Thank you

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Three years ago, when I was on Wattpad and had no readers, I typed, “I have the best readers” on my bio.

Wishful thinking.

I didn’t have any readers, I barely had a public book, but I wanted them.

I wanted YOU.

My statement came true, and it came true fast.

I now have the best readers. (100% sure I’m not the only author who thinks this of their readers. I don’t mean “best readers” in a competitive sense. I mean the right readers for me. Every author has a reader who connects with her or him. There is room for all of us.)

Thank you, amazing readers. You are the best.

I appreciate you. I love you. Keep finding writing that makes your heart sing.

Now and Was

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I’ve seen polls querying what words people like or don’t like. Moist is a frequent offender on the don’t-like lists, while the favored lists have zingers like snickerdoodle or catawampus.

Because I’m a writer, I prefer to not censor myself, period. I’d rather have all of the English language at my disposal for use in the proper place. Completely ignoring a word is like not having a color of paint in my palette when I need it. The bottom of the page might be the perfect place for a moist yellow daub of pigment.

But when I normally answer these quizzes, I say that was is my least favorite word, and now is my favorite.

Historically, my reasons for these choices were grammatical. Was is a boring, passive word.

Example:

He was walking toward her. (Bor-ring.)

He prowled toward her. (Yum.)

Of course I use was in my writing. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, and sometimes it’s the perfect word in the perfect place (like when you’re trying to hide the actor in a sentence). I just try to avoid it as a default.

As far as now? It’s sexy.

 “Come to the bedroom,” he said. (Meh.)

“Come to the bedroom. Now.” (Tingles.)

Tee hee.

Recently, though, I realized that my love of the word now and my distaste for the word was go deeper than grammar or book boyfriends.

Not to be too existentialist, but we only live in the now. That’s all that exists. And was—what is past—is always stale compared to the freshness of this moment. Writing this blog post is infinitely more interesting than me reading it a week from now. And you reading this now is way more interesting than having read it.

I’ll keep reminding myself to live in the now, thank you very much. And I’m not gonna worry too much about what was.

Spain!

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I spent a year in Granada, Spain, when I was in college. I lived with a few Spanish girls in a flat in the middle of town by Plaza de la Trinidad. When I lived there, I wrote daily in my journal. I think even back then, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I knew I wanted to do something with this experience.

My first book in my new Love in Translation series, called Sol, takes place in Granada, and has themes of recovery from grief and learning forgiveness.

The second book, Sombra, releases April 30. I thought I'd tell you a little bit about the inspiration, with hopefully no spoilers.

Character inspiration:

Gustavo "Tavo" de la Guerra Cantor is loosely based on a few people I knew. His physical looks are inspired by Jon Kortajarena and a few other Spanish models.

While I didn't really have a muse for Kim, the pictures of Christina Aguilera without makeup in Paper Magazine really capture the look and sweetness I see in Kim.

Musical inspiration:

If you listened to the Rolling Stones while you read Chapter One, I think you'd enjoy it. Here it is on YouTube. You can also check out Alejandro Sanz and just about any Spanish guitar music, especially with a beat.

Food and drink inspiration:

Paella, gazpacho, and more. The recipes in the book are (for the most part) real, so look up a recipe and try it!

Other:

Pretty much every cultural citation in Sombra is something either I experienced or is common in the area. I hope it makes you want to visit beautiful Spain!

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Community Standards

Dear Facebook:

I have just returned from 3 days in Facebook jail for posting a PG-13 image in the comments in a closed group. The image had been previously shared on Facebook.

Now, I adore Facebook. I love how it brings people together, and how we can share in each other’s lives.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t advocate for myself and for a change in rules.

I understand that Facebook may want “Community Standards,” however the problem is that the standards are constantly changing, enforced inconsistently, and do not represent MY community.

I’m a romance writer. I love images of love. I adore sensual, romantic, artistic photos of people that make me feel emotions. For years, I’ve been enjoying posting these images on Facebook to discuss with my friends and readers. The images aren’t rated X or R. (I don’t have a problem with X or R, but I am a responsible adult who can keep from posting such pictures on Facebook.)

