Three Ways To Protect Your Workspace

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

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For six months I’ve had a sticky note attached to my laptop that reads: Protect Your Workspace. At some point, when I’m comfortable with the idea, I’ll tell you the story of what prompted me to do this. But what I can say at the moment is that the ‘workspace’ I’m referring to is not my office. It’s my mind. The novel I’m currently working on is the first I’ve ever written in an actual office. The others were constructed in coffee shops and car pool lines, on legal pads and MacBooks, and on any flat surface in my home that wasn’t littered with Legos or used Band-Aids. But the workspace itself is always the same regardless of my physical location: that curious, bright, private space inside my skull. It has taken me a long time to realize that this workspace should be protected with the same vigilance that I protect my home and my family. And I’ve discovered a few key ways to make sure it doesn’t get invaded or destroyed along the way.

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I decide what gets in. I try not to work while my children are at home or awake. But that’s the ideal, not the reality, and I frequently have to sequester myself away to get something done at night or on the weekends. And when that happens, I literally hang a sign in my office that says ‘No Soliciting.’ My children routinely ignore it but I point and remind them anyway because they are young and need to understand that I have a job and they must respect the time and space required to perform that job. The same principle is true with the internet (or text messages or clickbait or the doorbell for that matter). I get to decide who I let into my workspace and when. (Bickering people on the internet? Nope. Sorry. You can’t come in.) I’ve taught my children from the time they were tiny that if we don’t know someone we don’t open the door for them. It isn’t rude to protect yourself. So these days I regularly turn off the wi-fi and silence my phone so that I can actively engage in deep work.

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I practice radical self-care. Anne Lamott coined the phrase but the older I get, the more I realize how important this is. To do my particular job, my mind has to function at a high level. I have to think high concept and embrace tiny details at the same time. Writing a novel is like juggling chainsaws: it requires your full attention. So, for me, that means I have to get enough sleep. (I’m an eight hours a night minimum kind of girl) I’ve started doing yoga because all that sitting is really bad for my joints. I’ve started making myself eat a high-protein breakfast every single day because I can’t afford that late-afternoon brain collapse. I’m eating less sugar. I’m running again. I’m spending very little time on social media but a lot of time with the real people in my real life. I’m taking care of me so that my workspace isn’t cluttered or exhausted or anxious.

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I’m only reading for fun right now. It’s amazing how reading can become a job. Just ask any writer or librarian or bookseller or book blogger. We all get into this business because we’re nerds and we love books. Reading is our first love. And then something happens, somewhere along the line, and we look up one day and realize that we’re utterly dreading the to-read pile. It’s become homework. So I decided I won’t do it anymore. I will read for the simple pleasure of reading. Not to check anything off my list or to complete a reading challenge or to fulfill an obligation. I am reclaiming this quiet, simple joy as something that is mine and not another way to participate in social media or cultural conversation. I’m taking it back and this, more than anything else, is helping protect my workspace.

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My husband is a contractor. And one of my good friends is a photographer. So I realize not all professions work the way that mine does. Writing is unique in that regard: we spend more time inside our own minds that most people. However, I am convinced that the mind is the primary workspace for everyone. So I’m curious about what you do for a living and how you protect your own workspace for maximum productivity. Share below! I’m always looking for new ways to grow in this area.

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The Epigraph That Wasn’t

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

ttwwwtI had the epigraph (the little quote that you see in the beginning of a book that kind of sums up or gives a clue as to the themes or issues in the book) all picked out for my novel THE THINGS WE WISH WERE TRUE long before I finished the book. It was so perfect, I couldn’t wait to have it set the tone for my novel.

Alas, my new publisher had some serious rules about acquiring permissions for use of a short line and I will admit I didn’t leave enough time to track down said permissions. When I got the detailed questionnaire I would have to fill out for the permission to use a mere eight words, I said to myself, “Welp this’ll just have to be the first novel I write that doesn’t have an epigraph.”

But I wanted to share it with someone because it is so perfect and it should be shared. So I chose you guys, our dear and wonderful readers, to share my perfect epigraph that never saw the light of day. Ready? Here it is…

“Happiness ain’t never how you think it should be.”

  Duncan Sheik, She Runs Away

Thank you for letting me do that. 🙂

This epigraph really is the perfect tone setter for my novel. Because that’s really what it is about– a group of disparate neighbors who are all nursing their own private hurts, their own deeply held secrets, their own irrepressible hope that maybe– just maybe– they can find happiness– or some form of it, somehow. Because I believe that while happiness might not be what we think, it is still possible to find. In this month of November as we count our blessings, maybe this novel’s characters will inspire you to find happiness in your own backyard.

