The Mayas: Bloodthirsty Stargazers

Tulum03After a visit to Tulum, the Maya ruins on the coast of the Yucatan in Mexico, and hearing about the human sacrifices, I knew I had to name the heroine in my upcoming mystery, Maya Skye:

I am Maya Skye. I am named for a civilization that tracked celestial bodies without telescopes or computers, that built enormous and beautiful architecture, that developed a written language while others were still grunting. But they also cut out the still-beating hearts of young girls to appease the spirits and decapitated the losing team in sporting events. In some ways, I am very much like the Mayas: a bloodthirsty stargazer. This is a problem for one dedicated to enlightenment. I am a yoga teacher.

So you can imagine how excited I was when the Science Tulum01Museum of Minnesota opened its new exhibit, “Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed.” An opportunity for research, I thought. What I didn’t realize was how much there was to appreciate about the Mayas and how much is just plain scary. Did you know:

1. Sure, the Mayas messed up on the whole end-of-the-world prediction in 2012, but you have to admire a population that trust their calendar so much that they have people whose job is to consult the ancient calendars and help you choose the perfect day for your wedding. They are called “daykeepers.”

2. The Mayas were patient, something we can all use a little more of in this I-want-it-now world. They used repetition and time to map the stars and construct their calendars. In other words, they looked at the sky and kept on looking.

3. The Mayas had no wheels, metal tools, or beasts of burden. They built all those amazing cities like Tulum, immense palaces, and temples that towered above the jungle on the backs of human labor.

4. They played some mean ball. Archeologists still haven’t figured out the rules of the Maya ball game. They just know that the Mayas built ball courts or long narrow spaces for games in nearly every city. The balls were made by wrapping strips of latex rubber over and over. They bounced very nicely and weighed eight pounds. Now, soccer players of today, imagine taking a header with an eight-pound orb of solid rubber. This is why the Maya ball players were heavily padded, resembling the Michelin man. They were tough guys. And don’t forget, losers didn’t last long. You lose the game; you lose your head.

5. The Maya ideal of beauty was a nose that meets the forehead in an unbroken line. Some nobles even wore removable nose pieces to achieve the “in” look. The Mayas also loved tattoos and to adorn their teeth. I imagine Maya dentists made a good living, drilling holes in people’s teeth and inserting precious gems. If you were of the noble class, you probably could afford to choose a jade decoration for your choppers. Jade was prized above all stones because it represented fertility, life, and rebirth. Still, no matter how rich or poor, whether you chose jade or some lesser stone, the beatification project was done without laughing gas or Novocaine. Ouch.

6. Whether we are trying to bring civilization to a jungle in Mexico or a corn field in Minnesota, there is an environmental price to pay. The Mayas burned about 1000 acres of forest to acquire the materials (limestone and wood) for each large structure they built. Their enormous buildings led to fewer trees, which led to soil erosion and less fertile fields in which to grow food. Deforestation affected the rainfall, which led to water shortages. Get where we’re going with this?

Human sacrifice and constant warring aside, the Mayas were a classy bunch. They had a fully developed written language before anyone else in pre-Columbia America, a language linguists are still puzzling over. They loved books and art and seemed to decorate every square inch of their massive structures.

If you are in the Twin Cities area, the exhibit is open until January 5, 2014. The kids can pound on replicas of decorated stelae and type their name in Maya. It took me hours to go through the exhibit, and I just scratched the surface of a fascinating people who lived violent lives—when they weren’t gazing with awe at the stars.

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Down Dog Diary, Maya’s first adventure, is coming this fall. If you like some yoga with your mystery or vice versa, sign up for my newsletter and get a discount code to use on the purchase of the book.

 

One Day at a Time: How to Break the Blocks

MH-cover-2013-smallPainter Anna Oneglia created the artwork for the cover of my novel of lost and found creativity, Maud’s House. I remember the first time my young daughter saw it she said, “It looks like Maud’s outside looking outside.” The story is about an artist who at one time was so full of creativity that she drew on the walls of her home. So Anna brought the Vermont autumn inside to Maud’s walls. But as the book opens, Maud has lost her muse, and the house that “was once covered in tattoos” has been painted white. Anna painted a lost Maud staring out the window, searching for inspiration.

