what to replace those two hours with. SO GOOD.

Have a beautiful day!

If you liked this article, you may be interested in:

Is Social Media Bad for You? BBC, January 2018

 

Underneath the Surface in Hawaii

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We’re off to Hawaii again! It’s my sixth trip back and this time, I’ll be re-visiting all the spots where magic occurs in my novel Between Thoughts of You. The boys and I are are exploring moving to Honolulu too. The freedom of being a full-time mom, means 100% custody and the ability to live wherever I feel the tug of my life pulse, where mana can be felt and built. So we’ll see. In this pic, the three of us are snorkeling in the gorgeous aquamarine waters of Waimanalo Bay. We arrived just after the sun rose, before tourists could scare away the fish and turtles. I can’t wait to go back!

Here’s a short excerpt of my novel when Lulu recalls her first kiss with Akoni as they swam in Waimanalo Bay. She is remembering this after Akoni, her husband, has left her. After he left her for her best friend—a mere three months after their baby girl Healani died mysteriously. Lulu is remembering this from Tuscany, where she escaped her sadness in order to care for a dying old man. She needed to leave reminders of her life in Oahu behind, yet she can’t. As the old man’s remorse engulfs him in a rabid lust for the love of his life, whom he abandoned after the War, sweet memories of Akoni flood back into Lulu’s consciousness. She must find a way to resolve her broken heart around the fact that a pure love can, and did exist, regardless of how it was destroyed.

CH 6: Between Thoughts of You

ko’u Pu’uwai : My Heart

The first time Akoni kissed Lulu, 15 years earlier, he had laughed afterward and said: “You didn’t know you’d fall in love with a prince today did you?”

They had been swimming in the clear, aquamarine waters of Waimanalo Bay. Lulu and Akoni were splashing around in Pahonu Pond, the ancient fish pond built hundreds of years earlier to trap turtles for the kings of Hawaii. Only royalty had been allowed to eat the turtles, others would have be killed for doing so. The wall, although weathered, enclosed a perfect place for keikis to swim safely. Lulu’s favorite spot in Kaiona Beach Park was just a 15 minute walk from Nan and Rusty’s farm in Waimanalo. Rusty had taught her how to swim there by getting her to ‘chase’ the fish in the clear waters. Out of breath, little Lulu had risen up with her over-sized goggles on, and through water droplets, had seen Rusty laughing and clapping for her. She had always felt happy there. She had never felt more safe and more loved, as Rusty’s uhane had surrounded the two of them like a warm blanket when they were together.

Of course, she would have her first kiss with a Hawaiian prince in that same spot! Rusty, who had been called this because of the strawberry hues in his hair, practically had predicted it. He had pointed off to Rabbit Island one time as he gave Lulu a lesson and had said: ‘Princes are buried there. Their spirits are smiling on you, little one, and will bring you your own prince some day.”

Akoni and Lulu had both been working on Nan’s farm that summer day. Rusty had died four years earlier and had been a close childhood friend of Akoni’s grandfather. They both had loved outrigger canoes. Rusty had become famous for carving traditional Hawaiian ones resembling what ancient royalty had been transported in hundreds of years earlier. He sold them humbly out of his barn by word-of-mouth referrals. Those in the know happily referred customers his way—as Rusty had been someone on the island people were proud to call a friend and to ride with. When Rusty died, Akoni’s grandfather made a solemn promise to Lulu’s Nan that he would always help to support her family. So, every summer after Rusty’s death, Akoni and his brothers and sisters worked on Nan’s farm. When Rusty had been living, the farm had grown corn and Nalo greens. Over time, however, the farm, called Rusty Patch, had become a popular tourist attraction. Set just at the base of the Ko’olau mountains and near the crystal waters of Kaiona, Nan decided to listen to friends’ advice who insisted it was perfectly located to attract tourists. So she started advertising the year after Rusty’s death and Rusty Patch suddenly exploded—selling tickets year-round to various events: a petting zoo, a pumpkin patch, hay rides, corn field maze games, watermelon races, even cooking classes.

