Want to be “Simply Happy?” Start by reading this book.

From the editor-in-chief of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series comes a first book called Simply Happy. It’s out tomorrow, but I was blessed with a splendid sneak peek of Amy Newmark’s debut book.

Even if you only  read the chapter descriptions, you’d get plenty out of this book, such as:

Chapter 2 A smile is a boomerang

“They’re free, they’re easy, and they change your whole day”

For those of you who have ever worked with your spouse (and I have!), you’ll be tickled by Amy and her husband’s “Declare Voldemort” time periods. Since she and Bill work together, sometimes they need a break. When one of them says “Voldemort” (from the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort is he-who-must-not-be-named) neither of them is allowed to discuss or text one another about Chicken Soup or their other businesses. They may email one another and if it’s a weekend, the spouse has the right not to answer  until Monday if they so choose.

This tells me that Amy not only advocates keeping life in perspective and balance, but that she lives the lifestyle as best she can.

Spoiler alert: a story of mine is mentioned on page 88, one that makes me gulp even as I read about it. That would be the one where I was being a spoiled princess, thinking more about myself than my marriage. A dream (mostly) snapped me out of it. While I’m not perfect, the wonderful weekend I just had with my husband reminds me how that dream changed everything.

I’m proud, thrilled, to have my story mentioned in Amy’s book. And even prouder because Amy points out that my name is pronounced “Dream-uh,” and my story was about a dream. My father, who we lost nearly two years ago, named me, so I love my name.

Amy’s book is full of stories and experiences she’s had editing these books and how they have not only changed others, but her as well. Some stories have lingered with her for years.

Then there are tips in the book such as paying attention to the time we have been squandering. “If you regain only two percent of the minutes in your day by being mindful and not wasting them, you’ll actually get back half an hour a day,” she says. That’s time that could be used to write or work towards a goal you “never” have the time for.

This crash course in advice and wisdom can be taken one chapter at a time, or devoured (my style) in one sitting. Whatever your style, I recommend this sanity-saving read.

Let’s hope this is only the first of many quick-tip-with-meat-included books by the bubbly and savvy Amy Newmark.

Honoring Your Creative Space

This weekend I was thrilled to help my hubby tidy his music/writing/study room. 

For one thing, I knew how much he wanted to free up space so he can easily create fun projects.

For another, I enjoy watching people get rid of excess stuff. A lot. I also am pretty good at organizing, but I’m no clean freak.

We talked first about what he wanted to do in the room: listen to, practice, write, and record music; study, and store his instruments and books. 

Backstory: when we first married, his “music room” was our dining room. I wasn’t thrilled about that. Ever since he has been really good about trying to confine his stuff to one room. 

While I appreciate his thoughtfulness, there’s a problem with that: everything of his except toiletries and clothes pretty much ends up in one room. I’ve told him more than once that doesn’t need to be the case. 

It no longer is. 

So I have this bad habit of going to garage sales, second hand shops and the like. I’m thrifty that way, and I like decorating with unique finds. I periodically purge. About once a quarter the house feels too full and I begin culling. It feels great. 

Recently I cleared one side of a long closet in my writing room, the kind of closet that you can’t really hang a clothes bar in so yay, space! (If there were room for clothes it would have been quickly claimed by moi, believe you me.) 

I had also created space in the hall closet. 

The big clear began with carrying everything out of his room. Then we discussed what furniture would stay, what could go. I offered to paint his room but he said no, not just now. In my head I’m choosing colors. ūü§ď

He donated this cool old TV set and clock to the living room, which  gladly accepted:  

We sorted his bookshelves and got rid of approximately 50 books. I put them in the milk crates I’ve been storing in the garage for a decade and decided I would quit trying to find something to do with them and donate them along with the books. 

Then there were the cd’s that I was surprised he was cool with storing in the garage. 

The man has so much musical equipment. His 4 and 8 track recorders found new homes upstairs. An ancient practice amp was let go of. I’m so proud. 

Was I ever thrilled when we found his personal scissors that I bought for him and even put his name on. I knew he thought I’d borrowed them again and hadn’t returned them. Ha! Did not!

We found borrowed items, Christmas wrap, gifts it was time to let go of, candy. 

Thankfully episodes of The Office entertained us as we plowed through piles of papers. 

There was only so much I could do to help, because most of the decisions were his to make. I did make clear that he could get rid of almost anything I had given him in the name of freeing up space.

