Monday, May 19, 2014

How I Found the Write Path

Today, I'm excited to announce I will be participating in a fantastic blogfest called How I Found the Write Path.  I will be sharing with you a pre-published letter to myself regarding all of the things I have learned since publishing my work.  Carrie Butler is hosting the blogfest in celebration of her third blogiversary along with many other incredible authors and bloggers.  Carrie will also be compiling these letters into a free E-book for writers who need help along their own paths toward publication.  What an amazing idea, right?  We can all give Carrie a big THANKS for her thoughtful endeavors and the participating writers a round of applause for their contributions. 

Carrie, you are more than welcome to use my letter in your book!

I have work published under a children's book author pen name but I will be using my adult pen name in reference to this post.  Here is my letter and I hope you can all gain something from my experience!

To my beloved and aspiring author to-be,

There is so much I want to tell you as you begin to thrust yourself down the publishing rabbit hole.  I will make this brief since there will be tons of others helping to guide you along the beginning of your journey.  I want to share with you some of the things I have learned which helped create the stepping stones toward our final destination together within this industry.

First and most importantly, before you think about writing or even publishing your book, begin building your brand.  This could take a long time so be prepared to be committed.  Since you are interested in publishing both children’s books and adult fiction, you will have to set aside a good amount of time before the day job begins.  Begin reaching out and connecting with parenting blogs, mommy bloggers, book reviewers, publishing houses, and other authors and bloggers.

If you’ve already written your book and have yet to build your brand, don’t worry!  There is still plenty of time.  Begin getting making your way around the online writing community while attending writing conferences and seminars to polish off any skills you think you may or may not have.

Give tons of reviews for other authors' books; especially those who you begin to build strong relationships with.  Get to know your community.  I can’t stress this enough.  You don’t want to be one of those people who goes around asking for reviews once your book is released.  This is a big NO, NO. 

Throw yourself out there and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Everyone is super nice in the world wide web of writers.  But try to do these things BEFORE you seek publication.  You want a strong platform and audience welcoming your book once it is released.

Since I’ve had a lot of experience visiting schools, libraries and bookstores, I suggest you make a list of all of these establishments throughout New Jersey and make an effort to reach out to them right before your book is released.  This will save you a lot more time for promoting and writing your 2nd book and even give you extra room to book author visits and presentations once your work goes on sale.  You don’t want to be cramping everything during the school year when you are being hounded to write your second book; not to mention that adult fiction novel you have been meandering about.  The more prepared you are before publication, the better off you will be when it comes to making time for social media and most importantly; your writing.

I also highly recommend you start a blog.  In fact, I’m telling you that you must submerge yourself into the blogging world; specifically before the release of your children’s book and novel.  There is a boundless sea of authors, writers and bloggers out there building their brands by blogging.  This is a brilliant way to build better relationships and make long-lasting connections with your colleagues.  Not to mention; if and when you decide to query agents, you will have something solid to show them other than your manuscript.  The more people you have engaging with you and your blog, the better.  And don’t be shy when it comes to visiting others' blogs.  It is very important to read and share your input on their posts as well. 

Lastly, remember to take time for yourself.  Sometimes, it’s good to unplug and relax away from networking and social media.  Don’t lose yourself amongst the thousands of tweets and Facebook posts you will be sending each day.  You started this journey because you are a writer and the most important thing you can do as a writer is WRITE. 

Never give up on your dreams and keep pushing yourself closer to the grandeur goal.  Rejections build character and make us stronger so don’t ever give up.  This is YOUR life… YOUR dream… and YOUR journey; no one else’s.  And if you ever have to choose whether or not to catch up on social media or write a few thousand words for your book, do what your heart tells you to do.   Social media will always be a few taps of the keyboard away; but ideas and musings of our mind and heart come and go.  Don’t turn them away because of Twitter and Facebook.  Those things can wait; however, writing the GREAT… this can never wait.  Someday, your GREAT will define the destination of your FATE.

