Wednesday, January 17, 2018

TEN QUICK TRICKS TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE TODAY

by Sonja Stone


BABY STEPS.


I'm such an all-or-nothing thinker that the thought of 'baby steps' immediately prompts a bout of eye-rolling. However, having recently completed my new year's goals, I realized that simply rewriting last year's goals onto this year's calendar doesn't seem to be getting the job done, as I have been doing this since 2009. 

Rather than revamp every area of my life all at once to become my ideal physical-mental-emotional-spritual-occupational self, perhaps I should try something new. Maybe if I add a few actionable items to my daily life I'll begin to see small changes. Perhaps this will inspire further change. Maybe drastic change.

Photo by Josh Felise on Unsplash


Here are a few things I've decided to add to my daily routine:

10 MINUTES OF MORNING YOGA
My favorite routine (available on my iPad) is Exercise TV's Meaghan Townsend's am yoga. This link takes you to YouTube, but if you like it, please purchase the video from a legit site (I bought mine on iTunes). I'd like to do this at least five days a week.

AN EVENING GRATITUDE LIST
Each evening before bed I pledge to jot down three things I'm grateful for. I used to do this on a regular basis, and I found that throughout the day, I'd keep a running list in my head of items to add to my journal. I think it helped me look for the good. This morning, for example, I went outside in the freezing cold (50 degrees) and admired my crocus bulbs poking up through the mulch. I can't express how excited I am that my little bulbs are growing! I worried for months that I'd planted them incorrectly, hadn't fed them well, supplied too much (or maybe not enough) water, and here they are, despite my lack of gardening skill!

EAT A VEGETABLE EVERY DAY
Yeah, you read that right. Not 'eat seven to ten servings of veggies every day.' I'm committing to eating one. Hopefully I'll have more, but if I can consume one serving of leafy greens a day, I'll be well ahead of 2017.

For those of you who like the idea of small, daily steps, here are a few more suggestions that might resonate with you. (They are listed separately because I feel that three commitments are enough for me to pledge right this second. :))

LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE IN TEN MINUTES A DAY
There are so many free apps that offer quick language lessons. One of my favorites is Duolingo. It's available for desktop or mobile devices, and they have over a dozen languages from which to choose. Lessons are completed in minutes, so you can study for as long as you'd like. I've read over and over that learning a foreign language later in life staves off mental decline. (So maybe I should add this to my list of commitments.)

EXERCISE YOUR BRAIN
My boyfriend uses the Luminosity app on his iPhone. He has the free version, which allows for three free games every day (the app assigns the games based on his performance on past games). Luminosity is also available on your desktop, if you prefer. With time, his game performance has improved--as would be expected--but he's also noticed his general recall in day-to-day activities is better.

BE HELPFUL
Sometimes I'm in a crappy mood. Like, miserable to the point where I'm sick of myself--if I could ditch me on the side of the road, I would. The fastest way for me to stop feeling sorry for myself is to help someone else. It doesn't even have to be someone less fortunate--calling a friend to see how's she's doing, offering to help someone load their groceries in the parking lot, waving someone in on the freeway (this is actually a pretty big deal in Arizona, where most drivers think a blinking indicator from the motorist beside you means "speed up and block them out"). Not all of us have the time (or inclination) to sign up for a regular volunteer commitment, or are able to mentor someone on a regular basis. But I can certainly find a few minutes in the day to spread a little kindness.

PRACTICE THE FOUR AGREEMENTS
Almost everyone has heard of the book The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. The four agreements he identifies are: 1) Don't take anything personally, 2) Be impeccable with your word, 3) Always do your best, and 4) Don't make assumptions. Integrating these principles into my core has been life-changing. For example, the agreement not to take anything personally. Not everyone will enjoy my writing--it's not personal. I don't love everything I read--even when other people do. My father, for example. I love and respect him (and his opinion), but we rarely like the same books. And the agreement to be impeccable with my word--to speak with truth and kindness, to not gossip. I'm pretty good about practicing this agreement in real life, but on Twitter? I might need to revisit that chapter...

