Tag Archives: fear

Creating Powerful Characters

So I’m writing my next novel right now. And it’s what agents would call plot heavy. Anyone who loves a good mystery or action story, doesn’t mind that. Yet all the agents I’ve been talking with say they are seeking that magical character.

“I want to connect deeply with the main characters,” one said. Another said, when describing why she turned down a well-written manuscript: “I loved the detail and plot, but I just didn’t bond with the main characters like I wanted to.”

So, what makes people bond/connect with main characters? Think about the characters that you have fallen in love with over the years. What was it about them? Why did you keep reading and then miss them after the novel was over? I’m on a journey to discover what makes us bond with a character. As I was listening to my 16-year-old get ready for school at 6 a.m. this morning, it dawned on me: we all want to hang out with someone who makes us laugh, is entertaining, lightens us up, yet is still tackling major life issues. My 16-year-old, who happens to be sick, still woke up, like he always does, humming. He puts on a playlist, of a lot of 70s music, country, rap, 80s, you name it, and jammed as he prepared for another day. He always has a girl friend offer to pick him up and take him to school. Why? Because he’s the kind of guy who will make you laugh, says insightful things, is smart without being snarky or stuck up and is charming. He’s the kind of guy that will start your day off well and who puts you in a better frame of mind. And he’s constantly joking around, giving ridiculous birthday gifts to friends, like a bidet (french water spout toilet seat) that he gave to a friend who is anal and part Japanese (as Japanese love bidets). He’s silly, yet insanely smart, confident: plays violin and soccer and could care less what ‘hip’ kids think of that. And he’s stylish in his own way, not following surfer trends here in Southern California, but more dapper, like a Londoner or New Yorker. He stands out. Yet he misses his dad insanely and doesn’t understand why he left nine years ago or why his dad lives abroad and chooses to be out of touch, not engaged in William’s day-to-day life. Yet William chooses to be happy, while also not partying or throwing himself into drugs or alcohol, as he’s determined to get a scholarship to college. Maybe, just maybe, my son would make for a great main character—someone the reader would want to pick up and have ride with them on their way to work, so to speak.

I’m re-reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, such a great writing advice book that is insanely funny and helping me to not take my writing life, and the tedious task of getting published traditionally, so seriously. She compared the creation of a good character to that of picking a good friend. With good friends, you’d “ride with them to the dump just to be with them.” Boring friends, on the other hand, (I’m paraphrasing here) could offer to take you to a show and a five-star restaurant, and you’d rather stay home and wash your cat.

And that’s it. Plot really doesn’t matter so much, which is putting me in a quandary with Orbiting Jupiter, my next novel. It is a mystery and is plot heavy and I’m not sure my main character is someone I would ride to the dump with, just to keep talking to. I mean, she’s going through a lot and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown that any woman who has been cheated on repeatedly can relate with. She’s also lovable and kind and artistic, but these are attributes that feel like labels on a name tag. I mean, can she make me laugh? Does she laugh at herself? Is there some quality about her that is so priceless and unique that her friends would be shattered by a life without her? If I’m honest, not yet. She needs to marinate more.

With the development of compelling characters, Anne Lamott says to look at the closest people in your life, or the ones that draw you in, and observe what it is about them that attracts you or is lovable. For me, someone has to make me laugh, help me not take myself so seriously, (while also not poo-pooing my feelings). A person who is tackling their own demons with dignity, or who, upon closer inspection, is more conscious and aware then people would assume, as he/she is humble and not self righteous, pious, or one of those over-the-top spiritual people who seem like they are trying to impersonate Buddha or Jesus himself.

It’s laughter and the ability to be aware and conscious, yet also see through bullshit that usually pulls me in. I once had a lover look at my new tattoo, for instance, and ask what it meant (It’s Japanese). I said “Don’t give up on Life” in a serious, quiet voice. He replied, “It probably means ‘I shop at Vons’ but you just don’t know it.” I laughed so hard at myself afterwards and wanted to see him again. See what I mean?

