My YouTube Debut

Hey, readers!

So I made my YouTube debut today! I am featured over at Robin Woods Fiction today, and we thought it’d be fun if I answered some questions via video. Okay, it’s a little cheesy, but it’s fun, too! I talk about parts of my writing process, give advice to writers, and even show viewers my journals. Go and check it out, and give Robin Woods Fiction some blog love! Until next time…

CLICK HERE TO READ MY INTERVIEW WITH ROBIN WOODS

BIG NEWS For The Spirit Lake Series!

Happy Friday, blog world!

So, I’ve been hinting at sharing some big news this week, and it’s finally time to make the announcement.

I have sold my Spirit Lake Series to Cosby Media Productions! Yay! I just signed the contract on Wednesday, so I’m officially a traditionally published author now!

How I feel at the moment. =P

How I feel at the moment. =P

I’m in the process of rewriting my first book, Feast Island, which will be retitled as Spirit Lake. My second book, The Wrong Fairy Tale, will also get some further edits to fit with the changes made in the first book. I will keep you all abreast of release dates, etc. (And yes, while we wait for these books to be released, the now existing Feast Island and The Wrong Fairy Tale will be pulled from Amazon at the end of the month. If you’d like to purchase yourself a copy of each before they are retired, click HERE.)

Once book one and two are finished and submitted to my publisher, I will obviously resume work on book three, titled Freak Show. You guys are gonna love it. Think a lighter, less sexual version of “American Horror Story: Freak Show” meets Narnia meets Dinotopia (minus the dinosaurs). I already have notes for books four and five, but they have yet to be outlined.

Exciting stuff!

Meanwhile, I began working on a secret project last year, which may or may not ever see the light of day. I also began writing an Epic Fantasy, a SciFi, and a Rom Com Suspense-ish book about an assassin falling in love. As you can see, I don’t heed the “one genre” thing. I write what I like and that’s that. So, expect to see other projects from me soon.

I hope you all have a fffffffaaaaabbbbbbbbbbulous weekend. I’m going to a wedding tomorrow and will otherwise be eyeballs deep in editing a project for one of the authors at Cosby Media. But tonight, I think I have a hot date with a good book. May you all fall in love with a new fictional character this weekend. <3

(If you just want to LOOK at cool fictional characters, click HERE to access my Fictional Love Pinterest board.)

FREE Resources For Writers & Bloggers

Well, I’m slowly updating my website. It needs quite an overhaul, but trust me, dear readers, I’m working on it! The biggest elephant I just tackled was my FREE RESOURCES page. I’ve curated Pinterest boards and Evernote notebooks to give you guys lots of great resources for writing, blogging, social media, author platform, marketing, etc. You’re welcome. :)

You can check out my FREE RESOURCES page by clicking HERE. This page will also lead you to my FAVORITE BLOGS, FREE BLOGGER RESOURCES, and FREE WRITER RESOURCES. Yes, you’ll have to dig around a bit to find exactly what you want, but at least I’ve organized it all by tags and visuals. Hooray!

I hope these resources will guide you in your writing and blogging endeavors. Feel free to share these resources with fellow writers. And, should you ever have questions or would like to work with me, then you can CONTACT ME HERE.

I have a very exciting announcement coming up soon! Until then, enjoy the free resources! xx

SB Free

Why I Err On The Side Of TOO LITTLE Description While Writing

Have you ever read a book so chock full of description or backstory that you got lost in the middle of the characters’ dialogue? I sure have. And, as a budding book reviewer, that’s what makes me drop the review an entire star—in regards to rating. When writers go down the rabbit hole for far too long, or describe a room with an overkill of flowery prose, it can make a potentially great book just good, or a good book become bad.
***
Some readers like lots of description, but I promise they’re far and few in between. Why? Because we have movies and video games to get the visuals we want. Our world is overflowing with visual onslaught, and now, writers must pull in readers faster than their predecessors. 
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What Makes A Great Book?

