Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weeds in the Garden of Happiness

In The Running Dream, Jessica talks about her ‘garden of worthiness’ and how difficult it is to keep weeds out of it. This has to do with her losing a leg and feeling that the boy she likes—or any boy, for that matter—could never fall in love with her because of her handicap.

It occurred to me today that weeds also spring up quickly in one’s garden of happiness—that you have to be willing to tend to your happiness—to stay on top of it—or craggy weeds will crop up and take over.

Have you ever noticed that about weeds? They grow so fast. And really, they take no encouragement whatsoever. One day there’s a little sprig (which you probably don’t think you have to pull out right then), and the next time you look it’s sucked the nutrients right out of the soil and become an ugly, spiky-leaved monster of a plant, choking out your delicate flowers.

Being happy requires work. It’s not something you just are. It’s something you work toward. Something you fight for. Something that needs to be maintained. It is really easy to let the negative infiltrate the positive. Keeping negativity out requires due diligence, and a willingness to be resented.

After all, misery loves company.

We grow up hearing the term ‘success’ used to describe people who have reached a certain level of status in their field, or a certain level of cha-ching in their bank account. And those things may be a measure of success in the traditional sense, but I think viewing things that way misrepresents what success really is.

I think success should be measured by your degree of happiness. So no matter what you do or how much or little money you have, if you are happy, you are successful. (This, of course, has nothing to do with people who are suffering from clinical depression or a chemical imbalance or some emotional trauma or whatnot.)

The interesting revelation I had this week was that if I had to explain what made me happy, I would start with my family—my husband, my kids….then I would say playing racquetball! Playing in the band! Going down the water slides!

But that really, those are just little rushes. What makes me happy at the end of each day is knowing that I made someone else happy. Knowing that I did something—no matter how small—that made the world a better place. I like looking back on my day and feeling that it was an honorable one—one where I was kind and compassionate and that I appreciated the gift of this day of living and the good things and people in it.

An old friend sent around this quote: “There comes a time in life, when you walk away from all the drama & people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh, forget the bad, & focus on the good. So, love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who don't. Life is too short to be anything but happy.”

That sums it up pretty nicely, I think. It’s sometimes hard to face the fact that there are things in life we just can’t change, but when we do, it frees us. That craggy, spiky-leafed plant is never gonna bloom, no matter how much we may wish it would.

So stop wishing.

Go weed your garden.

There’s nothing wrong with being happy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Night of Skulls Art

Hi! Thanks for checking in. I was hoping to have some art info for you about Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls, and ta-da! Here we go.

I received dust jackets in the mail along with some other items (like fan mail that continues to pile up in my drawer--I really need to take a few days and answer it, but it's a major undertaking and I have a book due in May so aaaaargh!)

Anyway, I had seen the preliminary sketch of the jacket and really liked it. Right away you know it's definitely a Sammy Keyes book, but the wedged sections are a nice switch from the usual rectangular divisions.

What didn't quite resonate with me was the color scheme. Night of Skulls is definitely a Halloween story and it seemed this color scheme was more Fourth of July-ish. But there they were--finished jackets. And since I do NOT like to quibble about the small stuff, and since I know art is one of those touchy areas, I considered saying nothing about it. But since the book doesn't come out for another 6 or 7 months, I decided to ask Nancy if it was possible to switch the color scheme to orange and purple on the on the off chance that it wasn't too late. And ta-da! Just like that it's orange and purple.
I know this is short, but that's all for tonight. Unfortunately I spent WAY too much time trying to get these images transferred, loaded and formatted. (Does anyone know how to position art next to text in Blogger--it's driving me batty!) I'd love to hear your thoughts on the new cover. See you soon!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Anything's Better Than Nothing

Hi. Mark here, subbing for my darling Wendelin because she’s in the middle of dealing with Justice Jack, and hey—you know how it can go with those sorta-loser guys.

It seems like we humans can tend to set ourselves up for failure before we even start a new endeavor, because we feel like everything’s an all-or-nothing proposition, and somehow there’s something wrong with taking what’s referred to in corporate circles as a “graded approach”. (Code for doing something “good enough”, rather than close-to-perfect.) This can be problematic for productive/creative types. Like, say… writers and runners.