Gina Stoneheart
Children's Book Author & Adult Fiction Novelist

Monday, May 12, 2014

Remembering Their Voices

Today, I am raising awareness to a crime so inconceivably heinous, I had no choice but to submit to my own heart’s magnetism and morbid mourning of the unimaginable.  I am sure you have heard about the abduction of over 200 young girls from a school in Nigeria.  If you haven’t, I invite you to open your ears, eyes and heart to their cries and longing to be found and returned home to their loved ones.
Child abductions and human trafficking have both had huge impacts on the nature of my meandering mind and ultimately; my writing.  My novel, which I will be seeking representation for, is centered on an abduction case which actually happened within this country. 
Although my story was not based on the same criminal act, it just so happens the real kidnapping and murdering of a nine year-old, little girl had similarities extremely close to my own plot and even occurred three weeks after I began writing the story.  When I discovered the article on Google news one morning this past February, tears eroded my heart… flooding my eyes with anxiety, sadness and despair.  I couldn’t believe the connections between the article and my novel… right down to the last name of the little girl and the town where she was abducted.  I have since changed the last name of the character in my manuscript as well as the town she was taken from.
We don’t hear their voices when they scream.  Out of sight… and unfortunately… out of mind.  But I’m making a stronger effort now, more than ever, to concentrate and hear their distant cries; their shouts of pain, suffering, frightening alienation and feelings of cold, hopelessness, and utter destitution.  There is no light at the end of the dark tunnels of the unknown which lay ahead of them.
Even if we are unable to help them, let us at least be silent and think about them.  Some people can’t stand to watch the news or listen to the atrocities currently engulfing the beauty and humanity in this world.  But I think it is our duty, as human beings, to meditate and give those who are lost our compassion, prayers, reflection and light.  All's it takes are simple thoughts… remembering those who are unable to free themselves from the sick and demented beasts holding them captive.
Our children’s empty cries were once those of newborn’s joy and laughter.  Their bleeding, bruised and scraped up hands were once delicate as they fell softly into the hands of their loved ones and friends.  Their scarce voices were once lights in the sunrise of each day they awoke as they hugged their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers.  Their wobbling, beaten and tiresome legs were once strong as they danced, skipped and ran blissfully over the horizon of days which they thought would last forever.  

Now their voices are just shadows in the light; shadows of children who once frolicked and glistened amongst the thick, heavy Nigerian air.  The memory of their screams still echoes throughout the mountain tops… there in the lasting impressions of their unforgettably beautiful and exquisite faces; faces now reflecting off of the chaotic minds of their parents and running frantically throughout the hills and distant deserts of Africa and beyond.  Loved ones are searching for answers and yet, they have no choice but to falter to the inconceivable with the slightest hope still making its way through troubled cracks as it rides the rising sun with the promise tomorrow.
Their weeping by the gravesides and the very breathes they still hold on to.   Will we find the lost ones whose names will be soft embraces among the mountain tops?  In the darkest night of their souls wandering, will we find them?  Will they ever come home?
The more I meditate and submit my essence and thoughts to their cries, the more rage runs through my veins; blood thick and stricken with an endless molten rock of torment from the images which lie frantically in the front and center of my head.  If we didn’t think about these children and the chains which are keeping them away from their loved ones, our minds may as well be numbed by blindness. 
Something has to change.  We have to change.  This world has to change.  Our ancestors fought to end slavery and provide each and every human being in this country with the opportunity to feel safe and respected.  Now it is time for us to take a stand and fight for the right of our own children; the precious angels who bring so much light and joy into this world.  Their innocence and imagination run faster than the strongest of winds and wildest of rivers pouring out into the sea.  When horrible people steal such sacred endowments from them, our children become stripped away of their strength and walking through this gift we call life.
Freedom is something we take for granted in this country.  The freedom to go to school and receive an education… freedom to work and rise to the occasion of having a better life… freedom to come and go as we please without having to worry about being gunned down, raped or tortured into slavery on a daily basis... freedom to choose who we love… freedom to travel without having to worry whether or not we will ever return home... and most importantly, free to be ourselves. 
Our freedom feels like a fragrance you often come across on a warm, summer day while passing through gardens of turmeric, roses and thyme.  It’s infectious as life’s d├ęcor skips from one living thing to the next.  Our freedom sounds like the reverberations of kids running around the park as they play soccer or swing on the swings while leaping to their childlike fates. 
We sometimes forget what liberty truly feels like because we live through it every single day of our lives.  But when a sick monster steals one of our little ones away from our transparent arms or groups like Boko Haram sneak into schools and kidnap over 200 girls, we are reminded how sacred and special freedom truly is. 

Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group in Africa who invaded a school in Nigeria during the night and stole over 200 girls between the ages of 15 and 18 years old.  One of this group’s horrible leaders, Abubakar Shekau, claims he will sell these young woman into slavery.  Here is a statement from this ignorant and hideously flawed degenerate:
“I abducted your girls.  I will sell them in the market, by Allah.  There is a market for selling humans.  Allah says I should sell.  He commands me to sell.  I will sell women.  I sell women.”  As you can see from the words stated here, this man is just as stupid as he is frightening.  With little vocabulary in the bank and too many rebels and guns behind his back, this ignorant pig is getting away with selling precious children to more ignorant pigs.  Pigs who are just as horrible as these men except they don’t steal their slaves… they pay for them instead.
Shekau commends his wrong doings and rewards his followers with impertinent duties and misguided information.  He believes western education should not be taught to the people of his country.  How awful and inconceivable are such ignorant beliefs?  This monster is going to sell our kindred and prized children because they sought out a better life.  These girls wanted to go to school and become doctors, lawyers, writers, nurses, ambassadors, teachers, etc.  And now, their future has been stripped away from them as their endeavors are being mocked and stoned by ill-bred livestock like the men of Boko Haram and those miscreants who are thinking about purchasing them.
The leader of this group also stated, "It is to be expected of terrorists.  "No group can affect our resolve. We will see this through to the end. We have the commitment and capacity to get this done. No matter what this takes, we will get these girls."  Boko Haram has killed thousands since 2009 and destabilized parts of northeast Nigeria, the country with Africa's largest population and biggest economy.
Since making this statement, eight more children have been abducted.  You might question my use of the word “children” in this post but to me, these young woman ARE STILL CHILDREN.  They have the young minds and stamina to make all of their dreams come true.  They are dreamers, warriors, sisters, imaginers, daughters, granddaughters, painters, writers, singers, and people who like to run and play… basking in the midst of an African spirit and sun. 
But now… they are mere cries in the distant deserts and boundless seas of relentless, sick and twisted men.  Men who care nothing about the life that runs through the veins and hearts of these young women.  Now, their once serenading voices are lost and winded over the Owami Desert.  Their souls are lifted still as they cry out for someone to help them… for their mother and father to come and bring them home.  I know I hear them in the back of my mind… do you?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Can We Have it All?

Now that the weather has been a bit kinder and the sun’s incandescence seems to be boasting gracefully along the soothing southern winds, I’ve been spending a lot more time running outside.  I realize for some people, running just isn’t their thing… whereas for others like myself, it is medicine to the soul… truly. 
I prefer running outdoors but the trails and pavement can be a bit hard on my knees.  Whenever I am down by the shore, I'm always running on the boards or along the sea.  But for the most part, my feet can be found pounding against the track of the treadmill since I can control the incline and this machine always gives back to the bounce in my knees.  The thumping is less harsh on these 33 year-old bones.  But no matter where I am running, I feel free.  It's a naturally epic high for me.   

I throw on the latest trance and epic vocal Ibiza tracks over my ears and zone out for anywhere from seven to ten miles.  It’s like I am one with my run.  We are blended as we gracefully collide against the sounds of the melodic tunes streaming from my iPod to my head.  My mind gets lost and tangled among the vastness of waves I imagine myself sitting or running next to. 

Sometimes, I’m on the beach or maybe dwelling on a yacht or cruise ship coasting along a forbidden island or some far away mountainous shoreline.  There are cabanas, king-size white and satin day beds, and tables set up around open pits for seafood paella on the ashen nude sands.  The waves are calm as colors of turquoise, clear aqua blue and lush emerald rush quietly up against the inviting water's edge. 

Sometimes, I'm relaxing in my bungalow which is nestled against the small huts that lay hidden behind the warm, welcoming arms of palm trees rocking against the sounds of native birds.  It’s absolutely mind-blowing.  Before I know it, my miles are up and the run has come to an end.  I’m lighter, tighter and hungrier as the desire to be satisfied not only mentally, but physically, erodes over my fierce and resilient body.

This past winter was a rough one:  rough in the sense where we had more unbearably frigid days than simply cold ones.   I don’t mesh well with the ice and snow; often finding myself a bit down with the seasonal winter blues.  My heart resides in the essence and smells of the summer so you can imagine what this season has done to my longing for spring and summer to begin.

I think once it started snowing in November, Jack Frost took it upon himself to roll over the blizzard-like weather well into March.  In fact, I think the last of the snow has just recently melted!

Because the winter was too strenuous and unkind toward people like me, who love to spend days endlessly folding into the universe while walking hand in hand with nature, I decided to embrace the warmth and quiet inside.  Luckily, I have a view of the mountains our home is nestled in right outside of my window.  I was writing and eating more while exercising and running less.  I went from a size 4 to an 8 in just three measly months.  I took advantage of Jacks Frost’s harsh and cruel shits and giggles by rejuvenating inside through my novel writing and binge-eating homemade muffins, chocolates and cheese.  (Not in that particular order=)

While I was working on the last chapters of my novel this past April, I decided to get back to the trails and treadmill; full throttle.  Twenty pounds heavier had definitely weighed me down and my once blissful workouts became much harder and less of a meditational release of thoughts, endorphins and amiable remembrances of past ghosts.  I couldn’t concentrate on anything inspiring or relive through the fondness of my old memories while running.  Dare I say that I had resorted to the elliptical?  Yes, I did.  And there is nothing wrong with the elliptical.  But for me, being a runner… well, the elliptical just isn’t my go-to for cardio.

