Tag: inspiration


Survival Tip #2 Inspiration

Due to a series of odd events, I’ve become chair of the Communications Committee at my church. I say odd because I know nothing about communications, beyond the fact that I know how to post pictures of trees on Facebook. But oh well. Part of my job is managing the church Facebook page. I assume that people who come visit are looking for comfort and inspiration, and so one of the first things I do every morning is try to find something inspirational to post. I read through Bible passages and look through various photographs and cartoons to find the right thing. This morning search for inspiration has become one of my favorite times of the day. I invariably wind up inspiring myself, which gives me a boost. There are so many inspirational stories coming out of this pandemic. I’m awed by the bravery of our health care workers, and all the people who’ve put themselves at risk to take care of us. Reading about these people, these heroes, I feel like I absorb just a tiny bit of their courage, I hope. Not to say I don’t panic every time I cough, but I believe that seeking out inspiration […]

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Survival Tips: Joy

I’ve spent much of the last twelve months trying to survive. First it was a cancer diagnosis, then it was a fairly harrowing course of chemo. Now the pandemic. In the midst of all this, I managed to finish a novel, chair an important committee for the Mystery Writers of America, and keep teaching classes at Gotham Writers. Sometimes I find myself quivering with anxiety, but for the most part I’d say I’ve survived. So far. People are always asking me how I did it, and I wonder about that myself, though, as you can see from the large picture below, trees are part of the answer. My mother, who had a difficult life, used to tell me, when I asked her for survival tips, that she coped because she had no choice. You either coped or you died. (You can only imagine how cheerful our dinner conversations were.) But she was actually a very cheerful person and she took a lot of pleasure in small things. Every week we would go to Nathan’s and get one of those huge sodden baskets of French fries and a hot dog covered in relish in sauerkraut. So my survival tip number one […]

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Sweet Dreams Are Made of These

My subconscious is on some serious stuff. It must take it while I’m asleep.  Last night, I woke up to the frightening music of my dog’s intestinal track (if you have been fortunate enough to have a dog live past ten years, then you understand). As a result, I remembered my ENTIRE dream . I was in Jamaica, chatting with my dead grandfather. He gave me sugar bun, a Jamaican concoction that is exactly what it sounds like: a bread, “bun”, made with raisins and glazed with sugar. I then took my kids out into the backyard where he showed me rabbits dressed up in human clothing, much to my children’s delight. My husband insisted that he had to go because hanging out with dead people was giving him the willies. I let him go and ate the bun.  This will make it’s way into a story–mark my words.  The story for my last thriller, Lies She Told, came to me in a dream–partially. I went to bed, after a glass of red wine, thinking about where I would get my next thriller idea from and I had a nightmare about this woman in a seedy Brooklyn apartment with blood on her hands. I felt that I was watching her from above or slightly over her shoulder. Close third person, in other words. She didn’t look like me, but I had the sense that she was me. And, after that, I wrote a thriller about a writer and the character in her head that may, or may not, be based on her–perhaps without her consent or conscious knowledge.  A lot of art, I believe, is taking what our subconscious mind gives us and rationalizing it until we have something that translates into a kind of story for broader consumption.  It’s late. I wonder what I’ll dream up next…    

