#Cliches are not good, but… #writing



from Keep It Short by Charles Euchner


To give clichés life—to make them fresh and original again— find something surprising to add to them.

Too often, we use familiar ideas without really under- standing their meaning. We repeat phrases and ideas carelessly.

When we overuse expressions, we live in a fool’s paradise. We cannot hold a candle to the halcyon days, our salad days, when we suited the action to the word and revealed the naked truth. But we give short shrift to language, writing with neither rhyme nor reason. And we lose such stuff as dreams were made of, at’s neither here nor there, since these expressions are dead as a doornail. Coming full circle, we realize, more in sorrow than anger, and it’s a foregone conclusion that overuse of such terms is a fatal vision. So, in one fell swoop, we throw cold water on it.

All of those expressions come from Shakespeare. ese expressions once expressed ideas with freshness and originality. But used over and over, they have lost their vitality. Too o en, we use these clichés not because they express ideas well, but because they o er a simple way to say something. ey let us say something without thinking.

Remember you want to make the reader see, feel, helpless, harmless. Milo’s dead.” By using the slack, disinterested tone of a gumshoe, Lynch moves us away from sickly sentimentality.


Samuel Beckett uses clichés in playful ways to make them fresh. He writes: “Personally I have no bone to pick with graveyards.” And then, describing the odor of graveyards, he added that he will breathe in the smell of corpses “when take the air I must.” In her memoir of family suicide, Joan Wickersham freshens a stale image: “Cal may have had pots of family money, but my husband didn’t even have a small saucepan.”

Whenever possible, though, avoid clichés. Lush detail—observation of sights, sounds, smells—helps to create original expressions.

Nack could just say, “I thought about that horse day and night. I couldn’t get Secretariat out of my mind. It popped up no matter where I was or what I was doing” Zzzzzz. Instead, Nack uses compelling images to show how Secretariat shaped every minute of his life.

Write like Bill Nack. Always look for the fresh images—ideas that are familiar, but which other writers have not used before—to help the reader experience the scene –

smell, taste, touch, imagine—and think of more familiar the images, the less you will engage your reader.

“Cliches,” Geoffrey Hill notes, “invite you not to think.” Cliches give use easy, lazy was of expressing our- selves. As Hill notes, “you may always decline the invitation.” When you feel tempted to use a cliché, stop. Get in the habit of considering how to state a point simply—or think of a fresh, original way of making a point.

To avoid the dreariness of clichés, play with them. Start by looking at its literal meaning. Porter Abbott explains:

When the orator urges his or her auditors “to strike while the iron is hot,” how many of them see the sweating blacksmith at his forge and feel his magical transmutation into new meaning? The answer is none. But when one tramp suggests to another that “it might be better to strike the iron before it freezes” the original vehicle is revived in its literal state.

Taking words literally reveals the cliché’s original insight. When you do a genealogy of clichés, you discover vibrant images that can be revived.

When you change the context of cliché, you can give it new life. In a memoir of his life as an undertaker, Tomas Lynch writes about the death of a neighbor: “Milo is dead. X’s on his eyes, lights out, curtains.”


For more details on Keep It Short, click on the title.

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Write with the Body


…excerpt from KEEP IT SHORT by Charles Euchner 


Reading is a sensual experience. So use the senses to connect with the reader’s physicality.

Consider the following questions:

You are in a store, checking out backpacks. You are looking for a leather one. How do you go about checking whether the item is made of leather or man-made materials?

You are riding in a cab. A nostalgic, sad song is playing, followed by one with an upbeat rhythm and a sexual pulse. How would the music affect your mood?

When you are in an art gallery, in what manner do you look at the paintings?

Do you enjoy petting furry animals (allergies aside)?

You are given a bouquet of flowers. Your first reaction would be…

You are a completely alone on a private island and there is a crystal-clear lake. It’s hot and you could use a swim. You …

You have set out to furnish your living room. What would best describe the type of furniture that you choose?


Whatever you write, think consciously about the physical words you use.

Sight: What do we see when we see? We see brightness, color, shapes, texture, and proportions. We see relation- ships between things.

