Friday, August 30, 2013

This I know for sure...

I realize January 1st is the official beginning of a new year, but I've always felt that the new year begins when school starts again. Even when I was a child, it seemed like the beginning of the new year -- new clothes, new school supplies, new classes and/or rooms, the unofficial end of summer, the beginning of the change of season to Autumn.  There doesn't seem to be anything special about January 1st. No new clothes, school supplies, etc. It's still winter which seems to drag on endlessly by that point. To me, it's just an extra day off from work.

So while I don't have any school aged children, I'm looking forward to this Labor Day weekend. I'll be spending it reviewing what I've accomplished up to this point, setting new goals, and looking forward to a new beginning of another "new" year.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday...Or Not

In last week's What I'm Reading Wednesday post, I mentioned I was reading Deadly Fighting Skills of the World by Steve Crawford for research purposes. Well, I'm still reading it so I thought I'd post an end of summer recipe instead.

For all of you who more zucchini squash than you know what to do with, I thought I'd share my mom's zucchini bread recipe.

Mom's Zucchini Bread

2 cups shredded raw zucchini
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional) (My sister puts in mini chocolate chips instead of walnuts.)

Place zucchini in a strainer and press or squeeze to remove excess liquid. Beat eggs, sugar, and oil together in a large mixing bowl. Stir in flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and walnuts. Mix just enough so that all the ingredients are combined. Stir in the drained zucchini.

Pour into 2 greased and floured 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Makes 2 loaves

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Progress Update

I mentioned in a previous "This I know for sure" post (8/9) that somehow I'd started treating my writing as a hobby the last few weeks, but had gotten back on track and turned the corner so to speak. I wanted to revisit that and let you know what changes I've made and what's working for me.

I realized I was spending a lot of time doing things that weren't moving my writing career forward. For example, if I didn't feel like writing on a particular day because I was tired, or had a miserable day at work, or whatever other reason I could come up with, I wouldn't write that day. I'd tell myself I'd make up for it the next day.  Sometimes I did, but more often than not, I didn't. This explains why it's taken me roughly eight months to write two-thirds of the first draft of my work in progress (WIP).

I knew I needed to stop doing things that aren't helping me work toward the goal of writing full time. Since the beginning of August, I've stopped watching television during the week except for the local and world news broadcasts from 6:00pm to 7:00pm. Do I feel out of the loop when the other ladies in the office are talking about the latest TV program? Sometimes, but then I ask myself what's more important - keeping up with what's going on on Burn Notice (or any other show) or working toward the goal of being a full time writer.  On Saturday evenings, I watch a movie on DVD with my family. Within a half hour from the time I get home from work, I'm at my laptop and writing until I meet my daily page goal, no ifs, ands, or buts. I'm doing it every week day even if I don't feel like it or had a craptastic day at work. The strange thing is on those terrible work days after I've finished writing, I feel so much better than when I would come home and dwell on what happened at the office.

So if you find yourself in a similar position and think you don't have enough time in the day to accomplish everything that's important to you, re-evaluate how you're spending your time. Are you watching two, three, or more hours of television every evening? Try cutting the time in half. Do you say Yes to too many activities? Begin saying No to some of them. Guard your time so you have the time you need to do what you want to accomplish, no matter what it might be.

Time is a precious commodity. We all only have a certain amount of it. I stopped writing for nearly ten years due to family and life responsibilities. I look back now and think of all that time I lost and can't get back. Even now, I think of the time I've wasted just this year alone. Make the changes you need to. You'll only be happy you did.  I know I am.

Friday, August 23, 2013

This I know for sure...

As much as I hate the winter season, I'm looking forward to the cooler weather.  Not so much because I don't like the summer heat, but because I love to cook and during the warmer months, I don't do much cooking.  I try to make meals that don't require me to stand over a hot stove on any day where the temperature is over 80 degrees.

So for the last few weeks, I've been serving paninis, sandwiches, and I've made a lot of salads -- tossed salad, pasta salad, potato salad, chicken salad, and fruit salad.  I don't know about my family, but I'm about saladed out.

I'm longing for the days when I can make a decent meal that has nothing to do with summer foods. And although my family hasn't complained, I'm betting they are too.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday

This week I'm reading a non-fiction book for research purposes. It's titled Deadly Fighting Skills of the World by Steve Crawford. It has chapters on everything from physical fighting (strikes, blows, and throws) to weapons (both edged and improvised). There are also chapters on sniping, ambushes, night fighting, and taking on armoured pursuers. 

I've only read the first couple of chapters and already have pages of notes. I'm sure I'll have much more information that I'll be able to use in one book, but it's definitely interesting reading.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Small Success Comes At A Price

A couple of years ago, I told a friend I had signed a contract to publish a historical romance titled Impetuous. She oohed and aahed over the news and offered me her congratulations. In her very next breath, she asked when was I quitting my job and if she could come work for me. She'd do research, handle email, do social media things, anything I needed done and would only need a salary of $50,000 a year.

I tried to explain that while I was lucky enough to be offered a contract, I was far from being able to leave my day job behind much less hire someone to work for me. She mentioned other writers receiving huge advances. I agreed and said most of those people already had built in audiences and/or name recognition and that I was no way on the level of someone like JK Rowling, Stephen King, or James Patterson.  Nor did I hope to have the draw that the celebrity of the day who'd written a book would have.

