5 Easy Ways to Breathe Life into Your Characters

hand-281995_640If you love to write fiction—be it short stories, novellas, or novels—you need to people your tales with characters. And, if you want readers to flock to your stories, these paper people need to be believable and interesting. So how does a new writer learn to develop characters that rise above flat Dick & Jane figures?

Here are five techniques to get you started. If you use all of these in your storytelling you’ll move your fiction above and beyond the realm of tired clichés.

Make them talk. In real life, people interact by speaking to one another. Characters who live in their own world, rarely interacting with others—you may call them loners—can come across as uninteresting, one-dimensional navel-gazers. Try putting them into situations where they’re forced into conversation with others. Introspection is fine, but when you let characters voice their desires, goals, intent, fears or even threaten each other…they seem so much more real.

Roger  Kathryn from Roy

Make them move. Today’s fiction is all about creating scenes that readers can visualize. We’ve been trained by the media. We go to the movies, watch TV, spend hours viewing videos on our computers or phones. We expect visual entertainment. If you don’t make your characters run, walk, gesture, eat, throw things, make love and do hundreds of other things to create visual images in the reader’s mind, you’ll have a very small audience for your stories. We need to “see” a story to become engaged in it.

Give them a friend (or enemy). When we observe a person who is acting as if they are in love, worried about another person, being kind to a stranger, or fearful of someone—we know what that feels like. Emotions are universal. We identify with a character through the feelings this person experiences towards others. And when we identify with a fictional character, we become curious and want to find out what happens to them in their story, so we keep turning pages.

Give them a history. Real people don’t just appear out of nowhere on a street, in a house, or at a place of work. They have a past, and their past determines their personality and how they react to situations. Try “interviewing” each of your main characters. Ask them where they grew up. Did they come from a warm, close family…or a troubled childhood? Was religion a part of their upbringing? What did they want to be when they grew up…and what did they actually become? Ask them anything you like. If you write the questions and answers as an exercise, similar to the format of a magazine interview, you’ll gather valuable information that will bring your people to life. Then use what you’ve learned about them to write your story.

Give them a challenge. A hard one. Don’t leave your characters to idly muse over their lives, their troubles. Force them to act. In real life, we are fascinated with people who tackle their problems with gusto. We love stories about the immigrant who came to this country with nothing and built a successful life. We love stories about the “little guy” who, against all odds, beat out the powerful corporate or government figure. Because they act when faced with a challenge, we believe they exist.

Above all, have fun with your characters. If they entertain you, you can be sure they’ll also entertain your readers.

Want more tips to bump up your fiction? You might enjoy the book inspired by courses Kathryn teaches for The Writer’s Center and Smithsonian Associates programs in Washington, DC. You can find it here: CoverFinalSM-TheExtremeNovelisthttps://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Novelist-No-Time—Write-Drafting/dp/0692420835/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1471356664&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Extreme+Novelist

 

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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Harvesting Our Crops: Veggies & Stories

Summer GardenIt’s a sunny, hot-hot-hot August day in Maryland. In the fullness of summer I find it hard to keep up with the tomatoes. And it’s almost impossible to write. Every other day I pull plump, ripe Romas off my vines and bring another 5 pounds or more into the kitchen to turn into sauce to freeze for the winter. It almost seems too easy, growing these ruby-red babies. My eggplants, cukes, squash and beans…well, I guess I’m not as good at cultivating those because we have no trouble eating them as they appear. Not even any leftovers to pass along to neighbors.

Whereas spring and summer are planting, cultivating, and harvesting times—the cold winter months are for writing. I finished a novel during a particularly intense blizzard, sent it off to my literary agent in early February. Knowing I’d need to wait to hear from her—first, as she waded through her submission pile, and then as acquiring editors at various publishing houses needed time to read the manuscript—I filled the time writing a short story. Sent that off to an appropriate magazine. And now I wait…and wait…and hope for good news and a contract.

