In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

martin-luther-king_tcm7-122217This three-day weekend marks the recognition of one of America’s great leaders, a humble man who led Americans–black and white–out of darkness and into light, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like many, I honor this man for selflessly giving his all, including his life, for the humane treatment of African-Americans. I can think of no better way to show my appreciation for the sacrifices he and others involved in the Civil Rights Movement made than to live my life on purpose, to dream big, to achieve big. I can do no less than to continue to fight for those less fortunate, than to vote, than to point out and eradicate injustice and inequality in my sphere of influence.

With much gratitude to this man of God for bravely treading the path of righteousness, I share with you one of Dr. King’s many prolific speeches, a speech given to the American Psychological Association on September 1, 1967.

Welcome 2016!

Finally, it’s here…2016. Yeah!!!!

I am so glad to wave bye-bye to 2015. It was not my favorite year. To try and avoid another 2015, I am actually going to put more thought into visualizing or goal-setting for 2016 (instead of rushing through it like I did last year). So when I read Pam Boyd’s (author/writer) blog post titled, “What to do at the End?” (see below), I thought it a great way to prep for a serious goal-setting session. If you’re going through the process of visualization or goal-setting for the new year, I encourage you to read her message. And if you discover you want more of her “quick inspirations” for a fast-moving world, click here.

Here’s hoping you achieve all of your goals and resolutions for 2016 and beyond.

TWO MINUTE TUNE-UP by Pam Boyd

What to Do at the End?

by Pam Boyd

(At the end of every year, before the new one takes over, I reread my journal to capture moments, highlights, learning points, and the books that made a difference. This poem is about that practice.)

 

You’d forget most of the days beneath the fallen year

If you hadn’t hidden its massive trunk

For your private excursions into the thick wood

(Where it lies infinitely solemn and still)

To climb up onto it, once again, at its roots

To stand steady and reverently upon its weathered bark

To walk curiously down and

Through its tangled branches

And step deep into its blanketed leaves

 

All those brilliant, magnificent leaves!

Leaves that would be compost

Darkened and buried so soon after they were gone

Unless

You carefully preserved them

For this moment

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Let There Be Peace

A time-honored song begins with the lyrics, “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.” We sometimes get off track with ushering in peace because it seems like such a lofty goal, an unattainable one. But recently, I was reminded by Doreen Virtue that peace on Earth begins with me and once I have mastered inner peace, peace naturally radiates outward to others—friends, families, communities, countries, and eventually the world. Even during this time of worldwide conflict, inner peace is possible. It can be achieved through meditation, yoga, prayer, a focus on the heavenly things (kindness, love, cooperation, unity, etc.) and a willingness to take our hands off the controls.

I challenge you during this time of unrest, wars and senseless killings to try this:  before you hop out of bed in the morning, close your eyes, take ten deep breaths (try to keep your thoughts at bay by focusing on the black and white kaleidoscope playing out behind your closed eyelids), listen to the sound of your breath as it enters and exits your body, then make a quick statement such as, “This will be an amazing day” or “Thank you God for this pleasant day” or “In all situations, with all people, help me to act and think like you God” or “Help me to relax and go with the flow.”

As an experiment I tried this short practice for a full week and it made such a difference in my attitude and in my day. The days went smoother. I felt calmer and happier. I was productive and in the evening when my day finally wrapped up, I felt peace, and I felt as light as air. I will confess…once the experiment ended, I fell into bad habits again, rushing out of bed, reviewing the day’s agenda in my head before sleep had fully dissipated, letting plans and deadlines wake me and spur me into action. But I am striving to get back fully on track, to take that much needed five minute break before the demands of life snatch that precious time away. And if I’m not successful at day’s start, then for sure on my mid-day break.

Join me now in listening to this beautiful song, “Let There be Peace on Earth” as sung by the Harlem Boys Choir.

