Make Your Own Sunshine

TGIF! Make this a “just because” kinda day.
Do a random act of kindness “just because.”
Hold your tongue “just because.”
Smile “just because.”
Give thanks “just because.”
Forgive “just because.”
Have fun “just because.”
Be happy “just because.”
All because life is a gift worth cherishing – your own as well as others.
#LifeUntapped

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Writing from and for the Journey

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

I haven’t turned on my creative fiction juices in a while, because although I absolutely love manufacturing interesting characters and breathing life into them, I also have a deep love for nonfiction writing. Over the past year or so, I’ve focused my attention there.

I recently entered my 10th year of penning a parenting column for a daily newspaper in Richmond, Virginia; I launched this inspirational blog a few moths ago, and I occasionally write commentary for the Huffington Post.

Beyond those outlets, my “day job” of serving as Director of Communications for a private school in my community affords me an opportunity to do all kinds of writing – from marketing and advertising copy to social media posts to letters and other messaging that share the “how” and “why” of this school and its mission to produce service-minded leaders who make a difference locally and around the globe. All of this excites me.

And yet….the ideas for a new novel still rise to the surface every now and then, teasing me to consider what my 11th book could and should be. I’m not sure yet when that one will be birthed, but I already have a list of character names, a few potential plot ideas and even a tentative title.

I’m not ready to start writing the first draft because the ideas are still “baking.” I’ll know when the plot is just firm enough to put pen to paper, and then move those handwritten notes to my computer.

In the meantime, I’m doing my writer’s “homework”: Leaning into the gifts and opportunities that come with daily life, enjoying special moments with family and friends, overhearing compelling conversations or intriguing names that might make their way into my story, and taking in the scenery, sights and sounds around me, so that when I need these things most, they are a finger tap away in the notes section of my iPhone, or stored in my mental image bank.

I recently had the pleasure of joining an award-winning children’s author for dinner, and during our conversation, Newberry Medal winner Rita Williams-Garcia announced that she no longer writes under deadline. When the manuscript is ready – however long that may take – she intuitively knows, and she only writes The End at that point.

While many of us scribes may not have that luxury – or be disciplined enough to know the difference between being stuck and accepting that the project is substantive enough to move forward – learning about her method left me thinking that more of us should find the courage (or be extended opportunities) to give our words, ideas and stories the space to grow and mushroom into something fantastically wonderful.

If and when you can, I encourage my fellow writers to let your story marinate; let the words come on their own; let the characters show you who they are in their own time.

Because I’m not on deadline or under contract with a publisher at the moment, this is exactly what I’m doing. I’m also reading some great fiction, and books about the art of writing, along the way.

It’s an unsettling experience in some ways – especially when my readers say they’re ready for another book-  and I hate to keep readers waiting. Yet, in another way, it’s freeing, because I’m allowing the writer journey to unfold before me.

I’m confident that when my new characters are ready to meet the world, they’ll let me know. When they start nudging, I won’t be able to get them out of my head unless I tell their stories! Lol

Until then, I hope you’ll continue reading my current novels, the few fictional short stories I’ll be penning soon, and also my body of nonfiction writing. The mission of all of my work is to enlighten, uplift and inspire. I hope my fictional characters and my intriguing true-to-life subjects do just that for you.

Note: This essay was originally published on the Black Christian Reads blog, in July 2017.

Her Story: How I’ve Redefined Retirement

 “Aha! It’s not about the other side of work…just a continuum of life’s journey.”

By Guest Blogger Iris E. Holliday

In May 2016 I retired from a 27-year fulfilling career of corporate philanthropy and community engagement, and from a work life that had spanned nearly 45 years.

I had been practicing for this significant change for a few years, like a doodler, as the birthdays went by. It became an obsession to see how many words began with “re-” as in the word “retirement.” All said, I amassed over 100! These included re-invent, refresh, reverb, regain and recalibrate. I was struck by their positivity in contrast with the word retirement…as in final, the finale, end, terminus.

The work ethic is strong within me, forged by loving parents – a conscientious father and a precise, efficient and maybe perfectionist mother. So to retire has been alternately exhilarating and excruciating.