The change in rules took me by surprise, though, and Facebook gave me 3 days to think about it. I’ve come to one conclusion.

I do not believe that PG-13 images should be suppressed, especially when posted in the comments of a private group. Especially when the images are of love.

I would encourage Facebook to dial back its algorithms for “nudity” (there was none) and dial up its algorithms for violence, bullying, and hate.

Because that would truly represent MY “community standards.”

Love,

Leslie

 Me being all Zen about Facebook jail.

Me being all Zen about Facebook jail.

RADICAL REASONABLENESS

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This year, I’m trying reasonableness on. It feels radical.

It feels radical, probably because I’m a recovering perfectionist.

Before I had kids, I used to refold towels the Martha Stewart way. Now I’m just grateful for clean towels.

But that doesn’t mean that I gave up perfectionism in other things.

My normal m.o. is (was?) to read a nonfiction book on something—exercise plan, diet plan, financial freedom plan, marketing plan, organizational plan—and follow it precisely…until it doesn’t work anymore.

And it doesn’t work anymore because life.

I was paleo for about a year and a half, until I just wanted a taco. I am a mom with kids who don’t want to eat keto. I was vegetarian for a long time. And don’t get me started on tracking Weight Watchers points.

I exercised three times a week with a trainer until he quit. And then my other one quit. And then I got injured. I’ve tried Tracy Anderson method, yoga, Pilates, spinning, aquafit, and boxing.

I have a husband who wants to go take a trip to Home Depot, which isn’t on my calendar. I plan a day at work and then it all changes with a phone call.

And maybe I feel like messing around on Facebook instead of doing something that’s good for me.

Previously, I’ve considered all of those things to be failures. I didn’t follow the plan. I stopped, for whatever reason, and didn’t start again.

So, I’ve decided to try on reasonableness.

What that means is I’ve decided to be gentler on myself and to trust myself. Those things are extremely hard.

Being gentler on myself means that I’m not always wrong.

That’s what feels radical.

I’m used to being wrong and having someone else be the expert. That diet guru? They know more than me. They have science to back up their findings. I mean, look at them! They look better than me. The organizational master? The soulful teacher? They make it look easy.

It’s not.

I’m at the stage, though, where I’ve read a lot, and I kind of know what works and what doesn’t. What if I put down the didactic approach, the harsh approach, and be more flexible?

What is right for me now?

What if I trust myself to make good decisions?

I don’t know how this is going to end, but this shift in focus is making me enjoy the journey a whole lot more.

Because if I give up the idea that I’m always wrong, then what happens is that I have to make my own decisions. Is it really a good idea for me to spend money on new blank journals? (Maybe, maybe not.) Should I eat the taco? (Yes, if I’m hungry for it.)

Being gentle to myself feels like what I wanted when I followed the gurus. It feels like a warm hug and a soothing blanket and a refreshing drink. A bubble bath and a good book. A brisk walk in the neighborhood.

It feels like getting to work on time, doing it, and leaving early because I earned it.

It’s strange that being gentle on myself is a radical step.

But I’m willing to do it.

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Mood for Reinvention

I'm in the mood for reinvention, but it's weird for me to feel this around the first of the year.

This year, I declared my New Year's back in the end of November.

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I started thinking about how I wanted my life to be. What things I wanted to change. The differences I wanted in my finances, work life, and body. (More, more satisfying, healthier.)

As I thought about that and about New Year's resolutions, I thought the radical idea: what if there isn't anything I need to reinvent?

What if I don't need to improve?

I don't mean this in a "I'm perfect and untouchable" way. I mean it as maybe, just maybe before I start talking about changing things, I need to look at what's working. Look at the imperfections that make me human.

And looking at what's working, what's imperfect, what's human means that I'm looking at those places where it's enough.

Where I'm enough.

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Enoughness is something I've struggled with for years now. I worry about not being good enough, that people won't like me, that I'm going to make a misstep. I'm going to say something wrong.

Hell, even typos bug me.

I've worked through so much, I've processed so much. And still there's so much for me to do.

I think that is the essential part of being human. To never be finished.

