Amanda Usen

Happiness Is A Practice, a.k.a. It’s Never Going To Be Good Enough

In Writer on July 22, 2014 at 9:31 am

This is a post for writers, but only self-doubting writers. Shiny, self-confident, well-adjusted writers, please avert your eyes, and readers, stop reading. I want you all to think I’m perky, witty, and above all…successful. But those of you writers who wrestle demons, gather ’round…

I’m coming to grips with something sort of devastating for a 42 year-old who is supposed to be grown up. I feel like I’m failing. I thought it was because my ten year plan didn’t work out. I’m not making enough money writing, and it’s time to get another job. (Oh shit, smell the blood in the water? No one will buy my books now!) Just the thought of getting a full-time job brings tears to my eyes, like, every day. I’ve had four part-time jobs for a bunch of years now. I write under two names, tutor SAT prep, and teach pastry arts classes at a community college. This gives me time to write, but it’s not enough money. I’m not doing it right.

That’s what I hear in my head, but even *I* know it’s bullshit.

My employers value me. My publishers want more books. Getting another job does NOT mean giving up writing. It isn’t failure because I’m happy with my work. It isn’t the death of the dream. So why do I feel wrecked? The answer is simple. And sickening. I wreck myself.

Notice I didn’t say “wrecked.” Because I do it over and over. My husband has made a joke out of it so often, my kid said it the other day. “But you love to beat yourself up. It makes you happy.” What was I supposed to say? “I’m not happy”? Well, why the fuck not? I should be. My life is amazing. But I never make a list of the good stuff. Just the stuff that needs doing, and that list never ends. So I beat myself up about beating myself up about not being happy.

Thank God for yoga and an instructor who reminds us “It’s a practice.”

Happiness is a practice, at least for me. I know we’re all precious snowflakes, but I bet it is for some of you, too.

I know why I’m wired for self-doubt, but that doesn’t make it any easier to fight the demons. Even if I didn’t have deep-seated issues, I’ve chosen a profession in which I will never be good enough. Because even when I type THE END that only means it’s time for several passes of edits. I love edits and my editors, but I write the damn books with my blood and guts, so…you know. It’s hard to try to get it right over and over again, and of course typos always make it into the final, formatted manuscript. And then…the reviews come. The amazing, wonderful, good, so-so, bad, horrid, putrid reviews. (I’m grateful for every one. Yes, even the putrid ones I shouldn’t have read. They bought the book or at least read the book.) Oh, and let’s not forget not every book becomes a bestseller, hits the lists, the top 100, or whatever meaningless measure I’m tormenting myself with this week. (Because I know if it doesn’t sell then it isn’t good and neither am I and, oh, those shitty demons!)

My agent says I need to get a thicker skin. She’s right. Is there an app for that?

Damn it. No. Or I would have deleted Minecraft to make room for it. It’s up to me. It’s up to you. Denial is the first phase, and admitting there is a problem is the first step, but that’s only the beginning for people like us. Our demons are hydras, and we like their heads. They’re familiar.

Are you happy?

In yoga, when I fall out of a pose, I laugh and get back in. When I get dizzy, I put a leg down. Because there is no “good enough.” There is only my experience. None of the measures matter.

In my writing life, each book is as good as I can make it, and I enjoy writing them. The job doesn’t stop there, but I don’t have to stand still for the inevitable, measuring blows. I took Tae Kwon Do in college, but it’s only now that I realize the best way to block a punch or a kick is to get out of the damn way. Or deflect it. Just because somebody throws a punch, doesn’t mean you have to take it. Since we aren’t talking about a physical fight, guess what? Even if the punch lands, it doesn’t have to hurt. We make it hurt by giving it power.

I already know I’m my own worst critic, and I’m wired to internalize criticism and shrug off praise. Unless you are one of those shiny, happy, charmed people who aren’t supposed to be reading this, you are, too. We can’t wake up, realize we’re hard on ourselves, and stop. But we also don’t have to beat ourselves unconscious.

