Thursday, May 28, 2015

Words to Live By

Back in the day, another life, a different career, I was a university professor preparing undergraduate and graduate students for their teaching careers. I taught them how to teach reading, writing, listening, and speaking to pre-K through eighth grade students.

I began each class with an introduction to me that included the quotes I used to guide my life and decisions I made, specifically as it related to education and teaching. I challenged them to write in their class content journals the words they chose and to explain why and how those words influenced them as teachers/future teachers.

I was disappointed, most of the time, at the lack of reflection their choices showed. Most of them had clearly never considered guiding words beyond their sacred texts. Not to diss sacred texts, but there are other sources as well. But if the choice were words from their holy books, I expected more than “These words are true.” I would push back with, “Why these words in particular? What truth do they speak to you? How does that truth play out in your teaching choices and decisions? Personalize this so it is not so generic.”

Orally, I modeled what I expected from them. I spoke my words (as they were displayed) and told how my quotes guided me. How I was not perfect at living up to my set of guiding words, but that having a moral compass reflected in my guiding words meant that more often than not I acted in concert with them.

Here are the quotes, that even now, years away from my former profession, I resonate to:

I am only one.
Still, I am one.
I cannot do everything.
Still, I can do something.
Because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
         Edward Everett Hale

Treat every child as if he already is the person he is capable of becoming.
         Haim Ginott

Even if I knew certainly the world would end tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today.
         Attributed to Martin Luther

What words guide you in navigating the rapids, shoals, and still waters of life?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Guest Post: "Engaging Relationships Sell" by J.L. Greger

This is the third guest post J.L. (Janet) Greger has done for one of my blogs. Can you tell I enjoy what she has to share? If you wonder how to make your relationship scenes support your story, this just might be what you need!

I doubt many novels have been written about a hero/heroine who didn’t interact (actually or virtually) with other people or animals. Think about it. Relationships, not really appearances or jobs, make characters (lovers, families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, or enemies) interesting to readers.

What are simple ways to make fictional relationships seem real?
I looked at dozens of columns written by psychologists, experts on managing stress in the workplace, and writers of columns to the “lovelorn.” In essence, they mentioned four key issues central to all relationships.

You can add depth to your novels by examining your characters and their relationships in terms of these parameters. 
1) Communications.
A sympathetic protagonist listens patiently to others. He/she communicates through actions as well as orally. For example, a wealthy male protagonist might seem more lovable if he did a load of laundry for his partner without being asked than if he bought a dozen roses.

Don’t fall into the Hollywood cliché of having the hero or heroine “just know what his his/her partner wants.” Psychologists are convinced this is unrealistic.

Characters not interested in a relationship interrupt, raise their voice, doodle, look at their watch, or pick at their nails when others are talking. They nag their cohorts. These are good traits for villains.

2) Goals.
Allies or lovers, who have no shared goals, are not realistic partners on a long–term basis. The dissolution of shared goals (divorce, business failure, or war) is the basis of strong plots. Authors tend to build more psychological tension into their novels when they allow characters to mourn the loss of a shared relationship.

If one of your character steamrolls the rights of others to attain a shared goal, you have created a villain.

3) Struggle for control.
This is universal to all relationships. If you doubt the statement, think about raising children or training a dog. These struggles, when mainly petty bickering, can add humor to fiction or can foreshadow a crisis.

4) Trust.
Psychologists say relationships cannot last or function without trust. Although trust can be based on a major event, it usually develops over time in response to lots of small (almost inconsequential) behavior patterns.

According to psychologists, the “good guys” build trust because they: are on time; don't lie - not even little white lies; are fair, even in an argument; do what they promise; carry their fair share of the workload; don’t overreact when things go wrong; respects others; and aren’t jealous. I suspect a character, who is consistently trustworthy would be pretty boring.

As you write your next novel or story, think less about character development per se and more about relationship development. Readers want to recognize a bit of themselves in fictional relationships, but they also like to pity faulty interactions and dream of others. You may build a stronger relationship with your readers.

I hope you like Sara’s (my protagonist) relationships with Xave Zack in my thrillers Ignore the Pain and Malignancy.