MEDITATE FOR FIVE MINUTES A DAY
I'm so embarrassed that I'm not ready to commit this to my daily list at the top of this post. I KNOW the health benefits of meditation. I KNOW that I have high cholesterol, and that my parents both had ischemic strokes at young ages, and that I have an intimate relationship with anxiety. I have two apps on my iPhone for guided meditation (Meditation Studio and Headspace), a book entitled 8 Minute Meditation, by Victor Davich, AND a very expensive desktop meditation program called the emWave Pro by Heartmath. I know that a daily practice of meditation rewires the brain, so that in times of stress it becomes easier to access the previously-developed state of calm. I can't for the life of me figure out why it is so difficult to commit five minutes a day for the purpose of meditation. At this point, I have no explanation other than I'm belligerent.

CARDIO
Everyone knows vigorous exercise elevates mood and increases energy. People who do cardio burn more calories at rest than those who don't. The key to sustainable cardio is finding an activity that you enjoy. Martial arts? Hiking? Zumba? I'm not a gym person--I know this about myself. I'm barely motivated to walk into the next room and get on my elliptical, so signing up for spin classes would set me up for failure.

DO ONE THING EVERY DAY (or week) THAT BRINGS YOU JOY
I'm not very good at playing. I love puzzles, but putting together a puzzle feels like a frivolous waste of time. Did you hear what I said? DOING SOMETHING FOR THE SHEER PLEASURE OF IT FEELS LIKE A WASTE OF TIME. I don't know where I developed that attitude--my parents weren't taskmasters. I've probably passed the same attitude along to my kids, which is really unfortunate. If you're not sure where to start, consider an adult coloring book--they're everywhere these days (I mean a coloring book for grownups, not an x-rated coloring book). Here's one by Sasha O'Hara called Calm the F*ck Down. Don't forget to order your colored pencils and a sharpener!


It's mid-January, so I still have excellent intentions for the coming year. I'll try to remember that a late start (or a few missed days) doesn't mean I have to throw out my whole self-improvement plan. Life is NOT all-or-nothing. Life is a series of 10-minute blocks of time. I can do anything for ten minutes...

What do you do on a regular basis that lifts your mood or improves the quality of your life? Please leave your tips below!

Photo by Josh Felise on Unsplash

Friday, January 12, 2018

Christopher Reich Goes Rogue

...Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Please welcome our friend, New York Times bestselling author, Christopher Reich, dubbed "The John Grisham of Wall Street" in a New York Times review in their Business Section.  
Born in Tokyo, traveling the world, including summers with Outward Bound on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, graduating from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown then adding a Masters at the University of Texas Business School gave Chris incredible experiences that he has woven into his terrific financial thrillers. In fact, a job at the Union Bank of Switzerland gave him the inspiration for his first novel, Numbered Account. 

We asked Chris to tell us about some of those travels and especially the foreign operatives he met along the way, many of whom ended up as characters in subsequent books.  Here's his story:



Private Spies, Porky Pies, and Government Lies



Could it be ten years ago that I found myself walking down Bond Street in Mayfair, London looking for a certain discreet office advertised only by its street address and tucked in between a “wonderful art gallery and a perfectly awful rug merchant?” (My host’s words, not mine.)

            At the time, I was in England doing research for the second in my “Rules” series, the novel that became “Rules of Vengeance.”  I’d spent the past week meeting with officials from both, appointments set up by friends in the law enforcement community back home in the USA.  I’d spent a day at Scotland Yard and a day at the “murder center” in north London.  The one anecdote I remember from my afternoon with the homicide police came after I’d asked if they were ever horrified by what they discovered.  In films and movies, one so often sees a detective rush outside to empty his stomach after finding a particularly grisly corpse.  One older policeman gave me a side glance and shook his head.  “Get sick?  At the scene?  You kidding me? We tend to take a look and have a laugh. Mostly criminals killing each other anyway.  Always amusing to see how they do each other in.”   So much for the movies!
The first half of the story took place in London and involved MI5, the British domestic security service (similar to the FBI) and Scotland Yard.
Scotland Yard

