Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Still Loving Books In The Digital Age

My hallway being taken over by books.
I've always loved books. But I have to admit, now that there are now so many television series that tell season-long stories, it sometimes cuts into my reading time. (Recent favorites: Agents of Shield and Jessica Jones.) I enjoy watching a good series almost as much as I do reading books.

Why only almost? It has to do both with loving to read words on a page (or an ereader) and with how loud the world seems to have become.

A cheap vacation

Reading a good story, watching a TV series, or sitting in the dark in a theater to see a movie or play all can pull me into a different world for hours. But books add a layer by, ironically, doing less. Reading requires engaging my own imagination in a way that a movie or series doesn't. I picture how the characters look, hear the sounds, and smell the scents the author describes. Because I'm so absorbed in imagining, it feels like I'm getting a cheap mini-vacation from life.


Reading a book also demands complete attention. I can and do listen to audiobooks and podcasts while doing other things. I really like that. Good audio can make you look forward to routine tasks like sorting laundry. But it also means that we're all dividing our attention more and more. In contrast, when I read a good book, I focus on it. For the first five minutes, especially with a new book, that can be a challenge. But after that, everything else leaves my mind. I truly relax. I notice I sleep much better if I read 45 minutes to an hour before I go to bed. It seems to clear out the day's concerns, almost like a long meditation.


So many things compete for our attention these days and they're all loud. TV commercials, video clips (and more commercials) on the Internet, and cars honking is if that will make traffic jams magically disappear. Books, whether on paper or on my Kindle, don't yell. They don't shriek. They don't even whisper. They are silent. And I love that.

What about you? What do you love about reading?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Comic Con, Ghostbusters, and What Women Wear

This past weekend, I attended Comic Con Chicago. The panels I made it to were fun and informative, including one with X-Files cast members, one by the creator of the Facebook Page Ladies Geeking Out on gender and geek culture, and another on the intersection between film, books, television, and video games.

Seeing all the costumes reminded me of one of the big reasons I loved the new Ghostbusters movie. Not only did I laugh through all of it, I appreciated seeing women on screen dressed appropriately for their work. These women didn't head out to fight ghosts and monsters in bikinis, leotards, or skimpy superhero outfits. They were practical. They wore coveralls. I enjoyed seeing that added to the range of types of dress and characters portrayed at Comic Con.

Along those lines, at the geek culture panel, I learned about a great blog called Repair Her Armor. It's to help all those female superheroes out there forced to go into battle with so much skin exposed. Also, at the Hawkeye Initiative, you can see "How to fix every Strong Female Character pose in superhero comics: replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing." It's hilarious and highlights the  differences in how these characters are drawn.

I also got to see the car from one of my favorite 70s TV shows. Do you know whose this is?

Post your answer below, and feel free to share your Comic Con experience.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An Illuminating Day -- The First Draft Of The Last Book

My plan for this blog entry was to share with you my thoughts on the 2016 Ghostbusters movie, which I loved. I had notes sketched out on a yellow legal pad (because I really like writing on those). But then this morning I realized I was so close to finishing the first draft of The Illumination, the fourth and final book in my Awakening series. So here I am, typing this at 5:35 p.m. central time. I don't have a cool post, but I do have a first draft. A day ahead of schedule.

 I admit I had a little time left to write a blog post, but instead I went onto ShutterStock and starting saving images of lightning strikes and illuminated cities and silhouettes of young woman I might want to use in a cover. I can't post them because I haven't bought any of them yet, but you can view them here. The photo on the left, which I took, gives the barest hint of what I'm looking for. Not the Sears (now Willis) Tower, as that won't be featured. But a cityscape with sky behind it that looks a bit ominous. Probably including lightning strikes. 

One thing I'm sure I'll struggle with during rewrites is the last line of The Illumination. It's a lot of pressure, writing a closing for a four-book series. The line as it reads now is bad. (No, I won't tell you what it is.) But I'll deal with that, and a host of other challenges, including how to manage so many characters, in the rewrite. While I can't promise a final line that will be amazing--though that's my goal--I can promise it'll be better than what's there now. (No, really won't tell you.)

In the meantime, I'm heading out to see Ghostbusters again to celebrate.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Breaking for a Historic Moment

Two posts ago, I shared my main goals for the rest of the year and included a timeline. As I write my first draft of the last book in my Awakening series, having that timeline out there for all to see has helped me return to the keyboard even when I'd really like to binge-watch the next three Agents of Shield episodes. (I decided to watch the series on the recommendation of two other participants in the creative retreat described in my last post.)

Hattie Caraway, the first woman elected to the Senate.
But yesterday I got an email from a friend who has raptly followed the conventions of both major political parties. The roll call was likely to be at about 4 p.m. central time, he told me, so if I wanted to see a historic moment, I should tune in.

I wrestled with taking a break for something that held no real suspense. Sure, there was a question of what, exactly, Bernie Sanders would do, but he'd already endorsed former rival Hillary Clinton. She was going to be nominated. And yet....

A woman nominated for president of a major political party is something that's never happened before in the United States. It's something that my mom, who was born just three years after women got the right to vote, didn't live to see. So I tuned in.

It took much longer than I expected. So long that I finally got my laptop and multi-tasked (something I generally avoid) by scheduling some advertising for August.

But it also was far more moving than I expected. Regardless of political views, hearing a woman born before women had the right to vote announce her state's delegates for the first woman to be the nominee of a major party...amazing. A Wall Street Journal article today talked about how far women have come, and yet I'm so often struck by how much as not changed. There are only 20 women in the Senate, for instance, despite having had the right to vote since 1920. Twenty.

Last night, though, I didn't think about that. I thought instead about how many girls will grow up in a world where it seems perfectly normal for a woman to be president. Where, perhaps, there'll be women running on both sides and no one will even comment on it.

For today, though, it is groundbreaking, so I felt the need to take one more break to write about it.

And now...back to work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Value of Retreating

One of many sunsets during the retreat.
In early July, I spent seven days at a creative retreat organized by Rabbit Hole (a company that designs live interactive gaming experiences). We stayed in a house on a river in Indiana with an outdoor grill, fire pit, and decks. While I set specific writing goals, I didn't think much beforehand about what being on a retreat means.

Today I looked up the dictionary definitions of the word "retreat." As a noun, it can mean a place of privacy that affords peace and quiet, an area where a person can be alone, an area for withdrawal for prayer and study, or the act of withdrawing or going backwards, especially to escape something hazardous or unpleasant (or enemy troops). As a verb, its meanings are similar and include pulling back or moving backward, withdrawing from enemy forces, or withdrawing to a quiet or secluded place.

In different ways, all these definitions applied. I consciously decided to withdraw for the week from unnecessary email, most social media, and business concerns.
Michelle (no longer a baby) taking a break on the dock.

