Dare to Think Big

Welcome to my Second Acts Series!

Today, we have author Nancy Raven Smith sharing her rich and varied life experiences.

Here’s Nancy!

nancyravensmithThe first stage of my adult life was all about family and animals, animals, animals. The animals included rescued racehorses, cats, and dogs. Luckily, I convinced my husband to move to a farm in rural Virginia against his wishes. At one point we had 28 rescue horses, 12 cats, 10 dogs, and a cow. And it’s not like we were rich. My husband was a Lieutenant JG in the US Navy. I was a stay at home mom raising two young kids, but I soon began running horse shows to help with our finances. We were also very fortunate to have two wonderful teenagers spend their time with us, trading babysitting for riding lessons. They quickly became part of our family.

It was a great life – kids, animals, the outdoors, and competing in area horse shows.

But then came the day that the kids all grew up and we arrived at empty nest syndrome. The fun went out of the animals, the farm and the competitions. I struggled to keep it going, but it wasn’t the same. It all came to an abrupt end when our oldest daughter and I went to a horse show on one of her college breaks. We were warming our horses up for the show when one of us said to the other, “Are we having fun anymore?” It was a shocking question because the answer was no. To this day we don’t remember which of us asked it, but the realization was gut-wrenching. It was the last time we showed our horses.

Our daughter went back to school. I was left with no idea what to do with my life.

So I cried for a year – in grief for the loss of a life I loved, and in fear of an empty future with nothing to replace it. My family was supportive and put up with me. For that year, I kept asking myself, what can I do with my life? I like being passionate and challenged daily, but I had no training for anything specific. Finally at the end of that year, I reversed the question I was asking myself. Instead of “What can I do,” I flipped it to, “If I could do anything in the world I wanted, what would I do?”

With the change in the question, all sorts of possibilities started popping up. The craziest of which was work in film, not as an actor, but behind the scenes. I knew absolutely nothing about how one worked on a film, so I bought books and read avidly. There wasn’t any film work locally, so I fixated on going to Los Angeles. My husband was about to retire, and the change to California mildly interested him. I heard all the “you’re too old to be hired,” (late forties), “you’re crazy,” and from my own mother, “I hope you’ll fail, so you’ll come back to Virginia.” My husband and kids weren’t sure about the move either, but they gave me the encouragement to go for it.

Relocated in LA, I did temp work at first and took film production classes at UCLA. Within a couple weeks I was applying for film jobs. Then I landed one as a production assistant which had over 100 applicants for a nonpaying position. The job got my foot in the door, and I was soon hired on with a salary. It turned out that my running of horse shows as events correlated directly to working on a film. I had had no idea. Other jobs came rapidly after the first one. And then one day I picked up a script and read it. I had always been an avid reader, never considered myself as a writer, but something about the screenplay writing pulled me. I had to face another choice. Go to school to learn screenwriting or continue working on film as a production coordinator. Film projects are demanding. Eighteen to twenty hours a day are not uncommon. If I tried to do both, I would miss the majority of any classes I tried to attend. I could only do one. The writing won. There was something about it that pulled me.

It was back to office temp jobs that were nine to five and let me attend UCLA Extension nightly. I studied, I wrote, I won awards, my screenplays were optioned, but none produced yet. And then came another turning point. My writing mentor from Women in Film suggested I write one idea as a novel. I was starting to feel like I should ask UCLA for a discount, but it was back to school for more classes on novel writing. It was fortunate there was a large amount of crossover between screenplays and books.

What followed was Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra (a mystery/romantic suspense) and The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill (a family memoir about life on our farm). What also happened was that I found that writing books was the place I wanted to be. The authors I met were great people and truly supportive. I had found my creative happy place. This was where all my steps had brought me and this is where I’m staying.

And my very special family? My husband and oldest daughter have both become writers and our youngest daughter is our greatest supporter.

My advice for those reaching their Second Stages – Dare to think big!