Unlike with gardening, there is no guarantee these days that even a well-written novel will bloom into a published book. Competition is stiff, to be sure. Over the years, I’ve had as many stories rejected as published. What publishers perceive of as desirable to their readers often limits what they are willing to buy. Yes, self-publication is an option—and a very good one for some writers. But in my experience, the authors who fare best at creating their own books from scratch are those who are savvy (and tireless) when it comes to self-promotion. Sometimes, you can even find them at the top of bestseller lists—and I applaud them! But I admit that I feel more comfortable with a commercial publisher on my team—providing editorial guidance, designing a stunning cover, working with me to get my novels noticed by readers. To date, I can say I’ve been able to work with some of the best publishers and editors in the industry. I feel very fortunate. But I know that with each new book project I must again “audition,” and prove my worth.DSC_0003

It’s hard for new writers to understand that, unlike most other businesses, publishing fails rather miserably to offer authors a stable income. There will be no weekly paycheck. Ever. Signing with an agent doesn’t insure your book will sell to a publisher. Six-figure deals are daydreams tantamount to winning the lottery. But none of this will dissuade a real writer from telling his stories. We’re risk takers. Dreamers. And we have tales to spin, fantasies to weave.

I often compare gardening to writing in my blogs. Each pursuit is a creative endeavor in its own way. If there’s a drought or a flood that wipes out my seedlings…I can usually replant (as I did this year, twice) and still be rewarded with a decent crop. It’s a little harder emotionally for an author to come back from a round of rejections for her novel. But we can still replant. We will write another story because the imagination and talent that produced the story that didn’t harvest a publishing contract is still there, inside of us. The muse is just waiting for us to shake off the disappointment and begin again. So we shall.

It’s persistence that wins out. Never give up. The next story you write may be that very special one that captures readers’ hearts around the world.

 

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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What I’ve Learned About Writing While Gardening

Inspiration

Inspiration

I garden at a community plot. One of the advantages of tending my veggie plants in a shared area—there’s nearly always someone else working on their plot at the same time. Usually, they are far more experienced then I am, so it’s a great opportunity for asking questions and learning something new. Moreover, I find that I can often apply a gardener’s wisdom to other facets of my life. Like writing.

My latest lesson involved sweet red peppers. I’ve never succeeded in growing them, but I so love their colorful, crunchy addition to my salads that I keep on trying. This summer, my tomatoes are growing in abundance and baseball-bat-size zucchini magically appear under nearly every leaf. But I’ve again watched helplessly as my pepper plants produce promising green globes that turn mushy and rot on the vine even as they start to ripen. Breaks my heart. <Sob!>

I’ve asked my neighbor gardeners what I’m doing wrong. They shake their heads in sympathy. One says: “Peppers like consistent watering.” Another is more philosophical. “Gardening is an experiment.” A third suggests, “Try putting them in the ground instead of a container.” But I planted in the ground last year; same catastrophic result.Summer Garden

I take away two messages from my failure at pepper growing. Don’t give up—that is, be persistent. And, if one thing doesn’t work, try something different.

What does this have to do with writing novels and short stories for publication? Or with life in general? Everything.

We often believe that, if we have a goal and work hard at it…we should expect to succeed. But in life, as with gardening, events over which we have no control may either enhance or stand in the way of our success.

For peppers, if the soil or weather aren’t right (or disease, vermin, or insects attack the plant), the plants may not develop healthy fruits. I can try to solve the problem, if I ever discover what it is. But I also might be wise to vary my crops in the hope of coming across another vegetable that I can successfully grow with a lot less trauma.

New writers often start out having a vision of a particular story. If that completed novel, novella, or short story doesn’t get snapped up by an agent and immediately sold to a publisher—the author may be tempted to either give up on writing altogether, or spend years agonizing over revisions of the same story. (I hear of this scenario from many of my students and clients who say they can’t move forward with their writing until they get this first book sold, even after working on it for as many as ten years.)

A senior editor at a major New York publisher once told me that her best advice to novice writers was to, yes, be persistent—work on your craft daily and keep submitting—but experiment with a variety of genres and styles of writing. Because we just don’t know what we’ll be good at. Aside from that, it’s impossible to predict trends or publishers’ buying patterns. What might not sell today could be the hottest property in four years!

Book shelvesSo…my thinking is this: I’ll endeavor to find the red pepper-growing technique that works for me, but I’ll also experiment with alternate varieties of peppers and other types of veggies. I’ll find more that I’m good at growing. And, if you’re writing stories but not having much luck getting publishers to notice you, I’d encourage you to continue pursuing publication of that tale that just won’t let go of you. But, every once in a while, experiment with a different genre. Instead of historical fiction, try a contemporary tale. In place of your usual literary style, try your hand at a fast-paced thriller or swoon-worthy romance. Play with a Western or science fiction or frolic in a paranormal world. Let your imagination and talent run free. Time and again, I’ve seen writers surprise themselves when they took a leap of faith and ventured into unexplored literary territory.

