Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Candy Day!

Guess what? It's candy day!

The princesses, pirates, superheroes, and zombies run door to door, holding their bags open for sugary loot. And I love it! Why? Well, for one, I like kids and it makes me smile to see their excitement.

M&Ms
Photo by mortsan

But the main reason? I love candy!

I've been snacking on Fun-Size candy bars all month long, but tonight, after trick-or-treating, the candy explosion begins. Yes, I will beg my kids to share. They get the good stuff. No, I won't sneak their Kit Kats or Twix--they love them too much--but I'm all in for their Peanut M&M's, Tootsie Rolls, Snickers, and any other candy they decide is share-worthy.


Halloween Candy
Photo by respres

Come on, chant it with me: Candy! Candy! Candy!

Hooray!

What is your favorite type of candy?

Happy Reformation Day! (Bet you forgot about that one, didn't you?) *wink*

Monday, October 29, 2012

Improve, Stagnate, or Decline: WSG 28

Writer's Survival Guide 28: Improve, Stagnate, or Decline

My favorite NFL team is the Detroit Lions. For the last two decades, the Lions struggled. They rotated through coaches, players, and they could not find a way to win. Every season ended with frustration. Fans wondered why? Why can't this team get it together and win?



Coach Jim Schwartz took over four years ago. He brought a fresh enthusiasm to the role, and, with a first round, first pick quarterback--Matthew Stafford--fans waited in hopeful anticipation that the Lions would turn around.

They did.

It took time, patience in the face of injuries, more smart draft picks, but last season, the Lions actually made it to the playoffs. It looked as if the rough years were finally behind them. Surely, they would continue to improve, to advance, and maybe even make it to the Superbowl at some point?

This season the Lions are struggling. They're plagued by penalties and they don't look like a cohesive unit. Many experts say the team lacks discipline at the coaching level. Off the field, there have been arrests and poor behavior. Needless to say, if a team can't win games, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to make it to the playoffs this year.

Football is a tough sport. Many factors go into what makes a winning team. And nothing guarantees they keep their spot at or near the top.

Writers face the same challenges. Whether we, like the Lions, struggle for years before finding success, or we find success quickly, we have to mentally outfit ourselves to write strong.

One writing myth is that at some point we won't have to work as hard. We'll "write that perfect first draft" or, since readers loved our last book, they'll automatically love our subsequent books. This is dangerous thinking. We, like football teams, have to continuously work hard to make our books shine. We have to be disciplined, humble yet confident, and we can't take anything for granted or we risk stagnating and declining.

Writers have to push themselves to continue advancing in their career.

We can never get complacent with our writing. Writing shouldn't be easy. Each book should challenge us--force us to examine exactly why we're writing it.

I'm not saying writing isn't fun, rewarding, or any other wonderful things. It is. But if we stop examining our work for good plot structure, conflict, pace, grammar, and characterization because we think the work we did in the past was good enough, well, we're on our way to stagnating and declining.

Every book gives us a chance to improve our writing.

What do you think? Is there ever a time we can stop examining our books and still be assured they're good?

Have a terrific day!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Spooky Season

Every year I go nuts over football, red and yellow leaves, fuzzy sweaters, cozy blankets, comfort foods like nachos or chili, apple orchards, and everything that comes with autumn!


halloween
Photo by aliestelle

I track seasons by climate. My unofficial farewell to fall happens on Halloween. Why? We usually see snowflakes early in November--plus, my Christmas spirit arrives on November first. :)

But before we start whispering about winter, we get to have fun with Halloween--and I adore Halloween!

First of all, there's candy involved, and I love candy.

Secondly, I get a kick out of the neighborhood kids' costumes when they trick-or-treat. So cute!

The one thing I didn't think I'd like about Halloween, but do?

Spooky shows and movies!

I get too frightened to watch horror movies on a regular basis, but mildly scary ones work for me.

Sleepy Hollow is a goodie! I also love the less scary Monsters, Inc! And who doesn't enjoy It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown? We even tuned in to The Lost Boys the other night.

I started watching American Horror Story: Asylum this season, but it's freaking me out. Great writing and acting, but this television show is surprisingly rated-R even for cable.