It’s never going to be good enough.

Because there IS no good enough.

Not for people like us.

But there is this moment, this day, this life, and we can get back in it every time we fall out. Happiness is a practice. Or that’s what this writer is telling herself this month to keep the demons at bay. I’m at a double crossroads. It’s time to get that new job, and Hot Nights Book 3 is my last official deadline. I need to pick two new projects, so I’ve been pondering this topic a lot. (Ha! Like I haven’t been pondering it for at LEAST 20 years.) Are you pondering, too?

Do you have a mantra, a manifesto, a talisman, a demon deflector, hydra head-lopper? Would you please post it in the comments? I think I’ll make a postcard out of all of them and send one to you. :-)





Strawberry Rhubarb Mojito Recipe

In Chef on July 10, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Strawberry Rhubarb Mojito Many strawberries and limes were harmed in the making of this post! Several stalks of rhubarb were chopped. Mint leaves were muddled. Rum was slugged. All in the name of summer fun!

It’s sweet, just tart enough, a refreshing summer cocktail that can be slung together with a minimum of fuss and muss. Here’s how you do it:

First you must make your rhubarb simple syrup. I recommend doing this a few hours ahead of time so it can chill. But what did *I* do? I set up an ice bath with two metal bowls and ice water in between, so I could cool off the simple syrup A.S.A.P. Planning ahead is awesome, but I wanted a cocktail!

Rhubarb Simple Syrup

1 ½ cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup rhubarb, diced into small pieces

Bring to a simmer to dissolve sugar. Simmer about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced to 2 cups. Strain out rhubarb. (It was too good to throw away, so we ate it. You could mix it into apple sauce, strawberry jelly, or vanilla ice cream. Love rhubarb!)
Cool the syrup.

Strawberry Rhubarb Mojito

In a tall glass:
Muddle 3 lime wedges (about ¼ lime)
10 mint leaves
3 Tablespoons rhubarb simple syrup

What does muddle mean? In my house, it means smash around with a wooden spoon. My neighborhood BFF, Melissa, has a fancy mortar and pestle mojito doogie. Basically, you want to smoosh the juice out of the lime, release the oil from the zest, and bruise the mint leaves.

Add 2 ounces white rum.
Fill glass with ice.
Add ½ cup club soda.
Toss in one strawberry, small diced
Stir. Blur. Jubilate.

I set most of my romances in the kitchen because I met my husband in culinary school. We love to cook for each other, family, and friends. In fact, once a year, we roast a pig for the whole darn neighborhood! Yup, food, fun, and romance are three of my favorite things, and that’s what I bring to my stories. Check out my books and recipes to cook up some fun of your own!

Other fun stuff:

Sign up for my Awesome Sauce Newsletter

Enter to win swag from my favorite authors

Read my review of UP TO ME by Christi Barth

*Recipe originally posted by Fictional Candy during my INTO THE FIRE blog tour.


Christi Barth Writes Swoony Romance!

In Romantic on June 27, 2014 at 1:50 am
Cover of Up To Me: a smoochy kiss

Available from AMAZON,
 B&N, Carina Press, iBooks, Google

I think it was the RWA conference in Orlando, although it might have been the NJ Put Your Heart in a Book con. I’m very up-front about how 3 kids and writing has shredded my short-term memory, although it’s been long enough to be considered long term, so let’s move on.

I met Christi Barth at a free continental breakfast. Since I don’t like hard-boiled eggs or yogurt, I went for the bagel. Christi was captivating, and not just because I was grateful to have someone to talk to so I didn’t look as alone as I really was. She was PUBLISHED! I went home and ordered her book. Since then our paths have crossed right and left, and I feel honored every time I get to see her. Our long lunch over Cobb-style salads in New Orleans at RT was one of the high points of May for me. I was delighted to hear she had a new book coming out, and I pre-ordered it! Why were we eating salads in NOLA? Because they were covered with shrimp remoulade and crab meat! Oh – and cheese. Exactly. (For the chance to win swag from Christi and some of my other favorite authors I squeezed at RT, like Robyn Peterman, Megan Mulry, Karen Stivali, and Darynda Jones, enter the Raflecopter giveaway at the tippy end of this post.)

