Thursday, April 30, 2015

Habits Aren't Always Bad

"To overcome an irrational fear
replace it with a habit."
~ Seth Godin

Scared to let someone critique your manuscript?
Don't give them the whole thing. Just a paragraph. Just one. After you live through that experience, move on to a page, then a chapter, and pretty soon handing over your book baby won't terrify the bejeebers out of you.

Afraid to pitch a manuscript to an agent or editor?
First practice pitching to your dog. Helpful hint: make him sit and stay first. A pocketful of cut up wieners helps, too. Then pitch it to a friend. You probably won't need as many wieners this go around and the sit/stay is a bad idea.

Terrified to type "The End?"
No, this isn't a stupid, made-up fear. I always get sweaty armpits ending a story (sorry for the visual) because I wonder if I tied up all the loose ends, or if my characters completed a satisfying arc, or if the plot is even feasible. The habit cure for this is to type The End at the end of every chapter, causing you to suffer through mini-sweat scares. It will also make you analyze each chapter so that by the time you really do type El Finito, there won't be any plot holes or wimpy characters.

The list of things writers fear is endless, really. The point here is to:
face the fear by beating it down to size through the action of taking baby steps toward it.

And here's a little bonus for you . . . this isn't only for writing related fears. This sage advice works for any anxieties in your life.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Things Writers Want to Hear

When a writer's head hits the pillow at night and they journey off to Sleepyland on their magical unicorn, here's a short list of what they hear in their dreams:

Things from big name authors  . . .
- "I think my current WIP is a steaming pile of literary
   manure compared to yours."
- "Your writing makes me want to weep and/or beat
   the snot out of you."
- "I'm afraid you're going to steal my readers."

Things from aspiring writers . . .
- "I wish I could write like you."
- "You make great story telling look so effortless."
- "Could you give me some writerly advice?"

Things from publishers . . .
- "Six figures? No, no, no. Let's make it seven."
- "Whatever your next idea is, just write it and we'll buy it."
- "Ninety percent of our marketing budget will be spent on your latest release."

It's dreams like these that keep a writer clutching their pillow long after the alarm has gone off. But why? Why do these remarks make authors feel so good? Because we're sick and twisted rotten little sinners who crave a good pride stroking. Eew. I felt dirty just typing that. Too bad it's the truth.

It might be because of the nature of the writing venue, the fear of a public flogging, or it could just be that writers are needy creatures. Whatever, there's no denying pride is an issue that's easier dealt with sooner rather than later. How? By keeping your nose in a book: The Book. God's Word.

It's only when your self-worth comes from the Creator that you quit craving the strokes of the created.

And the best way to do that is to find out exactly what God thinks of you every day. Before you write a word, dig into The Word.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Thank God for 3M

Sometimes a writer skips along in his happy pants, lah-de-dah-de-dah, writing thousands and thousands of words, when all of a sudden splat. The plot tangles, because somewhere along the way, the synopsis was forgotten and the story went off-roading. And that's exactly where I currently find myself . . . in a plot ditch.

Not to worry, though. God sent me two blessings: Erica Vetsch and sticky notes.

Erica is the author of gobs of western romances. How is she so prolific? Unlike me, she's a methodical plotter. She takes a big ol' piece of cardboard and arranges sticky notes on them with all her ideas for scenes. Then she organizes them and voila. Instant novel.

So I decided to give that technique a whirl today and here's what I came up with . . . a wall with the last half of my novel mostly figured out. I've still got a few spots to fill, but so far it worked out pretty slick. I must admit it made my brain hurt to come up with that many scenes in a row. Usually I only plan out two or three at a time. Stay tuned. I'll let you know if it works.

Oh yeah, here's what I'm working on . . .

Moore's Maiden
Setting: Dover, England, 1807
Officer ALEXANDER MOORE goes undercover as a rogue gambler to expose a traitorous plot against the king—and a master he is with his disguise, for JOHANNA LANGLEY believes him to be quite the cad. But when Johanna is swept up in the intrigue, Alex must choose between his mission and reputation as a crack lawman, or the woman he’s come to love.

Are Self Publishers Losers?

Can I just be honest here? Self-publishing feels like failure. Like, "What? You can't get a real publisher to print your book so you had to do it yourself? Must be pretty crappy writing for you to go that route. What a loser."