While I had a loose plan for my time in this part of my life, I did not have a Gant Chart or dot-by-dot picture.

I have tossed the business cards and replaced them with a Twitter account. I’ve turned once-infrequent business lunches with colleagues who became friends into opportunities for leisurely discourse. The talks are no longer dictated by work etiquette and can be both politics and prose. It’s all on the table. The language can be colorful and candid. After all, I am only representing me!

So what does this new, no phase- or chapter-labeled retirement look like? I still have a stack of curated retirement planning books, articles and listing of websites to review, and I am still pursuing personal goals. Some days it’s like a staycation or sabbatical. Other days, it is an endless quest to cram in as much living and learning into 24 hours as I humanly can.

Many years ago I realized that it is not age that terrorizes me, but the state of irrelevancy. The cure for this is not in a jar of designer wrinkle-reduction cream, but in the endless embrace of knowledge, connecting with people where there is dynamic chemistry, in daily gratitude for family and those whose spirits abide in our hearts, and in our power to empathize and commit to serve others with what God has given us in resources.

This new world is vastly uncharted. It is kind of a “choose your own adventure” era. At this point, I can redefine myself on any terms that I’d like.

Each day is an affirmation of worth and grace, both of which include a rich work life – then and now. There is no “other” side of work, unless I say so. Aging is part of this plane. The relevancy is in my court. And I have hit hard the re-set button as part of my continuum on life’s journey.

Iris Holliday is a third generation Washingtonian (Washington D.C.), a Cruzan (St. Croix) and Hoosier (Indiana), and both a Howard University University Bison and VCU Ram. Her career in public relations spans 35-plus years. Now, retired from Dominion Energy (formerly Dominion Resources), Iris counts philanthropy and government-, media- and community relations in her portfolio. During her career, she advanced the reputations of government entities, corporations and nonprofits, including for the 10th Pan American Games in Indianapolis and as director of corporate philanthropy and community partnerships with Dominion prior to retiring in 2016. Because she lives by the Sufi saying: “Some people go to a beautiful place, others go to make a place beautiful,” community engagement through volunteerism is a key part of her life. In this vein, she was chairperson of the Children’s Museum of Richmond Board of Directors and served on the Community Foundation of Greater Richmond and the Jenkins Foundation Board of Trustees. Currently pursuing a certification in Museum Studies, she is interested in opportunities to knit public relations with the museum field. She recently accepted an internship with the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia and is assisting with collections management.

Chat with the Author: Transporting Readers to New Worlds Is Her Goal

Meet beloved New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani – a writer who has regaled millions of readers with her engaging stories of strong (and often hilarious) women – who I consider a friend and mentor.

Adriana’s 17th book will be released later this month, on June 20. Enjoy her Q&A with LifeUntapped, in which she details her author journey and shares about her books and characters.

In what genre do you write?  I write fiction – big, noisy, lush novels about love, work and family. I’ve also written a non-fiction memoir, young adult novels, screenplays, teleplays and plays for the theater.  I consider myself a dramatist, first and foremost, as the characters and the worlds they inhabit are alive to me, and hopefully to you the reader.

What is the title of your most recent book? Kiss Carlo [Scheduled for release on June 20, this novel has been described as “a delightfully sprawling comedy full of extended families, in all their cocooning warmth and suffocating expectations” by Kirkus Reviews.]

What is your primary goal as an author – What do you want your readers to gain from of your books?  I hope my reader is transported to another place and time, where she takes her mind off her work, challenges and troubles and has a few laughs, connects to characters she can relate to, and finds some beauty and truth in the language.

What has been the most surprising feedback you’ve received from readers about your current book or another recent title?  Some of my readers thought All the Stars in the Heavens, about the golden age of Hollywood, was a biography. It was not. It was historical fiction.

What has been the most surprising aspect of your author journey?  I am always surprised at how energized I become in the company of my readers. They are my focus and the ultimate joy of writing anything. It’s their connection to the work that connects me to the work, too. That has been wonderful, and I didn’t anticipate it!

How do you continue growing as a writer?

