This morning I had an email conversation with my friend, Rebecca, about social media interactions and how for many of us, the importance lies in the connections that are made rather than simply marketing a product. 

Last week, I realized just how many people I was getting to know on my Facebook Bellingwood page. The interactions aren’t as intimate as those I have with close friends, but as a minister’s daughter who regularly interacted with hundreds of people at once, it feels like the same types of relationships are growing. I get to know them well enough to enjoy being around them. We aren’t together every day or even every week, but they have become part of my life and thus are important to me. Names and pictures, words and methods of communication are familiar and friendships are being built … with people I never would have had the opportunity to meet before this medium was available.

I’ve always been a connector. There are hundreds of people that I’ve encountered throughout my life and social media has given me the opportunity to reconnect with them. It brings me great joy to introduce people to each other and watch their friendship blossom … to watch them find commonalities with each other. I love to see people encounter a program or ministry, a service project or even a book or television show that I’ve exposed them to and become fascinated with the same things that intrigued me.

Immediately after I had the conversation with Rebecca, a college classmate posted an introduction to connect me with another writer friend of his. I was flabbergasted that at that exact moment, he thought to extend the invitation for two friends of his to connect. I grabbed it. Of course I want to meet someone new! Of course I want to be exposed to her thoughts and views on the world! His timing could not have been more perfect.

I see social networking as a wondrous frontier for us to explore with the same exuberance and excitement as early pioneers trekking across the wild west. There are great and grand adventures ahead and I like the idea of taking my friends with me for the ride.

However, I find that too many people only look for the pitfalls and dangers and circle the wagons rather than explore new territory.

What does it take to ‘like’ a new page on Facebook and learn about someone else’s journey? What does it take to ‘like’ a post and encourage someone along their own adventure? Yet we lurk behind corners, afraid to put ourselves out there unless we know people intimately … or worse yet, we ignore things because we are too focused on our own misadventures.

Social media has the potential to explode our world into something bigger than it is, to expose us to what others are thinking, even when we might disagree. We can learn and grow because of the great people that our friends know, the causes they support, the products they endorse, the artists they encourage and the passions they hold dear.

I would encourage you to make the most of social networks. Build and strengthen the connections to people you don’t see as part of your everyday life and to new people you encounter. Don’t run away, don’t fade away. When you are gone, you take part of the whole with you. When you interact, you make the entire thing better than it was.

C.S. Lewis once wrote about the loss of his friend, author Charles Williams.

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald…In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest

TB is connecting with his need for a nap.

TB is connecting with his need for a nap.

This is how I feel about the people I interact with in any area of my life, whether in person – in large and small groups, or online through social networking. Each of you adds to the whole of my experience … and yours. When you are missing, you take more than just yourself away from it, you take away so much more.

The world is bigger than our little circles of acquaintances and friends, and yet it grows smaller every day. There is great potential for each of us. Grab it. Connect. Share. Explore. And along the way, smile. You are becoming something better than you were yesterday.

Book Giveaway Contest

BookshelfDo you see that shelf of books right there? It offends me.

Not because those are my books, but because they didn’t all fit on the shelf. I just received an order of books because my supply was getting a little too low for comfort. When they arrived, I was so excited to put them where they belong and then … my heart sank. This was unacceptable.

I’ll bet you didn’t know I had that level of … umm … OCD (that’s a better word than the one most would use to describe my behavior). Well, I do. Books either fit on the shelf, or I buy new bookshelves. Stacking just makes things messy.

There is no room for more bookshelves here and since I have to look at this all the time, I decided that the best way to deal with it would be to give a complete set of books (all five that have been published so far) away to one person. That way these extraneous books can fill their shelf, rather than sit here taunting me.

I will choose one person from the entrants and ship signed copies of this set to you. First caveat? I’m so sorry, but I will only ship within the US.

Everyone should enter, even if you’ve read them all on your Kindle, or have already purchased the paperbacks. These would be a fun gift for someone who should visit Bellingwood, or maybe you would just love to have some more books for your own bookshelf.

How can you enter? Well, this is going to be posted to Facebook and that’s where the whole contest will happen. I’ll pin the post to the top of the Facebook page and all you have to do is “LIKE” that post. I’d love for you to have already liked the Facebook page, but I won’t get picky about that. Actually, you might want to like the page so you’ll know if your name is chosen! Just go there, like the post, and your name will be entered to win. Go ahead, share it on your own Facebook walls … get your friends to play along.