Anyone can hit the wall, creatively speaking. There is writer’s block and artist’s block, times when the ideas refuse to flow, when the mind freezes because it is so jacked up on confusion or doubt or fear. There are organizations to help such as A.R.T.S. Anonymous, which helps artists recover their creativity through the Twelve Steps. “In A.R.T.S., bottom line sobriety begins with a humble daily action to pick up one’s creativity, ‘one day at a time’. Members are asked to do no less than five minutes of art every day. If one picks up even for five minutes, there will be days when five minutes turns into hours,” according to A.R.T.S. Anonymous.

Of course, we would never suffer the angst of being blocked if we never dreamed in the first place. It all starts with a dream. To finish that painting. To write that book. To live a life of dignity and peace. The It Gets Better Project was created to show gay and lesbian adolescents who are being bullied in their schools and communities that happiness and positivity is in their reach—if they can just get through their teen years.

What does this have to do with creativity? The point is we don’t give up, whether we are crying over an empty page or over the fact that everyone at school seems to hate us. If we can get through one more day, if we can put in just five minutes, we will grow stronger.

Anna Oneglia’s strong art was perfect for Maud’s House. She brings color and energy to everything she does, much in the way as I dreamed a young Maud would do. The California painter works in oils and mixed media and is also a printmaker producing block prints and lithographs. “The figure is central to my work, a grappling with how humans shape and are shaped by the world,” says Anna.

“In looking for art to make a difference,” Anna’s paintings have been published as posters for many causes, including Business Aid for AIDS, Bike to Work Week, The National Nurse Midwives Association, Celebration of the Muse, and the San Jose Women’s Commission.

I thank Anna for her wonderful vision, for showing that dreams are never truly lost; they are just waiting to be found again.

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Do you have an experience of being blocked? How did you overcome it? Please leave a comment. Also to read how Maud got her art back, I invite you to read Maud’s House.

Awesome Indies Seal of Approval

aiafinalBook of Mercy has received the Awesome Indies Seal of Approval. This is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval only much better because it’s not about the best board game or a super skillet or an incredible iron. It’s about words and readers and writing.

Awesome Indies is the brainchild of Tahlia Newland, who has drawn together a team of reviewers dedicated to promoting quality in independent publishing. I love these folks because they are demanding that indie books be top-notch in plot and prose.

To be awarded the Awesome Indies Seal of Approval, books must be approved by three qualified reviewers, at least one of which is a regular contributor to the Awesome Indies site, or one of the site’s back-up readers. A  qualified reviewer is defined as: an Awesome Indies recommended reviewer, or someone with a degree in creative writing or English literature, or an author or editor who is or has been employed in that capacity by a well-known traditional publishing house.

If you are looking for some good stuff to read, check out this site.

Newland reviewed Book of Mercy and said:

Book of Mercy is a truly beautiful, heart-warming novel on book censorship, the nature of love, motherhood and friendship. I loved this book from the first page to the end, which had me in tears of joy – I’m a softy. . . . The story strips the issue of censorship down to its bare bones of power and control through showing us the differing perspectives and personalities of the main characters. . . . The ending is perfect and the writing exquisite. I recommend it for everyone and give it 5 stars.”

Thanks, Awesome Indies, for recognizing Book of Mercy. I am truly honored. This is so much better than a skillet.

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If you like to read about strong women working for their communities, I invite you to explore Antigone Brown, the dyslexic mother-to-be fighting censorship in Book of Mercy, or Maud Calhoun, the artist who loses her muse in Maud’s House.

Tips to Make You a Better Writer

Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I believe anyone can be a better writer.

Maybe you are not the next Hemingway, and there’s not a classic fish tale in your future. But you can learn to write about the one that got away in a clear and understandable manner, in a way that makes people listen to what you have to say.

That’s why I wrote my book WriteTips. I wanted to give you hope and tools—whether you are writing that important business letter, new copy for your website, or an article for your club’s newsletter. You can improve your writing, in little ways that make a big difference.

