Friday, November 20, 2015

New Space

So this week's blog is super short...less words, more photos!  My home office was a small space, roughly 7 feet by 10 feet.  With the mossy green walls, slanted ceilings, and a small window, it was more of a dark hole than a writing place for me.

I also had another room in the house, which I have written in before.  It was empty except for a rocking chair (older than me) and my son's hand weights.  I was doing a women's challenge called the #LiveMoreChallenge.  One day the challenge was to redecorate.  I took that ball and ran with it!!

So I turned the very underutilized space into my new writing room....AND I LOVE IT!!!!  I lightened the leftover paint and it's now a bit of a minty green.  I painted the horribly damaged wood floors a satin white, and I added some Goodwill purchases (The two hutches were $50 total and the desk was a $40 steal!!)!!!

This weekend I will be holed away in here with my tunes, my cinnamon candy, and the words pouring out of me....and I can't wait!  I even took Monday off of work so that I have an entire day to just get lost in writing.  Check out my new space!

Before and after!

Plenty of room to create!

hutches full of my china and back issues of Oprah mags!

My inspiration board!

I can workout with a view!

Animals testing the treadmill

Friday, November 13, 2015

Finding My Voice

This week I'm finishing an online challenge to not only enjoy life more but to also love myself more.  The online support group of women has been awesome and some of the group even decided that we don't want to stop this great support so they have started another FB group to continue to encourage each other on our journeys!  It's been amazingly refreshing really.

Reading and sharing with strangers all our fears, doubts, joys, triumphs, and uncertainties has made me feel connected in a way I haven’t felt with some of my friends or family as of late.  I can voice my honest opinion to people and not be seen as being a drama queen, but feel genuinely heard. 

In being heard, I feel as if I've found my voice again….not that I lost it, it’s been in me, but it’s now me letting it out.  It’s also me going inward and deciding what I really want this voice to sound like to the rest of the world.

I realized that my characters have been putting my voice out there for years now.  They have been the mouthpiece for which I feel comfortable saying what my doubts and fears are; what my internal struggles are.  When Avery didn't feel ready to open up…that was me.  When Myra struggled with trusting again…that was me.  And when Noelle said ‘no more’ to a life of being small…that was me as well.

I love writing strong female characters that go after what they want in life, they don’t just sit back and dream and hope…they do, they make changes and take risks and bask in the joy and freedom of going for it! 

I've also realized that in living through my characters that I wasn't totally living myself.  In some ways, I have been inspired by these characters to try new things, to trust, to know when it’s not worth the drama to give your all for nothing in return.  This week’s online challenge helped me see I’m tired of living behind some words on a paper.

 The Amy O’Neill that released FINDING HOME was going for it!  I didn't care what people thought or anything; I followed my passion with abandon and reaped the rewards of making a dream a reality.  Over these last few years, I forgot about that ‘going for it’ and saw it as a job to do.  The passion began to die.

There you have it…no BS, no excuses….I’m realizing it as I’m typing this.  My passion became work and it began to die.  But I don’t want it to die…not at all any more in the least bit. 

When someone asks me about myself I love saying “I’m a writer”…I feel those words in the marrow of my bones, from the center of my soul I feel them.  Not just a romance writer or a chick lit writer, but a writer….an expresser through words, a painter of print….I AM A WRITER.

Yes, I hope to always write romance.  I love the coming together of two people, the fire and fun, the steam and sweetness.  Romance has always been my first love.

But I don’t want to just see myself as just that - a romance writer.  Not at all.  I want to be a writer of women who find their voices, who forge ahead into the unknown, who trust without reason and who believe and have faith that all will work out as it should.

I want to write these women because I am that woman.  It’s taken me 37 years to embrace that I don’t know the future nor can I control it.  And there really is beauty is releasing a false hold on that control.  I don’t know if fans will like my writing, or what I do or don’t post on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. All I know is that I have struggled to let my voice be heard.  I have stifled my own sounds to please the ears of others and I can’t do that anymore. 