Often, when I am working on research or a draft, I need to visualize what I’m thinking before I understand it. So I draw pictures—shapes showing relationships, levels of importance, movement, and more.

If you can get your reader to see your subject, you have won the battle. It’s as if you’re side by side, look- ing at a painting in a museum, like Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” See those lonely people in the diner? It’s late. Nothing’s happening outside. Everyone looks so alone. But the couple—they’re together, right? Are they on a date or just getting a smack after a long night at work. They don’t look intimate. The soda jerk is paying attention, though. What about that man at the end of the diner? He’s really alone. Once you start to see the pictures, you start to tell the story—and interpret what it means.

Also give your writing color. The colors’ many qualities—primary or secondary, dark or bright, simple or complex—contribute to a mood. In music, color describes a piece’s emotional feel. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony evokes darkness, while his Fourth evokes brightness.

Colors also conjure emotions. Red evokes power and sexuality, yellow intelligence and joy, blue tranquility.


How do you feel about things like the smell of a spring breeze, the air shortly after rain, a brisk winter wind, the ocean, or a sunny day?

How often do you engage in meditation or deep breathing exercises?

When walking down the beach, do you take off your shoes or sandals?

When you read a novel, do you picture the scenes in your head as you’re reading them?

These questions are part of a sensuality test that Psychology Today posts on its website. (Take it yourself at http://bit.do/sensualitytest.) The test helps you to under- stand just how physically you experience the world with your senses of sight, sound, touch, and smell.

My purpose here is to get you to write physically. Even when exploring dry and abstract topics, I want you to think sensually. When you do, you can connect with your reader—capture her attention, hold it, get it to consider your ideas wholeheartedly, and remember and reflect what you want to convey.

Language, I submit, is a physical experience. When you use language well, you can make your audience con- nect with the topic physically. A description of cold cre- ates a shiver; of music, a sense of rhythm and time’s pac- ing and feel; of texture, a tactile feeling of smoothness or roughness or slipperiness or more; of light or shapes, a sense of appearance.


Sound makes us pause, lean in, and listen. Sound makes us attentive. Think of the times in your life when you stopped doing something … because … you heard something. “What’s that?” you asked. You could not con- tinue until you learned something about the sound. You needed to find out whether it mattered.

The power of language is really the power of sound. Alliteration—the repetition of the same consonant sounds—somehow evokes meaning. S’s sometimes sound slithery, sometimes soft, and sometimes hissing. K’s sound hard and abrupt, almost like a collision or an attack. L’s sound lilting and lithesome, light and uplift- ing. P’s sounds somewhat silly, plopping and plunking and puffing along. We could go on.

Don’t think too hard. Just listen to the sounds you write and pay attention to how they make you feel. You’ll know when there’s a fit and when there’s not. Now look at these images: blue is patience but also coldness and depression, orange – courage and confidence, endurance and friendliness, and green money and nature.

From Keep it Short by Charles Euchner 

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from It’s Not About the Time by Nan Russell, Lisa Hagan Books, 2017


While we don’t react to stress the same or feel the same things are stressful, most of us still get stress wrong. We believe it’s harmful, when in fact, the right kind of stress is helpful. Consider these facts:

  • The right stress is good for you! Stress expert Bruce McEwen of Rockefeller University identified three types: good stress, tolerable stress, and toxic stress. The stress most of us have, most of the time, isn’t “tolerable” or “toxic” stress, but good stress. Stanford researchers found: “a confrontation with a co-worker, the pressure to perform, a to-do list that’s too long— are not the toxic type of stress that’s been linked to serious health issues. Short bouts of this type of everyday stress can be a good thing.” Who knew an impending project deadline could be good for you?
  • There are benefits to stress. Firdaus Dhabhar, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University, along with a team of researchers, found not only that moderate, transient stress heightens our immunity, but “short bursts of stress can paradoxically enhance memory and learning.” We optimize these benefits with no stress periods

Life Happens—Dealing with Stress, Change, & Being Overwhelmed

interspersed with “regular hits of acute stress,” i.e. short-lived stress. While chronic stress can be toxic, acute stress can be protective and helpful.

