A Good Thing

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Writer in the wild

I’ve lost my mind writing this latest book. And that’s a good thing. A great thing. It’s challenged what I know, what I thought I had to say, and how I thought I wanted to say it. I’ve lost my mind, and that’s a good thing. I couldn’t be more grateful/excited/nervous/eager.

More to come.

xo Isla

 

This Is Only The Beginning…Sort Of

The phrase “This is only the beginning” can be read in a few different ways. And I’m going to share with you how I mean it. It may not be what you think.

The year of 2016 changed me. If we’d had a conversation on this day in January of 2016, it likely would have been a vastly different conversation than if we’d had it today. Several occurrences factored into this, some personal, some professional. But then, as I was thinking this through, I realized that my conclusion wasn’t entirely honest.

Here’s a more honest way of putting it: throughout the year, I became more of who I am.

I don’t like thinking that an outside experience “makes me different,” mostly because I don’t want to give my power away to anything outside of me. I’m in charge of my thoughts, my feelings, my reactions, my actions. I’m in charge of my words, my expressions, my hopes, my dreams. I’m in charge of my own damn imagination and no one can take that away from me.

I will admit that the 2016 election challenged me – to stay positive, to stay focused, to stay centered in truth, and open to evolving that truth.

And in (mostly-ish) meeting that challenge, I began to become more of myself. (I also began cussing a lot more, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Over this weekend, seeing people all across the world come out to support the basic notion that Equal Rights are Human Rights, moved me. Knowing I’m not alone moved me.

A lot of what I have to say, a lot of who I am, comes through in my books, in my written words, however subtly. In social media, on this blog, I have steered away from expressing blatantly polarizing ideas because my intent in life is not to polarize. Quite the opposite. Compassion and empowerment are biggies for me. Understanding is a biggie for me. But there is no middle ground between compassion and hatred. Being compassionate about discrimination is not a step toward acceptance.

There are times when I have sent pieces of my work to people who are nothing like me (different race/gender/sexual orientation/religion/etc.) and I ask them to tell me if there’s something I’m not understanding, if there’s something I don’t know that I should know. I ask people not just like me to help me to understand more than what I know. I ask them to, out of love, call bullshit on me.

And I’m so grateful when I understand some new human facet, new human truth, in a new light. That is a step toward acceptance.

Over the weekend, watching women and men and children all around this world of ours come out in support of equal rights, I understood something else in a new light.

Me.

Now, stick with me, because I don’t mean this in a selfish way. I mean this in a human empowerment way. I understood that there are others who feel as I do, and who feel completely different than I do. Others who have had experiences like I have had, and who have had completely different experiences from what I have had. There are others who have powered on through chaos like I have, and in ways I’m not even aware of. Others who have made sacrifices for something they know is the right thing to do, however unpopular it may make them, and others who quietly do what they do and stay under the radar to stay alive. I understood there are others who live the daily paradox of what it means to be a strong woman in our world.

Over this weekend, solidarity has rooted me in ways I have never felt before. I feel connected to others in ways I have never felt before. I feel purposeful in ways I have known, but hadn’t fully realized until now. I feel empowered as one of many human beings alive today, and I’m ready to continue understanding more of what life is like for others, in an effort that we come together, be generous listeners, to seek to know what we don’t yet know, to understand what we don’t yet understand, and to empower one another to ensure that “equal rights” isn’t just a philosophy, it’s an evolving way of being as well as A HUMAN RIGHT that we, together from our many perspectives, will fight for.

I know I’m not alone in that feeling. And I LOVE that.

Also over the course of the year, given the chaos in our country, in our brief time in history, I looked more directly at what it is that I’m here to contribute. What comes next as we march forward. What torch do I carry alongside others? And in finding my way to this, I honed in on a few facets of humanity I care passionately about:

Compassion, equality (including but not limited to feminism), empowerment, and emotional honesty.

Because all of this begins inside of me (I cannot, for example, write with any kind of emotional honesty if I’m not being honest with myself), I will be fair and say that, a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have said something that I knew could potentially bring bullies and trolls my way. And now, in the aftermath of 2016, I’ve concluded that that’s okay. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. And I will not be indifferent in the name of keeping peace.

I will keep my compass dialed into what is important to me. I will use my voice on this journey. As Margaret Atwood said, “A word after a word after a word is power.” I will carry a pen for power and a sword for protection.

I will not be indifferent.

I will stay rooted and connected, seeking to root deeper and connect further into places I have only, until now, dreamed of.

I will not be indifferent.

I will celebrate others on their journey who are doing the work to carry the light, likely in the face of trolls or bullies or worse. Much worse. I will not be afraid of misunderstanding so that I may move toward understanding. I will share my spirit and recognize when others are doing the same. I will be a generous listener when there is a new perspective to be learned. I will speak with intent when there is something to be said. I will do my best. And I will be patient with others doing the same. We are not alone. We are stronger together.

