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The First 35 Days

Back again, readers! I’ve been enjoying the fact that my ‘crazy diet’ is working, and also that I’ve completed the first 35 days, as listed in Judy Mazel’s book “The New Beverly Hills Diet”. She had said you should lose between 10 and 15 pounds in that first month (okay, month+), and at the end of my first 35 days, I’d lost 11 pounds, which thrilled me. I didn’t always eat everything she asked you to eat, but I did manage to eat fruit at the start of every day, and I monitored what I ate the rest of the day, so aside from an occasional sprinkling of parmesan cheese on my Caesar salad, which I tended to forget to ask the waiters to remove (and which is a protein, not a carb, like the rest of the salad), I did usually combine my foods properly.

I’ve also eaten stuff she didn’t specifically mention, but which go along with the idea of carb and fat vs. protein and fat. I’ve had chocolate, spaghetti (several times) and cheese fondue one memorable evening (and didn’t gain weight–delightful!) I’m trying to get used to the idea of ‘making the pleasure last as long as possible’ instead of just stuffing myself, and going as light on salt as possible, which means giving up a lot of salty processed foods, but the result is worth it. I’m learning to eat better food and enjoy it as much, or more, as I did the bad stuff.

What’s even better, everyone who sees me is telling me I look thinner, which I’m delighted about, and I’m feeling thinner, too. Okay, it’s not about looks, I get that, but I can’t think of anyone who hates it when someone says, “You look terrific!” So when someone says that to me, I feel good about it.

I’m feeling a lot more energy, too, and my morning walks are much more enjoyable. I can usually get in a little over 4000 steps in a half hour outside, and add more while I’m just moving around during the day. And I notice that I’m more excited about doing that walk, and that I’m now walking up to 6 days/week, and on the days I don’t walk (because of weather or schedule), I notice it, and miss it.

Altogether, I’m very satisfied with this first foray into food combining, and yes, I’m planning to stick with it. Mazel says if you haven’t lost all the weight you want to lose, you can go back to any single week of the New Beverly Hills Diet (she specifically recommends NOT going back to the first week) and do it again, for more weight loss, which I plan to do. Just not yet, please; I’m enjoying the everyday combining and learning more about it as I do it. This is truly an experiential journey.

I had wanted to adopt a way of eating that was easy, required little preparation, and that I could do FOREVER, while losing weight, feeling good and being healthy. This seems to be it. (Side note: Since I began the diet on September 5th, I haven’t had a single diet soda, and considering my intake before, that’s pretty amazing. I’ve stuck completely to water since the start, and have not missed my Diet Cokes. I do have champagne in the fridge, whenever I feel like indulging–because champagne, unlike grain alcohols, goes with everything, including fruit–so I can drink it any time without problems. But I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Maybe next time around.

My sons were home this past weekend, and both of them noticed I had lost weight. I told them what I was doing, and while Son #2 ridiculed me (“Why can’t you have fruit for dessert? Fruit is the healthiest thing there is!”), Son #1 seemed just puzzled. They’re coming home again for Thanksgiving; by that time I’ll have lost more weight, so they may be more receptive. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I have more to accomplish this fall, and I’ll be working on it in the remaining 2 1/2 months of the year. (Hard to believe 2017 is this close to being over; so MUCH has happened!) But I still have time to finish a draft of a novel I’ve been working on for years, and that’s something I want to get done. It’s about time I get done with it and get on with publishing it.

So far this year I’ve managed to read through the entire Bible in 90 days (a project I started in January and ended in early May), and I’m really proud of having done it, after wanting to do it for 5 years, without success. I’ve joined a Bible study, seen the Cubs into the National Championship Series (where alas, they’re down by 3 games and may be eliminated tonight), taken my younger son and his girlfriend to Disney World for a GREAT vacation in August, and am looking at what I can do in the rest of the year. We still have about ten weeks; I can get a lot done. I always feel better when I’m busy.

Looking forward to reporting more good results here in the next few weeks–ciao for now!

 

 

 

 

 

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Reporting Results

Well, the hurricane winds seem to have blown away (at least in my neighborhood), and fall is in the air (a little; temperatures are still in the low 80’s). Baseball season has just about ended (and I’m thrilled the Cubs are headed back to the post-season AGAIN! Food for thought: Kris Bryant was a rookie in 2015, when the Cubs had the first of the latest 3 post-season runs. Do you think he’d even feel normal without a post-season to look forward to? Just one of those questions we hope won’t be answered for MANY years.

As for my crazy diet, it’s going well. I’ve had a few days of throwing away all the rules (you can’t really blow it, but there are certainly times when you want to eat something that’s a miscombination; at times like those, you have to hold onto your will power, if at all possible, knowing you’ll be able to eat whatever fancy dish you want if you just wait awhile for it). I’ve had a recent yen for M&M’s, so bought a big bag (the plain milk chocolate kind; peanut M&M’s have protein, and you’re not supposed to eat anything but protein after eating protein; I’m not prepared to give up all my carbs for the day after eating a handful of peanut M&M’s in the afternoon). I’ve been having a couple of handfuls every day, after I finish my fruit. Granted, my weight has not dropped significantly since last week, when I was down 9 pounds. But I’m doing well, eating well and most important, eating as much as I want at the time. (I will freely admit here that it was the portion restrictions at Weight Watchers that made things so hard for me.)

