The Importance of Gratitude by Sarah Madison

I’m recycling an old post here today because I think it’s very timely.

I wrote this a few years ago when I was going through a bad patch. I think even though it may be harder than ever to practice in a world that seems to be going down in flames, it may be more important than ever to try this little exercise.

“I’m so glad to have this opportunity to speak about gratitude here today because I’ve been conducting a little exercise lately, and I would very much like to share the results with you.

See, I’m a bit of a Human Eeyore. I have a tendency to see the worst case scenarios. I don’t consider this pessimism—instead it feels more like realism to me. In fact, that’s part of why I like writing romances. I believe in happy endings, even though I think few of us get them. Not only does writing make my day a bit brighter, but if a single story makes it easier for someone to get through a bad day, then I feel like I’ve done my job as a writer. That’s what I call success.

You know that scene in Jupiter Rising? The one where the main character wakes up each morning and recites, “I hate my life.” Yeah, that could be me. I’ve been struggling with depression, job burnout, and caregiver burnout for a while now.

Recently I became inspired by several people I follow who have been posting daily about the things they are grateful for in their lives. This prompted me to attempt to do the same, though to be honest, I found it easier some days than others. Still, I was determined to give it my best shot. Every day for an entire year, I would post three things I was grateful for or three things that made me smile.

I haven’t managed to do it every single day, but I’ve been doing it for nearly two months now, and I’m starting to see some changes in my life. First of all, it is seldom the Big Things that make me feel a sense of gratitude. Big Things don’t come into our lives every day. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference in our lives. Taming the feral cat hanging around the house. Getting mentioned on a “Best of” list. Having someone leave an awesome review for one of my stories. Getting a surprise gift in the mail. Hearing from a friend that I’d lost touch with. Rain on the roof at night. The ghostly vision of a full moon just after dawn. The intensity of the constellations in a winter’s sky.

I found myself waking, not with the thought of how much I hated my life, but wondering what three things I was going to find to post about that day. Even if the morning started off rocky, I’d remind myself I still had to come up with three things—and that very thought changed my entire attitude toward the day. Little by little, my first thoughts turned to what would I find to make me smile that day, and let me tell you, that’s a powerful thing.

I’ve never been a big fan of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ because if I don’t believe something, I can’t fake my way into it. But this exercise has taught me that the mindset of gratitude is contagious—and the more you immerse yourself in it, the easier it becomes to see the good things that you have in your life. And when you see your life as one of plenty instead of one of wanting, then good things seem to find their way into your life. Sounds like voodoo, I know, but I challenge you to give it a try. If you can’t commit to an entire year, at least 30 days. Spend 30 days finding just three things each day that make you smile. You’ll be glad you did.”

So. Here’s the thing. That exercise was easier to practice when I was ‘only’ depressed. Before the added burdens of profound anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness that 2017 has wrought. When everything is going to hell in a handbasket, practicing gratitude isn’t the easiest task to give yourself. There are times when we need to be outraged. When we should be upset. When we should march. Raise our voices in protest. Persist. Reclaim our time.

But I saw a valuable piece of advice someone shared on Twitter recently in which they said their therapist told them it was important to practice self-care because we as human beings weren’t designed to handle a constant stream of trauma and anxiety. Sometimes we must disconnect. Recharge. Soothe.

It’s the only way we can stay in the battle long-term.

So with that, consider practicing gratitude in your own fashion on whatever scale you can manage. These days, I try to take a photo of something that makes me happy and post it. I’m also reading—a LOT. Stories that make me happy. Stories that make a crappy day a little bit more bearable. I’ve said all along that was my intent in writing and sharing my own stories, so it only seems right that I find peace in the works of others.

If you enjoy audiobooks, Fool’s Gold is now available on Audible. Fool’s Gold was voted best M/M romance by the 2016 PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards, and is narrated by the talented Gary Furlong. Do check it out!

