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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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HULTON GETTY - LIAISON

It was the cavalry that needed rescuing that blistering summer afternoon 124 years ago.

Martha Note: Custer’s Mystery is brought to you from History’s Mysteries – Enjoy!

 

George Armstrong Custer, the young Civil War hero turned Indian fighter, was trapped on a desolate ridge overlooking the Little Bighorn River in the territory of Montana. Swarms of well-armed Indians surrounded him. According to legend–and many historians–Custer rallied his vastly outnumbered troops. The desperate 7th Cavalry soldiers shot their horses to make barricades and fought ferociously as hundreds of Indians, led by famed Sioux war chief Crazy Horse, overran the ridge.

But because Custer’s men were wiped out before reinforcements arrived, a definitive account of the Little Bighorn battle has eluded historians. The only eye­witnesses were the Indians, who had conflicting recollections. And so the legend of “Custer’s last stand” began to take shape. “The image of Custer blazing away till the very end with his pistols was an icon of the American West,” says John Dorner, chief historian at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

The lack of reliable accounts has kept the details of the battle a hotly debated topic, and discoveries in recent years have challenged the heart of the legend. “The myth is the gallant, heroic last stand–that the Indians drove him to the killing field, where he fought to the last man and last bullet against overwhelming odds,” says Richard Fox, a professor of anthropology at the University of South Dakota.

Fox, who specializes in archaeology, completed an extensive battlefield survey after a 1983 wildfire and revealed evidence that cut to the core of the Custer legend. “My research says the outcome was a function of panic and fear, a very common thing in battle. There was no last stand in the gallant, heroic sense.”

Tomorrow: Part Two

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Photo by Locket479

Martha Note: Today’s Little Thriller is a True Story that Crisscrosses the Globe – excerpted and edited from NPR Interview with Scott Simon and Author, Roya Hakakian.

On September 17, 1992, a political assassination took place in a Greek restaurant in Berlin. Dr. Sadegh Sharafkandi, chairman of a Kurdish political party in Iran, two of his aides and an exiled dissident were shot to death. Five men, including four Iranians, were arrested by German police. Despite pressures to keep the investigation at the lowest possible level, the German prosecutor assigned to the case began to unravel a tangle of threads that led all the way back to Iran’s supreme leader.

The assassinations go back to 1979 to the Iranian Revolution when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. He had expected all ethnicities and minorities throughout Iran to cast aside whatever ethnic or religious or minority interests they had on behalf of his broader Pan-Islamist idea. When the Kurds did not do so, it really created the kind of hostility that lingers. There was already a pattern being established around the world, so any Iranian in exile must live in fear for his or her life.

There were victims in the United States and on to Paris and Rome and Geneva. All over the world. Therefore, not only the Iranian community was certain about who had done it, but they were all certain that in this case everyone would get away with this murder. What makes this story really astounding and beautiful is that it didn’t go the way anybody thought it would.

At the same time, especially in the 1990s, Germany had many interests in revolutionary Iran. Germany had hoped to step into the empty space that the U.S. had left behind after 1979, the seizure of the American embassy and the loss of relations between U.S. and Iran. In many ways, Germany had successfully inched its way into that space, and this case just created a major obstacle in the way of all these efforts going forward.

When Judge Kubsch not only said the men who pulled the triggers will be held responsible, but for the next several minutes, Judge Kubsch traced the history of the Kurds’ persecution since the rise of the Ayatollah to the killings at the Mykonos Restaurant. By then tension had fallen away from him and he was speaking in the same measured and deliberate voice everyone knew.

Speaking the lines the exiles had never thought he would, never believed any foreigner capable of understanding their tale well enough to compose, Judge Kubsch uttered what to their exhausted ears was a lullaby, one of vindication. The orders for the crime that took place on September 17, 1992 in Berlin came from Iran’s supreme leader.

That especially controversial for this court to hold the supreme leader of Iran responsible.

It was historic that a living, ruling leader was being implicated in crimes. And it worked, meaning that it had great repercussions inside Iran for many years to come and even to this day. It was just a mere confrontation with the truth that had never been presented in this way that really made this work.

The subsequent moral stand that the European Union took, because of the judgment, really delivered a blow to the leadership in Iran in a way that no other act has ever done. The simplicity of it, that telling the truth to power can work in a great way is just what makes it sublime.

Roya Hakakian is the author of, Assassins of the Turquoise Palace.

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Bank of America Building in NYC (Photo by DVPFagan)

America is starting to see some recurring signs of a recovery, including a recent increase at last in the number of new jobs. It was still marginal and across less than half of the country but it’s a start and in the right direction.

A basic principle of economics is that momentum of any kind will continue in the same direction without some kind of intervention. In other words, the rock is no longer rolling over us.

