The Time Will Pass Anyway

Colin Wright is quoted as saying, “You have one life to do everything you’re ever going to do. Act accordingly,” and I thought, How will I ever do all I want to do in this one short and unpredictable existence on earth?

I panicked. Everything I’m ever going to do on earth must happen now. Today!

I immediately repurposed myself. I changed my priorities. I found what matters to me.

So, one year ago… after reading another quote credited to Earl Nightingale, “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway,” my brilliant husband guided me in a direction that would align my emerging ideas with implementation. I jumped on a rollercoaster without any seatbelt… and here’s what happened…

July 6, 2017 – July 5, 2018

Summary (non-confirmed numbers):

1 —> House sold
 —> Song written and produced
4 —> Academic papers published
4 —> Books written, revised, edited
6 —> Graduate courses completed
7 —> Conferences attended
7 —> Events attended
7 —> Airplane rides
12 —> Road trips

I’m exhausted, but the memories we made were worth every second of lost sleep.

~~~ The Long of It All ~~~

After extensive research and comparison models, I chose a direction and wrote about it here. I’m interested in defining what it means to have an engaged community. One where everyone contributes toward a common pursuit of growth and sustainability. I’m interested in embracing new opportunities and writing more, reading more, researching more, learning more… doing more. I’m interested in creating something more than nothing. So, I drafted this, “Local government sets the overall tone for our everyday lives. That’s why it’s so important to love where you live,” and then I applied to a doctoral program to gain the perspective and conversation that would help me pursue this interest.

In JULY, in between traveling to Orlando (Orlando Book Festival), National Harbour (conference, fun and games, and research), Duck Key (more book research), and Key West (times I’ll never remember with the guy I’ll never forget), I drafted the story of an adopted Asian American girl forgiving herself for not knowing how to fit in and not settling for who everyone else wants her to be. This book was different. It changed me. It wasn’t easy giving up what I thought I needed, but it was exhausting holding on to heavy things like anger and bitterness. It may never be picked up by a publisher, and the world may never get the chance to read it, but at least I took the time to write it. I also worked on edits for book two of my South Beach series and attempted to plot book three, and then… one month was gone.

Then came AUGUST. More creating, revising, and editing. Also, Boston for the 2017 Americas Conference on Information Systems where Simon discussed Project Complexity and Constructing Clarity. He is my favorite smarty pants, always reminding me that the sky is not our limit (someone posted this at MIT). After wandering around Boston collecting memories, we drove to Concord for a family visit and to do more research on the city for my next novel. Also, this is when I learned that my undergraduate transcripts prove that someone can fail a class and still end up a nice person.

Key West reminiscing about our last first date twenty-three years ago. Talk about time passing! The next week, we traveled to New Orleans and returned to the aftermath of Hurricane Irma (8 Ways to Help After Irma blog), where we found out that part of our county were devastated. Places we visited often were devastated. …and in between speaking with community role models helping me clarify inconsistencies, my first class at Northeastern University started: Introduction to Doctoral Studies, where I reshaped this statement: Local governments are perhaps the most important level of government for their residents, because local governments impact their constituents far more frequently than either state or federal governments.

Three months ago, I hadn’t believed I could be doing what I was doing, and I wished I’d believed in myself sooner. Because time passes, and in learning how to differentiate between fiction writing and academic writing, someone told me I was privileged. Based on my own background, I never would have considered myself a “privileged researcher,” but because I was raised in a country where education is not only accepted but also encouraged for someone like me, I am able to read and communicate in ways others may never comprehend. So that’s how I spent OCTOBER — researching, writing, and communicating.

We flew back to Boston in NOVEMBER, where Simon filmed several lectures and presented best practices and strategies at a conference at Northeastern University. After another family visit in Concord, where I also added more research on the city for my work-in-progress, we looked at the calendar and realized five months had disappeared in the blink of an eye.

In DECEMBER, I said, “I want to watch sunsets all over the world with you,” and he thought that was a pretty good idea. So we started with Key West, because there’s something significant about a place that erases my insecurities and promotes my goals. My first doctoral class ended, and Simon and I co-wrote an academic paper (Toward Understanding the Impact of Entrepreneurial Leadership Skills on Community Engagement) and submitted it to a peer-reviewed conference.

Then, in JANUARY, we moved to Seattle. Starbucks Reserve, amazongo, views from our balcony of both Elliott Bay and Lake Union, and biscuits… along with three classes: Transforming Human Systems, Learning and Human Development, and Project Management Practices, one event at City University of Seattle, more creating, writing, reading, revising, editing, and… did I mention we came west with two suitcases and two backpacks?

By the end of FEBRUARY, my first middle grade novel had a rough outline, a blurb, and a couple of characters aching for an adventure. But I was in the middle of co-writing another academic paper for possible peer-reviewed publication (Cybercrime Post-incident Leadership Model). My project management class ended, and I found time to squeeze in another academic paper (Toward Cybersecurity Leadership Framework), co-written with my favorite smarty pants. We did some more touristy stuff in the Pacific Northwest: Space Needle, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Snoqalmie Falls… and then there was the chamber event at the Seattle Aquarium where I saw a fish with teeth. I also saw snow, tents with homeless people, and used needles–on the sidewalk.

By the time MARCH surprised us out of nowhere, we packed up and headed to Washington, D.C. for my first academic conference, where my co-author (amazing husband) and I presented our ideas on what it means to empower those around us to explore different levels of life and to take ownership of our limited and ridiculously unpredictable time on earth. We met with amazing scholar-practitioners, I wrote in the wild (National Portrait Gallery), and then, in the middle of a snowy night, I had another idea. In combination with my Learning and Human Development course and researching cybersecurity articles and news releases (the internet is amazing and terrifying), I said I wanted to write a paper regarding ethics in cybersecurity. When someone told me about a cyber breach that wasn’t reported, and another incident where leadership ignored cyber issues, I asked a friend of mine, who is studying computer science or something tech-related, to co-write an article (Ethics in Cybersecurity) we would submit to a peer-reviewed journal.

Back in Seattle for our first New Tech Seattle event and then my first Northeastern University residency, where I had the opportunity to present another research problem of practice, Community Leadership Development Programs and Community Engagement. I also began solidifying my own definition of becoming a change agent, we attended another chamber event, Simon attended MIT’s AI Forum, and right before the month ended, Simon and I attended a fundraiser for the Seattle Humane at Fremont Studios (Seattle Scotch and Beer Fest).

And then it was APRIL. Two more courses: Leadership Theory and Research and Organizational Learning and Systems Thinking. More articles to read, more opinions to form, and two more conferences (CAE Executive Leadership Forum and 2018 ABET Symposium). So… Bellevue and San Diego were nice. But I missed Naples. I missed Tommy Bahamas and my agent and her family and pink pools and St. Germain’s and friends and role models who helped shape my journey.

By the time we flew back to Seattle, one of Simon’s friends we haven’t seen for sixteen years stopped by for a visit, and it was fun catching up with a guy who knew us way back when… and now it was MAY, and in between our trip to Mt. Rainier and presenting our two papers (Cybercrime Post-incident Leadership Model and Toward Cybersecurity Leadership Framework) at the Midwest Association for Information Systems 2018 conference, a photo of National Wine Day appeared in my social media feed, we celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary, and Simon booked us a trip to Napa, where I tested my liver and my ability to write in the wild surrounded by delicious wine.

Driving up the coast of California, we took detours with Redwoods so large they put my life in perspective. It was now JUNE, and because I read it in a magazine, National Rose Day found us opening our Limited Edition Rose, Summer 2018 from Chandon, and I have to admit for a sparkling wine and for a rose, for someone who has only ever preferred champagne (that’s changing after this), I have to say this fun bubbly impressed me. But I still had classes to take and papers to write and novels to draft.

In the middle of the month, Simon presented a webinar (NSA CAE Forum) on cybersecurity, and then we rented a car and drove from Seattle to Big Sky. We stayed in Big Sky Resort, the Village Center, and wow! So much space! Head space. Work space. Just space. So much inspiration right outside our window–with a perfect view of Lone Peak. I almost refused to get out of the car at Yellowstone National Park because the admissions woman handed us a flyer that read, “Yellowstone is a Dangerous Place” and “Animals are Dangerous” and “Be Prepared to Encounter Bears.” But I’m glad my hubby convinced me to go on a short walk, because I saw elk, bison, and the most amazing geysers scattered along a path curving around Old Faithful.