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What We’re Into: October 2016 Edition

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon and Marybeth Whalen | @ArielLawhon and @MarybethWhalen

Ariel Lawhon

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The Momentum Extension for Chrome. I’ve been using this for about eight months thanks to the suggestion from my friend J.T. Ellison. Here’s how it works: when you open a new tab a gorgeous photo appears. At the bottom is an inspirational quote. (Mine is currently a panoramic view of Zion National Park in Utah and this quote from Joseph Campbell,“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”) In the middle of the screen is the time, a message that says “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening, Ariel,” and a prompt that asks, “What is Your Main Focus For Today.” Once you answer that question, Momentum will remind you of your focus for that day in the seconds before it loads a new page. It’s a gentle, inspiring kick in the pants. Because I need one every single day. It’s free and easy and I love it.

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The Wunderlist app from Google. Again, JT gets the credit for introducing me to this handy, helpful tool. It’s basically an app that you can sync to all your devices that helps you keep your brain together. Until I found Wunderlist my office was littered with lists and post-it-notes and notecards and scraps of paper with all the things I need to do. But with this app I can keep everything in one place and cross things off in real time. This is a lifesaver for the organizationally challenged. Also free and easy and yes, I love it.

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#READ Savannah. Yes, it happened last month. But we never gave you a recap because things got a little crazy before we even left Savannah. Here’s the nutshell version: the event was sold out and was utterly perfect. Savannah was gorgeous. We met Liane Moriarty (pronounced LEE-ahn, who knew?) and she was also perfect. We had pear cider. We met Amy Einhorn, editor of bestsellers like The Help and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, not to mention all of Liane’s bestselling novels. We met many of you, and you were better than perfect–you were smart and funny and charming. We hung out with some truly amazing authors. And then, on our last morning, Marybeth broke her hand. It was a fluke accident but it’s had devastating consequences and she’s not been able to use her right hand since. Thus the reason we’ve been running at half speed and have been, mostly, out of pocket. She’s on the mend, but slowly, and it hasn’t been fun.

My social media hiatus. The last few weeks away from social media have been…relaxing. I’ve gotten a lot done on my book. We’ve finished baseball season as a family. I feel quiet and content and grateful. Highly recommended.

Running. It’s fabulous, effective old school torture. Nothing beats hitting the pavement for an hour and clearing your head.

Marybeth Whalen

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McCafe pumpkin spice keurigs— I’ve tried several different brands but this one tastes best. I’m one of those people who go crazy for all things pumpkin spice in the fall.

Sheaffer told me to: this woman is inspiring me to up my wardrobe game. I love her style and suggestions.

My travelers notebook in pocket size with field notes inserts. I have an insert for writing, She Reads, random stuff, journaling, monthly, and weekly to help me keep track of everything going on in my life– keeping it all separate but in the same place. I love decking it out with fall dashboards and paperclips. If you’re curious about travelers notebooks I encourage you to search Instagram and YouTube. My apologies if you fall down the planner video rabbit hole like I have.

I read several forthcoming books that you should put on your radar: The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian, Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser, Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia, And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman.

My book was picked by Redbook magazine as one of 20 brand new thrillers to get you psyched for Halloween. And made Deep South magazine’s fall/winter reading list.

On Tv… You’re never too old to hear “I got a rock” from Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin special. My husband and I are loving This Is Us. We also binge watched the BBC series Marcella on Netflix over the weekend when Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina. Warning: It’s really gripping but not for the faint of heart.

I saw The Light Between Oceans and found the movie just beautiful and the novel rendered accurately but it was a bit slow. We saw Girl on the Train and thought it was also a good book-to-movie adaptation.

We enjoyed some perfect little fall getaways— one to Windy Hill Orchard in York SC and a weekend in gorgeous Southport NC.

What have you been into this month?

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Why It’s Easier To Critique Than Create

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

"Jazz Quartet" by Emily Allison

“Jazz Quartet” by Emily Allison

This piece of art hangs behind the couch in my living room. It looks like a painting but is, in fact, something called “tin collage.” What that means is that my mother (the artist) took dozens of those old Christmas cookie tins that people toss out indiscriminately, deconstructed them into slivers of wicked-sharp tin, and turned them into something breathtaking. This is a literal example of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure. It is called “Jazz Quartet” and is one of my most treasured possessions. It will hang in my home as long as I have a home.