Let’s take running. (And running can be a metaphor for any activity in your life that you do because it’s both ‘good for you’ and makes you feel good.) Runners tend to follow a routine. Frequently a highly-structured routine, involving a written training program. (Talk to a guy who’s in his third month of a marathon training program. “Hey Steve, wanna go see that great new movie tonight?” “Love to, but I can’t. I have to do 17 miles at 10-K race pace +60 sec per mile. 800-meter intervals on Tuesday, lactate threshold run on Wednesday, and hill repeats on Thursday. But I start my taper in five weeks—I think I have a free hour then.”) And they frequently feel that they’re a failure if they miss or modify even a single day of the program. What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh, I get the need to follow the program. Believe me, I do. Left to my own devices, I’ll run six days a week. Happily. (Yeah, I’ve been to those 12-step meetings. You know—the ones where you walk into the meeting in the church basement and everyone’s sitting on folding chairs arranged in a circle. They go around the group, and when they get to me I raise my hand and say, “Hi, I’m Mark. And… I’m a runner.” And all these skinny guys and girls in their Asics and finisher’s T-shirts smile and say in unison, “Hi, Mark!”)
So I understand the need for structure. But real life does NOT leave us to our own devices. It has plans of its own, and they sometimes don’t take into account our own plans. This is when you have to step back and re-assess. Take a deep breath and say it with me: anything’s better than nothing.

As an example, both Wendelin and I have been very busy lately, with work-related stuff. So much so that, for the first time in memory, I’m relegated to running only on weekends, for the most part. Is this optimum? No. Would this be what I’d choose, in that elusive ‘perfect world’ we hear so much about but never see? No. But, should I feel like a sorta-loser guy because I’m running two days a week instead of, say, five? Well, I shouldn’t, but the truth is, sometimes I do. Sorta. So as an antidote, instead of beating myself up for what I’m not doing, I try to consciously give myself credit for what I am doing. I tell myself, “Good for you… at least you did something!” Because (say it with me) anything’s better than nothing.

Same deal with writing. In that Fictional World of Loving Perfection, we’d sit down every single day and crank out our one-to-three thousand words of absolutely brilliant prose. Before lunch. And looking darned good doing it, too. Well, not me. Not today. Today life intruded and I hit a grand total of 243 words. (I know, because I just checked. And because I know you’re thinking it, I also checked and it turns out that I’ve already written over 600 words on this blog entry. And in significantly less time, believe me. Which tells you something about the nature of blogging vs. writing fiction. But that’s a subject for another time…)

Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s real value in writing on a regularly scheduled basis—keeps your head in the story, so you don’t have to re-familiarize yourself with your characters every time you jump back into it. But far more important is to do something—anything—rather than sit there and bemoan the fact that you have to try and cram your writing (or whatever your particular creative outlet is) in between all the chores of daily life.

Consider—many people have zero creative output. And get zero exercise. Don’t let yourself be one of them simply because you don’t have the time to do an “A” job of everything. Every single sentence you write, and every single minute you get your heart into its target range, is good for you.

So take it easy on yourself. Allow yourself to take that graded approach. Sometimes a B+… or maybe even a solid “C”… really is Good Enough.

Because really, anything is better than nothing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Author Magazine

When I was a kid I thought authors were either really, really old, or dead. And since I had zero interest in being either of those, I had zero interest in becoming an author. Had any of my schools had an Author Day program, I'm sure my perception would have changed radically, but I didn't meet any authors at all until after my first book came out.

The Internet was also not ubiquitous back then, so the closest you could get to an author was the little mug shot at the back of the book…if there was on there.

And if there was, it certainly looked like someone really, really old (as most adults do when you’re a kid), and like it was taken a really, really long time ago (who would ever wear their hair like that?), and oddly posed (what’s with the hand under the chin thing? Do all authors have weak necks in need of support? Are their brains that heavy?).

So no, meeting or becoming an author was not on my wish list.

It’s amazing how times have changed—not just for me and my perceptions, but for what’s available as resources.

For those of you who are aspiring authors, or just have authors you wish to meet someday, I have good news for you: There’s a website of author interviews (mostly video interviews) that I discovered in January when I was in Seattle on book tour for The Running Dream. The host, Bill Kenower, interviewed me for “Author Magazine” an online source for writers (or people interested in authors) who want to get information about the writing process from the people who have been successfully published.

And here is a link to a list of links to other authors archived on the site. (Among the authors you’ll find the likes of Nora Ephron, Louis Sacar, Henry Winkler, Ridley Pearson, and Polly Horvath…it’s very cool!)

That’s all for this week – I hope you enjoy the links. (And I hope there are some not-so-old and very much alive authors you’re excited to see there!) As Bill Kenower would say, Enjoy!