Friday, December 21, 2012

What's Your Plan For 2013?

Every December I take a few hours to map out my business plan for the following year. Sitting down to do this is always one part daunting, one part exciting, and one part confusing. How can I possibly know what new obligations the next twelve months will bring? I can't! But I don't let that stop me.

I use Microsoft OneNote to organize my writing life. It's where I create my business plan each year, too. The main tab in my 2013 Business Plan notebook features my goals. I've learned the hard way not to etch a full year's goals in granite, so I create two tentative plans, and they each get their own sub-page.

The first is January-June 2013 and the second is July-December 2013. I copy/paste an annual calendar onto its own page in this tab, too, for referrals. Since I track my daily writing/revising/plotting progress, I know roughly how long I will need for each phase of writing a book. With these figures, I can accurately predict the amount of time to block off.

I always allot extra time in the schedule. An extra week here and there makes a big difference for me to stay on track.

Here is a sample of my overall January-June goals:

  1. Polish finished manuscript 1 and send back to agent
  2. Brainstorm and Plot  UNTITLED 1
  3. Revise first draft of manuscript 2
  4. Write first draft UNTITLED 1
  5. Send revised manuscript 2 to agent
  6. Brainstorm/OneNote Plot UNTITLED 2

Any number of things could throw this plan off, but I'd rather have a general plan than none at all.

The nice thing about OneNote is I'm able to create a little checkbox next to each goal (simultaneously press the "Control" and "1" keys). Love it!

If--let's face it, when!--I need to alter the plan, I change it and add a note on top of the page with the day I updated it.

I also keep track of my expenses, continuing education, and promotion efforts in my 2013 Business Plan notebook. Wendy Lawton of Books & Such Literary Agency wrote a terrific post about her business plan and how she grades herself at the end of the year. The post is here, An Agent's Report Card, if you're interested!

Do you have an idea of what you want to accomplish next year? Have you written it down? Try it!

I'll be taking a nice, long break for Christmas. See you all January 7, 2013!!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Friends! One Minute Vacay: Dec. 19

One of my favorite things about December is that I always see  and hear from so many friends. I love getting Christmas cards, and I anticipate spending good, quality time with our families around the holidays.

This week a neighbor stopped by with a plate of homemade goodies. It made my night! We only chatted for ten minutes, but those ten minutes warmed my heart, something desperately needed in light of the tragedy in our country.

Both my parents and my husband's parents spent last weekend with us to watch our daughter's Christmas dance recital. Now, I know many, many women with strained in-law relationships. I also have plenty of friends with strained parent relationships. And, I hesitate to even write this, but in the end, I want you all to know what a blessing I consider our parents to be.

We have always been able to host our families in our house with no drama. Our parents are true role models, because they make an effort to get along with each other. My parents and my husband's parents place a high value on Christian morals--and they walk the walk.

How is this a one-minute vacation?

Some friends and family members make us better people. When they show up or call or write a card, our hearts expand--our lives improve because of them.

But some of our relationships bring stress--stress that we didn't cause, but that we have to deal with at high-tension times like Christmas.

When you dread the people who bring you stress, remember that you--like my parents and my husband's parents--can simply walk the walk. You might not be able to "fix" troubled relations, but you can be a light to the people around you.

In the meantime, think of the people in your life who bring you joy. Go ahead! Smile! They're wonderful, aren't they?

Do you have good role models? Who are they? If you don't, can you be the role model you always wanted?

Have a terrific day!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mixed Feelings? One Minute Vacay: Dec. 17

The preparations heat up, and for many, Christmas is eagerly anticipated, but for others, mixed feelings throw a thick, gray cloud cover over the month.

Let's face it--not everyone enjoys the holidays. There are hearts that rip open every December. The onslaught of merry music sounds shrill, the endless Christmas miracles on television movies don't help, and there's a vague feeling of, shouldn't I be enjoying this more?

I understand. I've been there. Christmas usually brings me joy, but I've had years where I've gone through the motions, not quite knowing why the cheer skipped me that season.

Christmas magnifies how we feel life should be as opposed to how it really is.

