Saturday, April 28, 2007

Synchronicity in Action

Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz about the book “The Secret,” which espouses if you “Ask and believe, you will receive.” Some people regard it as a bunch of hooey. Still, I can’t tell you how often I’ve experienced the gift of this wonderful phenomenon actually working. Call it coincidence; call it the fruit of planning your work and working your plan. Call it whatever you want, but when that happens, it absolutely takes my breath away.

And it recently happened to me in a big way…

I’m very big on setting New Year’s resolutions. It’s a first-week-in-January ritual I return to year after year. Don’t ask what happens to those resolutions come mid-year. Deadlines get in the way; real life takes a stronghold and my good intentions drift off into the ether not to be thought of until the new year… You get the picture. Well, this year, I resolutely vowed to break this self-defeating cycle. I would pick and choose my goals carefully, going for quality over the usual laundry list of whims. Near the top of my list was “Learn to speak French.” I’ve wanted this for so long. I had French in high school and college, and I dust off the useful tourist phrases when I travel to France – always feeling illiterate until the day or so before I leave, when my ear finally tunes into the French frequency. How wonderful it would be to be able to communicate upon arrival. I mean, as a writer, stripping away my means to communicate is almost wors than withholding food and water.

I read somewhere if you devote as little as thirty minutes per day to the study of something you want to accomplish, over time, it’s enough to make you an expert. I don’t know about the “expert” claim, but the application made sense. I could study French for the thirty minutes I was on the elliptical machine doing the daily workout that also occupied that whittled down list of goals.

So I made the commitment. Then a funny sequence of events happened. A few days later, my husband and I started talking about when we could next go to France. It probably wasn’t possible this year. Perhaps next? Wistfully, we agreed, “Yes, next year.” It would be something to look forward to. And by then I’d be nearly fluent in French. Right?

The very next day – I kid you not – the very next day, I got a call from a woman who had hosted a book club that read my Next Novel, "Out With the Old, In With The New." Little did I know, she was on the board of trustees for the Atlantic Center for the Arts . Because she had enjoyed my books, she invited me to be part of a package the art center was auctioning off on April 1 (No April Fool's joke!) at their 24th Annual Horsin’ Around Auction, a gala to raise money for the Art Center.

Here’s the description of the package as it appeared in the auction catalogue :

Lot 28 What Happens in France, Doesn’t Stay in France…
Not in this case anyway, because, while spending a week with five of your friends in the beautiful, early nineteenth century grand Norman Manor House , Le Manoir des Labbes, <> in the French countryside between Paris and Rouen, you will be accompanied by Orlando-based award winning author Nancy Robards Thompson, who will be writing YOU into her Next novel. Take a train into Paris for the day, tour the coast to the glamorous resort town of Deauville with its luxury hotels and casinos, visit Honfleur’s charming harbor village and re-trace Monet’s travels through the streets of timbered houses or, of course, spend the day in Giverny, Monet’s picturesque village – a real pilgrimage for art lovers! Seven days and six nights in the Norman Manor Home with six bedrooms (three of them suites), 3½ baths, large living room and dining room, full kitchen and lovely grounds.

So I put it out there and Voila. I’m going to France! But wait it gets even better… About a week later, a friend introduced me to her sister-in-law, because she’s as big a Francophile as I am. During the course of conversation, I mentioned how determined I was to get a better grasp of the language. Come to find out, the woman is a former high school French teacher who has developed a method of teaching French that she was eager to try out.

Do you seeing the beauty here?

But wait it gets even better… About a week later, a friend introduced me to her sister-in-law, because she’s as big a Francophile as I am. During the course of conversation, I mentioned how determined I was to get a better grasp of the language because I was going to France! Come to find out, the woman is a former high school French teacher who has developed a method of teaching the language that she was eager to try out. She needed a student. I needed a teacher.

So whether you want to travel or write a novel or do something else to enrich your life, no matter how far out there it may seem, the first step to achieving is believe that you can, that you deserve it. Once you’re clear about what you want, it’s amazing how things line up and the Universe finds a way to deliver your heart’s desire.

À la prochaine,


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reading a good book takes my breath away. I'm sure that sounds trite coming from a writer, but when I find a book that I wish I had written, where the words just carry me along, I find it inspiring and breathless. I reading one now. It's by Dean Koontz and I like all his books.

Other things that can take my breath away are a good love story (movie). I keep watching The Lake House over and over. The story is simple and complex. It's complex because of what I am inferring with the plot; the father-son tug of war, the love of two brothers, the need to find that one true woman who will complete your life and the willingness to move heaven or hell (or in this case time) to make it happen. it's simple because it's boy meets girl, boy gets girl.

The unconditional love of a child is a miracle, a wonder, and a breathless encounter. No matter how bad your day had been, the simple act of small arms around you neck can put everything into perspective.