I started out giving out writing skills tips to my clients, from business people to authors, then in business writing classes, until one day I got tired of repeating myself and threw together a little booklet called 11 Ways to Improve Your Writing and Your Business. After selling the booklet for a few years, I placed it on my website for free. That page gets more visitors than the Vatican (well, almost). So I began to think about turning this into a bigger project. Then I started offering editing tips on Twitter using the hashtag #WriteTip.

Eventually, I combined the two: I revised and expanded the original 11 Ways and added 20 WriteTips. Since I was no longer hemmed in by 140 characters, I dug deeper in the WriteTips. And so, WriteTips the book was born.

Extras, Extras, Extras

Since I love giving people more than they ask for (it’s fun and a karma thing), I have piled on the extras in this guide to improving your writing skills. In addition to all the tips about writing, grammar, and punctuation, here’s what else you get:

  • How to avoid business jargon that is holding your writing back
  • How to write effective e-mails (the dos and don’ts of e-mail etiquette)
  • How to adopt a plain writing style that will blow away your readers
  • Links and resources (lots of them)
  • Even some grammar humor

Stop the Rot

Will being a better writer make you a better human being? I don’t know. But it will make you stand out from the crowd. Good writers land the jobs and promotions, save time and money, and get support for their projects. I’ve been a professional writer and editor for thirty years; I’ve seen it happen.

Still not convinced you should put in some effort to improve your writing skills? What about saving the world? You heard me. One of the best reasons to work at being a better writer is to save civilization. Sounds dramatic? Already parents and teachers are worried about the impact of texting on writing skills. They say their text-happy children with the flying fingers tend to rush their writing, ignore grammar, and are prone to using abbreviations.

So this is “ur,” sorry, your chance to be a superhero. Work at being a better writer. The world needs you.

Note: This book does not come with a cape, a Batmobile, or any guarantee that you will become a superwriter. That, Grasshopper, is up to you.

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Get your copy of WriteTips today. It’s only 99 cents for the eBook and $2.99 for the PDF book—even one tip is worth that. It’s a small investment to save your writing day.

Book of Mercy Finalist in Midwest Book Awards

Book of Mercy was a finalist in the 22nd Annual Midwest Book Awards, which were announced on May 9 in Bloomington, MN.

Is this a big deal?

I interviewed Antigone Brown, the main character in Book of Mercy, about her view of this momentous event. She is a mother-to-be who stands up to the book banners in her small North Carolina town, even though she can’t read.

Me: So Antigone how are you feeling about this nomination?

Antigone: They like me. They REALLY like me.

Me: Yeah, it was cool to be nominated. Publishers from 12 Midwestern states submitted 362 entries in 50 categories in this year’s competition.

Antigone: That many? Well, it’s validation. [Lowers voice.] After all, this was an indie (self-published) book.

Me: Why do you need validation?

Antigone: In the fiction world, as a female lead character, everybody is comparing you to either Scarlet O’Hara or Katniss Everdeen.

Me: Really? I had no idea.

Antigone: Yes. I only take on a group of highly influential women removing “undesirable” books from the school library . . .

Me: And don’t forget the pie thrower.

Antigone: How could I? I’m still washing that banana cream out of my clothes. But Scarlet in Gone with the Wind faced down the Union Army, and Katniss in The Hunger Games outmaneuvered mutant killer wasps. Tough competition.

Me: Personally, I hate contests.

Antigone: I’m with you. But we live in a world consumed by contests, from sports to American Idol and the Academy Awards.

Me: Still, I’m sorry I didn’t pit you against hordes of fighting men or an evil empire.

Antigone: Irene (the leader of the censors) was evil enough.

Me: Cheer up. You have a secret library. I doubt Scarlet ever read a book, and Katniss was too busy trying to feed her family.

Antigone: Yes. Bookhenge. Nice name for a library, by the way. But back to all these contests. I’m beginning to wonder what my child will be compared to.

Me: You’re always worrying about that baby.

Antigone: Of course. What’s a parent to do?

Me: You have many agonizing years ahead of you. There will be school recitals and pageants and spelling bees.

Antigone [shudders]: Kids called me a loser because I had trouble reading. I don’t want that for my child. I don’t see why we have to make comparisons at all.

Me: Because if you lose, it is supposed to make you try harder the next time.

Antigone: You mean, in the next book, you’ll try to write a better me?