The No Hike Required Lone Peak excursion took us into thinner air, and I happily slapped one of my “There is no box…” stickers in the Visitor Log Book at the summit, elevation 11,166 feet. Then, my wonderful husband told me that hiking through the woods would be fun. Normally, I wouldn’t mind walking in the rain, but after being chased off the path by a marmot and discovering my jacket was not waterproof, despite the claim on the sleeve, I concluded that I do not like to hike through the woods. So… wet, cold, chased by a rodent. Yup. That was me. Meanwhile, Simon is whistling and laughing and kissing me and promising me a hot shower, hot coffee, and lots of cuddles if I make it back without him having to fireman-haul me home. I survived. Because there were cuddles involved.

Marisa and Tonia 2018.jpgAfter we returned to Seattle, my friend from Naples gave me a day in between her other commitments to visit with me, and it was so great to walk around the city and talk about random nothingness and reminisce about all that little things that led to us visiting with each other in a city across the country from where we first met. She said she liked to walk, and she had this step counter thing she kept checking, and she had these awesome sneakers ready to trek all over the city… and our total steps equalled 25,793 = 12.1. miles. We’ve already agreed that the next city where we meet should definitely have more drinking and talking and less walking.

My next classes at Northeastern start on Monday, and they are Global Perspectives of Organizational Culture and Contemporary Models of Leadership.  

Paulo Coelho said, “One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.

So easy to think. Slightly more difficult to implement. But yeah, the time will pass anyway…

Some people do a lot of little things, some people do a little of big things. Ours shouldn’t be to compare our lives to others, but to compare our lives to how we are living versus how we want to be living. I hope you’re spending your time wisely.

If you’d like to see more photos, please click here to visit my Instagram (@thereisnobox).

xox ~ Risa


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Finding My Voice

“We must become job creators, not job seekers.” ~ Marisa Cleveland

After attending my first academic conference, where I had my first academic paper published (thanks to my super, amazing, supportive co-author husband), I’m finding my voice. This first paper, Toward Understanding the Impact of Entrepreneurial Leadership Skills on Community Engagement, sets the stage for my future research, particularly defining engaged communities.

As educators, we teach and we learn. We must also adapt. Today’s digital world allows for global opportunities, and it is our privilege as entrepreneurs to seek new possibilities and educate our workforce in a similar mindset of becoming job creators rather than job seekers.

But what does that mean?

When we create jobs—when we share our experiences in how to create jobs—we empower those around us to explore different levels of life. When students learn how to think critically, how to immerse themselves in their lives, how to wake up and create and risk-take, then progress is made.

But becoming a job creator is not just for the stereotypical entrepreneur. That rookie analyst recently hired to recover a troubled project at the telecommunications company—that person could be a job creator with the ability to hire a team of experts to tackle the organization’s problems.

The consultant working for the large corporation must bring in business to increase the portfolio that will be the basis for a promotion to manager or partner. The more contracts signed, the more work, the better justification to hire more team members… that consultant is a job creator.

For every author who writes a novel, a team of people are hired to put that book on the market. So, one author has the potential to create jobs for the cover artist, the developmental editor, the content editor, the copy editor, the line editor…

These people around us, creating jobs every day, move our economy forward and promote growth and positive thinking. It’s about getting this done right. Taking ownership of our limited and ridiculously unpredictable time on earth.

We weren’t born to die of boredom. At least I hope I wasn’t.

But if the past decade has taught me anything, it is this:

Some people will take the path of least resistance.

They will seek jobs that are safe. They will not challenge themselves to really figure out what motivates them. They will complain about why their situation in life is not their fault.

I challenge those frictionless individuals to rub up against something other than the smooth lane of life. Pursue a resistance that sparks and ignites into a passionate life.

We may promote community engagement, but I’m interested in defining what it means to have an engaged community. One where everyone contributes toward a common pursuit of growth and sustainability.

Join me in my journey…


As always, thanks for stopping by. Thanks for finding me.

xox ~Risa



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Let’s talk about the importance of the stereotypical cheerleader. I know the sport of cheerleading has many meanings. I was that girl in high school on the competitive team where each athlete had to have the skills of a gymnast balanced by the stamina of a marathon runner and the strength of a weight lifter. We trained and trained and competed in local, regional, and national competitions.

But this is not that. This is the other side of cheerleading. The side that drew me to the sidelines of football and basketball games season after season, year over year, both as a cheerleader and as a cheerleading coach.

When I was a child, I would watch adults immerse themselves in sports, and one trait always emerged in every game.


In every sport where there are cheerleaders and dancers or both cheerleaders and dancers on the sidelines, there are also people in the audience hoping their team wins. And one side will leave victorious and the other will not. But that is the beauty of sports—beyond the moments sacrificed for hours of training, the competition has a way of instilling hope in the viewers and the players.

I found an image on Instagram that says, “She builds others up because she knows what it’s like to be torn down.”

I love this image. I live by this image. I have won and I have lost, and still, I entered each competition—game—with hope.

I love hope. Hope means there is possibility, and I never want to lose that feeling.

So this year-end, I made a Ta-da List for 2017. I took the time to be my own cheerleader and I reminded myself that whether big or small, memorable or insignificant, I achieved many goals this year, even when it didn’t feel like it, even when it might have felt like I was losing. Even when I thought there wasn’t hope for a different outcome.

And beyond that, because I love lists, I’m making two more for the upcoming year: My Hope List for 2018 and My Adventure List for 2018. Some people make resolutions, some choose a word to be their word for that year, and me… well, for this year, I have two words to remind me of the direction I choose to live: hope and adventure.

So what about you? Do you make lists? Have any New Year’s resolutions? Choose a word to help direct your year?

As always, thanks for stopping by. Thanks for finding me.

xox ~Risa

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8 Ways to Help After Irma

8 Ways to Help After Irma: Clean, Dirty, Blessed, or Born to Serve

On September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma created a whirlwind of chaos for Collier County. Governor Rick Scott took his position behind the podium, and he created a sense of calm for many, in the face of hasty evacuations or limited shelter-in-place preparations. As someone who couldn’t afford to be offline – I’m on several deadlines for various projects working for clients in other parts of the world not affected by a natural disaster and depending on me for their paycheck – I booked a hotel in New Orleans, packed a bag, and in a fit of tears and tantrums, forced my husband to drive me three states away. We had just returned from Key West that Monday, and finding ourselves in the midst of another journey, I couldn’t imagine weathering any storm without Simon’s positive strength and support. He calmed my fears and kept me focused on the present moment. The other side of the hurricane was uncertain, but he told me my home would always be in his arms, and that’s where I was and where I’ll stay for as long as he’ll hold me.

We returned on Wednesday to find out that while we would be severely inconvenienced through the power outages, house and pool cage damages, and gas shortages, an inconvenience would be the maximum level we’d need to face.

Parts of our county are devastated. Places we visit often are devastated.

The Island Cafe in Everglades City is where I drafted the middle grade novel my mother and I co-authored. On a boat tour out of Everglades City is where I tested the new camera my hubby gave me as a gift. The Captain’s Table? “Toured” a room for research during one of the Everglades Seafood Festivals. Farewell and good luck party for my friend? On the porch with two delicious, locally baked cakes, lots of hugs, and so many smiles…

…and I can’t even wait to get back to the Keys and start supporting their economy again. Cheeca, Hawks Cay, La Concha… Lorelei, The Commodore’s Boathouse, Jack Flats, Sandbar Sports Grill, Joe’s Tap Room… Irish Kevin’s!

In a former Forbes article, according “to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 40% of businesses never reopen after a disaster, and for those that do, only 29% were still operating after two years. And guess what likely becomes of those that lost their information technology for nine days or more after a disaster? Bankruptcy within a year.”

Many people will never return to the lives they once led.

That, to me, is terrifying. Starting over is terrifying. Uncertain futures where new goals and dreams have to be created is terrifying.

So how can I help?

I’ve compiled a list of eight ways to get involved – clean, dirty, blessed, or born to serve…

On the clean side:

  1. Stay active on social media to Like, Share, and Comment on posts where reliable people are seeking assistance or offering aid.
  1. Donate money. The government will help, but the devastation was wide-spread throughout several states and funds are disbursed to those who have access to request the money and bank accounts to receive it. Not sure where to donate? Support a Go Fund Me campaign, like this one:

Get a little dirty:

  1. You could be like Captain Mike Merritt. He posted on Facebook that he’s almost loaded! “Got 3 generators, fans, grills, charcoal, electric cords, shovels, wheel barrows, bleach, gas, tarps, flashlights, batteries, etc. All from Rocky’s Ace Hardware in Wellington. Taking my Bobcat and grapple to help with clean up. Going to Costco to purchase more food and supplies. Heading to Everglades City/Chokoloskee/Plantation. Spent about $7000 so far. I want to thank all that have pitched in to help this community and made this possible! I plan on keeping this help going until they are back on their feet so if you want to help out let me know.”
  1. See this post from Sean Maki (I saw it shared by Carol Foss): “Many of you do not know Everglades City it’s a town over on the west coast of Florida near Naples they got run over pretty bad by the hurricane some houses are filled with two inches of mud and saltwater. We are looking for labor to help clean this up and it would be great if there was a baseball team, soccer, wrestling, or a Boy Scout Pack or the like that would be willing to spend either Friday and or Saturday helping these families who have essentially lost all. If you know any coaches or Scout Pack Leaders or anybody in a leadership position that could reach out to their group to see if they could lend a hand please do so. I would also appreciate it if you could share this post to your friends in the south Florida area East Coast and West Coast. Call or text me… if you can help we can provide transportation over there as well if need be. We will be meeting each morning at the everglades city fire department.”


  1. Do you have cash at a gas station that accepts only cash? Pay for yours and someone else’s. If they thank you, ask them to pay it forward one day.
  1. Does your refrigerator have an ice maker? Do you have electricity and water? Do you live locally? Put your ice in Ziploc bags and deliver to people who don’t have electricity, as many stores are still recovering and selling out of ice quickly.

Born to serve:

  1. You could be like Lisa Stevens, who posted this on Facebook (I saw it shared by Camden Smith): “Does anyone need anything today? I have a full tank of gas, I can fit a small village in my car, whatever you need and deliver it to you! If you need gas or a generator or food, I can go hunt for it for you. If you want me to go check your property, take pics and video and send to you because you’ve evacuated and get you the scoop I can. I’m in Cape Coral for a couple days because of the gas shortages and power outages in Naples. I’m enough of a risk taker to use at least a half a tank of gas today and I have faith that I can find more! Let me know how I can help!”
  1. If you can help support Captain Ron Hagerman of Captain Ron’s Awesome Everglades Adventures in any way, if you know any media outlets, if you can post his press release on your blogs, if you can share his story… please do so.

Press Release from
Captain Ron Hagerman of Captain Ron’s Awesome Everglades Adventures

Disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Harvey are stunning examples of the raw power and force of Mother Nature; something no one human or organization is prepared to face alone. Knowing the need for relief on Marco Island would be great as Hurricane Irma tracked its way towards the southeast seaboard, long-time resident of Marco Island, Capt. Ron Hagerman of Capt. Ron’s Awesome Everglades Adventures, jumped into action. “I was in Texas doing rescues for Hurricane Harvey when I had to leave to prep for this one. I took what I learned there and improved on it with the best group of men and women. I knew too many were going to stay on the island so we prepared in advance for the worst,” Hagerman said. Thus, the birth of the Marco Patriots: a group of volunteer civilians who banded together in time of great need to help the citizens of Marco Island.

The efforts of the Marco Patriots were established and organized by Hagerman and others. The group began a Zello channel to institute a communication line. This was quickly followed by a Facebook group to share information. At its peak, the Zello channel held over 300 members and the Facebook page over 7000. Marco Patriots “command”, Mark Melican worked to collect contact information from all residents who decided to stay in their homes for the storm. Through these lines of communication, Melican and others were able to organize hurricane preparations first. This included volunteers going to the homes of others requesting supplies (plywood, tarps, concrete screws, etc.) to secure their homes. It also included following up with reported elderly residents who needed assistance in preparations. As the list of residents grew, the Marco Patriots established a database system to track addresses, number of occupants, medical needs, those without proper supplies and contact information. Addresses were mapped using the app, Google Maps. First responder volunteers set up “location sharing” within the app to allow the Marco Patriots command and administrative team to monitor their whereabouts throughout the storm and emergency calls. Marco Police and Fire Departments both reached out to the Marco Patriots for access to their database, maps and first responder GPS procedures. Information was also shared with the Cajun Navy in the event of the lead Marco Patriots group members losing communications. Fortunately, all members were able to remain connected via Zello during the entire storm.

As the preparations wound down and the storm began to come onshore, the Marco Patriots utilized the Zello channel to remain in contact. Those of the team who were not physically on Marco were able to provide real-time updates to all listening such as, when the eye of the storm was hitting, when the storm surge was incoming and when it was safe to start doing wellness checks on the registered elderly or infirm. The level of knowledge and compassion displayed by Marco Patriots members during this time of crisis was immeasurable. During the eye of the storm, Patriot member Erin Milchman could be heard saying over Zello that her roof was going to give and location was no longer safe. Patriots immediately rushed to her aid by locating the closest occupied house where she and her family could take shelter. Erin and family were able to evacuate and get to the house of Tony “Smudge” Smith safely before the back half of the storm hit. Additional recommendations were shared for residents to get to higher ground where possible as the predicted 10-15’ storm surge was thought to be approaching. Although flooding on the Island did occur, residents were lucky the waters did not come as high as predicted.

In the aftermath of the storm, rescue and well checks immediately began. Within minutes of the worst of the storm passing, Marco Patriot first responders in conjuction with Command and Administrative team were able to begin wellness checks on residents marked “critical” in the database (those with extreme medical needs, elderly alone, etc). The Marco Patriots First Responders team included: Capt. Ron Hagerman, Matthew Melican, Steve Camposano, Tony “Smudge” Smith, Uncle Jeff (need real name), Joey Waves (need real name), Josh Eiler, John Rossi and Capt. Steve (last name), Kerri G. Command and Administration team include Mark Melican, Erin Milchman, Kate Weaver Younger, April Greeson & Kayley Whitworth.

Prior to the storm, the Marco Patriots database contained 198 registered addresses accounting for 458 residents. Within 24 hours, 110 properties and the safety of 278 residents were checked. Additional checks were completed by numerous other volunteers as requests poured in from friends and family registered on the Facebook page and Zello channel. Within 48 hours, volunteers were also able to field numerous “well house” checks letting out of town evacuees and residents know about the conditions of their homes as they continued to work on wellness checks for residents.

Despite the risk of personal danger, fuel and supply shortages and the current climate of “every man for himself,” the residents of Marco Island banded together in a time of need. Bernie Melican shared with other Marco Patriots on the Facebook page: “The people who conceived, organized, and operated Marco Patriots are the living embodiment of why and how this country was founded. Just as citizens stood shoulder to shoulder on Lexington Green, this group saw a need to band together and fight a common foe. Ergo, they called themselves “Patriots”. They contributed their own supplies, vehicles, equipment, resources, and talent for the common good. There were no expectations of reward or any fear of failure. These citizens stood tall.”

As emergency rescue calls on Marco Island subsided, the focus of the group shifted on September 12 to organizing supplies for the residents of Everglades City and Chokoloskee, two locations removed from the city and in need after the storm. Due to their location in the Everglades and flooding in the area and surrounding cities, supplies such as food, water, diapers, and gas were in short supply. Despite still needing many of these items themselves, Marco Island residents once again banded together to help their fellow men and women. Donations of water arrived within minutes of the call for help and gas was collected by siphoning from water craft not being used. Capt. Ron worked with the Marco Police Department to obtain a curfew exemption and made two separate trips to Chokoloskee bringing supplies to those in need. “When a man is willing to eat an MRE [Meal: Ready-to-Eat] you know he needs food. I was compelled to go back a second time with more supplies as soon as possible,” Hagerman said.

The sentiment expressed by so many of the page can best be summarized by the words of Mark King to all Marco Patriots: “You guys are absolutely amazing, and stepped up to a plate that most people would never even stand near. As a long time local, I would like to personally thank each and everyone involved, and send my prayers/love to everyone still on Marco continuing to bust their butts to provide information.”

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

These are just some of the ways I’ve noticed people helping people. The world needs more love, and a natural disaster is a sad way to achieve that, but it is uplifting to know that so many are out there doing even a little bit to help steady the chaos and rebuild the community.

Do you know other ways to help? I’m sure there are waaaay more than eight! Post a comment and share what you know. Thanks!!!

Want to help share my 8 Ways to Help After Irma blog post? Copy the Tweetable below and paste all over social media.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my blog! Thanks for finding me.

xox ~ Risa