Most contemporary great books have excellent pacing, unpretentious dialogue, and just enough detail to bring the reader into a different world while still allowing her/him to use her/his imagination. Reading can often be a form of escape, but readers don’t want to be told word by word how they’re supposed to get to this imaginary world. Many of us have a little rebel inside, vying for a bit a freedom—especially when it comes to the arts. 

An Editor’s (And Reader’s) Perspective

Last year, I edited 16 books—fiction and non-fiction [HIRE ME HERE]. Not once did I ask my clients for more descriptions of a building or a room…nor did I ask them for more backstory. Often, I advised they cut down on some of the book’s description in order to increase the pacing of the book. Unless I’m editing a technical manual, there is no need for overkill on descriptions. (Yes, there can be exceptions, but that’s not my point in this post.) I also read about 75 books last year, in all different genres, and continued to develop my eye for a great story versus just a good story. The best books were those with minimal descriptions.

Minimalist Descriptions

As a writer, I tend to hold back on description until the very end of revisions. In the YA genre especially, characters are expected to have descriptions so that fangirls and fanboys can draw fan art for all the cool authors. But in other genres, there may be more of a focus on action, suspense, romance, etc. Therefore, shorter descriptions of characters, or none at all, may be more appropriate. And of course readers want to know what the setting looks like, but erring on the side of less description and then waiting for feedback from beta readers would be an easier fix than crying because your editor wants you to delete a whole page. 
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In the book Hooked by Les Edgerton, it’s advised to focus more on putting characters in action rather than worrying about their eye color, weight, height, hair color, etc. I’ll quote Edgerton, as he addresses character description in his writing:
“In fact, my own writing contains very little description of any of my characters—it’s virtually nonexistent—yet, for years I’ve asked readers if they can describe a character I pick at random from my stories, and invariably they come up with a detailed description, no matter which character I might choose. When I tell them I haven’t described the character mentioned at all (as I hardly ever have), they’re surprised, and some swear that I did, even going so far as to drag out the story and look for where I’ve included the description. They never find it.” -Hooked, page 141
Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

What’s A Writer To Do?

So, what to do? From experience as a writer and editor, I advise not worrying so much about description as much as plot, pacing, and dialogue. When my editors go through my manuscripts, they make notes when I need more description. I also have some great beta readers who will let me know if I need to add more detail or if I left some questions unanswered. 
MY edits in my book proof.

MY edits in my book proof.

The Boneyard

However, if you just can’t see yourself lessening your story details, you can get in the habit of making some cuts as you rewrite. I coached a good friend of mine through his dissertation, and he taught me about something I’d never before encountered: “The Boneyard.”
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The Boneyard is a “grave” or placeholder for all that wonderful, genius prose that just doesn’t work for your manuscript. However, the cool thing about this type of grave is that words can be resurrected from it. Sometimes we’ll make cuts but decide that our original idea (or a variation of it) works better. The Boneyard comes to the rescue! When I make any big cuts, I place them in that book’s Boneyard in case I need to pull from it later. It saves me from going through old drafts, trying to pinpoint what I had originally written. I either keep my manuscript’s Boneyard in a separate Word document, or I create a new note in Evernote.
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Backstory