Me: There is no better you. I will write a different you.

Antigone: Make her skinnier. She’ll like that.

The Midwest Book Awards are sponsored by the Midwest Independent Publishers Association.

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If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to this blog, make a comment, or check out Book of Mercy. It would make Antigone happy, but please don’t compare her to Scarlet or Katniss. She gets touchy about those folks.

Drawing on the Walls

This is a story of a woman who drew on the walls and the stove and the breadbox. Her name was Maud. And I fell in love with her spirit.

Folk artist Maud Lewis of Nova Scotia was a wee woman with such a great artistic spirit that her entire house has been preserved in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The diminuitive dwelling doesn’t take up much space; it was only a 10 x 12 foot fisherman’s shack to begin with. Yet it was bursting with life when Maud lived there.

“Once this house was covered in tattoos.” That was the first line I wrote for my novel Maud’s House, after reading about Maud Lewis and seeing her artwork. Although my novel has nothing to do with Maud Lewis or her life, I hope it is imbued with her unquenchable desire to create. I couldn’t help but name my character Maud because she came to be as driven as the real Maud.

Pictures of Maud Lewis nearly always show her smiling and hiding her hands, which had begun to curl and become misshapen when she was 15. Her art is always joyful: brightly colored flowers, oxen with large curling eyelashes, glorious butterflies and birds. These were the things Maud saw from her window every day.

When I get stuck and consider complaining about how lousy the writing is going, I think of Maud and kick myself. She was a sickly orphan passed around from one poor relative to another until one day, in her thirties, she walked down the road from Digby to the isolated cabin of shy fish peddler Everett Lewis. Everett was impressed that his dog didn’t bark at their uninvited visitor. Apparently, Maud had passed some kind of test. Within weeks, they were married and living in their closet of a home.

Everett encouraged Maud’s love of painting and scrounged paints for his wife. Soon she was riding along on his fish route in the Model T selling hand-painted postcards—five for a quarter.  In the 1940s, Maud put out a roadside sign, “Paintings for sale,” and began selling small paintings to tourists for $2.50. By the time she died in 1970, at the age of 67, her paintings were being shipped to collectors all over the world.

These are the things you should remember about Maud Lewis:

  • She never took a drawing lesson, read a textbook, or saw a work of art.
  • She contracted polio as a child and later was afflicted by arthritis. She lived in constant pain. By the end of her life, Everett had to lift her out of the bed in the morning, dress her, and set her by her easel and paints. And still she painted: everything in her house (even the windowpane), driftwood, cookie sheets.
  • In her final years, in the hospital with a broken hip and no longer able to control a paintbrush, she made Christmas cards for the nurses with felt pens.

When she was creating her art, Maud Lewis escaped pain, poverty, and the Nova Scotia cold.

She proved that the creative spirit makes everything seem bigger—life, love, even a painted doll house with no insulation or running water.

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Visit the Painted House of Maud Lewis.

Read about the drive to create in Maud Calhoun, the heroine of my book Maud’s House. We’re all artists in our own way.

 

Get Loaded Blog Tour de Force: Get Out Your GPS

January 31, 2012: Get Loaded Blog Tour de Force has come to an end. Thank you to all who stopped by and chatted with me on this blog and by email. Please visit my blog again. Also, I’d love to have you friend me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. A special congratulations to Anita, the winner of the Book of Mercy Gift Basket. The next time you play Bananagrams think of Antigone.

Calling all Sherlocks, Stephanie Plums, Richard Castles, and all you readers/geocachers/scavenger hunters.

It is time for the Get Loaded Blog Tour de Force—the most fun you’ll have on a scavenger hunt all year.

We call it get loaded because we’re going to load up your ereaders with FREE eBooks. And some of you are going to score loads of prizes as well—special gift baskets by the five participating authors and a new Kindle.

Eager to get on the trail?

Get out your GPS (Great Powers of Scavenging) and put in these coordinates:

Why am I doing this tour? Because I want you to meet: Antigone Brown, a women who can’t read and is pregnant with her first child; Irene Crump, president of the Mercy Study Club and determined to rid the town of Mercy of “undesirable” books; and Ryder, a runaway who steals right into Antigone’s heart (and yours, too, I bet).