So many people deal with broken families, sad memories of past Christmases, loneliness, tragedies, and depression. My heart goes out to all who want that "perfect Christmas" but for circumstances beyond their control, must settle for getting through Christmas.

Today's one-minute vacation is this:

It's okay to have mixed feelings.
It's okay to cringe at happy Christmas letters.
It's okay to not want to throw another five bucks into the charity-of-the-week collection at work.
It's okay to get McDonald's for dinner because you're too tired to make a meal.
It's okay to buy store-bought cookies.
It's okay to turn off the made-for-television Christmas movies and watch horror films.
It's okay not to donate a dollar as you check-out at stores.
It's okay to jam to sad songs instead of the Christmas music station.
It's okay to tell yourself "it's just 24 hours," when you're dreading a strained-extended family Christmas party.
It's okay to buy two boxes of chocolates for yourself.
It's okay to skip gift-wrapping and buy gift bags for every present.
It's okay if your kids get on your nerves within three hours of being out of school for Christmas vacation.

It's okay.

We do not live in a perfect world. It's full of sin and pain and hard things.

It's also full of people who want to help, who truly care, whose heart breaks at the thought of anyone being sad or alone at Christmas.

Let's not be too hard on ourselves this time of year.

It's okay.

Do you struggle with mixed feelings this time of year? How do you deal with them?

Have a fabulous Monday!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fudge! One-Minute Vacay: Dec. 14

I've been craving the sweet stuff, the Christmas cookies, the boxes of Hershey's Pot O Gold, and yes, the fudge! Fudge!!

My aunt made me my own small tupperware of her delightful fudge one year for Christmas, and it was one of the best gifts ever! I try to make at least one batch each Christmas season, and whenever I do, I think of my aunt. :)

For me, the sweetest one-minute vacations usually involve memories of family and treats.

Now, I realize not everyone loves fudge the way I do, so here is a lovely slice of chocolate cake instead.

And if you don't like chocolate, how about sugar cookies?

Thanks so much for sharing a fudgy minute with m. Lindsay Harrel is hosting me today at her blog! We're talking about Secret Santas, and I'll bet you'll never guess what I do about them. Stop by and find out! :)

Do you like fudge? What's your favorite Christmas treat?

Have a wonderful weekend!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tis the Season: Interview with Jennifer Shirk!

Ho, ho, ho!!

Guess what? Jennifer Shirk has a new release!! Kissing Kendall came out this week through Entangled Publishing's Bliss line. Naturally, I needed to learn all about the book and the scoop on Jennifer's Christmas plans!

Let's get to it!

1.      Does your family have any holiday traditions?

Yes! We eat a meatless Christmas Eve every year. (I pretty much go meatless year round but for the family this is a big deal). We only have fish. And because my mom was a stickler for Lithuanian/Polish traditions, we have potato pancakes, herring, and sometimes pierogies with our main fish meal.

Another tradition we have is that we all are allowed ONE gift to open before we go to bed. (This is the kiddo’s favorite tradition because she NEVER lets me forget it) Be careful when you start that one! LOL

2.     Christmas shopping: are all the gifts bought, still working on it, or do you wait until Christmas Eve?

I am about 75% done (NOT wrapped…YET). I know. I’m anal. I never wait to the last minute for anything. It stresses me out too much!

3.     Do you bake Christmas cookies? What's your favorite holiday treat?

I DO bake cookies! At least 7 different kinds. That’s what I like to have for breakfast on Christmas Day while we open gifts. (Hey, don’t judge! It’s the holidays)

I make a brown sugar ginger crisp that is sooooo good with a cup of tea.

4.     You're a gadget gal--what gadget can't you live without this time of year?

Oooh gadgets…I recently bought myself one of those light-pro Christmas light guns, but I haven’t had to use it yet. LOL And I bought myself a YONANAS—to make desserts out of frozen fruits!

5.     What inspired your new book, Kissing Kendall, and where can we buy it?

 I wrote Kissing Kendall because I had enough people who read GEORGIE ON HIS MIND to ask about Brad’s story (Georgie’s brother). The problem was I wasn’t really thinking about getting him together with Kendall in a book because in the old book she was getting married to someone else! So I decided to make her a widow (yes, I can be evil) and thought I could grow a nice emotional conflict from that.


