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Archive for the Category »Random Rants On Writing «

Find Your Story

I once had a writing teacher bring an old, muddy, scuffed-up boot to class where she plopped it down on her desk and said, “There’s a story in there somewhere. Start writing.” She sat down at her desk, and we went to work.

It’s been a good twenty years since that classroom and that boot, but the lesson was learned. There are stories surrounding us every day, everywhere we go, in everything we see. There is a story in the nail technician with chipped, cracked fingernails on her own hands. There is a story in the woman wiping tears from her eyes as she moves forward through traffic in her car. There is a story in the man who pulls into the driveway of a house after a long and grueling day at work only to remember that he hasn’t lived there since the divorce. I see stories in everything: in a smile, in a glance, in a snippet of overheard conversation. The ones I go after and dig deeper to unearth are the ones that usually have the most character–like the muddy boot. I want a story that’s been through something and is going somewhere.

I want a story that can walk over difficult terrain and climb mountains.

Recently,  I’ve come across a letter from my great, great aunt to my great uncle. I need to write the story found within for several reasons:

It’s my family history. It’s heart achingly real. And the story has feet wearing incredibly worn and muddy boots.

When I do school visits and other presentations, I am almost always asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer is always the same: “There’s a story in there somewhere.” And by there “there” I mean everywhere.

So if you are in a creative slump, go out and find what kinds of stories you want to tell. What holds your interest? What makes you happy? What fills your creative well? Here are some exercises I do when it seems I can’t see the story through the mud.

  • Appreciate art. I am always inspired by someone else’s artwork. Kevin Wasden has been a tremendous resource and friend to my creativity over the years.
  • Find emotion. I need to have something that strikes an emotional chord. If I’m not feeling the love, neither is my reader.
  • Read. I get great ideas from reading, and usually those ideas have nothing to do with what I’m actually reading. It goes back to the art thing. I believe art begets art.
  • Listen. Everyone has a story–much like those old boots. Everyone has a past and a moment where they were either amazingly heroic or horrifically villainous. Listen to people. Besides, people are important and deserved to be listened to. My parents have excellent stories–some they would mind a great deal if I shared to my reading audience and others that they are happy to share. Tap your family resource (you know, without alienating that family).
  • Eavesdrop. This is a wee bit different from listening because you don’t want people to know you’re listening because it would maybe look creepy and stalker-ish.
  • Get back to work. Yes, work. Writing isn’t always fun, and sometimes you have to slug through the muddy words to get to the boot. Sometimes you have to look yourself in the eye in the mirror and say, “There’s a story in there somewhere.”

Because there *is* a story in you.

Comic Con 2014 report

Attending Comic Con 2014 turned out to be a marvelous investment of time. My kids have all wanted to go since last year’s event and have been pestering me to make sure it happened, so when I was given the opportunity to be a presenter, have a booth, AND attend, all my previous arguments over how Salt Lake is so far away melted, and we loaded up the car and went.

I asked my friends on Facebook if I should dress up in a costume or go as a serious, professional author. One of my friends, Bruce Eschler, said that I should dress up as Jane Austen. That way I could go in costume AND be a professional author.

Does it surprise anyone that I actually own a regency gown? No? And this is why I love you people. So I dressed up as Jane and took her on a tour of Comic Con. Jane had many experiences:

Being abducted by a mad man in a blue box would certainly be traumatizing enough for any upstanding British author, but then to be dropped into a sea of fifty thousand science fiction and fantasy fans? Let’s just say that poor Jane felt a tad bit overwhelmed.

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But she made friends fast and managed to snag herself a badge so she didn’t get kicked out. She especially enjoyed the princess party with kindred spirits!

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Things were going well enough until she ran into a little Troll Trouble.

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She wanted to go home after that, and some kid in a contraption called a Delorean offered her a ride home, but she ended up in some place called Hill Valley where things felt as dangerous as they did with the troll. That will simply not do at all.

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And then she met a cheeky little fellow who referred to her as his “precious.” Oh the mortification of it all!

