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How to Listen (Part 1)

Advice Is Easy To Give, Hard to Follow

How often do we take it upon ourselves to go around and dish out advice that no one asked for? Don’t deny it – you know you’re just as guilty of this as I am. Even if you consider yourself to be the Switzerland of any group where conflicts or debates are involved these days, just think about when you’re at home binging on Netflix and you’re telling a character not to open the front door of the ax murderer’s house.

In one way or another, we all genuinely believe that we know more than others when it comes to certain things (or everything, depending on who you are). There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help others by sharing your astute perspective. Most of the time. Sure, it’s super easy to walk up to someone and say, “I see what you’re doing wrong there. Try this.” You’re not caught up in the situation; you have enough distance to gain perspective and be pragmatic about what you observe.

When your heart and soul are seemingly hanging in the balance, though, it’s a different story. The hard part comes when you’re put to task to follow your own advice. The “OMG just stop whining and quit already” doesn’t quite sound so brilliant when you’re talking to yourself in the mirror as opposed to when you recently said the same thing to a friend who confided in you with their dilemma for the umpteenth time.

Sometimes, Silence is The Best Advice

Don’t think that I’m not cognizant of the irony of this post. I’m giving advice on when not to give advice. Still, it’s a worthwhile opinion to share – and not just because it’s mine.

Recently, a friend who’s really going through some heavy things confided in me. Sure, I could have thrown in my wonderful tidbits of advice, but that wasn’t what my friend needed. They simply needed to be heard. Listening to someone and really hearing what is being said beyond the words spoken takes great skill. I’m not bragging about this; I’ve been cultivating this skill for decades, and I still have a long way to go.

The art of listening and hearing (two different skills btw) includes being able to distinguish when to speak and when to STFU.

This is one skill that I find to be incredibly helpful in both my personal and professional life. You can hear so much more in the silent spaces. If you’re also a musician, you know exactly what I mean.

Try being quiet once in a while – even in your own head. It’s amazing how quickly clarity will find its way to you.

Sending Love and Light to all of you.

©Atina Atwood 2018 Exploring Love and Life, One Word At A Time.™

– Atina Atwood is a southern girl who moved from Europe to the West Coast. A former university professor in Germany and California, Atina stepped away from Academia to focus on her miracle child, life, love, food, quilting, and of course, writing. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest for more.

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When Characters Become Dictators

Sometimes Characters Tell You Who They Are. Sometimes They Don’t.

UGH.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, maybe I can go ahead and finish this manuscript that should have been finished 2 months ago.

When you write, it’s amazing to see how many different approaches and techniques that you’ll inevitably use. Each project is like a new experiment, what worked once is never guaranteed to work a second time. Well, except for the sit down and write part.

My latest work, a sweet, YA novella that is slated for release in late October, is the one that is giving me grief. Already at 16,500 words, this novella is screaming for more character depth and development. The heroine and hero want to be super fleshed-out, not just two little gamey tropes, and here’s the gut-puncher of it all – they BOTH want their stories told in the first person narrative.

Which, for whatever reason, totally isn’t my thing. Normally, my developed stories play out in my mind in an arc, and I get to report to everyone else as I observe the action as it takes place in the sweet-spot of third person omniscient.

Not this time.

Stories WANT to be Written

My husband keeps chuckling because I’m complaining about how the story wants to be written in the 1st person. It may sound strange when I say things like that, but it’s totally true. Eventually, stories have lives of their own. It’s a beautiful thing, and a frustrating thing at the same time. I can fully understand how some people call their works “book babies”, because there are a few similarities involved. In any case, this novella is currently throwing a tantrum, and at 3:00 this morning, I finally heard my hero whine “Hey, what about my side of things?” (Insert eye-roll here.)

Since he’s 100% right, damn him, I’ve got to go back and slap his perspective on everything in subsequent chapters. Had this story wanted to be written in 3PO, I would have been finished months ago. Now, I’m off schedule by about 3-4 weeks, and you know, no pressure there.