Harlem Boys Choir Let There Be Peace on Earth

God Is

I took a one month respite from blogging and social media to dig deep into a fictional writing project and when I returned to the real world…

  • terrorists had bombed Paris, the city of love
  • Syrian refugees were being turned away like Mary and Joseph
  • more incidents of gun violence in several American cities
  • etc., etc., etc.

The news of the day made me wish for the safety of the fictional world I had just left. But I, like the rest of humanity, am made of stronger stuff and so I, like the rest of humanity, shook off the shock, said a prayer, and resolved to carve a better way for all.

Soon after making this resolution, I traveled to Oklahoma City and with extra time on hand, stopped at the bomb site there (see photos below). In April 1995, a domestic terrorist drove a vehicle weighed down with a bomb into the federal building. A day care was on the first floor of that building and at final count, 168 men, women and babies perished.

I stood on that precious ground, thinking about that day and current news, and the following words came to mind.

“Another city ripped apart by bombs
Another mess of broken hearts and angry souls
Vengeance, retaliation, murder in return
I am familiar with the cry, circa 1960s

But, don’t

Vengeance is mine, says the Lord

His words drowned out by fear, hatred, pain
As people mobilize guns, drones and WMDs
Killing with kindness is out

God is love is out
God is my refuge is out
God is my strength is out
Leaving no room for…God.”

It is human nature to want to hurt when hurting, to obtain justice on our own, to give as we got. As an African-American living in a country that doesn’t count us all equal, I understand this nature. Which is why at this holiday time, during these difficult days of strife, it is important to focus on God and the promises of old.

God is my comforter. God is my very present help. God loves me, you, the whole world. God is God, all by him/her/itself. God is…

Wisdoms for the Holidays

We are officially in that busy season when we cram Thanksgiving (in America), Christmas and New Year’s activities into a six-week period. And as if that wasn’t enough to make one’s head spin like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, add NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – in which I’m participating) to the list and things just got real!

There was a time when even thinking about this would have stressed me out, making my shoulders, head and neck tighten like a corset. But I have finally adopted a few “wisdoms” that help me slide through this season with little to no stress. Here’s what I’ve incorporated into my life and if it helps anyone else, then all the better.

Keep priorities the priority. For me, my priorities are my family, my writing, my friends, my spiritual connectedness and my wellness (me time, physical time, reading time). And not necessarily in that order. When I encounter a request or situation that falls outside of one of my priorities, I politely but firmly offer regrets. This is not always easy to do until I think about sacrificing one of my priorities and then it suddenly becomes very easy.

I have finally embraced Oprah’s wisdom that “No” is a complete sentence. It needs no clarification, explanation or follow-up. It was hard embracing “no.” I didn’t like the guilt that came with no, especially when the request was something I could do or handle but just didn’t want to. Then I realized that guilt was tied to ego and ego cannot, should not lead; only the prompting from my soul (also known as gut or inner voice) should lead. So I learned to pray about most requests and listen for soul’s response. Once I had my answer, sometimes a no, I was fine. No more guilt.

Keep my schedule light. I was penciling in an event on my calendar and it dawned on me that I keep accepting the same invitations, following the same holiday routine, scheduling the same events. Why? I didn’t even enjoy half of them (people or events or routine). So I started scratching off and whittling down (and saying no — see the paragraph above) and boy, did that feel good. I challenge you to do the same. Look at your holiday commitments and erase those events or people (sounds harsh but not everyone is good for you) that no longer serve you or your priorities.

If you decide to apply these wisdoms this holiday season (or beyond), let me know. I’m curious to hear how they work for others. In the meantime, I wish everyone a stress-free, loving and joyous season with more than enough time to appreciate the beauty in every moment.

Happy Holidays

Halloween…A Supernatural Writer’s Joy!

If you have been following my site for a while, you know I LOVE Halloween. It’s one of my favorite holidays. Yes, I consider Halloween a holiday and have been known to take a day off from life to celebrate it. Since this is one of my favorite holidays, I’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane and revisit a few Halloween memories.

