Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve and Christmas!

On this Christmas holiday, don't forget to hug someone you love,

Have fun unwrapping your presents,

Party! This is a celebration after all,

Take a long nap,

And spread good cheer to everyone!

Merry Christmas!!

I'm on break until January 3, 2011. I love reading your comments, so please leave one and have a wonderful holiday!! See you in 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One Minute Vacation: Add to the List

This week begins with frenzy and dissolves into flat-out panic for many people. Sure, we know Christmas comes each year, but when crunch time arrives, we freak out over the things left undone.

Did I buy a present for Aunt Martha?
Will I run out of wrapping paper?
Can I make this pair of pantyhose last one more party?
Am I a failure for not baking Christmas cookies?
We make lists, either on paper or in our heads, and desperately try to remember every single thing on them.

I've been guilty of busy-ness this holiday season. The most important thing isn't even on my list.

I haven't taken the time to recline on the couch in our darkened living room and reflect on the meaning of Christmas as the lights from the tree cast a warm glow on the walls. My soul needs to hear the priceless words of the second chapter in Luke. Yes, I know that in those days Ceasar Augustus issued a decree, but I need to let the beauty of God's grace seep in.

He sent His son to die for me, for you, for all mankind so that we can be with Him for eternity.

I can't imagine sending my son to die. I'd do anything to make sure he lives, and not only that he lives, but that he's happy and fulfilled. Parents want the best for their kids, not death, not for people who don't deserve or appreciate it.

But that's what Christmas is all about. A precious, perfect baby sent to earth for you. For me.
So as you prepare for the holidays, try to throw off the rushed anxiety, try to shake the annoyed feeling when Aunt Kathy gives you a backhanded compliment, and don't worry if you didn't buy the perfect gift.

We have an eternity of perfection waiting for us.

Let's add soaking in God's gift of His son to our list.

Have a blessed day!

Monday, December 20, 2010

One Minute Vacations: So You Want to Write a Novel

This one is for all you writers out there!

It is longer than one minute, but you don't have to watch the entire thing to get a laugh.

I've been telling people I'm a writer for years, and the responses vary. They rarely offend me, because let's face it, unless you're a writer, you really don't understand what's involved. For every person who assumes all you have to do is read a few books to qualify as a writer, there is another who encourages you on your journey.

Do you ever get discouraged by non-writers' responses when you tell them you're a writer?

Have a very happy Monday!

Friday, December 17, 2010

One Minute Vacation: Pampering

Do you ever have days where you feel like you're sprinting from the minute you wake up until you collapse on the couch an hour before bed? Yeah, me too.

December is a glorious month, but it's hard to pamper yourself when you're rushing to get everything done.

Here are a few easy, inexpensive, fast ways to make your day a little nicer.

  • Massage thick, creamy lotion into your feet.

  • Place a slice of cucumber over each eye, recline back, and rest a minute.

  • Listen to a favorite song.

  • Stare out your front window. How often do you pay attention to that view?

  • Call a friend you haven't talked to in a while.

  • Snuggle with your child or a pet. No kids or pets? Wrap up in a fuzzy blanket.

  • Practice deep breathing.

  • Hop in your vehicle at night and drive around to see the local Christmas lights.
How do you squeeze pampering into your day?
Have a festive weekend!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One Minute Vacation: Reading

Want an instant vacation? Pick up a book!

Reading is my favorite escape. I always have a stack of books waiting to be read, and I usually have a list of books on order from my local library.

Here's what I'm into now.

I'm currently reading Kathryn Springer's A Place to Call Home. This is the first book I've read of Ms. Springer's, and I'm thrilled to add her name to my new-to-me favorite-authors list. You know what this means, don't you? I can go back and find her old books. Hello, backlist!

My library just notified me that I have two books ready to pick up. Sarah Sundin's A Distant Melody, the first in her WWII series. Sarah's first two books have been reviewed by many of my blogging friends, and I can't wait to dive into this intriguing series.

The other book waiting for me is The Emporer of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. This is a non-fiction history of cancer, and I've read glowing reviews of it in Entertainment Weekly and on various Internet sites, and I know I'm going to love this book too.

What's next on your to-be-read list?

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Monday, December 13, 2010

One Minute Vacations: Sweet Stuff

Christmas is all about tradition, and one tradition high on the list is baking. Special treats for a special day.

At our house, we bake sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and peanut butter cookies with Hershey's Kisses on top. Some years I make homemade chocolates, a wide variety of cookies, and peppermint bark. This is not one of those years!

So today, drool over the sweet stuff, and enjoy a calorie-free vacation!

What is your favorite Christmas treat?

Have a happy Monday!

Friday, December 10, 2010

One Minute Vacation: A Snippet of Life

A cool 23 degrees Fahrenheit, I scurried from my mini-van toward the small unheated building where people go to sit and bird watch at a local park. Two elderly gentlemen chatted on the sidewalk as I turned toward the courtyard. The one puffing on a stogie yelled to me, "You need a hat or your ears will freeze."

"I know." I grinned, kept my quick pace. I find it impossible to take offense at gruff grandfather types.

Moments later, I slipped into the empty room, settled in an icy chair and exhaled deeply. The enormous window displayed an abundance of wildlife. A pair of ducks swam in the tiny, heated pond, and several squirrels dashed here and there, nibbling on nuts and seeds as they went. The birds were spectacular: blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, sparrows, and chickadees rushed around, bandying for the best feeders. The woodchucks didn't appear, no doubt hibernating already.

Within a few minutes, the gentlemen entered and took two seats on the other side of the room.

I'm an eavesdropper. Can't help it, especially when there are only three people in a small, echoing room and I'm one of the three.

"Look at the ducks in there," one said with jolly awe. "It's duck season. Smart things. They're safer here."

"Duck season, huh? I read in the Blade that in Toledo alone hunters bagged 138,000 deer on opening day. 138,000. That's a lot of deer. Or maybe 38,000? I don't know."

"Yeah, Bob was driving the other day and one shot out in front of him."

"He hit it?"

"Nah, he missed. Lucky one, that Bob..."

A squirrel head popped up over the fence, distracting me from the entertaining conversation volley.

"My two daughters--they're gorgeous I tell ya--they could be models. In fact, Seventeen magazine came to Toledo--"

"There's modeling in Toledo?"

"Will you just listen?"

I missed this segment of the conversation too because three blue jays stormed a feeder. When the birds had settled, I realized I could still see my breath, so I stood and walked toward the door. As I passed the men, I wished them a good day.

"Same to you," Mr. Stogie replied in a kind tone. "You on your lunch break?"

I laughed--don't ask me why, I just laugh a lot. "I work from home."

"Nice to get out of the house then, eh?"

"Yeah, I stop by for a breath of fresh air and to see the fuzzy animals. Have a good one."

"You too." We nodded to each other, and I left.

I scurried back to my mini-van, my heart much fuller than when I arrived. Such a small and common scene in my life, but this one stood out. Maybe it's because Christmas is almost here, or because every headline lately centers around missing children, kidnapped girls, and other heinous crimes, but the two gentlemen reassured me that the world is full of good people.

Do you have places you go for a break? Are you like me, unable to resist chatting with people you haven't met?

Have a joyous weekend!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One Minute Vacation: Delicious Scents

I walk into a coffee shop and relaxation drapes me. It has nothing to do with the hustle bustle or the color of the walls--it's the smell of coffee that lulls me.

Many scents make me happy.

A freshly sliced orange.


Warm chocolate chip cookies.

And sea air.

What scents take you on vacation?

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Monday, December 6, 2010

One Minute Vacation: Clean House

I have a short list of things that bring me joy, and a clean house is on it.

When my house resembles the picture below, I fantasize about staying in a hotel, because a maid comes in and tidies up.

Sure, I long for a fairy godmother (or godfather) to *poof* my house clean.

But I don't believe a clean house is a sign of a wasted life.

So I set the timer, grab the broom, and keep my home in reasonable shape every week.

After all, who doesn't love climbing into a neatly made bed at the end of the day?

Does part of your vacation fantasy involve a hotel with a maid?
Have a wonderful Monday!

Friday, December 3, 2010

One Minute Vacation: Tropical Getaways

This might come as a shocker, but I like the beach. Wait, I take that back.