Teenagers. *Sigh* Here’s hoping for the best, and that I do these kids justice.

Sending Love and Light to you all.

©Atina Atwood 2018 Exploring Love and Life, One Word At A Time.™

– Atina Atwood is a southern girl who moved from Europe to the West Coast. A former university professor in Germany and California, Atina stepped away from Academia to focus on her miracle child, life, love, food, quilting, and of course, writing. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest for more.

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Book Review: HOME by Jezz de Silva

My Quick Book Review of Home by Jezz de Silva

Length: 324 pages (Kindle Edition)
Date of Publication: June 28, 2018
Personal Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars
Quick Points: Fantastic read, fleshed-out romance tropes, extremely well-developed characters, slow-burn, interracial, May/December, friends to lovers, happily ever after

Inappropriate, Yet Pretty Much Accurate Synopsis: Exotic eye-candy elite solider fulfills his dying BFF’s wish by eventually banging his wife.

(Come on. We all know what “take care of her” means in romance-speak.)

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Home

My Actual, Proper Book Review: 

Home. It’s the place where we always long to be, a private sanctuary where we can truly be ourselves. At its most ideal, home the place where you can be your most vulnerable, yet it’s also the source of your greatest strength and sense of security. Home is the place where your dreams are nourished, and your understanding of true love, protection, and loyalty thrives.

My first impression of the stand-alone novel Home was a positive one. If you’re into slow-burn, friends to lovers, military, interracial, pseudo May/December romance, then you’re bound to be satisfied with what this novel has to offer you. De Silva slaps a perfectly dosed amount of all of the above, with an extra feel good trope or two for good measure. Set in West Australia, the author’s talent of descriptive writing shines through the narrative with visuals that make any reader feel as though she or he is Down Under in the middle of the action like a fly on the wall.

Evelyn (Eve) and Mark Watson have been married for nearly 20 years, and their love is the strongest imaginable. Mark, a Special Forces Staff Sergeant, and his right hand man, Corporal Jamie Turner, are the best of the best in the elite unit. When the two explicitly disobey an order so that they may save numerous innocent lives, tragedy befalls the duo. Before Mark succumbs to his fatal injuries, he makes his young best friend promise to protect Eve, the love of his life.

Jamie, a 28 year old Maori who towers over most people, has the strength of a legendary warrior, the discipline and fine-tuning of the elite soldier that he is, the finesse and charm of any  modern day Casanova, and the heart of a well-loved teddy bear. He makes good on his promise, and is literally welcomed with open arms by both Mark’s grieving widow and his feisty sister, Maggie (who is also Eve’s best friend). Jamie is always respectful, kind, and honest, and he lends his exceptional talents to restore the run-down Watson family home. Eve is a tough, direct, and brave 39 year old trauma nurse who struggles to move forward and stabilize her family’s future. The platonic friendship between the trio is strong and never waivers throughout the story.

As time progresses, the friendship between Jaime and Eve blossoms into romance. From there, the two consummate their transition from friends to lovers. Eventually, the protagonists are able to identify exactly what Home means to them.

Although I’m not a shrinking violet when it comes to profanity, there were times where I felt that its use didn’t necessarily progress the story. Of course, war is hell, and when the effects of it rip into the characters’ lives, I suppose that an F-bomb or ten are justified. Also, my expectations of a May/December romance went far beyond a circa 11-year age difference between Eve and Jaime. To me, that’s more like a May/August thing. No real biggie. (These days, a May/December is more like the current President of France, Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Trogneux, who is 24 years his senior.)

When Jamie and Eve do finally make love, the intimate scene is disproportionately short in comparison to the time it takes for them to get to that pivotal moment. More time could have been given to the scene that most readers anticipate throughout the majority of the novel. (In fairness, because the characters hadn’t gotten any in such a long time, this could have been the author’s way of keeping things real. Just sayin’.)
If de Silva had chosen to, the entire sex scene(s) could have been left out of the novel, and it still would have been a perfectly solid read. However, the build up leaves the reader wanting the two characters to achieve fulfillment and unity on all levels, and although this occurs, the physical scenes did feel a bit rushed in comparison to the rest of the beautifully descriptive passages. 