Yeah, that's what it feels like sometimes, but I've got lots of writerly buddies, even big names, who self-publish with confidence and finesse. How do they spin what could be construed as losing into winning? Well, besides a ton of hard work, they have a winning mindset, and you can too once you've read through the following handy dandy list . . .

10 Ways To Know If You're a Self-Published Winner

1. You hold in your hands a printed copy of the book of your heart. Winner!
2. You are asked to speak on something related to your book. Winner!
3. You encounter and encourage other writers because of your book. Winner!
4. You've got new ideas for other stories you can't wait to write and now you know they will be published. Winner!
5. You've sold enough copies to not only pay back your output but you're now raking in pure profit. Winner!
6. Readers ask you when you're next book is coming out. Winner!
7. You launch your book and gobs of people come to the party. Winner!
8. You are interviewed on a local radio show and people call in to ask questions. Winner!
9. You're invited to guest post or write an article about your book or writing journey. Winner!
10. Positive reviews start showing up on Amazon. Winner!

Don't get me wrong. Not every self-pubbed book is a winner. Some are stinkers. But you'll find the same with traditionally published books as well. The point is not only should you not judge books by their covers, but don't judge the authors by their book covers (or publishers) as well. Coexist already.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


It won't always be like this.

Does that thought open your mouth with a "Thank God!" because the pain of now cuts so deep?

Or does it slow your feet, tug down your heart, make you wish this time and place could stay forever?

Either way, the statement holds true.
It won't always be like this.
But will it be better -- or worse?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Top 3 Dangers of Reading

Have you heard about the 8 year old Canadian girl who was told by a bus driver she may no longer read books on her bus ride home from school? Yep. Not even kidding. Apparently he thinks it's dangerous.

He claims that it could be harmful to other students because they might want to see what she's looking at. They might even stand up to get a closer look. Shoot, she might even poke her eye out if he has to slam on the brakes and the book nails her in the eye. Seriously. I'm not making this up, folks. Check it out here.

Sounds like a bunch of nandy-pandy nonsense to me, but it did get me to thinking . . . is it ever a problem to stick your nose in a book?

Top 3 Dangers of Reading

Loss of Innocence
There have been times when I've picked up a book without vetting it first, and in this day and age, that's a bad idea. Graphic scenes can never be un-read once you've allowed them into your brain. It's always a good idea to consider what you're going to read before you read it.

Radical Escapism
Sure, every book you read pulls you away from reality for awhile. At least it should. That's the job of an author. But radical escapism is more like an addiction. It's using books to medicate, to run away from life's problems. Granted, this isn't very common, but it is a danger for some.

The Mr. Darcy Syndrome
What red-blooded woman wouldn't want a Mr. Darcy in her life? That's not a danger. That's a desire! The problem comes in when fictional characters become the standard for real-world relationships. Newsflash: Darcy was a made up dude. Expecting humans to measure up to characters puts unrealistic expectations on them, which leads to disappointment, and ultimately to broken relationships.

Now that you know the dangers, slap on a helmet and be safe out there, kids.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

10 Mistakes Writers Make on Their Websites

I was trolling around the interwebs the other day, as I am wont to do when it's FREAKING SNOWING IN APRIL. Sorry for the shouting. Anyways, I came across this site titled The Five Biggest Mistakes Writers Make on Their Websites. So with a keen killer cat curiosity (yeah, say that five times in a row really fast), I decided to not only peruse that page but also do a search and destroy mission to find out what makes a good writerly website and then compare that list to my own site. And guess what? I'm taking you along on my in-depth journalistic mission . . .

Score! Indeedy doody, I do have a bio on mine. Chalk one up for me.

Ooh. Epic fail. I lose that point I earned.

Gimme that point back. You can definitely contact me.

What I have is written as well as I can possibly pump out. The problem is I don't have a whole lot of it. I'm thinking that's a half point.

While my graphics aren't all fireworks and unicorns, my site is tidy and book related. That's gotta count for something. Score one.

Grr. I'm back one. I don't have any call to action buttons . . . but I do have a plan to remedy that by adding in a newsletter button.

Bingo! Got my point back. I link to Amazon for all my books

This one super annoys me. I hate it when I visit a website and music starts playing automatically . . . especially if I'm at someplace like a library and it blares on. So this is a point in my favor because I don't have any music on my site.

