Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Thursday, August 27, 2015

No Rules

I appreciate all those who weighed in on my last IWSG post about the doubts concerning my blog and website. And also those who made comments on the previous post about my grandson's no punctuation masterpiece.

It reminded me again of what I already know: where creativity exists, there are no rules, no right or wrong way to express one's art. Except that the right way is to express it and the wrong way is block oneself due to fear of breaking some rule or making a mistake.

True joy comes from fearless creative expression, learning what works and what doesn't as you go, like this little guy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

When a 10 year old writes a story with passion but no punctuation and you know if it was a school assignment he'd have gotten a bad grade but it's so good you want to give him a prize or at least publish it on your blog

We went to Bufallo Wild Wings and dad decided he wanted to do the wing challenge so asked if they still did it and they said yes so then they told the manager and he got this big red light like a siren but without the noise and he put it on the table then he got a microphone and all the speakers in the cafe were saying to find the red light and watch that table because my dad was doing the wing challenge. So my dad had to finish 12 wings (with bones) that had the spiciest sauce on them in under 6 minutes. So the guy hit a buzzer and dads time started the guy was watching our table the entire time but dad finished with a 5:53.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Insecure about my Website and Blog

I almost forgot about the Insecure Writer Wednesday post this month until I saw all the posts from others showing up. This is my favorite day of the month to go bloghopping. I find these IWSG the most real and interesting posts, and I don't like to miss any of them. You can sign up here.

Lately I've been feeling unsettled about this blog and my author website layout. I can't seem to get my book covers consistent or laid out properly. I get emails about people willing to "fix" my professional website to "reflect" my author image blah blah blah, but I'm really hesitant to pay money to someone for things Blogger and Wordpress make fairly easy to do yourself.

I guess if I just spent the time at it, I could figure it out. Blogger I know needs the covers a certain size. With Wordpress, the more I work on a page, the weirder it gets, and I'm afraid to do too much or I'll mess up what I have. Clearly I don't have the skills required to make my author website look "professional."

One day I'll figure out what to do. But that day has not yet come, and meanwhile my book covers are all weird sized and out of order. If you have any advice for me, I'll be happy to listen, even if it confuses me even more.

Friday, July 31, 2015

My Favorite Inspirational Writing Book

I have certain books I go back to again and again to get inspiration when my creative impulses seem to be buried under the tedium of daily routine. One of these is If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, published in 1938.

I downloaded it on my Kindle simply because it was free one time, and a book about writing. I really didn't expect it to be worth much, having been written 75 years ago when the world, and especially the writing and publishing world was so very different. I certainly didn't expect it to become my go-to little book when I need a kick in the pants to get back to working.

It's written in such a simple, flowy, free and easy style, it feels like you're sitting in one of her writing classes. And in between such obvious statements as "With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good. It has stretched your understanding" there are wonderful little gems like this: “The imagination needs moodling,--long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”

Why do we need to idle and dawdle for long hours if we want to write? Because of this: "inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”

It's a short book of just over 100 pages, filled with nuggets of wisdom that are so applicable to the stresses and strains we experience in our modern world, those things fighting against our creativity. I think this is why it has struck such a chord of familiarity with writers today who are joyfully rediscovering Ueland's book.

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” --Brenda Ueland

What are your favorite inspirational books, writing or otherwise?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Joy in the Small Things

My daughter recently sent me a picture of the box of clothes she was getting rid of because, as she said, "wearing them no longer brings me joy."

I thought of the clothes I wear all the time that no longer bring me joy. Two pairs of pants I used to love but now have stains on the cuffs I can't get off. Shirts that don't quite fit me right or the colors are faded. A knit dress several years old that's now pilled. The list was quite long and disheartening.

These small imperfections I try to ignore because new clothes are hard to come by where I live in Guatemala, and I only go back to the States once a year. That's a long time to wait between shopping trips.

Then I began to think of other things that take up my time and energy which do not bring me joy. Not a lot, I must admit, because at my age I've learned how to bring joy into my life even with mundane tasks. But still, there are a few areas for improvement. Like the clothes.

Have you ever given up something when it no longer brought you joy?

Monday, July 13, 2015

How Much Information is Too Much?

In this age of information overload, how much online sharing is too much? As authors with books out, we understand the necessity of getting our name and work out there. People have to know about a book in order to buy it, and bookstores and libraries aren't where readers go anymore to discover new books and authors.

With millions of books out there, a physical bookstore can only hold a tiny fraction of them. Besides, what about the unknowns who have written good stuff just waiting to be discovered?

And thus we love Amazon with its unlimited shelf space, and the e-reader with its unlimited storage space.