If you are one of those crazy (and wonderful) people who is reading this and doesn’t have a Facebook account, reply to this post and I’ll make sure you are entered, because I love all my readers!

There’s a deadline. Midnight (Central time) Thursday, April 3. I will announce the winner on Friday and wait with bated breath for them to email me with their mailing information.

I really do love you guys.


I drove into town today and was reminded at the resilience of creation. Today is the first day of spring, a date that some of us (me included) thought might never arrive.

Cat in SnowRather than snow in the fields, I see black dirt again, waiting for planting season to begin. Farmers are hauling their big equipment out of the barns and getting it ready, friends are buying seeds for gardens and dreaming of flowers and vegetables to come. My cat wakes me up and begs to be outside, staying for longer than fifteen minutes before returning to the warmth of the heating pad beneath my feet.

And while I haven’t forgotten that there were -11 degree temperatures which held me hostage this last winter, those days are simply a memory. They no longer threaten my movement and become less and less important the closer I get to summer.

I am so fortunate to live in the Midwest where every season is experienced in totality. The beauty of that is each time a new season rolls around, we are fully prepared for the old one to leave and the new one to arrive. We are resilient that way … our joy is found in the change and transformation that comes with the cycles ahead of us.

Friends (and me too) have mentioned that they didn’t want to complain about the horrible temperatures of winter because they despise the awful heat of summer, but it occurs to me that is all part of enjoying our seasons. We are always ready for the next one to arrive and welcome it with open arms. Even spring and fall, which are my favorite seasons, give way to the glory of summertime and the beauty of winter, making a year in the Midwest a wonderful experience.

TB on Front stoopI am so excited to see farmers get back into the fields and watch as the world turns green once more. I have complained about the miserably cold temperatures and whined that winter seems to have lasted forever, but in truth, it is just a short period of time and that is all behind me.

As creation around me springs to life again, I find myself breathing more deeply, taking in the beauty of a sunshiny day and being thankful that I get to experience winter as well as spring.

A World of Creativity

An old friend often described imagination as a nation of images. Whenever he used that phrase, my mind would explode with possibilities. I can read fragments of sentences and a story line flutters at the edge of my imagination. I see photographs or paintings and there is an entire life that exists in the picture, one begging to be told. I read novels and my mind can barely stay quiet as I wait for the author to unfold what has happened in his or her thoughts. I observe as people use things that seem so mundane to create beauty. Our imagination is limitless.

I was fortunate to be raised in a family where creativity was encouraged and imaginations were allowed to run free. My father was a story teller. His stories generally came from reality, but he could spin a yarn better than anyone I’ve ever known. My mother was an artist, a sculptor, a poet, an author, a designer … she could barely contain her creativity long enough to finish things. She always wanted to try something new. It drove Dad crazy, but I look back on the things that she gave me and I can’t imagine her being any other way.

The wonderful thing is that because of that freedom to create and explore, the three of us kids were given an incredible gift. We are all musicians, though each of us has approached our talent differently. We have all explored different mediums as we create beauty in the world. Carol makes gorgeous jewelry and helps children find their own creativity every day. Jim has worked with wood and stained glass; he writes computer programs and has raised three more creative children.

And now, he is coming closer and closer to his own dream of writing a novel and getting it published. I’m in the middle of initial edits right now and it’s exciting to see where his mind goes. We’re very different writers, but the funny thing is to see the similarities in how we approach our stories. Apparently we grew up in the same household.

He has his science-fiction book, Rookie Privateer, in the hands of beta readers right now and isn’t letting the grass grow under his feet. He’s already working on a short story that is part of the world he’s building.

Check out his Facebook page – Fickle Dragon, as well as his website … again: Fickle Dragon. We’re still a couple of months away from publication, but he’s sharing the process as he goes from writer to published author.

Carol doesn’t believe she’s much of a writer. One of these days we will finally convince her that isn’t the truth. The girl has an amazing command of the English language and when she puts her mind to getting words on paper, it’s pretty awesome. I think a Greenwood publishing force could be a lot of fun. Now I just have to get everyone on board. There’s a younger generation out there, too, who have a lot of stories to tell.

