Monday, December 26, 2011

A Bloggy Vacay

I hope your Christmas was everything you hoped it would be! I'm taking a blog break until January 4. See you all then!

Wishing you a fabulous New Year, everyone!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Nutty, Fudgy, Crazy Christmas!

I always assume the week before Christmas will be like all the other weeks in the year, maybe a little busier, but not too bad. And every year, I laugh at how wrong I was!

I'd like to share a medley of what the week before Christmas looked like in my house this year:


* Have had an awful migraine since Saturday. I'm on the couch all day. Reading would make me vomit, so I'm stuck with the television. It's either an all-day Hoarders marathon or Kim and Kourtney Take New York. I flip to Hoarders. Where are the Christmas movies? Hallmark channel does not air their awesome made-for-TV movies during the day. Bummer. Dead rats, cats, and human feces doesn't exactly get me in the holiday spirit, but I'll take it.

* Migraines alter my mood--it feels as if nothing will ever be good again--and I waver between anxiety about all of the chores left undone, nausea due to the headache, and a strange fascination with the man who has to tunnel his way into his apartment because of his extreme hoarding. Can't look away.

* McDonalds for dinner. French fries never tasted so good.


* Migraine is gone! Hallelujah!! I drop the kids off at school and begin a multi-store grocery shopping excursion. Success!!

* Laundry here I come. I'm starting to think each member of our family should only own two changes of clothing. It might make life easier.

* I peek in the fridge. Oh, there's the sugar cookie dough I made on Saturday but didn't roll out. I'll get to it later...

* Pick the kids up from school and head straight to the barber. My son's hair is at that almost-too-long stage, and both kids whine and act like I'm handing them over to a cult when I pull in the parking lot.

* My daughter needs help with science and algebra, so we spend "quality" time bonding over equations.

* The SNL Christmas special is on, and we all love Justin Timberlake's "Soup There It Is" skit. Yes, we're still working on balancing chemistry formulas during this.


* Last minute shopping trip #775. Both kids are in the Christmas Eve service at our church. Yes, I've known this for months--12 months to be exact--yet, I pretended festive outfits would magically appear on their own. I zoom to the store right after I drop the kids off at school. A small fortune later I have items that could be put together for outfits, but we won't know until the kids try them on. There are at least nine other things I bought that I had no intention of purchasing. Well done, marketers. Well done.

* Back home, a wave of fatigue hits me and I worry that my previous migraine will pull a switcheroo and come back to the other side of my head. It does that sometimes. I immediately down a Coke, a candy bar, and a huge Motrin. Yes, I have candy bars around my house for just this scenario. Thirty minutes later, the fatigue passes.

* Oh, what? I have a book? I'm supposed to be adding 10,000 words to it? Whoops! Guess I'd better squeeze in a writing session.

* Peek in the fridge. Sugar cookie dough still sitting there.

* The "malfunction" light comes on in my van. Yay! Malfunction! Just what I wanted for Christmas!! I pray for God to take care of it so I won't have to.

* I spend two hours wrapping presents. During this time, my mini-wiener dog, Sophie, sneaks into my daughter's room, finds a wrapped gift, destroys the package, and eats half the candy. You should have seen this box--it looked like a raccoon had gotten hold of it. Guess who just went on Santa's naughty list? Bad dog.

* Since I feel like I've gained thirty pounds from my three-day stint on the couch, I take time to exercise. My limbs hurt afterward.

* Realized I accidentally told both sets of parents the wrong time for the Christmas Eve service. Give them a quick call with the right time.


* Last minute shopping trips #776 and #777. I have to replace the candy that a certain puppy ate, so I stop at the grocery store after dropping the kids off. Run into three moms from school, which makes me feel better, and I purchase four items I had no intention of buying. Again, great job marketers! But the grocery store did not have the right candy, so I stop at the drug store on the way home.

* At the drug store, it hits me how drab and icky my hair looks. Surely I can touch up my roots and throw on some highlights this afternoon, right? Oh, yes, I have a coupon! Woo-hoo!

* Peek in the fridge. Okay, the sugar cookie dough is dried out. Time to toss it--and I hate tossing perfectly good food. I'll make a new batch Friday night.

* Book? Oh. Right. That. I have blog posts to write first. I'll get to my manuscript later. Like after I work on my hair. Priorities, people. Priorities.

* The malfunction light disappears! I say a hearty silent prayer. How blessed are we that God doesn't only answer big prayers?

* Head to my other stash of chocolate bars--Nestle Crunch. Mm-mm...

* I'm a room mom, so I organize my supplies for Friday's party. Sausages, check. (We're doing a pancake breakfast.) Wii games? Check. Presents? Check. Rice Krispy treats for my other child's party? Yikers! Time to hit the stove.

* Book? Yes. I'll squeeze in a writing session because my characters are calling. I love these two. Just one more scene. Just one more...


Here we are! It's almost Christmas! My plan today includes finding another candy bar, whipping up a new batch of sugar cookies, spending most of the day with friends and my kids, and having a speedy, massive cleaning session tonight.

Our house is always a little nutty, a lot fudgy, and majorly crazy at Christmas, but by Christmas Eve, we're ready to focus on the only thing that's really important. Celebrating the birth of Jesus. One of my favorite Bible passages sums up my awe of December 25.

John 3:16 (NIV) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

God does so love the world. You. Me. He came for us. Rejoice!!

Pop over to MVRWA's blog today to see how I handle missing my writing goals--"Ho, Ho--No I Didn't Meet My Writing Goals."

Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

5 Easy Questions with Jennifer K. Hale!

Every Wednesday, I ask a writer the same five easy questions. In an effort to support and promote fellow wordsmiths, I feature authors who write a variety of genres, from sweet inspirational to mainstream thrillers. The writers themselves may be aspiring, published, or best-selling--all have made an impact on my life.

Thank you for joining me in welcoming… Jennifer K. Hale!!

Jennifer probably doesn’t know this, but we met through Katie Ganshert, another fellow blogger, when Katie tweeted a recommendation about her. I loved the title of Jennifer’s blog, The Debutante of Diaperland (is that great or what??), and squealed when I saw that we share the same agent. Jennifer is funny, welcoming, and tells it straight up on her blog. I’m so glad to have her here today!