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She was able to speak on a few writing panels discussing things like creating strong women in fiction, writing for youth, and making time in life for creativity and art. She had to work with the very incredible distraction of the emergency alert telling everyone to exit the building  because some prankster pulled the fire alarm. But the distraction proved to be a wonderful real-life example of working through, and around, distractions. She loved the metaphor of it all. She met up with some lovely people, but ultimately decided she might be better off in her own time. The mad man in the blue box was too busy to give her a lift back to her home, but he introduced her to a lovely weeping angel who offered to send her back in time.

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Comic Con was a blast. So many people had elaborate costumes that were simply stunning (such as the weeping angel). And it really was great to reconnect with so many of my friends and meet readers. My booth was great! I was able to do some magic tricks and sign a lot of books (which is always nice). And even better, my kids were able to have a FABULOUS time wandering the floor and seeing the sights. We had a blast, spent a lot, and went home exhausted. We are definitely going next year!

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Comic Con Fun

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I am privileged to speak at Comic Con and am so excited!  The panels I will be speaking on are:

 

Writing & Illustrating Books and Comics for Kids. Friday, September 5th, 6:00 pm.

 

Making Your Female Character Strong Without Turning Her Into a Fighting Machine. Saturday, September 6th,11:00 am.

 

Structuring Life to Support Creativity. Saturday, September 6th, 5:00 pm.

 

I will also be signing Spell Check and Hazzardous Universe at the Artist’s Alley throughout the whole weekend so if you are planning on being at the con (and let’s be honest, most the cool people WILL be at Comic Con if they can help it), please come visit me and say hi! And if you aren’t going to be there, you should reconsider; a world where the Tardis, a frozen Han Solo, and Studio C are going to be hanging out is definitely the place you want to be!

I love Dr. Who. And yes, I will be watching the new season premiere with the new Doctor tonight at 8. I can also be considered a rabid fan of Once Upon a Time. Emma Swan is my hero. She’s one of those strong female characters who doesn’t have to be a fighting machine.

What’s your favorite nerdy love?

What Will You Do When the Buzzer Sounds?

So many of us have greatness in us, things that we can do and do well, areas where we shine. Yet so few of us are willing to step up on the stage and share our gifts and talents.

Because it’s terrifying to take that first shaky step. And it’s scary to take the second and third as well. And the real kick in the head is that it doesn’t get less frightening with every step. The hundredth and thousandth are as hard as the first.

While you contemplate the great things you can do, watch this video. it’s worth the watch, and I promise I’ll wait.

Simon pushed the reject button early. And did you see the look on the faces of those two dancers. They were horrified for a brief second and a little irritated to be interrupted, but the fire in their eyes was unmistakable. The gauntlet had been thrown; they accepted the challenge and KEPT DANCING.

I’m a writer. It feels like my entire world is riddled with the red buzzer of rejection. It was there when I was trying to be published for the first time, when I was tying to get an agent, whenever someone leaves a bludgeoning review on Goodreads. A lot of my friends are at various stages in their writing careers as well. Some are just beginning to pen words down on pages. Some are beginning to submit to agents and editors. Several others are New York Times bestsellers, and some have movies being made of their books.

No matter where any of my friends are at in their career, they are facing the minefield of red buzzers, terrified to take that first, second, or hundredth step for fear of one little, red buzzer blowing up their dreams. I’ve seen a lot of good writers startle at the sound of a buzzer–startle, freeze, and then walk away even as their music changes tempo and the exciting stuff is about to begin. I’ve been one of those who startled and froze (one time I froze for a whole year).

But the buzzer doesn’t change what we can do well. We don’t magically become less worthy with that horrible noise. We only become distracted. We only become doubtful. The best way to overcome the doubt and distraction is to Keep Dancing.

Or painting, or singing, or adding up incredible sums of numbers that when configured a certain way is the gateway to time travel. Or in my case . . . to Keep Writing. Whatever your super power is, remember that a buzzer can not define your worth–especially when the exciting bit is about to begin.

Because you never know when someone else is about to push the golden buzzer.

Spell Check

Spell Check

Spell Check

 

When it rains, it pours. Yes, I do happen to have two books releasing today. What are the chances? Apparently, pretty high. Crazy, but exciting. Having two books celebrating birthdays must mean that I’ve been busy. Tying the Knot and Spell Check, welcome to the world!