~~~ Tweetable ~~~

8 Ways to Help After Irma: #Irma #MarcoIsland #Everglades #Naples #KeyWest #CollierCounty



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I’ve been waiting for this age for over four decades!

I never knew when it would come, or if I’d even appreciate it when it did, but it’s finally here, and I’m excited to say I’m smart enough to take advantage of it.

I’ve finally reached the age where my own opinions and my own happiness are in line with how I live my life.


It’s been exhausting trying to achieve that elusive balance among all those expectations placed upon me – real or imagined – by me and by others, by people I know and love and by people I don’t know and have never met and who may pass me in the street and judge me…

In my own mother’s lifetime, it was illegal for Simon to marry me, but he didn’t even think about it. He just fell in love with me and promised me a life filled with adventures. But it was always there, in the back of my mind, that we were a mixed-race couple, that he was white and I was… not. And when I mention this to him, he laughs, because he remembers how I’d told him right from the start that I didn’t think I’d ever get married, and now here we are, over two decades later, still having our adventures and enjoying the journey one sunset at a time.

So now that’s it here – the time when I’ve reached the age where I’m comfortable in my own skin – actually it arrived slowly and I’ve been sort of slightly a little bit at a time testing it out – I’ve realized the whole point of merging how I’d like to live with how I actually live is to… just live.

So here I am. Living.


As always, thanks for being here. Thanks for finding me!


xox ~Risa




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Is there a cure for low self-esteem? More carrots? A smoothie? Sunlight? Chocolate cake?

For too many years, I pursued a career designed to make me feel worth… less. Not worthless, but worth less than others in the same job title doing similar job functions. But I continued down that same path year after year, determined to prove to someone – anyone – that I wasn’t as worthless as my salary indicated.

In so many careers, the higher the level of cerebral tasks, the higher the numbers on the left side of the decimal point on the paycheck. Proving a person’s competence and motivation through bonuses and raises allowed employees to build their confidence and compete for promotions within their chosen field of employment.

So why not my career? How did I get stuck in what many construe as a dead-end job, making barely enough?

Ah… The plight of the starving artist! The undiscovered author! The roaming musician!

Cultural and performing arts drains a person’s creativity daily. Artists are always processing the world around them. They use their brains nonstop, and one author friend I know even plots her novels in the shower!

It takes little effort to say you want to write a book, but it takes brass balls (yeah, I went there) to actually write the damn thing, revise, revise, revise, bleed your soul onto the page, and then ask a stranger to take time to read your words in the hopes that your story – what you have to say – will somehow connect with that stranger on some level enough so that the person reading your novel ends without thinking it was a complete waste of time.

So… This is my response to the inquiries I receive through my book coaching company and my literary agency: How much self-esteem do you have? How much are you worth? How much is your story worth? How many times can you get up after you’ve been knocked – bulldozed – down?