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Welcome to Jeff Soloway

Please welcome Jeff Soloway to the Miss Demeanors. Jeff was formerly an editor and writer for Frommer’s travel guides, Jeff Soloway is now an executive editor in New York City. In 2014 he won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award from the Mystery Writers of America. His Travel Writer mystery series is published by Alibi, Random House’s digital imprint for crime fiction. The third novel in the series, The Ex-President, about the resignation and mysterious comeback of America’s new billionaire president, is just out.  I’m very happy to join the Miss Demeanors as a guest blogger! Like Susan Breen, I publish a mystery series for Alibi, Penguin Random House’s digital imprint for crime fiction. My latest installment, The Ex-President, is my first foray into political fiction. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. But writing it almost drove me insane.  My plan, hatched way back in late 2015, was to write a Trump novel. At the time, Donald Trump was one of 18 Republican candidates for president, an outrageous goofball with hilarious delusions of national importance. My story would feature a similarly outrageous character named Carlton Chomp, who was sponsoring a Caribbean cruise in order to raise money for his run for the presidency.It seemed to me the perfect premise for a comic satire. Trump was hilarious; my version of him would take his absurdity to even greater heights; the jokes would write themselves. As writers, we’re all familiar with the moment when a character runs away with the story—when the character’s unexpected thought or speech or action leaps up within you, and you feel you have no choice but to follow as some strange force propels your story in a thrilling new direction. Well, in this case, it wasn’t the character that was careening out of the control but the real world itself. And it took my novel with it.In early 2016, most of the other Republican presidential contenders began to drop out. Trump was now a serious candidate, not a joke (or not just a joke), and I had to recast the premise of my novel accordingly.And then Trump won the nomination. He was a major force in American politics. His name would be recorded in history books. The jokes I had written were now much less funny. And then he won the Presidency. Like so many Americans, I was stunned. I had misunderstood my country completely. And, of course, I had to rewrite my novel from scratch.So I did. I decided that this time, I would have to keep so far ahead of history that there was no chance it would overtake me. Obviously my Trump character would have to be elected President—but I decided he would quit halfway through his term. And then he would start a mysterious comeback. He would begin again to hold rallies, appear on the television, raise money. Everyone would wonder why. Obviously he wanted something new, something that suited his ambitious even better than the Presidency. But what? It would be up to my hero to find out.The novel that resulted, while still a comedy, was weirder, sadder, and more serious than the one I originally planned. I hope it’s also richer, but I don’t really know. We usually think of inspiration as springing from some mysterious well deep within us. For me it came from the world outside. I wonder if that makes the story somehow less mine. But that’s a question that hardly matters to the reader. Link to Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Ex-President-Travel-Writer-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00KUQIU88  

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Have Laptop Will Travel

I have lived in the same two states my entire life: New Jersey and New York. More specifically, I have lived in Manhattan or within ten miles of it for my entire childhood and adult life (save for four years of college in Princeton, NJ, which wasn’t really that much farther).  I set many of my books in these two states because I’m most familiar with them. After a decade in the city, I feel like I have a handle on the culture of Manhattan and, even more so, its suburban environs where I live and grew up. As a writer and a person, I’m comfortable in my area.  But that very comfort is the reason why I must travel. I need to see other places to gain perspective on the location that most often serves as the backdrop to my stories. When I don’t visit other places for awhile, I can become so immersed in my home that I can’t recognize anymore what’s unique or strange or beautiful or nutty about it. Writers need the ability to see a place as both an outsider and an insider. We need to have the accuracy that comes from immersion but also the distance to point out what makes a place special.  Recently, I went to Chattanooga TN to see my mother-in-law compete in a half Iron Man.  (Side note: if the world ever devolves into a Walking Dead situation, I’m on her team). The place has all these incredible rock formations and a mountain cave system complete with an beautiful underground waterfall that really should be the setting for a dark thriller–albeit not one that I would write since it would probably devolve into a Raft of The Medusa situation and I don’t do that kind of gore. Still… The city is also incredibly active. Everywhere, people are biking, rock climbing, running, kayaking, and just, generally, hanging outside.  I don’t know if I’ll ever set a story in Chattanooga, but going there did help me see how sedentary life in my home state of New Jersey is, particularly when the weather gets colder. We drive to indoor places or stay in our houses. When we need to work out, we drive to the gym. Seeing it, reminded me of how any story that I set in New Jersey really needs to note the driving culture. If there’s a book set in NJ and someone is not running around in an SUV, then it’s not really set in NJ.  It also reminded me of how active I was living in the New York City. I walked everywhere. Ten blocks. Twenty Blocks. Fifty blocks, in nice weather. I would walk from Battery Park to the Upper East Side on a beautiful day. Why take a cab? I’d walk five blocks in rainy weather to duck into the subway (impossible to catch a cab).  If a story is in Manhattan and it involves someone driving anywhere save for outside of Manhattan, it’s not a story in Manhattan. *Unless that story is Taxi Driver.  What is something that you learned about your favorite setting about being away for awhile? What place have you travelled to that had helped enrich your perspective.      