There's got to be some takeaway value at your site or the reader feels slighted. Ding-ding-ding. Point for me. I've got book club kits as downloadable freebies.

Okay. I'm a little guilty of this one. I need to clean up my home page and delete some old posts on there. Subtract one.

Total: 3 1/2

So, I guess I've got a little authorly website renovations to make. What's your feedback? What do you like to see on an author's site? Leave any additions in the comment section.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

5 Keys to Unlocking Great Writing

I spoke for nearly three solid hours today about a seventh-grade English class I'll be teaching next fall. What did parents want to know most about? Grammar. As if grammar is the end all and be all of an English class. What's up with that?

Lots of people believe there's safety in grammar because it fences writing in. Gives writing rules and boundaries. Lays out a checklist where you can just tick off each tidy little box and bammo! Instantaneous good writing.

Yeah. Not so much. That line of thinking works well for left-brainers, science geeks, math nerds and such ilk, but here's the deal . . . you can't reduce great writing to a list of "Do This, Not That" because writing is subjective and standards change.

Sure, it's a given that some grammar is needed. Sentences must flow and make sense. Spelling mistakes and basic punctuation needs to be mastered or the reader will give up trying to decipher the words. But other than that, delving deeper into sentence diagramming isn't going to make you a more marketable writer. In fact, in a recent study at York University there was no evidence found that teaching grammar helped pupils aged 5-16 write more fluently or accurately.

So, if grammar isn't the key to great writing, then what is? Learning to grab the reader by the throat via powerful storytelling and beautiful word choice. How is that accomplished?

5 Keys to Unlocking Great Writing

1. Read.
Exposing yourself to literature of all sorts broadens and improves your own writing.

2. Re-write.
James Michener once said, "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." Editing and polishing kicks your writing up a notch.

3. Write tight.
Kill verbosity. Ain't nobody got time for that.

4. Be real.
Write like you speak and think. That's your voice. That's believable.

5. Be fearless.
Take chances with your writing. Mix it up. Don't care about what others or the market may think.

There you have it . . . and you'll notice grammar isn't in the list.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Do you ever pick up a book and are reading along, lah-de-dah-de-dah, when whammo. You wonder if you've suddenly contracted Alzheimer's because you sure as heck don't remember if Hector is the uncle and Hewie the nephew, or vice versa. Or you feel like an idiot because you have no idea what a rantipole is and you're pretty sure every 5th grader knows the definition. Don't sweat it, folks. Have I found an app for you!

Fictionary is an online app to help you with book specific characters and terminology. Now you can enjoy your stories without confusion and it's all spoiler free. Here's how it works . . .

You simply select a word in your e-reader and Fictionary pops up a definition or short bio of the word or person. If you still don't get it, or want more info, you can pull down an entire screen with gobs of clarification.

It's a relatively new site so there aren't a ton of books to choose from yet. HERE are the books/authors they feature, which are mostly classic, young adult, fantasy or sci fi. You can request a particular book for them to put up next. Doesn't mean they'll do it immediately, but hey, at least they listen.

Fictionaries are free and work on all Kindles and some Android ePub apps. So go ahead and swallow your pride. Sometimes it's hard to admit you don't know what a needy mizzler is.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Loosening the Rules Corset

If you want to get published, never, EVER:
- Write a story in more than one or two points of view,
   and heaven forbid you should use four or more.
- Open a scene with a character looking in a mirror.
- Use hokey dream sequences.
- Kill off one of the main characters.
- Start with a prologue because everyone knows
   prologues are old school.

And those are only a few naughty no-no's on the ol' verboten list. Here's the deal, though . . . of the rules I've mentioned, I've broken every one of them in books I've gotten published. I know. Right? What good are rules if schleps like me laugh in the face of the rule gods and still get published? How come some writers can get away with these shenanigans?

One word: story. It all has to do with a breathtaking story. If you capture the reader's attention, grab 'em by the throat and ramp up their heart rate with an oh-my-sweet-pickled-pineapple-I-MUST-read-the-next-chapter kind of intrigue, then you can break rules left and right and get away with it. Whoa. I think I might've broken a rule or two in that sentence.