Despite this, the dosage of romance is top-notch throughout the entire novel. If you’re looking for a romantic novel that exposes you to both the raw pain and exhilaration of love, then you’ll not feel cheated in the least.      

All in all, this slow-burn moved at a perfect pace. I found myself taking my time with this story, savoring each passage that continuously built layer after layer of character dimension and depth. De Silva is a storyteller, and he breathed true life into the characters Jaime and Eve. The character development is so incredibly thorough; there were many moments throughout the novel where there were tears in my eyes, simply because I could relate to the characters’ emotional battles in such a meaningful way. Their vulnerability, the rawness of their need to love, be accepted, and be loved, will clutch the heartstrings of any compassionate reader. Home is definitely a worthwhile read. Get a copy, and check out the talented author at jezzdesilva.com. I’ll BOL for more of his works!

Sending Love and Light to all of you.

©Atina Atwood 2018 Exploring Love and Life, One Word At A Time.™

– Atina Atwood is a southern girl who moved from Europe to the West Coast. A former university professor in Germany and California, Atina stepped away from Academia to focus on her miracle child, life, love, food, quilting, and of course, Romance. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest for more.

Are You Ready?

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(Also, get ready for my newsletter. Actually, get ready for both. If you already have one, then just get ready for the other.)

Sending Love and Light to all of you.

©Atina Atwood 2018 Exploring Love and Life, One Word At A Time

– Atina Atwood is a southern girl who moved from Europe to the West Coast. A former university professor in Germany and California, Atina stepped away from Academia to focus on her miracle child, life, love, food, quilting, and of course, Romance. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest for more.

Short Story: Ali & Nick

Nearly a year ago, I posted the beginning of a quick pants short story, and then I completely forgot about it. I rediscovered it during Toddler nap time yesterday, and so I added a little bit more to it. The original posting of the story is here, but for convenience, I’m re-posting the beginning of this short story here as well.

As usual, I invite you to let me know what you think! Comments appreciated.

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Short Story: Ali & Nick

She was the silent type. It would have been an awesome and somewhat mystical trait if she had also been strong, but she wasn’t. Not yet.

For years, Alissa had been perfectly fine flying solo, and after that disastrous train wreck that she’d mistakenly called a relationship with Dax, being alone had been a good thing. She needed to heal; she was determined to remember to love herself before she tried loving anyone else.

Besides, she knew that when the time was right, her feelings and intuition would give her the courage to take action and move forward. Today, Ali knew that the time had come.

Squaring her shoulders and taking a deep breath, she held her head high as she advanced upon her target. This guy didn’t know it, but a serendipitous hurricane was heading his way.

***

He felt her presence before he saw her. Nick had already memorized her features from her profile picture, so he took his time before looking up from the glare of his computer screen. He just barely resisted the urge to adjust the frame of his glasses with his thumb. Reviewing facts always calmed his nerves, so he ran through the shortlist of everything he thought he knew about her.

Her name was Ali, she was a junior, and she had long jet black hair (thanks to two $5 dye kits from the store, she’d confessed), and apparently had shapely legs that went on for miles and miles down to impatiently tapping feet that had an at-home, slightly rushed looking pedicure. Well, the last facts had been observations in real time.

Nick cleared his throat and willed his heart to stop beating in his ears like an obnoxious drum. During one of their late-night chats Ali warned him that she was a mess; yet even after he’d confessed his own shortcomings to her, she’d still been willing to show up at this random hipster cafe to actually meet him in person. She’d given him a chance, and he was already half in love with her for that small miracle alone.

He just hoped like hell he wouldn’t blow it.

Ali

I recognized him before I even saw his face. Hunched over a laptop, his back was toward the front entrance of the cafe. Since he was the one who proposed meeting here in the first place, I was a little confused. It had taken all of my strength to gather enough courage to show up in the first place, and now he’s placing me in the position of risking possible humiliation by approaching a complete stranger like I’m desperate or something. Far from it — I know my worth.