 The only way to grow is to put in the time.  It’s hours in the chair- after hours of ruminating, gestating and thinking. It’s a funny job.  It doesn’t look like a writer is doing anything, when in fact, she is building a world.

Who are two or three writers you admire or consider mentors?  Ruth Goetz trained me as a dramatist when I moved to New York City. Prior to that, my mother, a librarian was and is my first and best teacher. She taught me to revere books, knowledge and the sacred act of reading.  My teachers were fundamental in my development as a writer; Sister Theresa Kelly, Thelma Carter, Grace White, Elizabeth Callahan, Langley Flannary, Grace Skeens, Basil Walker, Dorothy Carter, Arline Sharpe, Iva Braly, Gary Willams, Greg Cantrell, Sigrid Holloman, Frances Lewis, Bernis Zander, Theresa Bledsoe, well, I could keep going, and forgive me, the long list would overwhelm your site!  And, of course, my librarians, James Varner on the county bookmobile; Ernestine Roller at Big Stone Gap Elementary and the great Billie Jean Scott at Powell Valley High School.  All were essential and beloved.

What else are you passionate about, i.e. if you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing?  I’d be an interior designer.

What do you like to do for fun?  Get ready for this one…. R E A D!

More About Adriana Trigiani: Adriana Trigiani is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 books in fiction and nonfiction. She is published in 35 countries around the world. Adriana is also a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker, and received accolades for the documentary film, Queens of the Big Time. She wrote and directed the major motion picture Big Stone Gap, filmed entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. The movie spent 11 weeks in theaters in the fall of 2015 and was the #2 top-grossing romantic comedy of the year. Adriana co-founded The Origin Project with Nancy Bolmeier Fisher, an in-school writing program which serves over a thousand students in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. She lives in New York City with her family and their rescue pets. Adriana speaks to book clubs and classrooms regularly. To invite her and schedule a Skype, please reach out to her at adrianaasst@aol.com, join her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or visit her at her website: adrianatrigiani.com. Adriana’s new novel, Kiss Carlo, is available for pre-sale online and wherever books are sold.

Write Your Way Whole

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

How is your week, your month, your year going so far?

Note to Readers: I penned this post earlier this week for members of the private writers community I curate, Focused Writers Membership Group. I rarely (if ever) share publicly the messages and encouragement I reserve for group members; but today I felt compelled to cast a wider net, and ask you to take a step back or two steps forward, and look at your life from a “big picture” perspective.  This post focuses on writing because I mentor writers; but you can change my references to writing to whatever best fits your goal or dream, and do the same self-examination.

Take the first step and honestly answer these questions. Then take the next step and make adjustments that will yield the responses you long to manifest.

Regardless of whether you see yourself as a writer, the process of writing your vision – in a notebook or journal, on your computer screen or in the notes section of your smartphone – will help make it real. Perhaps writing down your plans and the path you’re taking to pursue those plans, will make them more official, for  you and others. So here we go….

Take some time to reflect on where you started on Monday of this week, in early May or even at the dawn of 2017, and measure your progress. Are you satisfied that you’re still on track to where you want to be by this time next year?

Now, imagine yourself 20 years from today, looking back over your life. What would you like to have accomplished?

Writing-wise, in particular:
– How many books written? Or
– How many followers for your blog? Or
– How many audiences impacted by your speeches? Or
– How many readers touched by your essays and articles?

What does writing success look like to you, and what are you doing today to bring that vision to life, so that in the year 2037, you’ll be holding those finished products in your hands, and in multiple ways sharing them with a younger generation? (Remember, quantifying the number of books, followers, audiences and readers you reach is simply quantifying the number of lives you’re touching.)

Let’s get busy, my friend. Why not take the few days left in the month of May to write the vision, so that you can begin executing it, in June and beyond? You are your own master storyteller. Decide today in which direction your next chapters will go.

 

Want to join Focused Writers Membership Community? Learn more here.