The bottom line is that if you listen to every editor/agent/expert/mother-in-law out there, you'll be so confined by do's and don'ts that your creativity will die an ugly death. Write your story, in your voice. Sure, go ahead and listen to the rules. Know what they are. But don't live, eat and breathe them. Readers and publishers crave freshness in storytelling, and sometimes that happens by flipping the bird to rules.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


In thanking God for everything,
you are protected against discouragement in everything.
Fear won't stand a chance,
pride will be shut out,
because gratitude has a way of expanding,
pushing away bitterness and discontent.
And it all starts with three simple words:
Thank you, God.

Friday, April 17, 2015

5 Common Word Conundrums

All I remember from high school Spanish is how to say, "I broke my leg." That may come in handy should I decide to run the bulls in Pamplona, but otherwise, not so much. I'll stick to English, thank you very much. But even English has its glitches, and today I'll shine the spotlight on five bugaboos that even the most seasoned writer can mess up.

Weird not Wierd
This one throws me every stinking time. But not anymore. Here is a handy dandy way to remember the correct spelling of weird . . .
WE (we) IR (are) D (deadly) to tiny, baby kittens.
And every time you spell it wIErd a tiny baby kitten gets punched in the head. Don't be a brute. Save the kittens.

Then vs Than
Honestly, I don't understand the mass confusion surrounding these two words. Nevertheless, I'm here to help.
THEN is used for time: First I stole a car and then I crashed into a cop.
THAN is used for comparison: I'm much better at stealing cars than escaping from handcuffs.

A Lot not Alot
This one's easy. Alot isn't even a word. You wouldn't write abunch or ateensyweensybit or awombat, so never, ever, EVER write alot as one word because it's two words.

Effect vs Affect
I've stumbled over this grammarly log a time or two. Effect is most often a noun (we won't go into technicalities--an editor's got to earn his keep somehow) and affect is a verb. That means if you can substitute another verb where you've stuck this word, then you ought to be using affect.
Example: As an awkward adolescent, bullies affected me in junior high.
                As an awkward adolescent, bullies affected kissed me in junior high.
Kissed can work in the second sentence, albeit not logically, but even so, you'd use the word AFFECTED not effected.
Example: What effect did bullies have on you as an awkward adolescent?
                 What effect kisses did bullies have on you as an awkward adolescent?
See? That made no sense whatsoever, so the word remains EFFECT.

It's vs Its
If you have trouble with this one, I don't blame you. How many times did a grammar teacher rap your knuckles for forgetting an apostrophe to show possession? Yeah. This one flips that around. You DON'T choose the apostrophe to show possession in this case. You only use it to make a contraction for it is or it has, so if you can add in those words and it makes sense, then the apostrophe word is the one for you.
Example: It's always a good day to ride a unicorn.
                It's It is always a good day to ride a unicorn.
Makes sense, so the apostrophe choice is the winner.
Example: The unicorn is fun to ride because its mane is silky smooth.
                 The unicorn is fun to ride because its it is mane is silky smooth.
That does NOT make sense, so the non-apostrophe usage is the right choice.

There you have it. Go forth into the wide, wide world of writerly sports and kick some grammarly butt!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Readers Anonymous

**steps up to podium, clears throat excessively, looks deep within to pony up any scraps of courage lying about, nears microphone, and -- makes everyone cringe from the feedback**

"Hello. My name is Michelle, and I am a reader."

Yep. There you have it. I said it out loud. I have a reading problem. From the backs of cereal boxes to War and Peace, if there are words in front of me, I will read them. Do you suffer from the same lack of self control? Then guess what sugar puff, you just may be addicted as well.

10 Signs You Are Addicted to Reading

1. You've been known to turn down a rollicking night out on the town so you can stay at home in your yoga pants and read a book.

2. Your idea of a rollicking night out is going to a bookstore.

3. Your mid-afternoon slump isn't caused by a morning doughnut binge but from staying up too late reading "just one more chapter."

4. Long car rides or airplane flights are just fine with you because, hey, you've got a loaded Kindle and you know how to use it.

5. No one -- I mean NO one -- disses your favorite authors and walks away without a fat lip.

6. You already know the book is better before you've seen the movie.

7. You carry around an emergency book in case social engagements turn awkward or boring.

8. Book hangovers (the depression that follows the end of a fantastic read) are a way of life.

9. Even if you live to 102, there's no way you'll ever read all the books you've got squirreled away in your house.

10. Vacations are for one thing: reading.

If you resonate with more than half the items on this list, then you are officially a bookaholic. You might want to get some help. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Looking for something to do other than raking up the rest of last year's leaves and scooping up mounds of doggie doo doo leftover from winter? Have I found a site for you!