These two books are so entirely opposite in tone and content that it makes them having the same birthday fun–kind of like fraternal twins. They have parents in common and birthdays in common, but all similarities end there. Tying the Knot is the last of the Newport Ladies Book Club series. From inception to completion, it’s been a five year journey. This is the book that gives the rest of the story for each woman. The title is appropriate because a lot of loose ends will find their way tied up. It is so much fun! Just wow that we’re here. I love the ladies I wrote this series with and am in awe of their talent and hard work. It’s been an honor to work with Josi Kilpack, Heather Moore, and Annette Lyon. To celebrate we have a fun contest going with GREAT giveaways. Sign up now!

My second release is Spell Check: a young adult fantasy/romance filled with magic and mayhem–spanning the world from the United States, to the Amazon jungle, to Sweden. Oddly, I started writing Spell Check at the same time Josi and I discussed the details of writing The Newport Ladies Book Club series. Yes, folks, it really does take five years for things to happen . . . apparently. I did an interview with Jessica Day George on her blog while writing Spell Check. If it weren’t for that interview I wouldn’t have remembered when this book was started. So nice that the internet keeps track of my life for me. It’s like a really big journal.  To celebrate Spell Check’s birthday along with the birthday of our great nation, This will be a FREEdom weekend. The Kindle version of Spell Check is free both Friday and Saturday on Amazon. Make sure to get it while it is at a deal that can’t be beat!

And now . . . presenting . . .

SPELL CHECK

A skeleton is rattling its way out of the closet marked “FAMILY SECRET! KEEP OUT!”

Allyson Peterson believes that being hanged by the

Salem High Witches is the absolute worst thing that can happen. But when her powers, wrested from the trolls of ancient Sweden, manifest themselves, she realizes that a prank hanging by vindictive cheerleaders is the least of her worries.

Ally accidentally sends her parents to the jungle to fight anacondas, turns her brother into a mute, and curses the entire cheerleading team with an illness that has no cure, proving that her spells need a little checking. Her Swedish grandmother shows up to help her through the worst part of all—surviving the Troll Trials and saving the guy of her dreams from a vengeance that has festered through-out generations.

The power is in her, if she can just get the magic right.

Spell Check is an impossible-to-put-down, topsy-turvy adventure with fun, romance, and fabulous characters.”

–Heather B. Moore, USA Today bestselling author

 

Defending Genre

So, I made a decision to go back to school–finish what I started all those years ago and all that. There is a long list of convoluted reasons for my actions, but the why isn’t the important thing here. The important thing is the what.  English is the what.  I decided to major in English. It made sense since most of my credits were already allotted to that discipline. I started the endeavor feeling particularly excited to enter this world  of likeminded individuals–until I realized that they weren’t all as likeminded as I’d imagined.

I’m a fiction writer. Apparently I imagine too much.

I needed a few days off class so I could speak at a science fiction and fantasy symposium and took the opportunity to discuss my class absence with my professor. It was the first time I’d mentioned anything about being a professional author. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but usually when people find out what I do for my day job, they are usually excited about it. Okay fine, I do mean to sound arrogant. I make books, and it’s freaking awesome. I make a living doing what I love. And not that I expected her to bow or ask for my autograph or anything, but she acted like I’d opened up a can of lutefisk on her desk. She gave me “permission” to go, which is hilarious. I am 42 years old (the meaning of life the universe and everything thank-you-very-much). I am a professional writer and public speaker. And college is something I PAID to do, which technically makes me my professor’s boss. Permission or not, I was going. I’d already committed to speak at this conference, and my word means something. But as I was gathering up my laptop, my professor said, “There’s a place for science fiction and fantasy in literature, I suppose. It’s a safe environment for a person to escape reality.”

Yeah, I wish I was making that up. She really said that. To my face. After I’d already told her I WROTE science fiction and fantasy. She probably would have slapped my forehead and screamed, “Demons be gone!” if she found out I wrote fractured fairytales and romance as well.

Science fiction and fantasy are somehow supposed to be the equivalent of safe?

