Category Archives: MY BLOG

I’M PUBLISHED… AGAIN!!

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STORY SPROUTS ANTHOLOGY went live on Amazon on October 29th!
This summer, 19 talented children’s book authors accepted a challenge to workshop, write, revise, polish, and submit two stories – in public, under the pressure of a six-hour deadline, with the promise of publication. On October 29, 2013, their work was revealed with the global release of Story Sprouts Anthology 2013.

Guided by the writing exercises and handouts, anthology authors produced two pieces. One revealed insights “On Writing” and the other was a fictional piece based on a photo prompts. Submissions range from poetry and narrative essay to flash fiction and picture book manuscripts.

Some of the author names will be familiar to Hollywood and literary insiders. Contributor Abi Estrin wrote the animated adaptation of Ben Hur and produced several episodes of On the Road in America. Contributor Lynne Southerland has 20 years experience in Hollywood; her credits include co-directing Mulan 2 and co-producing Disney’s An Extremely Goofy Movie and HBO’s Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. Contributor Donna Marie Robb’s stories have been published in several literary magazines and she her children’s book reviews have been published in the School Library Journal.

Please encourage our efforts by buying the book in either print or for Kindle at Amazon.

Thanks for your support. Lynne

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THE SILENT PARTNER – Flash Fiction For Your Enjoyment

Thought it would be fun to share one of my flash fiction pieces. For those of you who have not heard the term, flash fiction is basically a short story no longer than 1000 words. A fun and interesting challenge.

Enjoy!

THE SILENT PARTNER 

by Lynne Southerland

     Our shoulders are in lock step, like in a sack race. We move back and forth on a circuitous path around chairs, a dirty clothes hamper and the morning’s rejected clothing choices in my parent’s large bedroom. Although I am tall for someone who will turn thirteen in a couple of months, I do not have the physical strength of a woman and have a difficult time keeping up with the woman on the other end. She is my mother’s best friend, Joan. The woman in the middle, whose eyes are fighting to stay closed is my mother. Not only are her eyes heavy beyond sleep, her head hangs limp like a broken bobble-head doll.

I try not to think about how the sight of her in this state makes me feel. I’m used to doing that. The way I see it, feelings produce moments like this disastrous scene we’re in now. So instead, I count out each step we take. I don’t want to focus on what could happen if Joan and I can’t get her to wake up, or the ambulance doesn’t get here in time.

My eyes divert to the nightstand on her side of the bed. It has always been a source of fascination to me since Mommy keeps her private stash of candies behind its closed doors. I think about the times when the stars have aligned just right and she opens those doors to share one of her precious delights and what seems like the inner sanctum of her soul. I can see her unsealing the wrapper of the Mounds Bar and letting the first of the chocolates slip out. She presents it to me in a manner that turns her simple hand into a sterling silver tray. Once she crushes the wrapper she looks at me, and smiles. Mmmmmm. I learned to love dark chocolate sitting on the edge of Mommy’s bed, next to that nightstand.

But now my eyes are drawn to the brownish yellow bottles on the top of the table, their lids capped tight. A full glass of water sits next to four pills resting loose near the edge.

Just a half hour before, I had played the role of the can-do daughter, a role which, at that time I was proud to own in our family. It was 11 P.M. – an hour past my bedtime. I had used the excuse of tending to her to cheat the rules and watch a little more TV before delivering another dose of medication to her.

She had come home later than usual. We sat down to dinner, without my father who often ate with some of his car dealership associates. It seemed to be a very normal evening.

But, as my siblings and I did clean up duty, my mother calmly explained that she had not been feeling well and the doctor had prescribed something.

“I need to take four of these pills every hour. Rocky, you’ll have to wake me so I don’t miss a dose.”

“Okay,” I responded despite thinking that she didn’t seem sick.

With unquestioning pliancy, I woke her at eight, nine and ten o’clock. Between these markers, we finished our kitchen duties and then did our homework and watched television, an advantage to being beyond my mother’s watchful eyes.

My father called around nine thirty.

“Rocky Road,” he said when I answered the phone.

“Where’s the old bag?”

I hated that he called her that. She was a beautiful, petite woman with great legs. Where did he get “old bag” from?

Using me as the go-between, he explained that he was stopping off for a drink and she should not wait up for him. Of course now I realize that she had heard those very words many times and they probably contributed to her state of mind for weeks before tonight.