That August morning, Akoni and Lulu had decided to take a break from selling mango and strawberry “nalo” lemonade to tourists and walked down to the turquoise waters. Splashing around in the keiki pond, Akoni suddenly began to talk. A boy of few words, Lulu stilled herself and paid attention.

“This pond was created for my ancestors,” he told her, raising an eyebrow.

Lulu smiled in response and teased, “So I’ve heard.”

“You think I’m being arrogant?”

Lulu shrugged. She had heard on the playground that Akoni’s family was related to King  Kamehamoa I, who had reigned Hawaii until 1819. But how many Hawaiians would have loved to have claimed the same? Besides, she had read in history books that King Kamehamoa had married more than 30 wives! So who documented all the children born from the 30 wives—and probably mistresses—200 years ago? Lulu decided that it would be hard to prove, or disprove, whether a Hawaiian family had actually been related to that King’s family today. But Akoni was handsome. And charming. He had grown into his chest. His skin was the color of cinnamon and smooth to the touch. She noticed that his eyes were soft chocolate with flecks of yellow. His cheek bones were broad giving his round face a distinct definition to go with his cleft-dented chin that Lulu suddenly wanted to bite that day. Lulu had known Akoni most of her life. She didn’t understand why that moment she felt such an urge to smell his neck or touch the place just between his collar bones. But she wanted to. Desperately. So she said nothing about his ridiculous claims of royal blood. And smiled silently back at him.

Akoni began to swim around Lulu and continued with his story.

“So, this pond was created to keep turtles for the Wakea or the ali’inui.”

“So Rusty told me,” Lulu replied.

“What if I told you that one of my great grandmothers was King Kamehamoha’s keopuolani?”

Lulu raised an eyebrow at him.

“We have artifacts at my house to prove it, but my mom and dad say it is arrogant to speak of it. They say it will cause others to not respect me if I boast.”

Akoni dipped beneath the waters surface, and emerged very close to Lulu’s chest. It had been a bit chilly that day. The clouds had come in and it started to rain lightly. She sunk down into the water to stay warm; just her chin peaked above its grey green surface. Akoni was down on his knees in order to look into her eyes. Her green eyes.

“Your eyes are now the same color of the water. I think you are a witch,” he said laughing. “You have put a spell on me,” he added.

And then he kissed her. Lightly. Sweetly. Lulu started to tremble. When he pulled his lips from hers, Akoni wrapped his arms around her saying, “You’re freezing!”

She responded, “No. I’m scared.”

Akoni laughed hard, before saying the infamous line Lulu would tell all their friends for years to come: “You didn’t know you’d fall in love with a prince today did you?”

###

 For more excerpts of Between Thoughts of Me, or Uriel’s Mask, please click Words in the Categories side bar.

Have a blessed day.

Mahalo,

Laura xo

Voice, Authenticity & the Right to Write

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Is it OK for a writer to create main characters of the opposite sex, sexual orientation or with a different ethnic background from her own? Is it believable? Will the readers trust the voice of the protagonist? And IF I write a novel where the characters live in another country, is that stepping too far outside of my zone of authenticity? Since both of my novels that I’m currently selling to agents have crossed these barriers, have I now become an author that is too hard to sell in todays restrictive fiction marketplace?

These are questions that kept surfacing for me while at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference this past weekend. First, let me say Wow! What an amazing four day journey! The SFWC had more than 100 workshops, pitches to agents, meetings with editors, authors, publicists, experts and lectures by famous authors, poets at the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. There were hundreds of authors from all over the globe with manuscripts in hand. The level of creativity was intoxicating. I highly recommend writers go next year!

What I heard from agents, and a few published authors, however, was confusing. Two agents (after hearing my short pitch) told me I would be ‘hard to sell’ to top 5 publishers because my main character of Between Thoughts of You is a Japanese-Hawaiian woman and I’m not Hawaiian. Yup. These comments were made before reading a word of the manuscript and without asking me why I chose this character, or how much research I did, or how I felt compelled to create this person who is a strong, yet gentle and spiritual female—the perfect combination to be the hospice nurse to trigger an old man who misses the love of his life, a Japanese woman he met after WW11.