Totally ticked off, I SEETHED over her flippancy throughout my entire conference and then, in par with the idea of the writer always getting the last word, I wrote my research paper on why genre fiction is as important, if not MORE important, to society as literary fiction. Of course my paper started off with examples of so-called literary fiction that started as genre fiction. The Bard wrote about witches, romance, fairies, and ghosts. Charles Dickens wrote about time travel and ghosts. Mary Shelley created the Frankenstein who created the monster (an interesting aside, Mary Shelley was married to Percy Shelley. Who had better staying power? The novelist who wrote about monsters, or the poet who wrote self-inflated literature?). Don’t get me wrong. I actually love a great many literary works. I’m a fairly eclectic reader: from Dr. Seuss to Shakespeare and all the stuff in between. I just don’t buy into the star-bellied-sneetches approach of one discipline or genre being better than another.

Interestingly, genre fiction is important to society because when children enjoy reading they put out the effort to learn how to be good at it. Did you know they can predict how many prisons they will need in the future based on how many ten and eleven year olds can’t read? Kids who are not given the freedom to choose their own literary tastes are far less motivated to practice reading and are more likely to drop out of school than kids who developed an early love of reading FOR FUN. Kids who read for fun grow up learning greater empathy and have better relationships than those who don’t.

Much of today’s technology began in science fiction books and movies. Kids who stayed up late reading “nerdy” books are now driving the world into the future, making their favorite fictional stories a working reality.

But forgetting even the importance of literacy and technology and overcrowded prisons and all of THAT.

She called science fiction and fantasy safe?

Right. Characters dealing with apocalyptic environments, wars, betrayal, death, loss of innocence, fighting for humanity–and not just the life of humanity, but the inside parts that make us human, the honor, love, respect, joy of being a person. I said I was defending genre fiction, but really, genre fiction is the defender of our humanity. Neil Gaiman quoted GK Chesterman in his book Coraline: “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Part of being human is being afraid of the shadows lurking beneath the bed, the clawed fingers slipping through the cracked-open door, and the dragons–both real and imaginary–casting shadows on our lives. But the greatest part of being human is shedding light on those shadows, closing the doors on those clawed fingers, and slaying those dragons.

Genre fiction is not safe. But because it empowers us to face our real lives, it makes the real world a safer place to live.

LTUE 2014

“Use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because a copy cat always will be declawed!”

I have been attending the LTUE fantasy and science fiction symposium for well over a decade. I attended my very first LTUE with James Dashner. We were both so new as authors, so intimidated and awed by everyone else.  A lot has happened since then, what with James becoming JAMES and me having just published my ninth novel, but I confess . . . there still is a good amount of awe to be had.

Some fun bits of advice I gleaned from my peers while speaking with them on panels and while hovering in the background of their classes as well as from my own personal experience:

  1. Never trust people you only met yesterday with embarrassing information when they will be speaking on a panel with you and will have access to the microphone *cough cough Peter Orullian!* (that might literally be the first time I’ve ever blushed)
  2. Just because you are up to date with the TV series Once Upon a Time, doesn’t mean everyone else is. Refrain from revealing spoilers, such as certain characters getting killed off, just because you have a point about how well written that particular scene was. The collective gasp of several hundred people nearly knocked me off the dais. I am sure I will receive hate mail. I am *so* sorry!
  3. A real hero makes sacrifices–Peter Orullian (who I’m quoting even though he isn’t to be trusted)
  4. Heroism has a sliding scale from little sacrifices to life altering sacrifices–Robison Wells
  5. Make sure your characters are individuals. Your twenty year old hooker will have  different speech patterns, diction, tones from your forty year old housewife.
  6. The difference between a hero and a protagonist is that the protagonist is the point of view, but the hero is the guy who gets the job done. They can be the same person, but they don’t have to be.
  7. Every novel is an act of faith–Larry Correia
  8. The most interesting character is usually the guy who has the most to lose.
  9. Making new friends is the point of conferences for writers. Hi Chad Morris! Oh, I guess hello to you too, Peter . . . 😉
  10. And connecting with old friends is like the sigh of relief that comes at the end of a very busy and stressful week. It was so good to see my dear friend Lee Modesitt. I’ve really missed that guy. I didn’t get to say hi to everyone or really talk to everyone the way I would like, but I so loved seeing you all.
  11. Sleep well before conference and plan on good sleep after conference. Do not plan on sleeping during the conference. Because if you’re sharing a hotel room with Amber Argyle and Krista Jensen, you will giggle until 4 am and end up dragging your barely warmed over corpse to the panels where you’re speaking the next morning (which might account for the lack of judgment on confessions to new friends)
  12. Jeff Savage is my hero because he uplifts everyone he comes in contact with. I wish I had that kind of personality.