And are you ready to be rejected? Because, trust me, this book-writing thing can cause more anxiety than asking someone on a first date or cooking in front of a room full of hungry panthers.

So why have I pursued this career designed to make me feel worth less?

Enter the five-star review. The word-of-mouth recommendation. The actual buying of the book. The emails from fans – one and then ten and then hundreds – who say my female characters, with their strong drive and independence, show them different angles and unique perspectives to relationships, careers, and situations.

Here’s my lesson learned:

I might not ever land that $100 million three-book deal, but just because I don’t, doesn’t mean I’m worth less than those who do.

Quote I saw on Instagram:

“I go out of my way to make others feel special because I know what it’s like to feel worthless.”

So buy the book, pay for the song, and show the world that art is worth it.

xox ~ Risa

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Proud Daughter

Happy Mother’s Day!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until I die… I’m so proud of my mom! This time it’s because she did something even she wasn’t sure she’d do.

She wrote a book!

All. By. Herself.

What started as an idea for a chapter book – she volunteers in the second grade at the same elementary school where she went and I went – morphed into so much more! It developed over two years and many, many revisions, and I love it!

Of course, there were times when she looked at me and wondered if it was worth it. She asked if it was any good. She cursed – really, my mom swears – at the commas and dialog and point of view.

But it all came together into one hundred, thirty pages of cuteness and goodness, and in most parts, it sounds just like my mom! I can hear her voice in the different characters reflecting her different moods, and I absolutely love that my mom stuck with it and finished a book.

We published it through my company, and it’s available as a paperback through Amazon for $6.99. The age levels she’s targeting are 8-12 year-olds, but I heard the husband of one of her friends is reading it too!

So I wanted to take the time on Mother’s Day to make a post from one proud daughter!

xox ~ Risa



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Minimalism and Some Glitter

Chapter 2017, page 1. Ready? img_7822

Five and a half years ago, when my dream of being a published author seemed slim, even after the lovely agent (Mary Sue Seymour, founder of The Seymour Agency) offered to represent me, I applied for and accepted a temp job with the local government. 

What started as a back-up plan has lasted over half a decade, and those years have schooled me in ways I’d never imagined.

It may have taken me five and a half years to figure out, but I now realize that having a day job doesn’t mean I’m a failure as an author. Through social media, I’ve met many fabulous authors who also have day jobs, and all those setbacks I thought were stopping me from moving forward don’t have to be setbacks at all.

“Swallow goals like tic tacs and wash down disappointment with whiskey.”

img_7485With the support of my amazing hubby, I keep setting new goals for myself and reminding myself to enjoy the journey one sunset at a time.

When my one big goal jammed me up, I found another – more achievable – one to pursue. I always stuck with my first goal, but little successes are as important as the one big success. Whiskey helped to temporarily relieve the pain of a temporary disappointment, and everything in life is temporary, even life.

So rather than focus on things that bring me down, I’ve paid special attention to what lifts me up. 

While adding bits of minimalism to my daily life, I’ve managed to live within my means, travel with my hubby, and attend events close to my heart. 

img_5090Because I finally understand Oscar Wilde’s quote, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.”

I’ve started asking the right questions for me:

What am I passionate about?

What do I want to change?

How can I initiate that change?

For too long I thought I didn’t have the skill set or the knowledge to be part of the solution, so I closed my mouth instead of addressing the problem. For even longer than that, I questioned why anyone would want to even hear my opinion on certain issues. But that ends now. I have stories to tell, anecdotes to share, opinions to contribute… and I know someone will listen.

The author-me always jokes about having one fan (my hubby), but this year I received emails from readers asking if I was ever going to finish my South Beach series. I’d blogged about earning a three-book deal which turned into a three-book plus novella deal, and then I was fortunate enough to be chosen to be part of the Men of the Zodiac series, but… for many dumb reasons, I had a crisis in confidence and never finished revising the other books in my first contract. I’m working on revising those two books now…

img_6080So… Thank you to everyone who stuck with me since 2010, watching my journey and not pointing and laughing as I stumbled.
I miss the old me before I forgot who I am and how I’m built. I tried to be something I’m not, and I failed, and I’m okay with that, because it’s about the journey, right? 

And I’m not done traveling… 

But I’ve realized I don’t have to make this journey alone.

Since 2016 took so much from me (emotionally and physically), I declare 2017 as the year of giving.

And I’d love for you to be part of my giving year!!!!

the-lazy-gecko-erasethelineHere are three easy ways:
Message me with your snail mail address, and I’ll mail you an #ERASETHELINE sticker for free. Stick it somewhere awesome, snap a pic, and post on social media with the #ERASETHELINE hashtag.


Go to Key West. Find an #ERASETHELINE sticker. Snap a pic and post on social media with the #ERASETHELINE hashtag.


Comment, like, and share this post on social media.

All throughout 2017, I’ll randomly collect entrants, choose winners, and mail packages! I might even throw in some glitter… if you’re into that kind of thing.

Goodies will be progressive, so check back often to see when winners are chosen and new goodies are added!

  1. $10 Starbucks Gift Card – ecard emailed or gift card mailed
  2. $10 Barnes and Noble Gift Card – ecard emailed or gift card mailed
  3. Box of new print books, including one or more of mine
  4. Happy Hour with me! – at a time and location mutually agreed upon by you and me

As always, thanks for finding me. Thanks for being here.

xox ~Risa

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Saying Yes to Vicki Tracy

gxhj4170I read the email from Vicki Tracy four times before I understood the significance of it.

She was asking me if I wanted to be a judge for her latest benefit, Naples’ Dancing with the Stars, where a cast of local celebrities would put on their dancing shoes to raise money for the Naples Performing Arts Center (NPAC) in a competition-style event where the star to raise the most philanthropic funds and the star to receive the highest marks from the judges would leave the dance floor with bragging rights and a star trophy.

ceww5946“Do you want to be a judge?”

Did I want to:

Help raise funds for the local not-for-profit?
Support the performing arts?
Encourage children to get out there and learn how to express themselves on the dance floor or the theater stage?

Funds raised support scholarships. Scholarships allow all children to be welcomed into this performing arts center and exposed to these opportunities to grow creatively. Growing creatively teaches children how to think, how to communicate, and how to explore competition in a positive environment. Yes, there may be only one winner, but everyone who participates is a star.

Of course I said YES!ffec3218

Not that I can remember ever saying no to Vicki…

…and because I said yes, I was honored to blog about the stars, to glimpse sneak peeks of their rehearsals and their costumes, and to be one of six judges for the Naples’ Dancing with the Stars benefit held at the Naples Woman’s Center on Saturday, November 12, 2016.

img_4733Months in advance the ten stars rehearsed with Lori Oliver and their professional dance instructors, Johnny and Lisa PerMar. They had spotlights created about them in order to sway pre-event voters to contribute to their campaign. After all, one star would win the philanthropic trophy for earning raising the most votes money.

