In (Out) My Comfort Zone

I’m most comfy in my sweats and at the computer. But every once in a while I have to step out of my comfort zone and do stuff that is on the top of my non-comfort list.

Like flying on an airplane! By myself! So not my favorite thing to do. I get an anxiety attack. What gate am I supposed to be at? What time is my flight? What are the rules for security?

I had to do this once before so I’m getting better. But still, not my favorite thing to do. When I was a little kid, flying on an airplane was exciting, adventurous, and fun. The seats were wide and the legroom was enormous. The food was served on china and the salt and pepper were tiny little crystal containers. Flying somewhere was an event with ladies in hats and gloves and shiny shoes. Men in suits. Now, we’re packed in like cattle and told not to complain while we remove everything just to check in.

But, I will step out of my comfort zone and fly in an airplane to see my high school friend I haven’t seen in 30 years, give or take.

By the time you are reading this post I will be back from my journey to Seattle!


What is outside your comfort zone?


Jill James, romance writer and reluctant traveler.

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Retelling my author story

Conferences rock. There I am in the purple Regency duchess outfit, complete with ostrich feathers, holding the certificate for one of the 4th places I won in the Koru Awards at the Romance Writers of New Zealand Conference. The Awards dinner, and all the other socialising, was great. I had a fabulous time. But the real gold of the weekend was in the workshops, and I’ll be mining it for months, if not years.

One workshop set me retelling my author origin story in a way that tells more of a universal tale, harnessing the tropes my life has followed. Mine is a reinvention story. What’s yours?

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Have you ever wanted something so much you were afraid to even try? That was me ten years ago.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a novelist. I even started dozens of stories, over the years.

But life kept getting in the way. A seriously ill child who required years of therapy; a rising mortgage that led to a full-time job; six children, my own chronic illness… the writing took a back seat.

As the years passed, the fear grew. If I didn’t put my stories out there in the market, I wouldn’t risk making a fool of myself. I could keep the dream alive if I never put it to the test.

Then my mother died. That great lady had waited her whole life to read a novel of mine, and now it would never happen.

So I faced my fear and changed it–told everyone I knew I was writing a novel. Now I’d make a fool of myself for certain if I didn’t finish.

My first book came out to excellent reviews in December 2014, and the rest is history. Many books, lots of positive reviews, and a few awards later, I feel foolish for not starting earlier.

I write historical fiction with a large helping of romance, a splash of Regency, and a twist of suspense. I then try to figure out how to slot the story into a genre category. I’m mad keen on history, enjoy what happens to people in the crucible of a passionate relationship, and love to use a good mystery and some real danger as mechanisms to torture my characters.

Dip your toe into my world with one of my lunch-time reads collections or a novella, or dive into a novel. And let me know what you think.

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I have an origin story for my imprint, too.

I wanted to call my imprint Olive Press, since my mum’s name was Olive. But a bit of research convinced me it was a bad idea: already used, and all for Christian self-help books and Bible study guides. I don’t want to go misleading readers!

So I named it after my mother’s childhood home, which in turn was named after her family’s ancestral village, and I chose an olive tree for the symbol.

 

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Watch Me Write a Novel in a Week

I’m setting a lofty goal. I’m attempting to write a 50k word romantic comedy in six days. I’ll post my daily output here on my blog, and social media. I’ll set daily goals and write the outline for the next day every night before I go to bed.

My goal: to write 2k words in a 60 minute sprint.

Monday, 10-5

Tuesday, 9-4

Wednesday 9-5 (unless my husband takes the day off–it’s his birthday)

Thursday 9-5 (A group of friends and I are starting a podcast practice, and we talked of practicing on this day. Not sure if that’s still happening.)