 Blurb on Ignore the Pain. Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to be the epidemiologist on a public health mission in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past in New Mexico is chasing her through the Witches’ Market of La Paz and on to the silver mines of Potosí. Unfortunately, she can’t trust her new colleagues, especially the sinister Xave Zack, because any one of them might be under the control of the coca industry in Bolivia.

Blurb on Malignancy. Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. Albuquerque police suspect a drug czar, who Sara has tangled with several times, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack, who rescued her in Bolivia. Maybe, she should question their motives.

Ignore the Pain ( and Malignancy ( are available at Amazon and Oak Tree Press:

Bio: As a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I honed my story-telling skills as I lectured to bleary-eyed students at 8:30 in the morning. Students remember chemical reactions better when the instructor attaches stories to the processes. 

Now I have two great passions – my Japanese Chin dog, Bug, and travel. I’ve included both in my novels: Coming Flu, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, Ignore the Pain, and Malignancy. You can learn more about me at my website: and blog (JL Greger’s Bugs):

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Major Key to Happy Relationships

He left last Thursday morning. The nights are the worst. He used to read in bed, scratch my head, and I would massage his foot. Those were the good times. Now, I am left alone in a king bed, still sleeping on “my side”, not daring to sleep in the middle lest I get used to it.

But this is good.

He’s off for a week on one of his rafting/canoeing trips exploring rivers and canyons he hasn’t been to yet. He is having a swell time.

Me, too. I have breakfasts and lunches with friends and watch movies and TV shows he hates. And I can scatter the contents of drawers I am reorganizing all over the place. He hates messes. And I hate having to clean up a project before I finish it. See how perfect this is!

One absolutely critical key to having the kind of relationship we have is that we have our separate interests. We each give the other space to pursue those interests. We’re kind of a two-circleVenn Diagram.

He has his interests and pursuits. I have mine. And there are a whole bunch of things in the intersection that we enjoy together. (Sorry I couldn’t figure out how to draw a Venn Diagram, and none of the onlines ones I found could be copied here.)

Research and common sense articles about what makes relationships work almost always include this one: You are happier together if you are both strong, independent people who function very well without the other.

If you are clingy, desperate to mop up every drop of her attention, it will wear thin. If all you can talk about are the experiences you’ve shared, you are boring. She’ll be outta there!

If she clings to you, smothers your individuality, controls your movements and interactions, you’ll feel stifled. You want to say to her, “Get a life!”

The most successful people in life and in relationships are those who can go off on their own and develop side interests, skills, hobbies, and friends. Then, when appropriate, and you rejoin for a shared experience, you have things to talk about and demonstrate.

When I was in high school, prepping for my first date, I distinctly remember the panic I felt when wondering what we would talk about for three hours! (That’s why so many first dates are at the movies. Pressure is off for most of the three hours.)

Then my mind went to THE FUTURE. Someday, I’d likely marry. As I intended to stay married, I started wondering what ever would we find to talk about for 50+ years? Funny, eh? Only it wasn’t at the time.

I didn’t realize then that my own insatiable curiosity about learning, my wide-ranging reading interests, and my basic personality which caused me to seek crowds of different kinds of people, were two of the reasons I would never have trouble carrying on conversations over years of being together.

It was that strength of identity, among other things, that got DH’s attention. He had only been with dependent, clingy women, so I was a relief. He didn’t have to babysit me at parties. In fact, he’d come looking for me after a while just so we could have some time together.

There’s a caveat (isn’t there always?) with being independent and self-confident. IF the couple doesn’t make time for togetherness, plan shared experiences, allow for quiet reflective time in one another’s company, they may grow so far apart that they no longer remember why they got together in the first place. You’ve heard of the fear when couples contemplate the “empty nest syndrome”. They wonder, just as when they were teens, whatever will they find to talk about.

So, go off. Explore your interests and ideas. Develop new skills and hobbies. But be sure to plan frequent date nights and to have togetherness routines like a before-dinner glass of wine each night. Be the strong, independent, interesting person you can be. And then share your growth with the one who brings the most color to your life.

Next week, Romance Righter hosts J.L. Greger writing about “Relationships Sell.”  Please stop in to see what she has for you!