Brandon Sanderson signature Brandon Sanderson signing my bookSidenote: Last week I discovered that Brandon Sanderson would be in Omaha and I asked Max if he would take some time to go to the book signing for me. I’m a huge fan of this guy’s epic fantasies and I truly didn’t care which book Max got for me. I just wanted the signature and maybe a photograph of the event. Max did all of that. He stood in line for over an hour and then told Sanderson that I was an author … and got an amazing inscription for me. I totally fan-girl freaked out on this. A lot of the authors that I would pull a fan-girl freak out on are dead now (Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Anne McCaffrey). There are a few who have come up through the ranks and this guy is one of them. I’m so excited, it’s almost more than I can stand.  Thanks, Max.

Creativity and imagination are gifts that have been given to each of us in extraordinary measure. Do not believe for a moment you aren’t filled with them. It might take some time for you to discover where you can make them reality, but let them run free. The world needs just what you have to offer!

All Roads Lead Home – Free

All Roads Lead HomeWhile I’m madly writing away on Book 6 (I can hardly even believe we are that far into the series!), I figure it is always a good idea to keep telling the world about the Bellingwood Series.

You know, writing is one of those things that I’ve always done throughout my life, but never to the point of publishing. I have scores of stories that I’ve started, all waiting for me to bring them fully to life, but when Polly showed up in my mind, I knew she was real and she brought a lot of friends along for the ride.

The little town of Bellingwood exists in its entirety in my mind, too. At least once a week, I drive past the corner where I planted the town in some poor farmer’s fields. It’s the Bellingwood corner to me. When the morning mist hangs over the horizon, I swear I can see the buildings rising up to greet the day. Did you ever see the musical Brigadoon? Kind of like that. I know just where Sycamore House lies and how far it is from there to the downtown. I see the facades on the fronts of the downtown shops and the library, with fifteen steps going up to the front door from street level. I see Joe’s Diner, with its red checkered curtains hanging from the midpoint of the windows and the name painted in white with red outlines on the glass. The bell on the doorway rings every time someone walks in and Lucy smiles as she carries ice-filled glasses of water to the tables. “Order up!” is heard and she carries plates of tenderloins and burgers around while people move out of her way as they talk to their friends over cups of coffee and glasses of coke.

There is nothing more fun for me than to listen in my mind as the townspeople tell me what is happening in their community and find a way to transmit it, so Bellingwood continues to live on, even amidst the seemingly constant tragedies that show up around Polly Giller. For a couple of weeks every few months, she gets embroiled in something or other and those are the stories I have to tell. The rest of the time, her life is as normal as anyone else’s. She lives, laughs, loves and plays with all of her animals and her friends.

Book 1 – All Roads Lead Home will be free until Saturday, March 15th. I hope you have fun with us in Bellingwood! Click on the book link in this paragraph or on the picture of the book at the beginning of this post to get your copy!

Communication Chasm – Bridged

I know, I know … I should be writing words in my book today. I feel guilty … trust me!

As I’ve gotten older, the time change’s disruption to my schedule is less tolerable and I desperately needed a nap yesterday. I lay down and while waiting for the cat to tuck in behind my legs (instant sleeping potion, I’m telling ya), I turned on my Kindle. I’m reading Kevin J. Anderson’s “Clockwork Angels.”

TB snuggled in, my mind started getting fuzzy, my eyes were missing words and I tucked the Kindle and my glasses under the pillow beside me. As I drifted off to sleep, I realized that I had communicated with the author via email back in the late nineties, before fandom exploded all over the internet.

Then, my mind tracked to another author who had communicated several times with me in the same time period – Bob Mayer, of the Area 51 series. I had reached out to both of these men, after doing a little research to find an email address for them, to tell them how much I appreciated their writing and enjoyed their books. Their responses meant a lot to me, even though I’m sure that since they’ve had so much input from fans over the years, I was nothing more than a blip in the cosmos to them.

Copyright 2008, Maxim M. Muir

Grand Canyon. Copyright 2008, Maxim M. Muir

Before I completely drifted off, I began thinking about how much the world has changed and what a short period of time it took to make that change. That was only 15 or 16 years ago. The communication chasm that separated an author from their readers has been bridged and it is amazing.

