Having Fun While Pursuing Goals

joy-1804593_960_720Last week, as part of an inventory for the New Year, I wrote a few lists:  things I love and activities I love to do; places that make me happy; my strengths and the things I’m good at; and some accomplishments I’m proud of. I called it my joy inventory and I did it to psych myself up for my annual goal setting session.

Goal setting is all well and good but achieving those goals can be an insidious business. It’s a little like going on a cycling trip. The planning stage is great. You sit down with a cup of coffee and surf travel sites or read guide books. You dream about where you’ll go, what you’ll see. Departure day comes and you’re psyched. And the trip starts out great, it really does, and you’re taking in the scenery and enjoying the daily work out and the feeling of accomplishment. The destination is an eventual goal but the journey is what it’s all about. Everybody knows that including smug little you.

At some point along the way, however, possibly after a day of bitter rain or being forced to detour up a grueling hill, pedaling becomes a chore. You aren’t covering as many miles as you expected to and you’re running into roadblocks as well. Your ass hurts, you stop taking in the view, and the only accomplishment you care about is getting to your destination. So you put your head down and you pedal. You pedal and pedal and pedal on. The trip, you decide, was a terrible idea and clearly not yours. You’ll never do it again.

Until you do.

It’s a lot like goal setting. If you set goals this new year, there’s pretty good chance at some point over the next twelve months you’ll curse yourself out for not reaching your goal fast enough or you’ll get discouraged when you hit a roadblock. You might even decide goal-setting isn’t for you. And maybe it isn’t. But pacing yourself and learning to enjoy life while you work towards your goals helps prevent disappointment and burnout. At least that’s my theory. I’m going to test it out this next year.

I’m going to make time for the activities I love to do. When crap happens and I feel beaten down, I’ll pull out my list of simple pleasures (most of the things I love are simple pleasures) and renew myself that way. If I get discouraged and feel my goals are still out of reach, I’ll skim my list of accomplishments and remind myself that I’ve achieved other goals in the past. If I get a bad review or a rejection, I’ll revisit my list of strengths and tell myself I can handle this new challenge too. And at least once over the next year I’ll visit one place that makes me happy and renews my spirit, even if it only takes me a few miles from home.

I’ve done my joy inventory. I’ve set my goals. And I’m pedalling with optimism into 2017.

A Holiday Treat for You

christmasforlangstonsiteThe lights are strung, the tree is decorated, and we’re pretty much ready for the holidays. I’ll be away from the blog for a few weeks while I celebrate with family and friends. With a little luck, I’ll fit in some reading time too.

I leave you with a recipe for one of our favorite Christmas treats. If you like peanut butter and chocolate, you will love Tiger Butter. It’s a staple around our house during the holidays and it’s so easy even kids can make it. Best of all, it’s fast. You can put it together in about ten minutes, and after a rest in the freezer, it’s ready to be cut up and enjoyed. Or be given away to a lucky recipient.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tiger Butter

250 g/8 ounces/1/2 pound good white chocolate, chopped

250 g/8 ounces/1/2 pound good semisweet dark chocolate, chopped

½ cup smooth peanut butter (note – in this particular recipe, it’s important to use processed peanut butter and not natural peanut butter which goes moldy after a day or two at room temperature)

Line the bottom of a 9-inch square cake pan with wax paper. In a double boiler over hot but not boiling water, melt white chocolate. Remove from heat, stir in peanut butter and blend thoroughly. Keep warm while you melt the dark chocolate. In a microwave bowl or glass measuring cup, melt semisweet dark chocolate.  Pour white chocolate/peanut butter mixture into the cake pan and spread evenly. Pour semisweet dark chocolate over top, and spread evenly. Draw a butter knife through the chocolate to create a marbled effect. Place in the freezer for an hour, or until solid. Remove from freezer and let it sit for about ten minutes to soften before cutting into squares. Enjoy!