Basically, it all boils down to a literary smackdown between Antigone and Irene. Who will win? Will censorship prevail in Mercy or will Antigone be able to save the books she can’t read? There’s a secret library involved, a brawl (with pies), hubcap art, boxing deer, and more.

How do you get this must-read? Leave a comment on my blog, during this tour, and I’ll send you a FREE eBook of Book of Mercy. Be sure to leave your email address and what type of eBook you’d like (PDF, Kindle, ePUB format).

Rules of the game:

  • Leave comments on every site of the tour. Use your GPS to hop around the tour. Try to hit every author site. Leave a comment at every site. Each comment earns you a free eBook from that site’s owner AND an entry into the site’s giveaway AND an entry into (drum roll please) the Big Golden Cache at the end: a FREE KINDLE!
  • Find your clues. After you comment, hop over to the Indie Book Collective and get clues for hidden info. While you’re there, sign up for the IBC newsletter and earn 5 MORE ENTRIES for that Kindle.
  • Grab your GPS and start hunting down info.
  • Collect all the info and e-mail your answers at the end of the tour to IBC to earn EXTRA entries for the Kindle drawing.
  • Cheating is allowed. Keep this on the down low, but I will be giving a few hints on Twitter. Follow me at @sherryroberts7 and get some insider info on this super-scavenger hunt.

Prizes:

  • Books, books, books. All of the eBook variety. Collect a FREE eBook at every author’s site. That means you’re hunting for five days, but it’s worth it. A comment on this site earns you an eBook copy of Book of Mercy.
  • Giveaways. Leave a comment at each author’s site and get entered into that author’s special giveaway. What’s in my gift basket? A signed paperback copy of Book of Mercy for your personal library. A dozen of the best cookies on the planet courtesy of Two Smart Cookies (because you won’t be able to put down Book of Mercy and will need nourishment) and a Bananagrams game (in honor of my dyslexic heroine, Antigone, who sees letters mixed up all the time and has to make sense of them). I have to limit this giveaway winner to the U.S. #sorry.
  • Free Kindle. For each comment you leave on my site, you will get one entry into the drawing for the Big Golden Cache at the end: a FREE KINDLE! For every piece of information that you scavenge from the five authors’ sites and take back to the IBC site, you get a Kindle giveaway entry. Sign up for the IBC newsletter and get 5 more entries.

So stuff that ballot box, baby. Scavenge like crazy. Don’t miss a day or a site.

Give a Big Cyber Hug to My Sponsors

Go visit my wonderful sponsors’ sites and leave a comment. These folks do a tremendous service for the reading community. Plus they have interesting stuff to say about books. Bookmark these sites; subscribe to them. Please.

SmartLit

Journey of a Bookseller

Defrosting Cold Cases

Purple Jelly Bean Chair Reviews

Reading Is My Cheap Addiction

A Word about My Tour Mates: Amazing Paranormal Reads

Go back to Day Three: Chelsea Fine’s YA paranormal romance, Anew, presents a conundrum I can honestly say I have never encountered in my long reading life. This is a fresh take on the love triangle, and you’ll find yourself wishing there was a way for everyone—brothers Tristan and Gabriel and lovely Scarlet—to live happily ever after. But first they have to break not one, but three curses. A promising start to the Archers of Avalon series. Bring us more, Chelsea. What are you doing on this tour? You need to be writing.

Get ready for Day Five: Liz Schulte is a talented writer who has woven an intricate plot with an amazingly seductive bad boy (don’t the vulnerable ones get us every time). In Secrets, she alternates first-person chapters between photographer Olivia and mysterious Holden. The world has plans for Olivia. Can she keep from falling into the abyss? Side note: The dream sequences in this book are amazing.

That’s it. So get going. Comment. Scavenge. Cheat all you want. Get those prizes. Get loaded.

Remember: Leave a comment on my blog, during this tour, and I’ll send you a FREE copy of Book of Mercy. Be sure to leave your email address and what type of eBook you’d like (PDF, Kindle, ePUB format). Here’s the question I’d like you to answer: What’s your favorite banned book and why?

Fear and Loathing on the Book Tour

This book tour I am going in my pajamas.