I LOVE the beach.

There's something delightful about warm sand between my toes and the shush-shush of waves hitting the shore. In fact, I would love to be at a beach right now!

Doesn't this scene entice? Yes!!

I'll pass on this next one. No thank you.

Yes, please! (Michigan looks just like Bora Bora in December. If I close my eyes really hard...)

No! Okay, maybe...because there IS a cat.

Yes. I'll take it!

When you dream of getting away, where do you go?

Have a wonderful weekend!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December: One Minute Vacations

It's December again! And you know, I love December, but it can get a wee bit crazy. So I decided last year's One Minute Vacations needed to be revived. Stop in all month long for a quick breather.

278/365 - December 22, 2009 (Y2)
Photo by meddygarnet

Today's one minute vacation is cute-a-rific! I recently found a few blogs that are guaranteed to put a big old smile on your face, and it only takes a few seconds to scroll through each.

Familiar with My Milk Toof? If not, then you're in for a treat. Here's a link to a mini-picture story from Christmas last year: Winter Mini-Story 3.

What about Disapproving Rabbits? Check out Hash Brown and tell me if you think that bunny is disapproving or what!

And finally, I dare you not to smile at this snoring beast!

Have a wonderful Monday and enjoy this first day of December!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Always Another Plateau to Reach

Many of you had an extraordinary month. You pushed yourself to achieve big goals. Maybe you reached them, maybe you didn't, but you didn't sit on a plateau this month. Isn't that what we always aim for? Forward movement?

The thing about plateaus is that there is always another one to reach. It's okay to rest on one for a bit before pushing onward. It's unreasonable to expect your brain or body to give maximum effort every day of every month. However, we can keep our eyes upward with the next leg of our journey in sight.

What did you accomplish in November?

Join me on Wednesday to kick off the return of One-Minute Vacations! December is so rush-rush; I hope you'll stop by for a quick breath of relief!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Black Friday!

If you live in the United States, you're either working, relaxing, hunting, or shopping. Black Friday is a tradition for many folks. People set their alarms for 2:30am and rush to their top-choice store to wait in line for their must-have items. Shoppers are willing to wait in lengthy check-out lines for a good deal, and I don't blame them.

I'm not a great shopper. I think I'll be home in my pajamas instead.

For all you shoppers--best wishes and happy shopping! For everyone else--have a relaxing day!

Happy Black Friday!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

When You'd Do Anything to Get Back on a Plateau

We've been discussing plateaus this month, and we've focused on continuing upward. But something happened on Monday that made me long for the comfort of my own plateau.

My laptop crashed. I'm talking completely shut-down. Luckily, I was able to restore it back to the manufacturer's settings, but in the process I lost every program, every blog I've bookmarked in my Favorites bar, and yes, every plotting note of my new book plus the first three chapters.

Normally, I'm obsessive about backing up my daily work to a memory stick, but I neglected the task for two weeks.

I would love to be back on the plateau I reached last Friday.

Sometimes things go wrong. Who knows why. Yes, I could pay a service to attempt to retrieve my files from the hard drive, but the costly and time-consuming job is not worth it to me. I can reproduce the work in less time.

It's natural to be upset when a strong gust of wind blows you from your plateau. I spent a full day restoring my laptop, and I was not in a good mood while I did it. But Tuesday dawned, and it no longer felt as important. In fact, the process of having a clean laptop has forced me to re-evaluate how I was approaching a few tasks.

I found Microsoft One Note and plan on trying it out for my plotting notes. The blogs linked in my Favorites bar? Well, it's high time I organize them in Google Reader. One of my goals is to spend more time reading blogs, and this will streamline it. And I finally signed up for an online data back-up service. I don't have to worry about losing important work again.

So when your progress gets thrown off a cliff, go ahead and fume for a little while, but then study the path back up. You might find a better foothold the next time.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Plotting the Scene

Whether you plot your book in advance or write by the seat of your pants, it’s a good idea to know the elements in a scene before you write it.

First, what is a scene?
According to Jack M. Bickham’s book Scene & Structure: “A scene is a segment of story action, written moment-by-moment, without summary, presented onstage in the story “now.” It is not something that goes on inside a character’s head; it is physical.”

Mr. Bickham goes on to describe the pattern of a scene as:
1. Statement of goal
2. Introduction and development of conflict
3. Failure of the character to reach his goal, a tactical disaster

In other words, each scene takes place in real time—it’s not a memory, it’s not a character reflecting, and it’s not a summary of events that took place at another time.

Decisions to make before writing the scene
I think most writers have an internal sense of story whether they plot, write a brief outline, or completely wing it. However, to avoid missing key story points along the way, one thing that can help is to plot your scene in advance. I plot all of my scenes before writing them, but do what feels comfortable. You might find plotting a scene helpful when you’re stuck.

Answer the following questions for the scene you are plotting.1. Where does this scene take place?
2. What day and what time of day is it?
3. How long after the last scene does this take place?
4. Who is in this scene?
5. Which main character has the most to lose in this scene? This answer will decide whose viewpoint the scene is told in. For maximum tension, write from the viewpoint of who has the most to lose.
One of the popular “rules” of writing is to avoid head-hopping. This means that each scene will take place from one character’s point of view. Other characters may be in the scene, but the reader will be experiencing the action from the point-of-view character. It’s a personal call on your part if you choose to follow this. I prefer to write each scene from only one character’s point of view because it clarifies the scene for me.6. What is the mood of the viewpoint character?
7. What is the viewpoint character’s goal in this scene? (What does he want?)
8. What is the viewpoint character’s motivation? (Why does he want it?)
9. What is the viewpoint character’s conflict? (Why can’t he have it?)
10. How does this scene affect the character—what is his growth?

When you answer these questions, you’re ready to write your scene. Remember to include the setting details (who, where, when) at the beginning of the scene, and state the scene goal early. Unless the scene takes place immediately after the previous one, the reader won’t know three days have passed and the character is now in a deli unless these details are clarified up front.

Getting tripped up on the character’s goal? It can be as simple as Jim wants to buy a cup of coffee. His motivation? He needs caffeine to think straight. His conflict? Before he enters the coffee shop, his mother bumps into him.

If you review the Jack M. Bickham’s scene essentials from above, you’ll see this fulfills the criteria.
Scene goal: Jim wants a cup of coffee
Introduction and development of conflict: His mother bumps into him, preventing him from entering the coffee shop.
Failure to reach goal: He does not get the coffee.

Obviously, to keep the reader interested, you would want this meeting to increase Jim’s conflict and allow him to grow in some way. If this is just a nice meeting between mother and son, it probably does not belong in your book.

If you try this and find it helpful, you might want to record your scene outlines in a spreadsheet. I use Microsoft Excel with the following columns.

Scene POV Setting POV character’s GMC Character’s Mood Char. Development Growth Chapter Notes

This allows you to keep track of how many scenes are in your book, how often each character’s viewpoint is being used, if you’ve overused a setting location, if each scene has a clear goal, the reason for the goal, and a failure to meet that goal, the character growth and if you’ve missed any loose threads, and how many scenes are in each chapter. It also allows a place to jot key details in the notes section.

Whether you’re stuck and only plot one scene or you use this as a tool to plot all of your scenes, I hope this serves to enrich your writing and move your story along.

This article is available on the articles page of my website, Jill Kemerer, and it is linked on the side of my blog.

Join me on Wednesday when we return to our discussion of plateaus.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Writing the Synopsis Before the Book: Part Three

This week, I'm sharing my method of writing the synopsis before the book. On Monday, we learned what story basics were necessary before we write the synopsis. On Wednesday, we learned the process of writing a one-page synopsis.

Getting through the one-page synopsis is not enough for me. I don’t feel comfortable writing until I have a complete map of the story. However, before I can expand the one-page synopsis to a longer one, I have more story questions to answer.

Advanced Plotting and the Longer Synopsis:
1. Answer the following questions.

  • After the hook (set-up) and the character leaves the ordinary world, what events could happen to get the character to the midpoint of the novel? Brainstorm different options and weigh each to make sure they serve to advance your character to her next plot point. For each event, write how the character grows, how the stakes rise, and how the conflict increases. You might not use everything you think of, but it’s nice to have options.

