Monthly Archives: July 2013

Being Brave

I attended the Romance Writers of America’s National Conference in Atlanta two weeks ago.  During the course of the four-day-long event, I spoke with many writers from all around the country.  Some, like me, were new to the industry, while others were already bestselling authors.  Despite the many differences among the men and women I met, they all shared one common trait – courage.  It shouldn’t have surprised me, considering how much courage it takes to risk rejection and share one’s writing with others.  Nonetheless, the experience made me think about bravery in all its forms.

When I think of heroes, I first think of cops, firemen, and military officers.  I then also consider the everyday hero who dedicates his or her life to serving those less fortunate (whether economically, physically, or mentally challenged).  But really, anyone who dares to be authentic, to speak the truth, and to keep his or her integrity in tact in the face of obstacles, is a hero.

Authors Cathy Maxwell and Kristan Higgins were the two primary speakers at this year’s convention. Both women revealed highly personal stories of life struggles and triumph to nearly two thousand strangers.  They shared their intimate chronicles to encourage us to continue to write, to persist in the face of the constant rejection (or poor reviews), and to never give up.  Their honesty and bravery awed me.  I don’t feel it appropriate to divulge the details of some of their personal moments, but suffice to say few attendees had dry eyes by the end of either speech.  I was both moved and inspired, and for that I’m very grateful.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted a Sunday Song.  I do so today in honor of Ms. Maxwell and Ms. Higgins, and of all the others in my life who remind me of the value of courage.  I’ve chosen Sara Bareilles’ Brave because it is so on-point.  Those who follow the blog know Sara B. is one of my favorite contemporary songwriters.  She has an amazing ability to marry a perfect melody with provoking lyrics.  This song is from her latest album, The Blessed Unrest.  Here is an excerpt of the lyrics:

Nothing’s gonna hurt you
the way that words do
when they settle ‘neath your skin

Kept on the inside
and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins

But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
I wanna see you be brave

To hear the song, check out this Vevo video:

This summer has presented my immediate and extended family with many challenges and reversals of fortune (health and wealth).  Those who know me well know how I try to manage all circumstances, and how much I dread unexpected change.  These past few roller coaster weeks have wrested all control from me, leaving me feeling adrift and uncomfortable.

Rather than crumble under the weight of uncertainty and sadness, I’m going to draw on the stories I heard in Atlanta, and the words of songs such as Brave, to force myself use these unfortunate events to strengthen myself and my writing.  At the end of the day, none of us knows what tomorrow brings.  All we can rely upon is our acquired knowledge, our hearts, and our friends and family to help us navigate the road ahead.  Armed with excellent resources and support systems, I’m going to charge forward with optimism and hope for that better day a week, month or year from now.  Whenever I begin to feel a niggle of doubt, I’m going to play this song like an anthem and press on.

If you are facing an overwhelming obstacle, I hope this post or song has helped you in some small way.


Unplug Without Guilt!

After a whirlwind several days in Atlanta at the RWA conference, I’m now with my dad and stepfamily in the Allegheny National Forest area of Pennsylvania.  The solitude and limited access to technology is forcing me to slow down and be present.  IMG_2503

Yesterday I fought frustration at not being able to call my husband (or anyone) because of the lack of cell service (or landlines in our cabin), or send/receive emails in a timely manner unless I went to the main lodge.

Twenty-four hours later, I’m actually relieved to be untethered to the rest of the world.  This is what a vacation should be…a true break from the reality, responsibilities, and obligations of daily life.  This is how it used to be before fax machines, cell phones, and the internet made us available to everyone at all times.

Nowadays, I rarely vacation with adults who are able to fully leave the office behind for an entire week.  Vacation time today should be renamed ‘relocation’ time since employees routinely respond to emails and work issues while on their vacations.  It’s sad to realize our kids will never know a world without instant-access except when we find little gems like Glendorn.

With the exception of writing this brief blog post, I plan to use my remaining days here to unwind, let my imagination run free, and engage with my family instead of my laptop.  I highly recommend planning a family vacation at a location such as this one so you can unplug for a week guilt-free.

Where are you vacationing this summer?  I challenge you to leave your cell phone behind!