My sister Sarah is another person that I love with an intensity that I can’t explain rationally. She is insanely lovable to many people, yet can’t see her own light as she battles many demons. I used to wonder why she always attracts men like flies to honey (I know, a competitive little sister thought) but even now, at 53, she has 25-year-olds asking her out! She always has, even when she finds herself in the darkest of places. I think it’s because of her raw honestly, combined with an ability to laugh at herself and others—and her surprising kindness, that can make a person stop and fall to their knees feeling unworthy or ashamed of their own selfishness. With half moon dimples, crystal blue eyes, a horsish, rough chuckle that erupts into a brook that bubbles over, Sarah is just plain fun to be around. She is humming, singing all the time, even when sad, usually Janis Joplin or older country that only she can land perfectly. She also creates art that is breathtaking with sea shells or tiles, like tile sunflowers that somehow seem to move in the light. And when she’s not laughing, or singing at a club with either or the two bands she is in, or playing piano or creating art, she’s able to listen to a friend in need and convince them to back off the mental ledge they are getting ready to jump off of. Sarah is someone people trust—she sees issues with clarity, calls people on their shit in a funny way, and then will be there for any of her friends anytime. She’s just plain fun to be around. I recently heard her answer her phone, laugh to a young man who comes to her shows, and say: “I’m onto you buddy. Listen, you just want what you want when you want it and are trying to make me feel like I’m lucky to have you because I’m older. But you’re the one calling me. Hey, you want to hear a line from the song I’m writing?”

Once when I was with her, on a particularly hard day, (as she is struggling financially and recovering from addiction and depression), she walked up to a homeless woman who had two children beside her and gave this woman a big hug. “You needed that didn’t you?” she said laughing and looking directly into her eyes before giving this woman $5. Sarah bent down and looked at the art the children were making and asked what they were drawing and if they needed more crayons.

As we walked back to the car Sarah said, “I fucking hate people who walk by homeless women like they are lazy or don’t exist. How can people be so cold?”

That’s Sarah. And that’s why the more you get to know her, the more you want to know her, as she inspires you to be more compassionate, thoughtful, creative, and to be honest about your own bullshit and to laugh a little about it. She’s one of the best people I know on this Earth. If she doesn’t succeed in fighting her demons a part of me will die. And that’s the truth.

None of my characters are as compelling as Sarah or William. I’m not planning on putting them into my novels, but they serve as examples of people/characters readers would follow anywhere—even to the dump.

Now Lucy, my main character of Orbiting Jupiter, the novel I’m working on, is not quite there. I’m on the fence about her, which has me stuck in the process of continuing with the novel. Lucy needs to percolate more. I need to see more of what makes her tick and why I should give a shit that her husband cheated. Sorrow and pain and sympathy aren’t enough reasons to fall in love with a person. And maybe that’s why Lucy snaps and takes on another persona? Her alter ego is someone who can make any man stand up, pay attention, laugh and fawn after. I just need to be sure I can captivate the readers long enough with Lucy, until she turns into the more provocative and entertaining Jupiter. There are a lot of pages to read before she makes this transition, and if readers don’t like Lucy, they won’t want to trudge along with her, even throughout the gorgeous backdrop of Hawaii.

So I’m going back to the drawing board, back to the beginning, to discover and develop any qualities in Lucy that would make her feel like the type of friend I would feel lucky to follow anywhere.

Fellow writers, any of you go through this? I’m on the verge of starting this novel over, or throwing it out! I won’t trash it just yet, but am on the verge, lol.