Friends succeeding or trying, giving it their all to do something that's not easy and may even be impossible, but they keep trying. In time maybe their tiny movement or change of persepctive on one person will have the same effect as moving a meteor on a collison course with the earth one tiny centimeter, making it miss the planet by thousands of miles. I have a very good friend who never misses the chance to try and set a child on a positive course. She's a judge and it's not from the bench that she dispenses advice, but from a face-to-face conversation allowing the child to speak his or her mind. Who know how many ripples that affect can have?

There are so many things that can make me breathless, but the last one I'll mention follows an old television program's tag line -- I love it when a plan comes together. There are thousands of directions to take a book, a character, a story. But when you get to the last page, whether you're reading or writing it, and you have that long sigh of breath (ahhh) that signifies contentment, you understand completely what breathless is. Page one has become The End. Oh what a feeling. It happens every time.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007


What leaves me breathless?

I'm still fairly new to blogging, but I have noticed that people usually blog about whatever it is that's going on in their lives at any given moment. Just thinking about everything that's going on in my life leaves me quite breathless. But I really wouldn't want it any other way.

My weekend at the shore was filled with breathless moments; warm sand between my toes, a glorious magenta sunset, the distinct mating chatter of the sandpipers. When I'm at the beach—my favorite place to be—I don't have to look too hard for breathless moments. They're everywhere I turn.

Every Monday I can be found spending the day with Michael Lee III. M3 we've taken to calling him. He's the cutest nine-month old on the face of the planet. He's sitting up and rolling with utter perfection, and he's nearly crawling. When he graces me with one of his bright, toothless grins—I'm breathless.

My father has faced two major surgeries in the past few months. He's home, resting and recuperating. I am proud to say his doctors have called him Superman. My dad is one tough cookie. We went through some rough days together, and I'm hoping that the worse is behind us. But I have found a new appreciation for him, for all he has done for me, for all the love and support he has given. Whenever I see his blue eyes flash with humor or hear him laugh—I'm breathless.

As a writer, I often 'see' my scenes unfolding in my mind's eye like a movie on a theater screen. I have no idea where this ability comes from, but it never fails to leave me breathless.

Last fall both my children moved far away; one to AZ, the other to RI. When the phone rings and I hear the voice of one or the other of my boys—I'm breathless. When my husband comes home from work, sneaks into my office and plants a kiss on my neck—I'm breathless.

I once read that life shouldn't be counted by the number of breaths you take but the number of moments that take your breath away. I believe that with all my heart. I try hard to remain aware and alert. . .because I don't want to miss a single breathless moment.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

What takes my breath away?

There are so many things it's almost impossible to tell you - but maybe because it's different things on different days I can narrow it down a little.

It's April 22 and that means something to me. Just last year - believe it or not - I realized that although I'd always considered September to be my favorite month of the year, April was starting to become a close second, if not actually winning the race to be favorite. Maybe it's because I'm getting older and I appreciate the spring more, but I think, actually, now that I'm writing about it here, it's that I've been out of a school for a long time.

I'm sure all of you, having spent part of your life going to school, know what I mean when I say September used to be the beginning of the year for me. A new school year (college, university, whatever) meant I got new school supplies, new clothes, new ideas and insight. And September, wherever I've been living (Vancouver, Kelowna, Toronto) has always been a beautiful month. Still warm, but no longer too hot, the tourists are, for the most part gone. And the skies are gorgeous.

But April? I know the quote - April is the cruellest month - but I don't believe it. Not anymore.

I look out my window today and it's cloudy, yes, a little windy, but it's definitely absolutely completely spring. And that includes many things that take my breath away...

The daffodils and tulips - brilliant yellows and oranges and reds - lining the streets. The cherry blossoms, palest of pale pinks, drifting down to the street in a sweet soft replica of winter's icy snow. The lovely pale greens of the new leaves on the trees, the almost fluorescent yellow of the dandelions before the gardeners get to them.

And the smells? Oh my god, the smells of spring. The sweetness of hyacinths, the lovely dankness of the manure spread on flowerbeds, the salty enchantment of the spring breezes carrying in over the ocean. The chlorine of the outdoor pools.

And the sounds? The giggles of children enjoying the mild weather. The thump-thump of the runners' pounding feet as they practice for the marathon. The dogs barking as they dash in and out of the water. The bells of bicycles as tourists and residents alike take to the Seawall.

But most of all, spring means birds - songbirds, baby ducks and geese, swans, blackbirds, and most especially, the great blue herons. They're everywhere at this time of year, flying like great pterydactyls across the sky, standing motionless in the shallows waiting to pounce on a frog or a fish, hurrying home in the early evening to their nests high in the trees. I think they're lucky birds for me.