Just in time to kick off the holiday season, MILLION DOLLAR BLUES is now available for pre-order. Book one in the Girls Who Dish series is all about what really happens when you strike it rich. Here’s the synopsis:

Take one 75 million dollar lottery win. Toss in a struggling restaurant and a weasel of an ex-husband. Spice heavily with one true love. Is it a recipe for disaster or the recipe of Temple’s dreams?

Winning the lottery will help Temple turn her restaurant, GIRLS WHO DISH, into a world-class establishment. Except, everybody wants a piece of lotto pie: her mother, her daughter, her best friend . . . and the furious staff members who didn’t win and sue for their share.

As Temple struggles with a case of MILLION DOLLAR BLUES, she’s blindsided by the return of her first love, James LeShan. Now a successful lawyer, James will help Temple out of her legal mess . . . but he has something much more personal in mind for the two of them.

If you’re interested in pre-ordering for your e reader, you’ll find the book here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MSP38SC/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479788904&sr=1-10&keywords=million+dollar+blues




Watch For It!

milliondollarblues-300x450Here’s a sneak peek at the cover for Million Dollar Blues. Thanks to Viola at Estrella Cover Design for doing such a terrific job. It’s a contemporary women’s fiction novel with strong romantic elements and it’s quite a departure from What Lainey Sees. There are no past lives in sight and the only suspense in Million Dollar Blues is a 75 million dollar lottery win! The novel should be available for preorder soon. Watch this space for updates.

Seeding Heavy

I plant heavy and I tend to write long. That means my garden overflows even after I thin and prune. And it means my novels sometimes get a little out of control before I revise them down to an acceptable length.

I can plant sparsely. I’ve done it plenty of times. I can write lean prose too. I do it when I wear my Laura Langston hat and write novella length books for reluctant teens (watch for In Plain Sight coming in 2017).

Gardens and books start with seeds – the seed of an idea or the seed of a tomato – and in the beginning stages, it’s my nature to seed heavy. With garden seeds, you rarely get 100% germination so it’s prudent to allow for some failure. With novels, you never know which tiny tangent, random piece of dialogue or secondary character might play an important role in the final novel. I outline, but not rigidly, and I like to leave room for surprises.

That means starting out like this if I want a garden bed of basil:

And starting like this if I want to work my way down to something publishable:

Then I need to take that overwritten book and revise it, and take that over seeded flat and thin it. I like the process. But last weekend, as I worked outside transplanting peppers I’d grown from seed, I felt a little sad at the number of plants that wouldn’t make it to the garden. They’d germinated but they were either stunted or so far behind the other seedlings that there was no point potting them up.

Coincidentally, the day after I finished my garden work, I was back at the computer editing Million Dollar Blues and feeling a little blue myself at the passages and phrases I had to delete.

But if I want to get to this:

And eventually this:

Then the work of thinning and revising has to be done. It requires a certain ruthlessness that can be painful. But the end result is always worth it.

A Matter of Perception

Writers love getting their books reviewed. You hear that all the time, and it’s true. We do. But every once in a while, a review comes along that makes me wonder if I’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone. Or if the reader has. Those reviews inevitably reference something – it could be a person, place or a plot point – that never happened in the book I wrote. And yet there are always just enough references to make it clear that the reviewer read my book and wants to share their views. Unfortunately they seem to be viewing things through their very own, highly polished, fun house mirror.

I thought this particular treat was reserved just for me. Apparently not.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes about this in her latest book Big Magic. In her case, a reader approached her at a book signing for Eat, Pray, Love and thanked Gilbert for writing about a restraining order she’d put on her ex-husband because she’d had enough of his violence. The reader went on to say that Gilbert’s words had given her the courage to leave her abusive marriage. Those words, however, were never written. In fact, Gilbert says you can’t even read that narrative between the lines of her memoir because it’s so far from the truth.

Rather than being shocked/angry/frustrated/amused (pick one), Gilbert was philosophical. She decided the woman had every right to misread her book. “Once my book entered her hands,” Gilbert says, “everything about it belonged to her, and never again to me.”

