Posted in 5 Favorites, Blog

5 movies that changed my life

In his book, Movies Change Lives, author Tony Kashani shares how cinema can serve as a bridge between people and the answer to universal issues that include social economics, racism, morality, and so on. (My colleague Dan Taylor wrote an incredible article on Kashani, and included the 7 movies Kashani believes will change the lives of viewers. You can read about it here.)

I got to thinking about which movies I’ve seen that have resonated with me both in how well the story was told, and the impact it had on me even after I’d left the theater. Here are 5 movies I’ve seen that have changed my life (or even just entertained it).

  1. made-in-heavenMade in Heaven. This movie is right up there with all the other cheesy movies made in the ‘80s. And yet, I absolutely love it. The story is about this guy (Timothy Hutton) in the ‘60s who leaves for California after being rejected by the girl he loves, only to die before he gets there. Once in Heaven, he ends up meeting and falling in love with a girl (Kelly McGillis) who’s never been born. When she falls to earth, he decides to follow her. His mission is to find her and fall in love with her again, or they’ll never find each other. The only problem is, once he’s been born, his mission is forgotten.
    There are several things I love about this movie. First, a bunch of well-known people make guest appearances in the film. Tom Petty shows up as a guy in a bar. Neil Young is a truck driver. Ric Ocasek (of The Cars) is a mechanic. And a chain-smoking angel named “Emmett,” who is basically God’s right hand man, is played by a surprise actor—Debra Winger, who was married to Timothy Hutton at the time. To keep the surprise, her name was never included in the rolling credits. Instead, it said “Emmett as himself.” Next, a bunch of things that were on earth showed up in Heaven, and vice versa. I loved seeing how Heaven and earth were connected, and seeing glimpses of things in both places. Third, I loved the underlying message of how everything happens for a reason. Tragedy made way for miracles. A chance meeting with a particular couple leads to a dream realized down the road. There were tons of these tiny nuggets throughout the film.
  2. gladiator_ver1Gladiator. I will never be able to watch this movie without crying. Russell Crowe stars as Maximus, a Roman general who is chosen by the dying emperor to be his heir, only to then be betrayed by the emperor’s son (Joaquin Phoenix) who murders Maximus’ family and claims the throne. Maximus is enslaved as a gladiator, and revenge becomes his main motivation.
    This movie is not my typical choice, mostly because the violence in it is so graphic. And yet, I wouldn’t change any of it. The cinematography was stunning. The soundtrack was moving. The characters were believable. And the storyline shared the incredible resilience of one human being who was placed in the worst of circumstances.
  3. cast_away_film_posterCast Away. In the beginning of the film, Tom Hanks stars as a man who is married to his job, which appears to be holding back his relationship with the woman he loves. Then the plan he’s on crashes, and he’s the only survivor. The majority of the film takes place on a deserted island where Hanks doesn’t even talk for a full 20 minutes, and when he does, it’s to a volleyball he’s named Wilson. When he finally escapes the island, it seems the world has completely changed. But really, the change was in him.
    Why did this movie change my life? First off, what other film could have me crying real tears over a VOLLEYBALL? Next, Hanks is one of the best actors in the business. Finally, it really speaks to where most of us are—placing too much focus on things that don’t deserve that much attention, and missing out on the things that really matter. Overall, this movie took one really terrible event, and made it the best thing that could have ever happened to the main character.
  4. peterpanPeter Pan (2003). I am a sucker for any Peter Pan story, as you all know from my latest book, Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan. This has pretty much been from the beginning. But the Peter Pan retelling that has always tugged at my heartstrings was the one created in 2003. My favorite scene was when Peter took Wendy to see the fairies in their tree, and they watched as the fairies danced. Then Peter and Wendy began to dance. But as Wendy saw this as a moment of love, Peter saw it as a giant game of pretend. It was the moment when Wendy realized she was meant to grow up, and she could never force the likes of Peter to follow suit. And isn’t that a lot like real life relationships, the ones where we realize it’s time to stop playing, and find someone who loves us the same as we love them?
  5. fried-green-tomatoes-movieFried Green Tomatoes. I think I’ve watched this movie a dozen times. This is two stories in one: the story of Evelyn, an Alabama housewife, who befriends Ninny, an elderly woman in a nursing home, and the story of Idgie and Ruth, two women who lived in the 1920s and form an unlikely friendship. Both stories seem to mirror each other in the themes of trust, deep friendship, and overcoming fear in favor of fully living life. As each story unfolds, you can see the growth in each character—Idgie who softens around the edges, Ruth who learns how to loosen up, and Evelyn who slowly grows a backbone. The only character that remains a constant is Ninny, who seems to hold all the secrets to a handful of lives. This movie was life changing. And I think I need to watch it again!