Creating this piece of art cost my mother a great deal. Yes, she had to buy the supplies, but the real cost came elsewhere. Time. She spent endless hours bent over her work table piecing it together. Injury. Working with cut tin is not a low-risk proposition. You should see the scars on her hands. Creative energy. It is exhausting to take nothing (i.e. bits of discarded metal) and turn it into something (art). Commitment. She saw it through to the end. Exposure. Once complete, she handed it over for public consumption and critique.

My favorite chair in the house sits directly across from this piece of art so I spend a good deal of time looking at it. And this morning, long before the sun came up, I realized something important: part of why I love this Jazz Quartet so much is because I know the cost involved in creating it. I know the artist, so I am intimately acquainted with her intricate, laborious process. But I am also a person who creates things for a living so I understand, at a basic level, that long before this was a finished piece of art, it was a pile of chaos consuming her studio.

I understand how overwhelming that can be. Every book begins as a pile of chaos inside an author’s mind.

And every author who embraces that chaos and sees it through to the end is an artist.

I forget this sometimes because it so much easier to critique than create. Yes, there is absolutely a place for critique within the arts. And yes, I critique all the time myself. (Never in pubic–I have too much skin in the game and too much respect for authors in general.) But I don’t know that my critique is fair because I will often give up on a book far too early. I am a chronic book-quitter.

But here’s another thing I realized this morning while sipping coffee and enjoying the silence: when I find myself becoming a chronic-quitter who critiques the work of others too easily and too often, it’s always because I haven’t created anything of my own recently. I have forgotten how hard it is to take nothing and turn it into something.

The simple truth is that critique costs us nothing. Creativity, however, is pricey.

My ability to deeply appreciate the work of others is directly related to my own levels of creative output.

So, my challenge to myself, and to you, on this lovely fall day, is to begin paying attention. If you find yourself in a reading slump, I encourage you to make something. It doesn’t have to be a book. Maybe bake a pie. Or knit a shawl. Or start a bullet journal. Allow yourself to feel the frustration of the creative process. My guess is that you’ll be more likely to enjoy the next novel you pick up.

Let me know if you take the challenge! It works for me every time.

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Interested in this subject? Try reading CREATIVITY INC by by Ed Catmul

creativity-incFrom Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, the Academy Award–winning studio behind Inside Out and Toy Story, comes an incisive book about creativity in business and leadership—sure to appeal to readers of Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and Chip and Dan Heath. Fast Company raves that Creativity, Inc. “just might be the most thoughtful management book ever.”

Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”

For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, WALL-E, and Inside Out, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.

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Four Novels That Will Satisfy Your Inner Nosy Neighbor

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

How well do we know our neighbors? This seems to be a question a lot of us are asking ourselves, based on the new novels we’ve been seeing. I think this theme is largely due to our voyeuristic society– all of us cyber peeking into each other’s lives thanks to Instagram, Facebook, and Periscope. But what are these women showing us… and what are they hiding? This concept comes up consistently in the books below– so if this is a theme that fascinates you… we advise getting them all and satisfying your inner nosy neighbor all the way into fall.

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girls-in-the-gardenTHE GIRLS IN THE GARDEN

“Faithful to the thriller genre, Jewell makes liberal use of red herrings and plot twists… The answer to the whodunit is a sly—and satisfying—surprise.” —New York Times Book Review

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really?

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

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ttwwwtTHE THINGS WE WISH WERE TRUE

In an idyllic small-town neighborhood, a near tragedy triggers a series of dark revelations.

From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

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tmgTRULY MADLY GUILTY

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty turns her unique, razor-sharp eye towards three seemingly happy families.

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

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perfect-neighborsTHE PERFECT NEIGHBORS

How well do you ever really know the family next door?
Bucolic Newport Cove, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers, is proud of its distinction of being named one the top twenty safest neighborhoods in the US. It’s also one of the most secret-filled.Kellie Scott has just returned to work after a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. She’s adjusting to high heels, scrambling to cook dinner for her family after a day at the office—and soaking in the dangerous attention of a very handsome, very married male colleague. Kellie’s neighbor Susan Barrett begins every day with fresh resolutions: she won’t eat any carbs, she’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour, and she’ll stop stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Gigi Kennedy seems to have it all together—except her teenage daughter has turned into a hostile stranger and her husband is running for Congress, which means her old skeletons are in danger of being brought into the light.

