Friday, March 24, 2017

Body Self-Care for the Computer User

Are you a user? An all-day, everyday computer user? If so, your body might be trying to send you a message. Listen real carefully . . .

"Psst! Buddy! You're killing me. I know you're making a living pounding on the keyboard, but my sitter is getting shot, my eyeballs are blinkity-blanking, and have you noticed my skin lately? Saggy. Baggy and dry as the Sahara. Do something!" 

So, what exactly are you going to do for your body? Besides healthy eating and exercising, that is. Here are several things that are easy and don't take a whole lot of time.

3 Strategies for Body Self-Care for the Computer User

Sit Right

Perching on a chair all day can do a lot of damage to your back and neck, so it's important that you position your body correctly. Sit straight in your chair. Yeah, I know I sound like your mother, but it turns out mom was right. Sitting straight, with your head upright, not dipping toward the monitor, really helps you prevent back pain. Your knees should be bent at right angles and don't cross your legs. Your feet should also be flat on the floor, not dangling. HERE'S a link with a picture of the correct position.

Look Right

Staring at a screen can wreak havoc with your eyesight, so follow the 20-20-20 Rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at an object at least 20 feet away. Yep. That simple.

Drink Right

What's the number one drink of choice for most computer users? Coffee. There's just something about a steaming cup o' joe on your desk that makes everything seem better. But here's the deal . . . if you're sipping on coffee or tea -- or heaven forbid, soda -- chances are you're not drinking enough water. Staying hydrated is important. Dehydration leads to fatigue, headaches and an inability to focus, which all inhibit production. The current accepted rule of thumb is to drink eight 8 oz. glasses a day.

It's hard to focus on your body and stay healthy when you're thinking about deadlines. If you can work to make these 3 habits part of your daily routine, you won't have to think about it anymore, and your body will thank you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Healthy Eating for a Computer Jockey

Apparently it's turning into health week here at Writer Off the Leash. Spring has a way of toggling the ol' sweet-mercy-I'll-soon-be-uncovering-my-body-due-to-heat reflex. Since we've already tackled exercise -- you are exercising, right? -- the next topic is food.

Yeah, I see you. Put that doughnut down!

Let's be honest. We all get cravings for treats on the naughty list. But if you're sitting at a desk all day, then you've got to not only limit those treats, you've got to be actively putting things other than pie into your pie hole. But what?

Foods rich in antioxidants are a go to. These nutrients are substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage. Here are the top 10 to keep within reach instead of M&Ms:
1. Small red beans, dried (well, yeah, cook em' first)
2. Wild blueberries
3. Red kidney beans, dried
4. Pinto beans
5. Blueberries, cultivated
6. Cranberries
7. Artichoke hearts, cooked
8. Blackberries
9. Dried prunes
10. Raspberries

It goes without saying that staring at a screen all day is hard on your eyes. Here are some nutrients that can help:
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) ~ found in fish, eggs, and seaweed
  • Vitamin A ~ liver, eggs butter, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach
  • Lutein ~ kale, spinach, broccoli, avocado
  • Bioflavinoids ~ berries, cherries, pomegranates 
And 2 vitamins that keep your nervous system healthy and which you might be lacking after a long winter are Vitamin D and B12. Again, fish and eggs are powerhouses of these.

Above all, don't forget to drink plenty of water. Not pop. Not coffee. Just plain ol' water. Keeping hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your body, whether you sit at a desk all day or not.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Get off the Couch, Pork Chop

This week heralds the tender green beginnings of spring. You know what that means? Yeah. Swimsuit weather is just around the corner . . . and the thought of shimmying my winterish jiggly-puff body into a pair of shorts makes me break out in hives. Really. I've got hives today. Go figure.

But back to the topic at hand. It's past time for all of us to get off the couch and exercise -- especially if you're working at a computer screen all day. Besides the obvious health benefits of strengthening your bones, shedding extra fat, and improving the ol' cardio system, it turns out there's one more big bonus to exercising:

Physical activity boosts creativity.

Oh, quit your groaning. I know you wished I had said that eating doughnuts enhances creativity, but there aren't any studies out there proving that (though if you know of any, please give me a holler--I'd sign up to be a lab rat for that any day). There are, however, studies that show regular exercise is associated with improved divergent and convergent thinking. That's scientificky-type speech for the components of creative thinking.

As for me, my plan is to do the 7 Minute Workout once a day for the next week. I'll report back next Monday to let you know how I did. It seriously is 7 minutes, no more, no less, though you can make it repeat and do more if you like. It's basically an app that has fast-paced exercises one after the other, with videos so you can see what you're supposed to be doing. I've got it on my phone.

