Sunday, January 12, 2020

Blue Jean Yoga

A gorgeous sunny day at the beach. Unbelievably beautifully sunny, windy, cool. The waves sound delicious. I turn my face to the sun and breathe in deep. Again. Be here now. Don't look back.
This morning I woke up with anxiety. So much, so unnecessary, so what. It occurred to me I'd rather feel ANYTHING, even core-shattering anxiety, than sadness and grief.
But grief came knocking. A few hours into the day, Natalie left for college after a long winter break. Now, sitting on this shore, I wish her well. And Olivia, too. My babies used to play around this chair at this beach, and something about the memory calms me.

Lately I've been reading Deepak Chopra (my latest favorite), watching Jai Dev Singh Kundalini videos (see him here), listening to Abraham Hicks (one of many youtube videos here), and meditating with the Insight Timer teachers ( At the moment, it feels like too much self-improvement, and not enough actual change.
Will all I'm learning make me a better person? And according to whom? I'm not sure today.
The sand beckons, so I go through some blue jean yoga poses and it heals my soul.
Today Chris and I will jump back into our lives: the kitchen remodel, a manuscript edit (still working on the sequel to The Existence of Pity-- it's so close!), work, more work, and plans to open our garage gym.
I don't want to leave, but it's getting cold. First stop, Lowe's. I'm thankful for the healing ocean. After a last deep breath, I gather my chair, and don't look back.

photo credits: Chris Zokan

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Pull Quote

Kirkus Book ReviewsI wanted to know, once and for all. Is The Existence of Pity a good book? I've been thrilled with my mostly positive reviews, but how would my book fare if assessed by a trade publication?

Kirkus has been reviewing books since 1933 and is considered a respected trade magazine by the industry. Their reviews certainly influence my reading selections, and I've noticed an automatic positive response to seeing a Kirkus blurb on a book. The debate rages on as to whether a Kirkus review is worth the price - yes, I paid for it - but the itch to know wouldn't quit. I decided to send my book their way.

With no little trepidation, I waited, until today, when this link showed up in my inbox.

I raced through it and sighed with relief. It's good! Then, I combed it for that all-important pull quote, those lines which sum up what Kirkus has to say about my precious baby, and my writing.

"Overall, this is an offbeat coming-of-age story... and Josie is perfect in her role as the story's protagonist and moral center." --- Kirkus Reviews

"A sensitive work from a very promising author." --- Kirkus Reviews

I'm glad I got the review. Now I know. And my favorite part of the quotes? The ---Kirkus Reviews at the end, for my book.

And just in time, a Kindle copy of The Existence of Pity is now $5.99!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Journey of A Thousand Miles

July 30, on the cusp of the new moon, marked the first ever class at the Community Yoga Studio--conveniently located in my garage.

 Back in January, with that wonderful January energy of renewal and new beginnings, I leaned against the washing machine in my garage and studied the space. Chris had kept up his ACE certification as a Personal trainer for over 25 years in hopes of returning to that profession, and we'd talked of turning our garage into a gym, but we never had the energy, or any idea of how to begin. The task seemed so daunting.

But on that January day, I decided to simply start cleaning it out. With absolutely no idea where all the STUFF would go, I put my hand on one thing at a time. Give this away, Store that in the attic. Move this to the shed. Sell that on Facebook.
Happy with my progress, Chris got in on it, and one Saturday we cleaned out the neglected shed and emptied a lot of the contents of the garage into it. Then we treat ourselves to lunch. When the area was mostly empty we--okay, Chris--scraped the popcorn ceiling. That's a horrible job, but once it was cleaned and painted white, the project started taking on a life of its own. Spackling and painting the walls a seafoam green came next, and at that point, we finally began to see the transformation. No turning back now!
We had told ourselves repeatedly, "If we build it, they will come," We didn't have to know how it would all come together, we just had to take the next step. Over the following months, our conversations were filled with talk of room dividers, flooring, workout equipment, and mirrors. We didn't talk about the foosball/pool table taking up valuable space, though. Chris didn't want to let go of the game table, something we didn't use anymore, maybe because it reminded him of the fun we had with it when our girls were younger. I knew that as our space took shape, with mirrors in place, the room divider up, and rubber flooring locked in, that he'd let go of the table.