It was amazing enough that in 1998-99, I was able to communicate at all with an author in a short period of time. I’d written letters years before to authors, but had never received a response. All of a sudden, I could send a quick email while the thoughts were fresh in my mind and communicate with someone whose work I appreciated. Then, within hours or maybe a day, I had a response. That encouraged me to read their next book and try to discover other things they had written. I thought it couldn’t get any better.

But it has.

Last night I posted a quick (and vague … sorry) bit on the Bellingwood Facebook page regarding a plot twist that would be happening in today’s work. The people who read my books get to enjoy part of the writing process with me and I get to talk about what I’m doing while it’s happening. For me, that lessens the solitude of the writing process. But, even greater, I can speak with people I’ve never met before, but have connected to because of my books. That is one of the best parts of how this bridge has changed the world.

This morning when I woke up, there were messages and comments from these new friends (and many old friends) who wondered what I might be up to with the plot. How fun is that? The communication chasm is completely bridged. There is no longer any separation between an author and readers. This is changing everything.

The relationships I am uncovering with new friends on the Polly Giller Facebook page is one of the best parts of writing these books. I believe that any author or musician, artist or designer, or any other creative person would agree – the opportunity to connect with people is as important as creating.

Funny story … random … a little along these lines. It’s been over twenty years ago … I went to a science fiction convention in Omaha with a friend. We had a blast. George Takei was the featured speaker and the place was packed. All day long, we had seen signs reading, “George Takei. Sulu. Live and In Person!”  We waited and waited, wandering through the various booths. There were very few costumed guests in those days, but some were trying their hand at it and they were always entertaining.

We heard the announcement that people should make their way to the room where “George Takei. Sulu. Live and In Person” would speak, so we did. We couldn’t get in. There wasn’t enough space. We’d had a great day and though we were disappointed, it didn’t really change the fact that we’d had so much fun up to that point, so we decided it was time to go.

I didn’t think much more about it until now. Because the internet has bridged this communication chasm, I follow George Takei on Facebook and get to see him “Live and In Person” every day. I don’t have to be disappointed because the room is full … there is no limit now to the number of people he can speak to at any given moment. What a fun transformation this has been.

It just occurred to me (I’m a little slow sometimes) that I hadn’t followed Bob Mayer or Kevin J. Anderson on Facebook yet and though I love their books, it might be even more fun to follow their progress from book to book. I just fixed that.

And now … it’s time for Polly to discover a body and call the Sheriff … it’s what she does.

Q & A

Rather than be upset about a review of Book 5 that called into question decisions I make regarding plot lines and characterizations, I’m going to treat this as an opportunity to answer some questions that the reviewer had about my book. And, I’m going to clear up a few things along the way for any of you who were wondering, but were too polite to ask.

One question that arose was about a ‘major’ (honestly, not so major) plotline that wasn’t wrapped up by the end of the book. There was a reason for that. The story around that plotline is only beginning and it might not wrap up for several books. It was a choice, not an oversight. 

There was a concern that enough angst hadn’t been applied to the death of the author character and that the story was all about Polly’s response and life. Well, yes – because my books are written from Polly’s perspective.

In the first  book, I had a friend ask why I hadn’t described the gun the Sheriff carried or the pickup truck that Henry drove … in detail. The short answer is that Polly doesn’t have that information in her head. She doesn’t know a Glock from a Beretta and until the boys schooled her, she didn’t pay enough attention to pickup trucks to know a Ford from a Chevy. Writing from a single perspective isn’t an easy thing to do because you can’t explore what someone else is thinking unless Polly asks. Because she has a million things going on around her all the time, she doesn’t always ask each person what is going on up in their head. For the most part, I leave it to my readers to interpret those things on their own. I sketch the picture and readers fill in color and depth as they understand it. We won’t all see things the same way, but that’s the best part about reading a book, isn’t it?

Another matter that is often raised is that the mysteries aren’t deep enough or that the romance isn’t romantic enough or … (etc., etc.). Again, these are choices I make and at some level, choosing to like those choices or not is up to the reader. We all like to read different types of things and when books don’t necessarily appeal to us, it shouldn’t be a criticism of either the reader or the author, but just a fact of life.