I also withdrew, without really planning to, from other aspects of life. For instance, from being concerned about how I present myself. Rabbit Hole was founded by my niece Michelle Lilly and her friend and business partner Eleanor Hyde. I've hung out with Michelle since she was born (she was a super-cute baby, by the way, not that I'm biased), and the retreat included other writers, musicians, and artists who are family or are friends of Michelle. All had come to work on their own projects (games, plays, music, art), not to evaluate or do business with me. Which meant I packed and wore what was comfortable and weather appropriate without a lot of thought about how I looked. I brought only one pair of shoes--sandals with a gym-shoe like sole. In other words, I could ignore the lines most women walk every day, such as do I look:
  • too young (skirt too short; hair too long; dress, skirt, leggings, or jeans too tight; sweatshirt or T-shirt too big/too loose)
  • too old (too much gray in hair; skirt too long; blouse buttoned too high)
  • too sexy (blouse cut too low; skirt too short; heels too high; hair too wild)
  • too conservative (shoes too flat; make up too sparse or too polished; hair too straight and neither too short nor too long)
  • too serious (not smiling; arms at sides)
  • too silly (smiling too much; gesturing too much). 
I just wore what I wore and looked how I looked. How relaxing was that?

A cemetery a few steps from the house.
It also felt wonderful to be free of scheduling. As I wrote in my last entry, I live by schedules because that's how I make sure I get things done. But because I dropped out almost everything other than fiction writing, I felt confident I could write the number of words I wanted to write without a fixed plan. So I never set in alarm for when I would get up, and I went to bed when I got tired, rather than at a specific time.

Also, Monotone, Indiana is in a different time zone than Chicago, where I live. My laptop stayed on Central Time, the clocks in the kitchen were set to Eastern Time. The clocks in the bedroom were all blinking because apparently the electricity had gone out at one point. My iPhone kept switching time zones, which probably had to do with cell phone towers. All of this gave me a wonderful feeling of time being fluid, and of having no pressing demands.

A zombie game we played (similar narrative to Walking Dead).
Retreating means not only pulling away but moving toward. I was looking for peace and to jump start my creativity after a few busy months getting my third supernatural thriller released, finishing a semester of teaching, and writing an appeal. My plan was to relax by immersing myself in fiction writing (I'm working on The Illumination, the fourth and final book in my Awakening Series), and I did that. But I also completely enjoyed simply being in a place with all these people who love telling stories, and care about telling stories, as much as I do, and who tell them in very different ways. Michelle, Eleanor, and I spent about eight hours playing a game called Her Story. It required using keywords to search for video clips of an interview of a woman who was connected to a murder. By finding and watching the clips, which could not be seen in chronological order, we pieced together the woman's life and what had happened. So it was both a game an an alternate, non-linear way of figuring out a mystery/suspense story. As the next series I plan to write will be mysteries/legal thrillers, I not only had fun, I learned about my genre.

The house, which Rabbit Hole found through AirBnB, had a VCR and a bunch of videotapes, including the original Star Wars trilogy. So one night we stayed up late and watched Star Wars. (I admit it; I went to bed before Empire Strikes Back.) That, too, was a great experience that took me back to how I excited I felt about that movie when it came out, and the sense of wonder it engendered.

These surprises and others (including the neighbors' over-the-top fireworks displays on July 3, 4, and 5) reminded me that while focusing on productivity and sticking to schedules has served me well my whole life, it's also important to be flexible and try new things. Not just to foster creativity but to have a happy and fun life.

One of the cloudy days on retreat.
Finally, I appreciated how responsible, considerate, and cool everyone at the retreat was. Depending on the day, we had between 3 and 8 people staying in a small two-bedroom house. Everyone brought or bought more than enough food to share, washed dishes when they saw them piling up in the sink (no dishwasher), cleaned counters or tables when needed, and cooked. Those who stayed up late or got up early were mindful that others were sleeping. And we all checked with one another regarding workspaces and whether what we were doing might disturb anyone else.

The only downside for me was that while I loved taking walks, sitting near the river, and watching sunsets over the water (see photos), many, many, many bugs also enjoy the same, and are not at all put off by eco-friendly bug spray. I am pretty sure I got more insect bites in one week than I've had in the last 10 years. And I am absolutely going back if Rabbit Hole hosts the retreat again next year.

When is the last time you went on a retreat? If you haven't been on one, would you like to? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Best Laid Plans Half Way Through The Year

View from Three Sixty Restaurant in St. Louis
I'm a little nervous posting this. Yesterday I had on my schedule to write out a schedule (yes, really) for the rest of the year. Which led me to defining specific goals for the second half of 2016. I tend to aim high each January with the idea that it's rare to exceed a goal. But I don't share my goals, as I'm not committing to achieving every single one unless everything works out perfectly and there are no surprises. (Surprisingly, I've never had a year like that.)

But mid-year is different. It's about priorities for the rest of the year, and a little beyond. Part of me feels like sharing them, with a timeline no less, is tempting fate. We all know the saying about the best laid plans. The part of me that struggled on and off with anxiety for many years swears by that saying. While anxiety rarely takes over anymore, it's like a broken bone that's long since healed. Every now and then--in a certain type of weather or after a wrong step--it reminds me that it was once very seriously broken and could break again.

View from Cindy's in Chicago
The other, healthier part of me knows that a career as an author and publisher means prioritizing writing and publishing. I already prioritize the part-time work I do as a lawyer and adjunct professor because other people are depending on my efforts to advance their careers and businesses. But my shift to devoting the bulk of my time to writing and publishing only works if I set realistic deadlines. Ones that account for the ups and downs I can anticipate (a larger than usual class size, an unexpected court ruling requiring an appeal at an already busy time, a family or friend or personal emergency). If everything goes far more smoothly than expected, I can always move up the schedule. But I no longer am willing to move it back.

So, here it is, my half-year check in/schedule/goal list. The Cliff's Notes version is the release date for the fourth and final book in The Awakening series, The Illumination, is May 15, 2017. If you'd like to know what else I have in the works feel free to read the details.

8/12/16:  1st Draft of The Illumination finished

8/12/16:  List of 10 topics for blog posts about Writing as a Second Career finished

8/19/16:  First 25,000 words of Illumination and outline revised to send to story editor

8/26/16:  First 5 posts of WSC blog finished, start posting one each Sunday night

9/2/16:  Next 5 posts of WSC blog finished

9/9/16:  Finish Outline of The Worried Man (working title of first book in a new legal thriller/mystery series)

9/16/16:  Next 5 posts of WSC blog finished

9/23/16:  Revision of Worried Man Outline finished

10/28/16:  Send revised Illumination manuscript (based on editor's comments & my post-break review) to Beta Readers

11/4/16:  Next 5 posts of WSC blog finished

12/23/16:  First draft of Worried Man finished

1/20/17:  Revision of Illumination based on beta readers' comments finished.

(work on Worried Man while taking break from Illumination)

2/23/17:  Final revisions to Illumination finished

(take a week off)

2/27-28/17:  Proofread and polish Illumination (minor edits only + corrections)

3/1/17:  Send Illumination to proofreaders

3/17/17:  My last proofread; add edits from others

(do not read Illumination for at least 5 days)

3/28-29/17:  Final check, all proofreading finished, manuscript finalized

3/30/17:  Manuscript to 52novels (for ebook conversion) and CreateSpace (for print publication)

(work on Worried Man revisions, blog posts, proofread ebook files, galleys)

5/15/17:  Publication date for Illumination

Oh, I almost forgot. Why the photos? Most of the action in The Illumination will be in Chicago and St. Louis, so I've given you bird's eye views of both. Which I think is appropriate for goal setting. If you'd like to keep up to date with new releases and be notified when The Illumination is available for pre-order or purchase, please join my email list.