• How you view your stress matters. Studies involving 30,000 civil service workers in Britain found “heart disease and mortality rates increased steeply with every step down the ladder.” Low status and lack of control were key factors in that disparity. But, even more interesting was their discovery on beliefs. Those who believed stress impacted their health, regardless of their job or initial health, were found within the 18-year follow up to have double the risk of heart attack. A large U.S. study found the same result about stress beliefs and health. Bottom line? If you view your stress as detrimental, it’s more likely to be. If you believe stress provides you with life’s energy or consider it “a kind of engagement with life,” as health psychologist and author Kelly McGonigal puts it, that thinking will serve you better.

To read more about the book, click on the title It’s Not About the Time. To engage the author, click on the name Nan Russell.


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Lisa Hagan Books

We are a publishing company owned by writers and agents, a new experience in a new world order. The internet made it possible. The writers make it fly.

Our ideas are simple:

  1. Help writers write.
  2. Connect writers with other professionals that can help them write and publish.
  3. Put books together with core readership.
  4. Live in the world of ideas.

Yup. Four things we want to achieve. Just 4. These 4 ideas were formulated after decades in the biggest publishing houses in the country, an experience that drew us FURTHER away from the reasons we got in this business in the first place. We love hands-on work with creative minds. We love the joy of seeing those ideas made manifest in two covers and a bunch of nicely trimmed pieces of paper. Or, better yet, tiny pixels that allow us to take a library anywhere we go.

We use a distributor based in Chicago for those works that need traditional distribution. Still others are tailored to work solely online. Depends on the subject and what the author hopes to achieve.  In today’s world, more is possible and we are reaching further to offer different types of reading experiences that suite different needs.

Talk to us, we’re always here.

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Or, send us an email: Beth@LisaHaganBooks.com or Lisa@LisaHaganBooks.com

We mean it. And join the conversation every Thursday when writers, agents, and publishing professionals chime in about their projects, tell you what they are searching to publish, and solve writing problems right there in the twitter feed. #ThursdayWrites 






3 Sins of Bullshit Writing


from Charles Euchner’s KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (click on title to read more)

If you don’t know what your ideas are, if you haven’t flushed out details or set your purpose clearly, you might commit one, two or all three sins of bullshit writing. And that, says Euchner, is when “things get ugly. When we try to bull our way through sentences and paragraphs.”

The 3 deadly sins of bullshit writing are:

•We repeat ourselves.

•We use vague phrasing – adjectives and generalizations – instead of clear crisp logic                and details.

•We ramble, piling words and phrases, with a hope we will discover some telling detail  or concept, but usually moving further and further away from the point.


When you feel any of this creeping in, you know you’ve lost the grip somehow. Backtrack and flush the idea, plotting, character development, background research and how you are going to tell you story. We suggest beginners start with the beginning, move on to the middle and then give us the end.

If you see any of those those 3 deadly sins popping up a lot in that book in your hand, you may want to put it down and go get another. Life’s short and there are just too many great books to read.

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In Charles Euchner’s fine new book on writing, KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, he talks about the #yo-yo, a device for moving between physical action to backstory then backstory to action and so on. #Yo-yo back and forth to keep it interesting and surprising for the reader.

“If you don’t give your reader variety, you will get stuck in long and overwhelming passages. So yo-yo from long to short, specific to general, physical to cerebral,” writes Euchner.

Think of a garden. “I hate a style, as I do a garden, that is wholly flat and regular,” said William Shenstone, an English poet and also one of the first landscape architects. “It slides along like an eel, and never rises to what one can call an inequality.”

To understand what he means, go to Central Park. You’ll see hills and fields, a lake, rock outcroppings and copses throughout the land. It varies from high to low, open to forest, dry to wet.

That’s what your writing should do. Sentences should vary in length between powerful subject and verb, one-two punches, and longer, more expository sentences. In short, keep it interesting. #Yo-yo it.

The best writing moves back and forth, from the density of exposition to the openness of narrative. We need the pack of information the exposition gives us. But we also need the journey that stories give us. As Frank Sinatra crooned about love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.

#yo-yo it. Your writing will soar.

To order, click on the title here: Keep it Short .   You’ll find step by step #yo-yo instructions along with everything else you need to be an enthralling writer in this brave new world.