Storybird is a super fun site to check out. Basically it's a place to read, write and create with words and pictures. The user possibilities are endless. Here are a few people groups that could benefit from a visit to Storybird. See if you fit in one of the categories.

The tools at this site are easy to use and allow you to build a book in minutes. The artwork inspires words. Just pick a picture and start writing.

Storybird bills itself as having "any type of book for any type of reader." You can even follow along as stories emerge and comment or interact with authors.

Make and share your creations with Lark, an iOS poetry app by Storybird.

Make group stories in minutes or make up stories about the family. A great way to capture traditions in word format.

Free tools to create assignments or allow students to create their own story books.

There are two sections to Storybird. Read and Write. Under the read section, you can determine what genre, what age group, and what length you'd like to explore. I clicked on romance, adult, and long. Here's one of the samples: Just Take My Hand. It's a story about a teenage billionaire who's saved by a homeless girl in a foreign country when he is mugged and left to die.

Of course I was drawn to the Write section. I composed an adult children's book called Edith. After you read it, you'll discover why it is I write for adults instead of children.

It really is a heap of fun to try and ridiculously easy to use. Go ahead. Give it a whirl. And if you do, share the link to your story in the comment section. Surely it can't be worse than mine.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Yawning: The Cure For Creativity

Usually right when I'm about to fall asleep, BAM! That's when I get a great story idea or character twist and my eyes pop open. What's up with that?

Science. No really, it's a scientific principle. Studies (like this and this . . . see? I'm not making this stuff up.) show that when you're bored or relaxed, new ideas are more easily generated. Here's how it works:

  • taking a break or being bored signals to your brain that you need fresh ideas
  • new ideas are generated because your brain is looking for stimulation via solutions

Turns out our grey matter has a few different modes. There's a Focused Mode when you learn new things and a Diffused Mode when you relax. It's in the diffused mode that you're most creative.

But I know, I hear you. "Michelle! I can't go nodding off mid-afternoon just to come up with the fix for my plot problem. Sheesh. Some of us have to actually work, not nap." Good news little cowboys! It turns out that this creativity boost works if you simply take a break, which totally backs up my go-take-a-walk theory. Just getting outside for a short jaunt around the block can get the old creative juices flowing again. Proof is here.

So next time your writing hits the wall, don't panic. Just grab your satin-edged blankie and close your eyes or tie on your hiking boots and hoof it outside. A new idea is bound to pop up when you're not straining so hard to create one.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Visit to the Writers' Market

One of my favorite signs of spring is the opening of the Minneapolis Farmers' Market. Love the veggies, flowers, and especially the chocolate seller who makes turtles that are so mouth watering, I'm seriously drooling on my dang keyboard just thinking about them.

So yeah, it's no secret that I love hanging out at the market, and it got me to thinking . . . what if there were a Writers' Market? What kind of booths would be there? What kinds of products could be purchased? Cue the cheesy harp segue music . . .

Mystery/Suspense Booth
Step up to this booth and you'll be able to buy the knowledge of how to dole out information in digestible bites. You can also buy the sweet skill of how not to heap backstory in chunks large enough to choke a reader.
Suggestion: The Echoes of Freedom series by Elizabeth Ludwig, book I is No Safe Harbor

Romance Stand
Peruse this stand to learn how to ramp up emotional intensity and connect to a reader's deep desire to be loved. Go ahead. Admit it. You do desire to be loved, I don't care who you are. It's the way God made us.
Suggestion: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Poetry Seller
Stop by this seller and snatch up the ability to write tight.
Suggestion: The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg by Carl Sandburg.