Sure enough, when a friend with young sons expressed an interest in the foosball/pool table, he gave in, for the good of the studio.
As soon as Chris found the perfect functional trainer cable machine, he began working out in what he dubbed his Performance Studio, preparing to take clients as a Personal Trainer. For me it's my Community Yoga Studio, and we agree to disagree on its name. We both agree that it shall never be called a garage again.
My vision for the space is simple. I want to reach out to the community who is interested in yoga and who lives nearby. Nothing would make me happier than to have neighbors walk or bike over for an evening class.
And although most drove, last night was that class.
I made eye pillows for everyone (something every visiting yogi will have) and herbal tea. I tried three other flavors until I found Bigelow Peach, iced with honey. I'm a kindergarten teacher at heart, so everyone has a pocket in a shoebag on the door to store their eye pillows.
Prana Devi taught an amazing New Moon Yoga with a moon salutation sequence (as opposed to the sun salutation most yogis know) and as she taught, she pointed out the sky at sunset, twilight as it turned the treeline into a long, jagged silhouette, and a bat darting around the culdesac.
Through the whole class, I couldn't keep a big grin off my face. The realization that we had DONE IT kept sweeping over me. Chris and I had created from scratch this beautiful space, and people were now sharing it. I was in heaven, even though this heaven turned hot. Very hot. I guess there's still some tweaking to do. As much as I love the garage screen, during these warm summer months we'll be using a portable air conditioner to keep the studio cool.
It's really true, that, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." The sense of accomplishment Chris and I share when we walk into our gar-- oops, studio, is worth all the work we put in and all the stuff we got rid of. Without looking too far down the road, without a definite goal, we just did what we could one day at a time. And we're thrilled with the result. 
If you're local and are interested in yoga, please contact me. Chris is ready to be your personal trainer, and if you want a garage gym like ours, we are excited to share our new-found expertise on making the transformation. Trust me, it's worth the journey. We both feel like we climbed Mt. Everest, and the view from the top is amazing.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Feed Your Kindle! The Existence of Pity is on Sale!

From May 11 to May 14, The Existence of Pity is on sale for $.99! Yes, ninety-nine cents! 
I'm not sure I've ever shared this review:
This is one of those deceptive books. It poses a whole bunch of serious moral questions but does so in a voice so young and fresh that a sweet summer breeze seems to be floating around them, whispering to you to relax and take it easy, making it a deceptively easy read.

Not to say there is no action or conflict, far from it. Josie is battling her entire family in different ways, and she is battling the unnoticed arrogance of the missionary culture. Add to that the danger her brother is determined to court, bringing the violence of Colombia’s mafia to their very door. It is quite startling how the author manages to keep the summery atmosphere going throughout, all too often writers would be tempted to use dark, depressing similes for such events that would have shredded the important physical context of the story.

 This book would be a good read for Young Adults and Adults alike. For me with my interest in religions and their effects on the world I found it had a lot to say but yet it never preached. It does have an autobiographical ring to it and I would be interested to see how the author will write other books, this is a strong debut and could be the start of solid career, but I’m a little worried it may be the one book she has in her. I hope not.
I hope not, too, dear Reviewer! My writing group seems confident in the sequel -- working title For the Love of Grace -- and July 7 is the deadline for me to get it to my publisher. Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, buy The Existence of Pity for 99 cents! Thanks :) 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Lori Bane: Being Mindfully Kind

My friend Lori Bane texted me out of the blue one night this past summer: did I need someone to read my current manuscript? I stared at the screen, amazed at the words. Lori was the answer to a prayer I hadn't even uttered, and she helped me get back on track, one chapter at a time. I knew about her summer filled with random acts of kindness and personally felt the loving kindness she shared with me by reaching out. Now I'd like to share her story with you.

 What gave you the idea to focus on random acts of kindness? I heard on K-Love radio several years ago that a young woman chose to do 21 acts of kindness instead of shots on her 21st birthday.  So for my 37th birthday, I decided I'd do the same thing - 1 act of kindness for each year.  I had my sons help.  Isaak kept a list and what they did counted, too, because I wasn't sure I'd be able to get 37 done in a day!  It turned out to be a LOT of fun and easier than expected when you count little kindnesses, too.  I researched ahead of time so I was prepared to give cold gatorades, thank you notes, etc. and then we also just kept our eyes out for random acts.  I did it for birthdays 38 and 39.  For 40, I wanted to make it bigger, so I decided I would invite friends and family to join me for a beach cleanup or something and then ask them to do more kind acts throughout the day. 
Then I realized my birthday fell on the first day of preplanning this year and I was so bummed!  I considered doing the 40 acts the Sunday before, but I try to rest on Sundays.  Then Becky Pappas led me to a fun book she'd read called The Summer I Saved the World... in 65 Days.  Solutions!  I started planning 40 days or 40 acts over the summer, or whatever it would turn out to be.  I still wanted to include other people, so I toyed with the idea of posting on Facebook and inviting people to share their acts, hoping we would document a universe-changing movement!  I hesitated to post online because I didn't want it to come off as "Look what I am doing!  Look at ME!"  I wanted to point the focus back to God, so I made a website on which I explained my motivation and invited people to document their own acts anonymously, and kept a list of my own acts as inspiration for others (in addition to posting picture-worthy acts). 

