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God

Katie, Martha, Louie

Family is what you make of it. In the beginning, as children, we take what we’re given and do the best we can. For some of us, it’s a continual blessing that grows richer and deeper with time. For others, we recover from the original family and, with some help, create a family out of the people in our lives. It’s all good.

However, for either one of those scenarios to work, we have to be willing to love and forgive on a continual basis. As it turns out, the biggest thriller any of us will ever know are the journeys we all take to be a part of something bigger than ourselves – a family.

This week I discovered that there’s a patch of family on my mother’s side living just 15 minutes away that I’ve never met before and I no very little about them, except for one important detail. My mother, Tina, rarely talked about her past at all, never told very many stories of what her childhood was like, for whatever reasons. I don’t really know. There was one exception and that was Ivan Toler, who she clearly loved and remembered fondly.

They grew up together in Georgia and he’s the one person I know of in the world that shared the best memories my mother had of those days. Today I get to meet him and sit quietly to just listen. No expectations of what the day may hold or what may be revealed. A new connection to family that comes with the best kind of loving invitation already secured by my mother.

Mom passed away in April of 2014 and I miss the phone calls with her because she was the one person in the world who would worry about me, even if there was no need to be concerned. She was also the one who cheered me on when I started the new thriller series, and said with confidence, “Oh, that will be easy for you.” I wasn’t so sure but Mom said it so easily and so quickly that I decided to just go with her view of things. People who love us can grace us with that kind of confidence from the inside, out.

They’re sharing the kind of love that doesn’t take anything away from anyone.

There’s more that can come with being part of a family, like old stories that sometimes run through our head and hurt our feelings and disrupt things like Thanksgiving dinners. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Look at it from a new angle by taking a good look at everyone gathered around your own Thanksgiving table. Chances are, no one else at that table even knows your old stories. For them it never happened and doesn’t exist because the past is gone. All they know about you starts with the day you met and moves forward. That’s their gift to you.

Don’t return the gift with the tags still on it by drudging up what no longer matters. Be in the moment and forgive the past by letting it stay right where it is. Then, try sitting quietly and listening to the stories as if you didn’t really know anyone in them, but knew you were really going to love them all. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. More adventures to follow.

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This week I’m posting a little something different. A short-short story about the enduring love of marriage and blooming where you’re planted. Enjoy.

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“We can make this work,” Lenny mumbled, as he tried to jam the air hose into the side of the Moon Bounce. The large orange pile started to take shape and rise up over Lenny’s head. ‘Holiday Sno-Globe’ was printed in big red and green letters across the top, just above the entrance. Blow-up figures of life-size snow men and plastic green fir trees took shape inside the Bounce. Lenny had added those, securing them with a little glue and black electrical tape.

Kids were already lining up in front trying to be the first in line. Ruth, Lenny’s wife of just a few months was busy selling tickets. This was their big test to see if Lenny had wasted their nest egg or finally found himself gainful employment. Lenny noticed the skinny kid, second in line who kept randomly digging in and scratching various body parts. “That can’t be good,” he mumbled.
“Grab the bowl,” said Ruth, glancing over her shoulder. She was smiling broadly at Lenny, holding up a fistful of one dollar bills. He smiled back at her, the itchy kid forgotten, as he dared to feel a new sense of pride for coming up with their new family enterprise.

He was so sure of the big idea when he first drove home to show it to Ruth. Every time he had glanced into his rear view mirror and saw the large hump of orange rubber and plastic tied down in the bed of his truck, a sense of satisfaction had come over him. ‘At last,’ he had thought, ‘my own business.’

Ruth and Lenny had recently eloped on a whim after Lenny had spent months courting Ruth Barlow by nervously reeling off bits of trivia. “Did you know that Chester Arthur was the only president to never get his party’s nomination? Did you know that polar bears are the only other mammals besides humans that hunt just for the heck of it?”

It was like a nervous tic.

Ruth said yes to his proposal anyway and with the money he had saved and her mother chipped in, they put a down payment on a house. That left exactly $1,200 for them to put in the bank. Those were Ruth’s instructions to Lenny; to open a savings account at the Portview Bank, along with get a job on the way home.

Lenny had left their small bungalow dressed in his only sport coat and a tie with little ‘TNT’s printed down the front, determined to find a job. The money was safe in his wallet and could wait, he thought. “First I find a job.”

But after the fifth ‘no’, Lenny started to wonder if he was going to have to disappoint his new bride. No one was hiring.