A published author who spoke at the conference, expressed her trepidation over crossing ethnic and socio-economic barriers in her first novel inspired by an NPR story. Because her protagonist was a woman from Mexico and she, a college-educated, middle class woman from San Francisco, she said she feared whether she had the right to create her. “I worried. Who am I to write about someone from Guatemala or Mexico?” she said to a large audience of writers.

As a journalist who studied with the BBC in London, researched documentary journalists such as John McPhee, and who studied and published with the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Maine, where I was asked to live with islanders and sailors for months and write about them, I was dumbfounded by her statement. I sat in the audience and thought, “Who are you NOT to write about a Mexican immigrant?”

IF a writer is inspired by a true story and wants to fictionalize the experience to create more awareness, the writer is hearing a calling. IF a story beckons to the writer, it will become inflamed with passion and purpose. And IF, even in the face of fear and doubts, the writer can’t kick the idea of the story, much like a buzzing of a bee at his ear, then the writer must follow the calling and write the damn story. The mission, then, becomes to open the eyes and hearts of the reader so that they can become compassionate towards a human whose experience they might not otherwise care about. I would then say that it becomes imperative that we cross those borders, of ethnicity, walk that tightrope of place and voice as an author, to enter into the international language of emotion. And, of course, much research needs to be done to make the voice of the writer and the sense of place and location believable. But this is achievable.

It’s not surprising that my first novel Lucifer’s Laughter, a murder mystery and my MFA thesis when in New York, has a main character that is a lobsterman in Maine. I lived there and documented that region and had been a crime reporter for years prior. My second novel, Uriel’s Mask, is inspired by a newspaper article I read back in 1991 when I was a reporter in North Carolina. I kept the newspaper clipping with me through multiple moves, knowing I would write about this character, an illiterate daughter of a freed slave, who created masks in honor of the spirits who visited her while she sat by the French Broad River in Asheville. See, I knew that I’d write about her one day, but I didn’t know exactly how. It was a story that called to me. In Uriel’s Mask, her masks (like in real life) are sold in New York, allowing all her grandchildren to become educated. One of the main characters is a southern black man, a talented musician and her grandchild, who becomes one of the first black students at University of North Carolina. As a southerner, Uriel’s Mask, may be easier to ‘sell’ to agents, but I am not black, nor am I a man or the grandchild of a freed slave. And, to make things more complicated (I write with a laugh) I also created a side character who I adore. He is a gay man having an affair with a married man in the closet. Once inside Chris’s head, we see his heart, so full and kind. At the children’s library where he works, he is more patient and compassionate with the children then most of the strict, uptight southern mothers.

When we step outside our comfort zone and allow ourselves to see another viewpoint—to enter into the heart and mind of another human being—we accept the fact that there really are no chasms too great to justify our differences, our racism, our sexism, our superior judgements.

So my reaction to the agents who want authors to look like their main characters is this: Give us a chance. If a writer does a lot of research, like a documentary journalist, there is no location too far, or background too different, to write about. We would not have Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (as Michael Larsen, Co-Founder of the SFWC so kindly pointed out to me) or The Pearl by John Steinbeck, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland,or even the JK Rowling Harry Potter series.

To write Between Thoughts of You, my latest novel and the one I pitched at the SFWC, I returned to Italy, I travelled four times to Hawaii, and I researched WW11 documents regarding northern California internment camps for the elite of the German, Italian and Japanese forces to await trial. So much research went into this book that called to me simply from a conversation with a dying old man I once loved. Our conversation in Tuscany was one where he pondered how his life would have evolved, had he followed his heart, and not his fear, after the War. If he had married his true love, what would have happened? Another inspiration for the novel came from conversations with an 89-year-old German woman whose father was high up in the SS. She, her mother and father were sent to a Northern California camp after the War…Both stories merged in my consciousness and birthed the idea behind Between Thoughts of You. It is the story that called to me. It is the story that only I could tell. And it is one fueled by the power of love, the destructive forces of fear, and the dying desire to follow one’s heart.