Writers face this new frontier of book publishing with hopeful enthusiasm for the possibilities. Yet the problem of discoverability remains. With so many to choose from, how will anyone find your book?

We get on social media, figuring the more people know about us, the more we will sell. I wonder if this trend causes us to not only spread ourselves too thin but overshare in the process.

Image result for F. Scott fitzgerald photoRemember back in the far distant past when the mystique of the writer was part of the excitement of reading their stories? I used to wonder about the people who wrote my favorite books: what was their life like, how did they get their ideas, were they anything like the characters they wrote about? What kind of house did they live in? What was their favorite food? What did they look like beyond the author photo on the back?

We don't need to wonder any longer. It's all out there for the world to see. I know my life is. Read one of my books and want to know more? You'll find everything in a few clicks. This concerns me sometimes.
Not about my identity being stolen or being stalked by eager fans or having my picture taken without makeup. It's that I, who used to be such a private person hating anyone to know my business, now freely share so much of it online.

Blogging especially does this to a writer. You need a topic and there's your convenient daily life including pictures for variety. Besides, as writers, this is what we do. We write. And write. And write. We write about what we know, which is ourselves and our families and our activities, our good days and bad.

Seriously, there are times I'm tempted to delete my blog, wipe the slate clean and keep a nice, spare website with very little personal information. Do you ever feel that way?

But then reality hits. We no longer live in the day of author mystique. A writer who avoids social media might be diminishing the chance of success. So there we have it. The conflict between oversharing and the need to make oneself and one's work known on social media.

A few have found a nice balance between the two. Most have not. There's a well-known women's fiction author whose books I used to love, until I started following her Facebook fan page where she posts long, boring updates about her everyday routine. I can't get past the first sentence. Since I liked her on Facebook, I've had no desire to read any more of her books. Her Facebook oversharing has taken away my interest.

Do you think social media can hurt a writer more than help? 

How do you feel about oversharing with your own blogs or with others you've read? How much is too much? 

Think the pendulum will ever swing back toward writer mystique? I kinda wish it would, how about you?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What, I have to admit to being insecure?

I didn't realize how difficult it would be for me to come up for topics each month for the Insecure Writer's Posts. After all, insecurity and anxiety are a way of life for me and always have been.

My entire life-- at least since kindergarten when I told my mom if I got sick to not pray for me to get well since I wanted to die and not have to go to school--I've dealt with my fears in a specific way. By either denying they exist to take away their power, or facing them head on before they get me down.

So the first Wednesday of the month comes around and I think, What? I'm supposed to sit here calmly and confess to my insecurities all matter of factly, like it's some normal thing?

Honestly, Insecure Writer Wednesday freaks me out every time. It's like having to go to the dentist. Or to the doctor for a physical. I'm even anxious about getting a pedicure. What if they take too long? Ask too many personal questions? How much should I tip? What if I don't want to tip? And don't even mention when I need a hair cut.

I think about Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. She played the character brilliantly, an absolute mess of anxieties and insecurities and unreasonable fears. We all loved her and the role earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress while catapulting her career to superstar status.

If I could play insecure like Diane Keaton played Annie Hall, then it would be great. People would love me and take care of me and throw money at me and everyone would want to be my friend. Woody Allen is the same. He's so adorably neurotic people have been in love with him and throwing money at him for decades, even when he had an affair then married his adopted daughter.

"She was Mia's adopted daughter," he said, pushing up his glasses. Oh, right, people said, here's a million dollars.

When I feel anxious, I turn to stone. I freeze, most likely with a scowl on my face. If I do talk, it'll be something inappropriate blurted out at the wrong moment, making people back away. I can't do adorably intelligent neurotic like Diane Keaton or Woody Allen. My insecure is "Whoa, what's wrong with this woman??"

So well, it's the first Wednesday of the month, la di da, la, la, la di da, well, let's's my granddaughter...

She looks a lot like me at that age except she's afraid of nothing and everyone loves her and wants to take care of her and be her friend. I bet she's going to love kindergarten.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Down With Conformity

I came of age in the Sixties when conformity was a bad word. Everyone wanted to be different, to act different, to rebel. I did my own share of rebelling to be sure, but I never did drugs.

When I got to college and went to a few parties and saw unpleasant results of alcohol, I stopped drinking and stopped going places where people would be drinking.

When I transferred to the University of Illinois my sophomore year, drugs were hitting campus big time and what I noticed was that the people who seemed most against conformity were all looking and acting and thinking exactly alike.

Rebellion had become the new conformity. It made me turn away from rebellion and become my own kind of non-conformist.