  • Do the same for the mid-point to the black moment. The black moment is the point in the story where the character loses hope of achieving her goal. In a romance, it's when either the hero, heroine, or both decide they cannot be together. The events you brainstorm should escalate to make things worse for your character in terms of her story goal.

2. When you've decided on key events/scenes leading the character from the ordinary world to the mid-point, then from the mid-point to the black moment, you are ready to expand the one-page synopsis to a double-spaced longer synopsis. I aim for five pages, but many editors prefer even longer. Use your discretion. You can always add or delete later.

  • Save your one-page synopsis as a new file. This is the base of your longer synopsis.

  • After the paragraph where your character leaves the ordinary world, write two or three (or more) paragraphs describing the events leading up to the midpoint. Emphasize why the events are important and how they affect the main characters. In other words, include the “because” with the “and then.”

  • Skip to the paragraph about the mid-point, and following it, write two or three (or more) paragraphs describing the events leading from the mid-point to the black moment.

  • Flesh out any paragraphs from the one-page synopsis that need more explanation.

Don't forget, a synopsis gives an editor all of your book's major plot points, including any twists, and the ending. This isn't the place to play coy. Make sure the character development shines through.

Remember, you'll need to review and revise your synopsis when you've completed the book. My characters always reveal nuances I wasn't aware of before I wrote, and I make sure the book accurately reflects these by revising my initial synopsis.

At this point, you should feel comfortable with where your book is headed. If all this plotting makes you cry “uncle,” then stop here. But there’s another step to take if you want to plot your book in more detail. I consider it advanced plotting. It's where you plot each scene before you write the book. If you're interested in plotting one or more scenes, stop by on Monday for a full description of Plotting the Scene.

Whether you decide to try a few steps, write your one-page synopsis, or go all the way and write the long synopsis before writing, I hope this information leads you to a better understanding of your book. But remember, there is no right way or wrong way to write. If plotting doesn’t suit you, don’t force it.

The full article is available on the articles page of my website, Jill Kemerer, and it is linked on the side of my blog.

Thank you for joining me this week. Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing the Synopsis Before the Book: Part Two

Today we're looking at the step-by-step process of writing a one-page synopsis before the book.

If you missed part one of this series, scroll down to the previous post to learn the basics needed before you start your synopsis.

Basic Plotting and the One-Page Synopsis:

1. Write the summary of your book in one sentence of fifteen words or less.

2. Get to know your characters. Figure out the main characters' goals, motivations, conflicts. For romance writers, nail down what is keeping your hero and heroine from falling in love.

3. Expand your fifteen word sentence to five sentences:
    a. The Hook (Story set-up)
    b. Leaves Ordinary World (Act One)
    c. Mid-Point (Act Two)
    d. Black Moment (Act Three)
    e. Finale (Ending)

4. Expand each of the above sentences into a full paragraph

5. For romance authors: Write one paragraph describing the heroine’s story goal, her motivation to achieve the goal, and the conflict keeping her from getting the goal? Repeat for the hero. Spell out their inner conflicts keeping them from embracing love.

For other authors: Write one paragraph describing the main character’s story goal, the motivation to achieve the goal, and the conflict keeping him or her from getting the goal.

6. Create a file for your new book in your word processor. Create a single-spaced document called one-page synopsis in this file. Copy the paragraphs you wrote in the following order:
  • The hook

  • Heroine’s GMC (goal, motivation, conflict)

  • Hero’s GMC

  • Leaves ordinary world

  • Mid-point

  • Black Moment

  • Finale

Many of you might want to stop here. You have the basics of the story. You have an idea for the beginning, middle and end, and you’re ready to write. The one-page synopsis can easily be double-spaced and expanded into a longer synopsis whenever you decide.

For those who want to continue to intermediate plotting, or writing the long synopsis before the book, stop by on Friday for the final installment.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing the Synopsis Before the Book: Part One

This week, I'm sharing my synopsis writing process. It's also a major part of my plotting process because I write the synopsis before I write the book.

Writers like to divide themselves into two categories: those who plot and those who don’t. I’m a plotter. I wasn’t always one, but years ago, in an effort to write faster and tighter, I decided to learn about plotting. After all, if I hated it, I wouldn't do it again. To my delight, I tried a myriad of plotting methods and loved the end result.

Here’s why I love plotting. It forces me to understand the main points of my book before I write. When I nail those down, I have a clearer idea of how my characters will grow and the events that will shape them along the way. Plus, the saggy middle virtually disappears. With a firm plan, I write first drafts quickly.

I can’t take credit for the plotting methods I use. All of them were borrowed from other writers generous enough to share their secrets. Some were found on websites, some from word of mouth, and others through books on the writing craft. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method made a big impact on me, and you can read all about it at Advanced Fiction Writing.

I consider the one-page synopsis the foundation of basic plotting. It fleshes out the main story points and gives you a skeleton of where your book needs to go. Depending on your comfort zone, you may wish to continue to intermediate plotting, where you'll expand your one-page synopsis to a long synopsis. If you want to get radical, go all the way to advanced plotting, where you plot each scene. Don't worry, I'll walk you through every step.

The following is based on my experiments to find the best plotting method for me. However, you should experiment to find the best method for you.

First, narrow down what genre book you are writing. Different genres require different pacing, tension, and plot development. I write romance novels so my books revolve around two characters’ journey to love. I sift through possible ideas and flesh out the main characters and premise of my book first. When I have a hero, a heroine, and a hook, I begin brainstorming their goals, motivations, and conflicts.

With these basics, I am ready to start writing the synopsis.

Join me on Wednesday for part two--the step-by-step process of writing a one-page synopsis.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Style Plateaus

Has your hairstyle been the same for a decade? Are you using the same makeup techniques from when you were in high school?If you're currently in high school, you can ignore that question. What about your clothes? Do you own any trendy items?

I've been on a style plateau for years. Part of it is budget, part of it is an aversion to shopping, and the other part is insecurity. I don't want to look like I'm trying to be fifteen years younger than I am. And short hair on me looks horrible, so I keep it long.

I do have a few shortcuts to make it seem I've gotten off the plateau, though.

  • Check out the latest makeup colors and trends in fashion magazines. Purchase a lipstick or eye shadow in the current shades for an instantly fresh look.

  • Emulate Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Lopez or any of the other gorgeous celebrities in regards to their hair. They keep the same basic style for years, but they update the color, the highlights, and the way they style it.

  • Stick with basic jeans, slacks, and foundation shirts and sweaters, but add a few inexpensive trendy shirts to keep your look up to date. Also, study the shoe, handbag, and jewelry trends to add a polished air to your outfits. If you can't afford much, head to Target for similar items or a discount store like TJMaxx.

  • Shop in your closet. You probably wear the same things in the same combinations over and over. Take the sweater you always wear with the same jeans and swap the jeans for a pair of corduroys. Add a blazer and a necklace. You have a new look for free.
Are you, like me, on a style plateau? Do you have ways to make it appear you aren't on one? Or are you usually up on the latest styles?
Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Financial Plateaus

When I quit my job a dozen years ago to become a stay-at-home mother, I made it my personal mission to learn about money and financial matters. Although tracking expenses, saving for emergencies, and living within our means hasn't always been fun, I can truly say it has given us peace of mind.

Experts claim we've been out of the recession for eighteen months, yet many people are still struggling. Have any of these scenarios stopped your finances from working for you?

Did you stop contributing to a retirement fund?
Do you own a house you can't afford?
Are you one of many who are unemployed?
Has your household income fell, maybe significantly from before the financial crisis?

These questions can halt the staunchest saver. However, doing nothing won't get you off the plateau.

Saving for retirement is confusing. Even the experts get it wrong. Start reading articles about investment options in magazines such as Forbes, Money, Kiplingers and eventually you'll have a basic understanding of possible retirement plans that are right for you. In the meantime, you can always contribute to an FDIC insured account until you're ready to make decisions.

If you own a house you can't afford, research your options. Is there a government program designed to help you? Is your region a good rental area? Could you rent out your home and move into something less expensive? Could you sell your house for a loss? Talk to local real estate agents for advice.