I started reading UP TO ME, Book One of the Shore Secrets series, the day it came out and quickly lost myself in the world of Mayhew Manor, a modern-day castle on the shores of Seneca Lake in wine country. Let me tell you, I am dying to take a swim in the perfect-for-making-out rock-lined pool in the Manor, I would kill for a big-ass cup of coffee at the General Store, and I WANT A GLASS OF WINE from the Manor vineyard. I also wouldn’t mind some spirits from the distillery, owned by a small town hottie and excellent hero bait for Book Two (Feb. 2015). Speaking of hero bait, I hope Christi plans to make the Manor chef the hero of the third book. Yes, indeed, Christi built an engaging small-town world, and I can’t wait to visit it again!

If you like your books heavy on the romance, you’ll love UP TO ME. Although the hero and heroine indulge their senses and don’t shy away from admitting the down-and-dirty realness of their attraction, the actual full-on naked sex happened later in the book than I was expecting. At first I was impatient. The hero, Graydon Locke, is an amazing kisser. My mouth watered as I read the make-out scenes. I wanted them to do the deed! But then I was charmed by the old-fashioned, delightful romance going on before my eyes. *sigh* I kept racing ahead (because I’m a dirty bird) but I may have to read it all over again. Just so I can appreciate how well it was put together, anticipate the next books, and swoon over the truly perfect last sentence.

I hope you’ll buy UP TO ME (at $3.03 it’s a steal and a deal) so you can be just as hooked as I am! Read on for THE POOL SCENE!

Ella Mayhew’s always appreciated the beautiful view of Seneca Lake from the spa window of her family’s hotel. But the view improves dramatically when a hot stranger runs across the grounds—shirtless. He’s the first man to kickstart her hormones in the three years since she lost her parents, and she doesn’t even know his name.

Graydon Locke’s on his umpteenth undercover assignment. The routine’s always the same: assess a business, recommend it for closure, then roll out before anyone discovers his decisions impact hundreds of lives. He’s always believed nothing good comes out of small towns. Why would this one be different? Then he makes two classic rookie mistakes—falling for the sweet, sexy girl who owns the very business he’s on the verge of axing. And letting the town’s residents get involved in both his life, and his relationship with Ella.

Ella’s the best thing to ever happen to Gray, but he’s lied to her from the start. If he pulls the plug on Mayhew Manor, the entire town may crumble. Ella couldn’t save her parents, but it’s up to her to save their hotel. Even if that means turning her back on true love.


“Come do yoga with me tomorrow.”

“I’m a guy. We’re all about being hard and stiff, not soft and bendy.”

Ella blinked rapidly to clear the images of a naked, hard-muscled Gray that popped into her mind. And hardness…other places. “Don’t be so close-minded. Didn’t you end up enjoying the massage I gave you?”

“Yes.” He sounded adorably sulky at being forced to acknowledge it. Why was it that men found it so hard to admit when they were wrong? Definitely a topic of discussion for her next margarita night with the girls.

“See? You can’t dismiss something out of hand without at least trying it.”

Gray wrinkled his nose. “Do I have a choice?”

“No.” Ella brought up her other hand to cup his face. “You deserve to be looked after. It’s not much, I know, but let me help you in the only way I can.”

“I’ll do it—”

Ella bounced a little. “Terrific.”

“—on one condition. I’ve just come up with a good plan for stress release. Let’s try my way first.” Gray wove his fingers through the loose knit of her turquoise sweater. In one swift move, he pulled it off over her head and tossed it into the corner. “Come swimming with me. Right now.”

Was he serious? To stall for time while she processed the preposterous suggestion, Ella stammered, “We…we don’t have suits.”

