When You Get The Urge, Listen to Nike and JUST DO IT

stephaniehair2The first thing on your checklist this summer: cut your hair.

The second thing on your checklist this summer: get in shape.

The third thing on your checklist this summer: read some books.

YOUR INSPIRATION PHOTO:  Julianne Hough...even though she's in her twenties and I am clearly not in my twenties, her cut has a lot of style. Plus, her texture is a lot like my own. Sometimes, she wears it wavy.

YOUR INSPIRATION PHOTO: Julianne Hough…even though she’s in her twenties and you are clearly not in your twenties, her cut has a lot of style. Plus, her texture is a lot like your own. Sometimes, she wears it wavy.

You’ve been thinking about cutting your hair for a while. Namely, this type of thought comes into your head when you’re about to turn the BIG ONE. You thought it was time you stopped trying to look like your students…trying to have long hair when all it looked was like a hot mess most of the time. It did nothing for you, so you decide to perk yourself up with a little bob.

You pinned about 500 images of Julianne Hough’s adorable bob (though she is a bleached blonde, something you will never be), but you notice the texture of her hair is similar to your own, and you decide to … as Nike says … JUST DO IT.stephaniehair3

You can feel the weight coming off your shoulders (literally) as you watch the hair fall to the ground and you feel nothing but happiness. Cutting your hair is liberating. It’s another form of letting go. You’ve let go of a lot of things over the last few years, and typically when you do, you don’t miss it when it’s gone (whatever that thing was). The same holds true with your hair. You watched it fall to the ground and felt your whole body shift.

And you stood up straighter.stephaniehair1

 

 

Stories I Left Out of Baseball Girl

facts:fiction

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The book’s been out for over two months now. The typical questions I get are as follows:

1) How true is this story?

2) Did you marry a reporter?

3) Did you date a ballplayer?

4) Did all these things happen to you?

People are always fascinated by writers and where they get their ideas. Even friends with whom I’m close are probably wondering if aspects of the book are true and what I’ve held back from them. (Nothing…well, maybe…)

What is more interesting, as the person who wrote the story, is how many stories I left out of the book (of course to protect the innocent). Seriously, I could tell some tales, but the beauty of Baseball Girl is that it is actually fiction, loosely based on real occurrences that took place while I worked in the sport. There were more stories that I could have told, but some of those stories are treasured ones that I didn’t want to morph into fiction. Some of those need to remain standing as nonfiction.

The driving force behind Francesca’s need to secure the job with a baseball team is that she is getting over the loss of her father; he dies at a very young age, and she is left as a 19-year-old who cannot seem to let him go. Francesca’s story is quite different from my own. My father and I just hung out with my mother on Friday. In fact, when I was about to release the book, my father asked me jokingly why the dad had to die. “Someone had to go,” I told him. I needed a starting point for the story, and didn’t want it to mimic my life too closely. I didn’t want people wondering if it was a memoir. It’s not. I started my career at the Orioles when I, too, was 19, but it was because I wanted to try working in public relations while I was in college. I happened to luck into working for a Major League baseball team. Francesca secures the job as a form of therapy.baseball-backgrounds_89141-1600x1200.jpg

When we read stories, we are always looking for the truth on the pages. But the fact is, there is truth in everything we write, or we wouldn’t write it. Even when we write fiction, there are still stories to be told and lessons to be learned, even if it happens in a fictitious place like Bay City with a team called the Blackbirds.

As for what I left out of the book, I admit, I did leave some juicy things out. Perhaps I’ll save them for the sequel.

It’s Not Bragging. It’s Marketing.

BaseballGirlFinalCover50StarIt’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and if you don’t toot your own horn now and then, you will get buried in the monstrous pile of authors who are all doing the same thing you are doing. The life of an independent author is not a glamorous one, unless of course, you are Amanda Hocking. The world of the independent author who participates in this craft is one of resilience, determination, boundless creativity, and an unwillingness to stop promoting a product you think is decent work (at least good enough to share with the public).

Therefore, when you get a 5-Star Review from a reputable organization such as Readers’ Favorite, you want to tell everyone that your reviewer thinks you did pretty well. Jack Magnus’s review of Baseball Girl captures the notion that you did a 5-Star job at telling your story to your intended audience.

Don’t be fooled. This does not mean that receiving this nod causes book sales go through the roof when you are recognized. However, what comes from it is personal satisfaction. Your story is well-written enough to garner a 5-Star award. Think of the recreational athletes who participates in 5K, 10K or half-marathon or marathon runs. They are not doing it for fame or fortune; they become involved in the races because of personal growth and satisfaction. Sometimes, that’s all they are looking to accomplish. The same is true for writers, even independent ones. Receiving this type of positive commentary is something that makes you proud.