…and then the night of the event finally arrived…

It was fabulous! As always, my hubby blew me away in his suit and his smile!

img_4731Ten stars stepped out onto the dance floor: Ike Alma-Francis, Amanda Beights, Guy Blanchette, Kathy Curatolo, Dr. Debi Lux, Sean Lux, Andres Paz, Scott Sherman, Ann Marie Shimer, and Vicki Tracy.

The judges were: Melissa Blazier, Joanne Blanchette, Marisa Cleveland (me!), Marcia Entner, Robin Lankton, and Rick LoCastro.

I watched the choreography, evaluated the technique in my head, enjoyed the musicality… but most of all, I saw the whole story. Ten community leaders hoping to shed light on the need for supporting the performing arts.

Two of the ten stars went home with star trophies: Scott Sherman and Vicki Tracy. Both tied for Judges Choice, with straight tens from all the judges.

Scott Sherman had some very serious footwork in his choreography, and he danced it just beautifully. More than that, his dance told a poignant story with a surprise guest appearance with his daughter Shea, and the two of them just caught my heart.

From Vicki Tracy’s long-flowing gown to that gravity-defying dip, she had me mesmerized. Her energy and joy on the dance floor had me swaying with the music, and for a few short minutes, I lived vicariously through her, as she spun around on strappy heels.img_7524

Super thanks to Lori Oliver for envisioning this not-for-profit performing arts center and sharing her talents with the community. To quote Vicki, “Lori’s a terrible businesswoman, because she gives away more than she has.”

That’s what makes events like Naples’ Dancing with the Stars so significant. Because it allows Lori to expand on her vision through community-involved families looking to make a difference in the lives of our area’s children. I had the opportunity to meet so many amazingly positive and generous people!

Check out some fun pics from the evening!

img_7511 img_7512


img_4752‘ img_7510img_4755img_4759img_4761


Events like this is why, if Vicki Tracy ever asks you to do something, my advice is to just say yes…

xox ~Risa


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Best. Gift. Ever.

Last year my hubby declared that instead of gifts for my birthday, he was giving me twelve months of memories. Each month for the past year we disappeared for a getaway, and I loved every second of time spent with him.

July 2015 – Islamorada and Key West, Guy Harvey Islander
August 2015 – Crystal River, Plantation
September 2015 – Key West, Duval House
October 2015 – Everglades National Park
November 2015 – Nashville, Gaylord Opryland
December 2015 – Key West, La Concha
January 2016 – Fort Lauderdale, Nassau, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Royal Caribbean Allure
February 2016 – South Beach
March 2016 – St. Augustine, Renaissance World Golf Village Resort
April 2016 – Tortuga Music Festival, Fort Lauderdale, Marriott Harbour Beach Resort
May 2016 – Key West Songwriters Festival, Key West, La Concha
June 2016 – Key West, Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa

This year, when he asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I said more time with him, so we planned a week-long road trip.

Friday, July 16th – Marco Island, Florida
Quinn’s on the Beach






Saturday, July 17th – Tampa, Florida
The Westin Tampa Harbour Island
Dierks Bentley #SomewhereonaBeach concert
















Sunday, July 18th – New Orleans, Louisiana
Hyatt French Quarter New Orleans





























Wednesday, July 20th – Nashville, Tennessee
Renaissance Nashville Hotel


















































Sunday, July 24th – Home






Best. Gift. Ever.

As always, thanks for stopping by. Thanks for finding me.

Note: I travel light (license, lip balm, and a couple of dollars). Since I rarely carry my phone on our adventures, most of the photos are thanks to my hubby!

If you’re interested in any of the following hashtags, you can follow my hubby on Instagram (@simoncphd) and view more pics from our adventures: #architecture #archilovers #buildings #cloudporn #nature

Where are your favorite places to visit in America? Got any road trip recommendations for us?

xox ~ Risa


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We Wrote a Book

My mom and I wrote a book! It’s a middle grade fantasy novel, and it’s for all readers ages 10 and up.

I’m so super excited about this project, because it’s something we did together. This book was something we worked on during the weeks when my mom would visit me in Florida (she lives in New Hampshire), and the real reason for why we wrote a book together will die with me, BUT here’s a fun reason for when people ask me why I decided to write a book with my mom… I wanted her to share the publishing experience with me.

She’s always been so supportive of my literary dreams. She buys and reads all my books – even the adult contemporary romance novels with sexy times!

But I wanted to write something for her – a middle grade book with Christian themes – and it turned out I needed help. Her help.

She’s spent over twenty years in Catholic elementary schools, and she willingly agreed to co-write a novel with me, maybe without realizing the dedication and effort it would take to actually produce a polished novel.

We made this book our project from start to finish. We laughed, we argued, and we edited and revised and revised some more. We researched words and images and rules and mythology. Then, we hit publish.

“My mom loved me when no one else wanted me. She was my first role model, and she showed me how to be kind, how to be strong, and how to be fair. But the best trick she taught me was how to type. Thank you, Mom, for taking the time.” – Marisa’s 2015 FACE Awards Speech

INHERITANCE* is available on Amazon!!!

Click here to buy the Kindle version!

Click here to buy the Print version!

*If you are a reviewer, and you are interested in receiving a gifted copy of Inheritance in exchange for an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads, please email me at


Check out the book @marisacleveland and her mom co-wrote! #Inheritance #middlegrade

As always,  thanks for stopping by!

xox ~Marisa

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Dear 2015

Dear 2015,

Thank you for the lessons learned, even the ones I didn’t know I needed. For 2015 I said I wouldn’t spend money on designer items, and I didn’t. Instead, I used that money to make memories with my husband – to take random road trips at midnight to the middle of anywhere. In 2015, my hubby’s health and happiness inspired me to be healthy and happy.

This 2016 year I plan to slow down, take my time, delete multitasking from my daily routine, and give in to my food cravings once a week.

I’m abandoning my 2014 40-hanger project, and I’m going to figure out how to leave reviews that Amazon won’t delete on books I absolutely love.

Hear that, Amazon? Please stop deleting my book reviews! I write a book a year, but last year I read over fifty books, which makes me more of a reader than a writer and also makes me quite qualified to leave a review, in my opinion.

…and speaking of reviews… Thank you to everyone who took the time to read my books and leave reviews!!! You are amazing!

Cheers and hugs and cupcakes to everyone who took part in my 2015!

This 2016 year I will show up and not give up. I will be grateful for the opportunity to live the life I have crafted for myself, and I will learn to live in the moment, even if sometimes that moment means sprinting toward my dreams like I’m flammable and time is the match.

Yeah. That sounds right.

So… Dear 2015, thanks for having me!

Dear 2016, let’s do this!

xox ~Risa

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Erase the Line

do not cross the line sc“We didn’t cross the line. We erased it.” ~ Simon Cleveland, Ph.D.

All the best moments in my life happen because of my husband. He’s my anchor in my storm. When we were in college, people said we were crossing the line, because he’s white and I’m Asian, and he said, “Don’t worry about crossing the line. Let’s just erase it.”