Jennifer, your YONANAS machine sounds pretty awesome. I love fruit smoothies, so I know I would love frozen whipped fruits too. :) I'm jealous of your Christmas shopping progress. You're motivating me to get mine done. I don't have much time left! And of course I wouldn't judge the cookie breakfast. It's my favorite type of meal! ;)
Jennifer has graciously offered to give one lucky commenter an ebook copy of KISSING KENDALL! Just leave your e-mail address in the comments to enter. The contest is open until midnight of Friday, December 14, 2012. Winner will be notified by e-mail.
**Must be from the United States and at least 18 years old to enter.**

 If you’d like to purchase KISSING KENDALL, it is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble!


Kendall Grisbaum is finally taking charge of her life—pouring her heart into opening a new bakery business and even allowing her best friend Georgie to play matchmaker for her. Trouble is, the one guy she secretly wants is Georgie’s older brother, Brad.

Brad can’t seem to get his little sister’s best friend out of his mind. He and Kendall used to be close friends, too, though they drifted apart years ago. But as a local policeman, Brad can’t help but play protector, looking out for Kendall. And when he offers to help her renovate her new bakery space on the side, their attraction flares back to life.

Amid the temptation of doughnut muffins and blueberry cobbler, a new temptation draws them both closer. Can two friends take a chance on love when it means risking everything?


What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

Have a fabulous day!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Lights! One Minute Vacay: Dec 10

Who else LOVES outdoor Christmas lights?

The Toledo Zoo hosts an annual outdoor light display, and it is amazing. On weekends, people wait in line for up to an hour to get in and see the "singing trees," the colorful lights dripping from every bush and tree, not to mention the lights shaped like animals or the tunnel made out of light hoops. It's festive, fun, and worth every penny.

Since not everyone can make it to the zoo, I found this fun outdoor light display for you instead!


Do you decorate the outside of your house for Christmas?

Have a fabulous Monday!!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Shopping Woes with Jill Kemerer: Vlog

Today's webisode of "...with Jill Kemerer" is all about my shopping woes. I'm not a good shopper. Never have been, probably never will be. Even online shopping gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Here's a slice of my shopping problems--and yes, my mini-wiener dog photo-bombed the video again!

December 2012 webisode: Christmas Shopping Woes with Jill Kemerer

How do you do it? How do you Christmas shop and maintain your sanity?? Help!

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paris! One Minute Vacay: Dec. 5

Today's one minute vacation is sponsored by Paris. :)

I've never been to Paris, but I've watched plenty of movies featuring the gorgeous city, and I love books set there too. Ernest Hemingway brought 1920's Paris to life for me in his set of memoirs, A Moveable Feast. And Woody Allen's film, Midnight in Paris, while not my favorite story-wise, features beautiful sets of, you guessed it, Paris!

Ooo, this looks cold but delightful! To spend a day or seven in the Louvre? Yes, sign me up!

I would LOVE to see the Eiffel Tower at Christmastime. Lucky for me, someone did and took a picture! I feel as if I'm the one staring up at that incredible structure.

Paris wouldn't be complete without coffee and pastries. Drink up!

I don't know about you, but staring at these lovely Paris scenes makes me a little nicer, a little more relaxed, and ready to tackle my Wednesday.

Have you been to Paris? Share the details!

Have a wonderful day!

Monday, December 3, 2012

One Minute Vacay: Dec. 3

It's that time of year again! All month long, I'll be featuring One Minute Vacations! Each post will be a chance to rest and smile and just catch your breath for sixty seconds.

Today's drop of bliss?

Snow and coziness!

Doesn't that snowy lane shout "Christmas"? It does for me! I would love to walk under those beautiful pines. Maybe a deer would hop out onto the pathway. Maybe not. I just like to think it would. :)

There's something  magical about stomping inside after a nice, winter's walk and warming up by the fire. It's even better when there is a gorgeous Christmas tree by the fireplace.

The contrasts of a walk in crisp, winter air and relaxing by a cozy fire make December lovely.

What relaxes you in December?

