Welcome to Following the Whispers blog

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit. Hope you enjoy your stay. I blog here whenever I feel the need. This blog was created at the time my memoir came out, in February, 2009. Its motto was: creating a life of inner peace and self-acceptance from the depths of despair. Now, my focus is sharing this journey we call life.

“Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it.” Naomi Wolf

“We are called human beings, not human doings.” Wes Nisker, Buddhist teacher

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…(And) if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Theodore Roosevelt

The Wishing Steps Blog Tour Posts

THE RELUCTANT NOVELIST
I was minding my own business. Really. We’d just landed in Edinburgh, Scotland for what would be a two-week exploration of both Scotland and Ireland. Our driver took us to a 2000-year-old burial site, Balnauran of Clava and I was off by myself, fascinated by the ancient history and culture, when an unfamiliar inner voice said, “Tell my story.”
Now, you have to understand, I’m 66 years old and, until that day, I’d never heard voices that weren’t my own inner ones. This was different. I wasn’t sure what I’d heard or even if I actually did hear anything, so I said, “Sorry, I’m on vacation.”
The voice came back while standing on what was called the wishing steps in a dense forest surrounding Blarney Castle in Ireland. “Tell my story.” This time, I felt a surge of energy at the same time. Hard to ignore, but ignore it I did. “I’m on vacation. Leave me alone.”
But when I returned home, I couldn’t forget what happened and began a journey to discover who or what the voice was and what story it wanted me to tell. I called my writing coach/editor, Mark David Gerson (www.markdavidgerson.com) and the first words out of my mouth were, “I don’t tell stories. I can’t write fiction. I’m a nonfiction writer. What am I to do about this voice?”
That was the start of what became a profoundly healing and deeply moving spiritual journey to allow the voice of wisdom that came to me in Scotland to come through to tell her story. It didn’t happen easily. I was kicking and screaming the whole six years it took to yank this story out of me. My debut novel The Wishing Steps is the result. e.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM WRITING MY FIRST NOVEL AFTER 35+ YEARS OF WRITING NONFICTION
Writing a novel is the hardest thing I’ve ever tackled. No kidding. There are so many things you have to think about. First, you have to have a story that is of interest to some segment of the population. Then you have to have a plot with twists and turns that will keep your audience turning the pages. Then you have to have characters. Interesting characters. Characters with flaws. Characters that your readers will hopefully care about. And as if that isn’t enough, you have to be able to describe settings and show, not tell, what happens to these characters. And of course, your novel must contain similes and metaphors and other literary devices that make the story rich and readable.
Before I wrote and published my memoir in 2009, I’d written essays and articles in my career as a public relations professional in the health care industry. Those things are so much easier than a novel. You think of a topic, you research facts and figures, you find an expert you can quote, you write a good hook, put in the background info, put in a call to action, if required, and voila, you’re done. I don’t mean to imply this kind of writing doesn’t require skill. It does. It’s just simpler than writing a novel.
My novel did require some research, especially in the middle section, which takes place during the middle ages. But my novel is not historical fiction, thank goodness, so I didn’t have to be accurate with details. For example, there are wishing steps surrounding Blarney Castle in Ireland, but the wishing steps in my novel became something altogether different. Still, I needed to imagine what life might have been like for a wise woman during that era when the Inquisition was happening -- not an easy feat for someone who has difficulty visualizing what isn’t there. When we were building our house in 1998, it wasn’t until the dry wall went up that I actually knew what the house would look like. See what I mean? Novelists need a good imagination. I had to work at this. Hard.
So, what did I learn from this experience? Several things, actually. One, when I set out to do something, no matter how hard it is, I do it. And that feels wonderful. So, if you’ve always wanted to do something, go ahead and do it. You won’t be sorry. Secretly, in the depths of my soul, I’d always wanted to write a novel. Just didn’t think I could. Well, I could and I did.
Two, there is always help when you are working on something, anything, if you’re only willing and able to ask for it. I had wonderful support from my writing coach, editor, Mark David Gerson (www.markdavidgerson.com). Without him, this book wouldn’t exist.
And lastly, listening to the whispers (which was the theme of my memoir, Following the Whispers) is crucial to my well-being. Writing this book became a deeply moving and profoundly healing spiritual journey. I needed to write this book. And I am so grateful I did.
HOW THE STORY CAME TO ME
“This burial ground dates to around 2,000 BC,” said Hugh, our guide in Scotland. It was 2009 and earlier that year I’d published my memoir, the culmination of a ten-year journey to bring that project to fruition. This trip was celebrating that journey.
It was gently misting rain and we were the only tourists visiting Balnauran Clava Cairns (cairns are piles of stones). I wondered off by myself, leaving my husband and Hugh talking at the edge of the site. I stopped for a moment, trying to imagine the people who built the structure and what their lives were like. Suddenly I heard a voice inside my head say, “Tell my story.” At first I thought I was hearing things, but it repeated a few minutes later, “Tell my story.”
Now, I’ve heard my own voice inside my head all of my life, as well as the voices of my parents, teachers, etc. It took me years to learn to sort out those voices and let my own voice come through. This was different and it scared me. So I did what I always do when I’m scared. Retreat. I said, “Sorry, I’m on vacation,” and went on exploring the cairns.
A few days later we were at Blarney Castle in Ireland. On this day, it was pouring down rain and there were very few tourists out and about. After climbing the tower to kiss the famed Blarney Stone, I wanted to explore the forest surrounding the castle. The brochure said there were wishing steps, a witches’ kitchen and a druid’s cave -- my idea of a good time. As I stepped on the wishing steps, I closed my eyes and asked Goddess to remove my self-doubt. Well, I was on wishing steps after all. Why not ask for something important. I was filled with an energy that nearly knocked me off the steps and that pesky voice said, “Tell my story, tell my story.” Being me, I still tried to ignore it and succeeded for the rest of our vacation.
But when I came home, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I had several sessions with my writing coach, Mark David Gerson (www.markdavidgerson.com), who is very metaphysically oriented. His book, The Voice of the Muse, is one of my favorite writing books because it teaches you to go within and allow the story to emerge. Over the course of the next few months, I did the exercises in the book and worked with Mark David to discover whose voice I was hearing and what story it wanted me to tell. The Wishing Steps is the result.
THE PROCESS OF WRITING A FIRST-TIME NOVEL AFTER DECADES OF WRITING NONFICTION