MH-cover-2013-smallI am participating in the Get Loaded Blog Tour de Force sponsored by the Indie Book Collective this week, and I hope to get more mileage while putting on fewer miles. This is the new paradigm in publishing.

You see, in my last book tour (back in the ’90s when few people were talking about virtual anything much less a virtual book tour), I traveled for ten days from Los Angeles to Vermont to promote my book, Maud’s House. I talked to packed houses and empty ones; one horrendous thunderstorm washed away all my potential readers in Chicago.

Maud’s House is the story of a Vermont artist who loses and regains her creativity. As a child prodigy, Maud drew on the walls of her house, every square inch. As an adult, she is has lost her muse, drinks too much Rolling Rock, and seems to only be able to draw postcards featuring cows.

The neat thing about any book tour, virtual or physical, is meeting readers and learning about their lives. On the Maud’s House tour, I met readers who cracked me up and who touched me with their stories.

One woman admitted that she had begun writing again after reading my book: “I was raised in a strict home where we weren’t allowed to dance or paint or write. I’m in my fifties and starting my first journal.”

Another woman said she had a brother who, like Maud, drew on the walls. He was always getting in trouble with their mother. In the end, he became a successful artist. One day, the mother discovered one of her son’s early drawings secreted way on a wall inside a closet. She seriously considered cutting that part of the wall out and having it framed.

I hope to meet more great readers on this tour. Come back to this blog on Thursday, January 26, my featured day of the tour, and let’s talk. I am promoting my new novel, Book of Mercy, this time. It’s a funny novel about a serious issue (censorship), so we’ll have lots to discuss.

See you Thursday. I’ll be in my PJs, so don’t dress up on my account.

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What’s on your mind? I’m listening. Maud’s House is about pursuing your creativity no matter where it takes you: to the painting studio, the kitchen, the garden, the antique car in your garage. What do you take to the level of an art? Leave a comment below.

Meet Spider Whisperer and Writer Wren Andre

Writer Wren Andre, the winner of the Book of Mercy Giveaway last fall, recently received a contract to have one of her erotic romance stories published by Total E-Bound Books—or rather her alter-ego did. Congratulations to Wren’s writing doppelganger, and I hope 2012 brings her much more writing success. I chatted by e-mail with her about her work and her life.

What type of writing do you do?

As Wren Andre, I like character-driven stories that reveal something extraordinary about an ordinary person. I am also working on a two-part memoir that has been an alternately excruciating and fulfilling experience. Under another pen name, I explore paranormal and erotic romance themes.

How long have you been writing and what is your writing habit—when you write, where you write, what gets you going?

I began writing around the age of 12, and I took myself very seriously! Then I became sidetracked by rock ’n’ roll for about 20 years. I was a singer/songwriter for many years and then was co-owner of the independent record label Cave Poodle Records. I’ve been back to writing for about a decade now and have finally gotten into a workable routine. My writing habits revolve around my day gig. I also have a family, and my time with them is very important, too. So it can be a challenge! I write almost every day, typically a few hours after dinner, and I will also take an entire day of one of my days off to write. Then I save the other day for family. It’s all about balance.

Who are you favorite writers?

I enjoy and gain inspiration from writers such as Cormac McCarthy, Raymond Carver, Augusten Burroughs, Phillip K. Dick, and Margaret Atwood. But I’m also an old school Stephen King fan, and I love memoirs or a good paranormal romance to shake things up. (Wren, shared a peek at her personal library.)

What writing resources do you find useful?

I follow the Writer’s Digest newsletter and subscribe to the magazine, but honestly, I get so much out of other writer’s blogs (such as yours!). There’s something magical about the writing community; I have such a sense of camaraderie that I never had when I was in the music business. I love hearing other writers’ “in the trenches” stories.

Wren is a self-proclaimed spider whisperer. What does someone in that line of work do actually?

Spider whisperers protect poor innocent spiders from those who would heartlessly smash them. My husband and everyone I work with know to come to me when a spider is in need of rescue—as in “come get this spider before I squish it with my shoe.” The next time a fly lands on your hamburger, remember that the spider is our friend.

Wren lives in Oregon. I love to hike and bike. In fact, I spent a great week in Oregon visiting Crater Lake and parks up and down the Oregon coast. Tell me what you like about the outdoors.