I did gain a few things: a shirt he didn’t want, some cd’s I don’t have uploaded to my computer, and his appreciation.

At some point we talked about only putting back into that room the things he will regularly use. I would, I said, find space for whatever else he wanted to keep.

It was with a grateful heart I loaded my vehicle with the crates and dumped bags of trash into the garbage can. (Barry is on a writing deadline so I offered to finish up.) 

Emptying the room revealed things we need to buy: a case for his keyboard and a set of shelves for his ever-growing collection of lp’s. That’s important info for creating and protecting your inspiration. 

After he finished practicing bass the evening of the clean up, I asked him how it felt to play in there. Needless to say, he loved it.

My husband is a multi talented man, much more than he gives himself credit for. I am thrilled he now has a clear space he’s happy to create in. I’m pleased to have helped.

I tell this story to remind us all to literally make space for our creativity by mentally and physically lightening our lives. Get rid of what you don’t need. 

Then again, besides books and clothing, I’m a minimalist. Works for me. 

Barry relaxes in his music room after a long day. (He said I could share the photo.) 

Breaking News: Inside Edition Features Power of Gratitude TONIGHT!

So Deborah Norville tweeted this awesomeness at me this afternoon:  

Need I say how excited I am that this Chicken Soup for the Soul book, the Power of Gratitude, is being featured tonight on Inside Edition? 

The vivacious Deborah Norville and the incomparable Amy Newmark have put together this hope-filled collection. Again, I am thrilled to be included. The world can always use reminders to be grateful, because there is always something to be grateful for. 

I doubt my story will be referenced, but still. I am pumped! 

Please watch this evening and buy the book if you could use another bowl of Chicken Soup. 


Journaling: Messiness Encouraged

This is my current journal. It’s a little over half full right now.   

I’ve noticed something: whenever I’m most scared about writing my novel, I automatically start prewriting in my journal. I may only jot an idea, a quote, or even a few lines of dialog. But it’s so much easier to start there, where no one will ever need to see how untidy the writing is. 
From there I go to a notebook, preferably a cheap one. Maybe you learned this from Natalie Goldberg as well? You just fill cheap notebooks because they’re so unassuming. I have a stack that I bought two years ago for like ten cents each. 

There the ideas get refined. I write in big letters, skipping lines. If my thinking is really sloppy, I might rewrite it in list form, numbers and all. Then I make a list from that list until it all (for the moment) makes sense. 

Or I at least have a direction to head in. Truth be told, I love the initial chaos, the passion for an idea that eludes me, slipping somewhere between consciousness and that place between pen and paper. The idea that has to be reckoned with or the earth might implode. ūüĆé

Then, the laptop. 

There are many reasons to love laptops and their kin. For writing purposes, not so much.

Before you call me a hypocrite when you see me clacking the keys, let me explain.

I need the laptop. It’s as if I’m wearing a suit and heels when I use it, though. In ways I get more done, sure. But it’s not as much fun. I’m not as fearless at it. Still, I do plenty of laptop writing and revising for convenience’s sake. 

(I still think I mainly do it to look like an adult. And because agents frown on getting pages torn out of a notebook mailed to them.)

Back to that journal: it was in my journal recently that I wrestled that latest writing dilemma and determined that I would decide once and for all, no turning back. Rock, paper, scissors. It meant trimming, rearranging my WIP, but that was the easy part.

I’m not someone who journals to impress. No way! Mine are an embarrassing mess. Rarely do I write a line in one that impresses me. My entries are quotidian and banal, mostly. 

That said, there should be a special place without Netflix or pizza forever for those who violate someone by reading her journal. I’m very serious. 

Once our house was broken into when we lived in Nashville, and the police are pretty sure it’s someone who knew us. Why? Because my journal’s pages had been turned as if someone had read it — it was a spiral bound book. Talk about feeling violated. 

Do you journal? Does it shape your creative endeavors? If not, what purpose does it serve? I’m always eager to talk process. 

The Novel That Wouldn’t Die…Or Live!


Said hair after getting it ‘did’ today.

So you’re sitting in your hair stylist’s chair, revising your WIP. You look at your words, laugh, and almost warn her not to read over your shoulder if she’s easily offended because it contains adult language. Instead, you’re embarrassed by what you read for an entirely different reason.

Let me say that I’ve been nurturing this novel ever since it was a poem, and I’m getting, well, impatient is not the word. Irritated? That’s closer. Let’s go back to second person, shall we?