Backstory is another offender. It truly is an art to be able to seamlessly weave in backstory while still keeping pacing intact. I read a really cool book the other week, but it had the largest chunks of backstory I’ve ever seen in my life! In fact, that was the number one complaint in all of the reviews. I’m talking about pages of backstory or a character flashback in the middle of dialogue. At times, it was so bad, I almost forgot what the characters had been talking about. Almost none of the extra descriptions and backstory added to the novel whatsoever. 
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For that very reason, I make a point to let my clients know if they are at risk of the same thing. I want their books to be the best they can be—with witty banter, fresh but limited descriptions that sharpen the storyline, and a fictional world that has never before been seen. I’ve been a backstory offender before, so I’m speaking from experience. What’s cool about cutting unnecessary backstory is that you can place the cuts in The Boneyard and pull it out later to write a novella or character extras for fans. Just because your words have been cut from your manuscript, doesn’t mean that they suck or need to “die.” No! If they’re decent, they can be reused in other ways. 
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Here’s what Les Edgerton has to say about backstory and details:
“What’s not done today is the immediate helping of backstory right after that (implied) ‘once upon a time.’ We don’t fill readers in on the protagonist’s life for the past ten years leading up to the story’s [actual] beginning. We also don’t spend a lot of time describing the village he lives in, the street he walks down each day to work, his waking habits, or the copious details of each room he enters. Or every bite of the breakfast he ingests or the primary colors of the songbird outside his window.” -Hooked, pages 9-10
 ***
Edgerton goes on to say that what matters for a story’s beginning is the inciting incident, and then things continue to build from there. Less really can be more, especially when it comes to fiction. It’s like a man perhaps finding a modestly-clothed woman more mysterious and sexy than one who’s wearing daisy dukes and a bikini top. Maybe not the best example, but you get the idea.

Let’s Wrap It Up

The thing is, we live in a different society and culture than the one thousands of years ago—or even a hundred years ago—where long and flowery descriptions were thought to be signs of creative genius. Readers today want something fast, something different, something special. And writers need to deliver on those terms, meaning that too much description and/or backstory just won’t cut it. The plot needs to be solid, conflicts need to be resolved, and unless readers just want a fluffy cotton candy read, the imagination needs to be engaged. Give readers more feelings than visuals, and I promise they’ll remember your book more than ones overshadowed by boring details and a dump of backstory. Why? Because if you can make them feel a certain way—a way in which they resonate with your characters—they won’t give two craps about whether your main character has red, blonde, black, or purple hair. 
Give readers FEELS! All the FEELS!
Feels

What Do YOU Think?

Okay, blog readers. Time for you to sound out. What do you think about descriptions and backstory? Have you read—or written—books with way too much? Do you like all the additional details? What’s too much for you? What’s too little? Comment below! 

Highly Anticipated Reads of 2015

Welcome to 2015, lovely readers! Can you believe I’ve managed to blog for 3 years now? Feels like yesterday that I wrote my first post, not knowing what the hell I was doing. I’ve learned and grown a lot since then, and I’m grateful to have a handful of people in this world who actually read my posts. Thanks for reading. You’re all wonderful. xx

Now, as I promised from my favorite reads of 2014 blog post, I wanted to share what’s on my 2015 to-read list. I’m just sharing my top reads, but this list is not exhaustive by any means. If you are curious and want to know what I plan on reading in 2015 (the ever-growing list), then just click HERE to view it on Goodreads. (And if we’re not Goodreads friends yet, then by all means, please send me a friend request!)

What books will you read in 2015?

What books will you read in 2015?

Okay, here we go. My highly anticipated reads of 2015:

On Writing by Stephen King

Just got this book from Amazon last month. It will be my first Stephen King read, actually. Though, I’m sure I’ll finally pick up one of his other famous works some time this year.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

I’ve seen the movies, but have yet to read the book. Looking forward to this, as it’s less daunting than…

…The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

I tried to read this before—perhaps 5 or 6 years ago. And at the time, I just couldn’t do it. But now, as a reader, I’m in such a different place. I think this is my year to finally tackle this book. I know I’m going to love it, but I also know it’s not light reading in any sense.

Throne of Glass book 4 By Sarah J. Maas

Last year, I became such a huge Maas fan! Seriously, I can’t sing her praises enough with her Throne of Glass series. It’s just brilliant and amazing and everything that epic fantasy should be. I’m hoping to get an ARC through NetGalley this year.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

And, since I’m such a big Maas fan, I’m looking forward to her new series that is also due to begin this year. This woman has captured my reader’s heart.

The Fallen Part 2 by Robin Woods

My dear friend and writer in crime is going to release her 6th book this year! Woohoo! I have had the pleasure of reading the majority of this book already—as a beta reader—but have yet to know the final ending. I can’t wait to see what Woods has in store for this sure to be epic ending.