Okay, I’ll admit it right off the bat. Deep, deep down I’d always wanted to write a novel. Ever since I’d read Little Women when I was a child I wanted to be Jo, sequestered in an attic, spinning tales. But that wasn’t the direction my life took. Instead, I became a marketing/public relations professional and wrote articles, essays, brochures, annual reports and the like – always with my client’s name on the piece – never my own.

After three decades, I quit to write full time. I had a story to tell, but it wasn’t fictional. It was my own story. That resulted in my memoir, Following the Whispers, which I published in 2009. Later that year, while vacationing in Scotland, I heard a voice asking me to tell its story. I’d never experienced anything like that before and it frightened me. It happened again in Ireland, so when I got home, I began to explore what this voice was and what story it wanted me to tell.

In the first session with my writing coach, Mark David Gerson (www.markdavidgerson.com), I said, “I can’t write fiction.” I’d tried. During the years I was working on my memoir, I went back to school to complete a college education I’d started in the 1960’s. I took every creative writing course the university had to offer and got straight A’s – even graduated Summa Cum Laude. But it was clear to me that I was not a fiction writer. In my mind, you must have a great imagination, write great metaphors, use similes and other writing techniques. Be able to write lush, rich descriptions. That’s just wasn’t me. I was used to the who, what, where, when, and why of a press release.

Big sigh here. Mark David’s gentle coaching style helped me move past my own limiting beliefs so I could begin to allow this story to emerge. Believe me, I kicked and screamed the entire six years it took to get this story out of me. I’ve lost count of the number of drafts. The first one Mark David called a skeleton. “Now you have to put the skin and organs on it.”

Writing a novel was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I am not an analytical thinker when it comes to writing. I write from the heart. So I didn’t think through a character’s motivation or even character traits. They just came through and I wrote it down. I guess it was kind of like automatic writing.

I’m still much more comfortable writing nonfiction. I’m pretty sure that will be my next project – in fact that same voice is now asking me to write a companion piece to The Wishing Steps – one that imparts all the wisdom that came through during the writing of the book. I’ve learned that it doesn’t pay to ignore those callings. Stay tuned…


FROM NONFICTION TO FICTION IN ONE EASY TRIP

The year 2009 changed my life. In February, my memoir, Following the Whispers, which took 10 years to complete, was published. It was the culmination of a dream come true. I’d quit my 35+-year career in marketing and public relations to write full time in 1999. Writing the memoir was just another step in that nonfiction writing life – from writing press releases, brochures, essays and articles with my client’s name on them, to putting my story down on paper. Easy peasy, right?

Wrong. It took my taking every creative writing course the University of New Mexico had to offer, plus multiple sessions with writing coach/editor Mark David Gerson (www.markdavidgerson.com) for me to whip my manuscript into publishable form. So when it was finally out in the world, I wanted, no, needed, to celebrate in a big way.

My husband and I had a dream trip planned go to Machu Picchu (high on my bucket list). Then I had to have shoulder surgery and we couldn’t go. We had a limited amount of time in which to use the airline tickets. The only places we could find to travel during the timeframe were Scotland and Ireland.