Classics Stall
There's no passing up this stall. Here you can scoop up a deal on learning how to put words together in fresh ways.
Suggestion: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Women's Fiction Table
This table is a favorite of women everywhere. What do readers and fictional characters have in common? Relationships. Pick up one of these fresh stories and you'll see first-hand how to master this technique.
Suggestion: Chapel Springs Revival by Ane Mulligan

Fantasy/Sci Fi Hut
There's always a crowd at this hut because here you can purchase the expertise of how to pull a reader out of their present situation and into a fictional realm.
Suggestion: Failstate by John Otte

Historical Counter
Who wouldn't want to own gobs of freshly-picked facts and the expertise to weave those facts into fiction?
Suggestion: Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta

There you have it. A whole plethora of writerly skills shown in story format, all available now at the Writers Market. Okay, so really they're just books at Amazon, but a stellar selection that I heartily recommend.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


What if we allowed God to be big?
To expand and fill every broken crack?
What if we let Him eclipse ourselves,
leaving us in shadow
and Him alone in grand and glorious light?
"But," you stammer, "Of course God is big,
everyone knows that."
Then why do we live as if He's small,
racing through our day, after an obligatory prayer
and a few snatches of Scripture,
going about our tasks all large and in charge
with God in our pocket?
How different would your day be
if you shrank and God grew?
Try it.
I dare you.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Is it Cheating to Ask God to Help You?

I hit a wall today. My plot snarled into a wham-bam of a knot akin to the kinky mess only a three-year-old can create with their shoelaces. It will take a divine act to sort through the gnarly disaster I've made, which brings me to today's topic . . .

Is it okay to ask God to help figure out a plot?

In the grand scheme of things, God's busy with famines and wars and things on a much larger scale, way more important than the writing of a stupid made-up story.

Kids dying of starvation = important
Disease ravaged West Africa = important
Unemployment and cancer and suicide = important
Plot help = frivolous and a waste of time

Or is it?

I submit that relying on God to write a story isn't about the writing, it's about the trusting. It's a faith stretcher. Learning to depend on Him for little is a small pile of building blocks to erect for depending on Him in the big. The seemingly insignificant act of penning fiction has the potential to grow a relationship with the eternal God simply by virtue of bringing plot dilemmas and character conundrums to Him in prayer. Maybe, just maybe, that's what Paul was talking about in Philippians 4:6.

Writing down words isn't a supernatural act -- but creating is. God is the original Creator. Every time a writer envisions a story in his mind and captures it on paper, that's creation -- and that's a tangible picture of an intangible God.


Noodle that one next time you wonder if it's okay to ask God to help you with your writing.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Quantity or Quality?

It's Thursday. It's raining. And my pants are digging in at the waistband. Days like this are good for only one thing . . . curling up with a good story. Ready, children? Grab your milk and cookies and listen up.

"The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A".

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."
excerpt taken from Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland

So, what's the moral of the story kids? You got it . . . sometimes quality comes through the production of quantity. I'm not saying this works every dang time. Pounding out gibberish day in and day out is still going to reap gibberish. But (and I've always got a big but) the drive to put out the best product you can on a consistent basis has a way of honing your craft to a fine edge.

Now get out there and write, little cowboys. Keep creating and you'll birth something that will make you and your readers smile.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Yoga Poses For Writers

It's no great secret that writers sit on their heinies all day. Leastwise the productive ones do. And that makes for some stiff muscles, creaky joints, and a trunk and half full of junk. Don't panic. I've got your backside here at Writer Off the Leash. Today I'm going to share some of my favorite yoga poses.

The Sweet Mercy
The "Sweet Mercy" Move
As in "Sweet Mercy, I've typed so long that the numbness in my fingers now stretches up to my armpits." Just do this move, oh, let's say fifty-two times, and you'll be good as new.

Creepy Stalker
The Creepy Stalker
This pose is great to practice right before attending a writers' conference. You never know when you'll meet the agent or editor of your dreams, and this move will come in really handy to distinguish yourself from the rest of the writerly wannabes.

Rock Star

Rock Star
If you work hard enough for long enough, eventually you will achieve literary success. You know what that means? Yep. You'll be on the stage, under the lights, in front of hundreds of eyeballs. You might as well limber yourself up good right now with the Rock Star stretch.

The Contract Contortion
The Contract Contortion
This is it. This is the pose every kid on the writerly block yearns to perfect. A beach isn't necessary to perform this move, but doggone if it doesn't make the landing a lot easier on the bones.

Bad Bad Beans

Bad Bad Beans
You've all heard this, because it's true: don't quit your day job. It's no secret writers don't rake in a whole lot of money, which makes grocery shopping a challenge. Sure, beans are cheap, but so are Ramen noodles. Step away from the bean aisle. Just sayin'.