At this point, I’m down half a dress size (with about five more to go), and I’m feeling really good. I’ve lost an inch and a half off my thigh, an inch off my bust, half an inch off my waist, and an inch off my upper arm. And while I do take an occasional antacid, most of the time, I don’t need one. I had some blood tests a couple of weeks ago, and my good cholesterol is up, bad cholesterol is down, and overall cholesterol number is significantly down. Blood pressure is good. I’ve re-started taking Resveratrol again, something I stopped taking after some health issues last fall. Resveratrol, an over the counter supplement, is fantastic for lowering blood pressure, so when I had my first blood pressure issues, I started taking it, with amazing results. And at some point, when my weight numbers drop down again, I want to get off the prescription BP med I’ve been taking since December. I HATE prescription meds!

To remind you of my current regimen: The New Beverly Hills Diet is based on the idea of properly combining foods for maximum digestion, which the creator of it, Judy Mazel, considers the fount of all disease. By eating only proteins and fats together, or carbs and fats together, and combining proteins and carbs only very occasionally, you can eat extremely well, not worry about portion control, and use minimal willpower. Mazel asks you to start almost every day with a tropical fruit (like pineapple, papaya, mango, berries or grapes) which contain enzymes which help burn fat and aid in perfect digestion. Then wait 2 hours before switching to carbs or protein, and if you want to eat again after that, wait another two hours to switch again (from carbs to protein or vice versa). That’s almost all there is to it. It takes awhile to get used to thinking (and eating) this way, but once you do, it’s pretty simple. I think before I put anything in my mouth–is it protein? Carbs? If it has cheese, that’s automatically protein, because of the dairy, but if I leave the cheese off, is the rest carbs?

I’ve learned that I don’t lose weight now as quickly as I did years ago, so it will take time and patience to get through this, but in the process, I’m learning that I can be satisfied now with less food (last night I ordered a meatball sub at a local bar, and since I wanted just protein, asked that the bread be left off. The result was a little plate with four meatballs on it. That was dinner, and I was fine with it.)

I will also admit to days where all I eat is carbs (this is not necessarily a tragedy). I’ll have very good bread and olive oil or butter; I’ll have pasta; I haven’t yet had a Chinese meal, but that’s coming. Pizza is a miscombination–the dough is a carb, as is the tomato, but the cheese is protein–and I’ve had it several times–eating several slices, till I’m quite full–without gaining weight. I’ve learned that after a protein meal, I can have vanilla ice cream with whipped cream (whipped cream being dairy) and not gain weight.

I’m not going to say this is the best way to eat for everyone, but it’s working for me. And while I do sometimes wish for a fleeting moment that I could have Diet Coke again (that’s a permanent no-no, because it contains artificial sweeteners, which the human body does not know how to digest), here’s a fun fact: I liked Diet Coke mostly for the carbonation, and we ARE allowed alcohol, even in the initial 35-day phase (which I have not yet completed). Turns out the ONLY alcohol which goes with everything, including fruit, is champagne (because it’s made from grapes, after all). I LOVE champagne (mostly for the carbonation), and while as a mostly non-alcohol-drinker, I don’t have it often, I did buy a six-pack (what looks like a split each) to keep in the fridge till I want something besides water to drink.

It was also suggested (by Mazel) that if you like hot tea (which I do) and you don’t want to use artificial sweeteners, you could try cinnamon in your tea, instead of sugar. Haven’t tried that yet (it hasn’t been cold enough to warrant going back to hot tea here in SC), but I certainly will, and will report back here.

Meanwhile, I’ve been on this new way of life (that’s what it feels like) for 24 days now, with minimal trouble, and feeling more and more comfortable with it every day. After the first week or so, I was so busy with other things I mostly didn’t think about it until mealtime, though as Mazel says, “Think about food when it doesn’t count, so you don’t have to think about it when it does.” I’ve learned to try to keep down my salt intake (I don’t handle salt too well), and have been drinking lots of water. Mostly, I’ve been delighted that I can eat and not worry about portion control, while enjoying good food and still seeing the numbers on the scale drop.

A very good thing, and more results to come, in about 2 weeks (at the 35-day mark). Very pleased with this new way of eating, and very excited about the future!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Safe from Irma, and Writing Your Own Story

After being battered for a week with dire predictions of what Hurricane Irma MIGHT do to Charleston, it was a little anti-climactic to experience it here in Mount Pleasant and realize it was NO BIG DEAL.

Yes, I know downtown Charleston flooded horrendously (but Charleston has very low roads and tends to flood even in a bad thunderstorm). And I know there were cyclones all over Charleston County–but not one came near me, safe and snug in my apartment on Park West Boulevard.

I did lose Internet service and my office phone (which is voice-over-Internet and goes out whenever the IP goes out). That lasted all of five minutes. Otherwise, apart from heavy rain and winds, a few downed tree limbs and some debris, everything was fine.

On Tuesday, I woke up to brilliant sunshine. (It was just like your child, when he knows he’s been bad; he’s suddenly angelic to make up for it.)

I do sympathize with the tough conditions in Florida, but from everything I hear, it could have been so much worse than it was. It’s bad, but not nearly as bad as they thought it would be.

And here we are, in a new day.

This morning I spoke in front of my weekly networking group. The topic was “Writing Your Own Story”, which is something I talk about often with people who meet me, find out I’m an author and immediately exclaim, “Oh, I’ve got a great story for you to write!” And they insist it would be ‘a bestseller’ if only I’d just write it down for them, ‘because I’m not a writer’.