If you or your spouse is unemployed, check with your state about benefit extensions. Also, the holidays are coming up and many local businesses hire part-time help. Any money coming in is better than none. If you're receiving unemployment, any part-time pay could affect it--research the effects before you accept a part-time job.

If your income has fallen, have you adjusted your spending? Are you experiencing too much month, not enough money? Be ruthless about your spending. Tell yourself it's temporary. Cut cable, ditch your expensive cell phone for a pay-as-you-go one, cook simple meals, borrow DVD's from your library, and try hard not to look at this as deprivation. Remind yourself you are spending less to avoid debt, to stay in your house, to pay for your kids' piano lessons, or whatever else is important to you.

The most effective way to get off a financial plateau, though, is to pray. God will provide. He might not provide exactly the way you want or expect, but open your eyes and you'll see His amazing gifts.

When times are turbulent, it's difficult to plan our finances, but even small steps can get us off a financial plateau and on our way to a healthy financial future.

Join me on Friday when we discuss style plateaus.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Personal Plateaus: You

The year is dwindling. Ten months ago, you may have written a resolution or goal list. Even if you didn't, I'll bet you had aspirations this year. Sometimes I think these lists serve only to distract me from what I really want--to live an authentic life.

If I'm focused solely on writing, exercising, parenting, saving, cleaning, or one of the other areas I'm trying to whip into shape, I'm not focused on being me. That's not to say the items aren't important, but they can be used as a way to avoid contemplating what I really want.

Sitting in a quiet room and delving into your deepest wishes can be frightening. What if you learn you want something different from what you have? What if the dreams you've been chasing no longer excite you? What if you realize your life is heading 100mph to the wrong destination?

On the flip side, what if you're racing on a road to nowhere?

When, in a panic, we put all of our energy into improving only certain sections of our life, we miss the big picture. It's like putting mittens and socks on a naked body in the throes of hypothermia. The body needs a blanket or coat to protect its core.

To get off a personal plateau, we have to focus on what is important to us, and to do that, we have to get quiet, not just once a year, but as often as necessary.

Have you ever focused on improving one area of your life to avoid dealing with a personal issue?

The lovely Barbara Parentini is interviewing me on her uplifting blog, Gifts by Grace. If you have a chance, get acquainted with Barbara's blog and stop by to say "hi."

Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss financial plateaus.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Writing Plateau? Tips to Keep Climbing

November is an exciting month for writers. Many are inspired to write 50,000 words as part of NaNoWriMo. Others fight to achieve their annual writing goals before the holidays kick in. And many unpublished romance writers are polishing their Golden Heart entries for Romance Writers of America's prestigious contest.

The first week of any writing project is usually pretty successful. After all, you're excited, but tremors of nervousness ripple through. Will you pull it off? Of course! You're determined.

Somewhere along the line, though, these big goals become enormous. We doubt our abilities, and even if we're on track, we wonder if we can keep it up. One small setback can snowball into an entire week of slacking. And one week of slacking can result in quitting.

Here are some suggestions to overcome a writing plateau and meet those goals.

  • Break up your daily goals into small chunks. For instance, if you've determined to write 2500 words per day, but you're staring at a blank screen and mumbling to yourself after writing 1000 words, don't force it all in one sitting. Give yourself mini-challenges. Twitter has a popular hashtag #1k1h meaning you'll write 1000 words in one hour. If you give yourself an extra fifteen minutes each session, you can write 1250 words.

  • Plan out each week. Get your calendar, a piece of paper, and a pen and write down a realistic goal for each day. On days you have extra obligations--maybe you have a dentist appointment after work on Wednesday, or you're meeting your mother for lunch on Saturday--downgrade your goals. Schedule a heavier writing load on days without extra obligations. If necessary, reschedule non-essential appointments.

  • Fit non-writing goals into your day. Don't let the house fall apart or ignore the laundry because you have lofty writing plans. If shopping for Christmas presents early is part of your annual routine, try to fit some shopping in. Skipping these tasks will only stress you out more, making you less likely to achieve your goal. Take twenty minutes to keep up with your dishes, or set aside fifteen minutes to order a gift online. These small tasks pad your ego and give a sense of accomplishment, putting you in a mentally happy place to write.

  • Take a brisk walk. Studies have shown that exercise feeds our brains. If you're banging your head on the computer keyboard, throw on a coat and head outdoors. Even ten minutes can give you the breakthrough you needed.

  • Limit your Internet time but don't eliminate it. Sometimes we need encouragement. A quick e-mail or a few minutes on Twitter can give us the boost to keep going. If you struggle to turn off the Internet, or find yourself "only checking one thing," but realize you just spent an hour online, set a timer. You'll be amazed what you can catch up with in fifteen minutes.
What other tips do you have for maintaining writing progress?
Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November: Plateaus

You're chugging along, working hard toward an accomplishment, but then for some reason, your progress halts. You're still putting in the time, but where are the results?

Does this happen to you? I know it applies to many areas of my life: exercising, improving my writing skills, maintaining a clean home, staying on top of my kids' chores, reaching out to my loved ones, and so forth.

The problem with plateaus is that they often progress into downhill slopes. If we aren't careful, all the hard work we put in to reach that point will disappear.

This month we're exploring methods, tricks, and bribes to keep climbing instead of standing still.
All of you who are participating in 2010's NaNoWriMo, best wishes to you! I hope you all meet your goal!

Do you ever find yourself stuck on a plateau? Is this time of year ripe for halting your progress?
Join me on Friday when we'll discuss ways to overcome plateaus in your writing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Another Door Opens

As many of you know, I've been writing full time and submitting my work for three years. The first year, I was full of excitement and hope. The second year, I was determined to improve my writing craft and build my online presence. The third year? Well, this year was tough.

I knew my writing was growing based on feedback from my wonderful critique group (Wendy P. Miller, Terri Tiffany, and Cindy R. Wilson) and a few dear author friends (thanks Jody Hedlund and Brenda Minton!), but I couldn't help but wonder if my craft had improved enough.

Then came worse thoughts, what if it would never be good enough?

Many of you are writers too. You've been writing, studying, going to conferences, submitting your work, blogging, and praying--always praying--that someday you'll get beyond the rejections.

So I'm announcing this from a humble and grateful place.

I have an agent. (I'm refraining from my customary exclamation points, but it is difficult.)

Yes, I just signed a contract with Books & Such Literary Agency and am now represented by the amazing Rachel Kent, formerly Rachel Zurakowski.

I will say there were tears involved. I will also say that hearing nice words about my work practically stopped my heart, and I'm considering investing in a home defibrillator. Those paddles would have come in handy.

If you are a writer and sometimes wonder if you'll ever get to the next level, don't give up. Hold on to each thread of hope.

Join me on Wednesday to kick-off November's topic: Plateaus.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What's Your Favorite Candy?

Bombarded with candy?

The supermarket aisles loom over me, threatening to pummel me with Reese's, Milky Ways, M&M's, and Snickers. Everywhere I look, there's a jumbo bag of Skittles, Milk Duds, or Laffy Taffy. I'm not sure if I should pile the bags and jump into them or run, screaming for my life.

I love candy. But the next two months bring too much candy into my life. Am I a passive bystander in the candy volcano? No. I willingly pick up the giant pouch of Peanut M&M's. I clip coupons to snag the Hershey's Pot of Gold. I nibble on remnants from trick-or-treating.

It's wonderful.


Not wonderful.

I have cavity-prone teeth. I have jeans I would like to fit into at Christmas. I have a sweet-tooth jutting out of my jaw all the way to the floor.

Does all this candy tempt you? Does it seem excessive? Do you want to throw yourself in or run away from the mounds of sugar?

I can walk away from a lot of things but not M&M's.

What's your favorite candy?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What Gifts Do You Buy Your Friends?

Christmas is approaching. I know. You think it's far off, way after that upcoming candy holiday, and long after the turkey one, but it's not. I'm pretty sure time warps after October!

So, I'm preparing for it by brainstorming gift ideas for my friends.

Here are some options.

Book, CD, DVD, lotion, shirt, scarf/hat/gloves, slippers, pajamas, candle, chocolate or other edibles, tote bag, game, fun kitchen stuff, and gift cards.

Please, add to the list. I need ideas!!


Join me on Friday to discuss our favorite candy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making New Friends

When was the last time you made a new friend? Last week? Last year? In fourth grade?