The idea for my first published book - DRAGONFLIES AND DINOSAURS - came from a walk around the Seawall one early spring. I started counting herons in the shallows or flying by and realized that my progress was being measured, not by the time it was taking or the distance I was walking, but by the number of herons I was seeing. The line I dreamed up on that walk was:

I measured my progress by great blue herons...

The line in the book changed, but I thought of that walk and those birds the entire time I was writing the book. The line ended up as:

We measured our progress by red-tailed hawks and the iridescent carcasses of dragonflies flickering against the windshield in the warm light of the setting sun.

but the change meant nothing to me. It was always about that walk on the Seawall and those herons. And, to compound my feeling that they're lucky, just before I sold that book, I was sitting in my living room on a rainy day and a heron came down to land on the railing of my balcony. He sat there for almost an hour, and I spent that hour fascinated and almost frightened by the size of him. Wow.

And there's another thing that takes my breath away? Finding that perfect line or phrase. There's nothing like it.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Staring into Space

Staring Into Space (April 12th)

I was curled into my favorite chair on the sun porch the other night when my husband suddenly appeared with a curious expression on his face. “Why are you always staring into space?” he asked, as if he hasn’t lived with me for, lo, these many years.
“I’m working,” I said, as if patiently explaining some mystery of the universe, “on the new book.” It takes time. Lots of daydreaming.
This is one problem with being a writer. Nobody seems to think you’re really getting anything done (and of course, sometimes I’m not but have a neat excuse). Yet this staring into space is a necessary part of the creative process in all its magical permutations.
But where do ideas come from in the first place? Sorry, but who knows?
I once heard an editor say that any given idea seems to circulate in space, and a number of writers grab the same premise, for instance, as it floats past. On the other hand, that may be a result of everyone watching the same newscasts, reading the same magazines, absorbing the same episode of “Oprah” as they—in my case—grind away on the treadmill.
Sometimes inspiration can come from eavesdropping on a conversation, the touch of a hand, a familiar scent, a remembered taste, even an unexpected observation. The senses can be a great starting point.
Two examples: One steamy afternoon on vacation in Louisiana, I saw a brief exchange between the local guide for a bayou tour and a darkly handsome guy in city clothes who lent a hand to tie up the boat. Muscles bulged. In the docking process these two taunted each other as men do with rough humor and a few Cajun epithets (I assumed) thrown in for good measure. The well-dressed guy’s voice was like dark velvet.
All at once, in a heartbeat, I had the hero of a new book. After all, he’d just saved me from drifting back out into the impenetrable bayou. My mind went spinning. This guy had grown up tough, maybe without a father—but he’d made it out somehow. Let’s say he escaped to New Orleans and became a homicide detective. He has a problem now returning to his roots. Voila, a character was born.
And off I went.
Songs can be very evocative too. I’ve always loved “Danny Boy,” its heartfelt lyrics. But what if Danny is a bull rider who yearns to win the world championship? What if he’s still clinging to that dream when he should be hanging up his rope? What if he’s estranged from the more pragmatic wife he loves—and left behind on a Montana ranch?
Still, any idea is just the start. I don’t pretend to understand what happens after that. Taking that germ of a premise or character, however it first appears, letting it percolate, then making it into something wonderful, deep and rich and textured, perhaps even funny and wise, is where the real work begins.
That’s where the lots of time comes in, and all that staring into space.
Excuse me. Gotta get back to the sun porch now.
Yesterday I read a quote from Dr. Joyce Brothers: “The best proof of love is trust.” Synchronicity. That’s what my newest heroine needs to learn!
Oh. No. I just gave away the ending…

Leigh Riker

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Mystery Of It All

Synchronicity ~n~ Coincidence of events that seem to be meaningfully related.

Call me naïve. Wide-eyed. Innocent. (Heck, call me anything, as my grandmother used to say, just don't call me late for dinner.) I'll offer a secret smile and sing, "Sticks and stones," while silently thanking the heavens for the many blessings that have been gifted to me and mine.

Yes, you've got it. I'm one of those ingenuous people who firmly believe everything happens for a reason. There's no such thing as coincidence. Of course, I have no proof to offer. There's no tangible evidence to be had to substantiate my certainty that there is order and direction in this seemingly chaotic universe in which we live. Planets are whirling, asteroids are flying, our globe is warming, wars are raging, but I still hold tight to my faith that some One (or should that be Someone?) is in complete control.

There's simply too much magic that presents itself for me not to believe. Take me, for instance. In the grand scheme of the universe, my life—my existence—is tiny, infinitesimal. Yet, unexplainable mystery shows up too often for me to dismiss. Case in point: While researching Pennsylvania towns near the Susquehanna River for my current work in progress (HINDSIGHT), the name Wikweko popped up on Google. Now, Wikweko isn't the name of a town (it's described as "an area near Philadelphia") and it isn't near the Susquehanna River, so why did it pop up on my search? It was one of those hair-raising moments for me. Moments, I have come to realize, that deserve full awareness and attention.

