Thursday, February 21, 2013

Winning the Genetic Lottery

Victoria’s Secret supermodel, Cameron Russell, has been in the news lately condemning the hand that feeds her—the fashion industry, and their obsession with beautiful, skinny white women.  “I just won the genetic lottery,” she says.

Well, you know what? I feel like I won the genetic lottery as well…but not for the reasons that our comely Cameron has.  (I can only wish!)  I’m talking about health and spirit and a zest for life, no matter your age.  I’m turning 60 in about three weeks.  My sixth decade.  Wow.  How is that possible?  I look back on when I first decided I wanted to be a writer.  We were stationed at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington DC, and I turned a broom closet into my first office.  There, I wrote my first novel, GIFT OF JADE, on an old Smith Corona.  The year was 1984.  I was 31.  My first published novel, BORDER CROSSINGS, came out in 1999.  I was 45.  It’s almost impossible to believe that I’ve been a published author for 15 years. 

I don’t feel like I should be sixty years old.  And people tell me I don’t look like I’m sixty years old. (Love hearing that!)  So, yes, I feel like I won the genetic lottery, but not just because of those two things.  But because I won’t let age stop me from having fun.  You know what I’m doing on my birthday?  I’m going go-karting with my grandsons.  We’ve already planned a trip to Destin, Florida, and that’s what I’ve told everyone I want to do.  See, I don’t believe that just because you’re growing older, you’ve got to stop having fun.  That’s why I went to the water park on our visit to Myrtle Beach last summer and went down all the big slides with the boys.  These days, Grandmas don’t sit in rockers observing—they’re out there doing.

I have two people to thank for choosing to be a “doing Grandma” and not a “sitting Grandma.”  My mom, Lillian (the inspiration for LILY OF THE SPRINGS) and my grandmother, Opal.  My mom, before she got sick with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, always joined in the fun with her children and grandchildren.  I’ll never forget the time she went to the water park with my sister and me and her grandchildren, and had trouble getting out of the inner tube in the Lazy River.  My sister and I were laughing so hard, we could barely stand up. It was this fun spirit that kept Mommy young for so many years before she was struck down by cancer.

Her mom, Opal, may not have done water parks with us, but she was a gutsy little sprite all her life.  I call her a “sprite” because she was barely five-foot tall but had the courage of a lioness.  She loved to entertain her grandchildren with stories of her youth in the Kentucky outback.  According to her, she was quite the little troublemaker.  My favorite story was one I related in LILY OF THE SPRINGS about how she discovered a rattlesnake in the outhouse, and matter-of-factly chopped its head off with a garden hoe then went about her business.  (I may have inherited her spunk, but I can tell you right now you wouldn’t catch me going within spitting distance of a rattlesnake.)  Mother (we called Opal “Mother”) was the most energetic woman I’d ever met.  Even in her advancing years, she kept herself busy—cooking, cleaning, quilting, puttering about her little house, always doing something.  You never saw her just sitting around.  She lived to 93, and the week before her heart gave out, she was still going grocery shopping on her own. 

So, you see, this is why I feel like I’ve won the genetic lottery.  I really believe you’re as young as you feel.  And a good attitude is imperative.  You can’t lose your interest in trying new things.  A few years ago after joining my church choir, I remembered how much I loved to sing.  After years of longing to try it, I finally got the nerve to sing karaoke on our first cruise.  And I loved it!  Now, I’ve started my own local karaoke group, and we get together every couple of weeks at a local bar to sing.  That’s led to me appearing in the USO Show last March, playing Marilyn Monroe, Karen Carpenter and Nancy Sinatra.  And recently, I sang at a French bistro in Reston (not karaoke.)  I’ve even sang a couple of times with a live band.  If someone had come to me even ten years ago and said I’d be doing these things, I would’ve thought no freaking way!  But now I know to never say never.  It’s trying new things that really keeps you young.

I have a friend—and she’ll know who she is because she always reads my blogs—that’s a year younger than me, but if you heard her talk, you’d think she’s at death’s door.  This woman has the most beautiful skin I’ve ever seen—not a wrinkle to be seen.  She’s got a trim figure and looks great.  But she needs an attitude adjustment!  (And you know I’ve told you this to your face, J.)  I’ve begged her to come to yoga class with me because she’s complained of body aches and sleep issues, and I know yoga would help.  But she refuses to try it.  I think she’s of the Old Dog Can’t Learn New Tricks mind.  But I believe that’s exactly what keeps us young—learning new tricks. 

So, come on, ladies.  Sixty is the new forty.  Let’s get out there and have fun. We may not be beautiful, skinny, white–or look gorgeous in a bikini, but we can adjust our attitudes about age and beauty.  As for me, I’m looking forward to my sixth decade and what it has in store for me.  J

As I mentioned in my last blog, BORDER CROSSINGS is now available at  Join Audible and get it for only $7.49.