Then a new family moves to this quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac. Tessa Campbell seems friendly enough to the other mothers, if a bit reserved. Then the neighbors notice that no one is ever invited to Tessa’s house. And soon, it becomes clear that Tessa is hiding the biggest secret of all.

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YA Book Review: The Unexpected Everything

Today’s post by Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

unexpected-everythingThe Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

One great YA title that might help us all hold fast to summer days is Morgan Matson’s The Unexpected Everything, a seriously cute and heartwarming novel that showcases everything there is to love about YA literature.

In it, Andie is a teenage girl with a very clear plan for her summer, for college, and for life in general. She’s the daughter of a politician, so her childhood has been lived under public scrutiny, and she strives for perfection. She hardly sees her dad, and since her mom passed away when she was young, she has basically raised herself. She’s fiercely independent and has very little relationship with her father, but somehow she’s satisfied with the way things are. She has her plans for the future, she has her friends, and she knows where she’s going.

But what will Andie do when a very public political scandal sends those plans sailing out the window? How will she deal with her lost summer internship? What will her unexpected summer be like when she had so many clear expectations that just won’t happen?

After she answers a help wanted ad that turns out to be for a dog walking service, all kinds of unexpected things pop up: a dad who’s suddenly in town a whole lot more than usual, a part time job without the prestige of a medical internship, a seriously great group of friends, a cute boy who keeps popping up, and so much more. What I love about The Unexpected Everything is that it’s fun and authentic (the text conversations, complete with emojis, are fantastic), but it still has strong themes of family and friendship and the power of change. We, along with Andie, get to see that sometimes beautiful things happen when life veers off the path we’ve decided it should stay on.

This novel is perfect for teenage girls and grown up women alike. Check it out, and enjoy!

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A New Trend In Book Covers: The Rainy Window Pane

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon

Several years ago we discovered a curious trend in book covers: the exploding rose. It was all the rage for a good six months and then, as is common with trends, quickly passed away. However, the rainy window pane has eagerly taken it’s place and has graced the covers of four recent novels. As you can see, they’re all dark and moody and suspenseful. We like it.

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the-woman-in-cabin-10THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware

From New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful and haunting novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.

In this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists, spine-tingling turns, and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another taut and intense read in The Woman in Cabin 10—one that will leave even the most sure-footed reader restlessly uneasy long after the last page is turned.

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the-forgetting-timeTHE FORGETTING TIME by Sharon Guskin

What happens to us after we die? What happens before we are born? At once a riveting mystery and a testament to the profound connection between a child and parent, The Forgetting Time will lead you to reevaluate everything you believe…

What would you do if your four-year-old son claimed he had lived another life and that he wants to go back to it? That he wants his other mother?

Single mom Janie is trying to figure out what is going on with her beloved son Noah. Noah has never been ordinary. He loves to make up stories, and he is constantly surprising her with random trivia someone his age has no right knowing. She always chalked it up to the fact that Noah was precocious―mature beyond his years. But Noah’s eccentricities are starting to become worrisome. One afternoon, Noah’s preschool teacher calls Janie: Noah has been talking about shooting guns and being held under water until he can’t breathe. Suddenly, Janie can’t pretend anymore. The school orders him to get a psychiatric evaluation. And life as she knows it stops for herself and her darling boy.

For Jerome Anderson, life as he knows it has already stopped. Diagnosed with aphasia, his first thought as he approaches the end of his life is, I’m not finished yet. Once an academic star, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, a professor of psychology, he threw everything away to pursue an obsession: the stories of children who remembered past lives. Anderson became the laughing stock of his peers, but he never stopped believing that there was something beyond what anyone could see or comprehend. He spent his life searching for a case that would finally prove it. And with Noah, he thinks he may have found it.

Soon, Noah, Janie, and Anderson will find themselves knocking on the door of a mother whose son has been missing for eight years. When that door opens, all of their questions will be answered.

Gorgeously written and fearlessly provocative, Sharon Guskin’s debut explores the lengths we will go for our children. It examines what we regret in the end of our lives and hope for in the beginning, and everything in between.

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shelterSHELTER by Jung Yun

Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.

A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage―private tutors, expensive hobbies―but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?

As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one’s family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.

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watching-edieWATCHING EDIE by Camilla Way

For fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train: A dazzling work of psychological suspense that weaves together the past and present of two women’s twisted friendship.
 
Beautiful, creative, a little wild… Edie was the kind of girl who immediately caused a stir when she walked into your life. And she had dreams back then—but it didn’t take long for her to learn that things don’t always turn out the way you want them to.