So you read a paragraph and then another and you realize your story’s tone sways. Your wise cracking feminist becomes a learned scholar and back in two easy paragraphs. Whiplash.

You know what you are trying to do. You know she’s a totally different person on the inside than she’s portraying. You are purposely playing with form. But for one, her persona is way more intriguing. Her intellectual interiority makes her sound emotionally frigid, even though that’s what interests you most about her, her thoughts.

Also: you are trying to achieve a goal one of your writing idols could not. And you think you know now why she couldn’t. Doesn’t mean you can do it, though.

Besides that, this MC is way too self aware, even for first person. 

Plus side: MC behaves deliciously horribly. The way you want to act sometimes IRL. She’s selfish, sometimes cruel, and seems shallow to others. But she’s loyal, talented, and a keen observer. She finds it beneficial to be underestimated.

Then there are these other characters who want to take over. They’re uber strong and entertaining, to the point where you struggle to draw the lead men. That’s right. Men. Plural. 

You didn’t expect to have the men share the spotlight. You kicked one out. He showed up again. You wrote him out. Back. Then you made the mistake of asking your Writing Mother what she thinks. “Keep him in.” So you do. 

Except this guy so far isn’t a strong character. You feel around blindly because you have to tell. There’s no showing this guy. Or maybe you still haven’t cracked the code that reveals who he really is. Maybe you never will.

Ah, and then there’s that other guy. He, too, is overpowered by the MC and friends, though you have more hope that you will be able to capture him. He’s a tune, not a tone, so that might be easier. Might. Still, you hold the poor guy at a distance.

And in the end you wonder if your ambitions exceed your abilities. If SHE couldn’t manage it, what makes you think you can?

But after all, your whole novel argues for accessibility. It seeks to rescue (the metaphorical) Rapunzel and all the ivory tower dwellers. You can have lofty thoughts and still live among mere mortals. 

I’m (reclaiming story by first person switch here) seeking to first destroy the ivory tower, then rebuild the Tower of Babel. So we can all communicate, ya’ll. Death to intellectual snobbery! Life to accessible ideas expressed with real-life language. 

I’ll still always love reading rich, dense essays, the kind I have to stop and stare up at the sky and mull over. Maybe I should start a translation service for busy people who aren’t theory heads.

With pen in hand, I’ll keep revising. I will either see this novel born or put it out to pasture myself. Clich√© intended. 

Am I overly ambitious? Let’s just  

 call me ambitious. Time will tell whether the “overly” fits or not. 

The David and Jet Lag, 2016

Rome and Florence 2016 409


This post isn’t likely to be particularly erudite as I am suffering from jet lag; Barry and I are just¬†home from a glorious trip to Rome and Florence. While I am extremely passionate about today’s topic, I’m just beginning my extended research into The David, so even if I weren’t suffering from jet lag, I’m not sure how learnedly I could speak about this. But I have to write about him so I can get back to writing my novel! I’m preoccupied with him.

In the summer of 2011 I saw Michelangelo’s¬†David for the first time. I think I’ve written elsewhere about my stunned reaction. While I do suffer from Stendhal’s Syndrome (basically being overwhelmed by great art to the point of crying or fainting), this was an extreme case. I didn’t want to leave The David. I had the urge to move to Florence and protect him, visit him every day. I cried when I had to leave, ugly tears, pleading tears. For a moment I refused to leave, stamping my foot as if I were five. I kept looking backwards, telling him I’d return to him some day. Not that I really imagined I would.

Then I wrote a tedious, 15-page essay trying to explain the experience and my personal connections to the statue. My apologies to my classmates who had to read it.

I was going through some life stuff at the time not worth talking about now. I assumed part of my reaction to Michelangelo’s masterpiece was due to that. So when we decided to return to Italy, I wanted Barry to see The David with me, confident that though I would be happy to see the statue, surely I would be composed.

Rome and Florence 2016 399


Uh, not so much. When we got in front of him, I barely stayed still long enough for us to get a blurry selfie of ourselves with our Carrera-carved¬†friend. I may have said something snotty to the person with the camera about this not being a tourist trip. My husband who knows me so well knew I’d regret it later if I didn’t have¬†¬†a photo with David, so he persisted.

Rome and Florence 2016 406

I did take photos to study later.

Then I began circling the marble man. (Wait, that’s hokey. Don’t care.)¬† And the tears started. Mine, that is. Don’t ask me why I was crying. I can’t explain it, not really. Which made me cry more when I tried to explain to Barry why I was crying. Not that he was asking because the man has been married to me for 25 years.