Also, I’m running a special this week at Kindle.  Get EAST OF THE SUN, WEST OF THE MOON for only 99 cents.

I’m off to Florida!  See you next time! 



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Calling All Angels

Isn’t it odd that we usually don’t realize the significant moments in our lives until long after they are over?  I was reminded of one on Sunday during an interview with Luke Abaffy of the Author Feast website.  I was talking about how obsessed I used to be with my career, and how miserable I was during those first years after BORDER CROSSINGS came out.  In other words, I wasn’t enjoying the ride; I was always looking ahead to the next mountain (goal) I wanted to climb.  And on Sunday as I gave advice to new writers hoping to break into the business, and urging them not to take it all too seriously, I remembered the moment that my life changed. For the better.

My career was in shambles.  My editor had left for another publishing house.  My publisher had turned down my fifth novel—and had informed me that my fourth novel would not be released in mass market (despite the contract.) My agent, having received several rejections of my new proposal, wasn’t returning my calls.  In other words, my “career” was crap.  I felt destroyed.  I even doubted my own talent.  I didn’t know where to go from there.  I wanted to give up.  Go get a real job…give up on my dreams and the destiny I’d always believed in. 

I remember I was out and about one day during the midst of this career crisis.  Had to get out of the house because I couldn’t write.  What was the point, anyway?  Clearly, I didn’t know how to write.  The first four novels had been flukes, apparently.  I’d gone into Barnes & Noble.  Not sure why.  That certainly wasn’t a way to raise my confidence—seeing all the published books from writers I’d met throughout my four years of being in the “in scene.”  Why them, and not me, I wondered?  What had I done wrong that my books weren’t selling, yet, everyone else seemed to make the New York Times Best Seller List with little effort at all (it seemed.)  I still don’t know the answer to that question.  Maybe I didn’t invest enough in promotion.  Maybe I was lazy.  Maybe I just didn’t have any business sense.  Or maybe it was because I wanted to be a writer, not a business person.  Looking back, I can see it was probably all of those things.  All I knew at that moment, though, was that I’d crashed and burned, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I left Barnes & Noble, got into my car, and burst into tears. And I prayed.  “God, I don’t know what you want me to do.  From the time I was a child, You had me telling stories, writing stories.  I know this is what I’m meant to do, but if that’s so, why is it I’m failing at it?  I don’t want to give up, but I can’t take this constant rejection.  I feel worthless, like I have nothing to offer.  What is it you want me to do?”

Of course there was no answer.  Not immediately. But it came within moments.  After I’d finally cried myself out, I turned on the ignition and the radio came on.  The song coming from the speakers was Train’s “Calling All Angels.” 

I’m not allowed to write more than a line or two of lyrics because of copyright issues, but it starts like this:  I need a sign to let me know you're here.  And then the chorus:  I won't give up if you don't give up.

I couldn’t believe it.  It was like God was speaking to me.  He wouldn’t give up on me if I wouldn’t give up on myself. 

It was shortly after that that I got my writing mojo back, and I finished TANGO’S EDGE, and then wrote LILY OF THE SPRINGS.  I tried selling them to New York, but it didn’t happen so I self-published.  The best decision I ever made!  I took back my power, and I never looked back.  I will never doubt my destiny again.  I am a writer, and I’ll never let anyone tell me I’m not.  Yesterday I read a quote on Facebook that I absolutely love: Do Not Underplay the Artist and Writer for they Create What Once Did Not Exist.  What a beautiful thought—a powerful thought.  We do create what once did not exist.  I’m going to print this out and tape it near my computer, so any time I’m feeling like I’m not good enough or talented enough…or lacking in any way, I can read this and remember that I have created what once did not exist.  How cool is that? 

So…just remember…no matter what your challenges are, if you ask God for help, He WILL answer.  Just be prepared to listen.  You never know when God will speak to you…or when the angels will come when you call on them.  J

Congratulations to Marilyn Nowlin of Houston, my January website contest winner.  Be sure and stop by my website and enter this month’s contest. 

Good news!  BORDER CROSSINGS is now out in audio, and available at

And did I tell you about my daughter’s book?  Yes, writing runs in the family.  My daughter, Leah Speer’s, first book came out in December titled MUST.HAVE.WINE. A TOAST TO MOTHERHOOD.  If you’re a mom, you need to read this book—a collection of heartwarming, humorous and sometimes dead serious articles about motherhood. 

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Hope you get lots of chocolate.  J  That’s what I’m hoping for.



P.S.  If you’re familiar with Train’s song, “Calling All Angels,” check it out at YouTube.  It’s an awesome song.