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.