Which movies have changed your life? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Blog, Faith, Inspiration, Life as I know it, Reclaim Your Creative Soul

The story behind “Reclaim Your Creative Soul”

Last week, I was honored to speak to a group of people from my church about Reclaim Your Creative Soul, the book I published earlier this year about making more time for creativity. I began by telling them about my journey toward that book, and then I shared a quick rundown of the necessary steps to varying types of organization—both body, mind, and the space around them—so that their craft can be a priority.

This book is very personal to me. It shares many of the things I’ve come to know in my journey as a writer. I lay out the details of my writing practice, and the different ways I’ve created order in certain areas of my life to free me from distraction and allow me to focus on my craft. But more than that, it shares the spiritual journey I took toward actually writing this book. I’d like to share that with you here.

In August of 2015, I reached my breaking point. My writing was suffering because I felt like I had no creativity left in the tank. My eating habits were out of control, which resulted in weight gain, lack of energy, and a feeling of gross worthlessness. I felt overextended at my job, which was eating away at me even when I wasn’t on the clock. The successful writing career I thought I was going to have was nowhere to be seen. I actually felt like my desire to be a writer was a curse, because everything I wanted was so out of reach, and I was sure I’d be chained to being a 9-5 worker for the rest of my life.

That August, I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like this huge weight on my chest was consuming me. I knew if I didn’t do anything about it, I was going to go off the deep end. Something needed to change, I just didn’t know HOW. So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I took a day off from everything to focus solely on the three areas of my life that were consuming me the most: my career, my health, and my creativity.

I called this day my “soul retreat.”

During that day, I spent time with God, addressing each area that plagued me and seeking answers on what I could be doing better. I not only came away with these answers, I also received a better understanding of who I was, my worth as God’s creation, and my purpose as a creative person. I gained clarity I was unable to reach before. Most of all, I learned how to breathe again.

(I explain what happened in full detail in my book, and also in an earlier entry of this blog)

At the time, I didn’t know I was going to write this book. But the seeds began to sprout on the day I took my soul retreat. A few months later, I began laying out the bones of Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The Secrets to Organizing Your Life to Make Room for Your Craft. At face value, it was my answer to those around me who wondered how I was able to write books while holding a full-time job, raising a family, and everything else that kept me so busy. But more than that, it was a love letter to myself and those who needed to hear this message: The two biggest obstacles between you and what feeds your soul is fear and a feeling of unworthiness. More than following my guidelines toward structure and organization, my hope is that readers will began to believe they are worthy of contributing their creativity to the world, and that the world NEEDS this creativity.

Don’t get me wrong, the struggle I felt in August is not something that just magically went away . I still reach moments of overwhelm and an inability to focus. Right now, as I’ve rearranged my life to include college courses, I can feel that same weight bearing down on me. But whenever I feel this way, it’s when I know I need to pause and reevaluate where I’m at, where I’m going, and what I need to do to get there. And because of this book, I have a reminder on what needs to happen so that I can keep going.

If you are in a place where your creative life feels out of reach, I encourage you to pick up Reclaim Your Creative Soul and start working the steps toward creative freedom. Writing this book changed my life. I hope reading it changes yours.

Posted in Blog, Writing

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

nanowrimoEvery November, hundreds of thousands of writers commit to a month of solitude for a national (even worldwide) phenomenon known as National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. The goal is to have a 50,000-word story at the end of 30 days.

I have taken part in NaNoWriMo since 2010, and it’s a big reason why I am now a published author. I don’t think I would have had the stamina to finish writing a novel if I hadn’t been writing alongside (virtually) all the other crazy writers taking part in this insanity. Now, 4 of these NaNo books are published, and my writing process has been affected by this fast-paced way of penning a novel. In fact, much of what I learned through NaNoWriMo has been applied to the tips I offer in Reclaim Your Creative Soul, my guide to creating more time in the day for your craft.

I often hear from other people, I wish I could write a book. Or they’ll say, I wish I had the time to write. Or, I’ve always wanted to write a book, maybe someday.