Let’s get to it!

1. Beverage of choice?

Sweet tea (I am a Southern Belle, after all). Or as a treat I'll occasionally have a Root Beer or Cherry Coke. I don't do diet drinks.

2. Any pets?

We have a sweet Lhasa Apso named Pickle. She's the best guard dog ever and actually scared off a burglar at the apartment where we lived the first year we had her. She's 10 now and a tiny little thing, but she still gives the UPS man a good chase. We used to have a cat. I don't do cats. You can read a nice little post about that at my blog.

3. Dream vacation?

Europe. I've been several times and I love it--I want to keep going until I've seen it all. I'd like to do Ireland next and one day, I'd love to break out of my European fascination and see India.

4. What are you listening to right now?

The sounds of my oldest son playing outside with a neighbor kid. (It's 75 degrees outside in December--it's GA after all, so they are making the most of it.) I've also got my favorite Pandora station going--the one I created by adding together all my favorite artists and songs. It's a weird, mish-mash station. :)

5. What's for dinner?

Most likely Italian or Mexican food. I love to cook, but my hubby and oldest son tend to be picky, and those are two types of food all four of us can agree on. My husband would eat Mexican food every night of the week if he could. Heart attack, anyone?

A Cherry Coke sounds delicious right now, as does Italian or Mexican food. My family would get along very well with your family! So you've been to Europe several times? Sounds amazing! Which countries did you visit? I'd love to get to London and then take a driving tour of the countryside. You're on your own when it comes to India, though--I'm fine traveling to the hot Middle East from my couch! In fact, I visited Vietnam yesterday via House Hunters International. :)

Pickle--what a cute name! Little dogs can be very protective. Our nine-pound Sophie thinks she's a Doberman. And don't you just love Pandora? I've found new-to-me artists through my stations. It's a treat! Thank you so much for being my guest today, Jennifer!


Jennifer is a hopeless romantic living in a Thomas the Train world. This high school history teacher turned stay-at-home mom turned writer is represented by Rachel Kent of Books and Such Literary Agency. When she's not wrangling her two adorable sons (ages 5 and 2), she's always looking for time to write contemporary and historical romantic fiction. She's passionate about Jesus Christ, her family, her church, chocolate, world travel, history, and the study of world religions. She even teaches a world religions class through her church so that others will know how to share the Gospel of Christ with anyone, anywhere in the world! She's a self-professed social studies nerd and loves politics, Broadway shows, and music and is an active member of her church's music department. Jennifer has been happily married to Brian, her super-teacher hubby, for ten years and they make their home in Georgia.

To learn more about Jennifer, head to her blog and follow her on Twitter.

What is your favorite Christmas cookie? I love frosted sugar cookies!

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why I Love to Read

Christmas is less than a week away, so what did I do last Thursday? I picked up the the thickest novel I own and started reading all 1100 pages of it. Not a very smart move, considering I have a house to clean, presents to wrap, cookies to bake, and some last-minute shopping to get done. But if you love to read, you probably understand this.

Santa Sophie--she's fun to dress up during the holidays!

Why I love to read:

- Nothing else matters when I'm reading a good book.

- I think about things I wouldn't normally think about, like giant steam engines, evil dictators, an impossible romance, a group of morally corrupt people, exotic locations, or anything else some fantastic writer imagined.

- Reading a book takes longer than watching a movie, and my brain has to fill in the images. It's more of a mental workout. I always hate to finish a great book, yet I race to keep reading it.

- I often get interested in new subjects after I read a good book. I study different countries, time periods, philosophies, even different fashion styles.

- Friends who are also readers share great books with me and they listen to me rave about my favorite authors. We get it. :)

- I always feel a rush of excitement when I open a new book, like I might find something I've never thought of before, and often that's exactly what happens.

Last week I received an e-mail from a teacher in Northern California, and it made me appreciate all of the wonderful people who not only love to read but who are sharing it with others. So I'd like to give a huge shout-out to Ms. Arianna Hernandez's English class. She told me how proud she is of her students' recent projects, and I'm proud of them too. Here's to you--fellow readers!

Why do you love to read?
Have a fabulous Monday!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

One Minute Vacation Time!

On a mid-December Friday, I think we all need a one minute vacation! I plan on taking several today. My mini-vacays rarely surprise me, but they always refresh me, and I'm inviting you to tag along. :)

First stop...beach.

Oh my. Look at that. White sand. Blue skies. Clear water. And the best part? It's empty!

Next up...snacks. Yes, please!

Fuzzy little animals always bring my blood pressure down, so here's a cutie for you.

And another...

And we need a little downtime in a different exotic locale, so we're heading to Paris.

Feeling more relaxed? Inspired? I am!

Where do you turn to when you need a one minute vacation?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

5 Easy Questions with Leigh Caron!

Every Wednesday, I ask a writer the same five easy questions. In an effort to support and promote fellow wordsmiths, I feature authors who write a variety of genres, from sweet inspirational to mainstream thrillers. The writers themselves may be aspiring, published, or best-selling--all have made an impact on my life.

Thank you for joining me in welcoming…Leigh Caron!!

Leigh and I met through MVRWA, and I quickly bonded with her. Terrific writer, stylish, accomplished—Leigh inspires me. I’m delighted to have her here today. She amazes me with her range of writing, including screenplays and religious horror, and she is currently focusing on humorous women’s fiction.

Let’s get to it!

1. Beverage of choice?

Ozonated water

2. Any pets?

The sweetest cat in the world, and the dust bunnies under my bed.

3. Dream vacation?


4. What are you listening to right now?

The clatter of my fingernails on the computer keys.

5. What's for dinner?

Homemade chicken soup with wild rice and mushrooms and a handful of vitamins.


Okay, I’m asking it. What is ozonated water? It sounds healthy, as do your handful of vitamins and chicken soup. Boy, you know how to ward off a cold, don’t you?