My characters, their stories - MY STORY - need to be heard and felt.  I hope my readers find a kindred spirit in the pages of my books.  I pray my heroines are women they would be proud to call friend, sister, or self.

We all have our own voices and our own ways of getting them heard.  Mine is in my writing….I’m a writer…that is not just what I do but also who I am. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Wait for it....

I've been a little MIA for the last few weeks on blog posts, and this week I know I've missed several days of Facebook posts....and I'm not even freaking out about it! Yay me!

My personal life has been hectic lately as my wonderful boyfriend of 14 months moved in and we are learning how to co-mingle full time.  It's been an adventure and overall great! I'm learning to let go of some control and truly enjoy having a partner in all's nice to not have to "wear the pants" all the time!

Also in the last few weeks I've had several mind-blowing encounters...mostly when I open up Elizabeth Gilbert's latest book BIG MAGIC.  Wowza!!  Even if you are not a creative type person, I think this book is amazing to read and really made me step back and re-evaluate my writing approach.

Whenever I've been blocked or haven't written it's because I haven't felt my creativity flowing.  I never wanted to 'force' my writing .... but that has been my error.  In my 'sit around and wait for inspiration', I realize that I didn't exactly have the door open for that same inspiration to walk through.  There's a saying that God doesn't call the ready, he readys the called.  In that same mindset - inspiration doesn't come to someone sitting there, it comes to someone doing the work.  How else will inspiration know who's ready to receive it?

In BIG MAGIC, Gilbert states that she feels ideas are an energy force themselves, all around us like air, and just looking for the conduits to come to life.  When someone is ready and open, that idea comes through and comes to life - in art, music, medicine, etc.  But if that person isn't open, the idea continues until it finds someone to let it in.  This idea of ideas being energy also explains how two people, on opposite ends of the world, can come up with the same conclusions in medicine, technology, etc.  Both of those people were open and the idea's energy came through both.

Mozart didn't just sit around and wait for the notes to appear, DaVinci didn't wait for the muses to show, and Elizabeth Gilbert didn't wait to eat, pray, or love her way to several bestsellers.  They showed up every day, some days or weeks or months were trudging through the work, until those magical moments where the ideas came through and they grabbed onto them with all their might and went along for the ride.  You never get where you want to go by sitting still and waiting.

No more waiting.

This weekend I'm moving my office, my current location feels a bit like a cave so there is no wonder I don't go in there much.  After the redecorating it's back to the business of writing...every day....crap or greatness. I'm making a commitment not just to myself but to my craft to put myself into the flow of ideas and give the books and plots swarming in my brain a way to get out and come to life.

Whether it's writing or painting or dancing or creating spreadsheets or running a company....never sit around and wait for the ideas to find you.  Go out there and get it!  It's there waiting on you!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Creating my space...

Having the right soundtrack ready and the ideas running through my mind gets me a long way when I'm getting in the writing zone.  But there are a few other items that really help me hit that sweet spot.    

I've realized I'm not the only writer like this.  I have several writer friends that have their own 'things' they surround themselves with before even hitting a single letter on the keyboard.  Maybe it's a bit of superstition, like those hockey players who don't shave during the play-offs or the baseball fans that put their rally caps on when their team is done in the 9th inning.

We all have our own ways of preparing.  Then again maybe I'm a bit OCD and need things to be just right before I can try to get any work done.  It wouldn't be the first time I'd be accused of being weird like that.

So here are just a few things that help me get my ducks in a row.  

Grandpa's sweater - My paternal grandfather passed away when I was 17 years old.  He was a preacher and when he wasn't in his light blue dress shirt with his red tie, he was either rocking a white tank-top undershirt, an Ohio State sweatshirt, or some other button down shirt.  On chilly days he had a sweater that reminded me of Mr. Rogers.  I became the owner of said sweater after he passed.  To most people it would seem ugly.  It is pea/puke green with brown buttons down the front.  I feel as if I need to be in a library whenever I wear it...maybe that is why I chose to wear it only when I am writing.  It has the same effect as Superman's cap for me...the minute I put it on I go from scatter-brained-Amy to Focused-Writer-Girl.  