Have a terrific Monday!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Let Hope Blossom

If you remember, I've talked about the faith challenges I've faced this year in my post, When God's Plans and Your Plans Don't Mesh. The new year brought a series of setbacks, then we sold our house, bought a new one, remodeled, and enrolled our children in a new school district. Life fell into place, but I wasn't quite myself. I'm still not quite myself.

To be honest, I push through each day, and while some days are fine, others leave me discouraged, pessimistic, hard to be around.

2012 was a winter season.

I have plenty of things to be thankful for, and I'm very grateful. I have been all year. But being grateful and feeling joyful are two different things.

A handful of good writer friends kept my spirits up with our chats, texts, and e-mails. Recently, I spent Thanksgiving weekend with my sister, her family, and my parents. I don't know if it was a combination of all this, but at some point last week, the layer of snow covering my optimism melted.

I felt hope stir.

I didn't realize how much I missed hope--that glorious, energy-giving sensation--until those tiny tendrils broke loose. When they did, I nourished them and hope did not wither. It blossomed.

Really, nothing specific happened. I think God granted me grace with the promise of spring.

Sometimes everything in your life should add up to 100% happiness, but it doesn't, and you don't have a good explanation for it. That's okay. Just keep getting up and doing what you're supposed to do. Winter will pass. Spring will come. When it does, let hope blossom.

Looking back, how would you describe your year?

Have a wonderful weekend!!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Pressure Cooker of November

I blinked and almost missed it. November!

How did November, that crazy pressure cooker of a month, fly by so quickly?

I didn't participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but I did set a goal of adding 40,000 words to my current manuscript. I'm on track to meet that goal. Yay!

Goals I'm not on track to meet? Just about everything else!

Yes, I still have Halloween decorations up. No, shopping isn't even close to being done for Christmas. In fact, I just started. Christmas cards? Haven't bought 'em.

To make matters worse, I keep thinking I should be making the most of Cyber Week, where Christmas shoppers supposedly find great deals on the Internet for gifts. The whole thing confuses me. I go to a site, say, and I don't really know which toys are deals and which aren't. Some sites, like Old Navy, offer a blanket discount on your purchase. Too bad the items I'm interested in are sold out.

No matter. I'll shop eventually. The tree will go up with all its lights and bulbs this weekend. And I'll break down and buy some Christmas cards at some point.

November is busy, and it's easy to feel like I'm not getting anything done, but when Christmas rolls around, I know I'll somehow have shopped for all the gifts, the house will twinkle with pretty decorations, and my manuscript will be tucked away, all written, ready to be revised in the new year.

That's the nice thing about pressure cookers--they gets things cooked quickly!

How are you doing on your goals?

Have a fantastic Wednesday!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Truth About Black Friday

by Jill Kemerer, @jillkemerer

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Since you're reading this, I'm assuming you either skipped shopping on Black Friday or survived it. I did not go shopping this year because...well...the truth?  It's scary!

On Black Friday, shoppers all over America set their alarms for 3 AM, throw on a pair of sweat pants, and, if they live in northern states, they wrap up in fifteen layers of scarves and coats before trekking to the mall, Target, Walmart, Kohls, and every other store brave enough to open its doors in the wee hours of the morning following Thanksgiving.

I've participated in this crazy tradition a time or two. It wasn't pretty.

First, you have to get in line with hordes of zealous shoppers, all pumped to grab every item on their lists. You're typically waiting for hours outside, and the line-keeping is based on the honor system. This means at least 50 people will "cut" in line by mysteriously seeing someone they know.

Let's face it, your odds of getting that TV on sale go down with each extra person joining the line ahead of you.

As if that weren't enough, it's technically still night out, it's cold, and the store will not open a minute before the appointed time. Someone behind you will be snapping an extra large wad of gum in your ear. The people ahead of you will start fake-wrestling. At least one flailing arm will catch you in the back of your head, and the wrestlers will bump the rest of your body numerous times.

Steam will start to pour from your ears as you mentally count how many people have technically cut in front of you by joining groups already in line.

If you're not the best shopper on a good day, well, it's about to get worse. Once the store does open the doors, you're jostled and shoved into the store like a blocked ketchup bottle that suddenly gets popped. There will be no rhyme or reason where the main items in the ad are placed in the store. Electronics will not be in the Electronics department. You'll practically need a map just to find a single item on your list!