So what if I operate on the assumption that I am enough? Is there still a need for reinvention?

Absolutely.

While I may be enough while I'm sitting here, imperfect, happily writing, I'm still not satisfied.

I want a healthier body, new clothes, financial serenity, clean floors, and time to spend with my family.

And I really want to explode, creatively. For fifteen years (or more) I held back. The few glimpses I showed people of myself were promising, but I didn't feel like I was enough--and so I didn't show anyone.

Now, it's time.

So my mood right now isn't so much reinvention as it's a focused direction and desire for development.

That's my hope for you, too.

May you know that you are enough.

May you know that if you aren't satisfied, that's the normal human condition.

And know that you can focus your direction and develop into anything--any person--you want to be.

A blessed New Year to you!

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CREATION OR COMPETITION?

People generally live on one of two planes of existence: the competitive world or the creative world.

It’s easy to tell.

People who live in the competitive world think that there isn’t enough for them. This is because, of course, if you are competing, there’s only room for one at the top—of whatever. Book sales, retweets, liked photos, net worth, grade point average. It doesn’t matter what the goal is. If you’re in the competitive world, you are always striving to get to that goal or fighting to stay there once you arrive.

Numbers matter in the competitive world, because they are objective things that you can count and compare: followers on social media, sales, rankings, prizes won in the County fair for best tomato.

Personally speaking, when I visit the competitive world, I get sad. I start thinking I am less than (I’m not one of those who thinks I’m better than), and I easily find someone richer, thinner, happier, more popular, who sells more books and has a really clean house to compare myself and shame myself.

Nothing I do is ever enough in the competitive plane. Someone is always taller, has longer legs and longer hair and more money in their bank account.

I get jealous.

I’ve learned, however, to listen to my jealousy because it usually tells me my heart’s desire.

My heart usually desires to feel like what I do is enough, just the way I am. That my body is enough as it is. That I am enough as I am. That I can be financially sober. That I can have true inner security.

That I am loved.

Thing is? I can’t find those things on the competitive plane. It’s not set up that way. It’s set up so that only one is at the top, some are fighting to get to the top, and the rest have given up and don’t even bother.

But there is another way.

For my sanity and happiness, I must exist on the creative plane.

By “creative,” I don’t mean all glitter and glue sticks. (Okay, that stuff is fine too). But I mean that I create my own world. Make things the way I want them to be. The way that makes me feel like I am loved, safe, secure, and enough as I am.

I do this by paying very close attention to what I surround myself with in my physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional environments. It matters what I carry in my purse, the kind of pen I use to write, the kind of words I use to talk with people. What I eat, what I breathe, who I love. What I think about, read, see on my phone.

I do my best to live my days the way I want to live my life.

An example?

My Facebook group. I usually warn people that it’s super active and full of half-naked men, some of whom are members. But I see it as a fabulous place where women can be our badass selves without feeling shamed for liking what we like, owning our sexuality, or talking about our mental health challenges. It exists on the creative plane. I care more about getting the right people in there than the number of people. It's not in competition with anyone.

This creative world I’m in? It’s not fully formed. Many parts of it are in the first trimester of gestation. Just a gleam in my eye. I can’t see the immediate manifestations of what I want in my day-to-day life yet.

But I can tell you this.

I wanted to live in a Craftsman house. I do.

I wanted to be a mother. I am now a mother.

I wanted to be a writer for my entire life. I am now a writer.

I still have things to change. Things I want to do. But I love existing on the creative plane and seeing my dreams happen.

Now, when I say that I live in my own little world. I’ll admit that I do have to be vigilant about being positive and focusing on what I want, not what I don’t want. That can sound a little Pollyanna. Honestly, though, I really don’t care what it sounds like, because it makes me happy. I’m not depressed by the news; I barely read it. I’m optimistic about the planet. I believe that we are making great strides to make the world a better place. And no, I’m not delusional. I’m not talking about being naïve or not preparing for the winter, so to speak. Yes, we need to brush our teeth, recycle, fasten seatbelts, and set aside money for the future. I’m just choosing to move forward with the vision of the future that I want for myself and my children, not hampered by those who predict dire events.