The familiar burn of sudden rage churned in my stomach, threatening to erupt in the form of bile. Wait a second, Ali, I reassured myself. It’s Nick. He’s not one of them. Give him a chance. These days, being my own voice of reason was my only saving grace. 

As I stood near the door of the coffee shop, I took a deep breath and weighed my options. He hadn’t turned around, so I could still back away and escape before he even noticed that I had come. We’d both given each other a way out in case either one of us lost our nerve; maybe this was his method. 

Taking advantage of the slightly crowded, yet still cozy coffee shop, I perched on a wooden bar stool and pretended to study the  gigantic menu ahead of me on the left wall. Nick was seated near the back of the shop, apparently in a designated quiet area. A vacant brown pleather seat next to his caught my attention. A sapphire-blue scarf with appliquéd peacock feathers was carefully draped over one of the arms of the well-worn chair, a clear indication that the seat had been reserved for someone. An involuntary gasp escaped from my throat. That was the present that I had made for him after his grandmother died a few months ago. He swore to me up and down that everywhere he went, that scarf went, too. I was certain that he was exaggerating, attempting to flatter me, until now. Even from my safe distance I could see that the scarf truly had been well-worn. I’ll have to make another one for him, I vowed. 

Taking my time, I studied what I could gather of his physique. He definitely had stringy, chestnut brown hair that he had warned me about; it was a bit longer than I personally preferred, but it was his head, so I guessed that he was pleased with the length going slightly past his neck. I had expected him to be a super tall string bean kind of guy, but from what I could tell from my pseudo-hidden position, he seemed to be of average height, about 5’9 or so. His shoulders were more broad than I had anticipated, and a flutter of surprised attraction swirled in my belly. I knew that he worked out because of his older brother, but I have to admit that I hadn’t expected that it would be so, well, obvious. 

The realization that Nick could actually be an attractive guy suddenly made me nervous. I know that this sounds snobbish, but I was kind of expecting him to not be the hottest guy in the world. Actually, the way he described himself, he almost made Quasimodo sound handsome. I knew that he had self-esteem issues — don’t we all — but to a certain extent, when he had described himself in such a negative fashion, I believed him.

His back suddenly straightened, as though a chill had clutched him by the shoulders and pulled him to attention. It was strange; in that very instant, I knew that he had finally sensed my presence. Still, he didn’t turn around; instead, he adjusted his computer screen, obviously relying on its reflection to reveal my actual location to him. Coward. 

Quickly tiring of the Cat and Mouse game, I stood up, straightened my purple and black skirt and blouse, slung my thick braided hair behind me, and walked straight towards him. 

Nick

Oh crap. I knew that I was in trouble the second I heard the barista address Ali as she floated by the counter, beelining in my direction.

“May I help you?” The perky barista practically look ready to jump over the counter and give out free hugs to all customers. Ali barely glanced at her as she maintained her pace.

“No, I can help myself. If I need anything, I’ll let you know, thank you.”

The succinct, clipped tones emanated from a voice that reminded me of indulging in one of Grandma’s honeyed biscuits on a Sunday morning. Sweet, savory, buttery, and hot all at the same time. Who was this woman? And why the hell was she still showing interest in a throwaway like me?

*******************************TBC******************************

I can’t wait to find out what happens next! Be on the lookout for my next installment (sooner rather than later).

Sending Love and Light to all of you.

©Atina Atwood 2018 Exploring Love and Life, One Word At A Time

– Atina Atwood is a southern girl who moved from Europe to the West Coast. A former university professor in Germany and California, Atina stepped away from Academia to focus on her miracle child, life, love, food, quilting, and of course, Romance. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest for more.

Leidenschaft – Find Your Passion

One German word that I’ve always found to be particularly beautiful is the word Leidenschaft. A functional translation of the word would be “hobby” or “pastime”, but that’s somewhat incomplete. More accurately, the English equivalent is what we mean when we say that someone “has a passion”.