But you do you. Even if all you do is add one jumping jack to your daily routine, you're headed in the right direction. Just plan on doing it for one week. You can live through seven days of exercise, and who knows? You might continue on with it for longer.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Irish Reads

Looking for a little luck o' the Irish reads? Here are some to check out . . .

My author buddy Elizabeth Ludwig is a fan-freaking-tastic writer. If you've never read one of her books, here's a great place to start: No Safe Harbor. Here's a blurb:

Lured by a handful of scribbled words across a faded letter, Cara Hamilton sets off from 1896 Ireland on a quest to find the brother she'd thought dead. Her search lands her in America, amidst a houseful of strangers and one man who claims to be a friend--Rourke Walsh.

Despite her brother's warning, Cara decides to trust Rourke and reveals the truth about her purpose in America. But he is not who he claims to be, and as rumors begin to circulate about an underground group of dangerous revolutionaries, Cara's desperation grows. Her questions lead her ever closer to her brother, but they also bring her closer to destruction as Rourke's true intentions come to light.


by Susan Anne Mason

Brianna and Colleen O'Leary know their Irish immigrant father expects them to marry well. Recently he's put even more pressure on them, insinuating that the very future of their Long Island horse farm, Irish Meadows, rests in their ability to land prosperous husbands. Both girls, however, have different visions for their futures.

Brianna, a quiet girl with a quick mind, dreams of attending college. Vivacious Colleen, meanwhile, is happy to marry--as long as her father's choice meets her exacting standards of the ideal groom. When former stable hand Gilbert Whelan returns from business school and distant relative Rylan Montgomery visits Long Island during his seminary training, the two men quickly complicate everyone's plans.

As the farm slips ever closer to ruin, James O'Leary grows more desperate. It will take every ounce of courage for both sisters to avoid being pawns in their father's machinations and instead follow their hearts. And even if they do, will they inevitably find their dreams too distant to reach?

by Judith Miller

Ewan McKay has immigrated to West Virginia with his aunt and uncle, promising to trade his skills in the clay business for financial help. Uncle Hugh purchases a brickmaking operation from a Civil War widow and her daughter, and it's Ewan's job to get the company up and running again.

Ewan seeks help from Laura, the former owner's daughter, and he quickly feels a connection with her, but she's being courted by another man--a lawyer with far more social clout and money than Ewan. Resolving that he'll make the brickworks enough of a success that he can become a partner in the business and be able to afford to bring his sisters over from Ireland, Ewan pours all his energy into the new job.

But when Hugh signs a bad business deal, all Ewan's hard work is put in jeopardy. As his hopes for the future crumble, Laura reveals something surprising. Can she help him save the brickworks, and will Ewan finally get a shot at winning her heart?

by Nancy Herriman

Accused of murdering a child under her care, Irish healer Rachel Dunne flees the ensuing scandal while vowing to never sit at another sickbed. She no longer trusts in her abilities-or God's mercy--though when a cholera epidemic sweeps through London, she feels compelled to nurse the dying daughter of the enigmatic physician she has come to love. James Edmunds, wearied by the deaths of too many patients, has his own doubts about God's grace. Together, they will have to face their darkest fears . . . and learn what it means to have real faith.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why You Should Go on a Research Trip

Research. I know. Boring, right? And if you're a fiction writer, who needs it? We all know story is king, so why bother with dull, dry, boring facts?

Because you’ve got to be credible, or you will hear about it from readers.

Other than holing up in some forgotten backroom of a library with stacks of research books, how are you going to find the information you need? A research trip, and here's why . . .

4 Reasons to Go on a Research Trip

1. Expansion
Visiting an area where you’ve set your story has a way of giving you even more ideas to add to your story. While researching for The Captive Heart, I toodled down to South Carolina to tromp around the same trails my characters would've used near an old Cherokee village. I wanted to immerse myself in the feel of the area so I could write it more realistically. But I had no idea that reality would include spiders the size of Detroit. Seriously, I walked into a web and a hairy monster came right at my face. The thing seriously should’ve been registered with the DOT, and I’m pretty sure his license tabs were expired. Yes, it was that big. Now the takeaway value on this isn’t that I’m a freak about mutant killer spiders (though I am). It’s that research trips add value to whatever story you’re writing because you’ll discover things you didn’t expect. I wouldn’t have dreamed of putting such a creepy creature into my plot. It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind because most of the time I’m trying NOT to think about spiders. But after discovering how abundant these things are, I expanded my story to include them. You never know what you’re going to find—and that’s the point. You can’t know unless you go.