How has your year gone? Any half-year goals or plans you'd like to share in the comment section?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Four Book Series And The Forced Pregnancy Narrative

The Final Print Proof of The Conflagration
Many people have asked why I made The Awakening a four-book series. I asked myself the same question yesterday after I approved the final print proof for The Conflagration, Book 3 in the series, and revised my handwritten outline for Book 4, The Illumination. (You can get The Conflagration now in ebook form if you don't want to wait for the paperback.) It's not that I don't love my main character, Tara Spencer. Despite all the awful events I've put her through, I do. She and her allies and foes are my favorite characters of all those I've written about. But if I had made the series a trilogy, I'd be finished now. I'd miss them all. But I'd be finished. As someone who likes to check off boxes for completed tasks on lists, that appeals to me.

So why write four books? As I talked about in the Author's Note at the end of The Conflagration, originally I envisioned The Awakening as a standalone novel. But as I revised it before publishing, I realized there was much more to Tara's story. I've always been intrigued by world-changing pregnancy narratives, Rosemary's Baby and The Terminator being my favorites. On the one hand, that trope gave us one of our most well known female action heroes in The Terminator. On the other, that narrative seems to say the woman protagonist derives her significance from the fact that she may give birth to a special child, and that it's only acceptable for her be proactive, to fight, if it's to protect her child. That's not the story I felt compelled to tell.

Outline for The Illumination, the fourth (and last) book in The Awakening Series
Tara is a hero not because of the child she might have but because of the values she holds and who she is, so her story goes far beyond having to deal with a pregnancy that was forced upon her. I also wanted to deal with the issue of the forced pregnancy itself. As in, regardless of end goals or motives, what are the ethics of causing a supernatural or mystical pregnancy for a woman who had no part in the plan? As I plotted The Unbelievers (Book 2), I discovered it took me to a natural midpoint both for Tara's personal journey and for the bigger picture of how and why she came to be pregnant and what it means for the world. So -- four books.

My goal is to release Book 4, The Illumination, within a year. If you've enjoyed The Awakening Series to date and would like to be notified of the release of The Illumination, you can join my email list here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Now Available For Preorder: Book 3 In The Awakening Series

Six months after giving birth to a mysterious child whispered to be the Antichrist, Tara Spencer fights for her life as she searches for her kidnapped baby girl.

While Tara follows leads, she also must struggle to make sense of a shocking prophecy about her own growing power and place in the battle between good and evil.

Denounced by some as a fraud and feared by others, Tara desperately aligns herself with foes who attempted to murder her only days ago. But can she come to terms with what she's learned about herself and control her power in time to save her daughter?

The Conflagration is the third installment in the four-book Awakening series by Lisa M. Lilly, author of The Awakening and The Unbelievers. She lives and practices law in Chicago.

Release date: May 17, 2016 for all ebook editions

Preorder Now:




Thursday, May 5, 2016

Lost Gospels From the Fourth Century

If you've never heard of the Nag Hammadi documents, think Dead Sea Scrolls but less well known. The Nag Hammadi Scriptures contain English-language translations of fourth-century papyrus gospels unearthed in Egypt in 1945. I relied on an earlier compilation of the translations in my research for The Awakening series.

Inside, you'll find many lost texts the official Catholic Church rejected, including the Gospel of Mary, the Apocalypse of Adam (where Adam speaks to his son Seth), the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Thomas, and two I used in the Awakening series, The Trimorphic Protennoia and The Thunder, Perfect Mind. (You'll see reference to the latter in Book 3, The Conflagration, which will be released May 17, 2017.) Both of those texts are poetic and both lend themselves to a focus on the feminine aspects of God. I liked reading them because they interested me even if I hadn't been looking for inspiration for my fiction.

Other texts I found hard to follow, and still others seemed so out of whack (that's a technical term) to my modern-day eyes that I wasn't surprised the Church disregarded them. Whether they made sense at the time and were rejected as contrary to official Church teachings, I don't know.

This edition in particular of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures makes me cheer for Amazon and other platforms for selling books on line. When I first learned about these manuscripts, the compilation of translated versions was only available through academic publishers at a cost of over $700. Later, I bought the edition I still have through Amazon for about $60. As I write this, the price is $12.99 for Kindle and $15.48 for paperback, with many used copies available for less.

If you are interested in the origins of Christianity and how and why some of the earliest texts were excluded from it, this is well worth the read.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Literary Equivalent Of Pratfalls

Lamb is the latest book group read.
One of the pluses and minuses of belonging to two book groups is that I read a lot of books I wouldn't otherwise choose. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal is one of them. Not only does it not fall into the mystery, occult (OK-maybe extremely loosely), suspense, or thriller genres, it is a novel that is mostly satire mixed with the literary equivalent of pratfalls. I enjoy short satirical pieces and goofy humor at times. But not so much for fifteen hours and twenty minutes, which is the length of this book on Audible.

Despite all that, I'm not sorry I read Lamb. Mainly told in first person, it purports to be a lost gospel of a childhood friend of Jesus Christ, wrapped within the story of how Biff came to write it after being resurrected by an annoying angel. It focuses on the years the Christian New Testament skips. First, it covers childhood and, second, the early teens to twenty-something. According to Biff, these years include travel in India, learning about other religions, doubts about being a messiah and what that means, and a healthy/borderline unhealthy curiosity about sex.

More Than A Comedy

Lamb is filled with irreverent jokes, anachronisms, and silliness, but it would be a mistake to view it as making fun of the Christian gospels. OK, it does make fun of the Christian gospels a little. But I read the book as the author’s genuine attempt to understand inconsistencies, gaps, and less-than-clear doctrines expressed by the Christ depicted in the New Testament. For that reason, depending upon whether the reader's sense of humor matches the author’s, I don't think this book will necessarily put off religious readers.

But It's Probably Not Horror

The Amazon rankings for Lamb as I write this include listings under (a) horror/comedy, (b) contemporary fiction/religious, and (c) religious and inspirational/historical. Uh, I'm not so sure. I didn't find anything that would be remotely considered horror in this book. But the Amazon categories, despite including numerous subcategories, often do not quite fit a particular read. My own Awakening series, best described as a supernatural thriller series, usually appears on the Horror Top 100 list when I have a sale, though it is more supernatural than frightening or bone chilling.

As to the historical reference, my guess is people who view the Bible itself as historical would be offended at anyone referring to Lamb that way. On the other hand, I saw a Goodreads review that noted that some of the fictional adventures Joshua (the name Biff claims was Jesus Christ's real name) engages in fit with historical suppositions about those missing years.