Besides, we can’t stand around forever, mourning those rotting peppers or underappreciated stories. We’re gardeners of words. We need to fully cultivate our creativity, our minds.

Happy writing, all! (And gardening.) Kathryn

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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How to Snag a Literary Agent!

DSC_0002_5I’ve just returned from speaking at Thrillerfest, the huge annual writer’s conference sponsored by the International Thriller Writers and held in New York City. The ITW Conference has been, by far and away, my go-to place for sending my clients and students who are writing suspense, thrillers (obviously), mysteries, and emotionally electrified novels of all types. Why?

Because this is the only conference that, to my knowledge, has managed to corral 50 or more agents in a room, for around three hours, at what’s called PitchFest. Authors are given a chance to, in effect, speed-date agents. You get to sit down and talk for about 3 minutes to a real agent about your novel. If they find your pitch interesting, the agent will ask you to send either a partial or full manuscript to them. Then you move on to the next agent on your hit list. You can pitch to as many agents as you can fit into the session. This, as you can imagine, is a golden opportunity for authors who have books with intrigue, mystery, and thriller elements that are ready to be published. But I’ve also heard from authors writing in other genres, who have found, at PitchFest, an enthusiastic agent for their novels.

However, the price of the conference, expense of staying in a New York City hotel, and airfare can be substantial. Does this mean that you can’t connect with a good agent to represent you and your books if you are unable to afford traveling to a big conference? Not at all.

DSC_0003There are many ways to search out and find a legitimate, experienced literary agent. Different authors have used a variety of techniques with equal success. But I’ll share with you my favorite method:

  • Finish your book and do all you can to polish your product until it shines. An agent can’t sell a manuscript to a publisher that isn’t complete of is full of grammatical errors. Many authors invest in a professional edit or critical read to help them make their book the best it can be.
  • Go online and look up the Association of Authors’ Representatives site (aaronline.org). Click on “Find an Agent”. You’ll be able to search for legitimate agents interested in your type of book.
  • After you’ve made a list of agents whose interests match yours—50-60 isn’t too many!—check out their websites. By gathering more information about each agent, you’ll fine tune your list.
  • Go online to Publishers Marketplace (publishersmarketplace.com). Register for Publishers Lunch Deluxe. It will cost you $25./month, but all you need to do is join for one month, do your research, then opt out. For that month, you will receive daily reports on the industry and the ability to “track deals, sales, agents, editors” and more.
  • Using your hit list of agents, choose one and search on his/her sales for the past 6 months. Even better, search on their sales just for your category of book. When I went looking for an agent who was representing and actively selling lots of historical fiction, I was able to track down a number of really strong agents in that field. Then I chose from among them the ones with whom I’d most like to work.
  • Check out the details of their sales (and others, if you like…this is fascinating stuff!) The Daily Deals will tell you the title of the book sold, its author, the publisher and acquiring editor who bought it, the name of the agent who sold it…and a brief description of the book’s concept. Wow! How valuable is that!

If you’ve done your homework, you’ll have found many good matches. Circle back to their websites and note their preferences for submissions. Follow their instructions implicitly. It’s a test, of sorts. If an agent wants only a query letter for initial contact, don’t send your manuscript…yet. Each agent has their own process for screening prospective clients.

I hope this gives you some insight into how to snag the best agent for the book you’ve written. Good luck! And let me know how it goes.  Cheers! Kathryn

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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Chapter One excerpt – 2016 Love, Christmas Collection: Silver Bells by @jacqbiggar #MFRWauthor #mgtab

 

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Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?

That was the question we posed in our recent Fresh Fiction contest. More than seven hundred people shared their choices with us, and from that we chose twenty lucky winners to give us the titles for our holiday novellas and the books will be dedicated to them. Exciting!

My winner, Deb Philippon, chose Silver Bells, which is perfect because I love that song too!

The premise of the story is a single mom raising a diabetic child who meets a lonely mystery writer. I hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt.