We will not be indifferent.

As Gloria Steinem said on Saturday, “This is a day that will change us forever because we are together.”

I wholeheartedly agree. And I’m so grateful to be alive right now. With you.

And this is only the beginning…of a renewed charge toward equality. Here we go (again, still). Together.

Xo Isla Dean

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(Photo source unknown)

A Few Of My Favorite Things: 2016

As you most likely know by now, I’m a feeling-based writer as well as a feeling-based media consumer. And perhaps because this was an election year filled with an abundance of strong feelings (both high and low), I became very protective (more so than usual) over the energy I gave books, TV shows, and movies. Books were set aside and the channel was changed if the creation didn’t have a feeling I desired to fall into–no matter how well it was written or acted or directed.

(Yes, I know I sound like the Californian I am. I’m okay with that.) 🙂

Gigi reading over my shoulder
Gigi reading over my shoulder

So in the interest of sharing, here are some creative works–new and not new–from other creators (because, obviously I enjoy my own creations or I wouldn’t create them in the first place!) that I enjoyed diving into this year:

The Shining by Stephen King (Yeah, I know what I just said above, but I thoroughly enjoyed diving into this book. It has a lovely simplicity to it, a strong core, and a rich atmosphere. Plus…I knew the ending so I wasn’t bowled over by the horror.)

Northern Lights by Nora Roberts (My mom and stepfather visited Alaska this year so I reread this book to get into the spirit of their excitement. I adore Nora’s books and count this among my favorites.)

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (Ms. Abbott is a writer’s writer. This book is powerfully subtle, absorbing, and haunting.)

Brotherhood in Death by J.D. Robb (I can’t say what I want to about this book without ruining it. So I’ll just say…wow.)

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben (I enjoyed that the female main character was flawed and imperfect, but not a cardboard cutout. She wasn’t always likable, and that’s great. Women don’t need to be perfect, nor put on pedestals, nor pander to or prevent the male hero’s journey in fiction. All of those things have been done. This book was a refreshing perspective.)

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (I just started reading this book and am completely immersed in the world–prohibition in the 20’s–that Dennis Lehane created. A terrific storyteller.)

A Wish for Christmas (My talented friend Christie Will directed this holiday film and it has all the warm and fuzzy Christmastime feels. Christie’s adorable daughter even has a cameo.)

Longmire (I know, I know, I’m late to this game, but I enjoyed the nod to the Golden Era of Hollywood with the character-driven pacing, the attention to subtlety, and the allowance for thoughtful spaces between thoughtful plotting.)

Jessica Jones (Fabulous. And too scary for me to watch at night.)

Justified (My friend Dara came for her annual visit and we binge-watched the first season. She’d never seen the show so it was fun to enjoy it all over again with her. Plus…Raylan Givens.)

Sixteen Candles (A movie with the best final few minutes of all time. Plus…Jake Ryan.)

Chelsea (As I said to my stepsister this morning, what Chelsea Handler is doing for single, independent women is what George Clooney did for single, independent men. Also, I think what she is doing with her show, with her voice, is so important. She is a package of authenticity, honesty, curiosity, wisdom, and humor.)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Runnin’ Down a Dream (I’ve already written about how much I *love* this documentary.)

Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child (In high school, I named our dalmatians Hendrix and Zeppelin. I love the music and the artists from the Hendrix and Led Zeppelin era, and this documentary was excellent–told in his words and focused more on the humanity, the heart, and the creativity, rather than the drugs, etc.)

Janis: Little Girl Blue (Sensing a pattern? Janis Joplin, what an amazing woman with a quest for expressing emotional honesty. Brave, brave, brave woman.)

Parks and Recreation (This show got me through post-election feelings. Strong character integrity, silly antics that remind me of my small town and my family–my mom is totally Leslie Knope–and a whole lot of heart.)

Apparently the themes of what I’ve enjoyed this year have been: strong characters–female and male–strong integrity, and a lot of heart. Well, to be fair, I always enjoy those qualities in people both real and imagined. 🙂

And here are a few things I’m looking forward to in 2017 (some new releases, some just waiting impatiently on my iPad for me to get to them):

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Echoes in Death by JD Robb

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead 

The Trespasser by Tana French

The Ex by Alafair Burke

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

In closing–I wish everyone a 2017 filled with stories that you can fall into and adore. May we be uplifted and remember that we’re all just humans on this planet doing the best we can. We’re all learning to fly (to quote Tom Petty). 🙂

xo Isla

Weekend Update: Friends, Family, & Freedom

Wild winds that wrap around the oaks like long fingers, shaking the remaining acorns to the ground, low hanging clouds nipping at the mountain ridges, making those jagged tips disappear into the mists, and rain. Glorious rain. (In California, we do the happy dance when rain arrives.)