Terrified to tackle the narrow, winding roads on our own, and fearful we wouldn’t find any of the sites we were interested in seeing, we hired drivers. Our trip began in Edinburgh, Scotland. On the second day, as soon as I stood amidst the ruins of Balnauran of Clava, I heard an unfamiliar inner voice say, “Tell my story.” Having never heard voices before, I was taken aback and wasn’t sure I heard what I thought I heard. So I said, “Sorry, I’m on vacation.”
The voice came again a week later when I was exploring the Wishing Steps at Blarney Castle in Ireland. This time, the energy I felt was stronger and harder to ignore. We finished our trip and when I came home I thought that was the end of the mysterious voice. But it wasn’t. As I said, I’d never heard voices so when this voice/energy continued to plague, er, speak to me, I knew I needed to listen.
Mark David had written a book called “Voice of the Muse.” I decided to do the exercises in the book and work with him once again. In the first session, I said, “I can’t write fiction.” Despite getting straight A’s and graduating Summa Cum Laude, it was clear to me that I was not a fiction writer. In my mind, you must have a great imagination, write great metaphors, use similes and other writing techniques. Be able to write lush, rich descriptions. That doesn’t come naturally to me. I was used to the who,what, where, when, and why of a press release.

Mark David’s gentle coaching style helped me move past my own limiting beliefs and I began to allow this story to emerge. Believe me, I kicked and screamed the entire six years it took to get this story out of me. I’ve lost count of the number of drafts. It was bare bones after the first draft.

Writing a novel was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I am not an analytical thinker when it comes to writing. I write from the heart. So I didn’t think through a character’s motivation or even character traits. They just came through and I wrote it down. I guess it was kind of like automatic writing.

I’m still much more comfortable writing nonfiction. I’m pretty sure that will be my next project – in fact that same voice is now asking me to write a companion piece to The Wishing Steps – one that imparts all the wisdom that came through during the writing of the book. I’ve learned that it doesn’t pay to ignore those callings. Stay tuned…


TURNING NEGATIVES INTO POSITIVES

If you’re a glass half empty kind of person like me, if that’s what comes naturally to you rather than seeing the glass half full, you tend to view things from a negative perspective. The problem with this is that it keeps us stuck feeling badly about ourselves and the people and world around us. So I’ve had to train myself to find the silver lining when the bad stuff happens. And the truth is, I’ve either learned something I needed to learn or some powerful insight was revealed, or whatever it was I thought I wanted or needed wasn’t really going to be good for me.

I’m here at Robin’s blog because I’ve written a novel, The Wishing Steps. I actually can’t believe I’m able to write that sentence and have it be the truth. I. WROTE. A. NOVEL. Okay, here’s the negative: Who do you think you are – you think you can write a novel? You’re a nonfiction writer. You can’t write fiction. You get the idea, right. These are the things I heard inside my head through most of the six years I was pulling this story out of the depths of my soul. Now, here’s the positive. I. WROTE. A. NOVEL. I did it. Despite the voices. Despite the doubts. Despite the fears. And here I am telling you about it.

After I completed the book, I decided I wanted to be published traditionally. Nice dream, yes? I knew in my heart of hearts that the likelihood of that happening was slim to none, but I needed to try. I don’t think I was being negative in that regard. Just realistic. Anyway, I heard back from one of the publishing companies that they wanted to read the manuscript. Yippee. I’d never gotten that far before. Days passed and I anxiously waited. Two readers from the company wrote critiques explaining why they thought the manuscript wasn’t okay. I was devastated. It validated all those voices I’d been hearing about my inability to write fiction. But then I shifted into a peaceful, grounded, meditative state and read the critiques again. Both readers had read the book as if it was historical fiction and every criticism was related to why it didn’t work as historical fiction. Ahhhh! The book isn’t historical fiction and I’d neglected to say that. The positive which came from this experience is my writing an Author’s Note that appears at the beginning of the book which addresses the issues these readers had.

Life is difficult. We have moments of joy, perhaps even days or weeks. But then something happens to pull us off our center. I’m learning, one day at a time, to tune into my thoughts and feelings so that I’m not operating on automatic pilot. When I stay tuned in, I can catch those negative thoughts and shift them before they become stuck in me and I become stuck in the muck of negativity.

Now that my book is out in the world, I know there will be people who won’t like it, who will criticize it and perhaps me for having written such a book. All I know is that I was called to write it and I can’t allow other peoples’ opinions to make me feel bad about something that is so deeply meaningful to me.