Writing board - I'm a visual person, I love vision boards and when it comes to preparing for any new book, I first start with finding photos of actors who look like the characters I have in mind. This is super helpful for me when I'm writing a scene and trying to imagine what the characters facial or physical gestures at any given time would be.  I used to keep the photos in a word document, but once I created my office I got a large cork board that I have over my desk.  This really helps me too so I don't have to switch from my writing document back to a photo document.  I also like putting the pending cover design on there too.  (FYI - this is the OLD cover for Down for the's being revamped).

Jolly Rancher Cinnamon Hard Candy - Yes...candy helps me focus!  Maybe it's the sugar, maybe it's the doing two things at once (sucking on candy and using my brain).  I don't know why this works...but it does!  I know another writer who prefers peppermint candies while another loves chocolate kisses.  But for me there is something about the cinnamon flavor that does the trick.   Added bonus - the spicy flavor helps keep my sinuses clear as well!  It's a win-win!

That's just a few things I have around me when I am addition to making the walls a cool mossy green that is calming, the throw blanket over the back of my chair that I got as part of a trade of my books with another vendor at a craft show, and my dogs sleeping on the loveseat next to my desk.

So there you have it, a glimpse into what constitutes my happy writing space.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Give me the beat boys....

The title of today's blog is a lyric from one of my favorite songs - DRIFT AWAY by Doby Gray ( Uncle Kracker did an alright cover as well).  Whenever this song comes one, I stop what I am doing, start singing (albeit poorly) and drift away to happy memories of when I first heard this song.

Music has that power, to mentally teleport us to another place and time, to release us from the stresses of the moment, to help us grieve, and also to make us smile.  Music, to me, is the great connector that lets the song and the listener meet and allows the listener to feel, even if just briefly, that their voice is heard somehow, that somehow someone somewhere saw into their innermost part and 'saw' them.

Music for me also has the uncanny ability to ignite the creative forces in my brain.  TAKING CHANCES came to life because of a song!!!  It hit me so hard and brought up such feeling about a lost love that I couldn't help but get it out onto paper....and I'm glad I did as  that book is my best seller to date!

For every new book series I write,  I create a musical playlist to help set the mood.  For the Califonia Dreamin' series it was beachy music, laid back tunes by Colbie Calliat, Jack Johnson, and Ben Harper.  For the Small Town series it is country all the way - old greats by Willie and George (Jones and Strait) as well as new hits.  And for my Redemption (formerly Villiage Vixens) series it is a mix of country and folk like Chase Rice and The Civil Wars.

Here is just a hint of some of the music inspiring me right now as I write DOWN FOR THE COUNT:

And here are a few for the first release from the REDEPTION serires:

This is just a taste of the songs, but I promise there will be a mix of steam, passion, soft kisses and caresses, and plenty of drama and laughter as these characters dance and stumble their ways to romance!

Stay tuned!!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Happily Never After...

Today I'm departing from my usual happy posts and talking about a little bit darker side to romance....the underside, when love fades, hearts get broken, and lives are torn.  This side isn't usually shown in romance books, except those star-crossed lovers.  No, this Happily Never After rests in reality.

Why, today, do I want to talk about something so un-upbeat?  Because today marks 6 years since my Happily Ever After changed into Never.  Because what followed was 6 months of a terrible depression, and because maybe someone out there needs to read this and know they are not alone.  And things will get better.
Me and Jake on the day I married my 2nd ex-husband

Six years ago yesterday I was just over a year into my second marriage.  We had a good life, were financially stable and had a beautiful home.  We were building a family with my son from a previous marriage.  Life was 'perfect'.  On that day my husband and I were having a strange vibe between us.  Days before the issue of more children or foster/adoption came up and while I felt we were ready he stated that we had too much to work out.  But I didn't know we had ANYTHING to work out.  I had no clue because we never fought, never said a harsh word to each other.  That night he slept in the spare room and I felt he must be internally dealing with something...I had no idea what it was.