Scents and Sensuality

Earlier this afternoon, I attended a class taught by Virginia McCullough, an author and consultant, who taught me more than I ever wanted to know about the good, bad, and ugly aspects of smell.  Her expertise and work in this field is largely based on the work of Dr. Alan Hirsch, the developer of Sensa and founder of the Smell and Taste Research Foundation.  Prior to the class, I’d been vaguely aware of the nexus between scent and attraction, but I’d never spent time investigating how profoundly our sense of smell impacts various areas of our psyche.

Since this blog aspires to infuse romance into your daily life, I’ll restrict sharing what I’ve learned to only those elements of smell affecting attraction and desire.

Of course, a large part of scent-related attraction is linked to genetics and pheromones, and thus is largely beyond our control.  Interestingly, however, some scientists today worry our daily showers may be diminishing pheromones and impacting our ability to entice or be drawn to the right partners.  In any case, apparently you can manipulate scent to increase arousal (if not attraction).

While scientists can’t confirm any particular food as being an aphrodisiac, certain scents are effective aphrodisiacs.  Want to get your man in the mood?  Apparently pumpkin pie and lavender are the top two aromas for the job (proven by studying penile blood flow…not joking).  Close runners-up include cinnamon rolls, donuts, and licorice.  Yes…donuts! 12675745_s

Ladies, want to get more aroused?  We, too, respond to the fragrance of pumpkin pie, lavender, and Good & Plenty candy (not, however, to donuts).  Interestingly, cologne actually impairs arousal in women, but perfume does not decrease it in men.  I don’t know of any pumpkin pie scented perfumes, but hints of cinnamon and licorice probably exist in the some.  If not, I’m sure you can find scented candles for each of these important aromas, so light ‘em up!

Even if you aren’t hoping to inspire a little “action,” you can use the following scents in your home (or on your person) to lift your mood: vanilla, lavender, butterscotch, light floral or spicy perfume, citrus, cinnamon, freshly mown grass, bonfire, and post-rain earthy aromas.  Conversely, malodor can actually increase aggressive, disharmonious behavior (garlic without the presence of other food aroma, garbage, spoiled food, fertilizer, singed hair).   For more information about the therapeutic affect of scent, visit the National Association Of Holistic Aromatherapy website.

Finally, let’s look at the tangentially related topic of taste just for fun (which, of course, is affected by smell).  Apparently your favorite ice cream flavor can tell you something about your personality.  Here’s a quick test:

Choose your favorite flavor from among the following:  vanilla, double chocolate chunk, strawberries and cream, banana cream pie, chocolate chip, or butter pecan.

Now, here’s the “key” to your personality based upon your choice (note that all studies referenced by Ms. McCullough have been verified by cross-referencing with multiple personality index testing):

Vanilla – Anything but plain!  Friendly, busy, risk-taker with high goals and expectations.  Romantic and expressive.

Double Chocolate Chunk – Extroverted, charming, and easily caught up in romantic fantasy.  Intuitive.

Strawberries & Cream – Shy and introverted, emotionally deep and having high standards.  You look at life realistically and like facts.

BCP – Popular, easygoing and enjoy life.  Good listener, well-adjusted, and great capacity for happiness.

Chocolate Chip – Competitive and goal-oriented.  Charming and generous, but unpleasant in the face of defeat or insurmountable obstacles.

Butter Pecan – Likeable, efficient, and competitive, especially in sports.  Not very expressive, but careful with other’s feelings (yet expect them to meet your expectations).

Do you agree with your result?

By the way, apparently men who prefer pink grapefruit to donuts for breakfast are practically obsessively thinking about sex each day.  Donut loving guys are more sexually reserved, but more interested in knowing women (more companionable).  So if your hubby is craving pink grapefruit, watch out!



Why My Friends Rock

Prosperity is no just scale; adversity is the only balance to weigh friends ~ Plutarch

This blog post is a shout-out to my amazing friends.  Why?  Because when I needed help, they all volunteered.  By the measure set forth by Plutarch, my friends “rock!”  Of course, my adversity is not the profound, life-changing sort to which his quote would be most apt, but that fact doesn’t make it any less true.

The past ten days have been a blur.  Having finally conquered the jet lag from our lengthy trip to Hawaii and California, and in the midst of preparing for house guests (and my upcoming trip to Atlanta for the Romance Writers of America conference), I got hit with some bad news about my brother.  He had an accident requiring another surgery (his fourteenth, mind you).  I won’t go through the lengthy list of risks that kept our family stressed, but am happy to report he survived the surgery without complications.