Furthermore, it’s another opportunity to share some good news on your blog and tell people a few additional things about the nature of your novel. You want readers to understand the following:

1-You don’t have to like or have an interest in baseball to read the book. Baseball is merely the backdrop for which this story of love, loss, and passion are rolled into the plot.

2-It’s a contemporary romance, and a man liked it. That’s promising!

3-Don’t let the title fool you. It’s not about a girl who plays baseball. It’s about a woman who works in the professional sport and who dabbles in love while simultaneously navigating her career and the loss of her father.Support Independ Authors Button.indd

Additionally, Charles Steinberg of the Boston Red Sox had this to say about Baseball Girl:It’s a vivid, accurate portrait of life in baseball—as authentic a description as you’ll find of the lifestyle in the public relations and community relations departments of a ballclub. ”

Authors do write for themselves, but it’s pointless if you can’t get others to read your work. I hope if you have not picked up your copy of Baseball Girl today, you will consider doing so in the near future. I would love to hear if you think Jack Magnus got it right.

Five * Seven * Five

rainywalkFive. Seven. Five. That’s the typical length of a haiku. Five syllables make up the first line, seven make up the second, and five again make up the third. When you write novels, you have pages and pages to tell a story; in a short story, you have much less time, and in poetry, you have lines. I’m posting three haikus I’ve written that I like best. I hope you like them, and even more so, that I inspire you to write one of your own.

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Haiku: Blizzard
White winter blizzard
covers moonlit landscape, still;
boots thaw by the fire.

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Haiku: One with Venezia
Heels tap streets, click, click—
gondolier sings “Volare;”
charm bounces off walls.

* * *

Longing, A Haiku

Rain on the pavement,

Your feet striding down the street.

Longing to see you.

Understanding Intrinsic Motivators in Business & Life

BalloonFor a few years now, I’ve become interested in creativity and leadership in today’s ever-changing business world. Last spring, I presented a paper on the topic at our university’s conference whereby I used Malcolm Knowles’s book on the topic and helped relay what makes successful creative leaders. Knowles’s findings and suggestions state that creative leaders inspire others in business. There are many ways you can get members or your organization or team to become more vested in their jobs, but one particular notion that is propelling companies to—as Steve Jobs suggested in his Apple ads, “think different,”—is to allow intrinsic motivators to set the stage for business today.

In 2010, Coon & Mitterer defined instrinsic motivation as “occurring when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials.” Brown (2007) defined it as “the reason why we perform certain activities for inherent satisfaction or pleasure; you might say performing one of these activities is reinforcing in and of itself.” In both business and education, allowing folks to engage for their own sake helps them find ways to express their creativity and contribute to an organization. Sometimes students or employees will define work as interesting, engaging, enjoyable, and just plain fun; if they do this, they have found some sort of intrinsic reward. They are satisfied with the work.

There are five factors that can lead to intrinsic motivation, and they have the potential to make people feel good about the work they do. These five factors include (1) a challenge: people become more connected to things that boost self-esteem or provide satisfaction when reaching a goal; (2) curiosity: if people are interested in things, they tend to become more stimulated by them; (3) control: people want control over their own lives and choices; they don’t want to be told what to do and how to do it all the time; (4) cooperation and competition: cooperating with others to solve problems and create things builds camaraderie. Likewise, a little healthy competition can push us to work better to complete certain tasks; and finally, (5) recognition: few people turn down a compliment, accolade, or general praise.text2mindmap

To better understand intrinsic motivation, look at each of the five categories and ask yourself what motivates you to do certain things. What motivates you at work, and do you find job satisfaction because of any of the intrinsic factors? What motivates you to pursue outside activities, such as a craft, a hobby, sports, etc? Why do you continue to participate in these activities?

When we are not forced to do things, but rather feel that we have some control over our own satisfaction, we typically become more vested in the tasks at hand. Look at creative companies such as Apple, Zappos, Google, Amazon and Starbucks. These companies did not get where they are today because they didn’t value their employees’ creativity; they got where they are because innovation and a willingness to allow time for creativity was important.