Photo by foto-mix-24

I've moved many, many times, and in the process, made new friends. Local friends are important to me. It's difficult to move to a new town and not know anyone. I've narrowed down the obvious ways to meet new people if you're a recent transplant to a new area.

- If you get a new job, you can make an effort to get to know your co-workers.

- If you're a stay-at-home parent of small children, you can join a playgroup or attend storytime at the library.

- If you're a stay-at-home parent of school-aged children, you can meet other parents from your child's school.

- If you're retired, you can join a club of your choice. There are book clubs, knitting circles, gardening clubs--you name it.

- If you're a college student, you have an entire campus of people to befriend.

- You can join a gym or exercise class.

It really doesn't matter where you meet new people, it matters that you make a point to interact with them. Try not to be too needy or aggressive at first or you might scare them away. Introduce yourself, make a little small talk, and move on. The next time you see them go ahead and seek them out. Use your own judgment if they seem responsive to your overtures. Not everyone is looking for new friends. Not everyone is in a good place in life. Don't take it personally, just move on. It's okay to experiment.

How do you make new friends? Do you reach out to newcomers in your circles?

Join me on Wednesday. We're sharing gift ideas for friends.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Chat with My Critique Group

Almost two years ago, four aspiring writers familiar with each other through blogging decided to become critique partners. I was blessed to be one of the four. Wendy P. Miller, Terri Tiffany, and Cindy Wilson are tremendous writers. Each has a unique voice and a compelling writing style.

Many manuscripts later, we are still going strong. Our critique group has helped me in so many ways. We are more than a critique group; we're friends, fellow believers, and we're all dedicated to being the best writers we can be.

Welcome, Wendy, Terri, and Cindy! Thank you for sharing your opinions about critique groups. I appreciate your candid answers to the questions.

Were you nervous about joining a critique group with people you had never met in person?

Terri: Not at all. I have worked with others in the past who I met online through Faithwriters and found it a great experience.

Cindy: I was nervous about being in a critique group period--because this was the first (and only) time I've ever been involved with one. I asked myself a lot of questions, even as I was excited about belonging to my first group. Will they like me? How honest should I be with my critiquing? What if they think my writing is horrible or I'm not qualified to give advice?

But it ended up being a tremendous blessing that I didn't know these women beforehand. Not only did I gain new friends and support, but I also got the opportunity to learn from others with experience I didn't have and get feedback from fresh eyes with new and unique perspectives.

What is the hardest part of being in a critique group?

Terri: Not being able to read as much as I would like to sometimes.

Jill: The time issue. I would love to read everything that's sent to me right away, but many times I need a few weeks for each project. Our group is very good about e-mailing each other with estimates on when we'll be able to get to a critique.

What is the best part about belonging?

Wendy: I love the critiques. I’m unafraid of the red markups. In fact, I crave them. I know my partners have the best in mind for my work and I enjoy the unique gifts each member offers. Everyone adds a fresh perspective while reviewing my work. That’s one of my favorite parts about the group. I also appreciate the encouragement we offer one another in this snail’s pace industry.

Terri: I love being part of a close group to cheer on the successes, and the support is wonderful when I get a rejection too!

Jill: Yes, I love that we share more than just critiques--we share each success and even the not-so-pleasant rejections. It's wonderful to have genuine encouragement after getting bad news.

How has joining this group improved your writing?

Terri: It has really improved my writing. Each one of my partners has a specialty and will take the time to explain some needs to me.

Cindy: Each critique partner has strengths and I learn from those with their feedback on my work as well as through reading their stories. Since joining this group, I really believe my writing has grown by leaps and bounds. Because of their individual perspectives, their own strengths, and the various experience they have with craft, genre, and the publishing industry, each of my critique partners has contributed a great deal toward helping me grow and improve my writing.

Jill: All three push me to use powerful words, avoid cliches (I'm still working on this one!), and really get to the heart of what my message is in each sentence. They spot areas that lag and point out where something needs to be fleshed out more. They've helped me move beyond the "work on your craft" rejections, and for that I will forever be in their debt!

If you were to give advice to someone who doesn't belong to a critique group, what would you say?

Wendy: Join one. ASAP. It’s worth it. Pray first. I knew I needed more people to come alongside my work and I wasn’t sure how this would happen. God knew. Within weeks of praying, I received an email from one of our group members. Since, I’ve been blessed by this group and a few others who’ve taken me under their wings. God really does want to answer our prayers.

As a side, I’ve also begun meeting with a fellow author in person to pray about
our writing, its impact and God’s vision for us. This face-to-face interaction
has also served as a great blessing in my life.

Terri: I would tell them to find one soon.

In your opinion, what are the key ingredients to a successful critique group?

Jill: Set up guidelines beforehand so everyone has the same expectations. Also, seek out people you trust. I'd never met Terri, Wendy, or Cindy before we joined forces, but I'd read their blogs long enough to know they were committed to their writing, they were kind, and they shared my Christian values.

Wendy: Willingness to be truthful.
In order to improve, you need folks who’ll be honest with you.

This comes in many forms. An uplifting comment accompanying a correction. An
unexpected email. I’ve been thrilled I was able to meet two of my critique
partners in person. To hug them. To laugh with them. And at one point, even cry
a little.

An understanding you won’t love every single point made. Knowing yourself well
enough to sense when you might be receiving comments with oversensitivity. A
decision to step back and evaluate the critique, to weigh the thoughts of your
partners and to see value in every comment, whether you decide to make the
changes or not.

Matthew 18:15-20 rocks it out on this one. If issues arise, address them with
the specific party. Pray together and for one another. “For where two or three
come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

Can’t say enough about how important this one is in this circumstance and really
in every relationship.

Take the time to invest in the other members. Don’t skim. This is the whole
treat others the way you’d like to be treated. You want partners you can trust
will pour themselves into your work. When you find that it is such a cool

Thank you, Wendy, Terri, and Cindy for sharing your thoughts on critique groups today. I'm thankful to each of you for your friendship, your encouragement, your time, and your critiques.

Do you have any questions about critique groups? Don't be shy! I'm happy to share with you.

Unfamiliar with my critique partners? Their names are linked to their blogs. Check them out!

Wendy Paine Miller writes upmarket women’s fiction imbued with literary elements. She’s deliberate about exploring the richness and complexity of her characters. Her novels are interwoven with tension, gripping emotion and life as
you know it. She loves writing stories infused with hope, stories spliced with colorful characters that inspire readers to see the world in a new light. Her greatest desire is to encourage readers to think anew by unlocking previous
ways of viewing life and relationships.

Terri Tiffany is a contributing author to over forty articles published in magazines and anthologies including six in Chicken Soup for the Soul and one with Adams Media. She earned a BA in Psychology and counseled adults before owning a Christian bookstore for five years. She resides in Florida with her husband where she enjoys teaching memoir writing. Her fiction is mainly women’s fiction with strong romantic elements.

Cindy R. Wilson writes contemporary inspirational romance, glorifying God through stories of faith and love. She has spent time learning the craft while writing more than a dozen novels. She has also been a member of ACFW for over a year and blogs about life and writing at her personal blog and a group blog for aspiring authors.

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What I Love About My Friends

What do I love about my friends?

  • They get my sense of humor or, at the very least, tolerate it!

  • They understand what's important to me

  • They seem to know the exact time I need support

  • They encourage me to work toward my dreams

  • They bring me down from negative thinking

  • They build me up when I'm struggling

  • They jump up and down when something good happens

  • They offer advice even if I don't take it

  • They aren't afraid to lean on me when they need help

  • They open up and share their life with me

  • They're comfortable telling me about their problems and joys

  • They make an effort with me

One other thing I love about my friends? We all love dessert!

What do you love about your friends?

Join me on Friday to meet my critique partners.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Necessity of Friends

Head to any shopping venue and you'll see them--women leaning in to each other and laughing as they browse. Or head to a coffee shop and zone in on the two women sitting at the table next to you. Are they silent? Rarely!

One of the greatest joys of friendship is spending time together. It's one thing to catch up on the phone, but it's even more fun to share a few hours with a friend. When we aren't connecting in person, sometimes we miss subtle clues. We can't see the worry lines around her eyes or the nervous twisting of her hands as she tells us about a problem, but when we're together, we can gauge how serious the issue is.