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

I suppose this is my year to get on several fandom buses I’ve been flirting with for the past few years. I guess I’ve put off this series only because I know I’m going to be obsessed with it, and I truly need to read it during a time of my life when I actually have time to be devoted. I’m hoping to tackle it in the first half of this year—the first book, at least.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I began reading a few Austen books a while ago, but never got through the whole collection. I think it’s time I added more of her books to my “conquered” book list.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Same as my sentiments above. ^

The Bourne Trilogy by Robert Ludlum

I started book one and was loving it, but there’s so much detail—so much going on. At the time, I was having a crappy year, so I stopped reading it because I lost patience. But, Ludlum was such a gifted writer, and I did enjoy what I had read. So, I will attempt to get through the whole series this year.

Wool by Hugh Howie

This one is loaded onto my kindle already, but I’ve been saving it. I want to see what all the fuss is about—why this guy is basically a self-made millionaire via self-publishing. Perhaps I can crack the code if I read this. Or, perhaps I’ll just be reading a great book that lots of people love. Or both. You never know, after all. :)

Pendragon by Stephen R. Lawhead

Lawhead is responsible for my early onset love affair of epic historical fantasy fiction. The guy is a genius. Seriously. I read the first 3 books of his Pendragon Cycle (Taliesin, Merlin, & Arthur) when I was just a bebe at age 14. I could NOT put down those books! In fact, you want to know what I got in trouble for when I was in junior high? For staying up reading until 2am with a flashlight. Not much has changed, except that I don’t use a flashlight anymore and I don’t get in trouble because I’m 30. Ha.
Anyways, I digress. Pendragon is book 4 of the series, and I believe there are 2 more books after it. It’s amazing, epic, delicious storytelling of the famous and legendary King Arthur. I know I’m going to love it.

The Mummy by Anne Rice

I finally read an Anne Rice novel last year: Interview with the Vampire. I enjoyed it, but it was very stuffy with prose. Beautiful prose, but the book took me quite some time to get through. However, I understand the brilliance of Rice’s writing, so I finished the book and gave it 5 stars. Just because it isn’t my current genre obsession doesn’t mean I am unable to identify a good book when I read one. So, I’m going to try The Mummy—both my sister and my dad said it was excellent—and I’ll give something else by Rice a chance.

The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin

This one is going to be a LONG read. The book itself is perfect in size and weight to chuck at someone you really despise. Concussion inducing for SURE. But that’s not why I bought it. (No, really, I bought it to read it.) This is a book, or rather a manifesto, about “thinking globally, but acting locally” as the synopsis puts it. This will probably be a read in which I highlight a lot and take breaks to process what I’ve read. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing what Rifkin has to say about why humanity falls short when it comes to true progression in regards to “refashioning human consciousness.” (Did I bore you yet?)
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Well, I’m sure I’ll get through all of these books and more. I did, after all, set another lofty reading goal this year at 100 books. I’m already 3 deep, so my progression is hopeful thus far.
How about you? What do you plan on reading in 2015?
Some of my "to-read" books for 2015.

Some of my “to-read” books for 2015.

My Top Reads of 2014

Last post of 2014! Happy New Year to all! Thanks for being a faithful reader of my stuff :)

I thought I’d share some of my favorite reads for 2014. I set a pretty lofty goal of 100 books to read this year, but I managed to read about 68, plus a few more that have yet to be released (books I’m currently editing). Of the books listed below, only a few are new, in that they were released this year. However, most were not new, having been released a few years–if not more–ago. I just finally got around to reading them. Let’s count down, shall we?

14. The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

So…I’m actually not finished with this book, but so far, it’s amazing. It’s one of those books that makes you really think about your life and ask tough questions about why you’re afraid to make art and pursue your passions. I can only handle a few pages at a time, and then I take a break to process what I’ve read. Should be finished with it in a week or two. Highly recommend.

13. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

This was a nice surprise for me. The storyline is pretty much the same as the original Pride and Prejudice (which is one of my most favorite books, by the way) except with zombies added in. If you’re into paranormal twists and satire, then this might be a fun read for you. I was laughing so hard at all the zombie encounters in between the balls, proposals, and Mrs. Bennet’s tantrums. Such a great book.

12. The Housewife Assassin’s Handbook by Josie Brown

This was an unexpected treat to read. I found this book through a Fussy Librarian recommendation. It’s a romantic comedy suspense with lots of wonderful satire. I believe it’s still free on Amazon, so if a suburban housewife assassin sounds like it’ll ring your bell, then go check it out. Gave me a good laugh, and I may read the next book in the series.  

11. Free Dive by CF Waller

Mr. Waller has easily become a new favorite author this year. And I’m not saying that with a biased opinion just because I happened to edit this wonderful book. No, I think this guy is going places. He is signed with the company I’m contracted with, Cosby Media Productions, but is still independently publishing other books. He is a true hybrid author, and I think that’s wonderful. Free Dive, which CMP released in October, is a thriller mystery about free diving in the South Pacific Ocean. The witty banter, quick pacing, and unique characters make this book excellent. It was fun to edit, but even more fun to read. Pick up a copy–you won’t be disappointed. I promise. :)

Free Dive Cover

10. Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

GREAT book! If you’re interested in analyzing the routines of artists, then this is the book for you. I like to see how other artists work, because it helps me to learn more about myself, my craft, and gain insight into my own routine. I read this on my flight to Spain and it kept me company. It was hard to put down. Definitely a must-read for any artist.

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

9. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

I LOVED the movie adaption, which came out in 2013. In fact, it’s on in the background while I write this post. So, naturally, I was curious about the book. Though there were many different things in the book compared to the movie, I really enjoyed this book. R, the main character who is also a zombie, is the narrator. And he gives us A LOT of detail. I was almost surprised by the description of the gore, but it worked. I think it made this book one of the most realistic zombie books, while also giving the reader hope that things could possibly get better after a zombie apocalypse. If you’re into zombies and dark humor, get this book.

8. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This was a book that was recommended to me by a trusted friend. It’s so different than just about anything I’ve read. It’s a fantasy book with water horses, but the characters were very real and complicated. So it made the book seem like it could actually happen: that horses could rise from the water once a year and be captured by humans in order to race them. Every part of this book was fascinating, and nothing was predictable. If you like fantasy that’s different, check this one out.

7. The Fallen: Part 1 by Robin Woods

Though this writer is a good friend of mine AND I happened to be one of the editors for this book, were I a complete stranger and not involved at all, I would still love this book. Woods surprised her readers by this followup to her Watchers trilogy. She weaves cool mythology in with modern day vampires, and all of it works. There’s a part 2 coming out in 2015 (and I’ve had the pleasure of reading a majority of it), and I can’t wait until it’s finished and available. If you can’t get enough of vampires, then grab yourself a copy.

The Fallen: Part One (Watcher, #4)

6. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Seems like a lot of people got Outlander, specifically Jamie Fraser, fever this year. Starz created an amazing TV series of this genre bending book. We’ve got SciFi with a time travel element, romance, adventure, and UK history. This is such a freaking cool (and long) book, but I finished it in about 3-4 days, as I could hardly put it down. And I think that, in conjunction with the book, the show is done well too. Whether you read the book or watch the show–or do both–there’s a little something for everyone in Outlander. (Even my dad got into the show!)

5. Invertary series by Janet Elizabeth Henderson

I just finished Ms. Henderson’s latest, Magenta Mine, last night. Thus far, this series includes Lingerie Wars, Goody Two Shoes, and Magenta Mine (a novella). Book 3 of this series is due in 2015. Hooray!