Someday is this year, this November. I encourage you to try writing a 50,000-word story during NaNoWriMo (it’s only 1,667 words a day). Aim to finish, of course, but even if you don’t, you’ll have started that thing you’ve always wanted to do.

Here are 3 tips to get you on your way.

  1. Start plotting NOW. I know there are writers out there that swear by “pantsing” (writing a story by the seat of your pants with no plan whatsoever). But if you are just starting out as a writer, plotting is the way to go. You can’t just go in with a good idea and wait for the magic to happen. You need to make a plan on how that good idea is going to work, who will be the characters that will fall victim to this good idea, and what the repercussions of this good idea will be. My suggestion is to jot out a simple story plan, start to finish. Then, dig a little deeper and create outlines for each chapter. Trust me, when you’re faced with needing to write 1,667 words every single day, it’s a lot easier to write from a plan than to battle chronic writer’s block.
  1. Make writing a priority. The best way to do this is to set the same time every day for writing. I like to wake up extra early and take two hours for writing. If you’re a night person, you may find inspiration hits after everyone has gone to bed. Whatever time you like for writing, make that time sacred. No TV. No cellphone. No Facebook. No family. Just you and your story, making things happen.
  1. Don’t give up! There will be days when the writing is crap. Let it be crap. There will be days when you’re tired of writing. Write anyway. There will be days when you wonder about your sanity. Embrace your craziness. There will be days you miss going out with friends or kicking back with your favorite TV show. They will be there in December. If you keep writing, you will have written a novel by the end of the month. That’s a major accomplishment, and a serious bucket list item. But if you throw in the towel before the month is over, you’ll only have regrets. Keep plugging away. Trust me, your whole world will be changed once Dec. 1 is here.

Ready to start planning your novel? Start with signing up at Then find me and add me as your buddy.

P.S. Want more tips? Read my list of 11 tips to “winning” NaNoWriMo.

If you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, what would you add to this list?

Posted in 5 Favorites, Blog

5 favorite things to eat

I love food.


Seriously, PeeWee, I would if I could (sorry hubby).

And food loves me, too. This is why the wedding dress I wore 4 years ago (this Thursday! Happy anniversary to the other love in my life!) no longer fits, my free time is now spent at the gym, and dieting just makes me miserable….because FOOD!

So for today, we are throwing caution to the wind and indulging in a calorie fest of everything delicious, starting with my 5 favorite foods of all time.

  1. sushi1SUSHI. When I’m asked which food I would eat if it were the only food I could have for the rest of my life, sushi would win every time. I mean, it’s the perfect food. You have your rice, vegetables, and meat, all wrapped up in one bite. I love adding a slice of pickled ginger and a dab of wasabi to the top for the ideal taste. There was a time when I was super strict about grains in my diet, including rice, which made sushi off-limits. When I finally caved and tried sushi again, my stomach just couldn’t handle it, which made me so sad. So now I allow rice back in my diet, partly because it’s a good filler, but mostly so I can eat sushi now and then and not feel sick.

  1. in-n-out-burger
      Who needs a bun when In-N-Out makes protein style? Yum! (Photo: Celia Community)

    HAMBURGER. I love a super loaded hamburger with all the fixings. I mean, seriously, what can you NOT put on a burger? There’s the usual—avocado, lettuce, tomato, pickle, bacon… And then there’s the unusual—kimchi, pesto, brie, Portobello mushroom… You can dress a burger up, or dress it down. The sky’s the limit. Being a Californian, I am a disciple of In-N-Out—one of the best reasons to live in this state (because the high-priced real estate is not doing it). But really, a good ol’ fashioned burger on the grill is the best way to go.

  1. EGGS.

    That’s pretty much me. My every morning meal always includes eggs. If it doesn’t, it’s not breakfast. I’ll eat them with a slice of Udi’s toast, with sweet potatoes, with black beans, topped with Sriracha, or in a corn tortilla. If there’s nothing planned for dinner, I’ll eat them then, too. If I’m hungry and I don’t know what to eat, I whip up some eggs. Scrambled is my favorite, but really, I like them any way.

  1. chocolate-covered-strawberries
      It has fruit, so it’s healthy, right?

    CHOCOLATE. What did women do before chocolate? When I have a piece of rich, dark chocolate, I suddenly realize I’ve been holding my breath until that very moment, and that tiny piece of Heaven has allowed me to breathe again. Besides the fact that the chocolate has to be dark, I don’t discriminate. One of my obsessions is salted dark chocolate. The other is Trader Joe’s Almond Milk Chocolate Ice Cream (it’s seriously like pudding).