What was one of the most memorable experiences? Okay, I was going to say how much we all giggled when we paid for someone's meal behind us in a drive-thru, but reading back through the acts listed on my website, I'd have to go with taking stevia leaves and cool lavender rags to share with my church softball team.  One of the players referred to the stevia leaves as "chaw for the church league," and one of the players' middle-school sons exclaimed, "Who is this lady?!"  I really liked the anonymous acts the best overall, though.   

What were some of the ways you helped people? All of my acts are listed on  Some are also on Facebook/Instagram and there are pictures of them there.  Also, one of my friends got a group of our friends together for a surprise birthday dinner and they gave me a sign with all of the things they'd done in my honor.  I was so touched! 

Did you ever feel helped by others when your goal was to help them? Totally!  I've made some new friends, slowed my own pace, gotten many hugs, and definitely felt God's presence in exchanges.  It's helping me focus on what REALLY matters and that is the greatest gift of all.  I just need to remember every day...

Did more opportunities to help present themselves to you the more you helped? Did you feel like you were in the flow? Yes.  One thing led to another and I enjoyed the summer more than I could have imagined.  I had worried it would become "one more thing to do," or a big checklist I'd wonder why I'd signed up for.  Because I wasn't working (except for a few weeks of summer camp and a week of vacation bible school volunteering), I was able to balance everything and didn't feel overwhelmed.  I chose not to do a few things that would've put our family over the edge budget-wise or time-wise, but mostly things worked out really naturally.  We got to enjoy quality time with each other and wonderful people as we blessed them, and I treated us intentionally here and there.  

Would you say this has been a life-changing experience for you? If so, how?  Over the years of doing this on my birthday and then spending this entire summer being mindfully kind, I'm more aware of people around me and their needs.  I do try to keep in mind that I can't do everything, but I can do some things sometimes and it may mean the world to someone else.  Being kind is always possible, and not very common sometimes.  I had joked that once my birthday was over, I was going to go back to being mean again.  LOL!  I wish I could maintain the quantity and quality of kindness my kids and I were doing, but working and having kids back in school makes it harder. I think I'm more personable with the students when they are having a bad day now, though.  Oh yeah!  And my kids are more aware of little things they can do for others. They haven't decided to do this on their birthdays, but they are very helpful and supportive of my birthday goal(s). It's just "what we do."  That makes the biggest impact!  

Thanks Lori! This was fun!

 Thank you!  Reminiscing about this has been good for my soul. :)  

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Can't Wait for the Cabbage Patch Doll in her Likeness!

About a week ago, Kelly created a beautiful graphic for The Existence of Pity and wrote this blurb: "An emotion filled coming of age story filled with beauty and compassion, secrets and lies. Zokan has created something truly special that readers won't soon forget." Wow, right? But who is Kelly? Well, she's a fellow Red Adept Publishing author who recently hit the USA Today bestseller list! 

Tell us about the book that made you a bestselling author! Add links please! Any other books? 

They Call Me Crazy is the first book in my Cass Adams series, which also includes Call Me Daddy and the soon to be released Call Me Cass. It's the story of a woman who kills her husband and buries him in their yard. I think what is appealing to people about this story is that it touches on some serious subjects mental illness, infidelity, murder, but is funny. I've had several readers say they see a lot of themselves in Cass Adams, but they probably wouldn't say that too loud. It's a great book, if I do say so myself, and the two that follow it are just as much fun! (Here's Kelly's Amazon Page)

What's it like to hit the bestseller list? Is it everything you dreamed of? Please tell me you often find yourself smiling like a madwoman for no reason at all other than the fact that you achieved a lifelong goal!