2. Education
There are some things you’re just not going to find in an encyclopedia (does anyone even read those things anymore?) or even on the internet. Case in point, an interesting little—and I do mean little—museum I visited last time I romped around England. I don’t even like science, but I sure loved visiting the Museum of Victorian Science. It’s basically just a little shed that’s been added on to a house—and the house is way out in a tiny village in Northern England. Tony is the old man who runs it. So, what could I have possibly learned from an old man in a shed out in the middle of nowhere? Turns out Tony was not only a chemist but also a physics professor—and quite a good teacher at that. I learned about xrays, ion engines, geisler tubes, and loads about historical figures such as Marconi. The thing is that most people haven’t written research books, and you won’t find them on the internet, but that doesn’t mean you won’t learn amazing things when networking with people who you wouldn’t normally meet.

3. Experience
This is the big daddy of them all, and I think one of the most important reasons to go on a research trip . . . the experience. Sure you can read about places and things, but until you’ve immersed all your senses in a place, you’ll never know how it feels. And if you don’t know, how on earth will your reader know? A research trip definitely tweaks all five senses in ways you cannot predict.

4. Expense Write Off
And last but certainly not least, one of the best reasons to go on a research trip is it’s a tax write off. Save your receipts. Stick it to the man because Lord knows Uncle Sam’s going to stick it to you. You can write off everything on a research trip – except for your travel partner. They’ll have to pay their own way.

If at all possible, it's worth it to visit an area you're writing about. My next trip is coming up this summer when I'll be skedaddling around upstate New York, researching the French & Indian War. I wonder what kind of creepy bugs I'll find this time?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Perseverance is Key

"The last click someone clicks before they buy something isn't the moment they made up their mind.
. . . We lay clues. That's what it takes to change the culture and to cause action. The thing we make matters (a lot). But the breadcrumbs leading up to that thing, the conversations we hear, the experiences that are shared, the shadow we cast--we start doing that days, months and years before."

Do you ever wonder why? Do doubts ever creep in that what you're doing really isn't doing anything? What good is a blog post? A Facebook update? Or a tweet, a gram or sending out a newsletter? Sometimes it feels like you're just spinning your wheels getting nowhere.

I'm here to tell you that you're not.

Every little thing you do matters in the grand scheme of things. Sure, one little tweet might not sell any books (or whatever it is you're trying to get the word out about). But it's not about that one little tweet. It's a collective. It's keeping your product, your name, your persona out there. Over time -- sometimes lots and LOTS of it -- those things start to build up. You never know who you're influencing, and in fact may never know, but that doesn't mean you're not being an influence.

So hang in there. Keep doing what you do. Eventually it will pay off. When? I don't know, but I do know this . . . if you quit then you'll never succeed.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Announcing . . .

Feast or famine. That's what the writing life is all about. Currently I'm in feast mode. Yes, indeedy, my friends, it is once again time to yank out your flingle-dingle hooters and bang on your thump-whumpity drums because I have yet another announcement.

I just signed a contract for another book.

Yeah, I know. Right? How in the world am I going to write all these stories? Lots of caffeine and not so much sleep, I suppose. But without further adieu, here are the deets . . .

The book is The Captive Bride (not to be confused with The Captive Heart) and is part of a new series of books soon to be put out by Barbour. Starting with the Mayflower Bride, each successive book captures a different point in American history. I've got the French & Indian War. Woo-hoo! Here's the blurb:

A war-torn countryside is no place for a lady—but Mercy Lytton is a lady like none other. Raised amongst the Mohawks, she straddles two cultures, yet each are united in one cause . . . to defeat the French. Born with a rare gift of unusually keen eyesight, she is chosen as a scout to accompany a team of men on a dangerous mission. Yet it is not her life that is threatened. It is her heart.

Condemned as a traitor, Elias Dubois faces the gallows. At the last minute, he’s offered his freedom if he consents to accompany a stolen shipment of French gold to a nearby fort—but he’s the one they stole it from in the first place. It turns out that the real thief is the beguiling woman, Mercy Lytton, for she steals his every waking thought.

Can love survive divided loyalties in a backcountry wilderness?


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Yeah . . . What He said

Some days you just need to lean on the wisdom of others like a crutch to keep yourself upright. Today is one of those days here at Writer Off the Leash. Lean into some of these sage words.

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” 
~ Les Brown

“The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are there, throw rocks at them.” 
~ Vladimir Nabokov

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
~ William Faulkner

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
~ by Stephen King

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."
~ Ernest Hemingway

“Creativity takes courage.”
~  Henri Matisse

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
~ G.K. Chesterton

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”
~ Jack London

“Don’t be a writer; be writing.”
~ William Faulkner

Monday, March 6, 2017

Channeling Elsa

There comes a point in every writer's life when you just have to let it go. Let what go, exactly? Lot's of things . . .