However, I do want to address it.  The mysteries in my books are not necessarily the central arc of the stories. They are there because they happen and what fun is it without something to move you along in the story? But the main point of my stories is about the relationships and interactions of people in a small town when things happen around them. They have fun together, they laugh, they enjoy each other and sometimes they escape reality when they come together.

The romance between Polly and Henry will receive criticism because I have chosen not to portray them sleeping together and being sexually active. I think that bringing two people together to have sex is a lazy way of developing a relationship – honestly … in both a novel and in real life. It establishes the relationship quickly and without watching them grow together first. Why hurry?

I’m saddened that just because they are in their thirties, it is expected that Henry and Polly should be sexually active after having known each other for just over a year. Polly came out of a terrible relationship and Henry is a good guy, She has only begun to understand how much she loves him and is completely unsure as to whether or not she is ready to give up her independence. These are big issues that any young woman should deal with before she jumps into bed with a man, no matter her age. Because once it happens, you can’t go back. I’m certain that some of us wish we’d had the courage to make better choices about this when we were young and it’s okay that Polly is making them. There are many young women who make that same choice every day and I’m proud of them.

There is nothing I love more than to find people connecting with my characters and the community in Bellingwood, but I often feel as if I should set out reminders that it is fiction and stories take their own path, much like real life does. Stories don’t fit everyone’s idea of what life should look like or act like, but these stories fit my idea of what Bellingwood is and what these people do. It is fiction, it is not real. These are stories, not life.

Fiction is defined as: written stories about people and events that are not real : literature that tells stories which are imagined by the writer : something that is not true (from Merriam-Webster). So, if a plot line or a character seems unimaginable to you, that’s perfectly fine with me … because this is fiction. At the core of it all, this is only a story.

TB SleepyThanks for the questions and please feel free to ask them any time. If you pose them to me via email or message on Facebook, I’ll answer them – and if they seem to be things that I think everyone would like to know, I’ll answer them here!

I love my readers … you all are the best ever.

Oh … and because it’s cold and windy and winter, here’s a sleepy kitty cat picture to make everything better.

Bellingwood Book Covers

All Roads Lead Home imageI’m quite fortunate to be married to an excellent photographer. When I wrote my first book, I hadn’t even considered what to do about the cover. Panic consumed me until I spent time searching through Max’s photography site. Surely I would be able to find inspiration there.

And I did. Twenty years of practical graphic design work from owning a quick printing shop and a friend whose artistic talent is extraordinary, gave me the courage to put a few ideas together and then hone those down to the cover for All Roads Lead Home.

My insistence on patterns (I might have one or two OCD tendencies – not enough to worry me, but patterns and I have a close relationship), gave me the foundation for the rest of the Bellingwood series. The beauty of this is that I can use more and more of Max’s glorious photography as I stay within the overall scheme we created for the covers.

I finally asked him to create a gallery on his zenfolio site for the original prints that were used as the basis for the book covers. You will see that in some cases, I found the cover in the midst of a larger image, while other photographs were shot specifically for the size of the cover. Whichever way we found the image, they seem to be perfect.

Take a look at the Bellingwood Covers gallery and then take some time to look through the rest of his photography. He finds beauty in the most interesting things and is able to capture it and then render it for others to enjoy.

Random post from a wired girl

It’s either too much excitement today or too much caffeine or not enough sleep or too many decisions to be made or someone spiked my M&Ms, but holy smokes I’m wired. This has been a day and I feel an urgent need to share it with you. Why? Because … oh heck, I have no idea, but here it is.

I woke up this morning about 6:30 and saw that there was snow pouring out of the sky and my Jeep was really covered. What in the world? This was NOT in the forecast. Max was supposed to drive up this afternoon and … NO!!!  So, I called him and told him that we might need to re-think this trip. I love Iowa, but county and gravel roads just after a snowstorm can be a little iffy. He was disappointed, but we knew we’d revisit it throughout the day.

My neighbor came over about 10:30 to plow my lane and the sun was shining. After he left, I packed the rest of the books that needed to be mailed into the Jeep and started for Stratford. I hadn’t gone 1/2 mile when the Jeep died. It started again, then died. I managed to get into his (my neighbor’s) driveway and off the road and when the car finally warmed up, I went on in to town (stupid Jeep).