 

 

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War & Peace

PORCH

In my dream last night, I was in a dark alley going to meet a girlfriend at a night club. This nightclub was somewhere in the South. I heard southern drawls. There was even a man in an old run- down house, just down the alley of the nightclub who was painting a broken door on his front porch. I had to walk past him to meet my friend who was likely already inside dancing. The man in overalls said, “Ma’am,” and nodded at me. My friend had put on a fancy sapphire blue suit before heading out. I think she worked in PR. I didn’t want to go, so had reluctantly put on jeans and T-shirt. I recall leaving my boys at her house. She was impatient with me. As I approach the back door and bouncer of this club, I begin to get really nervous. I suddenly need to go back to check on the boys. My friend popped her head out the back door to hurry me inside. I tell her that I forgot my wallet. It wasn’t true. As I walk back past the old man painting his door, my seven-year-old son races screaming up the path from the nightclub, where he had gone looking for me, and he throws himself into my arms. I am now on my knees and he is shaking violently in my arms screaming without sound. All moms know that kind of scream. It’s the one that comes before the pain sets in. The one just after the needle prick at the doctor’s office. The one that says, “What was that?! YOU hurt me!?” It’s the one of shock. The mouth is open, the eyes wide, yet sound can barely make its way out—until it does, violently. I wake when his screams start to explode and can still feel his body shaking so hard that I wonder if he’s having a convulsion. I know it is from terror. Earlier in the dream, as I’m leaving my friend’s  house, which happens to be on a southern beach somewhere. I know this because of the heat lightning and fireflies that don’t exist on the West Coast. William, my 14-year-old, is getting nervous. We hear explosions off in the distance. Like firecrackers. I see a large monster behind a huge surf board. He challenges William. Then another appears. We run down the beach together.

Dreams often trigger me to feel deeply. The story line may be complete nonsense. But the feelings always ring true. Lately I’ve been trying not to feel too much, show too much feeling, keep going. I’ve been intellectualizing. I’ve written two blog posts that I haven’t published. Why? Because I’m intellectualizing how I am, but I’m not truly feeling it, so it rings unauthentic to  me. When I woke this morning I had the sense that I needed to focus on the boys 100% and help them feel safe. I told myself to do the TUT and Abraham-Hicks ‘feel’ your way into manifesting. It requires taking a little over a minute to just FEEL your life as if all your dreams/goals have been achieved. I told myself instead of trying to feel fabulous, which was too far of a stretch right now, I just needed to feel peaceful, serene, trusting, at ease, like a Cheshire cat in the sunshine, and carry myself as if all is well in my Universe, in my life, so my boys feel ok. Yoga always gets me there, but off the mat, I’m not always serene. In three weeks, there have been three deaths within my family and circle, so I thought this dream was forcing me to feel the fear that I’ve been swallowing. I thought the dream was purely a reminder that I need to calmly do what I need to do: work harder, but also be more reassuring to the boys: help them feel safe, take better care of myself, in order to take care of them.

And then I read the news about the nightclub shooting in Orlando last night. My heart sank. So much violence, so much death. The Paris night club shooting affected me strongly too. Terrorists can’t take away our joie de vivre unless we let them. Can there be any peace in war? The war terrorists weld is one of fear. They want us to think that they can strike at any time and at any place. They want us to stay on our couches watching CNN while nibbling nervously on our bag of chips or drinking our vino in an attempt to feel better or swallow our fears, while not really living. Whether you’re afraid of terrorists or your own internal fears that are triggered or born from your past, observe them, feel the fear and see if you can take baby steps away from it. That’s what I’m doing with baby steps every day.

I’ve been to two funerals in two weeks and wanted to go to a 3rd, but it was too far away. Friday’s affected me the most. A young man died in a motorcycle accident. His parents, my friends who run the music department at my son’s Catholic school, are in grief. Yet they are both filled with hope and trust and love. They don’t blame God. What I loved the most about this funeral was the Priest who spoke without notes. He told us all very sternly “to get off the porch.” We were not to feel sorry for this young 22-year-old who died on his motorcycle. He was living life on his own terms. The priest told us to find out who were are and to BE that person. We aren’t to be the person who our parents want us to be, or who the church may seem to imply we are to be and we aren’t supposed to listen to what limiting beliefs others, like mis-guided teachers or family members, may have told us about our abilities. We are to follow our hearts and our intuition. I LOVED this priest. As I had walked into the church before the funeral, a few moms from school said to me: “It just goes to show how important our choices are.” They were implying that this young man was at fault for his death. It made me angry. We don’t know that. But we do know that he lived exactly as he wanted to. He chose to get off the porch. He chose to take risks. He chose to be himself.