Now, at thirty-three, Edie is working as a waitress, pregnant and alone. And when she becomes overwhelmed by the needs of her new baby and sinks into a bleak despair, she thinks that there’s no one to turn to…

But someone’s been watching Edie, waiting for the chance to prove once again what a perfect friend she can be. It’s no coincidence that Heather shows up on Edie’s doorstep, just when Edie needs her the most. So much has passed between them—so much envy, longing, and betrayal. And Edie’s about to learn a new lesson: those who have hurt us deeply—or who we have hurt—never let us go, not entirely…

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A Word On Words, With Ariel Lawhon and J.T. Ellison

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon

I recently had a blast filming an episode of Nashville Public Television’s “A Word on Words” with my good friend and fellow-writer, J.T. Ellison. Not only did we have a fabulous conversation about all things Hindenburg, but we filmed the show in a classic Beechcraft museum. All in all, a perfect day. So if you have three spare minutes today, you’re welcome to eavesdrop.

**Email readers can view the video here.

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Three Reasons To Take A Social Media Break

Today’s post is by Ariel Lawhon, She Reads co-founder, and author of the critically acclaimed novels, THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS and FLIGHT OF DREAMS.

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There’s a good chance you’re reading this because of a link you saw on social media. But here’s what you need to know: I didn’t post it there. As of this morning I am officially on an extended social media break. My husband has changed all of my passwords with strict instructions not to tell me what they are until I finish my current novel (he’s Texan, so there’s no way he’ll cave) and I’ve deleted all social media apps from my phone, including Pinterest and Words with Friends. It’s a pretty extreme thing to do, I know. But I am convinced that there are seasons in life where the best things we can do for our personal and professional lives is to walk away from the distraction of social media. And my guess is you’ve thought of doing the same. So, today I’m offering three reasons why you might want to join me in this radical experiment. All three apply to me at the moment and I’d wager you can relate to one or more yourself.

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You Need To Focus On That Big Project.

I’m in the homestretch with a new novel and I won’t finish on time unless I am ruthless about eliminating distractions from my life. The book is called I WAS ANASTASIA and is about the last days of Anastasia Romanov and the woman believed to be her most famous imposter. It explores the long-standing mystery of whether or not the young, Russian Grand Duchess survived the massacre that killed her family and is…well…something of a beast to write. To do this story justice I have to be fully present. I have to, as Dr. Cal Newport says, do deep work. At the moment there is nothing social media can provide that will replace time spent with my manuscript and in my research material.

Do you have a big project that needs to get finished? Maybe you’re also writing a book. But maybe you’re remodeling your kitchen or rebuilding a car engine with your teenage son. If you have a big, glaring project on your to-do list that just doesn’t ever seem to get finished, then perhaps it’s time to take a social media break.

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You Need To Focus On Your People.

Speaking of teenage sons, I have one of those as well. I also have a pre-teen and two elementary age boys. And while none of them are driving yet, all of them are playing baseball at the moment. And it’s amazing! It’s also time consuming and a lot to keep up with. Four boys. Four teams. Each with two games every week and, well, I have to be on my A-game to keep everything straight. But it’s not just the schedule. Lately I’ve found myself on the stands watching a ballgame on a beautiful evening. And what am I doing? Looking around to see if there’s anything interesting I can Instagram. I’m embarrassed that I’ve become that person. My children need me to be present and accounted for because in a few years there won’t be any more baseball games or choir concerts or awards ceremonies to photograph. I don’t want to miss them while trying to record them.

Do you have people in your life that you need to focus on? Maybe it’s a friend who’s going through a rough patch. Or your spouse is in the middle of a tough work transition. Or your children are struggling in school. Maybe your relationships are in a good place right now and you simply want to enjoy them. If you’ve been thinking that your people need more of you these days, then perhaps it’s time to take a social media break.

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You Need To Focus On Your Heart.

Sometimes it’s all a bit too much. And social media gives us a million reasons every day to feel discontent, jealousy, isolation, anger, frustration, comparison, and any number of other blood-pressure-raising emotions. Sure, there are plenty of good things about it. But there are also seasons in life when the bad things outweigh the good things and our poor, battered hearts could really use a rest. We could use a bit of curated silence. We could use some time with the real people in our real lives. We could use a break from the Twitter/Facebook fight du jour.