These are universal truths no matter sex, sexual orientation, or ethnic background—for the characters & the writer. 🙂

If you enjoyed this conversation, you may also be interested in the following articles:

When Authors Create Title Characters of the Opposite Sex, HuffPost.

The Four Rs of Writing Characters of the Opposite Gender Writers Digest.

Whose Life is it Anyway? Novelists Have Their Say on Cultural Appropriation The Guardian.

Should Authors Write Characters Outside Their Race? The Good Man Project.

 

 

 

 

The Heart: Submerged in Mystery

underthesurface

Photo by Toni Frissell

“You were a risk, a mystery. And the most certain thing I’d ever known.” ~ Beau Taplin.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” ~ Albert Einstein.

“Love is the way Messengers from the Mystery tell us things.” ~ Rumi

***
Underneath the surface of our daily lives—concealed beneath a hundred smiles and practical choices—its faint heart beat lingers, quietly pulsing and pulling us back into its orbit of truth. The mystery of love: for all its impractical, unwise, and disruptive qualities, contains an element of the mysterious, surviving in an eternal space beyond the physical realm. It is a timeless, yet terrifying space, that intellect strongly neglects, and the heart fully embraces and recognizes. It is the ‘Ah, it’s you,’ feeling upon the first hug, the first touch, the first scent that lingers at the nape of his/her neck. It tells you you’re home. It belies logic. It lives within the waters of intuition. And it exists within you long after the physical experience or relationship ends.

Australian poet Beau Taplin captured its essence for me with this line: “It’s a frightening thought that in one fraction of a moment, you can fall into a kind of love that takes a lifetime to get over.”

Maybe not everyone experiences this kind of love in their lifetime? But I’m convinced they know if they have. That’s been my experience. When it ends, it’s shattering. The idea of never touching, seeing, or being with the other person is brutal. It’s hard to go on. And what happens within that space of misery, is also a mystery. Trying to avoid pain, many of us can try to make intellectual ‘safe’ choices, like being with people we don’t love in the same insanely passionate way. Or maybe some choose to be with someone because of what they can do for them, or because they would be more accepted by family, or it just feels like a safe bet. But it could be farther from the truth as it short-changes your heart. Not taking the risk for love, over time, haunts us. Memories of our true love, or the longing for this love, will linger within us and bubble up to the surface eventually. Even if our safe relationship lasts a lifetime—think of the married couples who are miserable, treat each other with disdain, yet stay together for the sake of the children, or due to financial fears. What lingers underneath the surface? Who do they think of at night when their partner barely touches them anymore? Love will find a way to survive. It resides deep within us, like a longing whisper.

This mystery is what I write about in my novel Between Thoughts of You. An old man on his death bed, finally admits to his hospice caretaker, who happens to look like his true love, that for 60 years he has never stopped thinking about a Japanese woman he fell in love with during World War II. Riddled with guilt for leaving her, the old man, now in the final stages of lung disease, keeps having lucid dreams of his true love, forcing him to face the truth. Here’s an excerpt from my novel, that I’ll be sharing with agents and publishers this weekend in San Francisco (wish me luck!). In this scene, the old man recovers from a vivid dream and reveals his secret to his caretaker.

Excerpt from Between Thoughts of You: Chapter 3

忘れられません

Wasure raremasen: Unforgetable

“She’s here. I mean, I smell her. It’s so God damn real. You know what I mean?”

Lulu thought of her sweet Lani’s smell. The scent had been so real in her dreams that it often lingered a few seconds after she had awakened.

“I might,” she replied softly. She started to take his pulse and placed the oxygen reader on his finger, ensuring that his oxygen levels were OK. The old man began to cough, too.