I didn’t know you had a cat. Aren’t they lovable? I love every cat that comes my way. They’re so sweet! Your dream vacation sounds…perfect! Wouldn’t it be cool to spend a week in heaven? Of course we would never want to come back… 

Have fun clattering those keys and thanks for being my guest today, Leigh!


Leigh Caron ~

I began writing poems when I was ten. I was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, so the poems were very dramatic and dark. I started writing novels in my twenties but never finished any. I finally took my writing seriously about ten years ago when chapters of a book kept flooding my head till finally I said, "Hm? I think I got a novel here." I finished it. The genre was dark, religious horror (trust me, there's no market for this).

I've since switched to writing humorous Women's Fiction and have completed three books in one series. I'm working on number four. I'm currently pursuing finding an agent who will love and believe that these stories resonate with women of all ages, but particularly women 50+. I write under the pseudonym, Leigh Caron primarily to protect my daughters. I think it would be too embarrassing for them (and their in-laws) to read about their mother's libido...even though my books are works of fiction. ;);)
To learn more about Leigh and her writing, head to her blog, Em-Musing, and follow her on Facebook!

I miss summer fruit. A fresh, ripe watermelon sounds so good right now. Do you miss any of your summer foods?

Have a fantastic Wednesday!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Gift I Want But Hate to Admit

So now that December is sprinting by faster than a hungry cheetah in the African Savanah, let's talk presents. Not for other people, oh no, presents for ourselves! Maybe you don't have a secret, fantasy gift you try not to acknowledge.

I do. It feels shameful, wrong to want this, and I've done my best to conceal it, but it's bursting to come out. The gift I really want but would never admit?

Twenty-four hours all alone with no agenda.

Yeah. That's right. I want to be completely selfish without interruption for an entire day.

I imagine it would go something like this...

1. Sleep in super late and actually wake up feeling refreshed. (This hasn't happened in fourteen years--the waking up feeling refreshed part.)

2. Breakfast--french toast, bacon, and a pot of hot coffee with my favorite creamer--would somehow appear on a tray before me.

3. After the breakfast plates magically disappear, I would snuggle the down comforter around me, enjoying a pajama-clad moment, then I would pick from a selection of novels I've been dying to read. The next three hours would pass in a blurry-eyed fictional world until more food--soda and chocolate included--arrived.

4. To give my eyes a rest, I might catch a marathon of House Hunters, and I will yell "Pick number 2," at the screen until they do indeed pick house two.

5. More reading will follow. Then a chick flick. Or an epic fantasy flick. Then a delicious dinner. And another book.

You can see how this goes. What can I say? I miss having big chunks of time to read. When I was young, we lived in the country and my mother set strict limits on how much television we could watch. So I spent much of my free time either playing with my big sister or reading.

All of those uninterrupted hours didn't appeal as much to me then as they do now. I mean, the thought of reading a book straight through? So tempting! I usually have to read novels two to three chapters at a time because of our busy schedules.

So now you know. A full day of nothing sounds like the perfect gift!

Do you ever fantasize about being completely selfish for 24 hours?

Enjoy your Monday!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Do Books Make Great Gifts?

Books can make wonderful gifts...or not. It depends on the recipient. Since I'm a writer and I get happy heart flutters in a bookstore, I naturally gravitate to giving books as gifts. This season is no exception.

Jody Hedlund, in her excellent blog post, "Even Though Free Is In, Don't Forget to Buy Books Too," reminds us that with all of the free books available (either from giveaways, promotional e-books, or self-published promotions) we should support authors by purchasing their books. I agree. My budget is tight, and I don't buy a ton of new books, but whenever possible I try to buy copies of books from authors I like. I recently purchased A Log Cabin Christmas as a gift because I knew Erica Vetsch, Michelle Ule, and Liz Johnson had contributed novellas, plus, the recipient enjoys the genre.

But are books always appreciated as a gift? The Wall Street Journal featured a lively article by Cynthia Crossen, with great tips, titled, "Giving Books for the Holidays." Ms. Crossen recommends bundling books with something related to make the present more meaningful.

Both Jody and Cynthia got me thinking about my outlook on books as gifts. I keep in mind the following questions.

1. Does this person enjoy reading?
2. With fiction, is the genre something this person normally reads or might read?
3. Would the recipient find the book insulting in any way? (You never know!)

If you truly want to share the joy of reading but have no idea what book to purchase, give a gift card. I recently received a Barnes and Noble gift card and have been saving it for a long afternoon of browsing and shopping. What a treat!

And we have a winner of Linda Glaz's Polar Bear Plunge!! Congratulations, K. B. Owen!! You won!! Thank you to everyone who entered!

Do you ever purchase books as gifts?

Have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

5 Easy Questions with Linda Glaz!

Every Wednesday, I ask a writer the same five easy questions. In an effort to support and promote fellow wordsmiths, I feature authors who write a variety of genres, from sweet inspirational to mainstream thrillers. The writers themselves may be aspiring, published, or best-selling--all have made an impact on my life.

Thank you for joining me in welcoming… Linda Glaz!!

Linda and I met through the Great Lakes chapter of ACFW. It’s been an exciting year for Linda. This fall she announced her new job title—literary agent at Hartline Literary Agency! And, bah-bah-bum, her new book, Polar Bear Plunge, released December 5 through White Rose Publishing. Details to follow!
Let’s get to it!

1. Beverage of choice?

Diet Dr. Pepper.

2. Any pets?

A grandkitty named Ophelia who lives with us because her actor parents can't very well traipse her all over the country!

3. Dream vacation?

Alaska to see son and family.

4. What are you listening to right now?

The sound of the furnace and it's so cold, it's a glorious sound.

5. What's for dinner?

Home made, with my own little hands, turkey pot pie (daughter's yummy recipe).


Linda, I am obsessed with Diet Dr. Pepper. It’s brought more joy to my life than soda should! Your grandkitty sounds like a sweetie, too. Actor parents, you say? I’m intrigued…

I hope you can get to Alaska, but if you’re like me, I’d want to go in the summer. It’s cold here in Michigan! And I’m officially inviting myself over for dinner. Yum! Thanks so much for being my guest!