‘Be You. No one else can.’ That’s what I tell my boys. Do I really mean it? If they wanted to back pack across Europe or ride a motorcycle would I flip out in fear? Hopefully not. Death isn’t what we should be afraid of. We are eternal. We don’t really die. (But that’s for another post. My friend Mike Dooley’s book is awesome:  The Top Ten Things Dead People Want to Tell YOU.)

If you are still reading this, here’s what I hope you take away: Fear is the opposite of Love. Where fear, control and manipulation reside, love can not. Choose Love. Choose You. Embrace what lights you up and don’t worry about whether it’s good enough or you’re too old. Go to that nightclub. I went to one in Peru and had a blast! Take salsa lessons. Try yoga or surfing or whatever makes you curious. Ride a horse. Finish that novel, painting, or riff on the guitar. Take a risk. Tell someone you love them. What have you got to lose? Is sitting on the porch or the couch watching any better?

Fuck terrorists. Choose Love. Choose You. Let go of fear. Love your life. Take deep breaths, Often. Exercise. Drink water. Take care of yourself. But get off the fucking porch.

Thanks for reading. XO

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the Light Within

Whenever I begin to feel jealousy, anger, pity or fear creep in—the four pitfalls I imagine many single moms tripping over—I stop and take a breath. I let myself step aside (sort of like a Woody Allen moment with the protagonist asking the audience for insight) and ask why I am sinking to these depths. Intellectually I know it’s not helping. Going through the process of divorce is gut-wrenching enough. Adding insult to injury by sinking to such negative thoughts, only keeps us mentally in the basement. How someone else treats us isn’t always deserved, or in any way reasonable. But knowing this, and feeling this, are two different things entirely. I understand. For two years I’ve wrestled with insecurities that I never had before. Getting to the place where I feel beautiful, loving, and like I am a gift to my children, has been a long walk of faith.

I’d like to walk that with you. I’m still finding my own way, but want to walk with you—especially those who are just going through the storm—as you hold your breath and put one foot, (metaphorically) in front of the other.

I’m currently working with a spiritual counselor and feel so blessed by her insight. One of the exercises that has helped me the most is that of meditation and focus on love. Love requires no formal religion—so no matter your faith—this exercise will help you. Over time, it creates what is called a bleed-over. The more you visualize yourself as a seed of light and love and harmony, the sooner you realize that it’s true. And once you do—no one, or anyone’s behavior—can take that away from you.

If you’ve received a crushing blow to your ego and self esteem, as many women who are dealing with infidelity have shared with me, there comes a time when those insecurities will begin to lift. Sure, there will always be people who are younger, physically more beautiful, more intelligent or more athletic than you. But these qualities don’t ultimately define us. They aren’t the essence of who we are. They don’t create the “je ne sais quoi” that the French refer to—meaning the intangible, or inexplainable quality that makes someone distinctive or attractive or irresistible. I’ve always imagined that this comes from an inexplicable source of light within a person. Have you ever met someone who isn’t quite beautiful, but his or her smile or lightness in mood or sense of goodness blows you over until you begin to think of that person akin to an angel? If you haven’t experienced this, you may think I’m nuts. If you have, you know exactly what I mean. I don’t pretend to have any of the answers for us, but I do know that we are all equal in God’s eyes. We all have access to light and love. All I know is that the more I focus on that, the less I focus on anything dark. Hurtful things people say or do begin to fall to the wayside as I focus on being a light to myself, my children and those I love.

If you are motivated, try this exercise with me for a week and let me know if it is changing your perceptions, mood, relationships with your kids, your Ex, etc.