I really didn't know what to expect from it, but it's been fun, that's for sure! It's one of those things that you never lose; I'll always be known now as a USA Today bestselling author, and that's not a bad thing for a writer to have after her name. I smile like a madwoman for no reason at all anyway, but one thing that makes my stomach jump is when someone introduces me and then says, "and she's a USA Today bestselling author." It was a goal, and an achievement that others seem proud of as well. 

How big was that royalty check? Just kidding... or am I? 

I made 4.8 million dollars off the book and hope to make another mil in the next few months, and that's not counting the product endorsements, speaking engagements, and upcoming Cabbage Patch doll in my likeness. Or maybe that was 4.8 dollars, I'm not very good with math. 

Would you say this changed your life? If so, how? 

Not really. It has helped me get some additional speaking engagements outside my regular job (teaching Communications, Literature, and Humanities at Southeastern Oklahoma State University) and has put a lot of pressure on me to make sure my next projects live up to the title. 
Are there any new projects on the horizon? (Cue Tangled Lights!)

I am involved in a holiday short story anthology with 19 other authors, Tangled Lights and Silent Nights, and my story features Cass Adams and her husband, Roland, before she kills him. It comes out November 4 and can be pre-ordered now for only 99 cents.  All proceeds from the book go to charity and for less than a buck, who wouldn't want to buy it? :) 

I am now working on, back to working on, my historical fiction novel that I've rewritten 8 times over the past six years. One day, I may be satisfied with a draft long enough to send it out. Or maybe not. It's "the big book" and I feel it has to be perfect, even though I don't know how to define a perfect book. It's that thing I've spent so many hours on I can't abandon it. It delights me, frustrates me, overwhelms me. Kind of like marriage. 

Kelly's Author Page: Like Here
Kelly's Website: Dig in Here
Kelly's Bookbub: Follow Here
Here's the graphic - beautiful!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Unstoppable: My Life So Far

Unstoppable: My Life So Far is the memoir Maria Sharapova published in 2017, and it's an unforgettable read. I'm a tennis buff and love hearing about her drive and determination to win on the court, but her life story is fascinating, too.

Born in Russia one year after the Chernobyl incident, she writes, "If you had to pick one event that made me a player, it'd be Chernobyl." Because of the explosion, her family moved from the deadly area to the resort town of Sochi -- where they had tennis courts.

Aunt Nell and her 3-legged dog Sport

I remember where I was when I heard the chilling news of the explosion; in the small town of Tallassee, Alabama. I lived with my great aunt Nell, and after work I'd take long bike rides on lonely country roads. Every Friday night, Aunt Nell and I would go out to dinner with her friends at the Kowaliga Restaurant on Lake Martin (that's pronounced Ku-lie-ja). We'd eat too much, laugh too hard, talk too long, then come home too full to sleep, so we'd watch TV, laughing and talking some more. They were good, simple times, and I'm grateful for them, and for her.

Much later, my aunt asked me how many years I lived with her. "Six months," I said.

But back to Unstoppable. The main reason I want to share this book is because of what Sharapova says about writing. "I came to believe that the physical act of writing can reeducate your brain. By writing, you access certain thoughts and feelings that might otherwise remain hidden. You can bring them to the surface, where they can be understood and then dealt with."

Wow, right?

"I also came to believe that you can plant positive thoughts in your psyche in the same way. Put it on paper and in it goes. Which is why, if you look through those diaries, which I have saved and used to help write this book, you will see pages given over to nothing but positive phrases in the nature of 'Yes, you can. Yes, you can. Yes, you can.'"

It's no wonder Sharapova has won five grand slams! My favorite line from her book, though, the one that rings true, deep to my core, is this: "It's important to remember, but it's more important to forget." The context is a stunning defeat in the Australian Open that Sharapova was wise to put behind her, but the words mean so much more. In tennis it's important to learn the techniques, but at match time you have to stop thinking and just play. Remember, then forget. Trust what you've learned and be there when the ball bounces off the court and heads toward your racquet.

Aunt Nell's life wasn't an easy one, but she was good at living in the moment. The Great Depression, loved ones lost in WWII, a house burned to the ground, these didn't stop her from relishing laughter and friends and family. She would agree with Sharapova, too. "It's important to remember, but it's more important to forget." She's been gone almost twenty years and I still miss my Aunt Nell, and still think of her when I read about strong, determined, amazing women like Maria Sharapova..