I’m a big advocate of journaling. Writing out one’s thoughts and feelings has enormous health benefits and helps us work out the problems of our lives. Psychologists say it helps reduce stress, boosts our mood, keeps our memory sharp, and even helps our immune system. So what’s even more interesting is how journaling in nature seems to be more powerful. Here’s why.
It puts you in a special, out-of-time place
Even if I journal in my backyard, I’ve taken myself out of the usual, day-to-day equation of work and my to-do lists. In nature, there are no to-do lists because nature simply exists to be what it is. So I find when I’m immersed in nature, I start to simply exist to be what I am too. I feel freer to allow my thoughts to wander and land on whatever topics they’re drawn to.
It heightens your observational skills
When we’re outside, we encounter a whole landscape of random sounds, sights, smells, and all else. It’s not the controlled atmosphere of an indoor environment where we’ve set the temperature and lighting. When we go into nature, we’re subjecting our bodies to a whole suite of stimuli to process. That stimuli heightens our awareness, which heightens our ability to observe and record our surroundings.
It increases mindfulness
Because our senses our heightened and our awareness is more alert, our ability to be mindful of our experience increases. We can smell that pine tree, see how softly the leaves wave in the breeze, hear a bird tweeting, touch the roughness of a rock, and so on. And so, because we’re more in the “here and now,” our attention begins to block out thoughts of the past or future. Our thoughts and feelings simplify, which helps us cope with whatever’s troubling us.
It lowers stress
And so, because our attention is more present and more focused on our immediate surroundings, we relax more quickly. We turn still and silent. There are no advertisements wanting something from us, no social media to make us feel anger or angst, no traffic getting in our way. The random wild thoughts zinging through our head weaken and a deeper sense of restfulness blossoms. That, in turn, reduces our heart rate and lowers our blood pressure, creating a soothing feeling of peace.
It creates more curiosity
If you’re journaling indoors, you may be in your home or a local cafe. This means you know your surroundings well. But when journaling in nature, you may notice a woodland flower you’ve never noticed before, or wonder about the lake you’re sitting beside. These features of nature may create questions. What is that flower? How deep is that lake? And the more curious you become, the more you’ll learn, thus feeding your mind and creating a tiny sense of accomplishment that boosts confidence.
I’ve found journaling in nature relaxes me much more than when I journal in my home. Even if I’m working out angsty problems that relate to my day-to-day work and life, I’m less sucked in emotionally by it. I gain a useful, detached perspective that serves me well when I go back in. Plus, whatever insights or conclusions I’ve gained feel like icing on the cake. And that in turn, makes me feel more grateful for the life I have.
Do you ever journal in nature? If you do, let me know how! I’m always looking for ideas.
Just a short note to let you know the cover for my next novel, The Dark Petals of Provence, is finished and ready to go! It was created by designer Jessica Dionne who again expertly combined danger and beauty for a delicious atmosphere.
A Story Set in Provence
The book tells the story of April Pearce, an American photographer assigned to cover the countryside in Provence. On her first night, she sees a teenager running through a lavender field covered in blood. But when she investigates, the local town turns aggressive and threatening, making her job more and more difficult until the climax when April has nothing to lose and reveals the dark secret the village has kept hidden for years.
The Earliest Idea
I’ve always loved Marcel Pagnol’s books Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. They focus on a city family shunned by local country folks and their subsequent revenge. You may remember the movies, which starred Gerard Depardieu. They expertly captured the book’s tension and danger. Plus, you feel like you’re in the hot landscape of Provence. I love them. I thought it would be cool to write an updated version of that dynamic, of an outsider accidentally stumbling upon a local community’s nefarious nature and in effect blowing it all apart.
A Character Near to my Heart
I started with the image of a wounded teen boy running through a field as a photographer accidentally snapped photos of him from a distance. Almost like a Rear Window situation. Then a key character took on the personality traits of my daughter who’s the friendliest, most compassionate, cognitively delayed young person you’ll ever meet. And the plot unfolded from there.
An Alluring Setting
The book also grew out of my love of stories set in Provence. A few years back, I spent a bunch of time reading mysteries by Serena Kent and M.L. Longworth and others. They’re some of my favorite books in which to escape. So now, I offer my own mystery that combines my love of France, my wish to dream of Provence, and my urge to spin a compelling story. Plus, of course a unique plant! I hope you enjoy it. You can pre-order it through Amazon now.
During the pandemic, I found myself steering away from any dark or stressful content. I experienced enough illness and death in my own family. My sister was diagnosed with cancer. Three of our beloved pets died. Some of my kids struggled with depression. And extended family members caught covid. Even the news was, and still is, scarier than usual. It was a stressful, isolated time and I didn’t want to add to it by taking in content that strained my nervous system even more.