The hot toy on sale? They'll have 3 of the one you want and 174 in the wrong color. It won't matter--they'll all be gone by the time you find the display.

At one point, you'll stop and just stare, circling in wonder at the sights you're seeing. Grown men laden with arms full of children's pajamas. (I don't know any men who buy children's pajamas on a normal day--why are they so pumped about cornering the market on Black Friday?) Women slinging four or five game systems on their shoulders. Carts crashing into each other on the way to the camera aisle.

And then the've grabbed everything you could find on your list, which sadly might only be one item, and you head to the check-out lanes.

Prepare yourself. It will be a doozy. These lines will weave in and out of aisles ALL the way to the BACK of the store. Hope you had a large coffee earlier, because you are going to need every drop of the caffeine just to stay awake long enough to pay for your stuff. Oh, and the gum snapper you thought you'd shaken? A new one will be standing in line right ahead of you. A screaming two-year-old will be behind you.

If you can't tell, I don't like Black Friday. In fact, I might need therapy after my experiences! All I know is this year I slept in, lounged in my pj's, and sipped coffee.

For all you Black Friday shoppers--I salute you! Hope you got what you wanted and the lines were short!

Did you go shopping on Black Friday this year?

Have a happy Monday!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

I'm on vacation this week! Yay! I can't wait to see my family. Good times!

Thank you to everyone who chimed in with Christmas book suggestions. I've already ordered two books and read one short story. :)

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I'll catch up with you all next week!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Christmas Book Suggestions?

Last week I read the children's book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. I'd never read it before, but both my kids had and they thought it was hilarious. They were right! I loved it too!

One of my favorite Christmas books is Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies. I first read it when I was in high school. I found it in our school library, and I remember thinking it looked interesting. I couldn't put it down--it just made me smile! Now, whenever I watch the movie or re-read the book, I'm taken back to a winter's snowfall outside the floor-to-ceiling windows in our old school library.

Each year, I read at least one Christmas novel. Many times they're romances.

This year, I would love your help. Could you share suggestions with me? I'd love to read a few Christmas books over the next few weeks, but I don't know which ones to read.

Any tips would be appreciated!!

Do you read Christmas books? What one is your favorite?

Enjoy your weekend!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why Santa Claus Gets on My Nerves

The Christmas commercials are starting to air on television, and I love the jingle-jangle, the bright reds and greens, and the happiness that abounds in them. What can I say? I love Christmas!

But only a few days into this most delightful season, and I realize Santa Claus gets on my nerves.

Call it a case of the Charlie Brown Christmas. I don't know. All I know is there's a Hallmark commercial with Santa opening a mail chute. Out pours tons and tons of letters. On the top is a red envelope. He opens it.

And a child's voice starts saying, "I want..."

I cringed.

I guess that's the problem for me. Santa Claus is all about "I want." Kids learn that this happy man exists only to fulfill their wishes--once a year. Yes, tell Santa what you want.

Christmas, to me, is about saying "thank you, Jesus," not, "I want..."

Knowing we have a magnificent God who loves us and calls us His dear children, who stands by us in every trouble, who cheers our every success, who wipes our tears, gives us courage, who blesses us beyond our wildest imaginations, and, who--get this, sent HIS SON to live a perfect life, die as atonement for our sins, and rise afterward to heaven so we can share eternal life with Him--well, I'll take rejoicing in the real reason for Christmas over a shabby list of wants any day.

The magic genie aspect of Santa Claus bothers me. It's an unwelcome distraction from the natural gratitude so abundant this time of year for Christians.

So there's my Christmas rant. I'm putting on my Christmas CD's and letting my heart blossom with the reason for the season.

Does the self-centeredness of "I want" in secular Christmas messages get on your nerves too? Or am I just being a major Grinch?

Have a fantastic Wednesday!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fresh Plots: WSG 30

I'm writing the first draft of my eleventh book.

Yes, eleven!

It's pretty cool to look back at where I started so many years ago. I vividly remember the day I decided I would write a novel. In my bedroom, surrounded by tiny pink flowered wallpaper, Chante' Moore crooning on the radio, and a gentle, patient snow coming down outside, I sprawled on the floor and began filling a notebook with my book.