Why Listen Rather Than Read

Had I read Lamb rather than listened to it, I might have liked it better. The joke is a bit one-note, and listening to it for so many hours got tiresome. Had I been reading, it would have taken me less time, so I might not have grown tired of it. I also might have skimmed a few more parts. (Though I confess I did the audio equivalent of skimming. I set the reading speed faster and occasionally did household tasks that drowned out the narration without going back to listen to the parts I missed.) I chose to listen rather than read because I knew this wasn't my type of book. I figured I'd be more apt to finish it if I listened while doing other things rather than setting aside time simply to read. Also, I wanted to use my Audible subscription credits.

Conflicting Reviews Of Lamb

Unlike Americanah, which I discussed two weeks ago, I was not surprised by the varying reviews of Lamb. Those people who enjoy satire and farce seemed to really love the book. Those who gave it very low reviews tended to be people who, like me, grew tired of the novel-length joke or aren't really fans of satire or farce. If you're not sure if this book will work for you, I suggest listening to a sample on Audible or reading the sample pages on Amazon. If you enjoy the tone, you probably will like the rest of the book as well. If not, I doubt that it will grow on you.

Why Would I Review Another Book That Is Not What I Usually Like To Read?

From a marketing perspective, I probably should review books here that are in the same genre in which I write. That way, people might flip from the blog page on my website to the book page and discover they are interested in my Awakening series. But I already edit a monthly newsletter that covers the mystery, occult, suspense, and thriller genres in books, film, and TV. (You can sign up here if interested.)

More important, as both a reader and writer, I want to pay attention to books that are outside my usual area. For one thing, too many dark books leads to a skewed view of the world. I already look at every alley or panel van and imagine a story involving a monster or other villain. That’s good for my career as an author, but I don’t need to reinforce it with every book I pick up. And I have always liked learning about perspectives and approaches different from my own. Which has resulted in some very interesting conversations with different friends during this election cycle, but that's a whole other post. Lamb gave me some new perspectives on how believers see Christ and on using satire in long-form storytelling. That alone made it worth the read.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

God Is Not One

This week's book recommendation.
Since my early twenties when I started seriously questioning my religious beliefs, I've enjoyed reading books about religion. Not books that preach, but books that explore. Questions about when and how the universe was created, whether there is a god, many gods, or no god, and the various ways people rely upon religion to explain and navigate the world fascinate me, as does how religious beliefs affect people's relationships. That last point inspired me to write my Awakening thriller series, where characters with genuine, deeply-held beliefs oppose one another. All of which is why I love the book God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World by Stephen Prothero.

Prothero's Reasons For Writing About Differences In Religious Beliefs

Prothero's premise is that while people often say things like "we all worship the same God," we actually " in a world where religion seems as likely to detonate a bomb as to defuse one." (See Prothero's Introduction.) No one tries to argue that every political party, type of government, or economic system is the same, as the current U.S. presidential primary races highlight. Yet popular culture and even religious scholars often view different religious as merely varying ways to get to the same place. 

The Eight Religions The Book Discusses

Throughout God Is Not One, Prothero shows the differences among Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba Religion, Judaism, and Daoism. Why these and not others are included in itself raises interesting questions. Prothero organizes his analysis using a four-point structure. For each religion, he examines:

  • the problem
  • the solution (or religious goal)
  • the technique (for reaching/achieving the solution)
  • an exemplar who illustrates the path from problem to solution 

A Timely Example Of Differences

As an example of differences in the first two points, Prothero explains how Christianity sees the problem as sin, with salvation as the solution. But in Buddhism, suffering is the problem and awakening is the solution. In contrast to both of those religions, in Judaism, the problem is exile; the solution is returning to God. I find these comparisons particularly timely for the U.S., which is now in the midst of the presidential primary election season. The race includes candidates who normally court the vote of a specific segment of the Christian population, argue the U.S. is a Christian nation, and deplore businesses who attempt to recognize that not all their customers are Christian. Yet because the primaries are hotly contested this year in New York, those same candidates have needed to attempt to broaden their appeal to non-Christian voters. I confess to not following every single thing politicians say (shocking, I know), but I feel safe in guessing that one way politicians attempt to deal with such conundrums is to assert that we all worship the same God and hold the same values.

Who Shouldn't Read This Book 

If you're uninterested in religion or philosophy, God Is Not One won't appeal to you. But if you are curious about what, how, and why cultures and individuals profess certain religious beliefs, I think you'll find this fascinating. Also, while the book is well-researched, the tone is fairly conversation, so you won't feel like you're reading a textbook.

If you read God Is Not One and have thoughts about it or can suggest other similar books, please share below.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

It Was The Best Of Books, It Was The Worst Of Books: Americanah

Why I Read Americanah

Suspense, thrillers, mystery, and occult are the genres that make up most of my to-read stack, so Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not the type of novel that typically catches my eye. But I saw it listed in an article covering the ten most-talked-about books for 2014 and suggested it for one of my book groups. Also, I loved the audiobook sample on Audible. It was from the point of view of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to the U.S., struggles to achieve professional success, and writes a blog on race for non-American blacks. I found the partial blog post included in the sample funny and insightful. I was also intrigued that Ifemelu planned to return to Nigeria and was contacting Obinze, a Nigerian man whom she'd once loved, but who was now married to someone else.

The book, which I listened to rather than read, shifts between Ifemelu and Obinze, who at one point emigrates to England but does so without documentation. (Ifemelu comes to the U.S. on a visa.) There are also shifts in time. While Americanah starts when Ifemelu decides to move back to Nigeria, much of the book is the story of her life leading up to that point. 

The Best Of Books

Though I usually prefer a more traditional plot structure, I loved this book. I had no trouble following the point of view and time shifts, which is partly a testament to the narrator. She varied her accent and voice slightly for each character so that I could tell who was whom, but never to the point of caricature. I also found it fairly easy to follow the shifts in time, as the author used certain anchor scenes and places to signal the timeframe. The characters struck a chord in me and were well developed. I loved Ifemelu's observations on race and U.S. culture from her outsider perspective and enjoyed her wit and humor. At the same time, her story is deeply emotional, as is Obinze's. The book has a great deal to say about race, immigration, and differences from person to person and country to country, but I never felt it spoke at the expense of the characters or the plot.

The Worst Of Books?

So why does my title include "the worst of books"? Because after I'd finished I checked the reviews on Goodreads. To my surprise, the first review that popped up was from a reader who hated everything about the book that I'd loved. He'd found the characters underdeveloped, the plot hard to follow or non-existent, the structure lacking. Another reviewer found the book preachy and not at all funny, and the scenes that made me cry left her cold.

You Decide

None of the negative reviews changed my view of Americanah as one of the best books I've ever read. But the unfavorable reactions were educational. As both a reader and writer, I know book lovers often differ widely in how they see a particular novel. This is particularly so when it comes to a fan of literary fiction reading commercial work and vice versa. This difference often occurs because people come to novels for different things. The lovers of literary fiction tend to focus more on the writing as an end in itself, while those who love commercial fiction often look more for story, including plot and characterization. But I hadn't realized how much of a difference of opinion there could be on a book that seemed to me to do an amazing job on both counts.

If you decide to read the Americanah, please let me know how you see it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Conflagration Is Almost Here

It's almost time for Book 3 of 4 in The Awakening series. I'm finalizing the text now for publication, and you can see the cover above, thanks to graphic designer Carly Neigh. The ebook editions will be released in May. If you'd like to receive a notice of the release date directly, you can join my email list here.