“You said the pool’s still officially closed. No one will interrupt us.” He toyed with the strap of her matching tank. “You’ve got this thing. I’m wearing boxer briefs. We’ll be more covered up than in suits. Unless you don’t think you can control yourself around me?”

That was it in a nutshell. Not that she’d admit it to Gray. Not when he had that sharp eyebrow arched and a smug quirk to his lips. If he was trying to shock her…well, he had, no denying that. But what better way was there to embrace life fully than to embrace a dripping wet, mostly naked Gray? While she’d never work up the courage to tell him, this was the kind of activity Dr. T. would probably applaud. Or at least give her a gold star. He had asked her to email him with progress reports if anything big happened. Unable to resist, she glanced down at Gray’s crotch. Ella expected something very big, indeed, was about to happen.

“Water’s extremely therapeutic,” she said in her most serious, I’m massaging you but not judging your naked body in any way professional voice. “Swimming is a good counterpart to yoga. They use the same long muscles.”

Yup. Her matter-of-fact delivery dropped his eyebrow back to its usual straight line and wiped the smug from his lips. Ella kept the surprises rolling. She stood, unbuttoned her skirt and let it slide the floor into a big blue puddle. Then she reached out, grabbed his wrist, and yanked him sideways into the pool with her.

The simultaneous body flops slapped noise and water all around the room. Ella recovered first, treading water while waiting for Gray to get his bearings and surface. Keeping her head above water was easy. Breathing, however, was not, as she was laughing her head off at catching him off guard. Finally, with much thrashing and churning of the water, Gray popped up near the middle of the pool.

“What the hell?” he yelled, his voice bouncing off the rocks with a hollow echo. “I’m wearing clothes!”

“So take them off,” she yelled back. Geez, it was his idea. Ella had just implemented it without talking it to death first. She’d thought he’d appreciate her spontaneity.

Gray stared at her for a minute, totally unreadable. Then his head disappeared beneath the water again. In fact, he sank straight to the bottom. It worried her. But just until a heavy, sodden pair of jeans landed like a giant blue spitwad in front of her. Laughing, she tossed them over her shoulder in the general direction of their shoes. Then Gray’s shirt appeared, floating near the filter. Something she’d have to remember to retrieve before morning when maintenance would make their final sweep before reopening the pool.

She felt Gray first. His head brushed against her stomach. Using her body like a swim ladder, he climbed it with his hands until just those brilliant blue eyes broke the surface. Blinked at her once. Then he tilted his head back and arced a stream of water from his lips to the dead center of her forehead. Laughing even harder, Ella reached under his shoulders to pull him the rest of the way up.

That’s when the laughter stopped. When buoyancy slammed his oh my God so hard cock right against her. When it was the most natural thing in the world to wrap her legs tight around him to keep him nestled against all her heat and what felt like every freaking nerve ending in her body. And when she twined her arms around his neck just for the thrill of rubbing her breasts across his chest.

With two powerful kicks, Gray propelled them to the wall. He sandwiched Ella against it and hung on to the rocks to keep them both afloat. “I’m on board with your idea. As you can tell.” He ground against her in a way that absolutely proved not only that he was enthusiastic about stripping, but that there was definitely nothing between them other than two thin, skintight layers of cotton. Gray’s impressive length was no longer just an impression or wishful thinking. It was hard and long and she couldn’t wait to impale herself on him. For now, she locked her ankles together and let the water do most of the work of bobbing her up and down in a rhythmic, full-body caress.

Water glistened at the tips of his lashes. Ella kissed it away, then just kept heading south. Over his early-evening stubble. Down past the Adam’s apple that jerked reflexively. She’d always thought them sexy. So uniquely masculine.

A nibble in the hollow of his collarbone. Down till her lips were just underwater, closed around his nipple. Ella flicked it against her teeth. Gray…growled? Whatever the noise was, it came from deep inside him and turned her core body temperature up by about twenty percent.

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Bio: Christi Barth earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage.  A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning.  Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes award-winning contemporary romance.  Christi is President of the Maryland Romance Writers and lives in Maryland with her husband.

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