You should come back! I could show you some great areas to hike. The outdoors for me is a direct connection to the life spirit. Back when I lived in L.A. (shudders), I would escape to the mountains on the weekend and regain a sense of peace. Inevitably, I would become inspired to write a new song, or have one forming in my head on the way home. I would say nature is my ultimate muse. Hey, maybe that’s why I’m such a writing fool since I moved here! I think you’re on to something there, Sherry.

I’m a big X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. What do you, a paranormal junkie, read and watch?

I love Charlaine Harris and, of course, the True Blood series. I’m also a hardcore X-filer and really got hooked on Lost (however, the ending . . . hmmmm). I also think Karen Marie Moning is a fantastic writer, and I first got converted to paranormal romance through Christine Feehan. Oh, and did I mention Stephen King? He will always be my first love.

Please visit Wren’s blog, Writing in the Real World, and say hello:  http://wrenandre.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/in-the-zone/

Confessions of an Inept Yogi

It is easy to be a yogi in a cave in the Himalayas. Ascetics don’t realize how good they have it. They don’t have to worry about how to make the next college payment or tolerate telemarketers at dinner. No one cuts them off in traffic or expects them to put their world on hold for the Super Bowl.

I think it is especially difficult to be both a mother and a yogi. It’s the whole detachment thing. Mothers who tie themselves to other humans with that most intimate of tethers, the umbilical cord, can’t just cut loose the people, concerns, and joys in their lives. It’s a snap to detach in the bowels of a mountain. But just try it when your ailing nineteen-year-old calls from some under-staffed, low-tech hospital in a Third World country thousands of miles away. Or when your other daughter, the cheerful one, is crying her heart out, right there on your shoulder, over some loser who didn’t call.

To the yogi, even-mindedness is everything. We search for balance in mind, body, and spirit. We flow through poses meant to make us strong and centered—and presumably able to handle with equanimity the day the washer overflows and the cat barfs in front of guests and the sturdy oak shading your car falls like a giant flyswatter.

I meditate and practice asanas and read yogic texts—and I still fall apart in the midst of calamity. I still burn with anger and sink into depression. It is quite obvious. I am an inept yogi.

I don’t look like a yogi. I have the kind of shape that runs screaming from a unitard. I have fat cells as old as my children.

I don’t eat like a yogi either. Although I avoid most red meat, I still have occasional moments when bliss comes as a burger and fries. Vegetables are still my enemy, and vegetarianism is just an excuse to eat bread. Some days I wonder why I even unroll the yoga mat.

And then something unusual will happen and I will discover a tiny corner of yogi in me. Maybe I’ll be packed in a shop with all the other Christmas shoppers, clutching a paper in my hand, and waiting for the clerk to call my number. The woman next to me is transferring a fractious baby from one hip to another. I notice her number is higher than mine. And before I even realize what I’m doing, I offer to trade numbers. She declines, but I see the hope in her eyes and insist. And as the trade is made, the moment our fingers touch, a wave of calm and patience swamps me.

And then there was the time my cat was feeling poorly and I rushed her to the vet, only brief hours before I was due to drive halfway across the country. I thought the vet would simply give me some pills, the administration of which I could pawn off on the pet-sitter. But the vet said, no, my cat was dying from the advanced stages of renal failure. I had a choice: let her suffer or put her under.

I have had to put pets to sleep before. But this time, yogi mind reared its head and I was filled with ethical issues. Grief and sorrow mixed with the confusion of karma. Ahimsa is the yogic concept of:  harm no being or creature. My rational husband assured me it was the right thing to do. (I’d even consulted with him on the cell phone before holding Eclipse the cat for the last time, and he’d said: do it; make it merciful.) Yet I still cry for Eclipse sometimes.

Now, as a yogi, I don’t assume every good snake is a dead snake. When a spider invites itself into my shower, I don’t automatically reach for a shoe. I call for my husband to capture the creature and release it outside. Although it is a challenge, I try to refrain from glaring at impatient and rude people who shout in cell phones in public places.

As I said, being a yogi isn’t easy, especially in the wireless age, but then maybe it isn’t supposed to be.