Now, back to work...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Still Life and Still Life (A Favorite Books Post)

From personal experience, I know authors struggle with what to title their books. The goal is to give readers a sense of what the book is about and to choose something memorable, but not so memorable it gets used too often, possibly creating confusion when the reader searches for the book. (In the U.S., titles are not copyrightable, so any number of authors and publishers can use the same title.) Two of my favorite thrillers have the same title: Still Life.

Still Life by Joy Fielding 

Casey Marshall is a businesswoman who suffers severe injuries from being hit by a car. She's plunged into a coma, but she gradually becomes aware of what's happening around her. She can hear, at least some of the time, but can't move, see, or communicate. Despite that, Fielding makes her a proactive main character who does everything she can within the (significant) limits placed upon her. I found every moment fascinating as Casey begins to realize the people she loves might not be quite who she thought they were, and the "accident" may have been an attempt on her life.

Still Life by Louise Penny

Like Joy Fielding's book, I couldn't put this one down. It is a more traditional suspense novel in that there is a detective--Chief Inspector Gamache. Yet it is distinctive in several ways. While Casey exists almost in a vacuum due to her coma, the mystery here is grounded in Three Pines, a small town in Canada that almost becomes a character in itself. The residents include an accomplished aging poet, several artists, a former psychologist turned bookstore owner, and proprietors of a beautiful bistro that is also an antique shop. The murder victim is a beloved long-time resident of the town, murdered just after she's been brave enough at last to enter a painting in an art show and has learned she's been accepted. She has no enemies that anyone's aware of, and no one can imagine who would kill her.

Point of View

Joy Fielding's book is told from a single point of view, that of Casey Marshall. The reader knows only what Casey hears and understands. Louise Penny's novel is told from multiple points of view, sometimes within the same scene, which at first I found a bit distracting. In the end, though, seeing the town, the crime, and the resolution from so many viewpoints added layers to the story. It also added to my desire to live in Three Pines, or at least visit regularly.

The Meaning of the Title

The most obvious meaning of the title of the Joy Fielding book is that the protagonist is literally still, due to her coma, and yet is more alive than anyone realizes. Still Life also reflects some of Casey's realizations about her pre-coma life.

In the Louise Penny book, the title in part refers to the artists in the town and their work. But it also reflects aspects of life in the town in ways that shed light on the mystery.

Tone and Title

Still Life by Joy Fielding is tense and suspenseful, with little relief from Casey's fear. Still Life by Louis Penny has a mixed tone. Despite beginning in an atmosphere somewhat like that of a cozy mystery, the people and events have dark sides and twists. A few times I found the humor a bit buffoonish given the darkness of the story as a whole; however, I enjoyed the book so much it didn't matter.

If you enjoy suspense or mysteries, I highly recommend both Still Lifes. They are among my favorite thrillers of all time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Inside The United States States Supreme Court: The Brethren (A Favorite Books Post)

Current cover for The Brethren.
The Brethren is a behind-the-scenes study of the people on the United States Supreme Court during a time when landmark decisions, including Roe v. Wade, where issued. I came across it while in law school, when I told a friend I didn't understand how the Court could issue such conflicting opinions during the same time period. I often felt some underlying reason for a decision was being left unspoken. He loaned me The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong.

Not Like Other History Or Political Books

The idea of reading another book did not appeal to me. I was working full-time, attending classes at night, and reading at least eight hours every Saturday and eight hours every Sunday to keep up with the required reading. While before I started law school, my favorite thing to do to relax was to read novels, after wading through dense, difficult case law for sixteen-twenty hours a week, I generally turned on the TV when I had a rare half hour with nothing to do. (That's how I started watching X-Files, which was on after my Friday night class.) I also had never liked any history book I’d ever read, probably because I’d only read textbooks.

So if my classmate hadn't actually handed me the paperback edition of The Brethren (cover shown below), I doubt I would have read it. But I started it and was immediately hooked, flying through it within a week despite all my other commitments. It became the first nonfiction book I loved. I had never read a Bob Woodward book before, so I didn't know what it would be like. (I’ve now read and enjoyed several, but this one is my favorite.) I was fascinated by the horse-trading, personal relationships, and thought processes behind the Court's decisions.

Avon Books cover for The Brethren

When Only White Men Were On The Court

I had an added personal interest in the book because the only other lawyer in my extended family clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court toward the end of the time period of the book—1969-1975. It was a time when only white men served on the Court, and it's interesting to see how their views and politics varied despite all having that in common. (You can see a list of all Supreme Court justices throughout history here.)

My cousin told me Bob Woodward called him when researching the book, but he declined to comment, as clerks are supposed to keep everything confidential. While I'm glad my cousin honored that, I confess I'm grateful that others apparently did not, because the book is fascinating to read for the human stories alone. It also helped me understand the extremely varied reasons why the justices reach their decisions and how the Court fits into the larger political system of my country. I highly recommend The Brethren to anyone who has even a passing interest in how the United States works.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Hundred Ways To Look At Hillary (A Favorite Books Post)

This book generated the most book club discussion.
My clearest first memory of Hillary Clinton is from 1992. She reacted to criticisms of why she'd worked as a lawyer even while having a child by saying, “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas.” She went on to point out that her work as a professional and a public advocate had been aimed at ensuring women could make choices, “whether it’s full-time career, full-time motherhood or some combination,” but that aspect of her comment wasn’t widely reported.

While I wasn’t excited about her husband’s candidacy, Hillary intrigued me. I’d grown up in a world where only one of my friend’s moms worked, and when other parents talked about it, they whispered she works as a hushed aside, the same way people said she has cancer. That was always followed up with speculation that her husband’s business must not be going very well. Because of that, much as I loved the cookies and cakes my mom baked (which I often traded for store bought Ho-Hos we couldn’t afford), I liked Hillary’s unabashed statement. My mom, along with her baking, also got involved in local politics, served on boards of non-profits, and volunteered on a regular basis with various organizations, so she provided me an example of a strong, smart woman who got things done. But Hillary said unequivocally, yes, a woman can be a professional, a woman can pursue a career, and there is nothing wrong with that.

When Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2008, my women’s book group read a book that sparked more discussion than any other: Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary. Normally, I’m not a fan of books of essays. I love novels, particularly suspense and thrillers, and I read them all the time (and write them), but I have to push myself to read essays and non-fiction, other than business and finance books. But these essays I love because they run the gamut. The writers not only address Hillary Clinton as a person and politician, examining her past, her aspirations, and her actions, they consider what her life and choices—and the widely varying endorsements and critiques of them—say about our world. The essay titles alone fascinate me, from The Yellow Pantsuit to All Hail Betty Boop to Cheating to How Hungry is Hillary? (For my thoughts on how commentary of her wardrobe reflects the extra effort and thought women must put into being seen as professional, see Do The Clothes Make The Woman?)

Now that she's completed one presidential primary campaign, served as Secretary of State, and is once again seeking to become President of the United States, there is more and more to say about Hillary Clinton, but one things remains the same: she sparks strong feelings in everyone. So my main goal for the primary season, other than avoiding as many political ads as possible, is to reread Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Will The Real Lawyer, Writer, [Insert Your Profession Here] Please Stand Up?