That’s when he saw the sign. Moon Bounce for sale, $450. The price had apparently been $750 but was marked through. A bargain, thought Lenny but now that they were about to try it out, he wasn’t so sure.

‘What if all of this fails and my marriage is over before it really gets going?’ he thought.

Lenny peeled the plastic wrap off of the top of the large plastic bowl, a wedding present from his Aunt Jean and Uncle Jack and gave the bowl a gentle shake to loosen up all of the tiny homemade red and green snow flakes. Just as each child was about to cross over the threshold into the big Bounce, Lenny sprinkled them with a good dose of edible snow flakes.

It was Ruth’s idea to make their Moon Bounce stand out in the market and give themselves a theme.

“Branding,” she said, “it’s everything these days.”

There were five more bowls lined up by his feet, just waiting for customers. It had taken them all day to color the snowflakes and get it just right. “There has to be a billion of them,” he said.

“No two alike.”

The first twenty kids were loaded into the giant replica of a winter Sno-Globe as

Lenny zipped shut the door and sat down at the Hammond XK-1 Drawbar organ he had borrowed from their neighbor. He started with Frosty the Snowman concentrating on getting the notes right but as he got into Jingle Bells he started to relax and looked up at the Sno-Globe in full swing. From where he sat he could just see the tops of small heads as they bounced into the air, sprinkles of red and green shaking all around them.

“I knew you could do it, Lenny,” said Ruth, as she came to stand next to him by the organ. Lenny made a mental note to forget everything Ruth had initially said about his new purchase and use the only piece of advice his father ever gave him.

“Women are always right,” he said, “and when they’re not, they don’t need to know about it. That’s how you stay married and happy.”

He squeezed his eyes shut and leaned back into the chair.

“Lenny! Lenny!”

He snapped his eyes open and looked around. He had fallen asleep in the recliner again waiting for Ruth to get ready.

“Come on Lenny, we’re gonna’ be late for our own party. The kids went to a lot of trouble. Fifty years of marriage doesn’t happen for just anybody these days,” said Ruth. She smiled at Lenny, and grabbed his hand to give him the extra oomph he seemed to need to get out of a chair these days. Too many years hunched over an air hose or cleaning up stale snowflakes.

‘It was worth it, he thought, paid for this house and put three kids through college.’

Lenny had actually been ready for over an hour and had sat down to wait for Ruth to put on what she called her finishing touches. He kissed the top of her gray head.

“We work well together,” he said to Ruth, as he followed behind her. “I think this marriage just might last.” It was his favorite joke. He’d been saying it for years.

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TheListFrontCover Jones smallerIf you really want to get your heart racing you can pick up a thriller or even better, dive headfirst into social media. If you write thrillers, you’re going to have to put yourself and your books in the middle of the fray and tweet, update and post.

Then, just when you feel like you have it somewhat under control the landscape will change. A new tool will come along and an old one that you really put a lot of time and effort into will fade from popularity.

That scenario isn’t going to change, ever, if you’re an author who’d like a shot at a growing audience. Here’s a few tips on how to live peacefully with social media and a few new platforms you may want to investigate.

  1. Make peace with the idea that you won’t be able to do it all and you won’t always get the mix right. Ask author friends in similar genres what works best for them and commit to three different platforms for yourself. Start, knowing this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. It takes time to build a following and then to turn them into readers.
  2. Find a system for yourself that works. I like Hootsuite for posting during the week. I set it all up on the weekend and let Hootsuite post to different places like Twitter and Facebook three times a day, while I’m doing other things. I also set up any blog posts at the same time and check on a few other sites.
  3. Network at conferences, both in person and online, with your fellow authors for tips. Help each other out by sharing posts, tweets or repinning on boards.

A few social media sites to check out are

LibraryThing.com - Check out their program, Early Reviewers where you can give away your ebook to readers who agree to leave reviews.

Wattpad.com - A new site where people can share stories, short or novel-length, for free and build a readership. You can find me there under MarthaRCarr. Recently a young woman got a billion readers for her first work and sold the movie rights. That’s the outlier but you can see the potential.

Pinterest - This is a familiar site for most of us but are you using it to its full advantage for your novel? Think about creating a board for your main characters and pin what they’d like to wear, what restaurants they might haunt, or if you’re a thriller writer like me, what weapons they’d prefer. You can see my boards, here.