Find Your Passion

Passion is exactly what we live for. It’s what we strive for – that often unattainable goal that promises a satisfying sense of completion. It can be a sexual, romantic, even sentimental, but it’s not limited to just those things. What I love about passion is that with it, there are so many new ways to feel alive, purposeful, useful, driven… Passion is the epitome of a life well lived.

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When I write, I like to listen to my characters and learn what their passions are. Sure, when it’s Contemporary Romance, at least two of the characters find that they feel romantic passion for one another. But I love to spend time with every character beyond some sort of developing romantic relationship.

To me, it’s impossible to find substance in a story without discovering the Leidenschaften of the characters. What drives them in life? Do these elements contribute to the relationship and circumstances that bring these two people together? Lastly, what elements of my own Leidenschaften contribute to the development of my characters?

Character development takes time, and interestingly enough, sometimes we writers can’t always figure out our character’s passions exactly 100%. I like to think that it’s because in a way, I’m just an observer; the stories and scenes that play out in my head are what I eventually record. When I embellish, edit, and rewrite, I’m blending my interpretation of events that I’ve observed involving my characters. I can’t always jump inside the head of all of my characters – at least, not until I can recognize the Leidenschaft that drives him or her.

©Atina Atwood 2018 Exploring Love and Life, One Word At A Time

– Atina Atwood is a southern girl who moved from Europe to the West Coast. A former university professor in Germany and California, Atina stepped away from Academia to focus on her miracle child, life, love, food, quilting, and of course, Romance. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest for more.

Follow that Gut Feeling

Now that today is Friday, I’m wrapping up what has to be the most low-key Spring Break that I’ve been able to enjoy in a long time. It was awesome not having to do much of anything, and being healthy at the same time. Usually, I’m battling some sort of cold or illness when I have a break, but this time, my determination kept me healthy throughout the week. Almost. Of course, this morning, I woke up with a cold. Whatever. It’s the weekend now, more or less.

It’s hard to say what the coolest part of my break was. I’d have to say that yesterday and today were by far the top two winners because I got to spend quality time with my husband and my little one on separate occasions. Since today is the last day of my week off, I thought that I’d have a Kiddie & Me day, and it’s been a blast.

What do you do when you have free time? Do you spend you time tackling more of those never-ending tasks on your list? Or do you actually use the majority of the time to make the most of your life doing what you love or being with those you love? I’m not judging, just wondering.

I’m wondering because after years of mental preparation, I’m only one final step away from leaving my day job and taking the plunge into the seemingly desired creative unknown. Somehow, somewhere, I have garnered the confidence to believe that I can make enough money from this thing. This is a big deal, people! But when you’re an undeniably creative soul, you pretty much only have two options:

1. You accept the nature of your beast, and do everything within your power to listen to your inner calling, and actually do something to keep every aspect of your being healthy and satisfied. You choose to nourish your creativity, not only acknowledging it, but relying on it on a day to day basis.

2. You try to choke that sucker with all of the strength you have, attempting to drown it, repress it, deny it, ignore it, curse it, and any other negative thing that you can do in order to actively attempt to kill a huge part of yourself that’s been a part of you since inception.

It’s so weird that far too many people in the world choose the latter. I’ve tried doing that before, and never had I been unhealthier or unhappier. I’m just not a 9-5er, lol.

As for me, I simply have to respect that I am an extremely creative being. Actually, i embrace it, and I’m blessed to have a family that has always supported this truth about me. I may not be a reliable blogger, but by golly, I am a creative soul!

During this week, I wrote the first chapter of my next stand-alone book in one day. I love when inspiration comes to me, especially when I create an inviting space within myself to accept its presence.

This is the work that I love to do. While I do love my day job teaching at university, there are too many restrictions that appear, constantly working against my creative flow and even my general sense of well-being. So, this Spring Break was a bit of a trial run for me. The summer break will be the even bigger test. I have a feeling that this is the year when I will go all in.