In the November issue of Woman's Day magazine, the article "How Connected are We?" explains that deep human connections are biologically imperative. In it, Kimberly Merenkov, MD, attending psychiatrist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, says, "We can't live fully without direct human contact, nor can we live up to our talents if all we do is comply with the group. Connections with others develop our sensitivity to the human race as a whole."

This quote spoke deeply to me. When I'm speaking to someone and they reach out to touch my arm, I feel as if they understand and empathize with what I'm sharing. When I'm having a really bad day and a friend sees me and asks if something is wrong, the simple words make me feel better. Direct human contact--physically being with a friend--is important.

Do you pick up on the body language of your friends? How important is direct human contact to you?

Join me on Wednesday for a quick list of why friends matter to me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Problem Friendships (and a winner of The Preacher's Bride!)

Friends always want the best for each other. We always remember birthdays, always give the right advice, and always put our friend's needs before our own. Right?

Okay, so maybe not all of our friendships have been perfect. I'll admit I haven't been a perfect friend, and I've had problem friendships.

Problem friendships sometimes start out as good friendships. You enjoy your friend's company, and you don't mind if she never seems to have any cash or talks incessantly about herself, rarely about you. When she does show interest in your life, she makes caring noises but doesn't really care.

She may give you bad advice, or pummel you with back-handed compliments that only mess with your head. You often walk away from her feeling as if there is something wrong with you. She puts herself first, but has a way of presenting herself that makes you believe she's putting you first. Don't be fooled.

These friends do not have your best interests at heart. Are they bad people? No. They're just bad for you.

If I am friends with someone who doesn't appreciate me, why do I continue to spend time with her? I have to soul search and decide if it's worth continuing.

If you're in a problem friendship, think about the following questions. What drew me to her in the first place? Did I have expectations she would never be able to meet? Have we grown apart? Is it me? Is it her? Is she capable of returning a healthy friendship? Is there something I can do differently that would improve our relationship? What would happen if we were no longer friends?

These are tough questions, but sometimes we have to reevaluate our commitment to friendships that no longer work for us.

Have you ever had a problem friendship? What qualities do you look for in a friend?

On a good friendship note, I put the names of the contest entrants in a bowl, and my daughter drew a winner of the signed copy of Jody Hedlund's debut novel, The Preacher's Bride.

And the winner is....

Maria Morgan!!

Congratulations, Maria!

Maria has an uplifting and beautiful blog called Life Lessons. It's like spiritual comfort food. Go give it a try!

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Transient Friends

This month we're talking friends--the good, the bad, the irresistible. One of the hardest parts of friendships, for me, is that not all are equal. Some will naturally fade even though I genuinely like the friend and vice-versa. In each phase of my life, I've been blessed with some wonderful transient friends.

It starts, well, how any friendship starts. Maybe we work at the same company, or our kids start playing together on the playground, or we sit next to each other at book club. We quickly hit it off and begin to spend time together. We might meet on our lunch break, or plan a playdate for the kids, or head to a coffee shop to talk about books.

Soon, we're sharing daily minutae, and everything's great.

But...she gets transferred. The kids no longer want to play together. The book club dissolves. Suddenly, it's more difficult to get together. We still call once in a while, but we have less to say. Then we're swapping Christmas cards once a year and that's that.

I used to feel guilty that I couldn't make every friendship last, but I was missing the point. We will always have people entering and exiting our lives. We change. They change. But we can hold on to our memories of a sweet interlude together.

If I happen to answer the phone one day and it's my old pal from book club, I settle into my most comfy chair, get a huge smile on my face, and pick up where we left off.

Have you had transient friends? Does it bother you when a friendship naturally fades?

Join me on Friday when we talk about problem friendships.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Farewell, Cookie

We had to put our beautiful cat to sleep this weekend. She was almost fifteen, but boy those fifteen years went fast. Cookie loved being carried, adored catnip, and enjoyed long lazy naps. The last six months were hard on her because she lost most of her teeth and went blind, but she still seemed content.

Here are a few pictures of my big cutie. She will be very missed.

Cookie often looked annoyed in pictures, but in real life she always had smiling eyes.

Trust me, she was as soft and huggable as she looks.

Farewell, Cookie.

I'll be back to regular posting on Wednesday.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Virtual Book Party for Jody Hedlund!

Welcome! It's time to celebrate Jody Hedlund's debut novel, The Preacher's Bride!

If you aren't familiar with Jody Hedlund, I urge you to check out her fantastic blog and website. Besides writing inspirational historical romances, Jody shares excellent advice to writers on her blog. She's been an inspiration to me, and I'm thrilled to host this party!

Who is Jody Hedlund?

Jody is a mother of five who carves out time to write in between homeschooling her brood. If you follow Jody on Twitter, you'll soon find out that she's a nurturer. On more than one occasion, baby squirrels have dropped into her backyard, and each time Jody and her family fed them with an eye-dropper to give them a chance to survive. Let's just say she cares for everything that crosses her path.

Here is Jody (in the center) with her agent, Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary Agency and her editor at Bethany House Publishers, Dave Long. Photo courtesy of Keli Gwyn.

The Preacher's Bride

In 1650s England, a young Puritan maiden is on a mission to save the baby of her newly widowed preacher—whether her assistance is wanted or not.

Always ready to help those in need, Elizabeth ignores John’s protests of her aid. She’s even willing to risk her lone marriage prospect to help the little family.

Yet Elizabeth’s new role as housekeeper takes a dangerous turn when John’s boldness from the pulpit makes him a target of political and religious leaders. As the preacher’s enemies become desperate to silence him, they draw Elizabeth into a deadly web of deception. Finding herself in more danger than she ever bargained for, she’s more determined than ever to save the child—and man—she’s come to love.

Interested in purchasing this book? Photo is linked to Amazon page.

And now to the festivities! Take your pick from the buffet of delicious treats and don't forget to grab a beverage!

What are readers saying about Jody Hedlund and The Preacher's Bride?

Jaime Wright ofThe Jaime Reportssays:

"The Preachers Bride is a love story throbbing with emotion of thwarted love, a passion for grace, and homecoming that will forever imprint itself on the reader's heart. Jody Hedlund presents a debut novel that will never collect dust on a bookshelf."

Janna Qualman of Something She Wrote says:

"The Preacher's Bride is a beautiful book on the outside, and the content within its covers is a perfect match. Jody Hedlund gives us a heroine of strength alongside a hero of substance, wrapped together in a phenomenal story of intention and inspiration. I can think of no better package for this novel's message of standing up for what you believe."

Erica Vetsch of On the Write Path says:

"Congratulations on the release of The Preacher's Bride. I know you've been waiting for this day for what seems forever. I wish you all the best with this book and your writing career, and I can't wait to dive into reading The Preacher's Bride. God Bless!"

Wendy Miller of All in a Day's Thought says:

"The beginning hooked me. The middle swept me off my feet and the end left me with an overall feeling of contentment. Now that’s the definition of a good book."

Keli Gwyn of Romance Writers on the Journey says:

"I was thrilled to find Jody's book at my local Christian bookstore on September 10. I longed to drop everything and read it, but I was preparing to head to the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, so I tucked her book in my bag and read half of it en route to Indianapolis. I devoured the remainder the day I arrived, staying up until 1:30 a.m. in order to finish it because I couldn't put it down. Yes, it's that good! Jody's readers are in for a real treat."

Katie Ganshert of Katie Ganshert says:

"I knew Jody was a good writer from her blog, but I had no idea what kind of a story teller she'd be. After reading the Preacher's Bride, I can safely say she's a very talented one. I couldn't put her book down. Just ask my husband. I picked it up and didn't resurface for two two whole days (I even went on a walk with it!). And this coming from a gal who hardly ever reads historicals. The characters are memorable, the plot is gripping, and the message is so beautifully interwoven into the story that I can't imagine anybody would feel they're being preached at. Overall, it was a page-turner and an extraordinary debut novel! I can't wait to read The Doctor's Lady!!"