I have news for you. In today’s world of DIY, you don’t necessarily need a writer at all.

YOU can write your own story.

Here’s a brief recap of what I said this morning:

  1. If you truly think you have a story worth telling, sit with a sympathetic friend (even if he/she has already heard all your stories) and ask if you can tape yourself telling her the story.
  2. Get a small inexpensive tape recorder, sit with your friend and TURN IT ON. Then tell the story to your friend as clearly and enthusiastically as you possibly can. TELLING the story out loud, for non-writers, is a great way to get it out of your system. If you try to write it on your computer, you might freeze up and get discouraged, or think you need fancy language to convey it. Fancy language gets left at the door these days; if you can write like you talk, you can tell any story.
  3.  Transcribe the tape afterward, so you can READ what you just said. Chances are, the story will sound pretty good to you as you read it.
  4. Decide whether this is the story of your ENTIRE life or only a small PIECE  of it. If it’s the story of your life, beginning to end, BEGIN IT AT THE BEGINNING, with your birth, growing up, etc.

HOWEVER… the story you want to tell may NOT be the entire story of your life. It may be about only a few years, or one incident. In that case, you can organize your story differently. You can tell it in chapters, EACH chapter about part of the incident, OR about various OTHER incidents in your life.

This is very freeing, in a lot of ways. I’ve always felt if I ever wrote my life story, I’d do it this way–talking about various ASPECTS of my life and what I learned from them, as separate stories I could string together as separate chapters. I think it would still be interesting, but less tedious than my trying to wade through my entire 60 years here on earth. Let’s face it, for long periods of time I haven’t done anything all that exciting. No reason for the reader to deal with that. Why not read the best parts? (A great example of this is the book Sheila Haley wrote some years ago, about life with her author husband, Arthur Haley. It’s called “I Married a Bestseller”, and it’s great fun. She talks about helping with book research, moving multiple times and even dealing with his extramarital affairs.) The point is, she could have written a beginning-to-end story but chose not to. She organized the book into chapters about various aspects of her life, and told them very entertainingly. It’s still a valid way to tell your story.

5.  Continue to sit with sympathetic friends (one or more) until you’ve talked the entire length of what you want to tell into that tape recorder, and transcribe it all.

6. Organize it into relevant chapters.

7. Send it to a good editor for a developmental edit. You can find a list of good, ethical editors at the website Editors and Predators. ASK for his/her advice and LISTEN to it. They can tell you whether the story is on track or if it needs connecting sections, and how to do that.

8. When you have the story edited and you think it’s ready, you can decide whether or not it’s worth publishing, or simply copying and binding as gifts for your family and friends.

If you do decide to publish it, the single best place for print-on-demand (today’s self-publishing) is http://www.createspace.com, which is the best of the POD publishers. For just a few hundred dollars, they’ll format and typeset your finished book, and you can get it copy-edited (do this if you have any issues with spelling, punctuation and usage) and have a beautiful book cover done there as well. And once you’ve given the final go-ahead, they’ll distribute it to Amazon, Barnes&Noble.com and many other online bookstores, around the world.

9. If you choose (and you should do this), have it done as a Kindle version as well. More and more people are reading books on their phones and tablets; give them that option with yours. And you can go to Audible.com or other sites if you want an audio book version (something which, again, is becoming more and more prevalent).  As the author, you can choose which actor reads your book, which is a thrilling experience. (An author friend of mine chose an Irish actor to read her romantic thrillers–and since her hero was Irish, it was a double pleasure.)

Go to http://www.kdp.com for Kindle Direct Publishing; they’ll format and typeset the book into their proprietary version. And because of their symbiotic relationship with Amazon, it’ll go up on the mega-giant’s site almost immediately, once you give the final approval.

Does this work? I can’t tell you your book will be a giant bestseller, but when I was nine, and long before POD publishing OR Kindle, I received a paperback copy of KAREN by Marie Killilea as a birthday present. It’s the very moving story of her daughter, who was diagnosed in the 1940’s with cerebral palsy and struggled to learn to walk, write and lead a productive life. I’ve re-read it at least every six months since then, and that was more than 50 years ago. The book won all kinds of prizes and tons of acclaim, and is still one of my favorites.

I can’t promise you’ll write KAREN, but I do promise if you have a family story that’s inside you, this is a way–finally–to get it out, whether as a gift to your family or as a gift to the world.

Best of luck with your story–and keep me posted on your progress!

 

Irma and The Craziest Diet of All

Hello, all, and welcome to the wonderful world of hurricane prep.

Since we first learned of Irma–was it just a week or so ago?–things have gone crazy on TV and the Internet, with dire warnings to ‘take this seriously’ and ‘get out if you can’. Here in the Charleston area, water is scarce, there are lines to get gas, and you can’t find a D battery (for flashlights) anywhere in town. School has been cancelled from today through Tuesday.

Despite all this, I’ve chosen to stay and ride it out. According to the latest tracks I’ve been following on http://www.weather.com, by the time it gets to us, the storm will be a Cat 1 at most, and might be down to a tropical storm. Hell, it’s not even worth getting out of bed for a tropical storm.