Once I hopped on the treadmill and could not even complete a mile, I knew I was doomed.  My passion for my novel and submission to social media for my author work had forged a wrecking ball over my new body.  “If you wish to write, then you will have to sacrifice working out in the morning and your appearance will be overthrown.  And you simply cannot work out after you write because you have a fulltime job in the afternoon until evening.  You really didn’t think you could have it all… did you?”

Yep; this is what my mind was telling my body.  Now, most of the time, I love my own mind.  She is my right-hand muse and one of the main reasons I am still staying on the straight and narrow these days.  My mind has grown quite astoundingly over these last three years.  She’s more in tune with my heart and knows what she wants.  She never lies to me and I can always trust her now.  This is something I couldn’t vouch for during my darker days.  My mind was the last thing I could trust because it was always filled with the promises of better days and irreverent freedoms which a clouded and infected brain could only conceive. 

So when my mind began to be brutally honest with me and tell me I would have to sacrifice even more of my time if I wanted to get back into shape and still be able to write and network, I almost fainted.  I didn’t want to believe her.  I continued to write in the mornings, began eating a little less, but when it came time to try on my summer clothes again… it just wasn’t happening.  I had failed.  It was time for my mind and my heart to get back up again… once and for all, together… in it to win it.  I’d have to wake up even earlier and not skip any days during the week for exercise.  Seven day workouts, more juicing, less muffins, and sadly, less writing. 

Did I just say that?  Unfortunately, yes, I did.  Your mind always knows right from wrong.  It’s just a matter of time and conditioning which gets you closer to this realization.  Could I sit here and lie to myself by shaking off the twenty pounds as no big deal and settle with being two times my normal size?  After all, what matters is who we are on the inside and not out, right? 

Wrong!  For some, this is true.  But for me, I like being in shape.  I love eating whatever I want.  I love being strong and toned and loving the person I see when I look in the mirror.  That is not to say I am conceited or a narcissist.  But what I mean is there are some people in this world who are content with the way they look physically while I am addicted to the adrenaline which runs through my veins while building a lean, mean, running machine.

We owe it to ourselves to strive to achieve the best in this life because we all deserve to have all of our desires and dreams come true.  I don’t ever want to step on the treadmill, or outside on one of the magnificent trails behind our home, and not be able to get past the first mile.  I don’t have the best knees in the world but they are mine and I love them.  My family has a long history of diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.  I don’t ever want to jeopardize my serenity or longevity because I simply can’t find the time to work out.  I won’t be a product of my past and I will stay focused.  This isn’t to say I won’t ever enjoy a long winter’s nap or a month or two of a writing spree.  This winter has been a good friend to me.  And I’m hoping that good friend has helped me create something so special that the extra twenty pounds I gained was well worth it!  (The novel, hooray!)

So getting back to my question… Can we have it all?  I mean, everything, all at once?  Or do we have to settle for increments and small steps which lead us closer to the grandeur goal? 

Once I felt comfortable enough with the outcome of my manuscript and children’s work, I took a step back away from my writing.  I had to.  For me, it was a no brainer.  If I wanted to get back into my infectious runs and weight training, I had to lose weight; and fast.  Healthy but quickly.  I took the past three weeks to reboot my system and I’m happy to say I am down 15 pounds.  Not by starving or sacrificing too much of my time… but by devoting myself to longer, more strenuous workouts and a healthy diet.  I went from writing for hours and binging on muffins, chocolate and cheese to writing an hour or so a day and stepping up my game at the gym.  As far as social media goes, well, this has been suffering a bit.  But I’m okay with this.  Sometimes, we need to unplug and get away from the things which take up most of our time and energy to satisfy our other cravings.  To just simply BE. 

It’s strange but in some way, I think we can have it all.  This doesn’t mean our dreams will come true all at once and we will have all the time in the world to pursue them.  But when we are truly happy with ourselves and connected with the world around us, no matter how we see ourselves, then I think we do have it all.  I guess it just depends on your definition of “having it all” and really “seeing ourselves.”

What about you?  How do you balance your time with writing, exercising, keeping up with the household, family life, social media, working the day job, etc.?  Have you ever had to make sacrifices in order to find more time for something you are passionate about?  What is your definition of “having it all?”