“Take it easy,” Lulu advised, sensing that the conversation might rile him up. When she reached for the nebulizer, Pops put a firm hand up saying no. With a sense of urgency on his face, Lulu decided it could wait a few minutes.

“My dreams of her are so real, I can even feel her touch as I’m waking up. I feel her soft hand on mine. She had the softest God damn little hands. They were like doll hands. Light as a feather. And I smell her. Jesus I smell her!”

Pops closed his eyes and breathed in. Lulu couldn’t help but smile in response to his dramatic energy.

“She smells like goose down. I know, odd. But that’s her smell. Soft and innocent. I wake up needing her so bad.”

The old man’s eyes looked searchingly into Lulu’s. 

“I even heard her voice this morning, calling me Yuki. She called me Yuki,” he explained with a sheepish smile.

“So he does have a secret,” Lulu thought. Most of her hospice patients told her at least one secret. Some might be small, such as secretly not liking a cat that a daughter had given her. But some were huge, like being gay and never telling their spouse. She had gotten used to hearing and keeping secrets. It was part of the job as a hospice nurse; to listen and not to judge.

The old man’s head fell back slightly onto his pillow, as his right hand instinctively lifted. His index and middle fingers straightened and touched, rubbing back and forth like he was rolling a cigarette between them. Lulu imagined that he often had long conversations with friends, while smoking cigarettes and drinking cocktails.

“Who are you talking about?” Lulu finally asked, demanding more clarity.

For more than 60 years, he had not said her name. Not once. When he did, it came out as a whisper: “Kiyomi.”

A sense of relief seemed to wash over the old man’s face after he spoke her name aloud.

“She was the one. I mean, no one has ever come close. You know what I mean?”

Lulu blinked, wondering if Akoni was her one and only, then decided not to go there.

“Of course, when you’re young and with the ONE, you’re just, you’re-I mean, you’re so God damned young and stupid you tell yourself that there will be other women like her. Like they’re just waiting for you everywhere, on every street corner and bar. But they aren’t.”

Pops looked contemplatively over Lulu’s shoulder, out the window facing the driveway lined with cypress trees. He placed a cloth up to his mouth as if he would cough, but just cleared his throat politely.

“I was so stupid to let her go. I mean. I knew. Deep down I really knew she was the one the moment I laid eyes on her. It didn’t matter that I was only 20. She was like this Japanese princess. I laid eyes on her and just couldn’t breathe. Like now,” the old man laughed a little. “Like God damned now.”

The conversation was riling him up. Pops started coughing so violently, his shoulders crashed up and down on the bed frame. Lulu had no other choice but to give him his nebulizer and to leave the room to finish making his breakfast. If she stayed any longer, he would just keep trying to talk.

It had turned out to be a gorgeous morning, so after his treatment, Lulu decided to wheel Pops out to the patio for his favorite brunch: eggs benedict and orange juice and toast. Apparently, on Sundays Pops liked to re-create the regular brunch he had in New York. The old man adored traditions. Yet, Lulu noticed that he hadn’t seemed to miss his homes in Rome or Manhattan—or his boys, or his wife—much at all. That perplexed her at first. Now that she had heard his heart was with another— and for nearly sixty years—her curiosity was peaking. 

Once the old man settled into the patio area and ate at least half of his meal without any signs of distress or coughing, Lulu leaned in. “I have to hear more about this Japanese princess. Where were you? Who was she? I thought you had been married forever?”

So, the old man started to tell his long love story. But in his fashion, he began telling it a bit lop-sided. He started the tale of his greatest love affair, after it had died.

“I married the boys mom, but I didn’t love her.” Pops looked around like he was at his favorite restaurant in New York or Rome, fearing someone might overhear his confession.

Lulu instinctively placed a hand on top of his and said, “You can trust me. I won’t tell a soul.”

Pops smiled and blushed. He really loved Lulu. He couldn’t explain how or why, but it felt as if he had known her before, or in another life. Or maybe he was just old and dying and needed to finally tell someone? Either way, he knew he was safe with her, so he continued:

“I mean I liked their mother, but Fran didn’t hold a candle to Kiyomi.”