Upon further investigation, I discover that Wikweko is a Lenape word meaning "place where something ends" which is absolutely perfect for the theme of my book. And the strangest part of all? My male protagonist is of Lenape heritage. Weird, right? This was dropped right into my lap from the swirling chaos of the cosmos. (Chaos? I don't think so. :::wink:::) How could I not accept this gift from the heavens? HINDSIGHT is set in a fictitious Native American community nestled in the rolling hills near the Susquehanna called Wikweko.

I am careful to stay alert to the great mystery of it all. I don't want to miss a single enchanted event that the cosmos brings my way. Go ahead and think me naïve if you must; I'll just grin furtively, ever vigilant for that next cosmic blessing.


Saturday, April 7, 2007


It's one of the things people always ask me - Where do you get your ideas? I don't have one of those great stock answers like other writers, like I get them at Office Depot or I get them in Kaslo.

But in some ways, both those answers are true for me. I get ideas just about everywhere. Here's a list of the few places I've got ideas for stories or books in the last little while:

  • a deserted drive-in (LAST NIGHT AT THE HALFMOON)
  • a glimpse of a neon sign in a rain-wet alley on a dark February night (AWAKENING)
  • a walk on the beach on a day when there were great blue herons everywhere (DRAGONFLIES AND DINOSAURS)
  • a friend's story about a Second World War pilot (ORION)
  • a phrase of graffiti on a wall as I walked home from work (NAKED FOR JESUS)
  • a tiger (yes, a real tiger) in a downtown parking lot (THE FINE SIBERIAN PARKING LOT TIGER)
  • a title, A Charmed Life, that got changed to THE SUNSHINE COAST NEWS
  • a thrown-off phrase in The Sunshine Coast News (THE GOSSIP QUEENS)
  • a story from a stranger about a group of men who called themselves the losers' club (THE LOSERS' CLUB)
  • the name on a store as I traveled by on a bus (FAR-FETCHED)
  • a story by a friend's mother about the t-shirts she and her friends wore on a trip to Disneyworld (THE TWISTED SISTERS)
  • another story by another friend about a small mountain town (HEARTSTONE)

Every story, every book, every poem comes from something very simple. A phrase, an image, a single line in a story. I never start a book with an idea or a concept, always with something that feels tangible to me. I almost never start a book with a character, but the character comes very quickly once I have that tiny thing, that tiny glimmer of something, that nugget of - I don't even know what to call it - but I guess it's inspiration.

It's something that gets stuck in my mind and rattles around in there, sometimes for a few minutes and I find myself walking down the street writing on an ATM slip or a receipt as I'm hurrying to an appointment. Sometimes for months or weeks, occasionally, though rarely, for years.

It's as if that something, that phrase or line from a story or image, has to stay locked inside, rolling around in my brain, accumulating weight and warmth and texture until it's solid enough to be plucked from the vast dizziness of that universe and locked down into the real world of words.

The other question people often ask is Do you run out of ideas? Sometimes I wish I did. No, what I run out of is time - time to get all the wonderful ideas out of my head and onto the page. I could live forever and still not have world enough and time.


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

April's Nexts

Hi, everybody:

Just wanted to let you see the great covers of the Next books that are on the shelves this month.

Ellyn Bache's RASPBERRY SHERBET KISSES - The first kiss reminded her of raspberry sherbet…

And no man's kiss has since matched that wonderful, summery essence in all its glory. LilyRose knows her rare ability to "see" sounds and "taste" shapes—synesthesia— is a gift that defines who she is…but it's also made her an object of ridicule.

And made her an outcast. That is, until a mean-spirited customer mocks a young girl—and kindred spirit—she's befriended. Years of repression suddenly give way when LilyRose hurls a basket at that customer. And finds herself being escorted from her shop in handcuffs!

For decades LilyRose has searched for that special man who could teach her to embrace her uniqueness. She just didn't expect to find him waiting to pick her up from jail….

And Merline Lovelace's EX MARKS THE SPOT...

Forced to leave her beloved military life behind at the ripe old age of thirty-seven, USAF Colonel Andrea (Andi) Armstrong comes to the Florida panhandle for a fresh start. Little did she know—at least until that auspicious knock on her next-door neighbor's door—that there were some things about her old life she wasn't quite finished with yet.

And evidently, if the expression on his love-struck face was any indication, her ex-husband, Colonel Dave Armstrong—aka said next-door neighbor—wasn't quite finished with her yet either. Hmm. Who was it who said the best is yet to come? Maybe there was something to that after all….
Don't forget to pick them up.