The last one is Facebook, the granddaddy of social media even though it’s only ten years old. Consider boosting a post from your Facebook author page, (which means buying an ad, basically), once a week for just $5. Think of it as an extra trip to Starbucks. To get some ideas of what I’ve done on my page, you can see it here.

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Martha pic blue sweater 030313When it comes to a career path, there are two kinds of people. In one camp are the people who get smacked in the face with a kind of awe one day, and believe they have a calling to do something in particular. In the other camp are those who are looking for opportunity and have a lot of different interests. Their life has a kind of balance without any dogged fixation on one thing in particular. It seems ideal in a ‘grass is always greener’ kind of way.

I’ve always fallen squarely into the first camp. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old, standing in the center of a Philadelphia library. I marveled at the idea that some genius had thought to gather books in one building, and then loan them out.

My father talked about having a calling in his thirties to be a minister. He was already the father of three girls and an engineer but one day, something came over him.

He said, whenever someone came to him and asked if it was a good idea to enter the ministry, he asked them about their calling. He said that element was necessary to survive all of those vestry meetings.

That’s the thing about having a passion for one particular career. There are stretches that are so long and difficult that a saner person would look for something else to do.

Writers will look for ways to stay a writer.

When I was new, a seasoned writer told me the secret to being an old author was just not quitting. Most left the profession, he said. Now, I get it, but back when he was telling me that sounded crazy.

In my  career there has already been the start of internet publishing, social media platforms and one Great Recession. Any one of those was enough to thin the herd.

It never occurred to me to quit and become something else. At worst, I thought about how this was probably keeping my brain young because I was constantly having to pick up some new computer skill just to marginally keep up. It’s no longer possible to live like a recluse and sell more than a handful of books.

At best, I have set out to network with other authors and remind myself of a few things.

  1. Every author, regardless of budget, is struggling to keep up with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and whatever new platform someone has introduced last Friday. People who want balance in their life have to make choices, and keep it in perspective. I ask myself, all the time, what avenues sound like they might be at least a little fun. My audiences tend to be like me, so that’s also a good indicator of where they’re gathering.
  2. No one knows what works, for sure, even if what they’re doing is actually working. I can’t even tell you exactly when it started to work, except that it seems to move forward, faster when I’m listening to my own inner voice, instead of someone else’s idea.
  3. That leads me to my biggest lesson that I learned the hard way. Every author I know who has stayed in this business for longer than a few years has a genre they love at the center of everything they do. There may be sidelines or adventures but eventually they go back to that core of thrillers or romance or biographies. I spent some time listening to other people’s ideas and instead, spread myself thin. I did have some great adventures but it did nothing for my career, and eventually I wandered back to thrillers.

Now, I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had as a writer and a lot of it is because I’m interested in what I’m researching and writing about, and the conversations that get stirred up as a result of a book. Go figure. That’s when I connect with that little girl in the middle of the library and spin out a new story, with a few dead bodies, a little faith, and all kinds of romance. The Circle, 3rd in the Wallis Jones series will be out in April, 2015. The List and The Keeper are out now.

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TheListFrontCover Jones smallerWriting is a very personal act rolled up inside of a traditional business. Like any other art form, who we are as artists come through in what we do, whether we like it or not.

The upside as a writer, is that I unexpectedly learn a lot more about myself with each book after readers tell me what themes they’ve picked out of the book.

A light bulb goes on for me and I see what it was I was really trying to say. Sometimes I think there’s a deep, inner part of me that’s driving the bus and motivating me to write so that I can finally get at a truth.

I’d love for that part to send out a postcard and get it over with, but apparently that’s not the way it works.

In The Keeper, the current book and the second thriller in The Wallis Jones series, there are people keeping secrets, or in other words, hiding in plain sight. They appear to be one thing, and as the story progresses, it becomes clear they are something completely different. Don’t worry, that gives nothing away.

What did I learn from that? That the art and the business of my career were not syncing up and I was doing it to myself.

Let me explain. I was pouring everything I had into the books and the reviews from both the media and readers backed me up – they loved the books. That’s the art.

But I was not packaging the books correctly. I was saying they were political thrillers, and then even mumbling that I knew that wasn’t quite right without knowing a better answer. More to the point, without actively seeking out a better answer.

It was as if I didn’t want to know. Then I wrote The Keeper, and saw that I was doing something a lot of us do, and was keeping secrets from myself.

Not big secrets. It’s just that I wasn’t being myself, saying what I really think, giving my true opinion on things – so that no one was ever offended. In the end, the picture of who I am became blurry, even to me.