My absolute favorite spooky show right now? The Walking Dead. I love this show!!

Do you like spooky shows or movies? Share your favorites in the comments!!

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Party Time for Shay Lacy!!

I'm so thrilled to host my dear friend, Shay Lacy, on my blog today! We're celebrating the release of her first romantic suspense novel, Hero Needed, published through Crimson Romance!

Shay and I met through MVRWA, our local RWA chapter, and we immediately hit it off. She has such a unique way of looking at life--I couldn't help but be drawn to her! We've been friends for several years, and in that time, I never doubted she would find a publishing home for her romantic suspense novels. We've shared ups and downs, and it makes me SO HAPPY to be able to share this huge up with her!! The best part?  Shay has more books and novellas being released into 2013!


Let the celebration begin!!


First on the agenda? You know how I like to celebrate...with yummy treats!

old fashioned chocolate cake, sweet revenge patisserie
Photo by evmaroon

Shay is a fabulous baker (my son and I fight over her banana bread!) so I'm including some virtual banana bread too!

Banana Bread Loaf
Photo by arandall

Of course, we need to wash all these decadent treats down, so grab a beverage!

A Full Spatch of Beverages
Photo by stp

Now that we have our snacks, let's get to it!!


Hero Needed ~

Some heroes are born and some are forged by events.

Marisa’s best friend Carolyn was killed by a train, but then Carolyn’s husband claims she committed suicide. Proving he’s wrong will be a heroic feat. EMT Nick Stark seems a natural for the job. Yet the truths Marisa and Nick uncover spark unexpected danger.

Does the secret of Marisa’s parentage tie in with Carolyn’s death? And is Marisa prepared to face the truth in order to identify whoever now wants her dead?


My review (on Goodreads):

If you love category romantic suspense novels with a high spice level, this book is for you!

The heroine, Marisa, was a heroine I loved rooting for! Marisa and Nick won't stop until they get to the bottom of a puzzling death. As more facts and strange happenings occur, solving more than a murder is at stake. Marisa's life and the future of the small town where she resides are in danger too.

What really stood out for me in Ms. Lacy's book were the strong characters and the beautiful setting. From the opening chapter, the setting is almost like another character. It influences the events of the book, and I have to say (no spoilers!), one of the pivotal scenes toward the end, where Marisa controls her fate, had me grinning and wanting to high five her! Fun stuff!

**I received an advanced reader copy of this book with no obligation to review it. All opinions are my own--give this book a try!**

About Shay ~

Shay Lacy never moved from her native Ohio, except in her imagination. She considered joining the Army, but thought marriage would be the bigger challenge. She collects glass paperweights and rocks, and dreams of one day owning the rock section of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. She's an amateur photographer and an avid reader.

To learn more about Shay's books, head to her website, be friends with her on Facebook, and follow her on TwitterHero Needed is now available for sale on Amazon!

Thanks so much, Shay, for being my guest!! And thank you all for celebrating with us!

Have a fabulous day!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pushing Your Word Count: WSG 27

The writing world holds its breath and in a few days will exhale a flood of excitement. Yes, it's almost NaNoWriMo time again!! Every November, throngs of writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words of a new book. Some break the word count into daily goals, some into weekly goals, but by the time November ends, even if they didn't "win" with 50,000 words, most participants have exceeded their normal, non-NaNo word counts.


Too Many Words
Photo by chaceofspades

How do they do it?

There are two keys:

1. Group support
2. Pushing to meet a goal

Since everyone starts their new project on November 1st, it's like a race, but instead of competing against each other, everyone encourages their fellow writers to keep going. It's easy to check in on Twitter (use #NaNo) or Facebook to stay accountable and get much-needed motivation.

While I don't participate in NaNoWriMo, I always get inspired by the people who do. I usually am writing a first draft during November, and I love that my word count piles up before the holidays. It's great to end the year on a high note!

Here are ways I push my word count limit on a daily basis:

* I tell fellow writers I'm pushing myself to high goals, and I check in with them throughout the week to let them know how I'm doing (Accountability).