When I got to the Post Office, I arrived 7 minutes before she re-opened after her lunch break. Nan (the post-mistress) is wonderful. I love her. While I was waiting, the FedEx driver who’d managed to get her van stuck at my place yesterday, walked in with a bag of packages. Nan opened the window right on time and I asked what the driver’s name was … Tina. Then I mentioned that Tina had gotten stuck at my place and of course, Nan already knew all about it. They’d talked. I told Nan that FedEx could drop packages for me at the post office and she assured me that she would tell Tina. Have I mentioned that I love small-town America?

I went to the grocery store to buy food for the weekend, just in case Max was able to come. Then I called him and said, “Yes, this should work.” We were back on.

The gravel road leading to my cabin is wonderfully maintained, but the driver hadn’t gotten to it yet this morning – which meant I was worried about Max’s little car coming in. My Jeep is fine – it negotiates excess snow with no problem. I knew, though, that Max could park in Stratford and I could go get him.

Driving back to the cabin, I watched my coolant temperature gauge creep up. What? I got back to the cabin and it was burying itself in the red. Holy growl. I panicked. After I settled down, I called the garage in Webster City. The last time they did work for me was in June 2012. He remembered me. Have I mentioned that I love small town America?

But now I was worried about being able to get Max in here, so I called him again and cancelled the weekend. It wasn’t worth worrying about him ending up in a ditch and me being stranded here with no vehicle.

Chris, from the garage was sure it was my water pump. I shouldn’t drive it in. I called AAA, but was still worried about the fact that the maintainer hadn’t been through yet. They should call me before they left.

Voila! The grader went past my lane just before the tow driver called me. I began explaining where I lived, that I had a narrow lane, and he laughed. He had been here last fall pulling out my air conditioner maintenance guy who had managed to pick up some (not one, some) nails in his tires). He knew where I lived and he knew my lane. It was no problem. Have I mentioned that I love small town America?

The next time I looked up, I saw them walking around my Jeep. I went outside and they’d backed down that lane. This wasn’t his first rodeo, he told me. A couple of good ole boys who knew their way around. I felt really well taken care of. They hauled my Jeep out and took it into town for me, but not before chatting with me about how beautiful it is out here and how wonderful it is to see deer all year long and how they had taken snowmobile trips from Webster City to Lehigh on the frozen river bed. Have I mentioned that I love small town America?

I called Max back and told him that I knew I was giving him whiplash, but the grader had been through, sun was probably melting the rest of the snow on the highways and maybe we could do this after all. But, what if he showed up tomorrow during the light of day with warmer temperatures instead of late tonight.

That’s where we’re at now.

In the middle of all of this, TB decided that he desperately needed my attention and to let me know that, he was going to run back and forth across my desk and my keyboard, knocking things over, playing with the pencil in my hand, generally being a pest. In between one of the calls, he was driving me batty and I yelled “NO!” at him while he was sitting on the floor beside me. Rather than run away, which he used to do when I yelled, he promptly dropped on his back on the floor and gave me his cute face look.

He knows my bark is worse than my bite and I will never hurt him. I can’t believe he is no longer intimidated by my yelling. Darn it! What am I going to do now?  All I could do at that point was giggle at him and tell him that I loved him. This cat is so stinkin’ smart, now he’s even figured this out! I’m going to have nothing left.

Shelf of BooksBetween the stress and excitement of the morning and a whole lot of caffeine, I am wired beyond belief. But I said something today to the tow truck drivers that I’ve never said before. When I was explaining why I was here and why I loved it so much, I told them that I was an author. I’ve never said that out loud to a stranger. It felt weird. It felt good, but it felt weird. I don’t know that I really believe it, but yesterday when I was cleaning and reorganizing, I made this shelf happen and it hit me that those were MY books. I’m going to have to accept it someday, aren’t I!

Praise Publicly; Criticize Privately.

I’ve been quiet on here for the last few weeks. Finishing a book and getting it out there is more than a little overwhelming. That was the first week. The next week, I re-edited Book 3 in preparation for a large promotion. Then, this last week I have dealt with one of the worst results of a large promotion and exposing lots of people to my books … nasty reviews. The first two weeks wiped me out physically and mentally, this last week wiped me out emotionally.