The next day - October 2, 2009 - was the first day my son would wear his new karate uniform. I'd just signed him up and he was so excited!  He came home from class full of energy.  As we ate a late dinner my husband complained of stomach issues and excused himself.  I finished eating with Jake and got him ready for bed, then went and checked on my husband.  He was laying in the spare room, with the covers pulled up to his chin.

I tried to be a dutiful wife and ask what was wrong and what I could do to help.  I knew things were 'off' with us and when he started to talk about it I suggested counseling, wanting to immediately deal with the issue and move forward.  That is when he pulled back the covers to reveal he was totally dressed (even had his shoes on) and that he wasn't 'going to do this anymore.'

My mind reeled as I watched him grab a packed bag, apologize and tell me it was over, and walk out the door.  The entire time my son was fast asleep in his room, not knowing when he woke up life would be totally different. We'd been together for over 5 years, but in the blink of an eye it had completely changed.

I immediately called my sister-in-law (whom I also worked with - that didn't help!) and told her what happened.  She assured me that maybe a few days away he would rethink things.  I saw his car pull in again a few minutes later and prayed he'd had a sudden change of heart, but he didn't.  He'd forgotten his toothbrush!

In the coming days I would contemplate what I did wrong.  I reassured my son it wasn't his fault (he's admitted he thought maybe my ex was angry that he'd joined karate).  I wrote my husband a letter telling him all my flaws and how I would be a better wife if he would just come home.  He did at least try to make an effort of showing up a few times, but his heart walked out and stayed out the day he first left.

After investigating I realized he'd been talking to a female friend for weeks before he left.  I found it out by calling a number that was on our bill a lot.  She answered and I hung up.  I then called him and asked him if he was cheating.  He said he wasn't, and maybe that was true at the time.  But I knew there was something more going on.  His family and mine and friends thought I was crazy for thinking it, but 6 years later they are married and have 2 children - maybe I wasn't crazy after all!

I began calling psychics and meduims within weeks of him leaving.  I was so desperate for someone to tell me it would be okay and he would come home.  I spent THOUSANDS of dollars for people to blow smoke up my ass.  I knew somewhere deep down that it would be alright, with or without him, but my heart and head battled.  I couldn't believe this fairy tale marriage and life was over, gone with the slamming of the door.

The stress and anxiety I experienced caused me to not eat.  Anything I did eat would rapidly go through my body and within 10 weeks I'd lost over 50 pounds.  My body was over-producing acid and years later I had to have my gallbladder removed because there was so much damage...not to mention the ulcer that was found as well from the stress.

My days consisted of going to work and trying to put on a good face, coming home and being a mom, but as soon as 7pm hit I would hide under the covers while my son watched a movie.  On the weekends he was with his father I would stay in bed the entire time except to get up to get the phone to call more psychics.  Even on Halloween, when my sister invited us to go trick-or-treating, I went in my pajamas, grateful for one day where I could be a slob to the real world but they would think it was a costume.

My husband told me just before Christmas that he'd filed for divorce, but after I begged and pleaded he promised to not have me served with papers until after the holidays.  Months later during our first divorce hearing I was still pleading with him that he loved me, I just knew it.  The entire time since he'd left he'd been sleeping on a friend's couch (or so the story goes).  I couldn't fathom how he'd choose a couch over our family at home.