* I break my writing sessions into short chunks and take "reward" breaks. I used to write for 3-4 hours straight, but I find I get higher word counts--and I feel better--on days I write for an hour, take  a short break, write for another hour, work on another task, etc... If you do not have much time to write, try 30 minute sessions. (Endurance)

* Break your overall word count into weekly and daily word count goals. Decide on your target end date. Have your calendar in front of you when you do this. It's easy to "forget" the non-writing commitments you've signed up for over the next few months,  not to mention any holidays! I've learned the hard way that the day before Christmas break will NOT be productive. I never schedule big word counts for hectic times! (Realistic goals)

     **If you want to write an 85,000 word novel in three months, you'll need to write 7083 words every week for 12 weeks. If you have two days a week to write, you'll need to write 3540 words/day. If you have five days, you'll need to write 1416/day. Seven days? 1011/day. **

* Track your progress EVERY writing session. Write the date, the amount of words you wrote, the total words overall, and calculate how many you still have to write. Doing this gives you solid proof progress is being made. It will keep you motivated. (Results)

* Ask other writers on Twitter to join you in a #1k1hr session. This is where you push yourself to write 1000 words in one hour. You then post the actual number of words you wrote. It's a great way to keep it fun! (Challenge)

* Remind yourself you don't have to "be in the mood" to write. You don't have to have three hours of a cleared schedule. You just have to show up and write. That's all. You can fix anything while revising, but you have to get it on paper first. (Attitude)

Writing is fun! But taking three years to write six chapters of a book isn't. Part of successful writing is momentum. We have to keep our writing muscles toned or they weaken. When we eventually have to build them up again, we waste precious time and energy. Keep pushing yourself!


Do you challenge yourself to reach high word counts? I'd love to hear your tricks!

Have a wonderful Monday!






Friday, October 19, 2012

Need a Boost? Try a Walk!

Yesterday, I finally started writing a long-awaited book. I'd procrastinated it on Wednesday to streamline my website's masthead across all the pages (if you're new here, feel free to poke around using the navigation bar), but I'd run out of "projects" and knew I needed to just start writing already!

Sheesh!



After one hour of intense focus, I saved my document and smiled. I'd done it. I'd found the words I'd worried wouldn't come. But, while my writing session wasn't long, it was plenty for my first day back. So I took the afternoon off for some "Jill time."

A few resale shops and a run to Taco Bell later, I drove to a local metropark and stared in awe at the fall colors. The wind made the trees look frisky, and it always makes my heart sing to see leaves blowing willy-nilly in the air.

I took a brief stop at the wildlife viewing area to watch squirrels, cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, goldfinches, and even a huge hawk. Then the trails called my name. I hadn't planned on hiking, but the medley of fall colors, the wind, the sunshine, and the wildlife changed my mind.

As I power-walked through a sandy path in the meadow, I just soaked it all in. God's world amazes me, leaves me awestruck. It's roaring loud, yet seems so quiet. It's frenetically busy, yet seems so peaceful. It's full of odd smells that all meld together into a pleasing aroma. It's visually so inspiring, I can't even describe it.

Nothing I could have done would have lifted my spirits more.

If you ever need a boost, head to the park and take a walk. Let God's beautiful world soften and heal you!

On another note, yesterday I had the pleasure of guest posting at Jenny Lee Sulpizio's blog for her Write On, Mom! series. I hope you'll take a few minutes to stop by her fantastic blog to learn a bit about my writing journey. Thanks!

Does nature lift your spirits the way it does mine?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Halloween Costumes and Crime Scenes

Based on the following list of items, what do you think?

- rope
- duct tape
- sheet
- scissors
- wire hanger

Homemade Halloween costume or crime scene?


Crime Scene
Photo by alancleaver

No, I don't have much of a point in today's post, but I find it giggle-worthy that common items moms use to create costumes are the same items police find at crime scenes.

Putting costumes together can put a certain type of mother, *cough* me, in a murderous mood. It's not that I lack in creativity. And no one would suggest I don't love my kids. Hey, I like Halloween--I'm all about free candy. But why does it always involve elaborate schemes in regards to the costume?

When I was young, we scrounged up old clothes from around the house and, depending on the year, went as:

- lumberjack
- hobo
- native american
- scarecrow
- lumberjack
- hobo
- oops, I guess we already covered those!