In the last 2 years, I’ve ridden out the 1000-year flood (which devastated parts of South Carolina, and guess which area got the highest amount of rainfall? Yup, Mount Pleasant, which I call home–27 inches.) I can remember the entertainment value of watching the Clemson-Notre Dame game (which they play about once every 30 years, so it was a big deal), played at Death Valley. (I had more than a passing interest in this, as both my sons were there, attending the game. ) You could literally SEE the rain pouring down as they played, but they got through it. (My younger son, when he got back to his brother’s apartment, stripped off his clothes and told his brother to throw them out; they were too waterlogged to bother washing. He also put in an immediate request for duck boots, which has stood him in good stead during storms in the last year.)

We also rode out Matthew last year, and aside from losing power for a half hour and being basically pretty bored for about 8 hours (I’m not a television freak, so there wasn’t a lot for me to do), nothing else that was bad happened to us. I had thought we might have a tree come down on my car, but we only had a few branches scattered around in the aftermath. And once it was over, we dried out and moved on pretty quickly. (I realize this wasn’t the case with everyone affected by Matthew;  I’m well aware that we were very lucky.)

So with four flashlights ready to go, candles, bottled water (3 cases), plenty of junk food (in case we lose power) , cash from the ATM and my car full of gas (in case it turns out the models were wrong), I think I’m all set for Irma. Will report on my experience with THAT next week. But all my life I’ve been very lucky with weather, so why shouldn’t it be the case now, as well?

Meanwhile, I’ve begun a new program–well, a new OLD program–which I’ve known about for 30 years and which, unfortunately, I never took seriously enough when I was younger to try out. And this one is way more important than weather, because it affects my health.

Most of you who know me, know I’ve been very frustrated about my weight, for quite a few years. Since moving down to Mount Pleasant, I’ve gradually put on more and more poundage, until I hardly recognize myself, and even worse, I suffered a minor stroke last November, which I’m convinced is the result of my weight issues. In fact, I’m pretty certain that virtually EVERY health issue I face right now is the result of uncontrolled weight gain.

BUT… finding a program I could do FOREVER has been a challenge. I’ve explored a lot of options, including a return to Weight Watchers (which has become more restrictive, though also, I think, a lot healthier), programs offered through local doctors, and things that involve behavior modification, like eating in a five-hour window and at no other time.

At this point in my life, I’m not willing to do anything that’s difficult, complicated or too restrictive. I had lost 35 pounds 9 years ago with Weight Watchers (on an older version of the program), but that program, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists. They’ve added things such as unrestricted fruits and lessened the point values for protein (they want you eating lots of protein), but have also heavily weighted a lot of foods I used to eat on the program, with tons of extra points since they’re carb-heavy. And the doctors’ programs more often asked me to give up things like gluten and sweets (forever) and almost everything I eat now, to eat organic fruits and meats (which I have no objection to doing) and essentially, learn to like stuff that there’s no way I’ll ever enjoy.

The result is that I’ve been unable to COMMIT and STICK TO any program for any length of time. I knew that I needed something that would allow me to eat A LOT and feel good about it, that would give me a chance to correct myself when I went off the reservation, and something simple enough that I could do it now and do it FOREVER and not have any concerns, while I was staying healthy.

Then a few weeks ago, while I was brooding over (non) weight loss in a Weight Watchers meeting, one of the people there was talking about eating pineapple, and someone else said, “But you don’t get the bromelin in the pineapple by eating it that way.”

And a light bulb went off in my head.

Thirty years ago, I had read THE BEVERLY HILLS DIET and been fascinated by the idea of food combining in order to promote proper digestion, which many people believe facilitates good health. The idea, which led to a #1 bestseller in 1981, is to begin your day with an enzymatic fruit: pineapple, papaya, mango, kiwi, strawberries and others. The fruits have marvelous properties in their enzymes which allow you to eat and lose weight, because they aid in proper digestion.

The other most important rule is NEVER to combine protein and carbohydrates, though you CAN combine protein and fat, or carbohydrates and fat (which means you can have oil on your salads, or dip your bread in olive oil). The reason for that is the enzymes needed to digest protein and carbs do not mix well; they tend to fight each other, resulting in awful digestion and eventually, disease and certainly, fat.

I had read this with great interest 30 years ago and even tried it half-heartedly. (The program began with 42 days of, pretty much, nothing but fruit.) You HAD to eat pineapple and papaya and mango, and give up EVERYTHING ELSE (though Judy Mazel, who created the program, swears she will only ask you to give up two things FOREVER: diet sodas and artificial sweeteners, because they can’t be digested at all). I actually decided to eat strawberries instead of pineapple (they also have bromelin, just not as much), and found after trying it that I couldn’t handle it, and gave it up. (Here’s the good news: I did eventually lose all the weight I wanted to–in my 20’s–and remained a size 5 for six years. But I didn’t give up junk food or learn to eat better–I kept all my bad habits intact. Still, I kept my weight down, until my late 30’s, when I had my first pregnancy. That’s when things went crazy.)

I keep a shelf full of diet books in my library (I admit I love re-reading them, because however good or bad the diets are, they’re all written with enormous optimism:  they give you hope that you can change). I went in and dug out THE BEVERLY HILLS DIET and re-read it. And then I did what I had never done when I first read the book (because I couldn’t at the time): I went on the Internet to check it out.

I learned that Judy Mazel had, alas, died in 2007 (likely from a stroke). I learned that she had in 1997 published THE NEW BEVERLY HILLS DIET, a modified version of her great program, and immediately ordered it, to see what was different about the new program. And I began to think seriously about adopting food combining as a way of life: With no food restrictions or portion control, and no food I can’t eat, as long as I plan for it–I can do this. 