If you’re a reviewer with a website and would like to review Fool’s Gold, feel free to contact me (link below). Until I run out, I have a few codes available to share.

Bio: Sarah Madison is a writer with a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She is a terrible cook, and concedes that her life would be easier if Purina made People Chow. She writes because it is cheaper than therapy.

Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Awards and is the winner of Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for The Boys of Summer. The Sixth Sense series was awarded 2nd place for Best M/M Mystery Series in the 2014 PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards.

Contact links:
On Amazon
On Facebook (Author page)
On Twitter
On Dreamspinner


The Green-Eyed Monster of Writing and How to Fight It by Sarah Madison

Hey there!

Yes, I’ve been AWOL for a while. Life has been kicking me in the teeth lately, and I’ve bailed on a lot of commitments as a result–my monthly post here being one of them. Truth be told, while I’m in this mood, I need to take a break from posting about my experiences at Writer’s Police Academy. I’ll come back to that thread at some point, I promise, but first I’d like to talk about something else: battling envy as an author.

I’ll be the first to admit I struggle with this. As an interesting sidebar, I’ve noted that depending on what social media site I’m on, I’m a slightly different personality. I tend to be more policitcal on Twitter and reveal a bit too much of my personal life on Facebook. When I had an Instagram account, I was relentlessly perky. Weird, huh?

Not really. I think the account tends to mold your responses and interactions there. Facebook in particular tends to shape two different kinds of posts depending on the feedback you get from your followers. Either your life is wonderful and perfect as you post images from your trip to Bora Bora, or your life is on the skids–so bad you’re starring in a country music song.

I like Facebook, but sometimes I have to avoid it. Studies have shown too much time on social media–and in particular, Facebook–can make you depressed. I believe it. I’ve posted about that fact before. Marketing gurus tell us we must spend time on social media, making connections and interacting with fans. Mental health experts tell us we sometimes need to take breaks from social media.

That’s advice I can accept. I find that too much time on Facebook and the like (I’m looking at you, Twitter) makes me depressed. Despite knowing most people post about the good things in their lives, skewing us into believing their lives are better than ours, I find Envy, the green-eyed monster, often stalks me when I read the happy posts of others.

These days, I don’t have the energy to deal with the frequent melt-downs and drama either.

But today, after weeks of reading books I thought were problematic at best and stank like sewer gas at worst, I read a book that was really good. One I could barely put down. One that pulled me in and got me involved in the lives of the characters, even though it was a genre I seldom enjoy. And miracle of miracles, the author put real obstacles in the paths of our protagonists, not simple misunderstandings that five minutes of conversation would have resolved if the characters hadn’t been such blooming idiots.

And like always when this happens to me these days, I felt a pang of envy that I would never write anything half as good.

It’s bad enough when you read something that stinks but made its way to the bestseller lists. You know the writing is subpar and the plot grates on your writerly soul, and yet thousands of people rushed out to buy it. Worse, they seem to be gushing over it. Even the people who admit they hated it couldn’t help but buy the next book in the series because they had to know what happened next. Look down your nose all you want, but storytelling like that can’t be as bad as you think.

But at least with a story like that, you can tell yourself its very badness is what attracted some readers to it, and since the author is laughing all the way to the bank, there’s no point getting on your high horse about it.

No, those stories, even though their success is inexplicable (and makes you grind your teeth with rage) are somehow easier to accept than the others.

You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that are so damn good, it takes your breath away. They remind you why you fell in love with books in the first place. No, they aren’t such masterpieces that people will still be reading them generations from now, but they are damn fine stories just the same.

And it kills you that you don’t write that well.

In some ways, this kind of story is harder to take than the drek that inexplicably become a bestseller.

Stop. Take a deep breath.

First of all, this Unbelievably Awesome Writer didn’t become that way overnight. Like you, they wrote. A lot. With passion–sometimes more passion than execution. What they didn’t know, they learned. They put in their time at the keyboard, honing skills until they produced the story that caused such powerful envy in you. Stop fretting about how good they are and how you’ll never write anything a fraction as good. These authors were like you once. You are on the same journey as they are. They are just farther along on the path. That doesn’t mean they are innately more talented than you are. Talent alone is meaningless without the grit to achieve your goals. And it is one thing that can be improved on with training and practice.