When it starts to come together, it will be awesome. If I feel the need to abandon all pursuits well, I’m thankful to know that I can always continue teaching in some capacity. But all signs have been telling me for ages to GO!! TRY!!! DO!! Gotta trust my gut and let my creative beast run free.

Alright, universe. I’m listening.

“There are more rich plumbers than there are wealthy writers.”

I was just browsing on Twitter and came across this quote from justpublishingadvice.com. Sad to say, but it’s totally accurate.

Whenever you make the huge plunge into anything, the best favor you could ever do for yourself is to research. For example, I know that full-time authors in my county earn, on average, about $60,000 a year. I suppose it depends on where you live, but pretty much anywhere in California, that equates to being a side-job.

No one likes a Downer Donny, but it beats the alternative of fantasizing about earning millions of dollars for a trilogy you’ve written based on Twilight and churning it into a multi-million dollar industry that surpasses anyone’s expectations and sells books, films, cookbooks, music, and even adult products…

Wait. That actually happened. And there’s no signs of its popularity waning or slowing down.

Nevermind. Dude, you do you. Just do your research, make a plan, cross your fingers, work your butt off, and dream big.

Shades of Gray (Start of a Short Story)

No, this has nothing to do with the infamous 50. This is just the start of another short story. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Things were not going as planned. Based on the timeline, Rebecca should have been a happily married mother of two with a stellar career that was on a rising trajectory. Instead, she was single, working a dead-end job where no one noticed her, much less remembered her name or recognized her contributions to the company.

It seemed as though her lot in life was to remain faceless, invisible to the world. Somehow, even though people only seemed to see her in shades of gray, deep down, Becca knew that she was as vibrant as a rainbow. Her personality was as multifaceted as the most intricate prism, yet inexplicably, so many aspects remained repressed within her.

As much as she longed for love and companionship, Becca didn't quite know how to reach out to others. How many times had she tried, only to be let down yet again by someone who just wanted to manipulate her? She was tired of being used, treated like a machine that was designed to produce desired results, serving without question and merely existing with no demands.

No feelings. No dreams. No desires.

"This is the end of the line, miss. You'll need to get out here, or change your direction." Startled by the booming timbre of the subway driver's voice, Becca instinctively curled up in a ball. She cringed when she noticed the kind man's reaction.

"I didn't mean to startle you, miss. Believe me, I won't hurt you." The driver took two steps back and held up his hands to prove that he was harmless. Quickly, she shook her head, hating the heated blush of embarrassment that warmed the back of her neck and pale cheeks.

"No sir, it was my mistake. I wasn't paying attention. Thank you." Gathering her backpack and art supplies, she nearly tripped as she rushed out of her seat and beyond the closing doors. She couldn't muster the courage to glance back at the driver, though she could feel his pity for her radiating from his direction.

The scars. If they had only been internal, she could have coped more easily, reintegrated herself into society without the burden of her existence being broadcast on her delicate skin. But when had life ever given her a break?

Later that night, the words of the subway driver replayed in her mind. "This is the end of the line, miss. You'll need to get out here, or change your direction."

She couldn't go on living like this. As hard as she'd fought for it in the past, there was no way that she was going to give up on life itself. Only one option remained – changing the direction her life was going.

But how?

Thanks for reading! I'm looking forward to seeing where this story leads me. Follow me, Atina Atwood on Facebook and @realatinaatwood on Twitter, for more fun, random posts, and occasionally something amazing.

Suggestions: What do you think?

I'm looking into developing some light sketches for plots that I can use in my new series. I'm creating a novella series (light, PG-rated romance) geared towards young adults, i.e. circa 15-33 years old.

The first one takes place around Christmas time, and the second one will have something to do with Valentine's Day. I like having about 6 books per series (whenever possible, though 5 would be alright as well), and I want each book to revolve around a holiday.

Now I need your help. What other holidays should I concentrate on, and what makes a specific holiday special to you?

I'll be sure to reply to every comment. Thanks for your input!

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