The new book finally arrived, and I dug into it. The new plan was FAR less restrictive than the old one: in fact, she introduced foods beyond fruit ON THE FIRST DAY, which I found to be much easier to handle. There were several days where you could go off on your own (to prepare you for the lifetime version) and foods like pasta, popcorn, steak and shrimp in a 35-day ‘starter’ program that promised to knock pounds off you. (And if the testimonials in her book are any indication, they do–10-20 pounds in those first 35 days.)

I decided to commit to this way of life FOREVER (which means giving up my beloved Diet Cokes, though I CAN have champagne even while eating fruit, and I love it partially because it’s carbonated). And I interviewed my local produce guy, who explained how to eat a papaya and showed me where to find figs and cut-up pineapple. I spent a small fortune buying cut pineapple, strawberries, grapes, figs and apricots (full of potassium–very good for you) and this past Tuesday (because I always start a diet on Monday, and this past Monday was Labor Day), I began.

Does it work? I didn’t love eating the pineapple, but I did, all day Monday, until I got to make and eat a big salad and corn on the cob. Tuesday, I decided to skip the 8 ounces of prunes (which I loathe) and eat figs instead. After one fig, I decided I really couldn’t like them. So I went to the strawberries (after waiting an hour, as directed) and that night, I had 1 1/2 baked potatoes with butter and black pepper. (I’ll admit I dusted a little salt over the potatoes when it seemed just too dull.)

Day 3 was simple. I ate green grapes (which I love) all day long. Drank plenty of water.

Today, Day 4, is dried apricots (which I don’t like at all, but maybe that potassium is worth it) and salad and for dinner, PASTA. I’m so excited about this!

I’ve had no issues doing this, apart from one or two moments of longing, and am even prepared to do this when we’re in the middle of Irma (I’ll make sure to have enough fruit on hand!) I can have shrimp and steak on Sunday, but it’ll have to be early, because it’s supposed to start raining early in the evening.

In three days, I’ve lost more than 5 pounds. I’ve eaten my tablespoons of sesame seeds (required) every night. I haven’t taken a single antacid tablet (usually something I take every day), and I’ve slept really well (must be the calcium in the sesame seeds). I have more energy (no doubt because I’m digesting properly–FINALLY), I haven’t had a Diet Coke in four days–haven’t missed it–and I’m feeling very optimistic about the rest of the program.

Will it work forever? I don’t know. But for now, it’s working. And if I have to modify during Irma (ie, eat fruit early and then combine properly for the rest of the day after that), I will.

Be safe from Irma, everyone!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting Over

Okay, fans… or for any of you left out there.

I know it’s been (looks at watch) about 3 1/2 years since I last blogged here. Believe me, it’s not been for lack of interest, more like the fallout of literally MONTHS of exhausting book promotion that I finally decided I WAS NOT GONNA DO ANYMORE ON A FULL-TIME BASIS. I had already done SIX book blog tours in a row (promoting 3 books), multiple book signings, Twitter and Facebook posts ad nauseum, a dozen radio and TV appearances, AND committed to blog TWICE A WEEK, EVERY WEEK.

It turned out not to be possible. By late March 2014, I had simply run out of topics to write about. And I was burned out beyond belief.

But guess what?

I’m back

And since any self-respecting writer should be able to write a simple blog post at least ONCE a week without doing serious harm to him/herself, that’s what I’m committing–today–to do, once a week without fail. I may on occasion have the odd writer/guest blogger, but it won’t be often.

Yes, you’ll be hearing from l’il ole me on a regular basis again, on a variety of topics, some of which may be about writing, some of which may just be about life.

So… to catch up on 3 1/2 years’ neglect… here’s what’s been happening.

I have not published any new books since late 2013 (when I published 3 in 90 days–note to self: never do THAT again!) While REALIZING YOU and FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th Anniversary Edition are still available from their original publishers in all book venues, including Amazon and B&N, I’ve recently ended taken STEALING FIRE (originally published in July 2013) back from my publisher and look forward to re-publishing it, under my own imprint, very soon. (I hope that will happen by the end of 2017, but not sure of that at the moment.)

As usual, I have my list of ongoing projects I want to finish and publish soon, as well, including the first book of a series based on my two sons (if you can’t make money off your children, what’s the point of having them?), the first book of a limited fantasy series (six or less) for young girls, and the first book of an ongoing Y/A series set in 1950’s New York (no, I’m not kidding). Included in that list is a sequel to FORWARD TO CAMELOT set in the present and NOT including time travel this time (though I do have an idea for a 3rd book that WILL involve time travel again).

As usual, I’m indulging my love of history as well as adventure. Right now, the challenge is to write each book in less time than any previous books have taken me. (Actually, not true: Under serious deadline pressure, I once wrote an entire Y/A novel in 3 days, and another time, I finished a Y/A book in 9 days. But those, I assure you, are the exception, not the rule, though my publisher on the 3-day book called me after she’d read it to tell me that ‘at the highest levels’ of her publishing house, they loved the book. Hm… maybe they’re trying to tell me something–like WRITE FASTER!)