When The Awakening appeared on Best Sellers in Horror
When I worked as a paralegal and was nearing the end of law school, I talked with an attorney about a lawyer position I'd been offered. It didn't involve much trial work, and I said that in my mind a real lawyer was one who tried cases. He told me that though he tried a lot of personal injury cases, he felt he wasn't a real trial lawyer because he'd never tried a murder.

That feeling that whatever we do is not quite the real thing is sometimes known as the “imposter syndrome.” I recently shifted from full time lawyer who is writing on the side to full time author who practices law part time. This change has caused me to think more about identity and work, including what factors might affect the imposter syndrome.

Who feels it?

In the articles I read, the experts estimated that as much as 70% of the public experiences the imposter syndrome at one time or another. In fact, the New York Times quoted Maya Angelou, the late author and poet who spoke at President Obama's Inauguration, as saying she felt with each new book that people would find her out and realize she wasn't as accomplished as she was reputed to be. While some studies suggest women are more apt than men to feel like imposters, some U.S. presidents (obviously all men to date) have reported feeling that way on their first day in the Oval Office. Also, the two lawyers I spoke with about this were men. The first was the one mentioned above. The second was a male prosecutor. He'd been practicing about three years when we had the conversation, the same amount of time I had. I told him he seemed more like a real lawyer to me because he was in court more than I was. He said he thought I was more like a real lawyer because I often researched and wrote briefs (written arguments to submit on paper to the court) and analyzed and argued complex legal issues in ways more similar to what we’d learned to do in law school.

As Seen On TV

I suspect that professions frequently shown in television shows, books, and movies are more apt to trigger imposter feelings. Pop culture depicts the most exciting parts of any profession, leaving anyone who actually does those jobs feeling like they're the only ones doing the drudge work.

When I was practicing law full-time, a typical week went like this: get on an hour long conference call; read a document my opponent filed with the court; research cases in a legal database; write a legal brief; email clients and other lawyers; and rewrite that same legal brief four or five times. Maybe 15% of my work involved trials, hearings, or appellate arguments, but usually if I went to court, it was for all of fifteen minutes to an hour to argue a motion. In other words, the video would show: work at my desk, work at my desk, work at my desk, walk two blocks to court, sit, talk, return to my office and work at my desk. Even the criminal lawyers I know who try a lot of cases—making their jobs more like what’s on television—typically spend at least half their time sitting in court waiting for their cases to be called, trying to collect fees from clients, and driving from courthouse to courthouse. Likewise, I suspect most doctors don't find their lives nearly as exciting as those on television.

What's Money Got To Do With It?

How much we get paid or whether we get paid at all matters. Yet how much a person makes, especially in the arts, often has little to do with the quality of work. I've seen plays in various cities in the United States, including New York, and in London. The ones I’ve thought were the most amazing were at small storefront theaters in Chicago where many of the actors, directors, and other artists involved needed to have other full or part-time jobs. Likewise, most novelists, with notable exceptions like Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark, take on other work to help pay their bills. All the same, not making a full-time living at what you do can make it easy to feel you’re not worthy of calling yourself an actor, author, designer, artist, etc.

Click here to Join Lisa M. Lilly's Readers Group and receive Ninevah, 
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As an author (and a lawyer), getting paid matters to me because it means I can spend my time doing work I love rather than working only with the goal of surviving. Equally important, it means there’s a demand for what I do. On the other hand, commercial success doesn't always leave people feeling satisfied or "real." The movie Birdman focuses on an actor with tremendous commercial success who feels the need to do "serious" work in order to feel like a real actor. Similarly, I know independent/self published authors who make a better living than authors published by traditional print publishers, but they still get asked whether what they truly want is a "real" book deal.

Longevity and passion often matter as much as money when it comes to identifying ourselves with our work. If you’ve been writing poems for twenty years, whether or not you show them to anyone or publish any, you probably feel like a poet. Similarly, if you love your work for a non-profit medical clinic treating homeless people, that may be less important to you than whether you could earn three or even ten times more as a plastic surgeon. For myself, I try to balance all these factors and focus on the best parts of my writing life and law practice.

Beware The Shifting Bar

Viewing goals as unimportant or easy to achieve once we’ve met or surpassed them adds to the feeling of being an imposter. For many years, I never called myself an author, as opposed to a writer, because I hadn’t had anything published. Then once I’d had poems, short stories, and articles published in magazines, I still wouldn’t call myself an author because those publications paid very little or nothing at all. I felt that way even though many literary magazines and trade journals don’t pay their authors, and even though before I had those pieces published, getting into any of those publications seemed like a high hurdle. Years later, when I started publishing my thrillers, my goal was for the first one, The Awakening, to appear in the Top 10 on the Kindle occult or horror best seller lists. When that happened, I was very excited, particularly since it appeared alongside a Stephen King novel and stayed on both lists for many weeks. I printed out the horror list the first time and framed it (see above--this is in my home office). But within a week or so it didn't feel as significant. In retrospect, it seemed easier to have achieved, and it didn't feel like the stamp of approval I'd once imagined it to be.

All the same, I believe in setting new and larger goals all the time. It keeps life and work exciting and compelling and keeps me moving forward. But I try to remember how hard certain goals, like the first 10,000 downloads or the first $1,000 in sales were before I rush to the adjust the bar.

What about you? Do you feel like a "real" [insert your profession here]? Why or why not? Would you like to feel differently?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Busy Week With Joss The Bird Whedon, The Conflagration, And A New Website

I can't believe another Wednesday is here already. During the past week, I finished rewrites to The Conflagration (Book 3 of 4 in The Awakening series) based on comments from beta readers. Yesterday I printed the full manuscript to review once again. I'm hoping I'll be satisfied enough to make minimal changes and send it off for final editing/proofreading early next month.

In the meantime, I've been working with Don Herion of The Sorcerer's Workshop on a redesign of my author website (and by "working with" I mean driving crazy with changes and questions that betray my lack of understanding of web design). Don created stunning book slides for the home page, as well as adapted and updated the previous site for Wordpress to make it easier for me to edit and for others to read on their phones. If you're reading this post on Blogger and would like to check out the new design for the site, click here. If you're already on the new site, hey, take a look around.

Last but not at all least, I've been keeping up with a new friend, Joss The Bird Whedon, Joss for short. He's pictured in the photo above perfecting his high wire (or is it side wire?) act. Yes, he is named for the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, etc. Unfortunately, Joss has been under the weather for the past couple days, so I'm taking him to the vet tomorrow.

Why am I telling you all this, other than to have an excuse to post a photo of a cute baby parakeet? Well, that's reason enough, but it's also to explain why I'm writing such a short post this week. Hope you'll stop by again next Wednesday.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Cost Of A Car And The Cost Of A Home (Thoughts After A Trip To The Auto Show)

This past Monday I went to the auto show. I love looking at the new cars, the different tracks where they are test driven on various terrains, and the promotional videos and displays, which get more stunning every year. The show also gives me ideas about the characters I write about, as the car a person drives says a lot about that person's choices and circumstances.