Second: this writer whom you hold in awe probably has half a dozen or so authors that make them sigh and fear they will never write anything as good as Writer X. There will always be someone better than you at any stage of the game, be it writing, or making money, or creating art, you name it. And there will always be someone worse than you, who either doesn’t have the knowledge to recognize their work stinks or isn’t prepared to do the work to make it readable, or simply because they are new at it and are farther back on the path. You can bet the author you’re in awe of has authors who awe him or her. Has days where they think their work sucks. Sits biting their nails for the first reviews to come out after promising themselves they wouldn’t read them. It’s the nature of the game.

Third: just because you love it, and the story seems to be univerally loved on all fronts, doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Read the reviews of your favorite books by your favorite authors. Most of them have their share of unkind reviews, same as you. And if someone can hate a story you love SO MUCH, that’s a pretty good indication it’s not for everyone. Everyone–believe me EVERYONE–gets bad reviews and rejected from time to time. Don’t let them dimish your dreams and goals.

Fourth: though it may not seem like it, there are people out there who are going to think your stories are awesome. Don’t disparage their intelligence because they like your stories. It’s rude at best and insulting at worst.

Fifth: Read more books just like it. Yes, read more books that make you cry with envy over how good they are. Don’t read crap. Your brain absorbs what you continually expose it to. Crap reading translates to crap writing. Want to be a better writer? Read the good stuff.

Most of all, let the writer know what you thought of their work. For all you know, your feedback may be the one thing that prevents them from pulling all their hair out and chucking the writing business as a lost cause.

In the meantime, I’m back to reviewing the audio version of Fool’s Gold. With any luck, it will be up on before the end of August.


Class time! Gay Romance University redux, Anne Barwell’s Echoes Rising series (Lou Sylvre on someone else’s books, again)

Lou Sylvre Gay Romance Happy EndingsHello readers! To my chagrin, I realize we Authors Speak writers posted not one single post in the month of July. I, for one, didn’t realize I’d missed my day to post until it was long gone. Some of us were more on the ball than that, but just had a crazy calendar and didn’t make it. I hope this month is better, and I’m going to kick off August by posting on time. But… (isn’t there always a but?) because my calendar has gone crazy this month, I’m recycling. Don’t get me wrong! This post is completely right for the day!

Let me explain.

As you may have realized, I like to talk about other authors’ books. A few years ago, on my blog, I did that by featuring “lessons” at Gay Romance University. In 2014, I made a lesson about Anne Barwell’s book, Shadowboxing, the first book in her World War II historical Echoes Rising series. Read on to revisit that day in class!

Why is this the right post to republish today?

Because today, the final book in the series has been launched at DSP Publications! Happy release day, Anne, and congrats on creating a series truly worth the read.

Okay, then! Let’s go to school!

(Get your textbook, and the rest of the series at this DSP Pubications link.)

Please take your seats people, we want to get started…. What’s that? Boxer shorts? Certainly they’re allowed…. Yes, sir, briefs, certainly. Sure, speedos are not only allowed but encouraged. Be comfortable, but do pay attention in class.

Even though Kristopher Lehrer’s last name means ‘teacher,’ as we examine the early pages of our textbook, Anne Barwell’s novel Shadowboxing, it is Kristopher who is most in need of schooling. Oh, he is a learned man, it’s true—a physicist working on an important, possibly world-altering project. Unfortunately Very Important Projects often become the clouds where a scientist’s head is most comfortable. Kristopher’s attitude, as the novel opens, is reminiscent of the fearless forward motion of a horse with blinders.