Striving to put meaning back into her life after her husband’s death, Aleni Callan immerses herself in hospital work. Angry with God, she finds herself even angrier, when hero, Brice Taylor, author of The Human Shield, arrives in the Emergency Room with a concussion and hypothermia after participating in the Polar Bear Plunge. Aleni wants nothing to do with a man who willingly takes chances with his life. 

Brice doesn’t understood how God could bring him through being a captive in Iraq, when he failed his troops so miserably. Writing about his escape brings fame he would rather avoid. And by meeting widow, Aleni Callan, his feelings of failure only increase. 

Megan Callan with the help of her three-year-old grandson, Ty, scheme to bring Aleni and Brice together. And while the best laid plans often go awry, Megan isn’t one to accept no.

Linda Glaz ~

I served in the military during a time when it wasn’t a politically correct thing to do. My years as a meteorologist during Vietnam were filled with travel, teaching, and meeting with quite a few characters. Winning awards, many of which were “firsts” for a woman in the Air Force, I experienced an array of unusual opportunities normally reserved for men.

I taught karate and women’s self-defense off and on for thirty years, refereed soccer for twenty-five, fifteen of which I was a National Instructor for the largest youth soccer organization in the world. After all those years, I went to work for a physical therapy clinic. Good place to be after all the soccer/karate injuries.

Now, I work as a writer and an agent at Hartline Literary Agency.

I enjoy teaching on so many levels. I am a true believer that lecture allows for minimal retention, but participation and demonstration lock the information in a student’s mind. And therefore, these are interspersed throughout my lessons as much as possible.

I spend relaxing time outside writing activities directing and singing in church musicals. I’m active in an online crit group, the Friday Critters. All members, but one, are represented by agents or pubbed.

Linda has graciously offered to give away a copy of Polar Bear Plunge! If you'd like to be entered in the drawing, simply leave your e-mail address in the comments section. I will announce the winner on Friday!

*Entrants must be 18 years of age*

What Christmas song are you already tired of hearing?

Have a fantastic day!

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Stay Fit Trick for the Holidays

Unless you plan on wearing Pajama Jeans for the holidays, you need a plan to stay in shape. Christmas is coming and that means parties and dress up clothes. It's time to meet new people and reconnect with friends, and, if you're like me, you want to look good.

Although I'm not super-skinny, I've stayed relatively the same weight for twenty years. (That's not counting baby weight with the kids--wow, I gained a lot!) You might assume I have some elusive secret or a magical metabolism. I don't. Like most people, I work at it.

But really isn't as hard as it sounds.

Through the years, I've learned a few secrets to maintaining a healthy weight. Do I fluctuate by five pounds? Absolutely. Do I deny myself the treats of the season? No way!

 So here is my stay fit trick for the holidays:

Make Monday through Thursday Count.

Most parties and events take place on the weekends, so balance them with good habits during the week.


Plan and cook healthy meals. If you absolutely have no time to cook and don't own a crockpot, purchase healthy frozen dinners and add a large salad.

* Aim for 5-7 fruits and veggies. Maybe baby carrots and a sliced orange don't tease your taste buds, but your body will thank you for the fiber and vitamins. You can always wash the celery down with a cup of hot cocoa. I'm serious. Cocoa has like 100 calories or something--go for it!

* Drink tons of water. Have a glass of water when you wake up. Have one mid-morning. Have one at lunch. Have two in the afternoon. Water prevents water retention. I like to be able to zip up my jeans.

* Watch portion sizes of high calorie snacks. I daily enjoy non-nutritious snacks like chocolate bars and barbecue potato chips. The key is to watch the portion size. If the serving size says 17 chips, go ahead and count out 17 chips. The 34th chip doesn't taste better, trust me.

* Take vitamins. This is entirely up to you, and the experts disagree on their benefits, but I take vitamins. Ladies, if your hormones are off, consider adding a B complex to your routine. I take a B50 (I do notice a difference if I skip a week), fish oil (this made a huge difference in my nails and complexion), vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. The last three work together to balance hormones plus they are immune system boosters. Who wants to spend the holidays sick? Not me!

* No fast food. We're only talking Monday through Thursday here. If you work outside of the home, pack food that will fill you up and that you enjoy. It doesn't have to be a boring sandwich. Yogurt, string cheese, summer sausage, soup, leftovers, wraps, salad--take your pick. Just make sure you bring enough to sustain you through the day. A 200 calorie lunch won't cut it.


* Do ten minutes of cardio. You can walk on the treadmill, do a couple Just Dance routines on your kids' Wii, march in place, ride your bike, swim, roller blade--whatever will raise your heart rate. If you want to do more than 10 minutes, great! Your body will love you even more. But 10 minutes is your minimum goal.

* Create a quickie strength routine. I do two--just two--sets of exercises for my stomach, arms, and legs. I do these every Monday through Thursday.

     Set 1:   25 crunches, 25 push-ups (full body), and 25 squats.
     Set 2:   25 bicycle crunches, 25 push-ups (girl-style), and 25 plie squats (that's what I call them at least!)

I feel the burn, but they only take a commercial break to get through.We're talking 5-7 minutes. How can I blow off 7 minutes? I can't. And these exercises have done more to tone my body than anything.

So that's it. Make Monday through Thursday count and the weekends won't throw you into another dress size.

What are your stay fit tricks for the holidays?

Have a wonderful Monday!

Friday, December 2, 2011

First 3 Chapters: From Blah to Bang!

Early last month I wrote the first three chapters of my latest manuscript. I knew the characters, had the plot nailed down, and felt great about my scene list. Yet when I reviewed what I'd written, an uneasy feeling settled over me.

The chapters didn't wow me.

Now, first drafts are first drafts--we all know it. I certainly don't write the perfect first draft--far from it--but the draft itself wasn't the problem.

The first three chapters were blah. They could have been in any current book of my genre. Technically, they were solid, but something was missing.

Rather than forge ahead and keep writing (sorry, that's one writing "rule" I don't follow), I took an hour to think about the problem. I had full confidence in the plot and knew if I tinkered with it, it could become outlandish. The scenes were fleshed out reasonably well for a draft, and the setting and pace were appropriate. The area I kept coming back to?