I’ve always known that not everyone will like the novels I write. I also understand that while 100 readers might find one of my characters strong and sympathetic, 100 others may see her as wimpy or harsh or critical or simply rotten. It’s all a matter of perspective. I get that, objectively. But it can be brutally hard to maintain objectivity when a reader reads something into my book that I never put there in the first place. Especially if they don’t like what they think they read. It can be crazy-making.

My cousin is a visual artist. Some of her paintings are abstracts. They’re open to interpretation. People see whatever they see. That’s the nature, and the joy, of her work. But my books, at least the ones I’ve published so far, are reality-based. There’s only so much interpretation possible. They’re like flower beds – w hat you see is what you get. At least, that’s what I used to believe.

Now Gilbert’s perspective has me re-thinking. Maybe I should embrace whatever readers find (or think they find) in my words. Hand each book off and let the readers own it. After all, Elizabeth Gilbert says their reactions don’t belong to me. My only job is to create . . . create . . . and create some more.

And that’s more than enough for me to handle.

Just One?

It’s always fun to be interviewed or contacted on Twitter. Under my Laura Langston persona, I have a YA novel coming out this month (Stepping Out), and another up for several reader’s choice awards (The Art of Getting Stared At). Because of that, I’ve been receiving lots of tweets and emails. I’ve even been interviewed for a couple of blogs which is both cool and a little weird (as a former journalist, I’m used to asking the questions, not answering them).

Last week, a theme of sorts emerged. I was asked to identify my favorite color, my favorite meal, and the book that had changed my life. In other words, a kind of favorite too.

The last question was posed on Twitter and I wasn’t the only writer asked. There was also a deadline. A book club wanted to know as they were discussing our latest releases the next day. I read tweets from the other authors offering up their single life changing book. I mulled and fretted and walked Team Sheltie and got my daily writing done and mulled and fretted and went to the gym and mulled and fretted some more. Eventually, I responded with several tweets saying I couldn’t pick a single book because different books had impacted and changed my life at different times. I picked a couple: Charlotte’s Web, Mrs. Mike, Karen, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Alchemist, The Lovely Bones. But there were so many I left off: Green Eggs & Ham changed my life because it taught me to read; Jonathan Livingstone Seagull changed my life at thirteen because it affirmed for me that there’s more to life than meets the eye; every single Junie. B. Jones book I read to my daughter changed my life because I saw the importance of humor in storytelling. Interview with a Vampire changed my life because it opened my eyes to a completely different style of writing and a new genre. Lady of Hay changed my life because I read it and said, “I want to write a past life novel too.” And I did.

I can’t pick a favorite color either. I adore the pale green of a seedling bursting through the soil. The blazing orange of a sunset. The black of my velvet throw. The rich purple of an amethyst cluster. The voluptuous white of summer clouds. The shocking red of fireworks. Even gray, which I never really thought much of before, has become a favorite. I’m letting my gray hair shine and, to me, the color speaks of authenticity and courage. Because in our culture, it is still far more acceptable for men than women to embrace their gray hair.

Don’t get me started on food. How can people pick a favorite food? Or even a favorite meal? A last meal? Faced with that challenge, I’d be starting my last meal several weeks in advance. I’d feast on crepes and smoked salmon . . . avocado and shrimp on a ciabatta bun . . . baby greens with my homemade raspberry vinegar . . . juicy peaches with wedges of brie. . . dim sum . . . curried scallops and biriyani rice . . . scones with clotted cream and chunky strawberry jam . . .spicy basil tofu . . . and steamed crab and mushroom risotto and a fatty rib eye and baked potatoes loaded with everything and French press coffee and popcorn with lots of butter. Lots and lots and lots of butter. Oh, and halloumi cheese. Maybe not with the popcorn but crispy fried halloumi would be in there somewhere too.

I can’t pick a single favorite anything. Except when it comes to love. I do have a favorite man. I married him. I also have a favorite son and a favorite daughter but someday, when they commit to their ‘one and only,’ my list will surely expand. I hope it does. For their sake and for mine. For them because we all deserve a life filled with love. And for me because I like my favorites multiplied.

Million Dollar Blues

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. On this date back in 1690, the first piece of paper money was issued by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the United States.