 

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CHAPTER ONE Excerpt Love, Christmas Collection: Silver Bells by Jacquie Biggar

 

Christy Taylor smiled at the teens performing skateboard tricks on a set of iron rails, the screech-scrape of their wheels a musical accompaniment to the slap-slap of her sneakers hitting the pavement as she jogged past. Though it was early December on Vancouver Island the sun was a warm treat on her shoulders. Snowberries lined the pathway on the Goose Walking Trail, crunching beneath her feet. The unparalleled beauty of the Pacific Ocean lay off to her right. A salty breeze carried the scents of wood, brine, and soil to clear the fog from her brain. The past couple of years had been tough. Between Jill’s illness and the increasing costs in rent it was a never-ending battle to keep everything afloat.

She followed the snaky course through Beacon Hill Park, dodging dogs and children and couples holding hands. At the boat pond a father patiently taught his young son how to run the remote control for a jaunty red sailboat, while Mallard ducks paddled nearby searching for scraps.

She turned left and took the path that led her to the seawall, her favorite part of the run.

And there he was.

Every time she’d come by here for the past two months the same man crouched out on the furthest edge of the breakwater, staring out to sea.

He fascinated her.

She’d sit on the little spit of sand several feet away and create stories in her head about him. Maybe he was a Russian prince cast out of his homeland. Or a spy awaiting a boat bringing him information meant to save the world. Or maybe even a merman cast upon the shore and unable to find his way back to his watery home. The last brought a wry smile to her lips. Her mom always said she had a writer’s imagination.

She opened her fanny pack and drew out a bottle of water, a strip of homemade peach fruit leather, and her drawing supplies. She loved capturing nature on paper with nothing more than a few graphite pencils in varying grades and Caran d’Ache Luminance colors for shading. Her art was slowly gaining recognition, though it was taking more time than she could afford.

Sunset gradually lightened the horizon from chilly winter’s grey-blue to neon orange, brilliant fuchsia, and canary yellow. Fingers flew over the page, eager to catch every nuance as it occurred. Her unsuspecting model never moved, his silhouette perfectly captured by the dying rays of the sun.

When it became too dark to draw, Christy set the pad aside and twisted the cap off her water bottle. The liquid was a benediction going down her parched throat. She drank most of it before replacing the lid with a satisfied sigh. The day hadn’t begun well, but at least it was ending on a high note. She felt good about the work she’d just produced. It would be easier to tell after she returned to the shop and finished the shading of course, but she was off to a decent start.

Shivering a little now the sun had gone down, she returned everything to the bag and zipped it closed, then stood and brushed the sand from her butt and thighs before bending to pick up the fanny pack. Time to head home, Jill would be waiting.

A pair of dark brown hiking boots—size enormous—came into her line of sight. Her heart skipped a beat. Most people on the island were friendly and kind but she was a woman on her own and it was rapidly getting dark. How stupid.

She tightened her grip on the bag and cursing the fact she’d been so irresponsible, slowly rose to her feet, her gaze following the long, clean line of jean-clad legs, dark cotton shirt, tucked in and belted at the waist, open leather jacket, and chiseled jawline covered in a day’s worth of stubble. Glittering eyes stared at her from a deeply tanned, aloof-looking face.

“Quit following me.” The voice matched his visage, cold, harsh, and unforgiving.

So much for her fantasy hero. Christy stiffened and glared. “Kind of full of yourself, aren’t you?”

He leaned back and crossed his arms, his stance unforgiving. And to think she’d found him intriguing. Ha, more like infuriating.

“So it’s just a coincidence every time I turn around, there you are?” He lifted a hand and rubbed the back of his neck. The rasping sound along with the backdrop of the swishing waves made her—restless.

“Look, I don’t do interviews, okay? Not even for cute little pixies. Tell your boss, next time I’ll call the cops.”

Incredulity overrode her apprehension. “Are you serious? I have as much right to be on this beach as you do, buddy. Trust me, you’re not half as fascinating as you seem to think you are.”

In between one breath and the next, Mr. Personality seized the bag out of her grip and delved inside.

“Hey, give that back,” she cried, trying to wrestle it out of his grasp.

“If you have nothing to hide…” He pulled the drawings free and turned his wall of a back on her.

Christy couldn’t believe this was happening. Adrenaline zipped through her body, leaving her feeling more alive than she had in a long while. And it was all due to this… this jerk ripping pages out of her workbook while she stood by helpless to do anything about it. All that work—gone.

“Please,” she begged, her throat husky. “I meant no harm. I draw for a living. That’s all they are, drawings.”

At least the shredding stopped.