T. Anne Adams of White Platonic Dreams says:

"It's been a pleasure watching Jody progress on her writing journey. I remember celebrating with her when she got the call for representation, then shortly after a three book deal! What an amazing wild ride the Lord has taken her on. It has been such fun cheering her along. I can't wait to see what the future holds for her!"

Heather Sunseri of Balance with Purpose says:

"Jody knows how to bring characters to life. I cried when they cried, laughed
when they laughed, and craved the love John and Elizabeth felt for each other."

Jill Kemerer--wait, that's me!--says:

This book is miss-your-own-birthday-party good! Imagine my frustration when my husband and kids started singing "Happy Birthday" and I only had ten pages left! Ten pages! What can I say? This book left me breathless! And yes, I promptly blew out my candles, shoved a wad of chocolate cake in my mouth, and finished the book. My only problem? I didn't want the story to end!

If you're in the Toledo, Ohio area on Saturday, October 9, 2010, stop by Lifeway Christian Store in the Talmadge Road Shopping Center between 11:00 and 1:00. Jody will be signing copies of The Preacher's Bride.

Also, Jody has generously donated a signed copy to one lucky winner today! Simply leave a comment with your e-mail addy if you'd like to be entered in the drawing.
(Your e-mail address will not be used for any purpose other than to contact you for a mailing address in the case you are the winner.)

Offer void where prohibited. Must be a USA resident and 18 or older. Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.

Thank you, Jody, for letting me share this exciting event with you. And a huge thank you to all of the bloggers who contributed today.

I hope you all get a chance to read The Preacher's Bride, and mark your calendars next September for the release of Jody's second book, The Doctor's Lady.

Have a fantastic day!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Easy Gestures to Nurture Friendships

Let's face it--we're all busy. It doesn't matter if you're a student, a single person with a full-time job, married with kids, married without kids, or even retired, you have responsibilities. It's difficult to add one more thing to your day.

Friendships tend to be the first thing I neglect when I'm busy. I make fewer (or no) phone calls and reach out less in general. Sadly, I've been in a busy phase for more than a year, and I don't see that letting up. I have a goal to meet my family's needs and my writing needs, but that leaves little time for anything else. However, I love my family and friends, and I have to be diligent to not neglect them.

Here are some easy gestures to keep friendships simmering when we don't have time to keep them boiling.

* E-mail them a cute card with a simple message "Hey, I'm thinking of you."
* Don't be afraid to call a friend if you only have ten minutes to talk. They'll be happy to hear from you even if it can't be an hour conversation. Too often, I put off a call thinking I don't have time, but ten minutes is better than no minutes.
* If your budget allows, purchase an i-Tunes gift card and send it with a note, suggesting old songs you used to belt out together in the car, or if it's a newer friend, recommend contemporary artists.
* If you, like me, have a hefty stack of magazines, dog-ear pages that might appeal to a close friend or family member. Tear these pages out before recycling the magazine. When you have time, send the clippings.
* For long distance friends, consider creating a Facebook account and keeping up with them through it. I've been able to reconnect with many old classmates this way.

Why are these gestures important? Friends are important.

And if you don't believe me, read this interesting article by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, where she shares her second simple truth. "One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself."

Does it brighten your day when a friend reaches out to you, even if it's a simple e-mail?

Join me on Friday for Jody Hedlund's virtual book party! I hope you all can make it!

Monday, October 4, 2010

October: A Little Help from Our Friends

Friends have been on my mind lately. A few good friends went through stressful challenges this summer while others found exciting opportunities.

Sometimes we're more sympathetic and reach out more to our struggling friends, but our newly successful friends welcome our support too. Who doesn't want to rave when something great happens? Or maybe what seems exciting to us frightens them; either way they appreciate a kind gesture.

After a hectic month with two kids in different sports, I realized just how blessed I am to have friends who will help me out. We carpooled, shared snacks, and divvied up kids. These women make my life easier and more fun, and I am so thankful to them.

Do you have supportive friends? How do you support your friends?

Join me on Wednesday when we'll talk about easy gestures to nurture our friendships.

Announcement: On Friday, October 8, we are having a virtual book party for Jody Hedlund to celebrate the release of her debut novel, The Preacher's Bride!! Join me for virtual refreshments, and to hear what other bloggers have to say about Jody and her amazing debut!!

Friday, October 1, 2010

When Plotting Goes Wrong

I tippity-tapped on my laptop for three hours, the words spewing onto the page, when all of a sudden my fingers stopped. I'm talking halted, frozen in mid-air. I had no idea what the next word, paragraph, or chapter should be.

What's going on, fingers? Why aren't you pulsating with the need to put my brain on a computer file? And what about you, brain? Why aren't you churning out the next scene? What's happening to me...and will chocolate cure it??

I opened the Excel spreadsheet where I keep my detailed scene list. The answer might as well have been flapping on a banner behind an airplane in the sky.

My plot was off.

Uggh. I'm sure there will be a future television show, part reality, part horror detailing this phenomenon When Plotting Goes Wrong, but meanwhile, I needed to get back on track. After all, I promised myself with this book I would set daily goals. I made a deadline to finish it, and even if I had to consume Lindt chocolate truffles by the handful, I would meet that goal.

How did I overcome this plot nightmare? I haven't lassoed it yet, but here are the steps I'm taking to tiptoe through.

1. Review the scenes I've already written.
2. Add any information necessary to that point.
3. Get out a notebook and plot the next scene with attention to the following:

  • Point of View character for scene
  • Mood of character
  • Goal, motivation and conflict for the scene
  • What's the logical next step? (What should the following scene be?)
4. Estimate how many words/scenes/chapters I need to write before the next major turning point. This helps narrow down what needs to happen between now and then.
5. Continue re-plotting the scenes from where I left off until the next turning point.

That's it. It isn't easy. On three separate days, I've spent twice as long, writing half as many words as I normally would, but this book requires a different plotting method than I've used for my other books.

Have you ever stalled in the middle of a writing project? How did you work your way through it?

One Goal Friday is going on hiatus indefinitely. I've enjoyed reading and tracking all of your goals, and I'm rooting for you to continue!

Join me on Monday when we begin to explore October's topic: A Little Help from Our Friends.

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Field Trips

Remember field trips? The joy of chugging away from school with our sack lunches in hand? I loved field trips, especially ones that involved nature or history.
Here's my little secret. I still take field trips. Every few months I'll drop everything and spend a few hours at the art museum, or I'll walk through one of our nature preserves. I might decide to tour a small town not far away. Sometimes I even pack a sack lunch.

These trips can make me feel guilty. I could have, should have, would have written more, caught up on blogs, laundry, and such. But whenever I slip away, I come back refreshed.

Do you ever sneak off on your own field trip? Where do you go? Where would you go?

Join me on Friday to set one goal!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Is Your Main Character Acting Like a Little Kid?

We couldn't have a discussion of the inner child without applying it to our writing, now could we?

So here's the question.

Is your main character acting like a little kid? Be honest with yourself.

Our main characters need to grow, but they shouldn't start out so stunted they come across as unlikable. This is especially true in mainstream fiction. Readers need to connect to the characters. They need to like them and understand why they act the way they do. From page one, the main characters should show redeeming qualities to make the reader care.

Donald Maass describes it perfectly in his book The Fire in Fiction. "Whether they are public figures or just ordinary in profile, our heroes and heroines are people whose actions inspire us."

Later he continues, "Demonstrating a character quality that is inspiring does cause readers to open their hearts."

If your main character needs major growth, you'll need to come up with ways to counterbalance his negative aspects. Don't wait until chapter three to start showing your hero's good qualities.

Think about your friends and family. What makes you love them? Are they perfect? Of course, not! But if you can inject reasons for the reader to love your hero or heroine, you won't have to worry that your characters are acting like immature children.

What traits do you find attractive in a hero or heroine?

Join me on Wednesday for the final post on the inner child--field trips!

Friday, September 24, 2010

One Goal Friday: September 24, 2010

Can you smell it? Apple pie, earthy and crispy leaves, cinnamon candles--those are what I smell this week. Mm-mm. What a wonderful time of the year!

It's Friday! Time to set and review one goal.

My goal last week was to finish choreographing our school's cheerleading dance routine. I did it, and it was fun! There are a few kinks to work out once we have the squad together, but the majority of the routine is finished.