Because there have always been those who are stuck in gloom and doom. For every example I can find of something positive, I’m sure someone could find something negative. That’s the way the world is. You have to find the things you want and focus on them. That’s the way you create your world too.

Another thing. This creative world? It’s egalitarian. I am not better than you, and you are not better than me. We all have opportunities to create our own worlds. We all create our own world, whether we think we are doing it or not.

Now.

I acknowledge that there are those who have challenges to get to the point where they can believe that they can create their own world. That because of socio-economic considerations or their parents or where they live, they need some help.

Hence, why I wrote this.

To let you know that you can do it because I did it and am doing it. Those dreams you have? That place you want to live in? Job you want? Relationship?

There’s nothing stopping you from getting it.

I bet you can think of an example of someone from humble beginnings who has become a superstar. Oprah, anyone? And these superstars did it by creating themselves, not competing.

It took me a long time to figure this out. That I didn’t need to compare myself to anyone but an older version of myself, and whether I was going closer or farther away from my heart’s desires.

But ever since I said the big eff-you to the competitive world, I haven’t looked back.

ROMANCE NOVELS MATTER

Last night, I went to Barnes and Noble for the second time in two days. While I’d gone there to peruse the “books with nothing in them” aisle (as my husband calls the journals), I found myself as always in the Romance section, which is normally shunted to the very back.

I don’t know if the retail planning is like that of grocery stores—place the things people really want, like milk, in the back and set up enticing impulse buys in the front—or if it’s what I perceived: people—women—are ashamed of buying bodice rippers, so you have to find them in a seedy dark corner. I really hope it’s the former—that they sell so many of them Barnes and Noble knows they can place them in a low-traffic area and fill up other space with more esoteric books.

Still, I felt funny looking at cover after cover of Harlequin and other romance novels, which is ironic, since my own books are heavy on the shirtless men. Honestly, I found myself looking around furtively. Like no one is supposed to know that I love romance novels and their covers.

(Oh, that’s right. I LOVE me some shirtless men. I write the damn things after all. And I don’t hide it at all, if you really know me.)

This is my new blog and my new space to state my opinions. So, opinion one. Romance novels are unfairly undervalued, teased, and bullied by those who think they are pulp.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I acknowledge examples of poor writing in every category. But here, I’m talking about the genre as a whole, which is filled with books that elicit emotions of every kind from readers, who are mostly women.

We want to swoon at the sweet things a character says, swell with pride when a character does the right thing, and throw something when the character does the STUPIDEST THING EVER. We want to be turned on by sex scenes, crying at unfair breakups, and laughing our asses off at the sidekick. At the end, we want our hearts to be mended, to fall in love with the couple, and to experience the happy ever after as if it were our own.

In short, romance novels are about emotions.

Emotions aren’t understood.

And that’s where the guilt comes in.

We’re not supposed to have emotions. We’re shamed into thinking we’re wrong for having feelings, when truthfully, they’re our most important inner guidance system. Yes, our feelings, whether we’re pissed or turned on or geekily fangirling about whatever it is we’re into (new Beck music, for me. When is that album dropping?) are essential for understanding and processing our world. Our emotions are given to us for a reason—to protect us, to direct us, and to experience all we can on this planet.

Being shamed for our emotions is like being ashamed of our own bodies.

Oh, wait, we do that too.

But what could be more essential to our wellbeing? Processing human emotions through art. Allowing escape from feelings in our real lives that are too much to bear—or bringing understanding to those icky sensations we’d shunted off to the side.

Romance novels help us understand our own relationships and intimacy levels. They inspire us to strive for better. Or, on a different level, the schadenfreude of watching the dysfunction of a fictional couple with the safety that it’s not real life.

Through vicariously experiencing emotions through fiction, we learn to name our own emotions. Process. Gain awareness.

This, my friends, is the function of art. To make us feel.

Even if that means reading a book with a cover that shows a couple in a fiery embrace.

Don’t judge that damn book by the cover.

Go read something that makes you cry, laugh, and fall in love.