Giving Back:

I was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church and one of the international ministries we supported was UNICEF. Not every Halloween, but occasionally we would sacrifice going door-to-door for Halloween treats and instead go door-to-door collecting money for UNICEF. Coins, bills, the type of currency didn’t matter. Some of the adults who opened the door to us were so impressed that we sacrificed our Halloween to campaign for others that they would give us candy any way.

In addition to collecting money for UNICEF, we were given small, thin, cardboard squares with blocks printed on them. Imagine BINGO cards but with a slot carved in each block where you could slip in a coin. We kids were encouraged to fill each block with a quarter, dime or nickel from our allowance. I never did fill one of those cards. Oh, I’d put a few coins in, but there were just too many temptations for me to stay committed to helping those kids in developing countries.

Traditions:

No holiday is complete without established customs or traditions. Every Halloween in our house, it was a standard to watch, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Even now, as an adult, I set my recorder to record Charlie Brown and before the season has passed I’ve watched it at least once.

Another tradition I enjoyed, again church related, was the party our church would sometimes host for the Young People’s Department (YPD). The basement of the church was dark, spooky and home to spiders as well as other creepy crawlers. The adults were excellent at transforming all that spookiness into a good time. Each section of the basement became a mini hive of fun…games, refreshments, music, entertainment. Of course, now churches have taken this idea to a grand level and call it “Fall Festival,” but during those simpler Halloween parties, I fell in love with games like bobbing for apples, pinning the tail on the donkey, bean bag toss and musical chairs. I enjoyed nibbling on caramel apples, popcorn balls, hot dogs, cookies and drinking punch. Now, as an adult, I still love those games and for your information, I still reign as the bobbing for apples queen.

Yet another tradition related to porch lights. The African-American culture leans toward extreme privacy and even though law enforcement tells us to use outdoor lights as a part of crime prevention, we don’t. No lights mean darkness which equates to privacy. Just like closed curtains and closed doors equal privacy. However, the one time the porch lights rule was relaxed was at Halloween. As a sign that your house welcomed trick-or-treaters, the porch lights came on when adults arrived home from work and didn’t go off until 10:00 pm’ish. I was always a bit sad when Mom turned the lights off because that meant the end of Halloween…except for the candy-eating fest that followed.

Speaking of Candy:

What’s your favorite? Mine is anything that has chocolate in it, on it, or nearby. Second choice after chocolate…Twizzlers (strawberry flavored, of course).

happy-halloween-pumpkin-hi

By the way…if you happen to be in Dallas, Texas, Halloween weekend, stop by these events. I’ll be there celebrating.

Friday, October 30th – 7:00 pm at Lucky Dog Books in Oak Cliff for “Campfire Stories with the Ghost Scribes.”

Saturday, October 31st – 6:00 pm at Absinthe Lounge for “Pour, Drink and Listen: A Halloween Happy Hour.”

Dream Fulfilled

Two sisters, Deanna and Christine loved reading. They both loved books. They both were creative and savvy businesswomen. They shared the same dream:  own a bookstore.

After years of planning and dreaming; wishing and toiling, it happened. In June 2015, the sisters opened Dog Eared Books in Weatherford, Texas.

I was fortunate to visit their store this past weekend and I hope one day you can visit it too because it is fabulous. Very well organized. Seemingly every genre represented on the shelves. Comfortable seating and refreshments. Creative displays. Fair pricing and trade policy. Wide selection of new and used books. Plus, movies and music for all.

In just a few short months, the sisters have already anchored Dog Eared as more than a bookstore (not that there’s anything wrong with being simply a bookstore). It is a community center; one that hosts education sessions, children’s activities and book signings. That’s how I met the sisters. I was invited to participate in the store’s first Paranormal Book Signing to kick off the Halloween season.

And what a time we had! …speaking with young readers, meeting fans of the genre, reading the store’s educational display, meeting other like-minded authors, and the conversations… Where else but at a paranormal book signing can there be in-depth discussion on time travel, fairies, banned books, gravity, ghosts, movies, Elvis, pumpkin spice coffee, book cover colors, cake balls and more?