Here are your goals.
Tabitha: Rewrite first two chapters of memoir
CJ: Keep working on Letter projects
Karen L: Continue progress on projects
Wendy: Write synopsis of finished book, plot and synopsis new book, and plot and outline another (!)
Joanne: Return to blogging
Paul: Finish first draft and run marathon (congrats on the marathon!)
Susan M: Continue getting organized
Jen: Send the Guideposts article and work on yard
Amy: Exercise every day
Susan JR: Work on manuscript
Quiet Spirit: Study script for Christmas presentation and edit skit scripts
Sharon: Blog and be a homemaker (so glad your house will be finished!)

How did you do? It's so refreshing for me to review your goals each week. I love what you're accomplishing!

My goal this week is to organize my brainstorming notes for my next novel, and begin typing up the pre-plotting worksheets.

What about you? What one goal will enhance your life this week?

Please leave your goal in the comment section. Newcomers are welcome to participate, and don't worry if you can't stop by every Friday--my blog's goal isn't to add stress but to be a place of support.

Have a splendid weekend!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Waiting for Direction

Most kids do not take on tasks that haven't been specifically assigned to them. They wait for a parent or teacher to give them direction.

Open your spelling books. Unload the dishwasher. Did you do your homework? It's time to go to bed.

If doing dishes isn't a normal chore for Susie, she won't look at the counter and think, yes, I will do the dishes. Entire families will walk past an overflowing trash bag, but not one individual will take out the trash. A toilet paper roll will perch empty, sad on its little bar, but no one will replace it.

As a writer, I can't wait for someone to give me direction. No one will say, open your laptop and write a thousand words. No one is going to pop their head in and remind me to send out queries or revise another chapter. There is no boss breathing down my neck for me to get going on my next project.

But I'm okay with that. I'm self-motivated. I see the dishes on the counter, and I clean them. I walk by the overflowing trash bag, and I take it out. I shake my head at the empty toilet paper tube, and I replace it.

Writers can't wait for direction. We're the ones who empty the cat litter. We're on top of things. We don't need someone telling us to write. It's just who we are.

Are you waiting for someone to direct you?

Join me on Friday to set one goal!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Childlike Tantrums

Tantrums? Me? Never!

Maybe I rarely throw physical tantrums like stamping my feet and wailing, but I have been known to throw an inner tantrum or two.

An unscheduled appointment interrupts my writing time? My inner whiner comes out.

My trusty mini-van becomes untrustworthy? Drat, drat, drat.

Yes, I will admit I sometimes throw emotional tantrums when things don't go my way.

It's hard, well, maybe impossible to always see the good in whatever happens to us, but life moves on and before we know it, the incident has passed.

I probably should say something like "don't waste your time throwing a tantrum on trivial things." But then I'd be a hypocrite. I have a feeling I'll always throw an inner hissy fit when my car acts up or I lose out on writing time. (No, I'm not having car problems. This is hypothetical. But if I wake up tomorrow and my van is having issues, I'm going to freak out.)

Do you ever throw emotional tantrums?

Join me on Wednesday when we discuss waiting for direction.

Friday, September 17, 2010

One Goal Friday: September 17, 2010

Didn't make it the ACFW Conference this year? Well, stop here for a while. We're having virtual ice cream and setting a goal for the next week.

Two of my fabulous critique partners are at the conference, and I get all jittery and excited thinking they will be pitching their projects, meeting each other and our friends for the first time, and leaving their families for a few days of much needed writer time. Good luck, girls!!

My other critique partner and I are home--on opposite ends of the country--sighing and wishing we were at conference too. Maybe next year?

So if you aren't at conference and a tiny piece of you wishes you were, pull up a spoon and pick a flavor. I'm embibing in Jamocha Almond Fudge. Mmm...

Also, welcome to the new goal setters. I'm very glad you joined the Friday fun, and I look forward to learning more about you.

My goal last week was to add another 8000 words to my novel. I am set to hit that goal this afternoon. Woo-hoo!

Here are your goals.
Julie J: Finish YA synopsis
Tabitha: Keep thoughts positive
Terri: Revise one chapter a day
CJ: Catch up on Letter A Week project
Diane: Finish second children's book (Congrats!)
Wendy: Get ready for conference (have an amazing time!)
Kristi: Push through revisions up to chapter 9
Beth Mann: Revising ms
Wendy: Start plotting (Congrats on finishing your revisions!)
Tyrean: Keep writing daily
Patti: Work on Lily, have fun with family, and get ready for Indy (have a great time!)
Jeanette: Finish humor article and start an article for Guideposts
Erica: Get ready for Indy (have a splendid time!)
Karen: Make major headway on project
Susan M: Get organized
Lynn: Keep recovering from injury (you're in my prayers)
Susan JR: Not get distracted from working on manuscript
Niki: Work on last year's Nanowrimo
T. Anne: Write two *gasp* synopses (Congrats on finishing your book!)
David De: Keep writing daily
Georgiana: Make requested changes to manuscript to pitch at conference (have an awesome time!)
Sherrinda: Work on character sketches
Sharon: Be prepared for conference and enjoy it (have a spectacular time!)
Nancy: Clean out two drawers and plan vacay to New England
Kittie: Get more done
Quiet Spirit: Start working on newsletter and study costumes for Christmas presentation

How did you do? It always energizes me to read your goals. I hope you met them!

My goal for this week is to finish choreographing a dance routine for our school's cheerleading squad. Yes, I busted out some 80's moves, checked YouTube for current dance sequences, and realized it's been a while since I've danced. I hope the girls like it. It's been so much fun!

What about you? What one goal will enhance your life this week?

Please leave your goal in the comment section. Newcomers are welcome to participate, and don't worry if you can't stop by every Friday--my blog's goal isn't to add stress but to be a place of support.

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Inner Child: When You Need a Hug

One of the greatest things about toddlers is their need for affection. They throw themselves in your arms when they're happy, tired, sad, or for no reason at all. They love hugs and aren't afraid to show it.

Somewhere along the way to adulthood, it becomes unacceptable to throw yourself in someone's arms for any old reason. If you tried it on a stranger, you wouldn't expect to be received with smiles or affection. You may even be shoved away.

Even with our own families, we might have dampened our affectionate side. How many times when you're disappointed about something do you shrug it off or tell yourself it's no big deal? Would a toddler do that? Of course not! But toddlers are egocentric, adorable hug magnets, so we can't really compare.

If you're feeling down, go hug someone close to you. I'll bet your mood improves.

If you can tell someone close to you is feeling down, go hug them. I'll bet you improve their mood.

If you're feeling happy, go ahead and hug someone close to you. Happiness is contagious!

Do you shrug off your hard days? Are there times a hug would make you feel better? Do you throw yourself in a loved one's arms when you're happy?

Join me on Friday to set one goal!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Inner Child: Oh, the Possibilities!

Every Thanksgiving, after the turkey had been eaten, the dishes washed, and the second piece of pie devoured, I would snag my grandmother's JCPenney's and Sears' catalogs. Then I would spend an hour or two scrutinizing each page in the toy sections to determine the top items on my Christmas wish list. Sure, I knew I wouldn't get most of the things I wanted, but I found the process mesmerizing and delightful. For one whole month, the possibilities were endless.

Many children have a built in reverence for the possibility of an extraordinary outcome. They see NFL football players and picture themselves running the ball. They watch a child play the role of Annie on film and think they could be a movie star someday. Even if they know their parents can't afford an American Girl doll for Christmas, they cling to the hope that somehow the doll will show up under the tree.

Many of you are on a writing path. You may have started with high hopes or low expectations, but along the way, you're bound to find unexpected gifts and to experience painful disappointments.

When something wonderful happens, it can be easy to brush off, or, on the flip side, expect the rest of your journey to be equally wonderful. Don't brush it off. Reflect on it, be grateful for it, and let it enhance your belief that your dream will come true. But also, don't put too much faith in it. Not every step on our path will lead to another equally upward one.

When you experience crushing disappointment, you might wonder if it's worth continuing or if anything nice will happen again. This is when it is vital to excavate that childlike quality.

No matter where we're at on our journey, we can cling to the inner child who believes in the impossible.

Do you find it hard to capture that childlike anticipation? Or is your world still full of possibility?