It wasn't until the divorce was almost final that I accepted it - happily ever after was no more.  One day while driving home 
from work the clouds literally parted and the sun began to shine.  The radio was playing 'Hey Soul Sister' by Train.  That was the moment I began to feel hope again.  I stopped calling psychics on a daily basis (at the worst I talked to over 15 in one day).  I found only one who was willing to tell me the truth - that he was never going to come home.  After I first hung up on her, I eventually called back (months later) and asked for more.  In that moment she stopped playing 'seer' and actually imparted great advice.  She told me I knew deep down  I would be fine, but that I had to choose to be fine.  It was that simple, yet that hard all at the same time.

Today, I am grateful for that slamming door.  I've loved and lost several times over since then, and I've learned....oh the lessons I've learned. I've realized my happiness shouldn't be dependent on another person or the money we have or stability we have.  In hindsight I can see that 'perfect' marriage was lacking something.  I wasn't myself, I was playing a role that I know I would have resented eventually. And I believe he was doing what he felt his family thought by marrying me.  But his heart wasn't really in it either....I don't hate him for that.

After the depression passed, I realize I could have reached out sooner,  I should have.  I regret shutting people out during that time.  I regret the joys I missed during those six months of depression.  What I wish most of all is that I could go back to that moment, sit on the couch beside that broken Amy and hug her.  Oh how I wish I could hug her.  

If I could say anything to THAT Amy it would be that things will get better.  The day would come when the darkness would fade and I'd see the sun was always shining, I'd just been too busy seeing the darkness that I couldn't appreciate the light.  I'd tell her she is worthy of a real love that accepts her as she is, doesn't want to change her, and she will find it.  And to never lose hope.  Dark days still laid ahead, but that in the end if she held onto hope she would smile in the sunshine.

The depression I faced during that time was terrifying and exhausting and I felt as if I had no one who could understand me, but I see now how wrong I was.  I didn't reach out to my family at the time because, well, I've always been seen as the drama queen and I didn't think they would take me seriously...but it was serious, VERY serious.  

With the help of a counselor, journaling, and major soul searching on my part,  I was able to get through and begin to enjoy life again.  Since then I am very aware at all times where my thoughts are at - are they positive or negative?  Unfortunately last year I went through an even deeper depression, but I was still able to get through it once I remembered all those things I'd worked so hard for and the determination to follow my joy.

I don't know if I will have another battle with depression, but I am also not naive enough to think it isn't always lurking.  Each day is a choice on what I will focus on.  Today, as I have for most days (especially since last year) I choose to focus on being happy.

The other day, as the darkness tried to creep in with memories at how deep my dispare was 6 years ago, I will admit that I struggled.  I called my mother and started to cry and she helped comfort me with her tough love (stop it, it's over).  I wanted to go home and drink away the memories (I did enjoy one beverage).  After a few moments of weakness I turned on empowering music, remembered my belief in God and that everything happens for my good - even when I don't see it at all at the time.  And finally I REFUSED to allow bad memories from years ago steal the joy of the day.  With that the clouds once again parted and I was singing along with a smile on my face.


If you or someone you know is battling depression, please know that you don't have to struggle alone.  Reach out to friends, family, or seek counseling.  I was lucky that my work has a free 800-number available  24/7 to call for mental health concerns.  I had free counseling at my fingertips and eventually used it and also went to see a counselor in person.  Having someone to release the hurt and pain too does help.  I promise you it does.

If you need immediate help, please go to your local hospital and they will get you to a mental health professional.  You can also call for help at (800) 273-8255.  It's the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, but just because you aren't suicidal doesn't mean they can't help...they have resources to help you find counseling or lead you toward free resources to get you help to cope with life.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Apologies

Sometimes you just have to get back to yourself and stay true to what you want and how you want the world to see you.  In all the wanting to show the world I write about romance and sex, I totally got lost, because that isn't what I really write about - I write about strong women and men who believe in real love despite what they have seen so far, I write about believing in something better than what you've had, and never losing hope.  Yeah there is nekkedness and steam, but I hope my readers take more than that away from what I create.