Rejection after rejection. One-star reviews. There's a certain amount of rage involved in being a writer. Instead of going out gang-banging to relieve the pressure, try this sweet move instead.

The Dead Cat
The Dead Cat
Writers' block, schmiters' block I always say. No, really. All the time. It's like a sick nervous tic. One of my favorite cures for writers' block is to kill off a character. Or if you happen to have a cat on hand--oops! Did I say that out loud?

So, there you have some fantastic yoga poses to get your sorry winter behind in shape for shorts season. Yeah. I know. I'm just that awesome. If you've got a favorite move or two, feel free to share in the awesomeness by leaving your ideas in the comment section.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


I have a never-ending TBR pile, so deciding which book to read next is never a problem for me . . . and likely never will be. Still, I understand there are folks out there who are sometimes at a loss to know what to read next. Never fear. Have I found a site for you!

Whichbook helps you select your next read depending on what kind of mood you're in . . . and all without magical fairy dust. You simply choose 4 different combinations from a list of 12 and set the little slider scale thingamabob to which extreme you feel like. For instance, here's what I chose:

On the Expected / Unpredictable line, I moved the slider all the way over to unpredictable. I put it in the middle for Gentle / Violent and Short / Long. And I moved it pretty dang close to the absolutely No Sex end of the spectrum. Then I clicked "Go" and it brought up a page of 20 suggestions. Here are the top 4 that interested me the most . . .

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

Darkness and bright light are shifting like the tide in this complex story, told by the young girl Silver. The wavy rhythm of the storytelling and the lyrical swell of the language made it a delightful and slow read. I could almost taste salt water and smell candle wax while turning the pages. The last part puzzled me. I think I have to read the author’s next book to look for answers.

We Were Liars 
by E Lockhart

Psychologically chilling fairytale of the Sinclairs, the offspring of an oligarchy, spending halcyon summers in four houses troubled by the pressures of wealth, broken promises and filial strife. Sharp words wound as fragile, lovelorn Cady recounts the schemes and dreams of the ‘four liars’. What happened during their 15th summer? What dark secrets lie beneath the sugarcoated surface? You won’t be expecting the final electrifying crunch.

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

Fascinating account of the Torrington family's near destruction; an elegant mix of ghost story and Edwardian costume drama that never fails to surprise. Emerald's 20th birthday party takes a completely unexpected turn as the house and party are invaded by mysterious travellers in various decomposed states. Young 'Smudge' and her Great Undertaking lend an unusual twist and humour to a surprising but rather menacing evening and night.

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

When 16-year-old Nora Lindell goes missing at Halloween it affects her male contemporaries for the rest of their lives. None can resist speculating on her fate. These imaginings form the greater part of the novel and one of the challenges for the reader is that it’s sometimes difficult to separate reality from fiction. The minutiae of life for the group and the atmosphere of a small Midwest town is utterly convincing. A brilliant novel!

There you have it. Which one should I read? Not that I have the time, but if you're looking for something to read, I highly recommend Whichbook. It's super easy to use and has a wide variety of books to choose from.

Monday, April 6, 2015

What's the Most Popular Children's Book Ever?

Pop quiz! Yeah, crappy way to start out a Monday, but that's life, buckaraoos. Now then, back to our pop quiz.

Name your favorite children's book for ages 10 and younger. Go ahead and think for a minute. As a bonus, instead of music-on-hold while you're noodling the question, I'll fill in the white space with an off-the-top-of-my-head list when I asked myself this question. 

First book that popped into my mind is Little House on the Prairie, but then I second-guessed myself and wondered if that's really for 11 or 12 year olds. 

Thinking younger, I came up with (in this order):
A Wrinkle in Time By Madeline L'Engle
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Okay, your time's up. What did titles did you come up with? Leave them in the comment section. 

I do, however, have a "for real" answer. Culture polled dozens of international critics, asking them to name the best English-language children's book of all time for children 10 and younger. Ready to find out? Drum roll, please. In the #1 slot is:
Charlotte's Webb by EB White

Runners up are Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott; and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Operation Attitude Gratitude

It's that time of year. Peeps are everywhere. I've eaten more than my share of chocolate bunnies, ears first. And I just finished making a batch of Matzo Crack (recipe following post). Yes, indeedy, spring is in the air, so that means it's time for thanksgiving . . . as in gratitude, not the turkey feast.