I don't own a car. Living in Chicago makes owning a car a hassle (it's a struggle to find parking), and it comes with numerous unnecessary expenses (again, for example, parking--where I live and wherever I go for work or fun). I prefer to have more money to spend on my home rather than a car and to simplify my life by walking, taking public transportation, or renting a ZipCar when I need one.

That didn't stop me, though, from enjoying the Auto Show, including the super cars (see photo above). According to the Auto Show website, a super car, also known as "an exotic car, is a $100,000-plus ultra-high-performance sports car or grand tourer."

One of the characters in my Awakening series, Erik Holmes, owns at least one Rolls Royce, though it hasn't made an appearance yet. He also owns a black Jaguar and a silver BMW Series 7. These cars say a lot about who he is, how he spends his money, and how much of it he has. My main character, Tara Spencer, drives a used Saturn her parents own.

In real life, I lost track of how much the cost of cars has gone up until recently when one of my nephews told me his car payment is higher than his rent. Granted, he has a brand new Mustang and he lives somewhere with much lower housing costs than Chicago's, but that's still significant. At the Auto Show, the Rolls Royce in the photo was listed at $548,700 (see sign at right). For perspective, in downtown Chicago, the the median home price last year was $295,000, 54% of the price of the Rolls Royce. In Englewood, which is low income, the median price for a home, according to, was $45,000.

Our country includes people who can't afford a $45,000 home and those who can buy a $548,700 car. Economic circumstances certainly aren't the only ones that matter, whether it comes to creating fictional characters or understanding real people. But this trip to the Auto Show gave me some perspective on one of the reasons many people can hold such radically different views of the same political candidates or the same political/economic/social ideas.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How To Peek At Other People's Bookshelves And Win Autographed Books

One my bookshelves with autographed favorite novels.
If you love books the way I do, you probably have book titles that friends recommended to you typed into cryptic notes on your phone or written on scraps of paper you put in your pocket, forget about, and find again in shreds after doing the laundry. When I  make the effort track down a book, though, usually I love it, and I buy or borrow all the author's works. Then I wonder how many other great recommendations I've forgotten. Which is too bad because I depend on suggestions from others to sort through all the wonderful novels out there. I find television shows the same way, which is how I became a steady viewer of Mad Men, The Killing, and, more recently, The Flash.

A couple years ago, a friend from a book group sent me the perfect solution to my book problem. (Thanks, Andrea!) She invited me to join

What's On Your Friends' Shelves?

One of my favorite things about Goodreads is I can check out what other people have put on their shelves when I am trying to decide what to read next. I also created separate shelves for types of books I've read or want to read, including Wiscon 2014, which lists books recommended at the conference panels I attended; mystery-and-private-eye, a genre I love, so these are books I've already read and reviewed; and books discussing Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Most of the Buffy books are on my actual shelves, too. I created the virtual shelf to make it easier for other Buffy fans to find them.

Detailed Info On Likes And Dislikes

I find Goodreads reviewers tend to be more specific than readers on other sites about what works and doesn't for them. Once toward the beginning of Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (the sort of sequel to The Shining), I felt less interested than I'd expected. I didn't like the main character much, and I wasn't sure I'd finish given the many hours I was working at the time. But enough people on Goodreads said they'd felt the same at the start but ended liking the book that I continued. It still isn't my favorite Stephen King novel--that's The Dead Zone--but it was worth finishing Doctor Sleep. I've also occasionally bought a book based on a negative Goodreads review because I figured I'd like exactly what the reviewer did not about the novel.

Free Autographed Books

Periodically, publishers and authors offer giveaways of books on Goodreads, often autographed ones. (If you list a book on your To Read shelf, sometimes Goodreads will email to let you know a giveaway is happening.) Right now, as part of preparing to publish Book 3 in my Awakening series, I'm offering 10 autographed trade paperback editions of The Unbelievers (The Awakening, Book 2) to readers in the U.S.

For a chance to win, sign up here by February 13, 2016.

Enter today, as the giveaway is only open until February 13, 2016. Watch this space for announcements regarding Book 3 of 4 in The Awakening series, The Conflagration, and/or connect with me on Goodreads. Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Five Ways To Relax and Why You Should Try One This Week

Today we can do so many things more quickly and easily than was possible in my parents' time. We can send and receive texts and email in an instant, cook entire meals in a microwave, and watch movies and television shows on our own devices at the touch of a button. Yet it often seems life has become more frantic and busy. With so many choices and options come more demands on our time, as well as the feeling that we ought to fill every available minute. Not to mention, many people at all ends of the income spectrum feel they are working harder and longer than ever. When we do have time to relax, it seems almost impossible to unwind. But the benefits of relaxation, a few of which are listed below, are tremendous. I suspect that's why lately I see so many coloring books available for grown ups. Using art—no particular talent required—is one of five ways I’ve found to relax.

An artist creates a painting during a concert at Tavern of Fine Arts in St. Louis

The Benefits Of Finding Ways To Relax

Easier Problem Solving: Have you ever spent days or weeks struggling with a work or personal issue, only to have a solution come to you as you drift to sleep at night or take a long shower? The creative part of our mind needs to be relaxed to pull together the analytical work we’ve done to help us solve problems. That’s why after spending hours or days researching a legal issue or gathering information for my next novel, I take a break. Time away from the problem almost always ultimately saves time, as I find a solution more quickly than if I kept slogging away.

Better Health And Happiness: Increased alpha waves, which are the brain waves associated with relaxation and meditation, have been linked to better overall health and well-being. For most people, increasing alpha brain waves lowers blood pressure, boosts the body’s immune system, and increases serotonin, the brain chemical that can help counteract depression.

More Success: Artists and other people in creative fields tend to experience alpha brain waves more often than other people. Interestingly, so do top performing athletes. In the moment before the perfect golf shot, tennis stroke, or home run, the best performing athletes relax, let go of all they’ve learned consciously, and immerse themselves in the moment. This is what's known as being "in the zone." It feels wonderful, and it’s linked to high performance.

Traveled to St. Louis & saw a Chicago band, Switchback
By now you're probably thinking that all sounds fine, but who has time? Fortunately, you don’t need to sit on a pillow and count your breaths for twenty minutes a day to relax.

Five Enjoyable Ways To Relax

Music: Listening to music is a great way to relax. You can listen to audio or attend a live performance. A live performance often provides more relaxation because it prevents you from feeling you ought to be simultaneously doing something else while listening to the music. I get great ideas for my novels while attending concerts. When I visited St. Louis recently, I saw Chicago band Switchback in concert. The songs had nothing to do with the mystery series I'm planning to write, but as I listened and tapped my foot, ideas about my new main character flooded my mind. Practicing an instrument, regardless of skill level, is another great way to give the analytic part of your mind a break. As you learn chords, practice scales, or immerse yourself in rhythm, you can let go of all your other stresses and concerns.