However, the tangled mess of mortgages that crashed the country into the Great Recession still has a few good punches to the gut left before we can put it all behind us. The hairy part is that the problems that are left are still big enough to trip up the recovery and drag out the recovery further or perhaps even send us into a double-dip recession.

Officially, in case you missed it, the Great Recession was over in June of 2009. Now, we’re in the midst of the Great Recovery, which means we’ve hit bottom and are looking toward the rebuilding instead of trying to prevent further deterioration.

But the U.S. economy is still causing a few late night meetings at the White House to get us off the critical list because we’re still in a financial ICU and it’s partially because of what got us here in the first place, mortgages. The other big sticking point is not our deficit as much as other country’s crashing economies that we are tangled with in so many ways but that’s another story for another day. Mortgages are enough to cause plenty of sleepless nights among regulators and politicians all on their own.

Investors who purchased mortgage-backed securities from banks have become fed up with getting nothing for their money and are suing the banks. Bank of America has several lawsuits filed against it for at least 54 billion dollars. Originally, they had pegged the amount at 375 billion last year but after a court ruling had to scale back the numbers.

While the different lawsuits in several states are varied about the exact offenses by BOFA, there is one underlying problem that everyone agrees has aggravated the problem. Sloppy record keeping has led to confusion about who exactly has owned or still owns the mortgages. BOFA is not the only major US bank being accused of the problem. CitiGroup, Wells Fargo, PNC Financial and JP Morgan Chase are some of the others who have recently had lawsuits filed against them citing the same types of problems. [click to continue…]

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Political Rally from the 1800's

There is a lie circulating in American politics right now that says Americans don’t want new taxes and will withstand just about anything else to avoid a tax increase. Cut entitlements, cut benefits, even let us slide toward default but don’t raise taxes.

It’s the new American third rail, which is becoming the biggest threat to our already fragile economic recovery.

Obama called out the new lie when he put the old standby, Social Security on the bargaining table during the recent debt-ceiling crisis. He said to the others at the table that nothing was off limits, including taxes because we all needed to compromise but no one took the bait.

Instead Boehner and company threw down the gauntlet over taxes for the wealthy and said they were willing to risk default. Unfortunately, Obama backed off, tossed away the opportunity and bowed to the pressure at the worst possible moment.

Note that even though we averted the default Standard and Poors still downgraded the U.S. rating by a notch for the first time in our history. They were pointing out something essential that is already tearing apart other once-solid foreign economies to their bare bones. If an entire economic force doesn’t share the cost of doing business it cannot remain healthy.

Besides, there aren’t enough items to cut from the federal budget in order to balance the bottom line even if it was okay to do away with most of what we’ve come to know as an American lifestyle like roads that work and clean water.

But put even that aside for a moment and ask yourself if you want to keep voting for people who say you ought to pay more from your smaller pile than they do, or for that matter their friends and largest contributors to their campaigns.

In recent polls by CBS, the NY Times and CNN, 63 percent of Americans said they can see this truth for themselves as well and are calling for the Super Committee of 12 to instill new taxes for the wealthiest amongst us, including businesses. [click to continue…]

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U.S. Capitol keeping late hours

This weekend’s news cycle was either an indication that we have become over the top self-absorbed or more accurately, a really good indicator of how much trouble the U.S. economy will be in if we falter and default on our obligations, even if it only lasts for a few days.

It’s an amazing moment in journalism when a terrorist bomb and a mass slaying of children in Norway can get trumped on U.S. news channels by brief announcements that U.S. debt talks have broken down, yet again between House Republicans led by John Boehner and President Obama.

The social mediums of Twitter, Facebook and now Google+ were faster at reporting and sharing the details of the Norway news, which may be an indicator that even TV journalism is becoming outmoded but that’s a different discussion.

Major news outlets were leading with the sound bites that nothing had been resolved and the debt ceiling was still closing in as August 2nd approaches. The White House even called an unusual Saturday morning meeting to get everyone back at the table and they came but that too ended in recriminations from both sides and no progress.

Another indicator of just how deep our troubles are that cuts in Social Security, the hallowed third rail of politics, is on the table and neither side is balking at all.

The reason the approaching debt deadline is getting so much attention is because the potential consequences will make the Great Recession look like an ice cube in comparison to the collision with this new financial iceberg.

U.S. Treasury bonds account for two-thirds of the $14 trillion debt, which is currently the largest in the world and the rest is considered Government Account securities or debts owed by the government to itself, such as Social Security payments. Treasury bonds are owned by mostly foreign investors with the biggest debt-holder being China who let us run up such a huge tab so we’d keep buying their exports. [click to continue…]

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