I vaguely recall it being set in Chicago and the "book" consisted of a series of dream dates--my idea of a perfect romance novel.

Within a few hours, I realized my error. If a man and woman only deal with dream dates, the book ends at page 22. This knowledge didn't stop me; it fueled my desire to get it right--to figure out how my favorite authors did it. How did they write such compelling books?

My engineering career and the early years with my babies led me on a detour from my writing, but I did finish my first book seven years later.

Now that I have ten completed books under my silver, square-linked belt, I know the danger of getting comfortable. I've only ever written one genre--romance. It's the only genre I want to write. Sure, I've dabbled in romantic suspense. I've written quite a few sweet romances for the mainstream audience. But my true love lies in my current genre: contemporary romance for the Christian market.

To keep my new book fresh, I tried a different plotting method, but by chapter three I found myself writing a scene and feeling that something wasn't quite right. After a long session of trying to determine the problem, I realized the plot progression felt familiar. I'd done something similar in a previous book.

Out came my new writing craft book, The Story Structure Architect, recommended to me by Jessica R. Patch. It's  not a read-straight-through-book. It's more to help you make decisions about where your book should go. The "situations" section in the final half of the book really helps with this. I read through two situations and inspiration struck.

In some ways, writing a book is easier now that I have years of experience. The writing itself is better, and I trust my instincts. But in many ways it's a lot harder. I have to challenge myself to find new twists, to come up with more unique plots. And, I'm always learning. Always will be learning.

Have you found yourself copying yourself--or another author--with your current plot? How do you keep your plots fresh?

Have a terrific Monday!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Moldy Pumpkins

We have four pumpkins on our porch. It's November 9. That's 9 days past Halloween. Two of these pumpkins are moldy. Their creepy faces reveal black souls, which is fitting for Halloween decorations and all, but really--it's well into November. Why haven't I thrown these things out??

Here they are before Halloween, when they still looked sweet and happy.

All my fall decorations, including pumpkins and black cats, lurk around the house. I have not put them away. I will not put them away.

They will disappear into the basement when I chug, chug, chug the Christmas boxes upstairs and not one minute before. That's how I roll.

Moldy pumpkins.

Okay, who else is super lazy when it comes to this stuff? Let me know if you have moldy pumpkins on your porch still!

Have an amazing weekend!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Little Things and Contentment

Yesterday I had one of those rush, rush, rush days. The kind where you try to fit it all in--making a grocery list, buying the groceries, VOTING, finishing laundry, and, oh yeah, there's a ton of apples in the fridge and you should probably do something about them before they spoil.

Well, I did make the grocery list. I bought the groceries. I voted. I finished the laundry. I even peeled 25 apples and made applesauce out of them. When I finally sat down to write, it was 2:30 pm, and I knew I had a lasagna to make and library books to pick up. I didn't think I'd be able to meet my goal, but I fired up my laptop and figured any words were better than none.

I did meet my writing goal. It felt good. But what really brought a warm blanket of contentment over me were all the little things I'd accomplished throughout the day.

Sometimes the small tasks snowball and push a huge pile of anxiety on my chest. No, the world won't stop turning if I have to throw out a few apples, but it will bother me. I hate being wasteful. And, sure, I could leave the laundry for tomorrow, but I don't enjoy putting things off that I can get done now.

My heart is also smiling because I have a refrigerator full of healthy food. I don't have to fold clothes because they're all folded. And I'm that much further on my current work-in-progress.

What a blessing to have the little things. :)

What little things could you do today to bring contentment?

Have a terrific Wednesday!!

Monday, November 5, 2012

What's In Your Writer Survival Kit? WSG 29

Writer's Survival Guide 29: What's in Your Survival Kit?

As a writer, I have a lot of tricks to keep me writing. My laptop, chocolate, cute pens, my idea journal, my ginormous thesaurus--and coffee! So naturally, I'm curious about your tricks.

Tell me, what are the essentials in YOUR writer's  survival kit?