Lulu wasn’t able to hide her quizzical expression. She just never understood why or how any man could ever marry a woman he didn’t love.

“See these were different times. I returned from the war and suddenly was making money. I mean, Real money. That’s a long story for another time. But, see, my mother was very patriotic. You’d think she’d been born in America, the way she acted.” Pops began to giggle, then continued in a high-pitched voice, imitating her: “‘No son of mine’s marrying a Jap! Just get over her.’ She had said that to me so many times it should have painted it on the kitchen ceiling!” The old man sighed.

“See, I made the mistake of telling my mother, after I returned to New York, that I was in love with this Japanese girl. My mother went Bofo. She went crazy. It took her less than a week to start rounding up pretty Italian girls in the neighborhood for me to date.”

The old man rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders, like what could I do?

“I was only 22 then and making a lot of money and really stupid. I mean, the boys’ mother was a looker. I’ll give her that. But nothing made me want to hold her. I mean, she was bossy and flashy. And LOUD. So loud. Key could barely whisper and I’d always hear her, or lean in so I didn’t miss a word. Fran was always yelling. I don’t know.” He shrugged his shoulders again and then took a sip of his orange juice that Lulu had poured into a champagne flute to be festive.

The old man then shifted into a more serious mood and looked off in the distance, as if sizing up how to best explain what he’d say next.

“If I could do it all over again I’d change everything. That’s why the boys can never know. Never. See, I’d marry Kiyomi. I still love her so much it hurts inside. Isn’t that crazy? It’s been what, 50, no 60 years. Nuts.”

The sun had risen, getting too bright, causing the old man to squint. Tuscany in September could still be hot. Lulu helped lift Pops out of his chair and handed him his walker. “Lets get a little exercise around the property, before going back to bed,” Lulu suggested. Walking on the gravel would be tricky for him, she had decided, but it would also be a good way to provide a focus for the old man. He’d have to concentrate fully on exactly what was before him, and not behind him. Lulu loved the moments that were fully present, like dancing or painting—neither the old man could ever do again. This little treacherous walk would require all the focus he could muster.

They stopped in the shade by the pool, so he could catch his breath. The old man had been panting and trying to hide how hard the walk had been for him. Lulu wondered if she had pushed him too far.

The old man leaned into an old knotted olive tree and looked up at Lulu with such love in his eyes it caused Lulu to blush and look away. Although he hadn’t told her, Pops had been thinking that if he had married Kiyomi, they might have had a daughter, or granddaughter that would have looked like her. The old man touched Lulu’s face gently, turning her gaze back to his, before asking an impossible request:

“I want to die smelling my Kiyomi. Feeling her hand on my hand. I know you understand. I can feel it. I don’t want the boys here. Just you, me and Key, OK?”

Lulu touched the old man’s hand with her own, tears welling in her eyes.

“I promise,” she said, making a promise that she had no earthly idea how to carry out.

###

 

 

Offline & Off Alcohol … What?!

morningme

Good morning. I’m feeling raw and authentic these days, so why not post a naked face pic? ha ha … So here I am, no make up, early morning cup of joe, my last lingering vice. Five months ago, as some know, my 15-year-old dared me to go off all social media. I did. He did. We are both more productive—although his gaming time has gone up, LOL! I finished my 3rd novel, Between Thoughts of You (link to except on title), and sent it to an agent on Monday. Woohoo!! Fingers crossed! The day after Thanksgiving I gave up alcohol. I did this at the request of a dear friend. It was a good request. Alcohol didn’t serve me. There were too many times when I found myself around drunk friends and the chatter became negative or gossipy. Then there were the mornings after when I would still have to teach hot 105 degree yoga. Ow! Plus, I want to be someone my boys can look up to. Someone who still has fun, still enjoys her life, is healthy, vibrant and joyful—all without alcohol. So far SO GOOD. I don’t miss it at all. I enjoyed my 2nd New Year Eve at a yoga (last year) or meditation event where we all ended up dancing for hours and hours! A dear friend I met in Peru, when I attended Mike Dooley‘s retreat, (yeah, the source of Notes from the Universe and SO much more!) flew in. Beth and I attended Marianne Williamson‘s weekend retreat on forgiveness, miracles, finding your voice, vision, taking calm, yet powerful steps toward peace, etc. It was inspiring! We met people from all over the world and via her livestream folks tuned in from Israel, Syria, Egypt, Palestine—talk about powerful! Here’s a pic, post-midnight, of us dancing with Marianne Williamson, her party-goers and the Agape Choir.