To illustrate, consider this: Kristopher’s friend—the man that could have been his first true love if Kristopher had been honest—is Jewish, and in World War II Germany the yellow Star of David he must wear means that he is in danger every time he steps out in public. And, though David is a respected physician, he can no longer practice medicine for the same reason. Yet when Kristopher meets him for coffee he has no clue why his friend is upset, or scared. Read along in your text (or look over your neighbor’s shoulder if you haven’t yet picked up your text). We look at what happens when David challenges Kristopher’s naivety, beginning on page eight.

“Have you any idea what kind of people you are working for?” David spoke quietly, as always, but there was an underlying tone of fear in his voice that Kristopher didn’t remember hearing before. David’s emotions were always controlled; it was something that Kristopher had envied. “Have you any idea of their real agenda?”

Kristopher snatched his hand away, trying to ignore how fast his heart was beating. Why had David come to him? Surely he couldn’t have presumed to use the closeness they’d once had to further whatever agenda he had? “I’m a scientist, David, trying to make the world a better place, just as you are. We are working for the advancement of science and for the good of the Fatherland.” The last sentence came out sounding like the mantra it was. Any doubts that Kristopher had were always dealt with efficiently when he repeated those words. While he knew the potential danger of the device they were working on, the chances of anyone considering utilizing the catastrophic component of it were remote.

“You always were naïve, Lehrer.” David raked a hand through his hair and replaced his glasses, adjusting them when they slipped down his nose. “Wake up and take a look at what’s going on around you before it’s too late.” An edge of desperation and fear sharpened his voice as he lowered it to almost a whisper; it sounded as though he was talking about the end of the world.

“Too late? Too late for what?” His earlier fears of being used vanished at David’s tone. Kristopher’s voice rose in pitch, all attempts of hiding his conflicting emotions lost as he tried to desperately work through his rapidly escalating confusion.

David shook his head, unwilling to say more, his eyes darting nervously around the small Kaffeehaus before his gaze settled on the man who had entered several minutes earlier. “I have to go. I’ve said too much already.”

“Wait!” David was already halfway out the door before the word was out of Kristopher’s mouth. He pushed his chair back, ready to follow his friend, then hesitated, suddenly unsure as to what had just happened.

A week later, dining at home with his sister Clara (whom he loves and depends on) and his father (with whom he has a strained relationship), he is shocked to hear that David has disappeared, and clueless as to why such a thing had happened. What’s more, he is just as dumbfounded when Clara says (on page 11)…

“Poor Kristopher.” Clara rolled her eyes. “You’re so involved in your work that you haven’t noticed what’s going on around you.” There was no teasing in her voice now. Whatever this was about, it was something very serious. “It’s because he’s Jewish, of course.”

… as he is when his father says…

“They are Jewish, Kristopher. What other reason is needed? Better that they are rounded up and sent somewhere more suited for their place in the scheme of things. We must not lose sight of the fact that the Jews are nothing more than parasites interested in taking control of the economy for themselves.”

We, the readers can take our first lesson from this, and the downhill spiral of father-son relations that follow. Please take this down in your notebooks. It will be on the test:German_Experimental_Pile_-_Haigerloch_-_April_1945

The longer you keep your head stuck in the clouds of denial (about anything, really), the more it hurts to pull it out.

Our next unit of study follows Kristopher as he goes about his work the next day. The clouds around his head have been disturbed, but not quite dislodged. Feeling cranky and a little wooly due to a poor night’s sleep, he enters his boss’s office when the boss is out, and rather clumsily knocks a pile of papers on the floor, and reads this sentence on one of them:

Cue ominous music.

We look forward to putting these plans into reality. Such a device will ensure the continued success of the Fatherland during this war against our enemies.

Kristopher’s head falls from the clouds with a mighty thud, which hurts and can’t be ignored even by a dreamy physicist.

Gott im himmel, as my very German mother would have said. Here Kristopher had been, believing he was working on nuclear fission for peaceful purposes, and suddenly he realized he’d been living in a lollipop world.