No, we didn't have much variety, but our parents could figure out a costume in 9 minutes without having to sew anything.

So it's obvious I'm jealous--either of my kids' fancy costumes or my parents' lack of stress over this--I'm not sure.

My kids routinely want to dress up as things that involve elaborate makeup, an expensive trip to the fabric store, another expensive trip to the Halloween store for wigs, fake teeth, and other props, tricky and time-consuming hairstyles, and let's not forget face and/or body paint. Getting ready for trick-or-treating can take hours, days, weeks!

I know what you're going to say. It will be along the lines of one of the following:

- Enjoy it now. You'll miss it when they're gone.
- Buy, borrow, or rent a costume
- Make them find their costumes like you used to, from around the house.

Yeah, that's all good advice, but I know myself. After I pout and whine and kindly suggest an easy costume, I'll be making an expensive trip to the fabric store, another expensive trip to the Halloween store, and I'll be spending days, hours, and weeks fixing their hair, applying elaborate makeup, and sponging on face and/or body paint.

That's how I roll. I complain. But I do it. :)

If you're making a Halloween costume, would you mind listing the materials? Let's play a game of, describe the crime scene based on your items!

Here's mine: Wii Remote

- cardboard
- duct tape
- white spray paint
- box cutter
- elastic
- rope

The crime scene?
Obviously, this is a victim of blackmail and torture, maybe even a murder posing as a suicide? Hmm...

Have a wonderful day!

Monday, October 15, 2012

3 Ways to Fix a Story Problem: WSG 26

Writer's Survival Guide 26: 3 Ways to Fix a Story Problem

If you're a writer and you've gotten feedback on your work either from a critique partner, a contest, an agent, an editor, or a freelance editor, you know about story problems.

Bic Pens
Photo by smemon

By story problems, I mean, things that don't work for whomever gives you feedback. These could be a character flaw, inappropriate pace, too much backstory, too little backstory, insufficient conflict, over-the-top conflict, stilted dialogue, unlikable characters, cliche'd writing, undeveloped setting--you name it!

I've been alerted to many story problems in the years I've been writing. It's shocking, I know. I'm not a perfect writer! What?? :)

When I get feedback that resonates with me, I sigh. I berate myself a little bit.

Why can't I get this right? How many revisions and books does it take to write a great book? I'm studying, working hard, and I'm committed to writing at my highest level--so why am I still not getting it right?

When I'm done with the self-loathing, I usually detach myself emotionally. I analyze the main problems identified and spend time analyzing if I agree they really are problems. Once I've done this, I'm ready to tackle them.

Here are three ways to fix a story problem.

1. Get to the heart of the problem by summarizing it in one sentence. Do this for every issue you will be working on.

2. Brainstorm 10 ways to fix the problem. You can always brainstorm more, but do a minimum of 10. You might not use every "fix," but you'll feel better knowing you have plenty of options.

3. Send the new version out for more feedback. Sometimes we do our best to solve a problem, but we only get it about 80% correct. A trusted critique partner, a contest, or a freelance editor will help us shape the book into it's absolute best form.

I've written a lot of books. When I stray from my prescribed revision and feedback routine, my book suffers. I've learned the hard way that for me to put out my best work, I have to be diligent about verifying the key plot points, paying attention to my critique partners' advice, and going through my revision checklist.

How do you fix story problems when you're writing?

Have a fantastic day!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Jill's Happy Five! Oct 12, 2012

I love Fridays!

In an effort to find gratitude and joy in the smallest places, I'm sharing my week's Happy Five--the five things that made me happy this week--vloggy style!




What makes your Happy Five list this week?

Have a fun weekend!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Our Remodeling Projects: Before and After

If you're like me, you love seeing transformations. It doesn't matter if it's weight loss, home improvement, or even hairstyle changes--we love to see the "before" and the "after."

This summer, my handy husband and I bought a new house and tackled a slew of remodeling projects. I'm happy to announce--they are all finished! We have plenty more projects to tackle, but it feels great to have the big ones done.

I promised I'd share the before and after pictures, and here they are.