Each night as you drift off to sleep, breathe deeply and visualize divine light bubbling up from the core of your body. It begins to spread throughout your body: up through your chest, your arms, down your legs, and out your toes, fingers and head. Say to yourself, “I am filled with light.” Imagine sharing the light with your children and even extend some love and light to your Ex, your extended family and any friends that you want to reach. Hold no other thoughts other than letting those you care about, feel light and love. Hold no agendas. Breathe deeply. Feel warmth run through your body, and begin to think of at least five things you are thankful for. Even if you can only think of things such as food, your car making it to work, or running water, be thankful for those things. The list will grow over time.

Allow yourself to drift off to sleep after saying your thanks.  Do this every night for a week. Even if you are in pain. Even if you are distracted. Perhaps especially so.

Remember, no matter what someone has done to you, it doesn’t define you. It doesn’t diminish your “je ne sais quoi” —your light within.

For some of you reading this, my words may seem a bit cheesy or saccharine. Sure, I know some of you are struggling with child custody battles, health issues, child support default, etc. The issues are heartbreaking. Perhaps this little exercise seems useless. Perhaps you think it’s silly. Try to push self-depricating thoughts aside and entertain this idea for a week anyway. What do you have to lose? Over time, you may begin to really feel that you are a source of light and love. And once you do, I have a hunch that your contagious energy will carry you forward throughout all your struggles with much more ease, confidence and less stress. And lowering stress is essential. I’m currently writing an article for a national magazine about the effects of severe stress on women’s health. It’s not pretty. Our children deserve healthy and happy moms. Lets try to give them what they—and we—deserve.

Lots of love,

Laura

Harnessing Fear in the New Year

“Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyses us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear but, rather to harness and master it.” Martin Luther King Jr.


Happy New Year!! As you can likely tell, I’m slowly inching into this new year. I’m just getting to my first post and I’m excited to say that gifts are being mailed out to the NavigatingVita contest winners next week!!

This first month of 2012 has been filled with many surprises so far. Not all good, but I’m learning a lot about myself and others. I wanted to write this first post of the year about Fear and its power to paralyze and keep us from being present and living the lives we are meant to lead. It’s not a coincidence that so many women going through divorce vent via support groups or with friends about receiving threatening texts and phone calls from Exs over a myriad of issues with control at the heart of each. Being able to rise above the noise, determine whether or not it is a real threat, and then harness your fear, is a liberating endeavor. I, by no means, have any answers, but I think for most of our issues  we, intuitively are our best guides. Blocking out the noise of chatter; stopping our minds from obsessing on all the what ifs; and avoiding talk with friends who may plunge you further in fear; are all good ideas.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when fear is really merited, isn’t it? I’m currently dealing with a disturbing event. Although I can’t discuss it at the moment, I can discuss how I’m mentally dealing with the fear. I’ve found a spiritual counselor and with meditation I’m learning to listen to my inner voice. I’m avoiding chatting with too many people about it as their ‘advice’ could spiral me further into fear. And even though there are wrongs that my ego would like to right, I’m learning to let it go. Sometimes the best reaction to a volley, is to let the ball bounce off the court and to move on. It’s been two and a half years, I’m tired of volleying.

For the record, as I move into my next phase, I just want to reiterate that NavigatingVita is a place of inspiration for myself and other single or divorcing parents. My goal is to find ways for us to explore our daily struggles and the important issues of our lives—while striving to remain positive and to focus on moving forward in a loving way.

I know a lot of you who are going through divorce may have become paralyzed at one point or another by the fear that I’ve discussed. Focussing on all the fearful issues will only keep them in front of you and you’ll chase them like a dog chases his tail round and round. Plus, it plunges you into a victim role.

Because again, the more you focus on it, the worse it gets. The better focus is on ourselves. Of course, if you’re battling real issues with abuse or neglect, harness the fear and deal with it calmly with your attorney. But for the most of us, we need to take a time out, and focus on ourselves.

I hope you’re motivated to take that time out with me. This new year is going to be a great one for us all!

Lots of love,

Laura