Blissful at the guilty pleasure of having stayed up late, I gladly approached her room ready to give a last dose before going to bed myself. I filled the glass from the bathroom sink, placed it on the nightstand and then poured four pills into my cupped hand. Now that all was ready, I spoke quietly into my mother’s ear, hoping to arouse her gently. I knew this is how she would have handled the same situation if it were one of us.

Unlike earlier in the evening, she did not respond. I then tried a soft jostling of her shoulder. She moaned at the disruption to her unconsciousness. Seeing her that way made my stomach queasy. An instinct tugged at me – something was very wrong. I patted her hand in another attempt to arouse her, but it was limp and clammy. I wished to hear the sound of the front door opening and my father coming in, just in the nick of time, to save the day, to save my mother. But that sound did not come. And neither did he.

Thankfully, the can do part of me took control. Joan was the only other person to call. It seems like forever until the ambulance arrives. Numbness is the only feeling I’m willing to take on. This is happening in our house, to my mother, but it seems so unreal – like I’m watching that movie with Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine – only my story has a different ending.

My siblings slept through the whole thing. I wish I had too. Then I wouldn’t have heard her moans as the EMTs tried to revive her or seen her lifeless face as they carried her down the stairs.

I stare into my closet, realizing I own nothing black – if you don’t count the empty, dark feeling squeezing my heart. I consider the option of burying myself underneath the pile of dirty clothes lying on the floor. Maybe in there I can snuff out this burning feeling that if I weren’t such a stellar can-do girl she’d still be alive.

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Have You Used a Mirror Lately?

My day job is producing animation. I’ve been doing it a long time, but still remember the first time I walked through the studio and noticed 1) how quiet it was as each artist worked with headphones on, and 2) that the storyboard artists and animators spent a lot of time

chuck-jones-animator-cartoon-bugs-bunny-daffy-duck1looking into mirrors they had mounted over their desks. That’s how they work out the expressions they are wanting to convey based on what is happening in the story at that particular moment. Many years later, I spent a great deal of time trying to show an animator the expression I wanted for a scene in Mulan 2, unsuccessfully I might add. I was looking for a way to visually show the sarcasm in Mulan’s voice. Much harder to pull off than I had expected.

But, on that first day I immediately understood the multiple layers of emotional exploration the animators need to explore to become great storytellers. Sure they can make faces until the right one becomes apparent, but if they actually conjure up feelings as they play, they’ll hit pay-dirt.

I was reminded of this the other day after a girlfriend and I had been talking about our spouses (yeah, okay, we were dishing on them big time). In the midst of my criticisms she hurled a great question at me. If my spouse were having this same kind of conversation (fat chance) what would he say are the things that drive him crazy about me?

I was flummoxed by this. After all, I’m perfect (just kidding). Her question plagued me on the drive home and as I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning while on my walk the answer surfaced. “He probably thinks you’re a know-it-all.” It was difficult to hear. I felt embarrassed, as if someone else could hear my inner voice chattering away. I felt like a kid re-experencing the humiliation of getting caught chewing gum in class and having to wear the wad on my nose for the rest of the school day. I could feel my ego rise up to protect me, to help me hold onto the way I want to see myself, perfect in every way. But then an image of Homer Simpson popped into my head. See how delusional he is?

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I don’t want to be in his club! So I turned (metaphorically) towards the mirror and took a peek. Yeah, I could see more people than my spouse perceiving me to be a know-it-all.  I even had to admit that I get tired of hearing my advice. But it still didn’t feel good to acknowledge it. I was present enough to realize that meant I needed to ask my ego to go play somewhere else for awhile, and soon I felt a mental leveling of the playing field take place. Now that I had faced this ugly part of myself I’d have a harder time being self-righteous the next time my spouse pulled one of his uglies on me. I could live with that.

But it wasn’t until later that I fully understood the larger gift my friend’s question had bestowed.

If I want to become a writer who can cultivate a base of appreciative readers (and I do), then like the animators who have given us unforgettable moments in movies like Toy Story 3, Wall-E, or The Lion King, I must look into the mirror and know the good, the bad and ugly of myself. For without a deeper understanding of what makes me tick, how can I fully know and give authenticity to my characters? How can I convey the degree of loneliness my protagonist feels to have lost her mother at age 16, the pitch of the downward spiral she finds herself in as she rejects the father who abandoned her 10 years earlier, or the breath of the joy she feels when she plays her harmonica, if I do not risk looking into the mirror and becoming deeply connected with the parts of myself I have safely hidden away?