Do you find that you can’t log on to social media these days without flinching first? If you type in your password and automatically wonder who is hurling abuse, or who is sticking their foot in their mouth, or who is getting publicly shamed today, then perhaps it’s time to take a social media break.

Really, I suppose, the point of this exercise is simply to focus. To focus on the things that matter. Your work matters. Your people matter. Your heart matters. Social media? Not so much.

Here’s the Ted Talk that convinced me to step away from the “social media slot machine” and engage in some really deep work for the remainder of this year. If you decide to join me, leave a comment below.

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Interested in this subject? Read DEEP WORK by Cal Newport

deep-workOne of the most valuable skills in our economy is becoming increasingly rare. If you master this skill, you’ll achieve extraordinary results.
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.

In DEEP WORK, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four “rules,” for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.

A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, DEEP WORK takes the reader on a journey through memorable stories — from Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind, to a social media pioneer buying a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a book free from distraction in the air — and no-nonsense advice, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored. DEEP WORK is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.

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Making the Leap from Contemporary to Historical Fiction

Today’s post by Juliette Fay | @JulietteFay

We’re thrilled to have Juliette Fay on the blog today as she shares a bit about her new novel, THE TUMBLING TURNER SISTERS, and how she navigated the departure from contemporary fiction to historical fiction. Welcome, Juliette! And add this one to your lists, friends. I think you’ll love it.

juliette-fayIn the past, just as I’d finish one novel, there was always another idea out there simmering, waiting for me to bring it to a full boil. That didn’t happen after my last book, and it was really starting to get to me. I had a lot of “first dates” with story ideas, but no seconds.

One day my father came over for lunch, and in an effort to help, he started listing things he thought I should write about. These included a book on President Lincoln — and I’m thinking Yeah, because that’s never been done before. No competition whatsoever – or on Oliver Cromwell’s violent domination of Ireland, which basically started out as a tragic bloodbath and went downhill from there.

As he talked about how his own ancestors had fled the Irish famine and English repression, I suddenly remembered a picture he’d sent me of his grandfather dancing onstage, along with newspaper clippings about his vaudeville career in the early 1900s. Vaudeville! Sitting there over the remains of our lunch, my head was suddenly exploding with ideas.

I’ve always loved reading historical fiction, but shied away from writing it because I didn’t think I had the background. Don’t you need some sort of history degree to write about a completely different time? It turns out the answer is no. As with any story about a complicated topic, you just have to be willing to submerge yourself in the subject matter and learn everything you can.

The research for The Tumbling Turner Sisters turned out to be a surprising amount of fun. The world was changing quickly in 1919; World War I had just ended, and Prohibition and Women’s Suffrage were looming on the horizon. People were forced to take a critical look at the status quo and question if there weren’t better ways. With women’s rights headline news and sexual politics evolving, I knew the main characters had to be young women struggling to figure out where they fit in.

Amid of all the social and political turmoil, the subculture of vaudeville was this crazy little brother-and-sisterhood, with its own customs, rules and slang. It was fascinating to learn how much of American entertainment—especially humor—has its roots deep in the rich vaudeville soil. So many of the greats went on to have long and iconic careers in radio, TV and movies, people like Groucho Marx, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., Cary Grant, Mae West, WC Fields, Bill Bojangles Robinson, George Burns and Gracie Allen.

I still don’t have a history degree, but I now know an awful lot about vaudeville in 1919, thanks to my great-grandfather, a man I unfortunately never met. In gratitude, I gave one of the characters his name. I like to think it would appeal to the entertainer in him to be back in the spotlight again a hundred years after his prime.

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tumbling-turner-sistersFor fans of Orphan Train and Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, a compelling historical novel from “one of the best authors of women’s fiction” (Library Journal). Set against the turbulent backdrop of American Vaudeville, four sisters embark on an unexpected adventure—and a last-ditch effort to save their family.

In 1919, the Turner sisters and their parents are barely scraping by. Their father is a low-paid boot-stitcher in Johnson City, New York, and the family is always one paycheck away from eviction. When their father’s hand is crushed and he can no longer work, their irrepressible mother decides that the vaudeville stage is their best—and only—chance for survival.

Traveling by train from town to town, teenagers Gert, Winnie, and Kit, and recent widow Nell soon find a new kind of freedom in the company of performers who are as diverse as their acts. There is a seamier side to the business, however, and the young women face dangers and turns of fate they never could have anticipated. Heartwarming and surprising, The Tumbling Turner Sisters is ultimately a story of awakening—to unexpected possibilities, to love and heartbreak, and to the dawn of a new American era.

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