He leveled his gaze on her again, as though deciding whether to throw the whole bag out to sea or not. She really hoped not. It had taken months to save for those pencils. They were the very best and made a huge difference to the level of her workmanship.

“Please,” she said again.

He hesitated, then folded the sheets of paper he’d taken and shoved them into his jacket pocket before handing over her bag.

“Next time you might try asking,” he said dryly.

As he clumped away in those heavy boots his voice floated back to her on the breeze. “The answer would’ve been no, by the way.”

Was it too much to ask that he trip over his enormous—arrogance?

 

Silver Bells Teaser 1

 

JACQUIE BIGGAR  is a bestselling author of Romantic Suspense who loves to write about tough, alpha males who know what they want, that is until they’re gob-smacked by heroines who are strong, contemporary women willing to show them what they really need is love. She is the author of the popular Wounded Hearts series and has just started a new series in paranormal suspense, Mended Souls.

She has been blessed with a long, happy marriage and enjoys writing romance novels that end with happily-ever-afters.

Jacquie lives in paradise along the west coast of Canada with her family and loves reading, writing, and flower gardening. She swears she can’t function without coffee, preferably at the beach with her sweetheart. 🙂

Free reads, excerpts, author news, and contests can be found on her web site:

http://jacqbiggar.com

You can follow her on at http://Facebook.com/jacqbiggar , http://Twitter.com/jacqbiggar

Or email her via her web site. Jacquie lives on Vancouver Island with her husband and loves to hear from readers all over the world!

Jacquie Biggar

Lives in paradise along the west coast of Canada with her her husband, daughter, and grandson. Loves reading, writing, and flower gardening. Spoils her German shepherd, Annie and calico cat, Harley.
And can’t function without coffee.
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5 Tips for Going Public (Speaking, that is!)

Most writers are solitary by nature. We spend long hours in quiet places, forging our stories, dreaming up vivid locations for them, crafting characters we hope readers will bond with. hand-281995_640 It’s hard enough for us to imagine the world reading (and judging) our stories. To even consider standing up in front of an audience of 100 or more people and talking about ourselves and our work would be, at the very least, daunting.

When I first was asked to speak in public I felt physically ill. Nauseous. Chest pains. Weak knees. I was fairly sure I was having a heart attack. I wasn’t. It was an anxiety attack, and it went away after my speech was over…but that didn’t make the experience any less terrifying.

I’ve spoken with others about how hard it can be to put oneself in front of large group of people and perform. Their stories of “stage fright” are often similar. But I’ve come away from those conversations with a few tips to share with you. And even if you aren’t on a public speaking tour, some of these might help you get through other challenges in life.

20151107_092450 (00000002)1) Prepare…prepare…prepare! Before stepping to the front of a classroom, an auditorium, or lecture hall—write your speech, create an entertaining Power Point or handouts, and practice talking through it until you don’t need notes. The more comfortable you are with the topic and delivery, the less you’ll worry about making mistakes when you’re with other people.

2) Give your audience work to do. They’ll love you for including them in the moment. Ask questions. Encourage participation. Provide a worksheet or two to keep them busy. They’ll hear what you’re saying but will focus part of their attention on their responses.

3) Tell a funny story. I don’t mean canned jokes from a book. Share with your audience a special moment from your life. Were you afraid, thrilled, shocked, mortified, sad or deliriously happy. Anecdotes from real life provide an emotional bridge between you and others.

4) Be upbeat. There’s enough strife in the world. No one wants more. If I’m talking about the challenges of the publishing world, I tell it like it is: it’s hard to get published! But everyone knows this. Reassure your listeners about the opportunities and point out the practical tools and methods they can use to succeed.

5) Smile, move, use your body. A stiff body and grim looking speaker may still be brilliant…but you’ll relax more easily (and so will your audience) if you loosen up a bit. I do deep stretching exercises to get the blood flowing before speaking. (Off stage.) Then, throughout my talk I try to remember to smile at appropriate moments and signal my openness to people listening to me by opening my arms wide, or gesturing, or walking back and forth across the stage or even venturing into the audience. When you move, you are less likely to tense up—either physically or emotionally.

And here’s a bonus if you’re really feeling anxious about your moment in the spotlight. Before you step out to do your thing, imagine that you’re going to a party. This party is being held in your honor, and your most loyal friends and avid fans are joining together to celebrate your success. After all, you’re the one who has been asked to speak. It’s your time to shine! Enjoy the moment. You’ll be great!