Nancy’s Books

LandSharks-200x314 (2)A fall from grace costs Lexi a position at a top New York financial institution. She ends up in a job at a small private bank in Beverly Hills. But that’s okay, she still gets to work in her favorite field – catching white collar crooks. At least that’s what she tells herself. But when Karista, the daughter of one of the bank’s principal investors, runs into danger while traveling in Indonesia, Lexi’s job comes to depend on her ability to save her. Even worse, Lexi will have to baby sit Steve, her boss’ well-meaning but spoiled son, while going undercover to reach the heiress. Lexi’s cushy tropical assignment soon spirals into chaos as she has to outrun fashion-forward Batak natives, outwit an arrogant FBI agent, help Steve find his stolen Air Yeezy sneakers, and figure out why her ardent former lover and debonair gentleman thief, Andre, is staying at the same resort. Lexi will have to be very good or very lucky to survive it all.

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reluctantfarmerIn The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill, opposites attract; for better or for worse. That is what troubles animal-phobic, robotics engineer Smith who just got married. He learns that his bride’s dream is to have a farm where there are lots of animals and she can rescue ex-race horses to retrain and find them new homes. But according to a Meyers-Briggs Personality Test that they took for fun, their marriage is doomed. There is only one problem: the newlyweds took the test after the wedding.

Whether Smith is chasing a cow named Pork Chop through the woods with a rope, getting locked in a tack room by the family pony, being snubbed by his wife’s dog, or unsuccessfully trying to modernize their barn using the latest technology, the odds are stacked against him. It seems like everything with four legs is out to get him. Will the animals win, forcing Smith to admit defeat, or will he fight to keep his family and the farm together?

Enjoy the true, warm, and frequently hilarious stories of Smith’s journey along the bumpy road from his urban robotics lab to a new life on a rural Virginia farm.

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Where to find Nancy…

Website | Facebook

Joanne here!

Nancy, thanks for sharing your inspiring journey. How wonderful to live, study and work in L.A. Best of luck with all your future endeavors.


Clean Jokes for Toastmasters

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Use one of these jokes at your next meeting.

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A young couple met with their pastor to set a date for their wedding. When the pastor asked whether they preferred a contemporary or a traditional service, they opted for the contemporary.

On the big day, a major storm forced the groom to take an alternate route to the church. The streets were flooded, so he rolled up his pant legs to keep his trousers dry. When he finally reached the church, his best man rushed him into the sanctuary and up to the altar, just as the ceremony was starting.

“Pull down your pants,” the pastor whispered.

“Uh, Reverend, I’ve changed my mind,” the groom responded. “I think I would prefer the traditional service.”

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In a hot desert country not long ago, a shopkeeper set up his stall. The man sold ties. He had ties of every variety: thin ones, wide ones, ones with stripes, others with polka dots.

On a hot, scorching day, the shopkeeper saw a cloud of dust in the horizon. As the cloud of dust of approached, the shopkeeper saw it was a man stumbling across the desert.

The traveler said, “I’ve been traveling across the desert and I’m dying of thirst. Do you have any water?”

The shopkeeper said, “Sorry, I don’t have any water. I’m out of water, but would you like to buy a tie. I have wide ones, thin ones, stripes and ones with dots.”

“I don’t need a tie. I’m dying of thirst I need water.”

“I don’t have water but there’s a village about a mile away, and I know it has a restaurant.” So, he sends the thirsty man away.

About an hour later the shopkeeper sees another dust cloud on the horizon. It’s the same thirsty man crawling on his hands and knees.

The shopkeeper asks, “Couldn’t you find the restaurant?”

The thirsty man sighs. “The restaurant wouldn’t let me in without a tie.”


10 Cool Delights ~ On a Budget!

icecreamsundaes2Last week, I treated myself to a Dairy Queen banana split. I tried not to gasp when the clerk told me the price was $6.77 (CDN). I inquired about the other prices and discovered that, like everything else, Dairy Queen treats had risen in price.

I watched as carloads of families slowly progressed through the drive-through and mentally calculated the minimum and maximum amounts a family of four could easily spend. If they all selected peanut butter parfaits, the cost would be $24.40 (CDN). Four small dipped cones would ring in at $13.00 (CDN). These expenses could add up if summer temperatures soar and humidity levels become unbearable.

