Spontaneity: The Yearlong Resolution

We all know the pros and cons of New Year’s resolutions (mine is at least one blog post a month). Ditto on recognizing the importance of self-improvement, organizing, and setting new benchmarks being a quarter of the battle. The rest is actually doing.
Yeah, yeah, Amy. What’s your point?
Regardless of your resolution success rate, don’t forget to dole out space for the yearlong refresher that can happen anytime: Spontaneity.
Often, if we fail to reach a goal it’s not for lack of trying. It’s because we’ve overloaded our schedule, life showed up in our utopian world of flawless to-do list execution, or someone we care about needed extra attention. Nor am I talking about those pick-me-ups that provide a boost (i.e. a Starbucks trip and finishing that great book instead of cleaning out the hall closet). I’m talking about spontaneity within your goals. Sometimes an unexpected mental shift or deliberate boycott of spring-cleaning is exactly what we need to move forward. They aren’t character flaws. Instead, think of them as your subconscious trying to help you accomplish what you must.
For example, social media can be fun and an important networking tool for professionals. However, it can also become a roadblock to productivity, fast. If I’m hot and heavy in a draft, there are days I don’t check my accounts. I accept this about myself, knowing how important these tools are for a writer trying to break out in publishing. But I must give myself the freedom to know that if I wake up and the solution to a plot problem in chapter fourteen occurs to me, nothing will stop me (expect my two huskies needing to be walked first) from getting to my computer and/or fountain pen. If it’s the last day of the month and that blog post isn’t done, I accept my energy is needed elsewhere. The blog entry will have to happen two days into the new month and it’s okay because I’m not ignoring the goal. I’m adjusting to make things work. Isn’t that one of life’s ultimate goals—flexibility to achieve results.
So don’t forget to include in your “new you” plan the ever important component of spontaneity. While sometimes a roadblock is just that, the unexpected can also direct us where we actually need to go. Capitalizing on the real magic—recognizing your efforts toward your endeavors—will refresh the mind and soul, and provide a new start all year through.

Finding Yourself in Others

Once again I’ve fallen behind with posting, but my father’s passing this summer does provide a compelling excuse. Memorial Day weekend I was on the cusp of starting my next manuscript and anticipating a writer’s police academy (#WPA2016). By June, I found myself signing a release for emergency brain surgery to save my dad’s life. To make the situation more surreal, he’d developed one of the few medical conditions I know something about, courtesy of my third manuscript—a subdural hematoma.

While the imminent danger was averted, no hope or prayers could revitalize my father’s mental functioning. His body shut down. And while he’d like to think he went out with a bang on the Fourth of July, the spectacle proved memorable but difficult to witness.

As a writer I try to remember that we always feel more than one emotion. It behooves me when writing a scene to describe a character’s lesser emotion (frustration over inability to climb a tree) rather than the obvious one (terror of the bear eager to maul her) to increase tension. But despite all my years of living in the real and fictional world, I wasn’t prepared for feeling like a lost child when my father died.

As in, you’re four and you turn around in the grocery store and your parent has vanished.


My kids are teenagers. I’ve been married for twenty years. But like some of my characters in early drafts, I shied away from an emotion I couldn’t believe I was experiencing. Sure I had to confront the sadness, the dread of making arrangements, the anger, the shock. But the more I avoided that nagging, disquieting “lost” feeling, the worse my alienation became.

Suddenly I didn’t know what I was doing anymore. Why did I choose to be at home with my kids versus attending grad school? (For starters, I’m a military spouse and there were no online degree programs back then.) Why was I still trying to make it as a traditionally published author when I had just received one more agent’s “I love you’re writing, you’re very talented, but this just isn’t right for me” send off? (Because my fictional friends won’t let me quit.) And why, why was I spending what seemed like every waking moment to plan a memorial service for someone who couldn’t be bothered to plan for his death and died a staunch chauvinist (classic ’40’s upbringing???).

The answer lay in the truth. Because even though I wasn’t four, I am my father’s child. And I was lost.

That. That right there. That out-of-left-field emotion is where the story really lives. For me and for my characters.

A person who curses their scaling abilities when mama bear is foaming at the mouth is very different from the one who blesses their training bestowed by their cat burglar mother. And a daughter who’s willing to accept the “man is brain, woman the decoration” mentality is a 180 from most women, including myself. But that didn’t change the fact I loved my dad.

To rediscover myself, I had to confront the discomfort. I had to go to the writer’s conference unprepared and aim fake guns at creepy actors wanting to kill me. I sat in a hostage “scenario” reminding myself I loved writing about a female FBI agent even though all I could think about were the recent victims of real terrorist attacks. I kept telling myself the memorial service was the right thing to do to honor my father despite his unsavory opinion of me.

Letting go of my dad became a revitalization of myself. It showed me once again that all your emotions count, especially when you can’t make sense of them. It is within that confusion I shape an unforgettable character from a toss away caricature. It is when I grow the most as a writer—learning the unexpected aspects of my characters (so they can outrun the bear), and by doing so, learning about myself.

Stranger than fiction

We’ve all heard the cliché “stranger than fiction” but what happens to an author when people we’ve created or places we’ve dreamt up actually come to life? From my experience – it’s freaky weird.

I had three such incidents with my first manuscript – To Make You Mine. First, I named a major character Ben Thatcher, pulling the name out of the air. While I researched the location along the Cape Ann coastline, I wouldn’t know until I traveled there a year after writing the manuscript that the portion of a state route in which I situated the main setting is named Thatcher Road. Legit.

Another major character in the story is a building contractor named Rob. When I visited family during my research trip they were proud to give me a tour of their new home. Their contractor’s name? You guessed it.

Finally, when researching Boston and the probable placement of an orphanage I settled on Dorchester and made up the name, Thompson’s Orphanage. Guess what? One actually exists. In Dorchester.

Now before the skeptics jump all over me about how these facts could easily be located via the Internet, I’ll point out that the research for this book began in 2001. Back when dialup ruled the day just to log onto the Internet and before Google maps. Like the fledging Internet, I too was striking out on a new adventure. To this day, I look back on these revelations not with skepticism but hope. Hope that I’m on the right track as I work everyday to see that story (as well as my others) to publication.

How to get a job

Being a starving artist in search of part-time work I found myself interviewing at the local grocery store this past spring. The manager asked about my writing career/trek toward publication before getting to the mandatory canned questions.

First can out of the box: “Name a profession in which organization is key to the employee’s success.”

I thought for a moment then said, “A paramedic is the second job that came to mind. It’s my understanding the emergency vehicles must be strictly organized so they can reach for what they need without having to search while working on a patient.”

She nodded, jotting notes. “What was the first profession you thought of?”

“A serial killer,” I replied. “Because every mystery writer knows that a serial killer’s undoing results from when they become disorganized in their MO.”

The pen fell from her hand. “We have openings in the bakery. When can you start?”


I think it the neatest testament to American literature that the publication announcement of Lee’s second (albeit written first) novel was released to the world just as I’m helping my son cut his high school annotation teeth on To Kill A Mockingbird.  He plans to add the hardcover to his library.