And life would never be the same again.

I’m thinking about money quite a bit these days because I’m working on Million Dollar Blues. It’s a women’s fiction novel about a contested lottery win and the impact it has on the lives and loves of three different women. I’ll be self-publishing it under my Laura Tobias name but first I have to get it in some kind of shape for the editor. There’ll probably be revisions to tackle after she’s finished with it too. And then there’s the cover to commission and the formatting to take care of and all the other details that go into self-publishing a book.
It’s been a real learning curve since I uploaded What Lainey Sees a little over a year ago. Changes are afoot with that title too. It started life as an ebook available only on Amazon, but in the coming months I’ll be making it available on more platforms and getting print copies made too.

Stay tuned for details.

Meanwhile, happy February!

Happy New Year!

And so it begins! A new year (a leap year, no less), a fresh start, a blank calendar to note down dates and events and maybe, if I’m very, very lucky, a holiday getaway somewhere warm.

One can dream!

2016 is a 9 year which is supposed to be a year of completion and fulfillment if you lean to numerology. Culturally, nine is considered a sacred number. There are nine muses in Greek mythology. The universe is divided into nine worlds in Norse mythology. Literature utilizes the power of nine too. There are nine circles of hell in Dante’s’ divine comedy. In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, nine rings of power are given to men; The Fellowship of the Ring consists of nine companions which represent the free races.

I hope this year brings you surprises so wonderful you end up on cloud nine. I hope too that you get a chance to dress up to the nines and enjoy your friends and family, and that you have somebody in your corner who has your back and would go the whole nine yards for you.

Happy 2016!

Gifting Memoirs & Biographies

I have eclectic reading taste. I love everything from literary to genre fiction . . . from serious, intense reads to frothy escapism. I read quite a bit of non-fiction too and I particularly love memoirs and biographies. When I’m in the middle of writing a novel, they offer a change of pace and a welcome break from thinking about character and conflict and resolution. Right now, I’m waiting to get my hands on a copy of My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichel. I’m told it’s a cross between a memoir and a cookbook (my current favorite hybrid!) and well worth the read. If you’re thinking of giving a memoir to the readers on your gift list, here are some to choose from.

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. A classic, what more is there to say? Anyone who has read Frank’s account of hiding during World War 11 never forgets it.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. A memoir about growing up in extreme poverty with a shockingly dysfunctional family and not only surviving but thriving. Walls believes everything that happens in life is both a blessing and a curse. It’s up to each person to decide what to focus on. Riveting.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Angelou’s coming-of-age story shows how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome low self-esteem, racism and trauma. Graphic and gripping.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Not an easy read, this book details the grief Didion worked through following the death of her husband, John Dunne. At the same time as she’s trying to grapple with her loss, she must deal with the hospitalization of her daughter, Quintana.

Brain on Fire; My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. Cahalan is a New York Post reporter who crossed the line between sanity and insanity when an unknown pathogen invaded her body and caused an autoimmune reaction that jump-started brain inflammation, paranoia and seizures. Hospitalized, she was lucky enough to have a doctor determined to get to the bottom of her illness (and lucky to be insured too; her treatment cost $1 million). Haunting and intense.

Delancey – A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg. Funny, frank and uplifting, this memoir details the trials and tribulations of opening a restaurant soon after being married. I discovered Molly Wizenberg through her blog, Orangette (which I also recommend) and have subsequently read Delancey and her first memoir, A Homemade Life. I enjoyed both.

Home Cooking – A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking – A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. Colwin was a novelist and food writer for Gourmet Magazine before her untimely death in 1992 at the age of 48. Less memoir and more a series of essays, I turn to these books again and again for Colwin’s wit, warmth and love of food. How can you not adore a chapter called Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir or one called Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant? These slim little volumes are two of my most treasured books.

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson. I’m a sucker for a well done celebrity biography, especially if they’re funny, honest and contain more grit than fluff. Ferguson’s biography delivers all three. It’s also well-written, full of insights and heavy on the theme of second chances. Highly recommended.