Have an awesome Monday!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Exercise Plans with Jill Kemerer Vlog

Now that November has arrived, I pretty much wear my winter uniform of sweaters and jeans. This can lull a midwestern gal into thinking she can hide any bulges. (I'm going to let you in on a secret: she can't.)

Unfortunately, Halloween just hit our house and I'm a candy freak. With Christmas right around the corner, I know I'll be shimmying into cute holiday clothes soon. That's why I'm being proactive this year. I'm getting my exercise plans together.

Here are my exercise plans to stay in shape before the holiday season!

Is this time of year a danger zone for you to drop exercising and overindulge? What are you doing to stay in shape? I'd love to hear your tips!

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Candy Day!

Guess what? It's candy day!

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

But the main reason? I love candy!

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

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


What is your favorite type of candy?

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Improve, Stagnate, or Decline: WSG 28

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

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

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

They did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every book gives us a chance to improve our writing.

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

Have a terrific day!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Spooky Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spooky shows and movies!

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

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

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

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

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

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Party Time for Shay Lacy!!

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

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

Let the celebration begin!!

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

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

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

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

Hero Needed ~

Some heroes are born and some are forged by events.

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

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

My review (on Goodreads):

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

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

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

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

About Shay ~

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

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

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

Have a fabulous day!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pushing Your Word Count: WSG 27

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

How do they do it?

There are two keys:

1. Group support
2. Pushing to meet a goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful Monday!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Need a Boost? Try a Walk!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does nature lift your spirits the way it does mine?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Halloween Costumes and Crime Scenes

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

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

Homemade Halloween costume or crime scene?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's mine: Wii Remote

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

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

Have a wonderful day!

Monday, October 15, 2012

3 Ways to Fix a Story Problem: WSG 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are three ways to fix a story problem.

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

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

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

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

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

Have a fantastic day!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Jill's Happy Five! Oct 12, 2012

I love Fridays!

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

What makes your Happy Five list this week?

Have a fun weekend!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Our Remodeling Projects: Before and After

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

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

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

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

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

Next up...our family room!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a fabulous Wednesday!

Monday, October 8, 2012

WSG 25: Lousy First Sentences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful day!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Surviving October of an Election Year with Jill Kemerer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Block Schedule Experiment

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a fantastic day!

Monday, October 1, 2012

WSG 24: Expand Your Bubble

Writer's Survival Guide 24: Expand Your Bubble


So many labels apply to that word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you expand your bubble?

Have a lovely Monday!

Friday, September 28, 2012

How Christian Music Uplifts Me

Seven years ago, I did the unthinkable.

I set the radio station to SmileFM and left it there.

Yeah. Me. Miss Christian-music-isn't-cool (even though I am a Christian--wow, what an ego I had!).

Shortly after I tuned into this fresh, upbeat, very contemporary music, more things started clicking with me and my faith. I've been a lifelong Christian, but I never utilized all of the amazing tools so readily available.

I started shopping at Christian bookstores. Buying devotionals. Slipping inspirational cards into my kids' lunch boxes.

I started having afternoon tea with God. Reading a chapter of the Bible every morning along with a short devotional by Max Lucado.

I started fretting less, and feeling good even when I had to make difficult decisions based on my faith.

Basically, the more I let God into my life, the more He changed me to be a godly woman. Don't get me wrong, by godly I don't mean perfect! I'm about as imperfect as they come! But God extends His grace to me every day and helps me do His will.

Even when I get too busy and "forget" to have afternoon tea with God or stop letting the radio station linger on Christian stations, God finds ways to bring me back.

I've been reading Married for Real by Eddie and Tamara George. In it, Eddie shares his journey in becoming a top running back in the NFL. It was not an easy road, and he had several periods of almost non-activity in his career--yet, he never gave up or even slacked off on his training. He attributed it to God and his strong faith. He shared a song he listened to every night, "Could You Believe," by Al Jarreau. I downloaded it. When I hear this beautiful melody, heartfelt lyrics, and Al's passionate voice, I want to shake my fist in the air and yell, "Yes! I, too, can believe!"

Christian music uplifts me. Every time.

If you find yourself feeling a little lost or overly busy or confused or just depressed, go ahead and listen to Al Jarreau's song. We all can believe.

What music uplifts you? Do you have a go-to song?