My AHA moment made it clear to me that if I want to be a conduit for expanding my readers’ emotional lexicon then I must explore my own without resistance.

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So, I turned towards my internal mirror and peeked through my fingers with trepidation. What would I see buried in the crevices of my heart or staring at me from my ego mind? Mostly, I saw the little girl I never seem to shake away. Look at her. 6:18:08_2 copy

She’s confident and capable, yes,  but she often feels like an outsider. Is that a legacy from my parents’ experiences as  children not raised with their own parents? Is that why I’m exploring a protagonist who has lost a parent? I keep returning to this, not to rub an old wound, but to FULLY FEEL and use it to inform my writing.

I move my face closer into the reflection and acknowledge the fear of being judged hidden behind those eyes. My mind races back to high school when in 9th grade I was passed over for a position in the student government. I cried all the way home on the bus. My mother was only capable of consoling me with the realities of the world, “you can’t expect to always win, Lynne.” She didn’t know how to address my dreams of making a difference or being significant. She had never aspired to such things. Or I wasn’t aware of that part her if it existed. Thinking that makes the wound seem deeper. Could my disappointment be genetically encoded?

But now these wounds I’ve worked hard to bury or have used to justify my behavior can be put to better use. If I allow myself to REALLY FEEL the emotions locked inside these memories, my characters’ choices can be cultivated with the detail necessary to reveal the emotional through-line that is driving them.

This is so exciting!!!

So, like the animators I work with, I am now a fan of the mirror. Sometimes I make faces, other times I just stare at the other me who is eager to share everything hidden behind the looking glass.

The alchemy that happens by throwing what I’ve discovered about myself into the bucket with the words and ideas and plot that will become a manuscript is magic. I’m feeling equipped to make some magic happen.

Mirror, Mirror on the wall…. Lynne

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Habit Zombies Saved By Simple Antidote!

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A few weeks ago I met a man who it turned out is gluten-intolerant like I am. Don’t worry, this is not going to be a rant about the evils of our GMO wheat (though trust me, the black magic Monsanto is working on our grain supply IS frightening).

I tell you about “gluten-intolerant man” because his story hits the nail on the head about the dangers hidden in mindless habit. G-I Man is educated, a professor at a MidWest college, a thinker, and a habit zombie. Turns out he had been living with a pain in his abdomen for over 20 years! You read it right, 20 years!!! Somehow he just accepted this discomfort as part of his life experience and mindlessly went on with building his career, raising his kids, etc.

It wasn’t until he turned 50 and went in for the obligatory physical exam that he mentioned this condition to his MD. It was she who recommended that he stop eating wheat for a few weeks and see if it made a difference. It did. Immediately. And now, as soon as he eats even one cookie, the pain returns. Yikes! I can’t think of a better example of how powerfully debilitating habit can be. For all those years he had chosen the routine of eating mindlessly,  paying no attention to his body’s reaction over the option of being mindful and proactive.

Dictionary.com describes habit as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” So living habitually means we are functioning on a kind of autopilot requiring little conscious thought or decision making.

Reminds me of the thought-provoking character Will Ferrell played in the 2006 movie Stranger Than Fiction, where Harold Crick (Ferrell) is such a slave to his habits that he literally has no life without them. He even brushes his teeth with the unconscious precision of using the exact same number of strokes, every single day.

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Screenwriter, Zach Helm has crafted an incredibly intelligent meditation on the deadening quality of habit. Helm then presents Harold with the only  antidote possible, a hearty dose of unconventionality provided by two artists who live fully – through the passion of their craft.

Of course the craft that Harold needed to develop was that of living. Of being present and allowing himself to experience the true joy of his life. This is the take away the writer wants us to have as leftovers tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Circling back around to those artists from whom Harold learns to choose conscious living over thoughtless habit, I am compelled to scrutinize my own unconscious addictions to patterns that do not support my desire to develop a distinctive voice as an author; you know things like eating dinner in front of the television,  surfing the internet mindlessly hopping from one link to the other, or pouring a glass of wine as soon as I get home from work (to name a few). But where do I begin? I get so much comfort out of eating while I channel surf. And a day without my precious glass (okay two glasses) of wine? Who am I kidding? Give me death rather than a life without wine!!