At this point in my life, I’m an empty nester, as my second son left for college last year (he’s now a sophomore, and my older son is in his final year at school as well). Adjusting to THAT has been interesting and challenging, and at this point, after a full year to think about it, I’m ready to make some serious changes in my life and lifestyle. This year alone, I’ve actually read through the entire Bible in 90 days (something I’ve tried unsuccessfully to do for five years–I feel very accomplished!) I’ve also committed to join a Bible study group this fall, and I’ve helped found a new writers’ group in my local area (Mount Pleasant, SC), which is growing steadily.  There’s much to be grateful for, and I am, every day! I’m also beginning a new health initiative to bring down my weight and become seriously healthier in all areas of my life.

Please wish me luck–I’ll be talking about that in the upcoming posts–and feel free to leave comments below!

Very happy to be back with you once more, and look for another post from me next week!

 

 

 

 

My Top Ten List of Things I Never Want to See in a Book I Read (recognize any?)

Let’s face it, I was a reader (and so were you) before we became writers. In fact, most of us became writers in part BECAUSE we were such devoted readers. At some point in that process, the thought occurred to us, ‘I can do this too, and I have a story I want to tell’. And that’s how we ended up here …

As part of my journey to a writer’s paycheck, I have for years read, analyzed and edited others writers’ work. On one hand, it’s a wonderful way to be reminded of what’s good in the writer’s life (and to read some terrific new work); it’s also enough, on my bad days, to make me want to run screaming from the written word – and part of that, I have to say, is because of the way others choose to write it. (Remember, if something bothers you, it’s never YOU – it’s always THEM.) 🙂

Today I’d like to talk about some of those no-nos on which I turn a firm thumbs down (2 thumbs, if I’m feeling especially ornery).  Here’s my Top Ten List of Things I Never Want to See in a Book I Read:

10.  The word ‘stated’. This is one of the toughest words to use well, because ‘stated’ implies that whatever you’re ‘stating’ has immense weight. About the only way I think it works is “Here are God’s Ten Commandments,” Moses stated. And even that is dicey. Whatever happened to plain old ‘said’?

9. Over-stating (or melodrama). The more overblown your prose, the more silly your words will sound. And if you then compound that error by writing metaphors and similes as old as the hills (there’s one), you have no one but yourself to blame if your readers put the book down. Do any of us really need to be exposed to stuff like “wrapped in a voluminous shimmer of white tulle, feeling as though the night will never end”? C’mon. There has to be a more original way to say this stuff.

8. Dialogue that goes on forever and says nothing. “What do you want to do?” “Oh, I don’t know. What do you want to do?” “I’m not sure.” “Well, what should we do?” Don’t laugh, but there are writers who have PAGES of this stuff, in which characters discuss their options and never quite make up their minds. This makes for a long, drawn-out and exhausting ride for the reader. I’m a big believer in dialogue, IF IT HAS A POINT AND IS ALSO SHOWING CHARACTER. Make your dialogue work to be included. Give us story information AND show us how the characters feel about it; dialogue should have at least two functions in order to make your final cut. And if you can write wonderful dialogue, feel free to lean on it heavily to tell your story; it’s easier for a reader’s eye to absorb than pages and pages of narrative.

7. Characters we’ve already seen somewhere else. I’m not suggesting here that if you want your romance hero to be, say, a blacksmith, that you have to check every romance novel ever written and give up if someone else has used that profession before. What I am saying is that sometimes characters have EXACTLY the same personal qualities that other characters you’ve written or someone else has written already has. Do we really need more romance heroes with chiseled features, staunch independence, a maverick streak and a tough-but-tender persona? (I know I have NO CHANCE of persuading you of changing this, because that’s what sells – sigh – but it gets SOOOO old after awhile.) For the record, my favorite author actually did this all the time – but he did it cleverly. Dick Francis essentially wrote the same hero over and over again — smart, strong, courageous, someone who took quick action and defended those who were weak. BUT – he mixed up their backgrounds, their professions, their interests, etc. So while the heroes all definitely had qualities in common, they were so well drawn, and seemed like such individuals, that nobody cared.

6.  Cardboard characters. This is usually a result of an author not asking enough questions to draw the character distinctly in his or her mind before writing him. Don’t go with the easy answers on character questions; usually it means you’re copying someone else, even if you can’t recall whom.  You can have two characters who are strong, brave, romantic, etc. – but one can be cardboard and the other can be breathing and real. Judith McNaught did this very well in her historical novels.  Sure, they were mid-list romance novels, but the heroes had had enough worldly experience that they had become cynical through exposure to the wrong people. Their first instinct now is to mistrust any women they meet who seem guileless and innocent, and as the twists and turns of the plot unfold, they genuinely decide at some point that they were right; the girl they love is not who she seemed to be, and they’re right in mistrusting her. (I’ll also admit that Ms. McNaught is guilty of #7 – she writes the same people over and over – but frankly, there’s so much dimension in her stories that I tend to overlook it. Shoot me.)

5. The easy ending. Easy endings aren’t satisfying endings. This one is a mistake usually made by a new writer, who either runs out of invention or decides his characters have suffered enough and throws in something ridiculous and coincidental to make things turn out okay by page 300. The point of any story is to have the hero or heroine face a challenge and have to WORK (and change internally) in order to overcome the challenge and achieve their goal. If you make it easy, you also make it unnecessary for the hero to change – and without that, there is no satisfying story. Put up a high wall, not a low one. Make your hero work.