My heroine.

Sure, she was likable. She had clear goals, motivations, and conflicts. But she could have been any heroine in any other inspirational contemporary romance.

I spent more time brainstorming what would make her stand out. It only took thirty seconds for me to slap my forehead. I'd squandered her individuality. By sprinkling thoughts filtered through her unique mind in the first three chapters, I would give the reader something to be excited about.

Once I fixed the problem, the rest of the chapters have been much easier to write.

By the way, this wouldn't have been apparent to me if I did not read many different authors in my genre. Only by knowing what is out there could I figure out why my book wasn't as good as it could be.

If you open your first three chapters and aren't "wowed," try brainstorming for an hour. Write down any areas that might be weak, then evaluate them. Trust your instincts. The solution will come to you.

Have you ever started reading a book and wondered if you'd read it before? I've picked up books I've already read! That's sad!

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

5 Easy Questions with Michelle Ule!

Every Wednesday, I ask a writer the same five easy questions. In an effort to support and promote fellow wordsmiths, I feature authors who write a variety of genres, from sweet inspirational to mainstream thrillers. The writers themselves may be aspiring, published, or best-selling--all have made an impact on my life.

Thank you for joining me in welcoming… Michelle Ule!!

I met Michelle through Books & Such Literary Agency where we are both clients (Michelle also works there!). Michelle is such an intelligent, encouraging writer—I’m honored to have her here today and can’t wait for the day I get to meet her in person. Her novella, The Dogtrot Christmas, is featured in the New York Times Bestselling Christmas collection, A Log Cabin Christmas! Details to follow. Trust me, this book makes an excellent Christmas gift!

Let’s get to it!

1. Beverage of choice?

I actually really like water. With ice in the summer, without in the winter. The best water was from our well when we lived in Washington State.  :-)  Otherwise, mocha--but Starbuck's drink is a little too sweet.

2. Any pets?

I have a 10 year-old blind Gordon Setter dog, Suzie, whom I've written about on my blog "Life with a blind dog: How come she's always hungry?" and "Life with a blind dog: Watch Out." We have a miserable Hawaiian calico stray who has never gotten over leaving Hawai'i 14 years ago. Her name is Kali.  

3. Dream vacation?

St. Petersburg, Russia where I'd love to get lost for a day or two in the Hermitage art museum and wander the city with an excellent English-speaking guide who can take me to all the Romanov sites.

4. What are you listening to right now?

Civil War music to get in the mood for the novel I'm working on. If it's closer to Christmas, probably Nat King Cole's Christmas album.  :-)

5. What's for dinner?

Salmon or possibly quiche; depending on what's on sale at the grocery store later this morning!  :-)


Michelle, I drink a lot of water too, but soda and coffee are my faves! Your sweet dog Suzie is a very special member of the family—has she caught up with Murphy lately?—and I’m sure Kali is too. Cats are so independent and funny, aren’t they? I’m officially inviting myself along to Russia with you. A few years ago, I became obsessed with the story of the Romanovs. I read several conflicting books about the fates of the Grand Duchesses and enjoyed the rich history accompanying them. It would be a dream trip to traipse around St. Petersburg!

Oh, and I love Allison Krauss. One of her songs was featured on the Cold Mountain soundtrack, and it always reminds me of the Civil War. So haunting… Thanks so much for being my guest today, Michelle!


Nine novellas make up a collection of romantic Christmas tales from the 19th century. Spanning the country, we see how love blossomed in the rough walled cabins of winter. Learn about the Mexican posada tradition and how it meshed with the Scottish frontier Christmas; experience the anguish of a Civil War battlefield where stars provide hope; join a young teacher and students snowed into the classroom on the eve of Jesus' birth, and more!

Plenty of short stories perfect for curling up with a cup of cocoa and wood on the fire; this makes a lovely Christmas gift in a gorgeous book.

Michelle Ule fell in love with history, particularly US history, as a child and has read avidly on the subject ever since. Researching and then writing her massive family history, Pioneer Stock, put family names to extraordinary events in North American since the family's earliest arrival in 1628.
When the opportunity arose to write a romance set in a log cabin, she immediately reached into her family's past for pertinent stories. Panthers in the woods, Native Americans reaching between the unchinked gaps in the log cabin to touch the baby, a horrifying moment at the water hole-- all these stories and more happened to her Texas pioneer kinfolk.
Her degree may be in English Literature from UCLA, her training may be as a newspaper reporter and her life may be rich with travel and family, but Michelle Ule always comes back to the most dynamic parts of her life: reading and loving God. To learn more about Michelle, check out her blog and like her on Facebook. Michelle is also blogging this week at the Books & Such Blog.

Have you decorated for the holidays yet?

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Our Characters Must Fail

I recently read a novel but struggled to get into the story. Each time I put it down, I had no desire to pick it back up. Tempted to stop reading, I decided to forge ahead and figure out why it wasn't grabbing me. I made a list of its strengths and weaknesses.


- Excellent writing. The author balances dialogue, thoughts, action, and narrative with ease.
- Modern, relatable characters. The hero and heroine (it's a contemporary romance) are realistic and have believable conflicts and goals. Plus, I liked both of them.
- Logical progression of plot. The story arc made sense and proceeded in a way I would expect.


- Too many characters introduced in first chapters. This book is the second or third in a series, so extra characters should be involved, but too many too soon only confuses the reader.
- Sunday drive pacing. While the plot progresses logically, it does not progress quickly. There doesn't seem to be any urgency.
- The hero and heroine do not share enough scenes in the first half. They are in scenes together, but they rarely interact. How are they supposed to fall in love if they don't talk to each other?

Not every book is perfect, and the strengths in this one more than offset the weaknesses. However, I pinpointed one major area that needed work.

Each scene had a point, but the stakes were never high enough for me to want to read the next scene. 

Jack M. Bickham discusses what an effective scene accomplishes in his excellent book, Scene & Structure. I'm paraphrasing here, but basically each scene should be told from one character's viewpoint, and the character must have a clear goal, which is obvious from the beginning of the scene. The character will then experience conflict in reaching that goal until the scene ends with the character failing to meet the goal.