It’s a quandary to work so hard to try and make everyone happy and create a shell that makes sure I always feel somewhat alone.

The way out is to allow people to see who I really am, which makes me wonder how that will change everything about myself as a writer and an author.

Those two words do not mean the same thing, by the way. One is the art and the other is the business. But finding out I was working so hard to keep some things to myself has helped me to create a bridge between the two and that led me to the second part – the business.

Have you ever wandered around with a question about yourself that mystified you and yet, you couldn’t find the answer? That’s how I felt. Why do people love the books but no one can find them?

The answer was because if you, as a writer, aren’t comfortable with who you are, it will come through in what may still be a good story, but it will also come through in the packaging as an author and make it difficult for others to be sure if they’ll like the product. They’ll pass you by for something more familiar.

The Wallis Jones series belongs in the category of inspirational romantic suspense, which changes a lot of things about the packaging. That’s actually the easy part.

It will still take some courage and faith to become visible and hope it makes a difference. There’s no guarantee that it will – at least not in the way I want it to. Fortunately, I have just enough of whatever is needed to go ahead and try without all the answers up front. Often, that’s all it takes to be successful. More will be revealed.

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The 'new' Me at the end of summer (that's a herd of guinea pigs in the background)

 

There’s an old saying, ‘write about what you know’ but a much more useful saying for me has turned out to be, ‘first figure out who you are and make peace with all of it’.

A little background would be useful here. I’ve been writing professionally for almost 25 years, at the dawn of the internet. I’ve been very successful at writing and have been published traditionally three times, written extensively for the Washington Post and had a syndicated national weekly column.

However, I never felt successful and instead ran around confused, trying to figure out where I fit in the profession. The confusion showed in the different genres I tried and eventually wore me out.

I knew all along that I was getting in my own way and costing myself sales but I had no idea how I was doing it or what to change.

Then, I learned the rule of the truest intention. The rule is, no matter what I claim I want to do or believe, whatever is my strongest underlying intention will rule. Mine turned out to be that I wanted to stay hidden and fade into the background. Too many questions might lead to too much exposure. That can make it difficult to become a well-known, and bestselling author.

Someone even recently pointed out to me that I do a good job of hiding in plain sight.

The result was that I had no practice at saying much about myself but I could give a pretty good description of everyone who was in my immediate orbit at any given time.

Is it any wonder that I was drawn to thrillers? Layer upon layer of misdirection that moves at lightning speed with a lot of fun thrown in on the journey.

However, the smoke has started to clear and instead of wanting to make sure that people know only the surface layer, I’ve learned how to open up and talk about myself.

The result is The Wallis Jones series and the first two books, The List and The Keeper, and an understanding that my books fall into inspirational romantic suspense and not political thriller. It’s a much better fit.

Another big revelation is that even though I’ve been writing for well over two decades, I’ve only been writing this series for a year and a half. That shift means, I’ve started over as an author, and need to view everything from that angle.

A lot of this self-awareness has felt very painful but those feelings pass and what’s left behind is clarity and a more-defined sense of self. It’s a view that I’m really learning to appreciate, even if I still like writing twisted stories of suspense that inspire and bring people together. More will be revealed.

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Potluck CelebrationThere was a time when I thought, once I have this lesson, I won’t have to learn it again. Didn’t matter what the fear was about – financial, relationship, career. There’s something here to learn and once I have it, I can move on and be happy.

That was only partially true. In order to really get at this truth, I was going to have to pull apart the layers of thinking I had about happiness and start from scratch.

First thing I realized was, I was trying to micromanage happiness into a box that I could control and pull out whenever I needed an extra dose. My underlying belief was that happiness was elusive and based on events. If the things that were going on in my life were hard or altogether missing, then I couldn’t be happy.

It also meant that if the people around me showed signs of unhappiness I needed to figure out how to change that for them and the sooner the better. Imagine how much fun that was for all of us.

It was also disrespectful. Instead of letting people choose for themselves how they felt about any given day, I was outright telling them that there was only going to be one mood when you’re around me. Happy. Or really, false happy.

So much low-level tension when I was in the room.

Second layer that had to go was that feeling anxious or even miserable was not necessarily a sign of anything and frankly, probably wasn’t and didn’t matter. It was okay to feel that way, just don’t act on the feelings.

In the past, if I was unhappy at a job for a long enough string of days, it must mean that I wasn’t meant to be there. Time to go. Now, I know to go and reason out what’s really bothering me with only one or two people I trust to help me look for a solution. The answers tend to be a lot less drastic or dramatic. Imagine that.