Whether you work independently or in a larger group, you still need to understand your own intrinsic motivators. What motivates me as an educator? I can answer that: seeing students secure internships; watching them present their ad pitches well at the end of the semester; seeing students grow into confident writers. As well, personally, I am motivated by time spent writing and researching to fulfill that side of my personality and professional goal. Now, as an independent author, different things motivate me than perhaps would do so as a professor. Being a writer is an autonomous job, but at the end of the day, a reward I get is satisfaction, especially if someone reads one of my books and enjoys it. I also enjoy the challenge. I like the control I have over my own project (which is why I enjoy being an independent author so much).

If you don’t already know what motivates you, make a list. I had my students in internship preparation class today make a list of what will motivate them one day when they get a full time job. For some, it was money; others said flexibility; others said working in teams with others and enjoying a team spirit. These are all good motivators, and for each of us they are different.

You just need to learn which ones speak to you.

Random Thoughts on a Gloomy Day

When I put a call for help out there last night—WHAT SHOULD I BLOG ABOUT?—I got an answer from a friend of mine. She suggested that I write down random thoughts over the course of 24 hours. That’s a big challenge and a lot of hours, but I came away with these random thoughts and thought I’d share them with you on this very gloomy April day.

My thoughts are below, but I also created a mind map–creativity and thoughts in action–and included it here.

Steph's Mind Map

Golfer Ben Crenshaw’s wife looks amazing…Jordan Spieth’s poise and command was incredible to watch at this year’s Masters…I’m proud of my son for making the tennis team and he’s still working hard on his golf game…I love that I have a bike with a basket…As long as Kelly Clarkson and Pink and normal folk are comfortable in their own skin, that’s what matters…I’m happy that April showers bring May flowers, but winters in Maryland seem to go on and on, and we are incredibly thankful when we have a burst of warmth and sun like we did yesterday when it hit 80 degrees…I’m not at all ready for bathing suit weather…My students did a great job on writing their memoirs; I’m very proud of them…Opening Day was great, but I look forward to going to a game and sitting in seats when it’s sunny…I wonder if Sara Gruen’s new book will be as good as Water for Elephants…Will I ever write and publish another novel?…The Girl on the Train was very good, even though I’m typically not a thriller reader…Four weeks of school left until summer break…Can’t wait…Went to the doctor and got some medicine for my sinus infection, a bad one this time, and she gave me a steroid, too. Maybe I’ll be able to hit a home run or two after I finish this round…I miss traveling and being carefree like I was in my twenties…Dealing with a pre-teen girl is not always easy, is it?…Can’t wait to see how this textbook on event planning that I’m writing with colleagues turns out; I’ve never tackled anything like this before…When I read old poetry that I’ve written I can get very melancholy, but I think that’s the point of poetry to begin with—to get our inner-most feelings out…Why is it so difficult to market your own, independent novel?…My friend Jenny got a puppy and I can’t wait to meet her. My daughter will be thrilled, too!…Why don’t my clothes fit like they used to?…Why does gravity seem to work double-time as you get older?…Why do people rely on text messages so much?…Why can women be unkind to other women?…How does an act of forgiveness free you?…Who is the most important person in your life? Who has done the most for you? Who loves you unconditionally?…What am I going to make for dinner?

A Word to New Parents: Be Sure To Write About Your Kids

This is a cute baby journal, available at Anthropologie.

This is a cute baby journal, available at Anthropologie.

One of the biggest regrets I have is that I didn’t spend more time writing about my kids, the funny things they say, and the funny things they do. I wish I had written about all the cuteness and kept it all contained in one spot, so I could go back and read it over and over again. It’s one of those things you will do in life that will make you smile and chuckle. I’ve written some of my funny stories about my kids here on the blog and entitled them Conversations with my Daughter and Conversations with my Kids, so at least I did write down a few of them.

Keeping a journal about your kids is something that will prove to be invaluable; it is a keepsake that is irreplaceable. While pictures are lovely, you will want to write down stories, thoughts, things they say, how proud you felt, (how proud they felt), and other commentary that you will always want to remember. It’s a place to keep stories you will want to retell, perhaps much later in life at a college graduation or wedding.

Zinsser's Book: On Writing Well...very helpful.

Zinsser’s Book: On Writing Well…very helpful.

William Zinsser in his book about writing talks about a memoir his father wrote and distributed to about 20 members of his family. The memoir was heartfelt and written in his father’s own voice, which Zinsser said made it even more special; as he read it after his father passed, he could still “hear” his voice through the words he had written. Additionally, the memoir was not written to be published; it was written as a keepsake, so that the family would have memories that could be passed down from generation to generation.