I see this happening everywhere in our world today. People are afraid to express an opinion that differs from what's socially and politically acceptable. If you do, things can get ugly. You get called names like racist, homophobic, religious nut case, far right Republican, a bigot, intolerant.

I am none of those things, yet I have my own thoughts about issues, and I will rarely express them because if I'm not conforming to the politically correct view, then I'm something ugly.

What ever happened to free speech? What ever happened to a thinking society and open discussion of issues? It's like we're going backward in time to a society crippled by prejudice and fear and strict conformity.

I am so tired of the name-calling, the hostility, the ranting back and forth. People are unfollowing and unfriending on social media, and probably in real life, when they find out their friends have the "wrong" political ideas. Did you know in Hollywood there are closet Republicans? People afraid to be found out for their political and religious beliefs for fear of losing their jobs.

I don't care what side you're on politically, just stop it. Everyone should just stop it.

By the way, in case you think you know my views and can categorize me, you're wrong. I have a gay son and I'm very happy he is with such a fine person as his partner. I know neither of them chose to be the way they are, and I wish them all the happiness that is possible to them in this world. But marriage? Marriage is ordained of God and is between a man and a woman.

Let the name calling and unfollowing begin.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rainy Season

While many of you in the U.S. are feeling the heat and drought conditions, in Guatemala we are deep into the rainy season. In the morning it is sunny and everyone is outdoors before the clouds come and the rain hits.

Gotta do laundry and hang it out to dry.

Gotta walk to the market before the water is pouring down the middle of the streets.

Gotta just get out and feel the sun on your skin.

Later in the day when it's pouring rain, wifi can get spotty. Sometimes the electricity goes off altogether.

If it gets cold and dreary, I've got a supply of wood ready for the fireplace.

It's nearly impossible to go all through the rainy season without getting caught in a downpour without an umbrella. When that happens, people stand inside stores or under shelter, watching for a tuk tuk, or just waiting for it to lessen a bit.

One of the best rains happened last year when we were at the hotel. It was evening, the electricity went out, it was dark. We stood on the balcony and watched the rain filling up the street as the parking lot across the way turned into a flood.

The main street of Panajachel during a light rain:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Deciding What to Write

As a writer, figuring out what project to work on next is part of the job. As a blogger, wondering what to post can be puzzling. Blogging is personal, and posts with heart are what appeal to me. I appreciate those who share something of themselves: things they're going through, insights, ideas, successes and failures, ways they've changed.

Writing books is not as spontaneous as blog writing. There's a form for each genre which must be respected. A book is a lengthy enterprise, not to be dashed off in a spurt of inspiration. Maybe the first draft can be written like that, but to achieve a professionally finished work, the spurts of inspiration must be supplemented with hours and hours of sometimes perplexing drudgery.

This is why I only write the book I want to write. Whether it's marketable or popular isn't a consideration, at least not in the early stages. John Truby in The Anatomy of Story, says to "write the story that will change your life."

As I look back on my six published books, I realize each one of them fit this principle. Each one was important for me to write at that particular time, and the writing of it changed my life in a significant way. When I hear from a reader, or see a review that shows me my book also changed a reader's life in a significant way, it means more to me than all the royalties in the world.

One of my absolute favorite reviews on House of Diamonds exemplifies exactly what I mean:


 "As a reader who is struggling to start a family this story was my worst fears put to paper. But it reminded me also of the love of a being more powerful than all who does what is best for us whether we see it or not. It was honestly what I needed to read to put my current struggles in perspective and I recommend it to anyone who feels they can't deal with their struggles. Thank you Ms. Gowen for writing this book, it was just what I needed to read."

Recently I've been struggling with what to write next. At first I was doing the third book in my Diamond series. After all, it's been four years since the second, House of Diamonds, came out. And it is supposed to be a Mormon Family Saga. What kind of saga only has two books in it?

Despite it making perfect sense for me to write that next Diamond novel, I just couldn't do it. I finally put the rough draft away for another time. Apparently this isn't the story to change my life at the moment. Whenever I worked on it, I'd get upset, revisiting a time in our family's experience I was not ready to face. I want so badly to write that book but right now I just can't.

Instead I'm eagerly working on something else. That's my clue I'm on the right track--how I'm excited when I think about it, getting ideas, looking forward to my writing time, jotting things down in a notebook when I'm not at my computer.

As writers, we think a lot about sales and marketing. We have to as part of the job. But maybe we should be considering what means so much more than money: changing a life. Especially one's own.

And if in the process our work changes someone else's life for the better, then we have truly done a fine job.

"Every story I write creates me. I write to create myself." 
--Octavia E. Butler