Sometimes, it has even meant that it’s past time to go but maybe there’s a more constructive, compassionate and better way to go.

Third big layer turned out to be that my faith was going to have to grow to a point where I could trust that God actually does love me, as is and not because of what I do. The labels I hang all over myself like a Christmas tree like writer, mother, runner don’t matter to God and there aren’t better ones, by the way, that do matter.

I’m here for awhile, He made me, He loves me, end of that plot line.

One more big layer is when I don’t say my truth, I dishonor myself and that newly found faith. I do this usually to not upset someone else who I think won’t like what I believe. I don’t actually know that it will but don’t want to find out.

Geez, that first layer bites me again, trying to get everyone to just be false happy.

It doesn’t come naturally just yet, and I realize there’s a certain amount of discernment that’s needed but at least there’s a pause now where I hear this voice within that say, tell the truth here. Let others do with it whatever they choose. Respect them enough to let them be, however they choose to be.

Let it go, again and again.

Underneath all of those layers it turns out that happy is a choice not tied to anything. The way I choose to look at life and believe keeps leading me back to happy.

The Circle, 3rd in The Wallis Jones series, will be out in March 2015. The List and The Keeper are on sale now. If you’re a filmmaker looking for good thriller material, click here.

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Martha pic blue sweater 030313

Come see what it’s all about at www.WallisJones.com

The Circle, 3rd book in the Wallis Jones series, due out in early 2015.

It seems like a human being is a deep, narrow pool of water that is so dense, it’s impossible to see to the very bottom. But there at the bottom is where all the origins of the story of my life are swimming and playing, and teeming with energy.

Every thought, idea and most of all, belief that we’ve taken in as truth and then forgotten that there was ever a time when we didn’t know it, is buried down there in the bottom of that dark pool. At some point, our behavior starts to seem like a part of us. We must have come into the world like this.

It’s an argument to give in to the fears or limitations and work with what we are, who we are and settle. We have completely forgotten that each of those beliefs is just a layer sitting on top of all of our potential.

If only we had the insight to see past it and keep trying.

I spent so much time being afraid of what I might lose and where I might end up that just seeing past all of those layers seemed like a monumental task. I had no idea where to begin and I was positive that I would not only fail, I’d die trying. It was a truth to me and my shrinking life was proof of that belief.

Fortunately, I discovered writing thrillers and through twisted plots and well-meaning characters trying to do their best, I found a voice. For me, it was as if the depths of my soul were tired of waiting for me to come to life and had found a way to be heard.

But I still pulled my punches, trying to write in a way that wouldn’t be found offensive. I’m not sure who I thought I’d offend or what I would say that would do that but I was cautious and careful and busy trying not to look like it. Even with all of that, readers wrote me saying they identified with the characters and felt like someone was finally speaking for them.

We were all speaking to each other on some level I was still not really perceiving but some amount of a message was getting through. Still, I wondered if I had enough, deep at the bottom of the well to sustain me through an entire life. I really wasn’t sure.

My answer was to create a character, Wallis Jones, who is sure of herself and her loving husband Norman, her funny, smart son, Ned, and the life she’s created. She believes everything exists in her life because of the part she played, and the hard work she devoted to all of it. Of course she is succeeding, until she finds out none of it is really true.

What if you found out that your entire family history was a lie the older generation came up with just to keep their own ambitions alive? What if you couldn’t stop the machinery that had been in power for generations and at best, could only hope to escape it or at best, learn to live peacefully within it?

Everyone in The Wallis Jones series is trying to figure out how to be happy in a complicated world, even the characters that have less than admirable traits. Everyone has the same goal but different beliefs in how the universe works and their actions bubble up from that dark place, deep down inside and guide them to think of others, or think of no one but themselves.

Wallis watched all of this unfold in a leafy suburb of Richmond, Virginia among friends who like to play Bunko, and clients at her law firm that keep making the same mistakes, asking for her help. She’s one of us, except for that big conspiracy.

That’s exactly how I walked around for years. I’m okay, I think, except for this big conspiracy that starts from within me and says, you may not be up to the task.

I’ve started to find the beginning of a solution that involves faith and courage and a willingness to keep moving forward. I’m just going to let my story unfold in the series, which seems somehow right at home in a thriller. The first two books are out now, The List and The Keeper, and The Circle will be out early next year. More will be revealed.

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Martha Carr: Here’s a Secret About Books

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