However, he is temporarily immobilized as a result of his injuries, and requires our mother’s assistance to do nearly everything (he is unmarried and has no significant other).  Thus, the “babysitter” I thought I’d lined up to watch my kids so I could go to Atlanta this week is stuck in Pittsburgh helping her son.  Yikes.

My husband isn’t able to take vacation time during the month of July (and has just returned from a two week vacation).  So, with a non-refundable trip to take and no sitter in sight, what’s a girl to do?  Apparently she calls on her gal pals to see if they could take on her kids in addition to their own. 6037473_s

Within five minutes of a sending a group email, I received several offers…within twenty, I had a full brigade of help lined-up to chauffeur and feed my kids over a three-day period (despite those women also having to juggle their own kids and schedules).  I can’t express my gratitude enough.  I’ve always thought my friends were special ladies, but now I’ve got proof.

Of course, I’m still not able to attend the conference without worry.  On Sunday, an angry red rash broke out over my son’s body.  We’ve been to two doctors and have completed a series of blood tests in the past thirty-six hours.  Now we’re just waiting for answers.  The good news?  The rash doesn’t itch or burn, and neither doctor suspects anything truly dire.  The bad news – no one knows what is wrong, so I’m feeling guilty about going to the convention while my child is in flux.

But I’m shoving the “mommy guilt” aside because (a) I’ve been eagerly anticipating this conference for professional and personal reasons, (b) I’m going to have an opportunity to meet my new agent (who is based in Southern California) while I’m there, and (c) I’m basically leaving the kids in the care of their amazing father and my dear friends.  In spite of all this upheaval, I’m so excited about all of the classes I’m going to take, and the new people I’ll meet.

I love uplifting, inspirational true stories about love and friendship.  Are the friends who are happy to hang around when times are good equally willing to stand by you when things go bad?  I hope so, and would love to hear about your great friends, too!


Why We Love Those “Bad Boys” (or Girls)

A response to my recent post about “bad boys” sparked my interest.  The reader asked why we (or some of us, anyway) find them so appealing in the first place.  Until today, I didn’t really believe a legitimate reason existed.  Apparently, however, psychologists have studied the phenomenon with respect to narcissists, who are generally deemed very sexy.

Psychology Today contributor Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., has written articles (one and two) related to this topic, which I’m going to try to summarize for your edification.  Of course, I find this exceedingly interesting on a personal level, and as a women’s fiction/romance writer interested in understanding character motivation and development pertaining to love and desire.

Essentially, a person’s attractiveness can be split into two categories: static and dynamic.  Static attractiveness refers to someone’s genetic, physical beauty.  Long legs, thick hair, great bone structure…basically the stuff we can’t control (at least not without major surgery).  Dynamic attractiveness, on the other hand, involves things related to grooming habits, personal carriage, and expression…all things we can influence.

Of the two types of appeal, dynamic attractiveness ultimately holds more sway over a person’s overall appeal to either gender.  One of the most important elements of dynamic appeal is expression (communication style).  Allegedly, people who spontaneously express themselves with high levels of emotion (especially positive emotion) are universally more appealing than those who do not, according to more than one study. 8118093_s

So how does this lead to making us like those “bad boys” (or girls)?  Well, narcissists (a common trait among “bad boys”) are typically viewed as more physically appealing and socially bold. Narcissists are not, as a rule, possessed of more static attractiveness, but they focus more on grooming than the average person, and the carry themselves with more confidence.  Their sense of importance and confidence tends to make them socially bold.  This combination of factors greatly enhances their dynamic attractiveness, which makes them sexy and appealing to the masses.  Of course, not all people with high dynamic appeal are narcissists (but most narcissists have high dynamic appeal).

Interestingly, there is a twist.  While the narcissist (or “bad boy”) enjoys having more appeal in short-term relationships, that high rating rarely lasts long enough to sustain a long-term relationship.  In other words, we wise up, dump those frogs, and go find our prince (or princess).

So I guess now we’ve all learned how to better assess the source of another person’s appeal (as well as our own).  I think this phenomenon applies equally to romantic and platonic appeal, but I haven’t seen any study on that theory!

Now, who’s going to admit to putting more effort into increasing his or her dynamic attractiveness today (and in the future)?  Go for it!


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photo credit:  Tono Balaguer,