Enjoy your weekend!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Celebrity Reports: ACFW 2012

I recently returned from the 2012 ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference. Many of you know I LOVE magazines, so while I was there, I couldn't help thinking the conference was a celebrity event. No, Jennifer Aniston wasn't there. Nor was Denzel Washington or Sandra Bullock. These stars are small fries compared to the big potatoes I saw!

Only the BIG celebrities were at ACFW, and I got to meet many of them!

First up, the shuttle from the airport to the hotel. Who did I ride with? None other than the super cool Amy Clipston! Amy writes Amish and contemporary Christian fiction, and she was so friendly and welcoming, I couldn't believe my trip had started on such a high note!

Within minutes, I'd shoved my junk into my hotel room (see the stellar view from our room below) and sprinted back down to the lobby. I did not want to miss my two superstars arrive--Cynthia Herron, my fab roomie, and Jessica Patch, my dear friend. But before they showed up, I met Jennifer Fromke!! Jennifer writes women's fiction AND she's familiar with mid-Michigan where I grew up. It's always fun to use the words "tractor pull" and "demolition derby" in a sentence and have someone nodding in complete understanding. :)

I can't even begin to tell you how many friends I finally was able to meet in person. I just started writing them out and had to come back and delete because I realized this post would be forty-five pages long! Before I continue, though, I have to say I've been beyond blessed to deepen my friendships with both Cynthia Herron and Jessica R. Patch. These women are genuine, honest, and classy. I'm honored to know them.

It's funny how certain people have an automatic "buzz" around them. People clamor for their attention. We get excited and elbow each other when they're near. Who are these people? Every agent, editor, and best-selling author there! If only I had pictures to show the ACFW version of  "Stars: Just Like Us."

You'd see for yourself that editors get their own coffee (shocking!) and they wait in line to buy a Diet Coke in the gift shop (what??). Agents GO TO THE BATHROOM (I know!! Who knew they had bladders?). Best-selling authors? They attend workshops! (Wow!)

While I get as star-struck as anyone, the people I completely flipped over (besides my friends) were(in the order I met them) Becky WadeLisa JordanLiz Johnson, and Judy Gann.

I'd read My Stubborn Heart over the weekend and concluded I could NEVER write as good as Becky Wade, and if I could meet her at the conference my life would certainly be complete. Well, guess what? She was in the first-timer's meeting too! I may have (definitely did) overly hugged her, but she was just awesome, which made me love her even more.

Lisa Jordan and I have been friends for a long time online, and she's always so warm and friendly that I couldn't wait to meet her. She's even more beautiful in person, and she gives the best hugs, and she even forgave me for completely blanking on life details when we first met, which I thought was very classy. Let's just say this little brain can only handle so much information in a conference full of people and it had reached its limit! Watching Lisa accept the Carol award for her short contemporary romance, Lakeside Reunion, brought tears to my eyes. Congratulations, Lisa!

Moving on to Liz Johnson. Liz and I share the same agent so I knew we'd get along great--and we did! Liz is even more down-to-earth and fantastic in person! Liz, too, was up for a Carol award. It's probably wrong to say she was robbed so I won't. :) So now I have an out-of-control girl crush on Liz, too. I might have to form a fan club or something...

One of my new favorite friends is Judy Gann. Judy is a Bookie (represented by Books & Such Literary Agency) too, and I met her on her birthday! Happy Birthday, Judy! Judy and I bumped into each other off and on throughout the conference, and I'm convinced God sent her to help me. I realize with all the exclamation points it looks as if I had the time of my life. Let me set you straight. The conference was a real challenge for me. Judy comforted and encouraged me throughout my stay, and we were able to have a nice long talk on the final day. I'm SO blessed by Judy!

There are dozens of other people who made a huge impact on me. Susan May Warren is such a special person. I know she personally touched many writers' lives over the weekend, and I'm very thankful to her. I could go on and on, but I'll save my other friends for another post.

The bottom line? The conference solidified one thing I already knew: it's not what I can take away from a conference, but who I can add to my life that makes all the difference. I'm SO blessed to have new friends.

What did you do last week? What are you doing this week? I've missed you!

Have a blessed Wednesday!