While there aren’t too many substitutes for a DQ® Peanut Buster® Parfait, Buster® Bar or Blizzard®, it is possible to create reasonable facsimiles of DQ sundaes and banana splits at home.

Continue reading on the Soul Mate Authors blog.


Changes That Are Out of Your Control

I’m happy to welcome Soul Mate author Tracey A. Wood to my blog. Today, Tracey shares a life-changing story and her new release, Midnight Angel.

Here’s Tracey!

Tracey A Wood (2)I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was over thirty year ago, when I got married. I have always been a bubbly person. Not your glass half empty, kind of person. A few years into my marriage we decided to start a family. It took a while to get pregnant and at first I didn’t think it was going to happen. I conceived my first child and looked forward to my first bundle of joy.

As we all know you carry a baby for forty weeks. At twenty-six weeks I started with pains in my stomach and I was struggling to walk. My husband was due to go to work, as he worked shifts. He kept asking me if I wanted a doctor. I had the pain for hours and eventually gave in. The doctor came and called an Ambulance to take me to the hospital. After a bit of a wait, the hospital doctor examined me and told me that I would have my baby that evening. Everything went through my mind but the first thing to come out of my mouth was “I’m not ready”.

Well, whether I was ready or not, the baby did come that evening. Fourteen weeks early and 950 grams in weight. He was so tiny! He fit in my husband’s hand. His skin was transparent and he was very, very, poorly. He had to stay in the hospital for three months. During this time, we had quite a few close situations where we nearly lost him. He had to have a tracheotomy (which is a tube, in a hole in his neck) and an operation on his heart. Having your first child should be a happy time. It wasn’t, it was very hard but we coped and it made me a stronger person. This kind of thing can put a strain on a marriage but it actually pulled us closer, together.

My son is twenty-eight this year. Oh, he has problems. He has learning difficulties and physical problems. He is mentally like a toddler. But he is alive and he’s happy. That is all that matters. We deal with everything else. This is a change which was out of my control. I believe that every change, in your life, makes you grow as a person. It builds character and makes you a stronger person.

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Blurb

After almost losing her life in a vicious, bloody attack. Kat Shaw, a thirty-something, divorcee, discovers that there are such things as monsters. And the predator who attacked her is not human. She starts to develop unusual skills which have murderous consequences. And is an unwilling witness to multiple, brutal murders, seen through the eyes a killer. Thrown into a battle of Good vs. Evil, she falls in love with two men who are not what they seem. While her attacker stalks her and continues to murder the innocent. She has to find the inner strength to take on and fight the demons from hell. To protect her family and friends while also trying to save her own life.

Buy Links

United States | United Kingdom

Bio

Tracey A Wood has lives in Staffordshire, in the United Kingdom. She has been married for over thirty years and has two children. One of her boy’s lives at home due to being disable the other has flown the coup. She has three cats that are her babies, and she talks to them all of the time. Funny thing is they don’t answer back.

She loves snowboarding, skiing, jumping out of aeroplanes and bungee jumping. Well, that is when other people are doing them. She prefers to have her nose in a book or writing one. She also loves to people watch which her husband is always telling her to stop doing. She has a job that she enjoys and works full time. Although if she won the lottery, that might change! She has also got a very good imagination.

In 2014, she decided to take the bull by the horns and send her manuscript to Soul Mate Publishing. She feels so privileged to have her book published, as this is the first one that she has written. It has made her dream of being a published author a reality. Life really is too short to wait, you’ve got to go for it. She is still working full time and is also working on another book in her limited spare time. Her favourite saying is ‘Everything happens for a reason’ which she also believes is true.

Her books are fast paced and centred on a female lead who finds an inner strength after being thrown into situations that are beyond her control.

Where to find Tracey…

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Blog | WordPress | Goodreads


Spotlight on The Keeper

I’m thrilled to feature The Keeper by Soul Mate author, Rebecca Neely. I highly recommend this well-plotted, character-driven novel that introduces us to a magical and intriguing world.