Let's start with the entrance. The original picture doesn't accurately show the drip marks and general disarray of the original green door. The frame's paint was peeling willy-nilly, and it just looked sad. :(

We stripped the old paint from the frame, re-painted it, and gave the door itself two coats of gray paint. I love it!


Next up...our family room!

The family room had green carpet with mysterious brown stains and signs of severe wear. We loved the fact it had a fireplace, but it wasn't quite our style. We replaced the carpet with a neutral taupe carpet and retiled/repainted the fireplace. The walls also transformed to light gray.



Moving on to the big project...the kitchen.

The original kitchen felt very cramped, which was odd since the space is adequate. It featured four levels of wallpaper (bottom section, top section, middle border, and top border), dated lighting fixtures, faded laminate counters, and linoleum floors. It was in livable condition, in fact, someone with different taste than mine might have loved it as is. We decided to tackle this job right away to improve function and to give the whole space a "craftsman" feel.



Here's another view: My husband ripped out the soffit above the old cabinets to make more room for our new cabinets. It was such a big, tedious job. He also demo-ed a desk area to create a large pantry. He installed the tile backsplash (I helped grout!) and plumbed the sink and dishwasher. I can't even begin to explain how grateful I am to him. He worked extremely hard for two months to bring this all together.


Not shown--we ripped out all the flooring throughout the house. My husband replaced every light fixture and door handle too. :) We had new can lighting installed in a few rooms. We still have a few rooms to de-wallpaper, and our deck is pretty worn and rickety, but it feels fantastic to have come this far!

And, for the final before and after pic--our mailbox. :)


Thanks for letting me share our adventures in remodeling-land. We are thrilled to be done with the big stuff!

Have you remodeled anything? Was it a difficult process for you? Did you love the end result?

Have a fabulous Wednesday!

Monday, October 8, 2012

WSG 25: Lousy First Sentences

I'm starting a new book today. Yay! But with a new book comes anxiety.


Journal
Photo by macrj

* Will this book be as good as my last?
* What if I start writing and realize it isn't very good?
* I avoided the saggy middle last time, but what if this middle becomes a lumpy mess?
* Will the romance journey be swoon-worthy?
* Will the spiritual journey be realistic and relatable?
* Will readers empathize with my characters?

But before any of these fears can circle my brain, one BIG fear trumps all.

Will my first sentence be a big pile of dog doo?

My initial attempts at the first sentence usually should be swooped into a "doggy waste" bag. I struggle to find just the right words to start a story. I've been known to lose hours, in some cases, days, trying to figure out the perfect opening line.

My solution? I no longer obsess about it. I write any old thing and MOVE ON. For some reason, giving myself permission to not write the perfect opening frees my brain to write the actual story. And, at some point, the right first line comes to me. Sometimes this doesn't happen until the revising stage, but what does it matter? It's the final result that counts. :)

Another thing that helps me get over this block is to read past winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest. This contest exists to reward writers who come up with the worst first line! I enjoy skimming through previous years' winning lines. Some of them will cause spontaneous, loud laughter. You've been warned!

How do you get past the pressure of writing the perfect first sentence? Share your tips!!

Have a wonderful day!


Friday, October 5, 2012

Surviving October of an Election Year with Jill Kemerer

I love being an American. I think it totally rocks that I get to vote! We live in a society where the barriers have come down--it doesn't matter what gender or race you are--as an American citizen (with some restrictions), you can vote. What a blessing!!

But with this voting ability comes relentless advertising, political maneuvering, and personal rants about why one party is better than the other. For years, I've been a firm believer that when it comes down to it, most Americans want the same things--safety, freedom, and security to name a few--we just have different ideas on how to achieve those things.

With that spirit, I've become more careful about how I share my views. I would never want people who don't share my political ideas to feel attacked or belittled by me. Too often, politics become weapons to hurt or shame others--or worse, to make us feel superior.

October of an election year ratchets up tensions. I'm here to help!

If you're struggling to tune out the meaningless chatter, here are my strategies on how to survive October of an election year!




Do you have any tips on how to survive the final month before a major election?