As for MI5, authors don’t get invited into the headquarters proper, so I’d met with two of their agents in an Indian restaurant not far from Harrods.  I think I filled two notebooks with all the fascinating information they imparted.  Anyway, as we left the restaurant, my tongue still burning from the five-alarm curry, one of the officers from “Box” (which is the inside baseball term for what they themselves call MI5) offered to introduce me to a colleague who’d gone over to the dark side…the private sector.  His friend had joined a small group of former MI5, MI6 (the British Spy Service…think James Bond), and Scotland Yard officers who’d set up shop as freelance investigators. He called them “private spies.” 
And so it was that one rainy fall afternoon in London, I was admitted into the offices of “Grosvenor Associates” on the second floor of a building tucked in between an art gallery and a rug shop.  The man I was to interview was named Tony, and for the life of me I can neither remember his last name or find his business card.  Tony was in his fifties and looked as if he’d been sent over straight from central casting.  Tall, slim, dignified, gray-haired, quiet with an air of steely strength.  I’m a John LeCarre fan and Tony looked exactly as I’d pictured the character of Peter Guillam, George Smiley’s acolyte.  His offices were spare and modern, gray carpets, sleek desks, hardly a soul to be found.  It was Tony who told me not only what he did presently, but all about his time in MI5.  Apparently, you can’t talk too much about the job when you’re still working there, but once you’ve left, you’re free to let loose…to an extent.
But while Tony’s career at MI5 was of great interest, (domestic counterterrorism investigations), it was his job as a private spy that really captured my attention, mostly because I’d never heard about the profession. Who exactly did he spy on?
Tony told me his job was to “collect information” for his clients.  I had two questions.  Who were his clients and what kind of information?  His answers were “everyone” and “everything.” But primarily, he admitted after a prolonged silence, he worked for banks, politicians and political parties, and large corporations. If you suspected your wife was cheating on you, Tony was not the man to contact.  His bag of tricks did not include a camera with a large telephoto lens.   He did, however, have contacts with all the major banks and insurance companies, with his former colleagues at Box and MI6, as well as across the pond, and with his counterparts on the continent.  Of course, Tony spoke fluent French, German, and Arabic.  We talked for three hours straight.
Flash forward ten years and the whole world knows about private spying and one private spy in particular.  His name is Christopher Steele and he is the author of the so-called “Russia dossier” which is certainly in the news today. Whatever Steele collected and put in that dossier, my sense is that the information came from sources he’d vetted over a long career.  Steele was a collector, not a creator.  He was an archaeologist digging up bones, and as devoted to his craft as Richard Leakey.
And so, it was because of Tony, and, later, Christopher Steele, that I created my own private spy to star in my new series of books.   His name is Simon Riske.  He’s an American living in London, a former banker, secretly an ex-con, who runs an automotive repair shop restoring Italian sports cars in between doing jobs for banks, politicians, and large corporations.  And, of course, the odd intelligence agency that can’t be seen to be getting its hands dirty.  By the way, the title of the book is “The Take.”  Good fun!

                                                _________________________________

This new thriller, The Take,  will be out January 16 featuring that Simon Riske character who has been described as "One part James Bond, one part Jack Reacher."  I've already pre-ordered my copy...hope you will too as I'm sure it will be a great read. Now, thanks, Chris, for being our guest here on Rogue Women Writers! ..... Karna Small Bodman

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Four Life Management Tips from the Pros with Suggested Books

My new planner and flowers to brighten up the day

1. Time management counts--no matter what your profession or goals

I'm always looking for ways to increase productivity.  Sometimes my to do list is so long that I don't keep to my tried and true routine and then things fall through the cracks. (Thank god for Gayle Lynds. Don't know what I'd do without her. She usually plans far ahead and then gives me a kindly nudge,"What about that upcoming panel in July?" I'll bet she has some excellent tips).