I first read Lingerie Wars this year and was absolutely delighted. Henderson knows how to do Rom Com very well, and every book she has written has had me in hysterics. Other than romance in YA, I had a rather wrong view of contemporary romance novels. I thought they were solely for “desperate housewives” who had nothing better to do but to read trashy romance. I’m glad I was wrong! Since I started reading more Rom Coms and similar genres, I can’t seem to get enough! Sure, there are some weird ones out there, but most I’ve read this year have been great. So, if you’re into Rom Coms/Contemporary Romance books, I highly suggest that you get something from Henderson. Great writing paired with wonderful humor and fun/steamy romance.

4. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I feel like I’m always late to the game when it comes to popular fiction. Hell, it took me years just to read Harry Potter. So it’s no surprise that it took me a while to read The Hunger Games trilogy. In February, I had the sad instance of becoming very ill for 4 days. So, guess what I did? I read the entire trilogy while I was down for the count. It was pretty much the only thing I could do besides sleep and drink tea. If you haven’t read these, or if you haven’t seen the movies, you gotta put it on your priority list for 2015. Great writing, incredible world building…just…wow. I can’t say enough.

3. Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

This year was the year of finishing series, it seemed. The third and final installment of Tahereh Mafi’s famous Shatter Me series was released early in the year. I had been waiting on pins and needles to find out what would happen. I was okay with the first book, wowed by the second, and completely blown away by the third. One of the hottest romances in YA, and some serious and amazing girl power! This is a great series that I think almost anyone would enjoy. Mafi has a unique writing style that intrigued me as well.

2. Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi

Another series finisher released earlier this year. I loved this series from the very beginning. A very unique plot with tight writing and beautiful prose. There’s a post apocalyptic theme, but there’s also some great romance and fantasy/scifi elements as well. I can’t wait to see more from this author. She is just absolutely brilliant. 

1. Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

This series is the kind of series that fantasy and YA/NA writers dream about writing. It’s the kind of series that makes readers dream about when they’re done reading it. It’s been a long while since I’ve gone back and re-read specific scenes from a book, much less multiple books in a series. And I’m not always a novella fan either, but I bought the 5 companion novellas to this series as well. I read them in 3 days. This is an epic fantasy series that apparently stemmed from the idea of Cinderella being an assassin. So, I would argue that there’s something for everyone in this series. I even recommended the series to my dad, who loves fantasy books.

The world that Maas builds is just so freaking cool. There’s magic, there’re lots of foul creatures, there’s romance, there’s heart-wrenching betrayals, and there’s lots of kick-ass-ery. I mean…I honestly didn’t have a life while I read all these books in the span of 5-6 days. I am OBSESSED and that’s saying something, as I tend to be pretty picky. Yes, I read just about anything and everything, but it takes a special book to get me lost and make me forget to eat. Can’t say enough good things about this series. You really should exit this blog right now and just buy the books on Amazon. I cannot wait for the next installment to come out in a few months. 

Two thumbs up for top reads of 2014!

Two thumbs up for top reads of 2014!

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So, that’s my list for 2014! What about you? What great reads did you discover in 2014? Stay tuned for my “to-read” list for 2015. I’ll be posting that here in a few days.

Also, if you have a Goodreads account, and we have yet to be friends, feel free to add me as a friend by clicking HERE. Happy New Year!! xx

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10 Things I Learned From Living Abroad This Year

If you’re newer to this blog, then you may not know that I spent a majority of this past summer living in Europe. I stationed myself in a wonderful southeastern town in Spain, called Alicante, where I had previously studied in 2008. But I also had the opportunity to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland for a week.

During my time away from American culture, allowing myself to be completely immersed in another culture, I learned so much about myself, my worldviews, and people. I experienced life-changing lessons, and as I reflected on the most important, I came up with 10 things to share with my readers.

1. I can live without

Less truly is more, especially when you don’t have to keep track of a lot and/or clean it! For the past 2-3 years, I have committed to simplifying and de-cluttering my life. It hasn’t been an easy task—not because I’m sentimental with my stuff, but because I just had so much, and I really had to ask myself if I could live without something or otherwise. Knowing I was leaving the country for quite some time was like that final push I needed to get rid of more.