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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Gardening & Writing #mgtab

Yesterday, while taking a break from writing, I checked out my little plot in our community garden. I thought how much creating a novel is like growing my veggies.

Garden

When I plant my tomatoes, squash, cukes and beans, I always have high hopes for a hefty harvest. I look forward to the delicious salads I’ll toss together within minutes after picking vine-ripened tomatoes and cutting crisp lettuce.

In a similar way, when I begin planning and working on a new book, I envision a finished novel that I’ll be pleased with. But—and here’s the big difference—I also want others to like my book, too. I want my readers to be intrigued, entertained, enthralled by the drama. I want them to find my story delicious. It’s no longer just about pleasing myself, it’s about pleasing other people.

In either case, I need to be realistic about my expectations for the outcome of my ventures—garden or book. The truth that all writers and gardeners must face is this—we can only control so much of the process of growing either a tomato, a flower, or a novel.

Flowers

I can water, feed, and protect my veggies from vermin and insects. But too much rain will drown fragile young seedlings, and a sudden hail storm may wipe out even the sturdiest vines. Likewise, I can develop believable characters, an exciting plot, and intense emotion in my story—but I can’t guarantee that readers will love my story as I do.

Is there a lesson here?

Perhaps it’s just this. Books and gardens are a lot like the rest of  life. There’s only so much we control. So we’ll continue tending our gardens with love, and writing to the best of our ability. And hope that the Fates (and our reviewers) will be kind to us.

Happy cultivating, of all kinds! Kathryn

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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The Not-So-Bad Day

“What an awful day this has been! I can’t believe so much went wrong.”

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Do you often complain bitterly at the end of an irritating, unsatisfactory day or week? If it’s not the kind of day when everything goes smoothly, then—at least in my own mind—it can’t be a good day. I sometimes forget that what may seem challenging or difficult to me might be absolute heaven for someone else. After all, I get to spend my days making up stories!

But, because I write novels for a living, I’m sitting and typing for hours, and my back often stiffens up and hurts. I’ll think: If it weren’t for this stupid back pain I’d have made better progress on this story. I’d write faster, better. Heck, I’d be positively brilliant! Somedays, even if I’m pain free, my mind feels wooden, creativity blocked. I feel anxious, dissatisfied, maybe even depressed. I automatically label all of these less-than-perfect days—“bad.”

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For many of us, it’s the little dissatisfactions in life that drag us down. When achieving a goal doesn’t come effortlessly, without interruptions or setbacks, we become unhappy. Maybe that’s human nature. Maybe that’s why we, or at least I, need an occasional reminder of what a really, really dreadful day can be. The sort of day that spins totally out of control, shatters a person emotionally, crushes the spirit, sometimes can even be called tragic.

Everyone has experienced truly devastating moments in their life. These stand out from the everyday flow of living. Most of us can count them without running out of fingers. Could it be that we actually need negative or challenging experiences to remind us of how many really good hours make up our lives?

Recently, I’ve made a point of looking back on some of the worst days in my life. The daily irritants in life pale when compared to the life-crushing events that threaten to destroy life as we know it. So I make myself remember that moment when I awoke after major back surgery, couldn’t move…and feared, as I lay in that hospital bed, that I might be paralyzed. I wasn’t, but a long year of recovery followed before I could walk normally. I also recall the heartbreaking day when I learned that the young man I’d raised from a sweet baby was broken, and saving him was beyond me. And I replayed in my mind the phone call that told me of my father’s death, and felt again the overwhelming sadness and belief that I’d let him down. I had been in denial, had failed to accept that the cancer would be fatal. I should have gone home to be with him in his last days.

It’s not just my own history that helps me to recognize how truly fortunate I am…even on not-so-good days. All I need to do is turn on the radio or TV, and I become a witness to true adversity—homelessness, violence, war, killing droughts, and incurable diseases. Destruction of life that I’ve never been forced to experience.

And so, the next time I sit down to write a scene that’s challenging, aching back and all—I will smile. Because I recognize that today is one of those good days. Even if no publisher wants to buy my book. Even if my computer explodes or a hail storm ravages my garden or I come down with the cold that’s already warning me with that ominous tickle at the back of my throat. Even if I pick up the phone half a dozen times to annoying robo-calls—this day is going to be just fine.

Roger Kathryn from Roy

Above, one of the very good times. Summer on the Bay!

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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