From where I sit now it appears there is only one way to begin anything from choosing growth to starting a new manuscript to losing weight, to paying attention to that persistent knot in your stomach: to simply imagine yourself shifting into a different person than you are today. If it works for brainstorming a story why can’t it work for everything else I want for myself?

I decided to try this vis a vis my wine habit. It was scary to think that something I have always loved and enjoyed might one day not be as important to me as it was the day I imagined my altered life. So I allowed for the possibility that this might take me as long as 5 years to grow into that new way of being. But I had planted the seed.

Funny thing is, the seed took hold way faster than I would ever have believed possible.

imagesNow six months later, I never have a glass of wine at home during the week. I have come to realize that I don’t like how the residual haziness distracts me the next day from my creative mind and the goals I am excited about reaching.

I can’t believe that imagining a different me and then paying attention to myself, my thoughts, my actions could produce a change so effortlessly. Being mindful also allows me to fully embrace how rewarding it is to be making conscious choices for myself.

Of course, I still have to tackle eating in front of the t.v. and tons of other comfort inducing things I’m deathly afraid to let go of (after all, what will I do with all that freed up time?)

My hope is that I will spend hours absorbed in creating a masterful novel as well as a richer version of my non-writing life. Maybe I’ll take up skydiving! Not a chance – I get motion sickness!

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SKIPPING: A New Way To Engage your Muse

Somewhere along the path, every writer faces the fact that the ancient Greeks were right about there being Muses who inspire and incite us. And everyday we are looking to be in good communication with her/them so that we may attempt to reach creative greatness.

I’ve come to see the importance of cultivating my relationship with my Muse, showing her that I am open, listening and ready to receive the flow of inspiration she is streaming to me.

So, every morning I walk. It allows me quiet time to set my intentions for the day and acknowledge my gratitude for all of the wonderful ideas I am going to receive. Over the years, I have become aware of how the walking/expressing gratitude combo also gets my endorphins going. I think it turns the frequency up on my receptivity.

Now that it’s summer, there are school aged kids in park. They chase each other and they skip around the track like Dorothy on the yellow brick road.

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And you know what? Every single one of them has a smile on their face. Talk about raging endorphins and high frequencies!

I wanted to feel the heightened sense of happiness those kids did. So, even though I felt totally lame, I broke past my fear of humiliation and skipped. It’s a completely different experience than running. The muscles work in a way that seems foreign and yet familiar, and it demands you use your core. But best of all, I began smiling, almost immediately and I definitely left the park feeling more connected to my little girl self.

I knew the Muse was pleased because I had a very tuned-in day where old ideas expanded and new ideas flooded in. I could see that my articulation of my characters and the events they were experiencing was becoming more compelling.

My left brain wanted to know more about this endorphin effect so I went to the web, where I discovered there is actually a sport called rope skipping. Australia even has a website devoted to promoting rope skipping. That’s not what I had in mind. In fact it’s just the opposite. I’m not looking for competition. I want stimulation that promotes a positive environment for creation.

At The Dumb Little Man website Dr Kavetha suggests imagining yourself as a child to foster creative problem solving, because kids are naturally good at thinking outside the box. Yes, I get her drift, but my thoughts went one step further. What if we actually acted like kids? If we used our recess time to skip around would we find that our creativity would expand?

It’s a bit like Laughter Yoga, a happiness exercise begun in India and now practiced in 72 countries. Clinical research has proven that laughing 10-15 minutes a day will increase one’s sense of happiness and fosters a positive attitude.

Not finding any research to support my hypothesis, I have decided to become my own guinea pig. After all, there doesn’t appear to be any downside to skipping. And I don’t need a class or a trainer. I just pick up my legs and before I know it, I feel my child self emerge and my thoughts shift from the mundane. And I can sense that the Muse is happy that I have joined her in the higher frequencies where creativity lives.

How about joining the experiment and reporting back? Come on. You’ll only feel like a crazy person for a few minutes and then you’ll feel too good to care what others think.

Can’t wait hear if it helps your writing.

Happy Skipping, Lynne

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THE BEAUTY OF PERSISTENCE

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Beth Revis , author of the YA sci-fi/fantasy Across The Universe said “I wrote a book. It sucked. I wrote nine more books. They sucked, too. Meanwhile, I read every single thing I could find on publishing and writing, went to conferences, joined professional organizations, hooked up with fellow writers in critique groups, and didn’t give up. Then I wrote one more book.” She had persistence and now she has three books in the Across The Universe series.