Summary of Scene Essentials:
1. Introduction of the viewpoint character's scene goal.
2. Conflict threatening the character's ability to reach goal.
3. Failure of character to meet goal.

But...the character has to win sometimes, right? Yes. This is why it's important to be clear about the character's scene goal. If the book requires your heroine to convince her coworker to attend a wedding with her, you might choose to split the section into two scenes. The first scene will be told from her viewpoint. She gets the courage to ask him, he puts up a fight, and the scene ends with him refusing.

1. She asks coworker to be her date for wedding. (Goal)
2. He gives lame excuses. (Conflict)
3. He refuses. (Failure)

But...he has to agree. It's a vital plot point. Okay, no problem. The next scene will be in his point of view, and his scene goal will be to get out of the wedding invitation. But the heroine is very convincing, and he finds himself saying yes when he wants to say no.

1. He must not agree to this wedding invitation. (Goal)
2. She has lawyer-like convincing skills. (Conflict)
3. He accepts. (Failure)
If we ignore the scene essential of the character failing, we waste an opportunity to keep the reader on edge. We could have written the previous scene in the heroine's point of view and had her ask the hero to the wedding. He could still put up a fight, but in the end he agrees. The problem with this is that the heroine wins.

As readers, we like to watch our heroes and heroines suffer. We love that gnawing feeling in our gut when things go wrong. We need the hero and heroine to fail repeatedly for us to keep turning the pages. If they only win, what's the point of reading more? Our goal as writers should be to provide a sense of urgency--regardless what genre we write--and have the reader constantly ask, what comes next? How is the main character going to handle this? I've got to find out more!

Let's talk about this. Anything to add? Any questions? 

Have a terrific day!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hold On To Your Zippers!

I've been drooling about it for days. Thanksgiving dinner!

This year, I got smart and came up with the perfect holiday outfit. Leggings and a long sweater. No worrying about the strain on my zipper. No wondering how long I have to wait until I can put on my pajamas. Just stretchy, stylish comfort for a day of pigging out.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, all my American friends, and for everyone else, happy Thursday!

Who is braving the lines on Black Friday? (I'm passing this year.)

I'll be offline until Monday, so have a wonderful, wonderful holiday!

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Your Vacuum Cord Says About You

Have I performed secret psychological studies explaining the mysteries of life according to the state of your vacuum cord?

No, but I did just spend seven minutes (yeah, seven! Why? Why??) thinking about my vacuum cord and wanted to write a post about it. Obviously, vacuum cleaners aren't very exciting, and their cords are positively dull. I had to find some way to wake up this yawn-a-rific topic. 

My vacuum is ten years old. It's a Hoover WindTunnel. I've loved this vacuum even as it slowly deteriorated and continues to do so. The cord in particular has problems. Sections of it are wrapped in electrical tape. Chunks of the rubber coating are missing. A few spots are coming dangerously close to exposing the wires. 

It also permanently bends in the same spots because of the way we wrap it. Its sharp, hard curves remind me of an arthritic hand, and sometimes I feel sorry for it. Of course, I still crank down the plastic holder and whip the cord out like a lasso whenever it's time to shimmy the vacuum around the house. I mean, come on, I don't feel that sorry for it.

I know my vacuum needs to be replaced--it's spitting things out, much like a cat coughs up a hairball--but I resist. I know I can make it work a little longer. :)

So here is my impressions of what your vacuum says about you:

- Shiny, new, perfect cord? You value performance and have high expectations of the tools you use. If your vacuum is not new but the cord still looks new, you must either never use it or you take extremely good care of your appliances. I'm in awe  of you. You have a level of patience I don't possess when it comes to cleaning!

- Slightly beat-up cord? You don't let much in your daily life bother you. Sure, you have days where coffee spills down your shirt and you're stuck in traffic, but you get through it with ease. And it isn't a big deal to you if your appliances don't work exactly as they should. They work and that's good enough for you. You rock!

- Somewhat dangerous, cobbled together cord? Welcome to my world. You're probably a tad stubborn. You'd rather spend money on something fun like a three-foot long box of chocolates from Russell Stover rather than replace a vacuum. However, you do actually clean the house, and you'll replace that bad boy when the vacuum motor dies. (Am I the only one in this category? Please, tell me I'm not!)

What does your vacuum cord say about you?

Happy Monday!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Fantasy and Reality of a Christmas Parade

We're marching and singing in a Christmas parade this weekend. I've never participated before, so the images in my head are very idealistic. I have this lovely fantasy scenario playing out, but I think we all know the reality will be quite different.

Let's look at my fantasy verses reality, shall we?

- My kids beam with happiness, "We get to sing in a parade??" They're so thrilled about our family outing, they want to join hands with me as we spread joy down the street. Kumbaya time.

- My kids haven't been toddlers in a long, long time. Not only are they not jumping up in excitement, they're already moaning about it. And holding hands? Laughing so hard I just choked on a piece of apple!

- The weather is clear and warm. You know how in the movies or on commercials, you see people with snow falling around them? They're usually wearing an unzipped jacket and cute shoes? That's me. Unzipped jacket, cute shoes, feeling good.

- Um, I live in Michigan. If it isn't snowing, it's probably raining, and if it isn't raining, we can expect biting cold winds. Not only will my jacket be zipped, I'll be wearing a turtleneck and two sweaters. Don't forget the ugly snow boots. I can't even fathom not wearing a hat, scarf, and gloves. Let me tell you, all these layers add bulk. It won't be pretty.

- Our voices will mingle in harmony as we sing Christmas carols. I'm talking concert choir level singing.

- I sing loudly and off-key. And in every group--correct me if I'm wrong--there's at least one mumbler and one person who sings a fraction too fast. Let's not forget the lyric master; you know, the guy who sings the wrong words but doesn't realize it? Oh, yeah!

- Our spirits bulge with the wonder of sharing holiday cheer.

- Our spirits bulge with the wonder of sharing holiday cheer...and we still whine about the freezing weather, skirmish over who stands where, test to see if the hat is absolutely necessary (yes), and wish, out loud and often, we had a hot cocoa in hand.