I gave away and/or sold about 80% of my stuff this year! Less to worry about, less to clean, less to keep track of. Also, doing so helped me to begin to truly prioritize what was important in my life and my career. I learned that simplicity really is best.

Sunrise I witnessed yesterday morning on Playa Postiguet.

Sunrise at Playa Postiguet.

2. American society has some major problems with gender, sex, and sexual identity issues

Well, no duh, but it was disturbing and shocking to come back to after being out of the country for a few months to witness things firsthand. Here’s an example: When I returned to California, I decided to walk to the mall on a warm August day. It’s about a 15-minute walk from my house. In that short time, a few cars honked at me (or guys catcalled me) because I was a woman walking alone outside.

In Spain, and in Scotland, that NEVER happened. Even dolled up on the street and going out at night with my girlfriends—being accosted the way I have been IN MY OWN COUNTRY never happened in Spain. I felt safer being alone in public overseas than in my own neighborhood. How sad, huh?

Also, people in the States are very extreme when it comes to sexuality and sexual identity. I think the climate of talking about sex and sexual preference is slowing improving, but Americans have quite a ways to go. The fact that we’re still arguing about giving women access to contraceptives, etc., is baffling to me. In Europe (or most of it, anyway), I felt that there was a healthier view about sexuality and people’s bodies in general.

There’s so much more to say on the topic, but I’ll leave it at the few examples above.

A view of the sea from the Castillo de Santa Barbara in Alicante, Spain. Photo cred: Yours truly. :)

A view of the sea from the Castillo de Santa Barbara in Alicante, Spain. Photo cred: Yours truly. :)

3. I was able to hone in on what really matters to me

As with my “Great Purge” of material goods this year, I also purged a lot of activities in my life. Many of them were really good things, too! Things like volunteering, tutoring, and singing. But those things had become distractions that were taking me away from focusing on my career as a writer and freelancer.

Because I was in a different country, I was able to be awake before my clients in the States, get a lot done, minimize distractions, and stay at home when I needed to rather than worrying about having to run errands or volunteer or tutor somewhere. Until you can walk just about everywhere within minutes, you don’t realize how much time you actually waste driving around town.

Beautiful view of the Alicante coast from the Castillo de Santa Barbara.

Beautiful view of the Alicante coast from the Castillo de Santa Barbara.

4. Sometimes, you need to physically remove yourself from . . . 

 . . . from where you don’t fit.

 . . . from distractions.

 . . . from toxic situations.

I have been unhappy for quite some time in my city. I needed a break—needed to get away so I could refocus, meet some new people, and experience a different way to look at the world. I also needed space to heal from some things in my past, and being in a different place really helped me with that.

Sunrise on the port. Alicante, Spain.

Sunrise on the port. Alicante, Spain.

5. Not having expectations can be the best thing ever

Though I am part Latina, know a fair amount of Spanish, and had been to Alicante before, I just kind of took a giant leap in going across a country and an ocean to live somewhere else for a while. I knew I’d want to stay because I love Spain and the Spanish culture so much, but I also knew that there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to. So, I went with the mindset that anything could happen, and I just had to take one day at a time.

And you know what? I had the BEST TIME of my life. I met so many cool people, learned a lot by myself, figured out a lot of things that were challenging, and re-learned how to live in the moment. Before I flew to Alicante, all I knew was that I had an apartment booked for the time I’d be there, but that’s pretty much it. I knew I wanted to go to Scotland as well, but I actually didn’t book my flight until I was in Spain. Without expectations, I was able to live and let live . . . and be content with my life every day.

My bedroom windows in my Spanish apartment.

My bedroom windows in my Spanish apartment.