I love time management tips and read just about every book or blog post on the subject that I can find (which some would argue is not a good use of time).  I like Stephen Covey's (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and am preparing to read Eat that Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, by Brian Tracy.

I have a timer on the table when I log into Facebook or Twitter, because I enjoy hearing from my friends and if I didn't time myself I'd stay online forever and no books would get written.

2. Conquering clutter helps tremendously (but we all know this and still have our junk drawers).

For this project I'm delving into Throw Out Fifty Things, Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life, by Gail Blanke. I'll let you know in a later post if I find my life, but this book comes highly recommended.

And then there's Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo is the Japanese organizing guru who thanks her socks for their service. As a runner I know from socks, and while I don't talk to mine, I spend an inordinate amount of time searching through the laundry to try to figure out where they disappear to when I'm not looking. If anyone has a tip for keeping laundered socks together have at it in the comment stream because I swear the washer is ingesting them.

Kondo suggests attacking clothes first and leave photos for last because they are the hardest to cull. So, true rebel that I am, I started with photos. Mostly because I stumbled over boxes of them while heading to get the Christmas ornaments out of the basement closet. The photo boxes went flying as did the photos. Four hours and two garbage bags later my husband came home and stared in astonishment as he looked at the throw away pile. I explained that we're not the greatest of photographers and all those "2 for 1" specials over the years made for a lot of boring photos and duplicates. Lovely man that he is, he immediately made a cup of coffee for me and dove in to help. We tossed them that day because our youngest is very sentimental and if she had seen the bags would have been horrified that we threw away those duplicate blurry photos of the cat. (See one of the hundreds that we kept below).

3. A word count requirement is your friend.

This one is for writers. My word count requirement is 1000 words per day at least five days a week, but not consecutively. Why not consecutively you ask? Because I work on weekends as well and those days count. I would shoot for seven days, but I just don't have that many words in me every week and running is on the list as well and that takes time. Plus, I hate shopping in most every form and I use Friday am to grocery shop and to do those things I dislike. (Target now has free delivery and I'm ordering more and more online from them. Peapod grocery service is nice, but I've become a big fan of Aldi too, so I trudge there often with my recycling bags in tow).
Sahara or just "kitty"

4. Enjoy the present because the future is uncertain.

Okay, this is my tip. My mother got things done, but often claimed that "when things settle down I'm going to...." fill in the blanks here. She spent a lot of time trying to learn how to live in the present, but she was raised in an often chaotic environment and she said that she had to learn to block it out in order to be able to get things done. I agree that living in the present is important and wish I could follow this advice more, but like most I find myself thinking of or planning for the future. I'm working on the balance.

That's all I've got for now. If you have any tips and/or books you love please mention them below. I'll add them to my "to be read" pile and thanks in advance!

Happy New Year! Jamie

















Sunday, January 7, 2018

How prescient are you?

...by Karna Small Bodman

Here we are in a new year when I like to look ahead, not look back.  I have to admit I've  never been a fan of those articles highlighting "The best headlines of the past year" -- I prefer to think about what the next headlines might be and then analyze whether I could be "prescient" and create a new thriller that is, shall we say, ahead of the game.  

There are many great writers who have predicted important events in a novel. I recall a thriller by one of my favorite authors, former CIA operative, Charles McCarry, described by The Boston Globe as "One of the best writers of intelligence and political novels in the world." (Of course, I would include my Rogue Writer colleagues in that category as well). Some 30 years ago  McCarry penned a terrific thriller, Better Angels,  about militants using passenger airliners as tools of terror.  At the time, who would have believed such a premise? He was prescient indeed.