So I began watching and reading lighter entertainment. Instead of rewatching the epic Game of Thrones, my husband and I watched the goofy Shameless. Instead of reading intense crime fiction, I read cozy mysteries. I avoided threatening political and misleading health news. It was like I wrapped a blinding warm blanket around my psyche. And the redirection actually worked. It helped my mental health. Like a lot.
A Cozy Mystery Makes Me Feel Well, Cozy
Since there are so many cozy mysteries out there, I focused on books that were of my interest and taste. I started with Agatha Christie and jumped to mysteries set in the Pacific Northwest with yoga stories by Tracy Weber and outdoor adventures by Ellie Alexander. I explored gardening mysteries by authors Julia Henry, Marty Wingate, and Amanda Flower. Peter Quinn made me laugh and yearn for my own dear black dog with his Chet and Bernie series. And I had fun dabbling into baking and food mysteries with Joanna Fluke and Mia Manansala. All in all, it was a welcomed reprieve.
Spreading the Stress Relief as a Writer
I had so much fun reading these books. I’d never read a lot of cozies before because I’d dismissed them as too silly or lightweight literary-wise. But many were very well written with vivid details and tight plots. There was a lot to learn from them — and be inspired by. So much so that I felt the spark to write my own. I realized that that warm way of destressing was something I wanted to share with people via my own writerly life. With the pending publication of Leaf Your Troubles Behind, it seemed like a natural fit. In that book, I’m encouraging my readers to find stress relief wherever they can with plants. Well, one more way would be to read a cozy mystery story about them.
Now, I’ve taken that on. I’ve been inspired to see if I can write a fun cozy mystery about plants. Something new and original but still entertaining. I’ve been taking notes, dreaming of small towns, and creating characters. In fact, I think I even have a decent title. But it’s all so early that I won’t share too much just yet. As I progress in coming weeks, I’ll share more details, as I read and journal and dream on.
In the meantime, if you have any favorite cozies, let me know!
I just turned in the follow up to The Forgetting Flower to my publisher. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I hope the team greenlights it soon. In the meantime, I’ve thought of several ideas for a new novel but I’ve struggled with which one to focus on next. The ideas are really characters, a main character who might star in my next story, set where I don’t know, in what time, I’m not sure, in what genre, I have only a small clue. All I know for certain is I have these new characters and no story in which to plop them down inside.
Spotlighted People on Display
In my mind, my characters manifest like wax figures in a museum. They stand on a round platform under a spotlight, slowly rotating so I can get a better look at the their faces, their clothes, their accessories. As they move, they’re not real yet, simply statues of potential. They don’t shout, “Pick me!” or flirt or wink. They only stand in silence with a blank stare, waiting to be activated, waiting for me to point at one and say, “You, come with me.” Then they’ll animate, maybe shake their head out of slumber, and step off the platform to join me in the darkness of the story’s creation.
Photographer in Provence
The first figure is a 30-something woman in a thin skirt and flowery blouse and cloggy shoes. Her hair is pinned up because she’s hot. It’s sunny wear she is. She wears sunglasses and a necklace with a special pendant, carries an expensive camera and a backpack full of photography gear. She’s seeking a unique scene in Provence to shoot, a photo that will forward her career, which has been a failure thus far. But what she gets is a different kind of gem. A cognitively delayed teen will change her life.
A Princess in a Plant Fantasy
Second, a young princess stands in a scarlet dress made of leaves. With a green complexion, she stands out among the other people in this magical world. Her eyes are as dark as ebony, her finger nails are uncommonly hard, and her hair, the color of straw, is thick and silky like grass. Her kingdom is in disarray and only she can save it through political and marital maneuvering. That she may have to sacrifice the creatures of her own culture to do it, rips at her soul. But an ancient hidden tree may be the secret to solving her dilemmas.
A Haunted House of Orchids
An eccentric, curly-haired lord waits in a top hat and black suit. With white gloves in one hand and dissecting kit of tweezers, magnifying glass, and scalpel in the other, he stares off in the distance, awaiting a ship to come into harbor. He’s just hired a young governess to care for his three children because he’s about to embark on an exploration of South America. He’s told her she can enjoy his roomy comfortable mansion but must never go into the orchid greenhouse where a dark secret from his past lurks.
The Botany Detective
In the early 2000s, a dashing 30-something detective leans against a post with his linen blazer hooked over a shoulder. He’s handsome and he knows it, appreciates fine wine, cars, and women. But the death of his beloved gardener mum haunts him every day. He uses the plant knowledge she taught him to solve cases and bring justice and closure to victim’s families. He just wishes he could do the same for himself since his mother’s death, which he believes is a murder that’s never been solved.