That phrase – ERASE THE LINE – has come to mean so much to me in so many different ways. I hate compartments and boxes and limits and being told what I don’t get to have.

So I keep reaching for new ways to follow my heart, to experience life, to engage in a high octane, full throttle, 8-cylinder lifestyle. It’s exhausting, but for me, for this time I have on earth with him, it’s worth it.

IMG_1709I fail at life every day in so many brilliant ways, but at least I’m still here. Still being played most of the time, but at least I didn’t succeed at giving up.

“Play or be played, but stay in the game.” ~Marisa Cleveland

So, to answer the texts, emails, and messages asking me about it, that’s the story — that’s the reason, muse, and rationale behind my ERASE THE LINE wristbands.

What does ERASE THE LINE mean to you?


I’m so super excited to debut the wristbands with my newest book, BLURRING THE LINES, a Men of the Zodiac series novel.

Zodiac Sign of Blake Whitman: Aquarius

He broke all his rules… for her.

A quick peek inside:

BlurringTheLines_1600He hadn’t lost his breath over a woman in a decade. Perhaps longer. And yet, here he was, staring at the animal-rescue-volunteer-dog-walker who’d reprimanded him for needing a triple shot of espresso. His whole brain lit with quips and comebacks and ways to lure her into his… life.

The last thing he’d expected was facing Kira in his office with her monologue about saving a building. But in the face of his brother’s morning lecture, an idea formed.

“So how committed are you?”

“Very,” she said, her brows drawing together. She was pretty, even when she frowned. This idea forming in his head had disaster written all over it, but he couldn’t help himself.



“I read it in one sitting, because I couldn’t put it down.” — Maya @ Goodreads

“This was my first time reading a book by this author, and I can say with complete certainty it won’t be my last!” — Misty @ Goodreads

“Seriously hot! A definite must read.” — Julianna @ NetGalley

“Marisa Cleveland manages to write a beautiful love story complete with depth and complexity.” — Janhvi @ The Readdicts



Happy release day for @marisacleveland‘s Blurring the Lines!

Awesome review! “Seriously hot! A definite must read.” @marisacleveland‘s Blurring the Lines!


As always, thanks for stopping by! Thanks for finding me!

xox ~Marisa


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The Art of Being Human

Just because I left, doesn’t mean I was ready to go…

My Halloween costume this year reminded me why I first decided to leave the field of education. Because way back when, a parent told me I was a bad role model, and I believed her.

I had no barometer to gauge whether or not my actions were appropriate for her child, and as someone eagerly trying to break into the publishing industry by writing romance novels, I wasn’t setting the right example to the teens I taught by writing about *gasp* sex. Also, someone commented on the amount of empty alcohol bottles in my recycle bin. Okay. Point taken. Premarital sex and lots of liquor.

I removed myself from the classroom.

Even after two decades as a coach – gymnastics, cheerleading, and dance – and a decade in education – higher education, high school, and middle school.

IMG_1690But this year, after having left the public school system five years ago, when I posted a pic of my
Halloween costume on Facebook, I had no intentions of creating a bad role model example yet again. Still, someone messaged me that I was sending the wrong message with my outfit. Well, I’m older now, and more secure in my own decisions, and I found nothing wrong with my outfit. For those who missed it, I was dressed in my former Palmetto Ridge High School cheerleading warm-ups with a tag that read, “You’re the player? I’m the coach.” Just trying to add some humor to a comfy outfit.

One of the most difficult decisions I’ve made since moving to Florida was leaving the classroom, because that meant also leaving the football field, the basketball court, the band room, and the media center. It meant leaving behind amazing, funny, witty teenagers who reminded me every day what it meant to be human and who kept me in tune with the trends and technology of today’s society.

My job as a teacher was to teach children. To facilitate the best possible experience for them for that time in their lives. They will never pass through that time again, and to assist them to learn, to experience, and to grow during those years was my primary focus.

If they leave knowing they matter, they can make a difference, their thoughts and opinions are relevant, then they will continue to think, and teaching someone how to think is the greatest tool and talent I felt I could impart when I was a teacher.

IMG_1627So yes, I taught language arts, but I taught so much more than one subject.

I taught human beings the art of being human.

It’s been half a decade since I stopped teaching and coaching at Palmetto Ridge High School, and though so many changes have occurred in that time, my reasons for leaving are the same.

I’m still a bad role model.

In today’s hook-up society, I write about contemporary relationships where friends find their forever. I write about that moment when two people realize they are friends, and then they know it’s something more than anything else they’ve ever experienced with another partner. It’s more than attraction or lust. It’s that moment when they need someone most – that shoulder to lean on or cry on or bounce an idea off of – and that other person is there for them in the most complete way possible. Yeah. That moment.

And I still drink.

But I guess that’s just me practicing the art of being human.

How about you? What makes you a good or bad role model?

As always, thanks for stopping by, and if you’re curious as to what I was watching at the gym when someone asked me if it was really appropriate to be watching in public “those girls dancing,” well, please click here for my YouTube channel to view the videos of the PRHS Dance Team.

xox ~ Marisa


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Get Wicked

EntADS-halloweenbloghop-2015476x286Hi All!

Welcome to the Get Wicked with Entangled blog hop!

We love goodies and giveaways, and in celebration of the release of BLURRING THE LINES next month, I’m giving away a prize pack.

Click HERE to enter the giveaway!

Don’t miss the other blogs and see everyone’s trick or treating prize. Click HERE to visit the other blogs.

BlurringTheLines_1600Take the BLURRING THE LINES book cover. Share the love on social media! Tag me! One lucky “tagger” will receive a wickedly sexy box of books with other goodies mailed anywhere in the United States.

Social Media tags:

Here’s my little bit of “wicked” for this Get Wicked with Entangled blog hop:

YouTube link for “For Good” from the musical Wicked

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good…”

xox ~Marisa

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Blurring the Lines

“Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” ~Red Smith variation

After one blood transfusion, I’m so super excited to present Blurring the Lines: a Men of the Zodiac series novel releasing on November 16th!

Here’s the cover!



Feeling supportive? Pre-order now!

Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble   |   iTunes   |   Kobo

…and to celebrate, there’s a giveaway happening between now and release day!

Visit the Hot WIPs & Sassy Chicks Goodie’s page for a chance to win a Blurring the Lines prize pack!

So… I hope you’re as excited as I am!

Here are the books in The Men of the Zodiac series:

Aries: Impulse Control
Taurus: The Millionaire’s Deception
Gemini: The Millionaire’s Forever
Cancer: Ten Days in Tuscany
Leo: The Millionaire Daddy Project
Virgo: Revenge Best Served Hot
Libra: The Prince’s Runaway Lover
Scorpio: The Colonel’s Daughter
Sagittarius: One Night with the Billionaire
Capricorn: The Greek Tycoon’s Tarnished Bride
Aquarius: Blurring the Lines
Pisces: Her Sworn Enemy
As always, thanks for stopping by!

xox ~Marisa






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“What does diversity mean to you?”