For a number of minutes, our scientist is unable to think straight. He knows what he saw, but he’s unsure of what he might do about it, or even how to keep from getting in trouble for standing in his boss’s office with his pants down (figuratively of course, because that would be far too weird).

But a guard comes along, Obergefreiter (Sargent) Schmitz, and helps him organize his brain and move his body, thank goodness. Of course, at first, Kristoffer is afraid that Schmitz will actually contribute to his danger, but he soon realizes he was lucky the Obergefrieter came along. He leaves the office that day still waffling about what to do. Like most ordinary Germans of the day, he loves his country and has some significant blind spots about it—a phenomenon not unknown at any age of the world in just about any country, including all of those where readers of this blog might be living today. But you don’t become a leading physicist if you are slow-witted. Once Kristopher’s sight is forcibly cleared, he cannot escape the truth about the leaders of the Nazi regime and what their intentions are.

After much soul-searching, presumably some hand-wringing, and a few horrid nightmares, Kristopher Lehrer confronts his boss… and is told in no uncertain way to mind his own business. The encounter goes from bad to worse. (You can read about this in home study, chapter three of the text.) When he is discovered in the room with his dead boss by the same Obergefreiter Schmitz, he figures his number is up.

Thank heaven for pleasant surprises, large and small. When Schmitz asks Kristopher if, as smart as he is, he can come up with no better plan than to threaten the guard with broken glass, here’s what happens (at the beginning of chapter four).

“My plan? […] I don’t have a plan. […] Do you honestly think I would be standing here waving a piece of broken glass if I had a plan.”

“Good point,” Schmitz admitted.

[Text elided by blogger… er, I mean university professor Lou Sylvre. Kristopher says:]

“Have you come to hand me over to the Nazis?” Whatever happened he didn’t intend to go easily.

The corner of Schmitz’s mouth turned up in a half smile before he shook his head. “I’m here to help you, Herr Dr. Lehrer.”

“You expect me to believe you?” Kristopher wished the desk behind him would disappear into thin air, although it still wouldn’t be of much help as Schmitz was blocking the path to the only door. “I know you’ve followed me for the past week.” He noticed the slight look of surprise on Schmitz’s face with a degree of satisfaction.

“You need to trust me, Dr. Lehrer.”

You may guess that Kristopher isn’t so sure that’s the best course of action, but like people everywhere when they’re in danger and want to trust someone, he looks for a way to do so.

“Give me one good reason.”

“The Nazis will be here in, Schmitz said, consulting his watch, approximately ten minutes. Either you trust me, or you tell them what you’ve just told me. I doubt they will believe your story.”

His voice softened. “I do.”

Now, students, you may have guessed that the Obergefreiter isn’t really the Obergefreiter. His real name is Michel, and he’s not even German. And his interest in Kristopher, like Kristopher’s trust of Michel, soon weaves into a whole new feeling. After negotiating much hell and highwater together, Michel soothes a startled, overwhelmed Kristopher in his own native tongue.

“A l’aise, Kit. Je suis ici… Ssh, tout est bien.”

Yes, Michel is there and all is well for the moment. There’s a whole lot more trouble to face, more evil to evade, more heroes to meet—all kinds, German, foreign, soldiers, everyday people. But Michel does whatever he needs to do to keep Kristopher alive. And since this is Gay Romance University, it isn’t giving away secrets to let you know, that once Michel has seen to the matter of Kristopher’s continued existence, he gets the opportunity to use a little French term of endearment.

“It’s all right, mon cher. I love you. I’m not letting you go.”

That is the end of our lesson, today. If you are interested in learning more on the subject, click the link provided above (just below the gallery of cover images) to find the books in the DSP Publications store.

I thank Anne Barwell, Kristopher, and Michel for the privilege of treating the serious story of one of the world’s most painful times with a bit of irreverence. Truthfully, the heroes in this story are a reflection of all the real life heroes on every side of that war and every other, especially the quiet ones not lauded in headlines. They all deserve our gratitude, and I take no such service or sacrifice lightly.

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