WHAT YOU THINK OF ME IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS
Being a writer is not easy. Most of us are alone a good deal of the time with only our imaginations and stories and the characters swirling inside of our head to keep us company. I’m an introvert, so that suits me just fine. When I go out in the world, I have to shift from my inner world to dealing with other people’s thoughts and feelings and actions and behavior.
In the past, I’ve done that by people-pleasing. I was so desperate to be liked and to fit in that I subrogated my own feelings in order to please. I lived in fear that someone would get upset with me and stop being my friend.
You can imagine how that translates to a writer who puts her heart and soul into a book for six years and is now putting that book out into the world for others to read. What are they going to think? Will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they hate me for having written such a book? The thought of someone having bad thoughts about me made me so anxious it was almost intolerable. Until I read this sentence somewhere, I can’t remember where: What you think of me is none of my business.
The wise woman in me knows who she is and feels good about herself. She knows she was called to write this book and that she did the best she could with the story. So truly, if someone doesn’t like it, or doesn’t like me or makes some assumptions about me because of what I’ve written, there’s nothing I can do about it. Nor should I even try or even want to.
As writers, we are told to develop a thick skin, but that is easier said than done. We make our living with words, but words can harm us if we allow them to. Remember that saying from when we were kids: Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me. I never realized how true that was because I lived my life allowing words to harm me. I’m hoping that with this book, that way of living my life ends. 
THE JOYS OF SELF-PUBLISHING
Two words – control freak. That’s me. I am an extremely organized, detail-oriented person and I want things done the way I want them done. Now, over the years, I’ve mellowed quite a bit in this regard. But, for the most part, I like to feel as if I’m in control, even if I’m not.
Truth be told, I really wanted to be traditionally published. Back in 2009, when I finished writing my memoir, I spent 1 ½ years sending query letters. I wasn’t successful and ended up self-publishing my memoir. This time around, I was more realistic. I still wanted to be traditionally published, but I knew the likelihood of that happening was very small. So I had a plan B in place. I only spent a few months in the query process and then began the self-publishing journey. Yeah, I can have creative control.
The only downside as far as I’m concerned is the money you have to spend to get a professional book. I’m talking paying for editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design, interior design, photography for author photo. These are things a traditional publisher handles for an author. But after that, unless you are already a best-selling author, you won’t get much marketing support, so you’re on your own, just as if you self-publish. If you are a traditionally published author and I’m incorrect about this, please say so in the comments.
I worked closely with the photographer (Kathleen Mesmer, www.kathleenmesmer.com) and designer (Mark David Gerson, www.markdavidgereson.com) who put my cover together. It was a collaborative creative effort and it was so much fun. I had input as well on font choices, whether to capitalize initial words in first paragraphs of chapters, and other things along those lines. The finished product is something I feel proud of, not just because I wrote it, but because of how it looks. It feels as if it is truly mine.
I am lucky enough to be able to afford to pay for the services I can’t do myself. In addition to the above-mentioned editing, etc., I had to pay to have my book formatted as well. This is something I know many Indie authors do for themselves. That would have made my self-publishing experience less than joyful for me. I’m not a techie person.
I think we are so lucky to be living in a time when a writer can go to a site like Create Space and upload something they’ve spent time and energy on so they can share it with the world. Self-publishing has come a long way even since 2009, when I published my memoir. It’s lost its stigma. There are still some self-pubbed books that are not well written and not professional. But the same can be said for traditionally published books. We, as readers, have to do our homework when we choose what to purchase.
THE VOICES
I’ve always had voices in my head. For many years, they tortured me with their negativity. I had to learn to sort out those negative voices from the voice of wisdom that is my Higher Self. I was comfortable with all of that. Until I went on vacation to Scotland and Ireland in 2009 and a voice I’d never heard before from inside of me said, “Tell my story.” I wasn’t sure exactly what I heard, so I said, “Sorry, I’m on vacation.” But the voice came again while in Ireland. Once more, I ignored it. But when I got home, I couldn’t forget what I’d heard and began to explore who or what this voice was and what story it wanted me to tell.
I’ve always imagined that fiction writers must have many voices inside their heads. The voice of the Muse or God or whatever it is that brings an author the idea for a story. Then there are the voices of the different characters. I didn’t hear the voices of my characters inside my head. It was more that I felt what they wanted to say and wrote that down. But I wonder whether some writers do hear their characters speak in a voice different from the author’s own voice. Do share in comments if you have thoughts on this, please.
If a writer does hear their character talking, how do you turn that off? How do you live your life while some character is living inside your head living theirs? It’s mind-boggling. Over the years, my negative voices quieted down considerably and more and more, it’s the voice of wisdom I hear. I’ve also learned that when the negative voice does come, I can shift it quickly by turning my energy and attention to the voice of wisdom.
Ironically, that is one of the themes in The Wishing Steps. Turning from what I call the Dark Side, to the Light of the Goddess. Here is the scoop on the story:




Ladies musical groups, traveling with her husband of 20 years, Gary, or relaxing with a good book at their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Visit the author’s website at www.karenhelenewalker.com








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