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Pitching the Undercover Boss


In a wide ranging series of questions for uber-agent Sandra Martin, author of SNAPSHOTS, comes this hilarious story of following your heart and getting a show on the Discovery Channel. Not bad for a dreamer, Sandra.

1. A part of your career included television. What did you produce?

Early on I realized the power of television. I rarely watched it then, and rarely watch it now. I always had a good book that seemed far more interesting than television. But I’d listen to friends go on and on about a television series they were “caught up in” and worry about characters and what was going to happen next week.

When I had my first television series in Norfolk, Virginia, I always over compensated on research, then I worried about appropriate questions or smart meaningful questions. Sometimes, I knew more about the subject than the person I was interviewing. Generally, they’d written their book years before and I had, most often, read it that very week, so was really up on the subject.

Overcompensating, as usual. I prayed that whatever I said or asked would be enlightening and entertaining to the audience. That first interview, I was nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. We taped on Tuesday and the show aired on Thursday nights at 7. I never watched it. I was already onto the next guest and research. I did get over being nervous. In fact, I totally enjoyed it.

Having my face on television was something that took me a while to get used to-as I guess it does everyone. People would stop me on the street and launch into a discussion about last week’s guest and I’d fumble along. It was strange. I loved the research, I loved the process, I wasn’t all that crazy about everyone knowing who I was.

Dreams had always been super important in my life and after my turn at my own series, I decided I’d rather develop documentaries. My Mom was an excellent dream interpreter and I was surrounded by Edgar Cayce expects on dreams. Dream researchers, Henry Reed and Bob van de Castle often spoke at ARE and I was the sponge gathering dream knowledge.

I started writing up a treatment about dreams while still living in Virginia Beach and once I thought it was ready, I pitched it to the networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. They all said no.
During this time, I had a long series of dreams about Ted Turner.

I thought, what the heck, I’ll call Turner Broadcasting and see who the head of development is and send in a proposal.

Even though I was dreaming about Ted, I never thought I’d talk with him or even ever meet him. Dreams were about symbols and he was my TV symbol. He’d come out of left field and created an entirely new television channel-mostly Atlanta Braves baseball games and old movies. Not big money documentaries, but who knows, maybe TBS was up for something new. He was very successful-obviously-and I hoped to be the same.

One morning, I got my nerve up and dialed the number, asked for the head of development, and after a few strange exchanges, I was put through. A voice that seemed familiar answered and I jumped in-one of my vices in life, don’t hesitate, and spewed out my idea for a long series on dreams. I told him about how General George Patton dreamed about battles plans and how Abraham Lincoln dreamed about his own death – and on and on.

He said very little, just listened. After I was done and had wound down, and he had a tiny opening to jump in, he said,” That sounds interesting. Come over and show me what you’ve got.”

I asked, “Who do I ask for?” and he said, “Ted Turner, you’re talking to him.”

Our appointment was for the following week and I was an anxiety filled as any one person could be for the entire week. Plus I was going to be staying with my in-laws, who were not all that fond of me. Just one anxiety on top of another.

I flew down to Atlanta, my in-laws picked me up and I stayed with them overnight and drove their big Mercedes downtown to Turner Broadcasting. In Virginia Beach, my car was a Toyota Starlet: a roller skate on weeks. That Mercedes was big.

Turner Broadcasting was in a big anti-bellum house converted into offices. The entire drive down I was praying, reciting positive affirmations and hoping for the best.

I’m not sure why I was so nervous about meeting Ted, Mr. Turner, since I’d been dreaming about him for months. Or maybe I was nervous because I’d been dreaming about him-in one dream we were sailing, in another we were signing contracts at his desk surrounded by models of sailboats and another dream, we were eating fried chicken, in another we were dancing and I was amazed at how strong he was – very positive dream images.

Finally I was standing at the front desk. I was so nervous that I broke out in a total body sweat. I was dripping water off my chin. I had never and have never since had that happen to me.

The poor receptionist was trying to be helpful. She gave me a tissue, called up to Mr. Turner’s office and an elegant and beautiful woman came down the curved steps with a puzzled, questioning look on her face. She asked my name and asked me why I thought I had an appointment with Mr. Turner. I poured out my story of our conversation.