The highlight of my symposium was going to lunch with Larry Correia and hearing him order a “sensuous sandwich” and then hearing him giggle like a ten year old girl. If you know Larry, you know why that’s adorable.

Do Over

I have been writing for most of my life. I started my first novel when I was fifteen. Obviously there has to be a learning curve when you’re starting out so young. It took several years to find my writer’s voice, but before that actually happened I had two books published traditionally with a small niche publisher. The books did well and were best sellers in their particular spheres, and I really doubt I would have continued to write if those first few stepping stones hadn’t been placed before me.

But I grew as an author, finally found my voice, my style, and worked on the craft. I took classes, attended conferences, and read books on writing books. I was picked up by a much larger publisher and my career became something respectable. The problem was that those first two fledgling attempts at novel writing were still out there. I’d grown. I was better than that original author, and I cringed when people told me they read one of my first two books.

It was a beautiful day when the books went out of print. It was like a phantom from my past had finally been excised, and I could rest easy. But then people began writing me–librarians who wanted their old, worn copies replaced, fans who wanted to let other people read their books but who were afraid to loan out their copies because they couldn’t get new ones.

So I decided to maybe have a do-over with the second book (the first is beyond repair and I am going to let it be). The second one, however, had good bones–not great bones–but good. It just needed a makeover. So I opened the old document for the first time in twelve years.

It was kind of like opening a crypt filled with horrors. I rolled my eyes at my past author self so much I became dizzy. I shouted at myself as I came across phrases that were so bad, I wanted to hide for the sheer shame of them. I wondered where the adverb police had been during the creation of that book.

I learned a lot about writing in comparing my present author self to my past author self. I saw where natural raw talent trumped actual skill and allowed me to get published in the first place. But I also saw the glaring mistakes, the repetition, the lack of character motivation, the fingernail thin plot.

It was a huge overhaul and a lot of work. I truly believe it would have been easier to write a new book than it was to resurrect an old one, but the book reemerged from the ashes to be something so much better than its humble beginnings. It’s still not the quality of my current writing ability (remember good bones, not great bones), but I’m not sorry I took the time to have a do over. The education was well worth it.

A wonderful, classy designer  by the name of Crystal Liechty reimagined my cover and did such an amazing job that I nearly wept with joy. My previous cover wasn’t exactly lame but close enough.

I guess the point of this rather long ramble is that it’s important to be stretching and improving–no matter what your “thing” is. My thing is writing. Yours might be music, photography, theater or science. Whatever your thing is, it’s nice to look back and see progression and growth. Take the classes, read the books, get the education necessary to thrive in that one thing that fills the measure of your joy. And when you look back, you’ll have a journey worth talking about.

Here is the new cover for Loved Like That. (I really love it!):

Loved Like That

 

LTUE Because Life is the Universe and Everything

Don’t panic, it’s just that time of year where I get to be with *my* people–the lovers of science fiction and fantasy. I am super excited to go this year because I moved so far away from my writer friends that I haven’t seen many of them in the last year or longer. If you want to write in, or take part in the artistic endeavors of, the science fiction and fantasy genre, you need to be at LTUE this weekend, February 13-15, 2014. Orson Scott Card is the guest of honor along with other guest being: Brandon Sanderson, Larry Correia, L.E. Modesitt, Dave Wolverton, Jessica Day George, (a gazillion other friends that I can’t name right now because I am on a DEADLINE that must be met), and ME! If you want to hear me speak feel free to join the fun. Here’s my schedule:

Friday, February 14, 2014

  • 10:00 am–Classic Juvenile Fantasy
  • 6:00 pm–How to Write a Hero
  • 7:00 pm–Co-authoring Dos and Don’ts

Saturday, February 15, 2014

  • 9:00 am–Character Development
  • 6:00 pm–Author’s Think Tank Podcast

And here’s a link with full schedules and further information on the symposium:http://ltue.net/

See you there!