I am already looking forward to October 2016 for the second annual Paranormal Book Signing. I hope I get invited back (after that third cup of pumpkin spiced coffee, I did get a little hyped, meaning, I could not stay in my seat), but even if I’m not on the roster, I’m attending because the hospitality, the staff, the owners, the book selections were just that special.

Below are a few of the pics I managed to snap in between sipping coffee, browsing shelves and signing books. Silly me forgot to get a pic of the sisters who birthed this dream oasis on Main Street (Where else? Every town needs a bookstore on Main Street.), but enjoy just the same.

Dog Eared Books 3 Dog Eared Books 4 Dog Eared BooksDog Eared Books 2

Justice True, Crime Fighting Vamp

A few months ago, I was in Bowie, Texas as part of the Texas Writes program. Texas Writes sends published authors to rural libraries throughout Texas to conduct workshops on writing. These libraries and their patrons don’t normally receive instructional workshops because of budgetary constraints. When I learned this, I jumped at the opportunity to present a workshop on editing. It was great fun! The librarian was so welcoming and I met so many talented writers and authors.

One of the authors I met was Dianna M. Castro. I enjoyed conversing with all of the authors and writers but particularly Dianna because we both write in the paranormal genre. Her novels feature vampires; mine, spirits. When I learned Dianna had a published book I rushed to buy it and just recently finished reading it.

Below is the review I wrote on her book, Forever Justice. If you’re looking for a vampire story to read as a warm-up to Halloween (it is less than five weeks away), this is the one.

Forever Justice by Dianna M. Castro

…is the story of vampire, Justice True who has been around for centuries and throughout those centuries has worked as a U.S. Marshal. She mostly works serial killer cases as well as violent, sexual crimes, and has a stellar arrest/conviction record. In this story, we follow Justice as she investigates three deviants who are committing ruthless, bloody murders, targeting women and children. As if that isn’t enough stress, she is also searching for the “master” vampire who bit her, turning her into a vampire against her will, so she can kill him.

I was immediately hooked into the story with the author’s portrayal of how Justice was “turned.” There was good description, strong characterization and equally strong rationale (internal conflict). However, as I continued reading, moving from Justice’s past to the present, I discovered that her vampire life paled (no pun intended) significantly. It was greatly overshadowed by her criminal investigations, which resulted in a story that did not have enough balance or tense, suspenseful conflict to make it a page turner. Yes, there were scenes that snagged me (usually when tracking the criminals), but I wanted more conflict between protagonist (Justice) and antagonist (Alexander). In addition, I wanted to learn more about her vampire sect, the movements and background of Alexander, his family, etc. Knowing more about her opponent and pitting them against each other would have created amazing page-turning conflict. I will say though that the crime storyline was developed well enough to make the book worthy of finishing.

Forever JusticeA variety of cast members gave this story added dimension. A bevy of law enforcement officials were offset by ordinary citizens–senior citizens, teenagers, victims, family members, regular Joes, etc.–a diverse group that provided moments of laughter and awww. I was bothered by the naming of her second string characters though. In most cases, their names were a direct correlation to their profession, an obvious character trait, or a situation the character was in. This practice I found too obvious.

The author was, however, creative in how she handled the conventions of the vampire culture. I was curious how she was going to handle a law enforcement officer working nights when the bulk of criminal investigations takes place during the day. She did an excellent job of answering this and other questions related to travel, sunlight, garlic, drinking blood, invitations to enter a home or business, biting, physical strength, turning friends and family into vampires, and her long tenured career.

I must warn you…this is not a book for the weak of heart, mind or stomach. There are a number of gritty scenes and the details are disturbing.

When I finished the book, I felt like this could be a series and I do believe the protagonist’s strength and enough crime (unfortunately) exists to sustain a series. However to embark on a series, the author will have to strengthen the supporting cast and ramp up the tension.

Paranormal readers who enjoy a good vampire story…this one is for you.