Friday 11-3

Saturday

Life will get in the way. I’m expecting it to do that, but even if it takes me two weeks, that’s still amazing. (As a matter of fact, shortly after I wrote this, I learned my 98 year old dad is in the hospital with pneumonia. He lives in Washington and I’m in California. Part of my wants to run up there. Another part argues I should stay put until he’s home. I’m currently involved in an internal debate, which is always bad for writing.)book in a week

My friend Greta Boris introduced me to what I’m calling the stone and sand method. It harkens back to an analogy on time management that I’m sure everyone is familiar with where you have a jar, large rocks, and sand. The large rocks are your priorities and the sand is the frivolous. If you put in the sand first, your rocks won’t fit in the jar, but if the rocks go in first, you can pour in the sand and because it can fill all the empty spaces, everything fits.

What does that have to do with writing a novel? You write the basic plot points first, then you go back and fill in the descriptions. That’s what you’ll be seeing. The first draft will be rough. Also, when I come to a brain-fart moment or I write a clunky sentence I don’t stop and try to fix it, I simply mark it with a @. By the end of the first draft, I typically have about 75 @s littered throughout the manuscript. I usually will need a day to clean them up before I attempt a rewrite.

I’ll also be posting visuals on Pinterest.

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So Much Excitement

Wow! It’s Labor Day. That’s the big end of summer celebration for Canada and the USA. Mexico celebrates Labor Day May 1. But for most of us in North America, it’s the last big picnic, BBQ, or vacation before the school year starts.

Unfortunately, some places have decided to start school earlier. That just fouls up vacation times for many families who have timeshares or long-standing vacation plans. Personally, I’m glad that my area doesn’t participate in earlier school starting dates. Tidewater, Virginia is a tourist area. That means many families have thirteen weeks to make a living. It’s an odd way to live, but so many people are dependent on summer vacationers. I’ve got an upcoming book set in an island town that depends on summer tourists.

In 114 days, it will be Christmas. Yikes! I’m not certain where this summer went or how it is possible that Christmas is around the corner. That also means that the Authors of Main Street will be putting out another Christmas boxed set. Most of us are putting the final edits on our books for that set.

I’ve written quite a few books for those boxed sets. In fact I’d have a difficult time deciding which books I like best. I guess my readers like A Snowy Christmas in Wyoming as it has sold over 100K and is still popular.

The other book that stands out is A Sister’s Christmas Gift. It will be released this fall as a single title. Both those books contain toddlers. Babies and Christmas just seem to go together.

What doesn’t seem normal is writing a Christmas story when it’s hot outside. So I try to imagine I’m sitting in front of the fireplace snuggled under a warm blanket. I might even listen to a little Christmas music. Every job as its idiosyncrasies. Writing Christmas stories in the summer is part of my job.

This year’s Christmas boxed set, Christmas Cookies on Main Street, features cookies and we’re including favorite cookie recipes.

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Loving Arabelle, a historical western, will be coming out this month. Cynthia Woolf’s book the first in this series, Thorpe’s Mail Order Bride, was just released.

Thorpe's Mail-Order Bride (The Brides of Homestead Canyon Book 1)

One more thing! (Yes, I’m liberally using exclamation points because all of it is exciting.) I’m getting a new website. I can’t wait. I’ve turned it over to an agency. Meeting with them was almost overwhelming as the number of things they say they will do makes my head spin. I’m sitting there thinking huh? I am the most techno-challenged person alive. Yet this company swears it will be a cakewalk for me when they are finished. I hope so.

My little website was fine in 2008. Eleven years later, it’s 2019, and it totally sucks. The website has been in severe need of updating for quite a few years. So I’m excited and hopeful. I can’t wait to see what this company will do to it.

Here’s the way it looks now. http://www.ayersbooks.com/ Before the end of the year, it should be spectacular.

With luck, I’ll being putting out the newsletter for the Authors of Main Street. I’m going to learn how to do that and tie it to Facebook. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/AuthorsofMainStreet/

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Angel in Flight

On the way to Athens, Ga., that Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help question why Tabitha had to die so young. Death was no stranger to me. I’d seen it too many times before. I knew questioning God was wrong, but I was desperate for an answer. This was a passing of another loved one.