Please, no personal politics in the comments. Let's respect each other by keeping it neutral. Thank you!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Block Schedule Experiment

Last year, I experimented with different schedules. My goal was to find a way to manage my day so I could maximize my writing, keep social media to a reasonable percentage, and carve out times for errands, prayer, and my own life. It worked wonderfully!

But...

When I stopped paying attention to my "blocks," my writing life slipped into a big blob of do-it-however-I-can. I'm much less productive when I don't have a system.



Sure, I write out my daily goals, but too often, I don't meet them all, or I let the other things important in my life slide behind less important tasks.

Now that I've returned from conference, I'm starting a new book. It's the perfect time to bring back my block schedule! I've decided to make it a 6 week experiment. At the end of 6 weeks, I'll evaluate what I've accomplished, how I felt during the process, and if anything could be adjusted to make life better.

So what is a block schedule? It's where you carve your time into blocks and assign each block a task.

I'm very, very blessed to be a stay-at-home mother with kids in school full time (lest you get TOO jealous, remember, I don't collect a paycheck! Trust me, there is a downside!). I have different time opportunities than someone with a full time job or with small children at home.

We all have to look at our days and be realistic about what we can do with them. Some writers may only have 30 minutes a day to devote to writing. Some might only have one day a week. Others might have every day available.

I spent years with little to no time for my writing, and I waited patiently, always learning, always reading, until the day came I could devote a large chunk of my day to it. I do NOT take a single minute for granted. After 4:30pm, my focus shifts to my family. I'm often shuttling kids to activities and sports, helping with homework, cooking, and trying to fit a short walk with my mini-dachshund in. So I limit my block schedule to the time I have available.

I break my day into 30 minute blocks. I work from 8:00am to 4:30pm. This gives me 17 blocks to work with. Since writing or writing related activities (plotting, writing, revising) are always my top priority, I reserve roughly 50% of my blocks (8 or9) for them. Sometimes I'll take 1 or 2 blocks away to write blog posts or critique.

Social media is fun for me. I didn't spend much time online all year, but I miss it and want to get back into it on a regular basis. I reserved 4 or 5 blocks for this, which ends up being between 24 and 29% of my workday.

For over a year, I became too obsessed with getting things done, and my eating habits and quiet time went haywire. No more. I set one block aside for lunch, and I set another block aside to have quiet time (and afternoon tea!) with God. These two blocks are very important to me. They keep me calm and focused.

Since my kids come home during this time, I also reserve one block to just relax with them and hear about their day. That's important to me too. :)

That's my schedule. What do you do to lasso your day?

Have a fantastic day!

Monday, October 1, 2012

WSG 24: Expand Your Bubble

Writer's Survival Guide 24: Expand Your Bubble

Writer.

So many labels apply to that word.

Introvert. Creative. Sensitive. Unrealistic. Starving. Wealthy. Smart...

Bubble 2
Photo by Ali Smiles

Unless you have a writing partner, one label stands out. Independent.

Writers have to be independent. No one is forcing us to write. We do it because we want to--because we're independently motivated.

But with that independence comes a side-effect. It's true, no one can do the hard work of writing for us, but too often we drift into a bubble, a bubble of one.

When I'm in a bubble, I miss out on opportunities. I get closed into my own small world. I see things through narrow eyes. I miss the big picture. And my writing suffers for it.

Recently, I expanded my bubble. I reached out to a few writer friends who I'd become lazy with. I purchased a new book on the writing craft recommended by a good friend. I took a workshop from one of my favorite authors. I Skyped with a friend to practice pitching my book. I listened to advice from an editor. I added "Make the Effort" to my goal list.

All of these things were outside of my comfortable bubble. But they improved my writing life. The friends I reached out to strengthen me regularly. The book on writing is giving me new ideas on how to keep the middle of my book lively. The workshop refreshed my knowledge of story structure and the inner journey. The Skyping session gave me confidence to pitch my book. And the advice from the editor came in time for me to tweak my first chapters before it's sent out to the world.

Sometimes expanding our bubbles is hard. Sometimes we don't like what we hear. We wonder why we even bother. But every time I take a chance, I feel better about myself. :)

How do you expand your bubble?

Have a lovely Monday!