She and the receptionist looked at each other and then back at me and said, “Mr. Turner let his head of programming go the day before and Mr. Turner thought he’d sit at his desk to see what he’d been doing.”

So, I said, “I happened to call that one day he was sitting there?”


She said that’d she’d ask “someone” to come and listen to my proposed series and she was very sorry that Mr. Turner had been called away for the day. She said, “Sometimes he is so busy that he forgets to give…”

I told her that was okay, she didn’t need to call anyone to talk with me, but she was determined. About twenty minutes later, two men came down those same steps, and escorted me to a conference room, where I pitched my Dreams series. They were polite, and non-committal.

I gave them my fancy proposal. Then they were determined to take me around and show me the entire office complex, the CNN set, meet people that might be interested in my subject. Throughout I protested that all of this wasn’t necessary because I understood what had happened. On top of everything, these two men, the vice president of TBS and the vice president of CNN took me to lunch.

On the drive back to the in-laws, I heard on the radio that Raquel Welch was in town promoting her yoga video and that Ted Turner was escorting her around.


A few weeks later, I received the nicest letter from the VP of TBS saying “Your proposal on dreams is fascinating, but it is not right for Turner Broadcasting.”

I put the dream proposal on a back burner until I moved to New York City and started pitching it again. Eventually Discovery committed to produce it.

Of course, that is a long story, too, but with a happy ending.

To order more of these great stories with some recipes thrown in (stories need to be told with food), click on the title: SNAPSHOTS: Memories and Recipes 

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Sentences Need 2 Words

th-1.jpeg/bethwareham      www.LisaHaganBooks.com

In Charles Euchner’s new book on writing, KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, he reminds us that powerful sentences come from a noun and a verb. You can’t make a sentence without these two little guys and with them you can generate quite a boom.

Consider the master of the noun/verb, perhaps its greatest practitioner in recent history.

from Keep It Short:


Get right to the point—usually. Sometimes, to orient your reader or provide variety, you can provide background or “setup” information first. But get to the point before you lose your reader.

The classic advice for all writers goes like this: Say who does what to whom. In other words, tell the reader the subject (who or what), the verb (the action), and the object (the person or thing acted upon). Or: Subject- Verb-Object. Or: S-V-O. Not every action has an object, so we might simplify the idea thus: Who does what? That’s S-V, in shorthand.

The subject and verb create the core of your sentences. Athletes know they need strong cores—the abdomen—because they need to transfer power from the legs and butt up to the upper body. If the core is weak, the athlete cannot use his limbs powerfully. The same concept applies to writing sentences. Without a strong core, the rest of the sentence falters.

Take a look at the masters of prose and how often they start sentences with the subject and verb:

You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was
as though a young person died for no reason.

—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast


Join us next week for #theparagraph

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You may not know her face, but she single-handedly created a genre of books that are now a mainstay of many a publishing company. She finally wrote her own book, Snapshots, (click on title to purchase) a series of tales that revolves around the characters she met in her long and lively career and, of course, the great food they ate. Do not miss Sandra Martin’s Snapshots.

sandra-martin-head-shot-purple-laughingYou are credited with creating a whole new genre of book in your career as a literary agent. Did you do it intentionally or were you following your bliss? 

From an early age as a spiritual seeker I found that the deep understanding that came from my reading, studying, listening to lectures, talking with wise men and women created a deep sense of peace and simple acceptance of life. Understanding the larger picture –why we’re here; to learn and grow through challenges and obstacles and to exhibit the joy of love and life as we become better human beings.

Since I studied so many paths, starting with the Primitive Baptist right on through Edgar Cayce, Theosophy, the Seth Material, the Sufis, and Buddhism I had questions. Is there one true path? I always wondered: was one way better than another?

Many years later, I realized that I used almost the same questions that Genghis Khan asked when he summoned religious leaders to his yurt to discuss their particular religion. I’m sure we aren’t the only ones that questioned religious leaders.

He’d ask how they communicated with their gods. I’d ask “Who is it you’re channeling? How do you know he/she is who they say they are?” He asked, “Do you go to heaven or does God come to you? If you didn’t personally receive this information, then who did your God give it to?”