Coloring And Other Art: You don't need to be an artist to use visual art as a way to relax. Coloring books for adults offer all types of images, including gardens, animals, and geometric patterns, to color, whether inside or outside the lines. You can find a sampling of them here. Coloring gives you a chance to focus on something immediate and enjoyable. When you’re finished, you have a feeling of accomplishment, but there’s no need to show anyone else if you don’t want to, so there’s no added stress from outside regarding whether the art is “good.” If you prefer looking at art, museums can be a great way to relax. The images and art objects there offer your mind something new and different to consider and temporarily wipe away other worries and concerns.
One of the winter views from the Amtrak from St. Louis to Chicago.

Riding The Train: I recently took Amtrak from Chicago to St. Louis and back. I did some work on the train, revising the third book in my Awakening series. But I also spent time simply looking out the window. Looking at nature, whether it’s during a walk, through a window, or in a picture relaxes people. The train is a great way to do that while you travel. Unlike when you’re in the sky on a plane, you’re close enough throughout the trip to see the countryside. And unlike driving, you don’t need to pay attention to directions or operating a vehicle. If normally drive or fly on vacation or for work and it's feasible to take a train, give it a try and see how you like it. Or take a short train trip just for the experience. You'll relax and, who knows, you might find something fun on the other end.

Walking: The rhythm of walking lulls the mind into the same sort of contemplative, relaxed state that occurs during sitting meditation. The key is to simply walk, not listen to music or audio or rehash your latest worries in your head. Let your mind wander. Let yourself feel bored if necessary, and soon your muscles will relax and your mind will rest. Walking also has the advantage of being a means of transportation. In Chicago, it’s often quicker and easier to walk a mile than to drive it, and it’s always cheaper, as it doesn’t require insurance, paying for parking, or filling the gas tank. If you're not used to walking, start with the equivalent of a few blocks. Or add a very short walk—say from one side of your office building to the other or from the farthest parking spot to the entrance—several times a day. If you don't live somewhere conducive to walking, consider driving to a park or indoor track once a week.

The Book House in St. Louis
Reading: Studies show people in hospital waiting rooms are less stressed or upset when they read novels than when they do anything else. Fiction allows us to jump into another world and leave our own behind. If you're not used to reading or you feel like reading is a waste of time, try setting a timer for 15 minutes before you open the book. This reassures you that not too much time will be used. It also helps you persist if initially you don’t find the writing engaging. A great time to read fiction is right before you go to sleep. It helps your mind transition away from the day’s events. When I'm able to read at least half an hour before going to bed, I sleep better and wake up more refreshed. Goodreads is a great site for book recommendations. And if you like books in the mystery, occult, suspense, or thriller genres, you can subscribe to my M.O.S.T. e-newsletter here for monthly reviews and recommendations.

I hope the above options help you become more relaxed and happy! Feel free to comment on your favorite way to relax below.
Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, click here to join her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Living On The Cusp

My life changed in an instant. One moment I was outgoing and sociable, impulsive and carefree, bordering on irresponsible. I was an optimist operating on blind faith, the type who jumped in first and worried about consequences later. A moment later, I became someone who preferred solitude to the point of being reclusive. I was careful and methodical and my view on life was realistic, if not pessimistic. What changed in that one moment? My sign. As I switched from one website to another, I transformed based on the differing dates the websites indicated matched astrological signs. Such is life when you're born on the cusp.

Once more (as I did last week when writing about True Believers), I looked to for clarity. Not only in astrology but in life, a cusp is "a point of transition (as from one historical period to the next)" or the "edge" or "verge." My birthday falls on the cusp of the astrological signs of Sagittarius--the characteristics of which I described first above--and Capricorn--the second. While I'm not a believer in astrology, I  find the cusp fits much of my life, starting in childhood.

I have two brothers who are over 7 years older than me and no other siblings. My parents were in their 40s when they had me. This combination of circumstances has left me feeling always a bit out of step with my peers. When I was in high school I listened to the music my brothers and their friends liked: Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Beatles, Neil Young, Crosby Stills and Nash, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie. Many of the books my brothers read when they were in high school, I read at the same time, so I was introduced to ideas and philosophies that were not on the minds of most fifth and sixth graders. Being raised by parents who lived through the Depression, my attitudes toward money differed significantly from that of most people my age. (That actually came in very handy in the years leading up to the recession that began in 2008.)

If you are interested in astrology, I found this book on Amazon all about being on the cusp.

Also, having siblings so much older than me made me in some ways more like an only child. I conversed more often with adults than with children. I had my own room, and I still tend to like a lot of space. Yet, I had the advantage of having siblings who generally liked me when I wasn't annoying them. They came up with a connect the dots approach to teaching me how to draw shapes, made games out of learning to tie my shoes and do arithmetic, and tried to teach me how to play softball. They were never too successful with that last one. They stopped when I batted the ball into my own nose. There's a reason I make my living as a writer and a lawyer, not an athlete.

The trend of being out of step age-wise continued in law school. I attended school at night and worked full time. Most other night students were (a) recently out of college and attending at night because they needed to work full time to afford school or (b) in their forties and up and changing careers from other professions. I was 30 when I started law school, and 34 when I became a lawyer. The attorneys I started at a large firm with were 8 years younger than me, and most people assumed I was of a similar age and had a similar lack of professional work experience.
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There were definite pluses to that assumption. The clients paid the same rate for me as they did for other brand new lawyers, but I'd worked full time for years in several different businesses and one law firm. I knew how to write business letters, conduct interviews, write motions, research efficiently and undertake other tasks that involved a steep learning curve for some of my colleagues. That meant my work was in demand, and I more quickly got more responsibility. In other ways, though, I felt perpetually behind. The 35 year olds at the firm were partners, not brand new associates, and I measured myself against them rather than against lawyers who'd just graduated law school. I was also less willing to devote endless hours to law for as many years as some of the twenty-somethings were. I think that's healthy, but large firms tend to prefer those attorneys who spend several years of doing nothing but working before they start asking themselves whether they might want to have time for other aspects of life.

As a writer, I live on the cusp of groundbreaking changes in the publishing world. When I was writing horror and young adult novels in the 8 years after college, the only real option for a writer to sell her novels was to query agent after agent and publisher after publisher, hoping to become the one new writer out of hundreds of thousands that year whose work was pulled out of the stacks of manuscripts on an intern's desk. When I began writing supernatural thrillers after practicing law for 7 or 8 years, I discovered a wonderful thing. If I believed in my writing and was willing to put my own effort behind it, I could publish my own work, becoming an entrepreneur as an author just as I had as a lawyer. The great part about having lived in both worlds is I developed good habits when querying agents and editors. Because I knew grammar errors and uneven writing would get my query or sample chapters tossed immediately, I learned to be vigilant about producing carefully edited prose. That's served me well as the quality control supervisor of my own publishing enterprise. It also means I'm used to spending significant time and effort putting my work out into the world. And the rewards are so much more immediate and tangible with indie publishing because I can see sales within days and royalties within months rather than waiting six months to a year to hear back from a single agent.

As a whole, despite the occasional uncertainty I feel at not firmly belonging within any one world (or one astrological sign), being on the cusp has been a wonderful way to live. I like to think I can take the best of each place I've been and can make more conscious choices than I might if I fit completely within a particular category.

What about you? Are there ways you live on the cusp or that you fit right into a particular category? What are the pluses and minuses you've found for either?

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, click here to join her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.