A Lesson for Those who Feel Less Than

Strap in. This is a long entry.

I am an author. I am published in a niche market with a niche publisher. In the beginnings of my career I dealt with something very real: prejudice. Other authors who were published with big publishers in big markets assumed they were better than me (and they were right about that at the beginning). Not all of the big authors in my social sphere acted this way–in fact, most didn’t. But I, being young and insecure, assumed they all felt this way.

In the beginning, I didn’t know much. Character motivation, plot movement, story arc, setting–none of that meant anything to me. I wrote a story because I had a story to tell. I became published. So I wrote another story. The publisher acquired that one too.  I learned a lot, edited, became better–much better. I sent my third book to the largest publisher in that niche market and was accepted. It was exciting because I knew the book was good. It thrummed all those emotional strings. The characters were well-developed and the dialogue sang. But I was still in the niche market. And I felt inferior to those published in their huge markets. The thing was that there was a  stigma about writers in my niche not being any good. The rumors were that only hacks wrote in that genre. To be fair to the rumor mill, there were a lot of crummy books put out back then (my first two among them), but there were a lot of great books too. I decided to be part of the solution. I was in with a guild of authors and we decided to change the stigma by raising the quality of literature in our market. We did that through conferences, mentoring, and classes. We did a lot of good. And I wrote more books. And grew in the craft with every one of them.

I was traditionally published.

And felt inferior.

I made the top ten best sellers list in the entire market.

And felt inferior.

I sold out of my first print run and went to a second printing.

And felt inferior.

I had radio, magazine, and newspaper interviews.

And felt inferior.

I won awards.

And felt inferior.

And then one day at a science fiction and fantasy symposium, I met Orson Scott Card. I’m a huge fan of his–always have been. I stood in his line to get my stack of books signed. I became too awed to do much aside from slide the stack to him when it was my turn. He tried to engage me in conversation. I think I might have drooled in response. But the person behind me said, “She’s Julie Wright. She’s an author too.”

He stopped signing my first edition of Speaker for the Dead and looked up at me. “You’re published?”

I dug my toe into the tile floor and ducked my head into my shoulders in the shrug gesture you can only manage to pull off when you are desperately insecure.

He must have taken that as a yes because he then asked, “What do you write?”

I dreaded answering, knowing the prejudice among authors, but I replied that I wrote a lot of things but was only published in my niche market.

He frowned. “Did I hear an apology in that answer?”

Which made me hit the mental brakes.

And then he said something that changed me.

“Didn’t you choose to write in that market?”

“Well . . . yeah, but . . .”

“And you’re published in the market you chose to write for. There’s no shame in that. Who’s your publisher?”

I told him and he actually looked like he might reach across the table to smack me. “So you’re trying to tell me that you chose to write for a particular market, you’re published with the top publisher in that market, and you’re apologizing?”

It sounded so bad when he put it like that.

I don’t feel inferior any longer, and not just because Orson Scott Card demanded I feel better about myself. I don’t feel inferior because I know I am good at what I do. And I finally realized my previous insecurities were not because those big authors were looking down their noses at me. I felt inferior because I hadn’t accomplished all that *I* wanted to accomplish *YET*. It wasn’t them making me feel small. It was me making me feel small. So this lesson for me has been learned. This was all several years ago. So why am I writing about it all now?

Because whispers like wind shaking leaves have come to my attention of other authors feeling small and insignificant because they chose a different publishing path. They’ve achieved great things. They have succeeded in the spheres where they have ventured. They have sales, fans, some have awards. And they feel inferior.

This post is my request for them to stop apologizing for their accomplishments simply because their accomplishments are different from someone else’s. They have found success in the very thing they set out to do. Forget stigmas. And if you have goals not yet realized, that’s okay. To be going forward, stretching, becoming your best you . . . well, isn’t that what we’re here for?

As Rob Thomas says, our lives are made in these small hours, these little wonders. So make those small hours wonderful. Be happy.

xoxo