Now, before you react and feel sorry for me, think I’m a ninny because I pay attention to the haters, or call me thin-skinned because I can’t take criticism, I need you to understand that none of those things are the real point of what I’m about to say.

I was raised to be an over-achiever. My parents always told me how proud they were when I did something well, and rather than belittling me when I made a mistake or failed; they encouraged me to never quit. My life hasn’t been filled with wild successes. I have failed and made terrible mistakes. I don’t always win. I have pretty thick skin for constructive criticism – otherwise how would I have ever gotten this far and I know when people are reacting to the things I do because of their own insecurities.

However, it still hurts. Anyone who is creative soon discovers that putting their soul on the line when they are expressing themselves, no matter the medium, is a risky thing to do. People … humanity … we’re broken … and it is often difficult to accept that risk in someone else because we are so unwilling to take it ourselves.

As I’ve spent time thinking about all of this, two things came to mind that I needed to understand for myself. These came from conversations I had with friends who had to listen to me completely fall apart yesterday.

First. The reason that I fall apart and hide inside myself when I am criticized unfairly (I’m not talking about constructive criticism, I’m talking about nasty, irrelevant and unnecessary criticism), even if I know that it is a bullying tactic written by someone who doesn’t have a lot of joy in their life; is because it feeds into a tiny part of me that I bury very deeply. Deep down inside there is that little bit of me that believes them and now that someone has said them out loud, they must be true. See, some of those reviews, in essence, tell me that I shouldn’t be writing anything and putting it out there for the public to read. My books are crap and no one else should take the time to download them, much less read them. These are the same playground bullying tactics that tell a little girl she is ugly or a little boy that he is a weakling and they shouldn’t even bother to exist. Because of the anonymity these bullies are afforded, they get away with digging into a person’s deepest fears and making them bigger than they really are.

Second, bullying happens in secret. As soon as I told a few close friends what was affecting me, they jumped right in to remind me of the truth. I thought it was necessary for me to be quiet about how this hurt me, because the more I talked about it, the weaker I looked for letting it get to me and besides, who wants to listen to me whine. I was never brought up to be a whiner.

Hey … when I’m sane, I know  this stuff isn’t about me. I know  these people are bullies and I shouldn’t let them get to me. I know there are a lot of people who love what I write. I try not to be affected by the things that are said about my writing, to let it roll off my back. I’ve been told that if I put myself out there, I should expect this stuff and I’d better be tough enough to take it. I know that people like this are also writing terrible reviews of classic literature (imagine that!). I know all of this, so I also know that no one wants to hear how it tears me up and that makes me keep my mouth shut about it.

But when I said something out loud, all of a sudden it made the hateful comments seem less potent. Part of it was my friend’s responses, but most of it was the fact that I put those horrible things out there and I didn’t die. I took away their power by exposing them for what they were.

That was a huge learning moment for me. It made it easier for me to come back to sanity and return to the realization that these words don’t have the power to actually affect my life. They shouldn’t even get a day’s worth of tears out of me, but I’m human and when I get hurt badly enough, I fall apart.

I know that the people who will read this are not the same people who post those things. I’m preaching to the proverbial choir … and that’s too bad, because we have got to stop tearing people down in order to build ourselves up. We have to. There is so much beauty in the world and it is muddied and destroyed by negative words and behaviors.

Now … the proper response here is not to feel sorry for me or take pity on me. I’ve gotten past it and after spending this last year reading a whole lot of bad things that people feel it necessary to post about me and my writing, I’ve gotten better at dealing with 98% of those reviews. I’ll also learn to deal with the rest of them.

The proper response is to do your best to overcome the natural tendencies we have to be negative. The proper response is to encourage others … lots of others. When you see someone doing something great, tell them. Not me. You are already telling me. But tell lots of people. When you appreciate a waitress or a checkout clerk, say something! Tell people how great they are.

Praise Publicly Criticize PrivatelyAnd, one last mantra I’d like to put out there for you. My sister, who is a fifth grade teacher, is trying to train her students to do this. Remember these words and practice them often. Put them on your refrigerator, post them on your Facebook wall. Tweet them, remind everyone over and over again.

Praise publicly, Criticize privately.

Do the world a favor. Flood it with grace.