Post midnight dancing @ Marianne William's NYE event!

I adore Marianne, a 65-year-old who looks 40 and whose powerfully strong light is feminine, strong and passionate. (I hope she runs for office again!!) I did The Course in Miracles a few years back and in my first yoga training four years ago, was given one of her quotes:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.”

**

It felt natural that I should attend her event, held here in LA instead of her usual New York venue. What I took away that was new, however, I will share with you. Pray for Donald Trump. Pray for all your ‘enemies’ and know that they have a light, a direct link to God, just as much as you do. AND, the only thing that is REAL, is LOVE. So what they are doing to hurt you, doesn’t represent them, their true essence, their higher self they were born intrinsically with (like you) and nothing they did or said that harmed you is REAL. As Einstein said: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

It’s easier to forgive those who hurt me (or who I allowed to hurt me, it is the same) when I think this way. Maybe it will be for you, too? BUT, Marianne warns that talking smack about what they did, or even thinking negatively about what they did and/or ‘who’ they are, will hurt you too—as you enter into the negative illusion that isn’t REAL. LOVE is REAL. LIGHT (GOD LIGHT) is real. And it takes strength to embody both. Letting go of the baggage, forgiving and loving ‘enemies’, ourselves, and then doing something to change our world, takes courage.  I’ll leave you with some of the best quotes by Marianne over the NYE weekend:

“Everyone we meet will either be our crucifier or our savior, depending on what we choose them to be.”

“Get off the cross, we need the wood.”

“The warden, just like the prisoner, can’t leave the jail.”

“You can have a grievance, or you can have joy, you can’t have both.”

“Those who act in a loveless manner (who hurt us) are not being Real. They are love, but have forgotten, or fell asleep. Us attacking them, or criticizing or not forgiving them makes us asleep with them. We must stay awake and forgive.”

“You are reborn in the instant you do NOT bring the past with you.”

“The EGO mind is like a scavenger’s dog, seeking your brother’s guilt. The Loving mind wants to see your brother’s innocence.”

“Forgiveness is a Radical concept. Drop victimhood that the EGO uses against you, against your sense of peace.”

“Jesus said, ‘I don’t have anything you don’t have. I just don’t have anything else.’ Remember to look at your problems, but deny their power over you. Fall in love with positive possibility.”

“Our potential is infinite.”

“The EGO wants suffering. The SPIRIT wants joy.”

“You must have already decided to not be joyous if that is how you feel. Recognize you actively decided wrongly. So choose again. Ask God to help you. HE will listen to your slightest request, your slightest willingness.”

So, I am signing off with one last thought. For me to forgive those who have hurt me in the ‘illusion’, I’ve decided to think of their beautiful light that shined inside of them when they were young children. I see their giggles, their little pudgy hands reaching for their mom’s necks. I imagine the way they must have looked wide-eyed at all who came near and smiled gooey smiles and stared deeply at the strangers with so much love, some had to look away. They still have this innocent light. I love this light. And I forgive them for behaving unlovingly or harmfully toward me because that wasn’t the essence of who they are. I love their essence. God loves their essence. And I love and forgive me for allowing them to hurt me, as I wasn’t protecting myself. Yes, only LOVE is REAl, so anything not loving, must be released with LOVE.

Here’s to Love, Light, Healing & Joy

Laura xo