Ahh, the charms of a Christmas parade. I'll take reality over fantasy every day. It's more fun!

What are you doing this weekend? Getting into the Christmas spirit yet?

Have a marvelous weekend!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

5 Easy Questions with Lynda Lee Schab!

Every Wednesday, I ask a writer the same five easy questions. In an effort to support and promote fellow wordsmiths, I feature authors who write a variety of genres, from sweet inspirational to mainstream thrillers. The writers themselves may be aspiring, published, or best-selling--all have made an impact on my life.

Thank you for joining me in welcoming… Lynda Lee Schab!!

Lynda and I met through the Great Lakes chapter of ACFW. She’s a warm, friendly, funny writer, and I’m so happy to host her here today. Her debut novel, Mind Over Madi, an inspirational women’s fiction, released yesterday--more details below. 

Let’s get to it!

1. Beverage of choice?

Definitely coffee and Diet Coke. Caffeinated, please.

2. Any pets?

Only the dust bunnies under my bed.

3. Dream vacation?

Honestly, my creativity has been on vacation for a while now, so my dream vacation would be an entire week by myself with nothing to think about rediscovering my muse. A whole week working on my novel with no housework, no running the kids around, no distractions, sounds heavenly.

4. What are you listening to right now?

At this moment, the only sound I hear is the gentle hum of my laptop and my fingers hitting the keyboard.

5. What's for dinner?

For me? Probably a Weight Watchers frozen entree. For my daughter, who just had four baby teeth pulled yesterday, probably soup. My son will likely come home with McDonalds or put chicken fries in the oven, and I'm not sure what my husband will want. With our schedules, I cook once or twice a week (and we try to sit down together on those days to reconnect) but the other days it's pretty much "fend for yourselves."


Lynda, I need my coffee and caffeine too! If you’re crying over your lack of pets, we have an aged guinea pig who would make a terrific addition to your family. No, really, we love the little guy. His bedding on the other hand... :) Also, your dream vacation sounds like a slice of heaven. No cooking? No cleaning? No mom-shuttling? Just a week-long date with a WIP? Love it!

I’m sorry your daughter had to have teeth pulled. Ouch. Hope she recovers quickly. Thank you so much for being my guest today!


Madi McCall admits her husband lacks a little in the romance department, but all in all, he’s been a good husband, a good father. Now, though, she suspects Rich is having an affair with Fawn Witchburn, the mother of one of his fourth-grade students. To say Fawn shows off her “assets” more than should be legally allowed in public is an understatement, and Madi’s insecurities kick into high gear. When, in a heated moment, she asks Rich to leave and he complies, Madi is forced to deal with her issues. Issues of love and trust she’s tried so hard to avoid. Issues that trail all the way back to her childhood and make her act like a total moron.

LYNDA LEE SCHAB got her writing start in greeting cards  (Blue Mountain Arts, Dayspring)  and from there  went on to write  articles and short stories (Mature Living, Christian Home &  School)  and in many places online (including and, but  her passion has always been fiction. 

Mind Over Madi, her debut novel, is near and dear to her heart.  Lynda admits  she has a lot in common with  the character of Madi. Not only are they both addicted to ice cream, chocolate, and computer games, they struggle with the same types of insecurities and continually require a hefty dose of God’s grace.

Lynda works behind the scenes at and is a member of ACFW. She is a regular book reviewer for and is the Grand Rapids Christian Fiction Examiner and the National Writing Examiner for  Mind Over Madi  received Runner-up in the 2007 FaithWriters Page Turner contest, was a finalist in the 2007 RWA Get your Stiletto in the Door contest, and won second place in the 2008 ACFW Genesis contest, Chick Lit category. Lynda lives with her husband, Rob, and two teenagers in Michigan.

To learn more about Lynda, head to her blog, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Does November seem extra busy to you? Or is it like any other month?

Have an amazing Wednesday!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Inspired or Terrified? Why I Avoid Fear-Based Journalism

Journalism, whether through newspapers, magazines, television, radio, or the Internet, has power. Power to inspire, to motivate, to change people's lives, and to inform. But sadly, the very stories meant to inspire often leave me uninspired, or worse, terrified.

For instance, I recently borrowed O's Big Book of Happiness from our library. The book, published in 2008, is a compilation of magazine articles originally published in the Oprah Magazine. It's divided into different sections for various areas in our lives. I read the diet/fitness section and loved the articles. They were funny, smart, and full of interesting research. My mood? Happy.

I then read the next several articles and found my happiness plummeting. One article was about a victim who'd been sexually assaulted and warned her town that the man was still at large. Another discussed two women with AIDS who are still alive (but with compromised immune systems) more than twenty-five years after their diagnosis. A woman recounted how as a ten-year-old she avoided being kidnapped by a serial killer. Then another article involving sexual assault, except this time the woman accused the wrong man and sent him to jail for twenty years. From there, the articles headed into bi-polar issues, cancer, more cancer, before settling into the story of a woman who went for a walk one morning and returned home to find all four of her children dead--they'd been killed by her ex-husband.

Don't get me wrong--these articles described women overcoming devastating life events. They were well-written, expertly researched, and meant to be inspirational.

But I didn't find them inspirational. 

Maybe it's my overactive imagination or my sensitivity, but a layer of anxiety settled on me after reading them. I started worrying about my safety, my family's safety, cancer, AIDS, serial killers--you name it. Anything I'd read became very real and very possible in my brain. 

I didn't sleep well, and I decided I've had enough "happiness" from Oprah's book. I'm returning it to the library.

Maybe my idea of happiness is off, but none of those stories made me feel happy. Many years ago, I stopped watching the nightly news for the same reason. I had trouble sleeping, and I worried about tragedies befalling our family.

We're all wired differently. You  might have read the articles and found them not only inspiring, but empowering as well. Not me. Still, my faith keeps me strong. I've never been a Christian who believes bad things only happen to other people. I know God would get our family through any tragedy that could befall us, but I'd prefer to not have the tragedy to begin with.

Does fear-based journalism inspire you? Or are you like me and get unduly terrified after reading about tragedies?