This question has bothered me since the beginning of the year when Hernan Fratto asked me this during an interview. I didn’t have an answer then, and I’m not sure I have a complete one now, but my hubby recently snapped a pic of me and said, “It doesn’t get any more inclusive than that.”

…and that’s when I realized that diversity should mean the inclusion of everyone without fear from ridicule… and I’ve known this answer all along. It was posted in my classroom when I taught high school students, and it’s been my pain point whenever I go somewhere unfamiliar.

Here’s the pic of a middle-aged Asian woman wearing a Girl Crush hat supporting country music group Little Big Town while drinking an American beer with her Eastern European Ph.D. husband in a Mexican restaurant located on an island in Florida.

Marisa Cleveland diversity

My hubby’s right. It doesn’t get any more inclusive than that.

As always, thanks for finding me. Thanks for stopping by.

I’d love to hear what diversity means to you!

xox ~Risa

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Time and other thoughts before I turn forty


Half a decade ago, when I was halfway to seventy, I “retired” from teaching to pursue a dream… I took one year to start this blog and to write full-time.


But after the year, when I didn’t have a single novel sold, after writing four, instead of returning to teaching, I took what I thought would be a mundane day job to save my creativity so I could continue to write at night. As a side gig, I accepted the position of media specialist/promotions manager at The Seymour Agency, made amazing contacts, and saw the raw behind-the-scenes activities of publishing – so much more than writing a damn good novel.


I wrote, but my mind was a chaotic whirlwind of ideas with no real direction. My teen novels could be classified as realistic fiction and paranormal romance. My adult novels fit in the contemporary romance and general fiction genres. I was all over the place, forming my voice, spending time with characters from middle school to middle aged. Then, my agent announced she’d sold me in a three-book deal to Entangled Publishing. I thought I finally understood what it took to survive in the publishing industry. I wanted to mentor others along, the way I’d been mentored. I wanted to help other authors find their dreams. I researched other agents who were also authors, created a solid business plan for literary success, and agreed to become the agency’s third agent.


“No agent is better than a bad agent.” We’ve all heard the line, read the warnings, and still hoped to find the perfect agent-client fit. But I knew, after too many tears and too much alcohol, that I wasn’t a good agent. My clients were trusting me with their careers, and after editor after editor after editor after editor told me that their manuscripts were lacking in one way or another, after my self-esteem took a beating, after every morning when I would look in the mirror and feel like a failure, I knew I didn’t have what it took to be a good agent. I let the opinions of others shape how I viewed myself. I knew those manuscripts I submitted to editors were brilliant. In the deepest part of my being, I fell in love with every word on the page of my clients’ novels. But after too many times of editors rejecting what I’d so eagerly submitted on my clients’ behalf, I froze. The breakdown was swift, and on most days I still feel like a failure for letting them down, but in that same year, I received so much support from the writing community, from other agents who had left the field, and most importantly from the authors in my circle, that I somehow made it from “I’m a terrible person and let everyone down” to “I’m going to be okay one day, and they are better off without me.”


After that year, and posting that Year End blog post, I received a lot of messages from people saying that I shouldn’t take everything so personally, that it will eat me up inside if I do. But here’s what I don’t understand when people say it’s not personal… For someone like me, everything is personal. Because if it’s not, then why do I care? Why mention it? Why waste my time? I will find a way to make more money. But I can’t make more time. So please don’t say it’s not personal to me. Because if it’s not personal, it’s not worth my time.


I’m in my thirties. It’s fundamentally misleading but technically correct. Five years ago I quit my fun, amazing, energizing teaching job to pursue a lonely, self-esteem abusing dream, and too much has happened between then and now.

It stuns me that it’s taken me almost four decades to develop opinions and learn to trust my own thoughts. On most days, I’m still not sure I do. But I am finding out what I’m good at doing well, and for now that’s handling this moment. It may have taken me four decades to figure out what it meant to live in the moment, but I’m still here. I’m still living.

Five years ago I quit my job in the hopes of becoming a published author. This weekend I’m taking time to make new goals for the next five years.

Where were you five years ago? Did you have a five-year plan? What goals do you have for the next half a decade?

As always, thanks for stopping by!



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This. Happened.

NYT USA 19 61 DBOSThe act of writing is such a solitary journey, but publishing an anthology with 16 other authors was a remarkable adventure.

On June 2, 2015, my debut young adult novel, Accidental Butterfly, released as part of a boxed set called Dirty Boys of Summer. This anthology included 16 full-length sweet and sexy young adult and new adult novels.

On June 10, 2015, sometime in the late afternoon and early evening, my phone and email blew up with the exciting – and heart-stopping – news that our anthology had hit both the New York Times and the USA Today best sellers lists!

I couldn’t breathe. I might have cried. I kept typing THANK YOU!!! to everyone. So many people encouraged me along the way, and as Ernest Hemingway said, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” He was right.

So was Robert De Niro during the 2014 Oscars when he said, “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing: isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

I am that writer. The crazy one who can live inside her head for days at a time and not come out for a decent conversation with anyone no matter if her world is set on fire…

… and to my hubby I repeatedly promise not to forget how he’s captivated me and wrapped chains around my chaos, held me tight through my storm, and secured my madness with an anchor so strong I felt safe, even as I spiraled out of control…

… and so… in the middle of celebrating with sushi and champagne and wondering how I’d ended up connecting with such amazing authors and supportive readers, my hubby lifted his flute and said, “Congratulations, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Marisa Cleveland,” and I realized that this actually happened.




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Country Asian

IMG_9753“I didn’t know Asians liked country music.”

Some of you reading this know my story. Others do not. I’m pretty mellow, low key, and unassuming. I’m grateful to wake up every morning, have a passion for products Made in the U.S.A., and appreciate being able to support our local economy.

LoveandTheft 2014 KWSWFBlake Shelton inspired me to write my first novel that my literary agent sold to a publishing house in a three-book deal that’s now a four-book and one novella opportunity for me, and one of my favorite radio stations is Gator Country 101.9 FM.

So it came as a sucker-punch in the gut when someone asked me how I could like country music as an Asian, and I didn’t have an answer.

IMG_4887Seems like I never have the exact answer in the right moment when I need it. I stew silently and compose possible responses in my head, but the words rarely leave my mouth.

So here it is. My rambling response that I didn’t say.

“I didn’t know Asians liked country music.”

IMG_0086How could I not like country music? Every mood I’m ever in is inside a country song. I’m feeling nostalgic… I listen to Miranda Lambert’s Automatic. I want to dance barefoot on the back of a boat? Luke Bryan’s She Get Me High. Then there’s the Night That You’ll Never Forget I first heard Love and Theft sing at the 2014 Key West Songwriters Festival,  and all the songs Chris Young performed at the 2015 Key West Songwriters Festival.

IMG_0015 …and every Blake Shelton song reminds me of the fabulous time I had with my hubby in Orlando at his Ten Times Crazier tour.

But the Florida Georgia Line concert finally caught up with me.

“I didn’t know Asians liked country music.”

Well, I don’t know about all Asians in general, but this one does.


xox ~Marisa

Marisa Cleveland Country Asian 2015

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