  1. nori-sandwich
      A nori wrap sandwich: the perfect substitute if sushi is your all time favorite food, you’re craving a sandwich, and you don’t want bread.

    TURKEY SANDWICH. When I first stripped gluten from my diet, the food I missed the most were sandwiches. There was a time when GF bread was a sorry excuse for a substitute, and it was better to just find a new way to enjoy sandwiches. So I did. I made turkey rollups with cheese, avocado, and condiments inside. I ate turkey on rice crackers. I layered turkey and all the sandwich fixings on lettuce and rolled it in a nori (seaweed) sheet. And all of this worked just fine. But when you love sandwiches like I do, nothing compares to turkey between two slices of bread. Someone must have clued in the GF bread companies that their product sucked, because all of a sudden, GF bread started to taste really good. No longer was it this crumbly, dry almost-food. Now you can get GF bread that’s soft and delicious—just like real bread. Suddenly, the world is full of color once again. Now make me a sammich.

Hungry? Tell me which foods you’re obsessed with in the comments.

Posted in Blog, The Road to Hope

Big book news!


If you’re on my mailing list, you’ve already been alerted that I have some big book news to divulge today (and if you’re not on my mailing list, why not?!? Sign up here, you get a free book!). Are you ready?




There’s going to be a sequel to The Road to Hope! In fact, there isn’t just going to be a sequel, there’s going to be a series. And I can’t wait for you to read what’s going to happen for Maddie and Jill, and everyone else in their lives.

Now here’s the thing—you’re going to have to be patient. After 3 years of churning out books in a hurry, I’m slowing down my pace. Now that I’m back in school, and the rest of my life hasn’t slowed down much, my writing process is evolving a bit. My goal is to write the next book during NaNoWriMo in November. But because I don’t know how time consuming college and finals will be that month, I’ll be satisfied if November is just a jumping off point in starting to write for the series, and then finishing it during winter break.

So that’s my big news!

Have you read The Road to Hope? If so, what are you hoping will happen next in the story? If not, here’s where you can grab a copy.

Posted in Blog, Books I Love

Book Crush: ‘The Beauty in Darkness: A Vampire Story,’ by Leah Reise


he story of The Beauty in Darkness, the debut novel of Sonoma County author Leah Reise, starts with an awakening of sorts, and a wish for true death. Edrea stands at the gates of the Décret, a clan of vampires who are sure to tear her apart for arriving without invitation. This is exactly what she is hoping for. She is two days into her life as a vampire, having been turned on her 29th birthday following the mortal attack from a rapist who left her for dead. And dead is what she wishes to be. It’s the only way to curb the insatiable thirst that is consuming her from the inside out. Unfortunately for her, the Décret have other plans.

So begins the tale of this Sonoma County native, a girl-turned-vampire who is cast into the underground world of San Francisco where the creatures of the night walk below the feet of the living.

Through the story, we learn of Edrea’s roots—a mom who plays favorites, an emotionally distant father, a doting yet elusive brother, and a jealous sister. Edrea, herself, is a free spirit, comfortable in her solitude. And even with their faults, this family is bonded. But now that Edrea is one of the undead, she must forget her family and move on.

Edrea’s new family is now Pierre, her creator. With him, she is to work for the Décret. She has the rare ability of being able to read people’s thoughts, and it makes her a useful tool among this clan. However, Edrea senses early on that something seems to be amiss with their eagerness over her gift.

What I love about this story, first, is the author’s ability with description. Reise has a gift for painting the scene without overtelling, and still offering enough detail to allow for vivid imagery. I was able to see everything within the story, and was easily transported from scene to scene.

The second thing I love is that much of it takes place in Sonoma County locations. This is one of my favorite reasons to read books by local authors, as they often use familiar places within their stories. Reise doesn’t disappoint, taking her characters to Bodega Bay and Santa Rosa, though much of the story is set in San Francisco.

The third thing I love is how large a role family plays in The Beauty in Darkness. There are definite themes that take place from both Edrea’s old and new life, which I’ll let you find out on your own to avoid any spoilers.  As of yet, there doesn’t seem to be any sequels planned (and the end was blissfully free of a cliffhanger). But I can see how the story could easily be continued.

All in all, I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys supernatural and vampire fantasy.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Rated PG-13 for some non-graphic sexual and violence situations.