This is why you will want to write your stories down. Most of you are not writing with the intent to publish these pieces, but rather writing to share stories with your family as the years roll by, so that you can remember and recall them vividly.

My Quotable Kid...another type of journal

My Quotable Kid…another type of journaldown.

As I sit here now writing this to you, I am thinking about my many Facebook friends–lots of the them former students who have married and are starting the next phases of their lives with marriages and new babies. To those of you who are new parents, do yourself a favor and begin to write. To those of you with older children, it’s not too late.

Get a journal, and write the story of your life.

When You Realize What Makes You Happy

LIghtning boltPicture this: It’s Sunday morning, the last day of your academic spring break, whereby you spent most of the time working, doing some aspect of your full-time job or your writing hobby that you do. You are tangled up in all of the stresses that make up your everyday life when all of a sudden … magically … it … appears … whether it is divine providence or by the hand of your own Fairy Godmother (why should Cinderella be the only one?). There it is, literally, in black and white.

Bippity, boppity, BOOM.

You breathe.

Like a thunderbolt from the sky, Tom Muha, and his Sunday article in The Capital, is staring you in the face. In the “Achieving Happiness” column, he writes this week’s tips: Here are steps you can take to ease stress.

People can tell you to let things go, to allow time for yourself, to worry less and live more, yada, yada, yada…but often, you don’t pay attention. Why? Because you are too stressed out to give it any time.

As your Fairy Godmother mystically urges you to lean forward, sip your coffee, and read on, you become engrossed in his tips. You wonder why you’ve never taken the time to do some of these things he’s mentioning that will ease stress. You wonder why you’ve been so hard-headed.

You are so mesmerized, you decide to write a blog post because you’ve been thinking about it for three full days, as you’ve periodically referred to the article you tore out of the paper.

Muha wants you to do some of the following things: Choose to be happy and value it. Realize that happiness is an inside job, and you have to picture yourself being happy. Do it now. Why wait? Practice both appreciation and forgiveness. Create positives that can help counterbalance negatives. Practice being happy and make others happy. Attitude creates gratitude, and others enjoy people with good attitudes. And lastly, always keep your spirits up through meditation, prayer, or communing with nature, no matter what the challenges you face are.

Those were his suggestions in a nutshell.

Simple really, yet so overwhelmingly tough to consider putting into practice.

You remember that time you were in Italy with your husband, sitting outside enjoying a meal, watching people smile and laugh and talk with each other over long lunches; you remember watching the Italians laugh heartily, enjoy their food, laugh some more, and spend countless hours together over wine, the scent of romance in the air, and not a sign of stress to be found.Cecconi's

You remember thinking we’ve got it all wrong back home. You remember the saying you heard all those years ago when you were working in baseball—long, long hours—in addition to working a second job. Those words echo even now: “Work to live; don’t live to work.”

There is a time and place for stress; you recognize this for sure. Couldn’t you take some things off of your own plate that you put on it? In your own ambitious state, you could dump at least a few of them for the time being, you think. You realize this is possible. You realize you have the power to do it.

You learn something you had previously refused to acknowledge before.

Finding balance, happiness, and easing stress are your own doing. You have to admit you bring some of it to your own table.

And perhaps you also learned that Fairy Godmothers—or Godfathers—can come to you in many forms, perhaps even disguised as an article in your hometown newspaper.

FairyGodmother

Snow, Spring and The Dad in Baseball Girl

March 20, 2015. My backyard in Maryland.

March 20, 2015. My backyard in Maryland.

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This picture above was taken minutes ago in my backyard in Maryland. It’s the first day of spring, and Maryland is “supposedly” in the South. Sometimes you wouldn’t know it. Like today, when the birds should be chirping and tulips should be starting to come to life.

This weather is for the birds. And by “the birds,” I mean the Bay City Blackbirds in Baseball Girl. Won’t you consider hunkering down with a book written by a struggling independent author and see what happens in the love triangle among a ballplayer, a sports writer, and a woman who works in baseball before the official start of this season? I promise that you don’t have to love baseball to like the story…perhaps just have a dad you love(d) a lot. It’s the most important relationship in Baseball Girl, and the driving force in Francesca’s ability to grow.

JessicaThis pretty photo was sent to me by a former student who also happened to work in baseball.

Have a great weekend, all. Think Spring.

And baseball.

It’s All About Love

BBGirlAd

Yet another marketing piece I’ve created: an ad to help promote Baseball Girl.