Again, a recap of things I might have written about before: I first heard of The David when I was taking Art Appreciation as a senior. It was a college class but I was able to take it concurrently with my other classes. The class was enlightening. At the time, I never imagined that I would ever make it to Italy once, let alone twice.

When I said farewell to David this time, I again told him I’d be back. Not sure when, but I will be.

That sounds like a wrap, but it’s not.

The reason I can’t work on my novel right now is because I’ve wanted to write something substantial about The David since the first time I saw him. Fiction, no doubt. But The David’s been done. And besides, you have to have an angle that hasn’t been approached before and that’s not easy.

Finally, I think I do have an idea. At least for a short story. While I tend to write about women, I also believe artists are a breed unto themselves. Art¬†is about¬†no limits. (Within reason.) And if I can’t stand in front of this statue without crying, something in me surely wants to write about him.¬†Which is exciting and scary.

But I’m not committing to more than a short story. (Please, oh please let that be true.)

In the meantime, I just may take a nap. Jet lag’s a bitch.





Chicken Soup and Popcorn!



Exciting news! My personal essay “Uno, Popcorn, and Laughter” has been chosen for the Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude collection. I’m honored, especially as it features my hubby¬†and my beloved kids. (Maybe I should make them¬†sign the books too??!)

Who knew when we went through such tough times that¬†our story would help others? I always believed there must be a reason for the difficulties, and the book’s subtitle says¬†it all: “Being thankful can change your life.” I¬†agree!

As always, I can’t give too much away about the story until it’s released this¬†August. I can say that it features a treasured family pastime. (Clearly playing Uno is one of those. Oh, and feasting on popcorn. Then there’s laughter.)

Barry says these stories are my sneaky way of writing my memoirs. I don’t know about that, but I do know I am incredibly honored to be a part of this series. It gives me the chance to take a look back at events that might have been stressful at the time, but that on reflection helped strengthen our family.

While I am in no hurry to have grandchildren, if we are ever blessed with any I would love to play Uno and eat popcorn with them. And laugh. There will always be laughter.


Ten Seconds? That’s a Mighty Long Time…

We all complain that we don’t have enough time to write. I get it. (My apologies to¬†our¬†dearly beloved, departed Prince for ripping off his song lyric for my title, but he’s understandably¬†on my mind. RIP.)

I worked¬†with a trainer for a short time at the gym Barry and I recently joined. She loved having me do planks on a bosu (half a ball on a¬†platform, if you’re not familiar. This:)

I don’t mind admitting that my core strength is not what it could be. She’d time me on that silly, wobbly thing and say, “Only¬†10 seconds left. You can do anything for 10 seconds.” That got me to thinking about time and our perception of it.

A while back I was¬†honored to¬†visit my former workplace and teach a writing lesson. It was awesome seeing former students, meeting new ones. One of the assignments I gave them was to write for five minutes. Now some of these students freeze up if you ask them to write an essay. They are terrified to put pen to paper, yet some of them wrote a couple of sentences. Some of them wrote nearly a page. In five minutes! Was it polished writing? Of course not. I don’t care who’s writing, rough drafts are always that. There were gems in their sentences, though,¬†to be mined later. I was impressed with what they accomplished and I hope they were too.

It took me less than 10 seconds to type this sentence. I timed myself. And that was with going back and fixing a typo. What if you typed ten-second sentences every time you got a chance? How much of a story would you have by the end of a day? (So I realize how difficult it is to pull yourself in and out of the flow, but it would be a fun experiment. Better yet if you can hook those short stints onto one another and give yourself five, maybe 10 minutes even.)

Back to that bosu: when you’re holding yourself in position and everything in you wants to drop, just give up, but there’s someone standing over you, believing in you, telling you that you can do it but can you really you think and then she says you’re halfway there and you can’t believe it’s only been five seconds and whoever said life was short must be insane because this sure isn’t and your abs burn and your arms say that they’re giving you all they’ve got, Captain, but is it enough and then she says it’s time but then maybe you go an extra second just to prove that you can. Whew. Yeah, I’m not at all convinced of the brevity of 10 seconds after all. (We call that stream of consciousness in writing, that big, self indulgent¬†gush without air, by the way. Yes, it’s just as much fun to write as it seems. Not as much fun to read unless you’re me. I like the stuff when other people write it.)

