Eating the Frog

“If you eat a frog in the morning, the rest of the day will be wonderful.”

When I was a girl, and dragging my feet to postpone something I disliked, such as doing geometry homework, cleaning my room, or babysitting my little sister, my dad would often remind me of the above quote from Mark Twain. A colorful way of saying that when faced with an unpleasant task, get it out of the way first and the rest of the day will be better.I have applied this idea to various aspects of imagesmy life with varying degrees of success.

Years ago when the running craze first took off, Ron and I bought expensive shoes and joined the hordes of 20-somethings huffing and puffing through the neighborhood, unwittingly ruining their knee joints by constant pounding on concrete sidewalks. It was torture. Those who took to it encouraged me to stick with it; that eventually I’d reach that “runner’s high” that would make the torture worth it. Every morning as I made breakfast and dressed for work, the prospect of having to come home after an exhausting day, lace up those shoes and run hung over me like the sword of Damocles.

So I decided to eat the frog. I got up half an hour earlier and ran then. I gave it a fair shot–at least a month because those who keep track of such things say 30 days is how long it takes to develop a new habit. But I still hated it, the runner’s high I was promised never arrived so I traded in  my running shoes for aerobic dance shoes and started over.

Today the top of my dread-to-do list includes scrubbing bathrooms ( and you thought writers’ lives were glamorous–ha!) bathing the dog, and grocery shopping. And it turns out Mark Twain was right. Once I get those things out of the way early in the day, the rest of it does seem much more pleasant.

What’s on your frog list?


The Books That Changed My Life

It’s World Book Night and my fantastic publishing team has put together this beautiful video celebrating the power and beauty of reading.You can see it here:

The other day I was asked about the book that changed my life. I’ve written before about the impact of To Kill A Mockingbird when I was twelve years old. It helped me define my relationship to the Black community in  my small Southern town, and it inspired me to want to be a writer. But there were other books, too, that shaped me. From an early age, I loved biographies. The first one I remember reading was the story of Benjamin Franklin when I was in third grade. I loved reading about Colonial America. Maybe that sealed my fate to become a writer of historical novels.

Everyone in the tiny rural community where I grew up was poor. I didn’t know anyone who had been to college and didn’t dream that one day I would earn not only a BS degree but a masters and a Ph.D. We had an old TV set that worked off and on, so most of what I knew about the wider world came from the old movie star magazines a neighbor gave us. I looked at all the photos of glamorous people and felt disconnected from them. They were not like anyone I knew. Then I discovered the books of Lois Lenski. Those were stories about girls like me. Girls who lived in rural America, who picked cotton and  wore flip flops and whose families struggled to make ends meet. Those girls I understood. My favorites were Strawberry Girl, Judy’s Journey, about a sharecropper’s family, Cotton in My Sack, about cotton farming in Arkansas, and Houseboat Girl, set on the Mississippi River. The girls in those stories showed me that though times were hard, families and courage and determination could carry the day.

As a young teen, I fell in love with Anne Emery’s sweet and innocent romances in books like The Popular Crowd, Sweet Sixteen, Going Steady, and Senior Year.  By today’s standards I’m sure they would seem sappy and goody two shoes, but during my impressionable years those books taught me how to behave around boys. How to respect myself. What a gentleman looked like. And they made me want to write books for other girls. Which I did. My books for teens and pre teens include Semiprecious, Picture Perfect, and Defying the Diva. Thank you, Anne Emery. Thank you, Lois Lenski. And thank you, Harper Lee.

Your turn: What books shaped your life?

Wednesday Night is World Book Night

This week I’m joining forces with my publisher to promote fiction during World Book Night. On Wednesday, April 23, authors around the world will offer novels to people who might not ordinarily choose fiction. What I love about this event is that we’re focusing on the under served in the community–women’s shelters, libraries, homeless shelters, senior centers.

let's encourage reading 'round the world this weel

let’s encourage reading ’round the world this week

Here in my county alone, more than 150,000 adults are functionally illiterate. I can’t think of anything more critical to our future than to promote reading, especially among women. We know that when a mother learns to read, and loves to read, she passes that value on to her children. I really hope that some mother somewhere will see my book and be motivated to want to know the story between the covers.

If you have a chance to participate in World Book Night or any other event that promotes literacy and a love of books, I hope you’ll get involved. Together, we can make a difference, one book, and one reader at a time.

Simple Pleasures

If your life is anything like mine, every day is filled with a never- ending “to do” list that can often leave us feeling cranky and overwhelmed. Laundry, bill paying, car pool, making lunches, work pressures, cleaning, grocery shopping can wring the joy out of life. Lately I’ve tried to find a better balance between the “have to” and the “want to”  by focusing on life’s simple pleasures. A cup of coffee in the quiet of early morning. A chat with a distant friend. A long walk on a tide-washed beach. ( THE best simple 005pleasure of all!)  A single rose blooming beside the door.

This morning when I walked up to the mailbox to mail off some bills, I was greeted by this gorgeous rose. The neighborhood was quiet except for the cardinals singing in the live oaks and the frenzied chatter of swallows seeking out a location for a nest. I slid my bills into the “out” slot and stood for a minute just admiring the individual petals and the velvety texture of this rose. Feasting my heart on its simple beauty. Breathing out, and letting the peace settle in.

What is your favorite simple pleasure? As my Southern grandmother used to say, “Do tell!”