4. The straw villain. This is related to #5–having a villain it’s easy to defeat makes life very easy for the hero, and makes the story not worth reading. C’mon, make that hero sweat! (That’s how we know he’s a hero worth rooting for.) Your bad guys – whether it’s a blizzard, a group of drunken Cossacks or the landlord about to evict – have to be formidable. They don’t all have to be wielding swords, but they absolutely have to hold a significant threat for the hero, something he’ll have to work like crazy to overcome.  You build character (in your children and your fictional characters) if you make them face real challenges. Make your bad guy REALLY bad.

3. Horrible (or no) editing. I side firmly with Stephen King here: I think if you’re a writer, part of knowing your craft is knowing how to spell and punctuate, and which usage is correct. When you turn in a draft, it should have been spell-checked and gone over meticulously (and yes, I mean every word). Every good writer I know does it, even if it means going through the same manuscript ten times during the final editing and production. Hire an editor, if you can, before your book goes out to a publisher, and know that a traditional publisher will bring in an editor as well. Be open to what they tell you, including suggestions for word changes because yours are wrong. DON’T take the attitude that you’re a creative person and therefore not bound to silly rules as lesser beings should be. If your book goes out over your name, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE. Do you want people to notice you for being a brilliant storyteller–or put the book down because they can hardly understand what you’re saying, your usage and grammar are so atrocious? If you don’t know this stuff, pick up a style book and learn it. Authors learn what they need to know in order to put out a superior product.

Before my books go to my publisher, I’ve edited and re-edited, spell-checked and sometimes brought in my own editor. Then my publisher brings in an editor. Once I’ve dealt with their notes, the formatting and typesetting begin, and the publishers look to catch more errors. THEN I ask for the book back, to do my own final check–and I inevitably find more errors we all missed. It’s my last chance to go through it again, for which I’m always grateful. Be prepared for this; it’s not fun, but it’s part of the writing life.

2. Sloppy research. I’m treading lightly here, because I have myself made some errors of fact (fortunately just a few and most of them were totally hidden in the story). But I don’t like getting things wrong historically; it’s too easy for someone to step forward and pull the curtain on our ignorance. Unless your story has a reason for mixing up historical facts, and that’s part of the style of the story, don’t do it.  I love reading historical stuff (fiction and non) and look forward to learning when I do. So when an author says Bonnie & Clyde died in 1936 (uh, no – they were killed in 1934) or Henry VIII had 7 wives, I see red. Get your facts right, ok? (That said, Kevin Finn and I have a doozy of an error in our novel, FORWARD TO CAMELOT, which we only learned of after the original edition had been published in 2003. But because it’s an error that drives our plot, we dealt with it by keeping it and then writing an Afterword in the new version, FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th Anniversary Edition. ) On the other hand, the original edition had about 6 small errors of fact that we fixed in the new edition. This pleases me; I do NOT like getting caught in an error of fact. Writers should be able to get the research right!

1. TYPOS!!!! Sorry, while I do sympathize with how hard it is to get them all, I think you should make every effort to keep typos to the absolute minimum. It’s sloppy, it’s unprofessional and it brands YOU as not a very serious writer when you let them slip through. Remember always that YOUR name is on the book; is that how you want to present yourself? (Would you go to a job interview without ironing your shirt?) For a lot of readers, the book they’re holding (or reading on an eReader) is their first introduction to you. If you sprinkle enough typos throughout the story, it will be the last time they read your stuff.

Sophisticated readers welcome good new writers and will often read and review them again and again (which is great–a built-in cheering section!) If you put them off with bad grammar and spelling, sloppy usage, awful formatting and a mass of typos, don’t count on their being in your corner again.  You’ll have branded yourself, all right — and it won’t be a brand you’ll enjoy carrying.

What are YOUR Top 10?

Look for a JFK-related post from me on Thursday, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his assassination, which I’ll be doing for the next two months.

Now back to the keyboard, and watch those typos …

The OTHER Side of the Writing Life

Hello again, and welcome back to the writing life. And I want you to know that while no, I haven’t written a blog post here for awhile, and no, I also have to admit I haven’t done any further work on an upcoming novel, I HAVE BEEN WRITING EVERY DAY. Isn’t that what Billy Crystal said in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN (anyone remember that movie?) “Writers write every day.”

I have been, Billy, I swear I have been.

What have I been writing?

Well, a variety of things, and they’re all related to the production or promotion of my two latest novels, STEALING FIRE and FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION. STEALING FIRE is now available on Amazon and Smashwords (http://www.amazon.com/Stealing-Fire-Susan-Sloate/dp/1935970127/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1375543928&sr=8-1) and will be published officially on August 31st. CAMELOT will be published on October 31st.

So in no particular order, here’s what I’ve been writing (steadily) for the last 2 months:

1) EDITS. When I finished with the final minute editing details of STEALING FIRE (and there were hundreds, which involved going through the entire manuscript at least 3 times, line by line), I went on to more edits on FORWARD TO CAMELOT, which Kevin Finn and I wrote and published 10 years ago. CAMELOT is about a third longer than STEALING FIRE, and going through it word by word was quite a chore. Ask Kevin. He went through it too, and now our publisher is going through it for formatting and typesetting. What made me happiest about editing CAMELOT, apart from cutting the word count down by 4,000 words, is that I also got to correct some historical errors I’d had to live with in the novel for 10 years, and which made me wince every time I saw them. Bonus: in the process, I found one error I hadn’t even realized was there, and fixed that one, too. (Fortunately, NO ONE has caught or seen these errors, but knowing they were there always bothered me.) Now I don’t have to live with them anymore. Yeah!