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One of the things I’ve had to come to grips with lately is that if you have created something that is independently yours, whether it’s in the role of author of a book, director of an indie film, or maker of lovely art, you will always be working, always promoting. Additionally, you have to believe that you are your own brand and must act as the innovator, marketer, branding expert, and salesperson of the work you have created.

That’s a lot of responsibility to put on one mere person who probably can’t afford to do this craft without another full-time job or source of other income.

So those of us in this arena must learn to be our own best marketers and promoters, similar to P.T. Barnum, that harmless deceiver of the circus all those many years ago. “Without promotion, something terrible happens—nothing!” he mused.

P.T. Barnum, the harmless deceiver

P.T. Barnum, the harmless deceiver

He also said, “Whatever you do, do it with all your might. Work at it, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring a single hour that which can be done just as well now.”

The truth of the matter is, once you’ve created something that took you years to finish, you actually do want someone to enjoy it, read it, watch it, love it. The problem arises with promotion—how do we get someone to read our work, see our film, admire our art? And furthermore, how do we hope those people will spread the news?

When I launched Beneath the Mimosa Tree three years ago, I found myself rather on the ball. I wrote press releases, sent the book out to local media, made phone calls, donated complimentary copies, and promoted the hell out of it on  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and this lovely blog. Over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly busier, both at work (and writing a textbook) and with my family, especially my children who are involved in many sports and activities. There are only so many hours in the day. There is only so much time I can devote to spreading the word about Baseball Girl.

You probably feel the same way if you are similarly an independent artist. It’s exhausting. I sometimes scratch my head and ask myself why I do this? Why this hobby of mine so important? Why I want people to read my work and like my stories?

P.T. Barnum was also known to have said, “Literature is one of the most interesting and significant expressions of humanity.”

I think he may be right.

I can’t explain my need to do what I do and exhaust myself in the process except to say that both my novels were my expressions and they were made with love.

So in the end, I suppose it is all about love.

Women Writing Women & A Quick Update

Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane

Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane

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Yesterday, in a tribute to Women’s History Month, I sat on a panel along with other female writers at the Aberdeen Library. Our moderator, Laura Fox, associate professor of humanities at Harford Community College, asked insightful questions in order to get all of us panelists talking about the female characters we write.

Our panel consisted of published authors Karin Harrison, Jen Vido, Lynn Reynolds, Terrie McClay, Diane Wylie, and yours truly. All of us have written more than one book, and all of us write because we love it. For some, it’s a hobby; for others, it’s a vocation. Nevertheless, we all write because we feel compelled to tell a story, and our female characters keep us coming back.

MaughamThere was a good crowd in attendance, most of them wanting to hear from authors about our process, what got us writing, and then, what got us to publish our writing. After the session, I talked with a woman who said she never reads fiction—all nonfiction—and I tried to explain to her what an escape reading fiction is; it allows us to go to places we might never have gone before. I hope she takes my advice and picks up a piece of fiction just for fun.

Ultimately, all on the panel expressed their drive to write characters that come from the heart. You have to write about something that interests you. This doesn’t mean that you should only write what you know; several on the panel write after conducting extensive research or because they want to understand how they would handle a certain situation (such as dealing with breast cancer or having someone try to steal your farm away). Others write to unveil how women can often be unsupportive of other women, as Jen Vido scribes in her Piper O’Donnell series.

At the forefront of all of our thinking, I believe it was apparent that we all have a common goal: to entertain with our stories. Our fiction does not have to be good vs. evil; in fact, many of us said that we do not write an “evil” antagonist, such as Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. Often, it’s an inner struggle that our main female characters are tackling or a notion that has them perplexed, such as whether or not she is capable of great forgiveness. In the end, these female characters have to come to a realization or an understanding of who they are and who they can become.

Flowers:BaseballIn Baseball Girl, my latest release, it was a conscious choice not to make one of the men in the love triangle “evil.” That would be too easy. Instead, making them both good men who have different life experiences makes each of them unique, though perhaps not a good fit for the main female character, Francesca. Likewise, she is coping with the death of her father—a loss greater than she can imagine—and must learn to grow despite his absence.

The best part of meeting other female writers and hearing their stories is the sense of belonging it provided. To know we are not alone in our writing and publishing struggles and successes is comforting. In that room yesterday, I sensed all of us silently rooting for one another to produce the best novels we can; to entertain our readers in the best ways we can; and to never lose sight of why we write…because we know we can.

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On another note…

I’m feeling very proud today. Baseball Girl has hit #82 in Hot New Releases in Contemporary Fiction and #96 in Sports Romance. Thank you for all the love and support.

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