Elmore Leonard got up at 5AM to write before work. And he’s written over forty books.

Beatrix Potter, after several rejections took a bold step and self-published her first rabbit story, defying  the active pressures of her upper class Victorian parents to not produce anything of worth.

These folks were inspired and determined to see their work get published. And so am I.

I’m Persistent Too

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a bad sense of direction.

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I would not only get on the wrong bus, I’d take it going the wrong way. It was unbelievably nerve-racking and embarrassing. But I didn’t give up. And somehow I always made it to where I meant to be.

That ability to stay focused on my goal has helped me be a successful movie producer, plan trips to faraway places (BTW, where my husband takes charge of reading the map), and write a number of manuscripts (some of which you can learn about on “My Manuscripts” Page, above.

But recently I wondered if one has to be born with a persistence gene much like “naturally” thin people somehow always stay thin. Turns out scientists have quantified the choices thin people innately make that provide them with a lifetime of being trim.

So although I’ve always been this way, I took a look at the tricks I “naturally” play on myself to keep me on my path.

My Tricks 

  1. I boldly tell people what I’m going to do. My ego would be too bruised to later tell them I fizzled out on walking 10,000 steps/day, or broke my fast at Lent, or just plain gave up on my dream of being a published author. And I can’t be published if I don’t write the damn thing!
  2. I keep lists of what I need to do to accomplish my goals. I love crossing things off lists because I know when I’ve crossed everything off – I’m done!
  3. I spend a lot of time feeling how good it’s going to be when I get where I want to be. If lists keep the left brain on track, dreaming about how fabulous it will be when I win the Michael L Printz award for my YA novel.
  4. I carve out time for what really excites me. It’s so easy to let the responsibilities and activities of living distract from what really makes us happy. I’ve made it my priority to put what excites me at the top of my daily to do list.
  5. I enjoy every task along the way. I used to dread writing query letters. Not anymore. I relish each aspect of every task (be it related to getting published or putting on a dinner party). Life is about the journey and I’ve decided to enjoy the getting there.

Let me know how you keep yourself on your path.

Best, Lynne

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What Would You Give Up To Achieve Success????

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That question was posed to a small group of us gathered to focus on being better leaders of our lives. Would that the query was as simple as it appears in this blog’s title. At the heart of the idea was what achievement would you let go of so that you could accomplish more?

That had me stumped. I was to pick out one thing that had been of great value to me and had helped me get to where I am now and willingly place it on the altar and take its life. My mind went running for the hills, my ego put its fingers to its ears and started mumbling, “la-la-la-la-la.”

But the seed had been planted and my higher self embraced the challenge. If I want to become a really good writer (who gets published, I might add), then which of my babies would I cast from shore?

The ego set out to sabotage my mission by assaulting me with a steady stream of maligning chatter. What achievements? What good qualities? But like a gladiator determined to stay alive, I battled valiantly to defeat my ego and cross the river from denial to revelation.

If I am to be a better writer I must release myself from being “The Can-do Girl.” For as long as I can remember, I have been the dependable one, the problem solver, the nurse-maid, the grand juggler of multi-tasking. These are qualities that have served me well since I was a child, in the middle between a down-syndrome brother and a baby sister with chronic asthma. I carried these traits with me as I rose through the ranks in Hollywood, eventually becoming an animation producer/director.

But I had to admit that being so competent at keeping things in order, paying the bills, producing Thanksgiving dinner for 17 and, and, and… ate up a lot of time and had fortified my left brain into the dominant driver of my existence.

Then came the AHA moment, that I need my right brain to take charge if I want to increase my intuitive processes. I need to dream more and “do” less (of the mundane and practical).

OMG!!! I was onto something. So I told my left brain it either had to step back or shove off. I turned over bill paying to my husband and began to let the order around me slip away. I even started forgetting where I needed to be and when. HALLELUJAH!! I laughed out loud as I realized how quickly my mind was shifting.

I have to confess that I did use my left brain to delegate which days I can do menial tasks and which days I can’t. But if I start thinking about logistics in too much detail, I quickly shut off the valve and return to playing. It’s a revelation. I take a long walk everyday and allow myself to dream and imagine and think about anything except what are we going to have for dinner tonight.

I’d love to hear what you’ve decided to give up to become a more creative writer, painter, potter, or being.

Happy dreaming…  Lynne

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