6. Self-acceptance is one of the most important things to have

When you are on your own, you are stuck with yourself. You must face the most vulnerable and ugly things that you’ve been pushing down for far too long. I journaled almost every day while in Spain. I went to the beach often and took long walks, working through some really tough things. I had to face all my flaws and things I didn’t like about myself, in order to eventually accept it all and realize that I’m not perfect—or anywhere close to it. I think this is something I will grapple with for the rest of my life, but this year, I can honestly say that I have come to accept so much more of myself than ever before.

Making friends with a starfish in Alicante, Spain. (From 2008.)

Making friends with a starfish in Alicante, Spain. (From 2008.)

7. The best way to learn a language and culture is by complete immersion

As I stated previously, I knew enough Spanish to get by, but I was nowhere near fluent. I had experienced Spanish culture before, but never for longer than a few weeks. This time, I was IN it—all the way. I had roommates who didn’t speak a lot of English, so in order to get things done and communicated, guess who was trying her hardest to learn more Spanish? *raises hand* :)

I also met many people who wanted to learn English from me. (I actually have a TESOL certificate from Oxford Seminars and used to teach ESL in California.) Funnily enough, most people I met with ended up speaking more Spanish than English with me. I didn’t mind; I was learning from the natives, after all. My Spanish improved tenfold, and I learned all the things they don’t teach you in high school Spanish—including the most important thing: curse words. Ha!

Still not at this level! Maybe one day...

Still not at this level! Maybe one day…

8. Being present in the moment

In June, my friends took me to a Spanish rock concert. It was there, sipping on a beer and swaying to the music, that I realized I was finally living again. Like . . . really living. I felt free—I felt alive. I wasn’t worried about the next day or even the next hour. I was there with my friends, listening to great music, and enjoying the energy of the crowd. Why was that such a profound moment for me? I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt that way, and I didn’t want it to end.

At the concert with friends :)

At the concert with friends :)

9. People can really be amazing—if you let them

Many of us grew up with the “stranger danger” thing. And that is a very valuable and viable thing to learn. However, especially in the US, many of us look at people weird if they wish us a good morning and we don’t know them. In Spain, people say good morning, good afternoon, and good evening to one another. We greet one another with a kiss on each cheek—even when we meet for the first time. There’s something about the physical contact that breaks the ice, I think.

Because of this connectedness, I met the most amazing people who I am still in contact with. One of my new friends gave me his old printer because I needed to print some documents. My landlady took me out to lunch the second day I was in Alicante, just to make sure I was feeling good about being there. My roommate and I became close, and she painted my nails, and I taught her how to knit. A total stranger in Edinburgh let me shadow him an entire afternoon and we ended up climbing to King Arthur’s Seat together.

I have street smarts. I think I’m pretty good at reading people. I usually know a shady person when I see one. But I had an open heart while traveling and living abroad. I said yes to people more than no. I agreed to meet total strangers who wanted to learn English. Some guy played guitar while I sang two songs in a Scottish bar at an open mic and got a free pint. I went out on dates. I let people amaze me. I never met anyone who wished me ill will. And I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

View from King Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland.

View from King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland.

10. I am capable of everything I thought I was

Though I had no expectations of the experience itself, I did have expectations of myself. I had specific goals in mind, like finding more clarity and having more time to work on what was important to me. But I also knew that things would be challenging at times—that I would feel lonely. I prepared myself for all of that, even if I didn’t know what the final outcome would be. I wasn’t surprised because I had already told myself I was capable and would find a way—no matter what. I honored my commitment to myself, and I think that’s one of the great achievements I gained from living abroad. And that important commitment told me that I could apply the same tactics to my dreams and goals and plans. That I’m the only one who holds myself back. I have a choice, and I choose to keep moving forward, the way I did in Spain.

One of my faves from Edinburgh.

One of my faves from Edinburgh.

 ***

Whew! I know this post is long-winded, so thanks for making it this far. I will never forget my amazing experience in Spain and Scotland. I will always remember the wonderful people I met while on my journey, and I can’t wait for what’s ahead in 2015. I have already been making plans, so when I have news to share, it’ll be on this blog.

One more post coming tomorrow to finish out 2014, so stay tuned. xx