I’d ask many of the same questions. And the most important question was, for me, how is this affecting your life? Are you a better person for receiving this information; are you more loving, more trusting and more peaceful? Too often the answer was no.

He’d ask were the words spoken, written or through signs? And most importantly, he wanted to know what language God used to communicate and if it wasn’t your language, how did that work? I wondered all those things too. Signs and wonders were big from my childhood religion. So I paid attention.

Well, with Genghis, he was particularly interested in Christianity because he married his sons to Christian woman and he himself took a Christian wife. Not for any meaningful spiritual reason: the Christians permitted meat and alcohol. The Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims and Jews did not. He liked the Christians because they were flexible.

He also found that the Christians were the cruelest. One thing that totally weirded him out was that they collected bits and pieces of the saints that suffered from being thrown to the lions, whipped, skinned alive, etc. and Jesus hung from the cross. They collected these slivers of wood, body parts and prayed to them.

The Mongols believed that the spirit of God or heaven was in everything, was everywhere, from the highest heavens to the deepest seas, and could not be constrained in books or by one person. Shamans were their holy men. But they believed that heaven spoke directly to each person, to anyone that was searching for answers from higher consciousness. The information came to them in many ways, an inner voice or signs and wonders on mountain tops, even the trees and rivers spoke to them. Nature was their overwhelming spiritual force.

For some religious leaders it was a journey of a year or more to arrive at his yurt near Burkhan Khaldun in Mongolia. All were hoping to convert him to their religion since he was leader of the world at the time, which would’ve been a big coup for them. Mostly, it seemed Genghis Khan was just curious. He told each religious leader that, from what he saw, no one was living by the precepts that their God gave them, so it obviously wasn’t all that powerful and thank you but no thank you for the offer of joining their religion.

I guess that connection seems strange – religion, spirituality and Genghis Khan but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for him. Early in my life I read Harold Lamb’s Genghis Khan: The Emperor of all Men and since then I’ve read almost every book written about his life.

With that said, I’ve read many books about every religion and I’ve met many of religious leaders: Pir Vilayat Khan the Sufi leader, The Dalai Lama – George Ritchie, a great spiritual leader, and inspirational Native American teachers. They all had an influence on my thinking and my way of living.

I also read every book ever written about Edgar Cayce and because he was such a Christian man, taught Sunday School at his Presbyterian Church his whole life-and as you probably know, many of his readings are about the early church and are shot through with quotes from the Bible.

All of these things brought out in me a need to share what I’d learned. In those early years I’m pretty certain there were people saying –under their breath-or in their mind- Shut Up Sandra. But I was determined to spread the word.

So, yes, it was intentionally what I wanted to do. By the time I was in my mid-30s I was working at a television station and realized the power of mass media. I started with my own little television series-low, low, low budget, and moved on to creating, writing, and producing documentaries on these subjects. Always thinking about what was most acceptable to mainstream America at that time – so dreams was first since everyone dreams and dreams are always a mystery. Then I produced a pilot on Ancient Mysteries because there is nothing new under the sun (I forget who said that) and later produced a series on Intuition. It seemed to me that all successful people depended on that inner voice, that piece of consciousness that is in touch with all minds, the universal source of wisdom and guidance.

The serendipity of becoming a literary agent was the key to decimating information though. New Age Stars were popping up everywhere and they had huge followings. If you weren’t “in the group” you had no idea about the New Age world except for snide remarks from outsiders. But we knew we were changing the world and we were happy in our pursuit.

When I started driving to Manhattan to pitch book ideas and stars in our field, I was relentless. I talked to every editor who’d listen to me. I’d stop people in the halls of publishing houses, where it seemed so quiet and studious, and get into rousing discussions with these young editors. They were the ones that first saw the fruits of self-help –bringing in the money. I went from one subject (dreams, deep spirituality, intuition, mediumship, alternative health) to another until I’d gotten contracts for my authors/manuscripts.

And, of course, it was my eternal bliss-each and every moment talking about the deeper meaning of life, the magic of every person’s heart, acknowledging the yearning we all have for oneness and connection.

This is a series of Q&As that we will run from time to time with Sandra. Look for our next installment next week.

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