Botanique Noire in Paris
On a Vespa scooter, Renia and Andre sit. She drives in a tapestry coat, corduroy overalls, and Doc Marten boots. Andre sits behind in his black racer jacket and brown canvas pants, a leather bag slung across his chest, machete in hand. He’s careful to hold on to the bar behind him instead of her waist, though both wish he’d rather not. They’re headed toward a last adventure in Paris that will test their crafty intelligence and strong resolve to protect plants against organized danger.
A Murky Time
While each of these characters excites me, I also feel a terrible angst. I can’t decide who to invite to step off the platform next. Therefore, these riches haunt me. The indecision is agony. There is one character(s) I’m particularly drawn to. I keep stepping around to inspect the person on their platform again and again. But I’m unsure if that choice is the right one. Still, I think about them and their situation often. For now, I’ll leave the wax museum and head to the garden. There I’ll work until I figure it all out.
Does one of these characters interest you more than another? If you have an opinion, let me know in the comments below!
I’ve been thinking a lot about creating author brands lately and how lost I felt a couple of years ago when I didn’t have one. I believe an author brand is important for writers to communicate to readers who you are, what you value, and what your books or writings are about.
It’s an unfortunate word because it implies we authors are commercial businesses rather than people, but then again, we do want to sell books, don’t we? So yes, we are people rather than businesses but in order to share our books with the world, we need to show potential readers quickly what they’ll get if they journey with us via buying and reading our books. And because we can’t meet each reader and have a two-hour long chat, we need to show them quickly through a few brief sentences, colors, symbols, images, etc., in short, all the things that make up a brand.
Where to Start
But what is your brand? Do you have any idea? I didn’t. I knew I’d always done two things over the course of my life again and again: wrote and gardened. But that didn’t translate into a look, a feel, revealing info about me or my life. They were simply two interests.
I’ve talked on this blog before about an incredibly useful book I found called Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps by Nancy Blanton. I truly discovered my brand with this book. It has excellent questions and exercises for authors struggling to figure out why they write and why they write the kinds of books they do. It’s simple and short. I recommend it highly.
Pinterest Magically Knows
Another tool I used after reading Blanton’s book was Pinterest. Why? Because I needed to nail down in even more detail what I was about. The visual representations in particular. The great thing about Pinterest is as you use it, you don’t even realize you’re figuring out yourself. Their algorithms for one’s personal taste are crazy, even diabolically, sophisticated.
So I set up an account and started surfing. Because I’ve always written and always gardened, I started by creating a Gardening board. This led to a feed of pretty gardens and as you can guess, I clicked on the ones that drew me in. That led to ancillary photos of gates, birdbaths, etc. As I clicked through those, I learned I was interested only in antique iron gates that had ornate patterns, birdbaths that were traditional, and gardens with flowers of purple, blue, magenta, and orange. Colors that mostly blended harmoniously together. I was a more romantic gardener. Though I always knew that, I now saw what exact images reflected that taste and discovered words that I could attach to me: antique, traditional, romantic, harmonious.
Brand Colors and Fonts Discovery
Because I clicked on flowers, Pinterest fed me bouquets. I was drawn to bouquets that looked like old paintings of still lifes. Because I saved those, Pinterest slotted more into my feed and I discovered I loved how the flowers’ bright colors and green stems popped against dark, even black, backgrounds. And so, on my website, you can see I chose the brand colors of black, green, and assorted purples and magentas. (What’s so cool too is Dionne, our Magnolia Press designer, included all of those in my book cover.)
In addition to gardening and flowers, photos of home interiors featuring flowers started appearing. I clicked on rooms that featured old furniture, bookcases, cut flowers, and antiques — similar to the things in my real life home. But as I clicked on more of those photos, I realized I loved the old and romantic but also the clean and tidy. I liked the modern feel of a sparse room but the warmth of an antique lamp or velvety sofa. So two new words entered into my brand vocabulary: clean, modern. And believe it or not, through this work I found the fonts for my website: Cinzel, Lustria and Montserrat, a combo of traditional and modern lettering.
Not a Web Designer, Just an Author
Now, a trained, educated marketing person will think this is pretty basic stuff. In fact, it may seem amateurish, but it’s what I found that works for me. I don’t have time or money to get a thorough marketing education, but I have read some good marketing books. And I learned that if an author doesn’t know where to start in building a website, Pinterest can easily help you discover the distinct tastes that make you you. Plus, you’ll have a fun time doing it!
To see more of my Pinterest boards, including Paris, my Seattle garden, favorite book covers, dark forests, and other things I dream about, click here.