Your Expectations
Sure, there are some anomalies wherein a rookie writer hits a home run and gets his first manuscript published. But it's really not likely. Nor is snagging your dream agent (or any agent) at your first writer's conference. Let go of your expectations and just enjoy the writerly journey. Everyone progresses at a different rate.

Your Manuscript
Currently I'm in about the twelfth read-through of my novel that releases in September. Yep. You read that right. 12. A little excessive? Maybe, but I honestly wouldn't mind going through it another 12 times. But here's the deal -- no matter how hard I or you work to make things perfect, they will never be. There's always going to be something else to fix or change. After editing to the best of your ability, you have to let your manuscript go.

Your Pride
A scathing critique. Agent or editor rejections. 1-star reviews. Losing the glorious award that will show the world what a rockstar you are to another author. If you don't let go of your pride these things are going to really hurt. And even if you humble yourself, they still sting a bit. The writing profession, or really any of the arts, is no place to go around thinking you're better than anyone else because there will always be someone better than you out there.

Your Validation
Getting published by one of the big five doesn't make you a writer. Having a huge tribe or rocketing sales numbers or signed contracts doesn't make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer. Let go of whatever you think it is you need to accomplish before you can call yourself a writer.

Your Insecurities
Nobody knows what they're doing. Yeah, they might sound like it, but deep down inside every writer is a crying baby scared of his own shadow. Fear and doubt are normal emotions that every writer holds hands with now and then. But splay your fingers and let them go. Don't wallow in those insecurities.

Letting go is a great trick to master if you want to persevere in the writing biz. So go on, channel your inner Elsa and belt it out. You'll feel lots better if you do.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Writing With a Split Personality

The advice most agents and editors give to writers is pick a genre and stick with it. Don't be hopping all around. It's too hard to gather a single tribe to buy your books when you spread yourself too thinly amongst different genres.

But even when writing in a single category you can still develop a split personality. Example: I write historical fiction. That's the broad genre. But my books vary from Colonial America to Regency England. There's only about a 50 year difference, which you wouldn't think would be that big of a gap, but whoa baby, there are some huge differences.

So if you're wondering how to write with your own split personality, here are a few tips I've learned over the years . . .

1. Watch the Language

Of course word choices are going to be different when writing a thriller vs a sci fi vs a western. But even if you're not that diversified, you still have to be careful and research language selection for the specific era you're writing in.

Example: An American Colonial wanting to get a horse to move would say, "Hyah," but a Regency gentleman or woman would instead say, "Walk on." 

2. Watch the Dress

This one is pretty straight forward. Be careful about not only the clothing styles you choose but the fabric as well.

Example: Both Colonials and Regency ladies might wear cotton, but in England, it would be of a more sheer texture such as muslin or gauze, and definitely there would be more silks because of a greater trade with the Indies.

3. Watch the Mannerisms

People in different cultures and during different ages have different mannerisms. Think about today's teens compared to those of the 1950's or 1890's. Huge difference.

Example: Colonial men were generally less refined than Regency gentlemen mostly from necessity. Survival took precedence over pretty manners.

Don't get too bent out of shape about these things when you're writing your rough draft, but definitely look for these bugaboos during a final edit.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Peek into a Writer's Life

Want a peek into a writer's life? Here's what I currently have on my writerly plate . . .

I'm about 3/4 of the way done on my next novel, to be released, umm, well, I think early 2018. It's The Innkeeper's Daughter, which is a sequel of sorts to Brentwood's Ward. I started this story 2 years ago, but it got shelved for awhile while I wrote another novel and a few novellas.

But in the middle of writing this story, I need to take a break because I just got edits back for the novel that will release in September, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor. Want to know what one of my edits looks like? It's not too bad, actually. I need to ditch a secondary character so that I can add in a new chapter. This new scene will further a relationship between two other secondary characters. Besides that, I need to go back in and weave in a few more hints about the heroine's big "issue" that she's been dealing with since childhood.

And, as if that weren't enough on my plate, I'm in the throes of researching the French & Indian War for another novel that I need to start writing by Easter.

Oh yeah, and lest I forget, I've got a speaking gig at the end of March that I haven't planned one little thing to talk about yet.

Also, at any moment, I could receive back edits for my next novella that's a Regency set in Cornwall called The Gentleman Smuggler's Lady.

Whew. Just typing all that made me tired.

As you can see, the writing life isn't all that glamorous. In fact, it's a lot of brainpower to juggle many stories at one time. Good thing I scheduled in that ski vacation for a little break, eh?
 
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