I’d spent the night before her services tossing and turning. I prayed for God to comfort Tabitha’s family, to make it through the funeral services with their sanity still intact.

Then, for some unknown reason I remembered the rainbow I’d seen two days before. I’d forgotten the rainbow. Nor did I make a connection between the two incidents until I remembered the experience the week before and my prayers.

My unanswered prayers. God had not kept all my loved ones safe.

I’d worked practically around the clock the previous eight weeks and missed being with my family. I needed a rest, but was reluctant to leave them for an entire week to attend a conference I’d planned months in advance. My husband instinctively picked up on my indecision. He insisted I go and forget everything, except to relax and enjoy the time away.

After arriving at St. Simons, and sharing the workshop experience with a treasured friend, I was glad I’d gone and delighted in new writer friendships developed throughout the week.

A fleeting late afternoon shower, sent my friend and I running for cover and certainly didn’t do anything to lift my dampened mood. After the rain, we joined the group heading for the auditorium anxious to listen to the speakers on our last afternoon at the conference.

After, my friend and I walked and talked sharing memories of the day, when suddenly I glanced upward and noticed a glorious rainbow brushed across the horizon.

IMG_3698a double rainbow

“Look at that beautiful rainbow.” I said. “Wait, there’s another one forming on the left. Have you ever seen anything like it? I wonder if a double rainbow has a special meaning?”

My friend lifted her hand to shade the sun from her eyes. “Oh It’s magnificent,” she said, then turned toward me. “You know what? I think that’s a sign something wonderful is about to happen.” She grinned as we walked toward the conference room.

I glanced down at my watch. The time was a little after five o’clock.

“I think tonight’s going to be special for us,” she said.

Indeed it was special, when that night we both won awards in the writing contests we’d entered.

We headed to grab a cup of coffee before returning to our room. “Still, as happy as I am, I can’t shake the feeling, even as supreme as rainbows are, there is something meaningful and sad about this one,” I said. “What are your thoughts?”

“You may be right,” she commented. “We can’t know the future.”

An old familiar feeling set in, and it knew it wasn’t going away anytime soon.

Since my early adult years, I dreamed dreams that sometimes came true. Later in life as I grew as a Christian, the visions and discernment began. Not understanding they were from God, I frequently became upset when they infiltrated my sleep and filled my heart.

“They’re gifts and blessings from God, honey, that’s why you see them,” my mom explained. “God doesn’t allow everyone to have dreams and visions as you do. He shows you these things so you will pray about them.”

It took many years for the impact of her words to fully register with me, to pray for guidance in the situation, when I felt the pull in my heart.

An urgency swept through me when I recalled the rainbow, and again, I felt honored and a responsibility to intercede in prayer. “Father God, I don’t know what this means or what is about to happen. Please send your Angels to watch over and keep my loved ones safe. I pray, Lord, you will prepare the heart of whomever is facing a trial and wrap them in your loving arms. Amen.”

When I returned home the next day, the answering machine bleeped repeatedly. One message was from my daughter-in-law. I called her at once. The tremor in her voice alerted me that something was terribly wrong. My heart hammered and my blood ran as ice while she spoke.

“I have some bad news. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. Tabitha’s been in an accident…a horrible car accident. She was killed instantly yesterday afternoon, sometime between five and five-thirty.”

Within minutes of the time the rainbow appeared to me that previous Friday afternoon, my twenty-year-old niece’s fate was sealed.

I was in shock, heartbroken and angry that God had taken her. She’d been way too young. Unbelief pushed me to ask her to repeat what she’d just told me.

“Why, Tabitha? Oh, God why?” I questioned. I buried my face in the towel I was holding, and wept for Tabitha and the anguish I knew my younger sister was experiencing.