Have a fantastic Monday!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Taking Back My Day: An Update

A few weeks ago I posted about my disappearing day. I've been trying different techniques to accomplish more in less time. While I haven't yet found my best division of time, I am happy with the progress I've made so far.


1. I moved back into my office.

Since we don't allow our dog upstairs--and she is 100% a lapdog--I was working in our living room. No more. Each morning I close the doors to the bedrooms and set aside the baby gate so Sophie can hang out with me in my office. Maybe it's a mental thing, but I feel more professional working in a dedicated space.

2. Each Monday I take fifteen minutes to map out my writing week.

My calendar shows any outside obligations, like appointments, volunteer commitments, or hiccups in the school schedule. After reviewing my calendar, I set writing goals and remind myself of upcoming tasks such as setting aside time for a critique and writing blog posts. Setting weekly goals keeps me realistic on what I can accomplish.

3. Making progress on my current WIP is always my top priority, so I rescheduled my mornings to start with a "win." 

I used to have no trouble starting my day by checking e-mails, my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and my writing loops, but my platform has grown, and with that, the amount of sites I check. I can lose two hours just checking in! That doesn't include reading blogs! I still like to check e-mails and my blog first thing, so I set my limit to ONE hour. Then, I immediately devote my next hour to my WIP. Knowing I've made legitimate progress on my book before lunch makes me a happy camper.

4. I've chopped my day into segments.

Instead of one marathon multi-hour writing or revising session, I've broken my day into hour segments. I still spend the same amount of time on my work in progress, but I'm less drained and it's less daunting. As mentioned earlier, I start with a one hour AM social media session. Then I move on to my book. I take 5-10 minute breaks between sessions to stretch my legs, take the dog out, and grab a cup of hot tea or a snack. Physically and mentally, it's a better fit for me.

Not Successes:

1. I would like to have 30 minutes of free time by myself each afternoon.

To meet the goals I've set, I simply do not have that 30 minutes. I would either have to lower my goals or devote even less time to social media. I'll be brainstorming this dilemma in the upcoming weeks.

2. I still lose a lot of time to slow computers. 

My laptop and our PC are old, slow, and lock up frequently. We plan on replacing my laptop next year, but in the meantime, I'm trying a duel computer gig where I sign on to one site with my laptop and, while it's loading, I check e-mails and what-not with the PC. So far this method has saved me at least 20 minutes per session, but the problem persists.

3. I want one free day (a weekday) per month to fill my creative well.

Again, see number one on Not Successes. I really struggle to allow myself time for me. I know I'm a nicer person and more creative when I watch old DVD's, read a novel in one sitting, or tour a museum. Yet, I haven't planned a free day in over a year. Ouch.

If you've been struggling with time management, how are you combating it? Any secrets you'd like to share?

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

5 Easy Questions with Jessica Bell!

Every Wednesday, I ask a writer the same five easy questions. In an effort to support and promote fellow wordsmiths, I feature authors who write a variety of genres, from sweet inspirational to mainstream thrillers. The writers themselves may be aspiring, published, or  best-selling--all have made an impact on my life.

Thank you for joining me in welcoming… Jessica Bell!!

I met Jessica through blogging and was immediately charmed. She's lived an artistic life on a different continent than me (check out her bio below!), and she expresses herself through a variety of mediums--as a musician, poet, and writer. In fact, her novel, String Bridge, just released through Lucky Press, and Jessica released a soundtrack, Melody Hill: On the Other Side,  to accompany it. You can find more about String Bridge after the interview.

Let's get to it!

1. Beverage of choice?

There are quite a few. Some healthy, some not so, but I have to say my most favorite is a strawberry smoothie. I'm picky though. It's got to be made with frozen strawberries, Greek yogurt, full fat milk, and a generous amount of honey. No sugars, sweeteners, ice cubes or skim milk thank you ...

2. Any pets?

Yes! My adorable dalmatian, Holly Bolly Wollywood :o) That's what I call her when I'm cuddling her face close to mine and scratching under her chin. Otherwise, it's just Holly.
(Attached picture if you want to use it!)

3. Dream vacation?

Travelling around Australia in a Ute with my partner and my dog, with ALL the time in the world to explore every single nook and cranny. I have to add, with the least amount of belongings possible. We've gotta go it rough. ... um ... but can I sneak my laptop along? LOL

4. What are you listening to right now?

Holly banging the window for me to let her in. But I'm not giving in. She's too spoiled!

5. What's for dinner?

I hardly ever plan dinner, or even cook ... properly. I slap something together a the last minute that's quick and easy like salad, pasta, or soup. But funnily enough, today I have planned, and it's already prepared and in the fridge, ready to pop into the oven. Fresh grilled sardines is on the menu today, with some steamed green veggies, feta cheese and olives.


Jessica, I made strawberry smoothies this morning with Greek yogurt and fresh berries. I did add a banana, though, and a scoop of protein powder! Oh, and you have a dalmation. Aren't they sweet? We have one in our neighborhood, who, I'm ashamed to say, our mini-dachshund yaps at, but she's a lovely dog. What a fun name!

I would love to sneak my laptop along for a tour of Australia. It's been on my fantasy vacay list for as long as I can remember. And Hugh Jackman has nothing to do with it. Nothing at all. :) Enjoy your delicious and healthy dinner, and thanks for being my guest today!

Here is the book trailer--and yes, that is Miss Jessica singing!--for String Bridge. Ooo, it gave me shivers it's so good!

String Bridge ~ 

Greek cuisine, smog and domestic drudgery was not the life Australian musician, Melody, was expecting when she married a Greek music promoter and settled in Athens, Greece. Keen to play in her new shoes, though, Melody trades her guitar for a 'proper' career and her music for motherhood. That is, until she can bear it no longer and plots a return to the stage--and the person she used to be. However, the obstacles she faces along the way are nothing compared to the tragedy that awaits ...

String Bridge and Melody Hill are available through Amazon (both are linked) now!

Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s.

She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education.

In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website.

From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus. For more information about Jessica, head to her website, her blog, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

What's the weather like today in your neck of the woods?

Have a wonderful Wednesday!