I'm not a huge non-fiction fan, but a book I've stuck my nose into and haven't wanted to pull it out, even to smell the Easter goodies baking in the oven, is One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Her writing is so beautiful, it makes me want to weep -- and I'm of stoic Norwegian roots, so you know her prose is dang good. Granted, it's not a quick read and it's not for everyone, but if you appreciate a poetic slant, this is the book for you. Here are some examples:

"He gifts with seeds as small as moments, grace upon grace, and the unlikely here and now, it shall sustain you, feed you. Do not disdain the small. The promise of feast is within the moments. Our enough is always in the now, because He never leaves us."

"The hard discipline is to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transfigure it into beauty. The hard discipline to give thanks for all things at all times because He is all good."

"The only way to see God manifested in the world around is with the eyes of Jesus within. God within is the One seeing God without."

"How we behold determines if we hold joy."

The whole premise of One Thousand Gifts is to be thankful for the mundane, to see God in everything, everywhere. Her challenge is to start your own list of a thousand things to be grateful to God for.

And what better day to start than on Good Friday?

Now then, as promised, here is that recipe, because whoa baby, I am surely grateful for this little gem.

Motzo Crack

6 squares matzos
3/4 cups pecans, walnuts or sliced almonds
1 cup butter
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350. Arrange matzos in large baking pan in one layer. Spread nuts evenly over matzos. Place several sheets of waxed paper on the counter or on another baking sheet to use later.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt butter & brown sugar. Stir and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring often.

3. Pour hot butter mixture over matzos. Immediately place in oven for 10-15 minutes and bake until matzos begin to brown and caramel is bubbly.

4. Remove matzos from oven. Take off of baking sheet and put onto prepared wax paper. Scatter chocolate chips over the top. Allow the chips to melt, then spread over the top with a knife.

5. When cooled, break into pieces and store in a covered container.

You can NOT eat just one piece of this yumminess. Nope. Can't.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Author Newsletters: A Love/Hate Relationship

Recently I attended a writing day with some authorly type buddies of mine. These are the big kids. The ones who've zipped around the writerly block on their scooters a time or two -- without skinning their knees. Honestly, I just try to keep my mouth shut so drool doesn't leak out at the corners.

Anyway, the topic of author newsletters came up. They all have one. Every last one . . . except for moi. Talk about peer pressure. 

So, I voiced my biggest concern, that hey, who really needs one more stupid piece of spam filling their inbox? But here's the deal . . . apparently when people sign up for a newsletter, they actually want the dang thing. Go figure.

Hence my little venture into doing a giveaway (yes, you can still enter HERE) wherein people get a chance not only to sign up for my newsletter, but possibly win an audiobook as well. Can anyone say carrot and stick?

I figured that before I actually go sending out a newsletter, I'd better do some research on what goes into a good one, and what makes one end up in the trash . . .

What To Put Into a Newsletter
  • snappy content that has takeaway value for the reader, in bullet points or links, not uber long paragraphs
  • an attention grabbing subject line
  • introduce readers to something that expands their world -- a new author buddy, for instance
  • a call to action -- nothing grandiose like save all the starving children in Zimbabwe, but a smaller task such as be my friend on Goodreads
  • an unsubscribe button -- which seems counterintuitive but makes for happy, happy people
  • timely updates on new products, such as new books
  • a forward button or social media share buttons
What To Leave Out of a Newsletter
  • sales pitches that beat the snot out of the reader
  • pop-ups
  • third-grade grammar mistakes
  • fonts galore with crazy type sizes turning the whole page into a clown-filled circus
So, I guess I'll give this newsletter thing a whirl, probably three times a year. What are some of your favorite things about newsletters? Anything I missed? Leave your sage advice in the comment section.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spring Fling Giveaway . . . Not Even Fooling!

Hey, have you been outside? Woo-hoo and hot dang! Spring is here. So in honor of warmer weather, unicorns, and black jelly beans (yep, I really do like them), I give to you a:

Spring Fling Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Yes indeedy, here's your chance to score an audiobook version of Brentwood's Ward. Go ahead. Give it a whirl. No April Fool's involved.

Oh yeah, and about the whole newsletter thingee, don't panic. I don't actually have one yet, but it's in the process -- and I don't mean spam process. I'm thinking 3 times a year.

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