Friday sees a stormy start with the tink-tink-tink of rain outside. Even though it’s cool, I take my mug of coffee out to the terrace to inhale those fabulous earthy scents and say good morning to the hordes of turkeys that coo and gobble-squak, greeting one another after what I imagine was a scary night sleeping in the trees (lightening!). I wonder–do they have an opinion about the rain? Do they do their own version of a happy dance? Trade war stories of close calls with lightening?

It really feels like autumn now, at least for this small slice of time.

Besides being a full work day (almost done with the current manuscript’s third draft. woo!), I squeeze in an early afternoon tea with my dad and a late lunch with mom. Gotta fit the family in–I’m so grateful to have them in my life. As an only child, my parents are also my best buddies so the occasional tea and lunch with them does the heart good.

Saturday I wake to sunshine and get the day started right–with coffee, a jog through the puddles with my pup, then off to face an open, eager laptop. Work day for me. Soon dad texts me pictures of a hot air balloon festival happening nearby. Apparently he stepped out on his wife’s ranch and voila–balloons soaring in the sky.

 

After my writing day is done, I help out a friend and fabulous human being who has just returned from India where she works with Voices4Freedom to free slaves. Then, once the children (yes, children) are freed from slavery, they begin their education at one of the schools she and her team started with Schools4Freedom. Incredible work. I happily help her out with the V4F website while I eat homemade banana nut bread, drink hot tea, and give GRATITUDE for my freedom and for the food on my table.

Saturday evening I’m excited and tremendously proud to watch a new Hallmark movie directed by one of my pals, Christie, called A Wish For Christmas. Love these holiday romances–warm and happy. I’ve come to look forward to Christie’s new film each year. She and I studied at Playhouse West together and I enjoy her sensibilities as a storyteller/filmmaker. As an added bonus, one of her daughters is in the movie and is a darling addition.

Over the weekend I also have a great time looking over yearbook photos from 8th grade that a friend and classmate shared on Facebook. Very fun! What a great group to to have been part of. I have such fond memories from that time–lots of smiles in the photos which serve to punctuate those memories. (Funny, I forgot that my buddy Bart and I were voted “Best Smile.”)

Sunday is another full workday and I leap over the finish line of that third draft, earning an adult beverage. Wine here I come, then time to dive into a friend and fellow novelist’s debut book (a techno-thriller) and snuggle in for a cool night.

Hope everyone had a lovely weekend!

xo Isla

Romance Novels & Feminism

Do you see any conflict between being a romance novelist and being a feminist? Do you feel an obligation to interject socially conscious themes into your work? Are there authors you respect for their socially conscious stories? These are a few of the questions I was asked during a Q&A with Geek Girl Authority‘s Leona Laurie.

Here are a few soundbites from my responses:

“We’re at a time in our culture where long-standing and important issues are coming to light in a new way—including feminism—and I’m grateful to have grown up in a family that celebrates empowerment. When we empower individuals to feel good, do good and be equal players, I believe we lift ourselves as a whole.”

“In the genre of romance, Nora Roberts must have very strong shoulders because generations of writers are taking taller strides because of her.”

“My job is to tell the most authentic story that I can, each and every time, and I take that responsibility to heart.”

Check out the full Q&A here!

xo Isla

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Weekend Update: Leaves & Loves

Last week, I was invited by a great publication to do an interview on what it means to be a romance writer who also supports equal rights for women (commonly labeled as a feminist). Sure! Love to! I’m honored!

On Saturday I started in on my responses and found myself fired up. As an autumn storm brought heaving gusts of wind that spun the gold, green, and brown leaves through the sky, I dove in and didn’t come up for air for hours.

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Finally I surfaced, took stock of the fallen limbs, the smattering of raindrops on the deck, and was struck with a a bone-deep love for the fact that I’m a woman, a romance writer, and a woman who celebrates other women. What a time to be a woman. Truly.

Important issues in our culture that have been hiding in the shadows for decades–centuries!–are coming to light. Women are coming together, holding hands, and championing one another through difficult discussions (like sexual assault). Now, for clarity, I’m not talking about political affiliations; what it means to be a woman in our culture in this day and age, goes beyond the presidential election. I’m speaking simply about my own gratitude to be a woman surrounded by really awesome women doing really awesome things with their lives. (I love men too, but that’s another topic.) 🙂

On Sunday, the leaves continued to drift and spin and scatter, tree limbs kept falling on the deck, making me think a bird was trying to fly through the french doors, and the rain drizzled enough to coat everything–including my favorite heart-shaped grape leaves–with a nice dampness, but not enough to make true, foot-stomping puddles. I read over my interview responses, tweaked and refined a bit, then got to work on my current book, listening to the occasional gong from the wind-chimes.

 

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The final moments of the weekend were rewarded with a glass of red wine and some homemade “kitchen sink” ramen–so satisfying on a cold evening. (Okay, maybe a cool evening. Yes, this is California in October, not New York in March.)

I hope everyone has a marvelous week!

xo Isla

PS- I’ll post a link to the article once it’s published!