I really think maybe that is why my writing has stalled, I've been creating stuff that isn't what I want to say.  And even if what I put out has sex scenes in it, there is so much more to get from the books.  I know for sure that one of my works in progress has a lot of nekkedness at the beginning, but if you read her story you will see it's about her journey to loving who she is and where she comes from and learning that she will never find what she needs by sleeping with random men (maybe a little autobiographical, but so true).

I don't know if I woke up on the right side of the bed or if I had an a-ha moment or just my inner voice saying to get it together....either way, today is a new day.  My focus is clearer and my heart is at peace with letting all the extra stuff go so that I can focus on telling the better parts of the story.

Life is a journey, with many twists and turns, we fall and we get up, I want to read books like that, books that reflect my journey and those of people I love.  I want to write those stories...not just what happens when the lights are off and the clothes are on the floor.  I foresee A LOT of editing of my works in progress...and I'm good with that.

I'll stop being long-winded now and get back to writing things that make me smile.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Setting the Scene

As important as the characters and their dynamic is to my stories, I also feel that the settings are just as important.  They help to better understand the characters backgrounds, upbringings, and every day life.

Balboa Park - San Diego
The entire reason I began to write FINDING HOME was that my 2nd (now ex-) husband and I were newlyweds and we'd honeymooned in San Diego.  I fell in love with the area during our week of sightseeing and sea air breathing.  Months later, back in the cold Michigan winter, I daydreamed often about the beach - the large expanse of blue dotted by boats in the distance and surfers near the shore.  I longed to walk in Balboa Park with it's lush gardens and beautiful buildings.  Since reality stopped me from doing as I wished, I wrote it into existence.
La Jolla, CA
When FINDING HOME was finished, I wasn't sure if it was even good, so I submitted it to several writing contests.  One of those contests was held by none other than the San Diego chapter of Romance Writers of America.  It took a lot of courage to send it to them.  I knew if I got one detail wrong on the landscape or locations that, of all people, THEY would be able to call me out!  Luckily for my photographic memory, they loved it and knew I'd been there to give such detail!
While that first book was making the rounds in contests and getting lost in translation of various publishing houses new formatting on submissions, another story began to take shape.  One song, All We'd Ever Need by Lady Antebellum, hit me with such force, made a loss feel so brand new that I also couldn't help 'getting it out'.  

My town - Blissfield, MI
Since the story was based on an actual relationship I'd been in, it was easy for me to write about the town I live in (Blissfield, Michigan).  I knew the locations and details, but making sure I properly described them for others became the challenge.  I wasn't exaggerating when I talked about the quaint tree lined streets, the annual River Raisin Festival, and even the women's only gym!  It really is a great little town.
quiet dock, perfect setting
Sharing that story wasn't just about the relationship, but also the places we went, the things we did, and the feelings that were shared.  Granted, at some point the characters took on their own life and so the story is half 'us' and half make-believe, but the town, the motorcycle ride to Toledo, and most especially the dock late at night were all real.  TAKING CHANCES wasn't just a love story about a couple, it was also a reflection of my love for my town, county, and the place where my roots run very, very deep.
I can tell you, I will be visiting both locations again in books - I've already been back to California (even if only in fiction) in PLAYING WITH FIRE.  And I will return to it once more, at least for part of the story, with the final -yet to be titled (YTBT) - story featuring Mitch and Molly.  Blissfield and Lenawee County will set the backdrop for DOWN FOR THE COUNT (featuring Ty and Lily) and another YTBT final in that trilogy with Sunni and Vince.

Stay tuned, because I also know that I'll also eventually show some love to the Great Smoky Mountains, Nashville, scenic Northern Michigan, and heating it up in Florida.  Not to mention hopping over to Ireland and England....I REALLY can't wait to actually go there and do some research! But for now that is a few years off.

I love travel, but never get to do it!  At least for now I can live vicariously through my characters and stamp up my passport book!