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An Artist’s Date: Vallarta Botanical Garden

    Let me take you on what Julia Cameron, queen of creative inspiration, calls an Artist’s Date. The last time I took you for one, we twirled around Italy, the ultimate artist’s date. Today, we’ll visit the Vallarta Botanical Garden in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where I am spending eight glorious weeks writing, reading, and eating and drinking. More on the eating and drinking another day, but let’s leave it for now that I am never hungry here.              Just to remind you, an Artist’s Date is an excursion, preferably solo, to a destination intended to expand your creative resources. They are intentional and sometimes self-indulgent, but never to be suffered with guilt. You might meander through a yarn shop, even if you have never picked up a knitting needle in your life, just to absorb the colors and textures around you. The goal is to fill the creative well within you.My well has been running a little dry lately. I have been writing a book for over a year. It’s a stand-alone mystery that I have struggled with, even though I love the story and my protagonist.  I may be guilty of overthinking this book and exaggerating the onerous duty I feel toward Olivia Rose, whose story I am telling. I arrived in Puerto Vallarta committed to finishing this book, but not quite sure how I would do it.          The day I chose to go to the botanical garden, I chided myself for doing something frivolous when I had serious writing to do. I’d planned to visit the Vallarta Botanical Garden even before I arrived, but thought it would be a reward for hard work done when writing goals were accomplished. But my traveling companions had other ideas, so off I went within days of arriving in Vallarta.           We rode a city bus for forty-five minutes up hillsides past a wild Pacific Ocean that seemed to be having a temper tantrum. I listened to passengers converse in Spanish, French, and English. The hillside was green and lush, the roadsides sprinkled with trash. Mexico, like most countries including my own, is filled with contradictions.          Nothing I had read prepared me for the exotic beauty I found inside the garden, which I quickly gave myself permission to enjoy. Trails leading down to a river, an orchid house spilling with tropical colors and shapes, a small chapel for solitude. More trails up a hillside, one named “Vanilla.” Fountains and bridges leading from one garden room to another. Bees having a party inside a blossom, while birds sang joyfully everywhere.           My ears were filled with birdsong. My eyes weren’t sure if the superabundance of beauty they were seeing could be real. The smell of green was everywhere, while a pleasant warm but not hot sun warmed my shoulders.            This is a generous garden I was surprised to learn was created only recently. Benches are placed throughout the acreage, often in shade, inviting strollers to sit for a moment and simply ingest the beauty surrounding them. There are statues and art throughout. I was drawn to the huge conservatory because I have a fascination for conservatories and because I have given Olivia Rose one in her story. This one had more plants than I’d ever imagined could fit in one. The light was magical. I wished Olivia Rose could see it.           Even the inevitable gift shop and restaurant were thoughtfully designed. Hummingbird feeders perched on railings surrounding the porch where diners sit within inches of the tiny birds dancing around them. The gift shop has a separate area with cushioned chairs looking out through open windows at bird feeders. Brilliantly colored birds took turns performing.            The day ended on a comical note when a large bulldog, owned by the garden ticket-taker, chased an empty water container larger than him rolling down a hill until he conquered and captured it. It was an inspiration for tenacity.            By the end of the afternoon my senses were so full, I was exhausted. But I was also exhilarated in a way that happens only when I get out of my head and into nature. I was tired, grateful that I had gone on an artist’s date, and ready to write.

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Traveling to India

This week I am going on an amazing adventure. I am going to India, and not just to India, but to a remote part of India which is 330 kms due East of New Delhi, just on the Western corner of Nepal, in the State of Uttarakhand.  To get there, I am flying into the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, spending a night in a hotel, and then taking a 5 hour train ride to Halwadi, where I will be met by a driver, who will then take me another 2 hours to the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission, which is near Banbasa. There I will meet up with Rosey, a young woman I’ve been sponsoring for some years, and I will spend a week at the orphanage where she lives.  The orphanage is a working farm, as well as being a school for children in the neighborhood, and so I suspect they will plant me in the library and ask me to read books to kids. Perhaps I will teach a few writing classes! I think it unlikely I will be harvesting grain, though who can say? Life takes strange turns.  There is so much I am looking forward to about this trip. First of all, I am looking forward to actually seeing (and hugging) Rosey, who has been an important part of my life for several years now. I’m looking forward to seeing the night sky. Can you imagine what that will be like? I’m curious to see the wildlife, though perhaps not too much of it. In the past few months they’ve had several pythons show up, and I’d rather not see that. The orphanage is not far from the Himalayas, so perhaps there will be a chance to see that. Most meaningful to me will be the church service they will have Sunday morning. Sometimes, in my own country, I feel like people lose sight of the fact that faith ought to be a source of joy and hope. I suspect that in the shadow of the Himalayas, surrounded by good people and a hundred or so very active young people, I will tap into that joy.

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