Here’s Rebecca!

rebeccaneelyThe Crossing Realms series takes place in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Having grown up about thirty minutes north of the city, there’s so many things I love about the ‘Burgh I knew I wanted to use it as a setting for the series. It’s small enough to be familiar, and big enough to be mysterious.

The city has a unique landscape, including a bustling downtown and a variety of old and new neighborhoods. Hills, interstates, alleys, a train station, neighborhood bars, old and new houses and businesses—the city provided a host of interesting locales in which to place my characters, and many that I’ve personally visited. Plus, the Steelers hail from here—and the Keepers are fans!

Perhaps the most interesting bit of research I learned regarding the city had to do with fallout shelters. From the 1950s through the 1970s, bomb scares and drills were a part of life. In response to that fear, over 2,000 fallout shelters were constructed in Allegheny County. But many are gone or long forgotten, including the buildings under which the shelters were constructed, according to my research. But of that 2,000, some remain, and it’s anyone’s guess where. Perhaps they’re waiting to be discovered beneath a building, a warehouse, or in someone’s backyard.

My writer’s brain ran with that great unknown and I decided they’d be a perfect place for my villains to hang out. And that’s exactly what they do! I develop that idea even more in THE WATCHER, the second book in the Crossing Realms series, tentatively due out in November.

Here are 10 Fun Facts about the Hero and Heroine from THE KEEPER

5 Fun Facts About Nick Geary

He’s exactly what he appears to be: a blue collar Irish Catholic, born and bred in the ‘Burgh
Plays acoustic guitar
Digs his holey Levis
Likes a rare New York strip steak
He can waltz

5 Fun Facts About Libby Klink

Sherlock Holmes fan
Can’t wait to go to a Steelers game
Holupkis (pigs in a blanket, cabbage rolls) are one of her fave foods
She enjoys going fishing and camping
She’s never without a bottle of water

THE CROSSING REALM SERIES – Sacrifice or salvation? A chosen psychic few may be both. As the city’s Keepers battle Betrayers to save the human race, all’s not fair in love and war.

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Blurb

Nick Geary, jaded clan leader of human guardians, the Keepers, is doomed to love a human woman who’s forgotten him, time after time, for thirteen years: Libby Klink, a skittish accountant who’s as terrified of her recent and strange intuitions as she is of her mundane existence.

When Nick is ordered by the clan’s guiding force to seek Libby’s help in defending the clan against enemy Betrayers, romance sizzles as the pair forms an unlikely alliance in their desperate search to discover the key to the clan’s salvation—which Libby alone holds.

But a haunting secret could cost Nick everything, and in a race against time, both will be forced to choose between their hearts and duty. Can their love, and the clan survive, or will the very forces that drew them together ultimately destroy them?

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Bio

A sucker for a happy ending, Rebecca strives to write the kind of stories she loves to read—gritty, suspenseful and featuring authentic, edgy and vulnerable characters, smack dab in the middle of action that explodes from page one.

With music, books and laughter as constant companions, she grew up working, cooking and eating in the family’s restaurant business. A certified book and hoagie junkie, she thrives on live music, mysteries and the outdoors.

Careers, past and present, include freelance writing, accounting, mother, problem solver, doer and head bottle washer.

Rebecca is a member of Three Rivers Romance Writers (TRRW), a PAN member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), and is proud to serve as a judge for several writing contests each year.

Where to find Rebecca…

Website | Blog | Mailing List | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram


Happy National Blueberry Muffin Day!

blueberrymuffinsBlueberry muffins make a delicious and simple change of pace for breakfast and afternoon snacks. They can be made in large batches and stored in air-tight containers or frozen for future use.

The following recipe is a family favorite and can be easily whipped up in less than an hour.

Enjoy!




Ingredients

½ cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
4 cups flour
2 cups milk
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups blueberries
Grated peel and juice of one orange

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Grease muffin tins with butter or margarine.
3. Mix oil, sugar, eggs, orange peel and juice with the electric mixer.
4. Gradually add milk, flour and baking powder.
5. Add blueberries.
6. Stir using a wooden spoon, not the mixer.
7. Drop mixture into tins.
8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 24 muffins

*Photographed by Christina Guidoccio.