Don’t Give Up On You

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently about what mid-life holds. Is it a point at which you look back and reflect on opportunities missed, hopes dashed, dreams deferred and resign yourself to whatever may come?
Or, do you see yourself at 40-, 50- or 60-something (and beyond) on the verge of new opportunities, just waiting to be seized? Your perspective, and the actions you take as a result, make all the difference.
Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her first novel in the Little House on the Prairie book series when she was 65.
One of my mentors sought and obtained her master’s degree in her early 70s.
I read an article recently about Etta Baker, a mother of nine who appeared on her first album recording as a blues guitarist in her 40s and went on to record a solo album at age 78 and perform with musical greats well into her late 80s.
More examples abound.
So what chapters are you continuing to craft for the story of your life?
It’s not over until you decide to stop reaching, seeking, growing and pursuing. If you dream it and put some strategic thought, muscle and focus behind it, you can do it.
Don’t give up on you.

Her Story: Thriving at Center Stage

By Guest Blogger Olivia Shaw

Lights…Camera…Tiara!  Now on to photo shoots, couture gown fittings and public appearances. Ah, such is the life of a teenage pageant queen. Right?

Well, yes and no. Most people, when they hear the word pageant just assume that all I need to do to be successful in this type of event is to be able to dress up and look pretty. With further inspection, however, many people would be surprised to discover that the majority of pageants (at least the ones I choose to participate in) are dedicated to promoting leadership skills, developing and cultivating public speaking skills and promoting volunteer service among young girls and women.

Over the past five years, through my participation in the National American Miss pageant system, I have been able to overcome my fear of standing in front of an audience and sharing my thoughts. In addition to refining my public speaking skills, I have gained life skills that will help me be successful when applying to college, as well as when seeking employment.

When I began participating in National American Miss at age 12,  standing on stage introducing myself to a room full of strangers was the last place I wanted to be. Although I sincerely wanted to give the pageant world a try, I was terrified of speaking in front of people. I also was not looking forward to being  interviewed by a panel of judges – another group of strangers that I had to actually sit down with and carry on a conversation with. Five minutes never seemed so long!

Fast forward five years, and I am now confident and excited to be able to formally and professionally introduce myself onstage to a diverse group of strangers.

You see, about two years into this pageant process, my family and I realized that I needed to have a plan if I truly wanted to be successful. I could not just show up onstage or in the interview room and hope that everything would work out positively for me. I decided how I wanted to represent myself and mapped out a strategy to achieve those goals. That, in and of itself, became another benefit of pageant participation.

I worked on my interview skills and I worked to get more comfortable being onstage, introducing myself and speaking in public.  Also, I began to think about the purpose of having an interview, and I realized that it is a time for the judges to get to know you as an individual – a  time to discover what is important to you and to see if you have the characteristics they are looking for as a queen. I started to view competing for a queen title like applying for a job or college admission. Preparing my resume was also a part of the competition that helped me to become more comfortable with presenting myself in a public forum.

Within two years of changing my strategy, my hard work paid off. In 2016 I was named National American Miss Virginia Junior Teen – a title I currently hold.

Being a queen with National American Miss has also helped me to promote my volunteer service platform, Miracles in Motion Dance Group, on a wider scale. Miracles in Motion is a dance company for special needs children and young adults, and working with them gives me joy.

Due to the experience I gained with public speaking and public presentation with National American Miss, I was able to speak at the Miracles in Motion Annual Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser in 2016 to a crowd of close to 600 people! I also received an opportunity to share my community service platform at the national pageant competition last November, and I placed 2nd Runner Up for Volunteer Service in the Junior Teen age division for the nation. Talk about an opportunity to overcome my fear of public speaking!

I am so grateful for all I have gained through my participation in National American Miss. These are skills that will last me a lifetime. I now can truly “go confidently in the direction of my dreams” and live the life I have imagined.

Olivia Shaw, a 17-year-old resident of metro Richmond, Virginia, is the reigning National American Miss Virginia Jr Teen. She will pass her crown on to her successor in July 2017. She loves volunteering with Miracles in Motion Dance Group and looks forward to many years of sharing her love of dance and music with her fellow dancers. You can stay connected with Olivia’s journey  through the following social media sites:                                        Facebook:@NamVAJrTeen2016                                                                                    Snapchat: @livve_kitty22                                                                                    Instagram:@livve_s23