Tabitha had been an angel here on earth. Always a kind, considerate niece, and a sweet loving daughter to my now distraught sister and her family. I’d attended too many funerals in the past three years, and that she’d been taken so young, didn’t make any sense at all.

I left the funeral home and began the two-hour trip home. My heart was empty and I felt as though I were suffocating. I could only imagine the pain Tabitha’s parents endured. They had been so brave. Even though their hearts were crushed, they had smiled through the ordeal of thanking everyone who had attended her service.

I turned the radio up loud and tried to drown my thoughts. Deep down I knew nothing would ever be the same. I wanted to run, but there was no place to run, no place to hide. There was nothing I could do, except pray for them.

I scrambled to find the small notebook I always kept on the seat beside me and a pen. I scribbled words that flooded inside my head, which I had no control. God was giving me a poem for Tabitha. One of the lines in the poem gave me a peace that our Tabitha truly was with God.

A new Angel laughed, and beheld the King.

A still voice whispers reminding me of these words when I pray. “Not my will, Lord, but thine.” God had answered my prayers. Tabitha was safe. Safe in the arms of God. He had wrapped me in His loving arms and given me a measure of peace.

Tabitha’s early death reaffirmed we don’t have the promise of tomorrow. But God promises not to put anymore on us than we can endure, and that our children are gifts from Him entrusted to us for but a little while.

I believe God gave me the moment with the rainbow to wonder in and remember that it is only one of His promises.

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Celtic Celebration & Prayer

The third week of August marks the last few weeks of summer here in Wisconsin. It’s also four of the best days of the year for me.

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The World’s Largest Celtic Festival, Milwaukee Irish Fest, ran last Thursday through Sunday at Milwaukee’s Summerfest Grounds. This is not only a celebration of my family’s culture, it is time I spend every year with those I love – singing, dancing, volunteering, eating, drinking and praying. It is at its heart a celebration of life and love and everything that binds us together.

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In honor of that spirit, I’ll leave you with an ancient Celtic prayer called: “The Deer’s Cry” (also known as: St. Patrick’s Breastplate”).

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven, light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

Love & light,

Leigh

 

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Doing something small for love

My goodness, weren’t we young, then?

When asked her favourite story theme, a friend of mine always says that she wants to read about people who do great things for love. My answer is the opposite. I want to read about people who persistently do the little things for love.

A few days ago was the fiftieth anniversary of the date on which my personal romantic hero and I first began to talk about marriage. I remember that Christmas we joined a group to go carol-singing around for the old-folks, and we were both struck by the elderly couples who listened, holding hands. That could be us, one day.

In the intervening years, we’ve had our sorrows and our joys. We’ve been through times of colliding and others of drifting apart. Always, we’ve found our way through to a renewed commitment, a deeper love.

Looking back, I can count some real crises, when one or both of us was called upon to do something great for love–to leave a cherished job, to move the length of the country, to believe in one another and our love when everything around us tried to pull us apart.

What allowed us to keep going was a habit of looking after one other, of showing our love every day in little, even hidden, ways. Doing the little things, even when we didn’t want to.

As a writer, I am often emotionally and mentally absent even when I’m physically present. My personal romantic hero reminds me to eat, brings me coffee, reads a great review when asked, takes on most of the cooking so I have more time for writing, brings me flowers, does all the shopping (including spending the time needed to read all the labels to cope with my food allergies).

He loves me, and he shows me he loves me every day.

And I love him. I take a break to watch silly videos he has found on YouTube, laugh at his jokes (even if I’ve heard them before), make him a drink when he comes in from the garden, admire the newly mown lawns, send him text messages during the day to say I love him.

Doing the little things every day, even when you don’t feel like it, isn’t always easy. It should become a habit, and that helps. But it’s easy to forget, which is why it matters. Being loving to the one you love, every day of every week, month after month, year after year–come to think of it, that is doing something great for love.

Now, we are old. And when we walk, when we sit together in church, when we go to the movies or listen to carol singing, we hold hands.

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