Now let's look at what the headlines might be in 2018 and perhaps you can help me fashion a new thriller involving a prediction.  Checking the calendar we see the following events --let's imagine what might occur in and around them:

February -- South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics midst controversy over whether North Korea will be sending athletes to compete in the games, along with their coaches and handlers. Could one of them end up as a defector, joining some 30,000 others who have escaped from that brutal dictatorship to live free in South Korea or emigrate to other countries offering a better life?


March -- Speaking of dictators, the one holding the country of Venezuela in an iron grip will supposedly stand for re-election  again. That is, if it could be called an election and not another ballot stuffing exercise. I used Venezuela as a setting in my third thriller, Final Finesse, when the previous dictator ran the place.  I've had to edit and revise that story (since it will be reissued this summer)
 to bring it up to date and reflect the dire condition of a nation that was blessed with the world's richest oil deposits, but cursed with the mismanagement and corruption that has left that once beautiful country with the highest inflation rate and dire shortages of food and medicine. Can you come up with a scenario surrounding that "election" that could be turned into the next thriller?

Also in March -- looks like the season of dictators because Russia will hold its Presidential election, and does anyone doubt that Vladimir Putin will win -- again?
There are many thrillers written about this ubiquitous character including Putin's Gambit, by Lou Dobbs  and James O. Born, along with Palace of Treason and Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews --winner of International Thriller Writers "Best First Novel" award and soon to be made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence.  That one features a female Russian spy trained in the art of seduction. Now with Putin's continuing reign, who would be a great hero or heroine in a new story?

July -- NATO holds a significant meeting in Brussels. Let's think about how a major conference involving so many world leaders could be the setting of a novel involving NATO's military commanders and a new challenge.  What would it be? An advance on Estonia or Lithuania? Shall we speculate about a particular major or lieutenant racing to ferret out such a plan?

So, my fellow authors and readers, I'm just reviewing an exercise I go through myself when gathering ideas and research for the next book. Now, let's all look ahead to this new year - and while coming up with creative scenarios for novels, let's also think about other new beginnings -- as my Rogue colleagues K.J. Howe and Gayle Lynds wrote in the previous blogs below -- try something new, inspire someone, step outside your comfort zone and learn a new skill.  Perhaps that skill will be  the ability to plot out a novel, sit down, start writing it - and yes, being prescient! Now thanks for visiting us here at Rogue Women Writers.

Submitted by Karna Small Bodman 


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

BRING JOY TO 2018!


by K.J. Howe

At the start of every year, reflection and change feature prominently in our lives.  We assess how the last year has gone and what adjustments we might want to make.  Why not kickstart 2018 by doing something exciting and new--as there are many benefits to doing so:

*If we learn a new skill, our brains and bodies are challenged.  Those stagnant neurotransmitters or muscles are reignited, ready for action again.  And we'll feel better by putting them into practice.

*When we try new things, it brings us perspective.  We see life differently, perhaps allowing us to notice avenues we previously missed or ignored.  New possibilities abound.

*By attempting fresh and exciting activities, we step outside our comfort zones, and this can broaden our ability to recognize fresh opportunities in our lives.

*A change of routine can also stimulate our biorhythm, jolting us intellectually, emotionally, and physically.

*It feels good to make a choice to try something new, even if it is intimidating to you.

*Set a good example for your family and friends.  If you're brave and try something new, maybe you'll inspire someone you love to take a positive step.

*Trying something brand new will decrease the chance you'll be bored--and who wants to be bored?  Life is about living, enjoying.

*If we start the habit of trying new things, we learn to be more open to life, new experiences, and a new future.

The "new" thing doesn't have to be monumental.  Take baby steps by trying a different recipe or activity.  And know that taking up a hobby is beneficial for your health.  Studies show that people who take part in leisure activities--whether it is cross-stitching, running, or reading--became 34 percent less stressed and 18 percent became happier, and the calming effect lasted for hours.

Now that we know the benefits of adding something fresh and different to our lives, I hope I've inspired you to give it a try.  I have a list of items I'm going to try in 2018, and I'd love to share in this exhilarating experience with you!  Would be delighted to hear about what you might try...