Full Moon Report #2

The Perfect Storm. You’ve heard of the book or the movie. But in case you haven’t, “The Perfect Storm” was an extraordinary weather condition that occurred in 1991 off the northeast coast of America. Imagine a cyclone, tropical storm and hurricane all coming together at the same time. That’s a perfect storm.

Not to diminish the magnitude and outcome (a reported 13 people died) of the perfect storm, but that is the best description I can attach to the period of my life from July 27th to August 30th —my own perfect storm.

Perhaps you read my earlier post titled “Full Moon Report #1” where I detailed some of the physical, mental and spiritual challenges that were hitting back-to-back. For those of you who didn’t I’ll just summarize by saying it was not a fun period and I was so glad when life finally returned to normal.

I took some time after my perfect storm passed to sit in quiet and think. During those quiet moments, I reflected on knowledge other people had shared with me. I thought about sessions I had had with pastors, intuitives, and friends–all of whom had shared truth. I also turned deeper within myself to examine long-held beliefs and memories. After all that contemplation and divining, I came to understand that the following conditions led to my storm:

  • The full moons at the end of July and again at the end of August;
  • Numerological/astrological conditions;
  • The premature season change from summer to fall.

Full Moons:

Although science claims there is no connection between the moon and human behavior, I disagree. During both full moons, I was hyper-sensitive. Things that normally rolled off my back, settled in and festered. I was short- and bad-tempered when usually I’m fairly controlled and good-natured (I can hear a few family members snickering). Even my technology was impacted. My printer would not print color one day but printed color beautifully the next. My cell phone log showed calls I couldn’t explain (and no, my purse did not make the calls for me) and emails did not surface in my Inbox (thank goodness some of you called) or emails populated when they felt like it.

FullMoon 2

Full moons can signal a time of change. They certainly heighten any latent feelings or thoughts, whether positive or negative. When you multiply that effect by two (two full moons in July or three within 62 days), no wonder I had challenges on top of challenges. The challenges started with me and the fact that in July, during the entire month, I was tired, stressed and frustrated; working myself for long periods with seemingly little payoff. Thank you full moon for shining a spotlight on that.

Numerological:

I have a friend who is a numerologist. A few years ago, she ran a couple of reports based on my birthday and my full legal name. When I pulled out those reports and reviewed them, I was reminded of my “life path” and how the challenges (in business, career and health) I encountered during my perfect storm, were indeed lessons that supported my work here on Earth. No challenges, no stretching, right? No stretching, no growth, right? The storm period aided in teaching me more spiritual and life lessons like trusting my inner voice more and resting when I needed rest and trusting God to care of my world while I took care of myself.

Astrological:

For the past three years, we Libras have been taking a beating. Saturn, known as the task-master planet, parked in our chart and isn’t due to leave until mid-September. Until Saturn leaves, Libras can continue to enjoy difficult challenges in every quadrant of life. I say this with tongue-in-cheek because really Saturn’s visit is a mixed blessing. Yeah, the difficulties can be a drag, but Saturn’s job is to prepare us for the next level. Saturn’s job is to embed lessons and “better serving” behaviors and thoughts in us. It’s been painful, even tearful at times, but I hold on to the belief that this is all for my good.

Fall Already:

Even though Fall’s official start date is September 23, I have felt Fall for several weeks now. The air is denser, insect life is retreating, the light is shifting and temperatures have been wonderfully moderate. This “Fall feeling” may have been helped by the fact that we didn’t reach 100 degrees until mid-August, which is unusual in this area. And when we finally reached the 100-degree days, they didn’t hang around long. No complaint here except for the impact to my head. Sinus drainage and headaches have been a bummer, but that’s a small price to pay for the arrival of fall, my favorite season.

All of these conditions crashed together in July and August to create my perfect storm. But, unlike the crew of the Andrea Gail, I made it through and am now enjoying fairly relaxed, peaceful days. I appreciate the growth that the challenges prompted, but I pray I never have to go through another period like the summer of ’15.

Thank you for listening to my whines and complaints. Thank you for going through this growth period with me. Happy Days to all!