Ten seconds is longer than you think. Five minutes? An eternity. So take those bits of time. Pull out your list of ideas and get started on just one. Maybe you’ll start stealing time from things that used to matter that don’t now. You know your time wasters better than I. Just never underestimate the value of¬†10 seconds. Hey, maybe we should all plank for 10. On second thought, I have some writing to do.

Seriously, though, consider sharing one of your ten-second sentences with us. It doesn’t even have to be polished.



Why I “Dirty Bulked” My WIP



Yesterday at the gym I was talking with a trainer who said he’d gained 30 pounds by “dirty bulking.” My face must have told him I had no idea what he meant. In case you’re in the same boat, evidently it’s a method where hard gainers¬†put on weight¬†by eating junk food, massive amounts of it. “Oh, you mean what I do every day,” I said. Which isn’t entirely true, but it isn’t entirely false either. Depends on the day.

I recently dirty bulked my WIP. Yup. I’ve been changing directions/characters/locations in my novel, and I needed to print a copy because I revise best when I can see it in front of me and can mark it up, circle things, underline.

Because my MS was only at 185 pages or so and I wanted it to be a nice round¬†200 pages before I printed it, I dirty bulked. My writing version of eating donuts and ice cream, though, is “navel gazing” and philosophizing. (Navel gazing is just what it sounds like — you’re writing stuff that¬†probably does not at all advance the plot. Likely no one else cares about it. Not an iota.) I was actually¬†proud of some of it when I first wrote it. It flowed. It was “thinky.” I explored the meanings of words that are important to me¬†such as loyalty and feminism.

So, junk writing done,¬†I hit print and out of the printer flowed warm pages covered in ink. Happily I sat down, pen in hand, a chunk of the MS on my handy dandy book stand that my dear Barry bought me for Christmas last year. How excited I was to move things around, make big changes. Discover just how genius my new path was. That’s when the dirty bulk showed itself to be made of junk food. (Cue the “wunh wunh” music.)

Suffice it to say I have only put in the changes for 150 of those pages into my MS and I have already had to lose 15 pages. Fifteen bloated, useless (to the novel) pages marked out. Gone. Junk.

Do I regret my self-indulgent dirty bulk? Not entirely;¬†I saved some of it. Some of it was just for me in real life. Some of it was to know more about my characters and their struggles and their beliefs, which are sometimes in conflict with mine. I make them argue their side so I can understand them, even if I don’t agree. Sometimes I have to write characters I don’t like or identify with. (Mini-lecture: I refuse to say “with whom I identify.” Because I’m under 50 and because that flawed “rule” has been shown to be ridiculous and it is one with which I won’t put up — please tell me you get the joke.) I do respect my characters and their right to be who they are.

It will be interesting to see how much of this last 50 pages I lose. I enjoy purging my closets and cabinets, and it’s the same with words so it’s not as if I’ll mourn what I get rid of. I don’t think every¬†sentence I write is priceless. When my agent asked me to prune my last MS, I was happy to do so, and she was pleased with the results so it’s a skill worth having. Still, maybe next time I’ll think twice before imposing an arbitrary page count on myself to spare myself the rapid slash of my inky sword¬†across miles of words. (If you guessed that I would have cut the last half of that sentence if I read it anywhere else, you’re right. But I’m feeling playful so it stands.)

Whether you dirty bulk with words or junk food, there’s no judgment here. Let me know how it goes. On second thought, since I’m trying to stay away from donuts, maybe save the food porn and just let me know if you dirty bulk your story.

Write on, my friends, write on.





Featured on Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Podcast!

I’m so excited! First of all, I adore podcasts and Chicken Soup for the Soul is now podcasting. Did you know that? I’ve been enjoying them from day one.

Imagine my delight, then, when I recently received word that one of my stories will be featured on Chicken Soup for the Soul’s podcast tomorrow, March 10, 2016. They had a teaser for it on today’s podcast, and I found myself dancing around the house in happiness already.

It’s my story from “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and Premonitions” that I’ve blogged about before, based on a wake up call I had in the form of a dream a few years ago that transformed my marriage.

If you’re a podcast listener, please head over to ITunes tomorrow and take a listen to not just the broadcast featuring my story, but all of the other fabulous Chicken Soup podcasts¬†for an uplifting¬†moment in¬†your day.

And if you happen to miss it tomorrow, don’t worry: it will be available in their archives to hear whenever you’re ready.

I’m taking my mom shopping tomorrow, and I can’t wait to put on this “radio show” when I have her in the car to surprise her. Shhh…don’t tell!