2) ESSAYS. Since CAMELOT is being re-published, I thought it would be fun to write a short Afterward to give readers an idea of our experience as authors with CAMELOT and its previous readers. This is entirely new, and included our chagrin at learning, after the book had been out for four or five years, the truth about the MacGuffin on which our plot turned–the Bible owned by JFK that was used to swear in Lyndon Johnson as president on November 22, 1963 and which disappeared immediately afterward, according to William Manchester, author of DEATH OF A PRESIDENT. Turns out it had NEVER BEEN MISSING. It wasn’t where we had expected it to be–and we did conscientiously go looking for it–but would never have guessed it to be where it is now. (Don’t worry; we tell you in the Afterward where it is.)

3) PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL. Since CAMELOT was originally published, the world of publishing–and publishing promotion–has turned upside down, and what was unheard of in 2003 has become commonplace in 2013. Facebook didn’t exist in 2003, nor did Twitter, or LinkedIn or Google +. Now, you can’t have a writing career without them. Having an online presence is more important, and varied, than ever, and it’s not just about having your own website: Amazon’s Author Central is a fabulous place to consolidate all the pieces of your promotional arsenal in one place, on a website that gets more daily hits than probably any other on the planet (you can find me there at http://amazon.com/author/susansloate, if you’re interested). In addition, the VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR has become the weapon of choice for a lot of authors, allowing us global reach via tour companies who link our books up with blogs which get lots of traffic and are aimed squarely at our target audience. You want to talk about saving shoe leather? Whew!

I’m booked for four virtual book tours, back to back, which will run from September and October (for STEALING FIRE) to November – January (for CAMELOT). What that means for me is, the tour operators send me requests for material from each blog that will host me for a day, and that material varies: some blogs want a short blog post, others send interview questions they want answered, which will be posted, along with my book cover, author photo, book blurb and bio, on their site the day I ‘visit’ them on the tour. Each interview or blog post must be original and tailored to the individual blog, and alas, brevity is not my long suit. I’ve found that my answers to 8 or 10 interview questions run typically around 2,000 words. I hope it’s entertaining for the blog site visitors, but it takes time.

I don’t mind it. Mostly, it’s fun, and I think I’m helping the books by trying to be engaging and entertaining (and in the case of writers’ blogs, helpful with writing advice). Fortunately, the writing I’m doing now will be done, for the most part, by late August or early September, and all I’ll have to do during the tour is stop by each site several times during the day to respond to comments from readers. I’m told it’s a fabulous way of starting buzz about the books, and I’m looking forward to the whole experience. I’ll post my tour schedule for STEALING FIRE once it’s finalized, and hope you’ll drop by and see me at least once!

4) UPDATES. Having an online presence means keeping it updated regularly, and in my case, that hasn’t happened for awhile (as I haven’t published a new book for awhile). SO…update Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon Author Central, and completely revamp my website. Some are finished; some are in process. All will be completed by the end of August. But writing and posting new material for all those sites, plus joining new sites and posting original content there, takes time that I think will eventually pay dividends: readers need to know who you are NOW. And I haven’t ‘gotten current’ with my online presence in some time. It’s a little like spring cleaning, and it’s just as good for you.

This is part of the writing life too, even if I’m not currently adding new pages to my next project.  Maybe next year, when I’m smart enough to be publishing only one book at a time (!), I’ll be able to turn in a manuscript to my publisher and immediately turn to the next work in progress. This year it just hasn’t happened, but it doesn’t worry me. This has been a seminal year in my career, and it needed more preparation than any other year. My plan for the month of August is to complete production on CAMELOT and finish the promotional plans for both books, update my website (in the process now) and turn in the rest of the requested material for my tours. In September, while promoting STEALING FIRE, I’ll go back to work on the next book. (I spent part of this week looking over the manuscript and chapter notes, to begin preparing myself.) Not sure what month next year that book will be published, but I should have a finished draft by the end of the year and spend the early months of 2014 rewriting and polishing.

Meanwhile, though, give me some credit: I HAVE been writing every day. I’ve  also been living other parts of the writer’s life: photo shoot with photographer Vicki Faith for my new author photo (which is posted here, on Twitter and on my Amazon Author Central page); hiring a PA to assist with promotion (I’ll keep you posted); reviewing book covers for THREE books (the third, REALIZING YOU with Ron Doades, will be out this fall); writing bio material and book blurbs. And you know what? On some level, it’s all fun. Either way, it’s part of the life; I might as well enjoy it.

Maybe the biggest thrill so far came last week, when I received the proof copy of STEALING FIRE in the mail on Monday, and a copy of REALIZING YOU on Friday. They’re beautiful, and they look just as I hoped they would. Holding those in your hands makes you realize that there IS a reason for all the crazy stuff you’re doing and the hours after midnight when you’re still on email, and the thousand times you re-read the same lines looking for errors and cutting for clarity.

And that’s the reason, I’m sure, that while eBooks continue to gain in popularity (I love ’em too), we’ll never entirely cut out physical book publishing. Being able to hold that achievement in your hands is a miracle, something you just can’t experience with an eBook, and speaking for this writer, anyway, I’m not willing to give that up.

Hope YOUR writing life is going well–

Talk again real soon.