She asked me how did I explain Amanda Hocking getting such a great deal then because she was a nobody just like me. (Her words, not mine.) At the time, I hadn't heard of Amanda so I didn't know what to say. My friend went on to recount that Amanda had signed a seven figure contract with St. Martin's Press in early 2011. After we parted that afternoon, I went home and googled Amanda Hocking. She may have signed a contract with St. Martin's Press but she was already successful as a self-published author long before that.

Unfortunately, my friend and I are no longer as close as we once were. I can't help but feel she thinks I could have hired her but just didn't want to and resents me for leaving her in a job she hated but that paid well.  It saddens me that by sharing what I felt was great news, something that I'd been striving for, that I lost a friend in the process. And on a side note, I still have my day job, though I hope to be able to write full time within a couple of years.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Comic Books and Research

Today I'm visiting Romance Reader at Heart's Novel Thoughts and Book Talk Blog. Come learn how my love of a certain comic book when I was a young girl unwittingly served as research when it came to writing my latest release, An Unexpected Gift.  I'll be giving away a digital copy to one random person who stops by and leaves a comment. Here's the link:
Hope to see you there. :o)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I have family coming in from out of town later this week so I'm not sure how much time I'll have to read. Keeping that in mind, I've downloaded Someone To Watch Over Me by Jerrie Alexander to my Kindle.  It's a 77 page novella so I'm hoping I'll have if finished by next Wednesday's What I'm Reading post.

Stacey McKinney returned to her home town to escape a stalker. When people around her turn up dead, she fears he's found her. Is the maniac keeping his threat by killing off anyone who gets close to her?

That isn't the only risk in town. The man who broke her heart has also come home. Their attraction is stronger and hotter than ever, but he walked away once. She doesn't trust he won't do it again.

A bullet ended Cash Butler's career as an Army Ranger. His life on his horse ranch is without complications until he hears Stacey is in town. He was a kid when her dad used his wealth and power to drive him away. He's not that kid any longer.

When Stacey goes missing, a search proves her stalker followed her to Oak Hill. But he's dead. Who killed him? And who has Stacey?

I haven't read anything by Ms. Alexander but the blurb sounded intriguing.  Let me know what you think.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Do You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

This weekend I took a poll asking, "How criteria do you use when deciding whether or not to read a book by an author new to you?"  I will admit this was a very informal and spur of the moment poll consisting of my two sisters, mother, and a few friends totaling 7 people all together. All of them are avid readers, reading an average of 8 books a month. We all refer books to each other and are always looking for "new to us" authors.

Here are the questions I asked and the average responses:
  1. Do you decide to read a book based on the back cover blurb? - 7 out the 7 said yes. (I agreed.)
  2. Does the title influence your decision? - Nearly everyone said No. (I agreed). One person said only if it was completely ridiculous or over the top.
  3. Do review quotes by best-selling authors printed on the cover influence your decision? - 3 out of the 7 said yes. (I disagreed). One person said no because she knew of two best-selling authors who were friends and had seen review quotes by the authors on each other's books so she felt those types of endorsements are deceiving. (Personally, I couldn't help thinking what are friends for. LOL)
  4. Does the excerpt on the inside of the book before the title page influence your decision? - 5 out of the 7 people said sometimes or yes. (I agreed.) One person said she never reads them. 
  5. Does the cover art influence your decision in any way? - 5 out of the 7 said yes. One person said if the title was catchy and the back cover blurb sounded interesting, she would still give it a try even if it had what she thought was a bad cover. Another said if the cover looked too racy, had anything vampire, werewolf, or witch related on it, she would pass it by. (Yes, this was my 70-something mother.) I agreed with the majority. If the cover art looks like something my eleven year old nephew could put together in Paint, then it makes me wonder what type of editing was done and how well the story was written. Of course being an author myself, I know that in most cases authors have very little say over the cover art so I try not to be too judgmental.
What criteria do you use when deciding whether or not to pick up that book by a new to you author?

Friday, August 9, 2013

This I know for sure...

After suffering a drought of words and barely making any headway for weeks on my current manuscript, I seem to finally have turned the corner.  The words are flowing and pages are accumulating.

Part of the problem was that I was letting other pressures and responsibilities impinge on my writing time. I work a full time job, have familial responsibilities etc, so I only have about an hour and a half of actual writing time each day.  The other part of the problem was that somehow I started treating my writing as a hobby, not as a job. If I don't want to make enough money to support my family without needing a day job, then it's fine to write when and if I can fit it in. But if I want to support my family and work as a full time writer, then I need to write every day and not let other things get in the way.

A friend was talking about her struggle to exercise on a regular basis. She said, "I hate to exercise but then I hate to go to work and I do that every day."  While I don't hate going to work, I like my job, I understood the sentiment behind her words. 

So in the future, whenever someone needs me to do something within my scheduled writing time or I don't feel like writing, I'm going to ask myself, which do I want more -- to be able to write full time without needing a job outside the home or to punch a clock for someone else for the next 30 years. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What I'm reading Wednesday

Today I hope to start reading Shiver of Fear by Roxanne St. Claire.  This is part of her Guardian Angelinos trilogy. I've read the other two books in the series and enjoyed them so I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Here's the blurb from the back cover --
"Burned by a failed marriage, former FBI agent Marc Rossi wants back in the investigation game with no emotional strings attached. Taking an assignment for his enterprising Angelino cousins, he heads to Northern Ireland to pry a key piece of evidence from a missing socialite-any way he can. But when the ice queen turns out to be warm, beautiful, and on a secret mission of her own, the job becomes a passionate reminder of what happens when duty and desire mix. The daughter of an infamous fugitive, Devyn Sterling has survived betrayal only to find that her mother has mysteriously disappeared. When her search uncovers secrets, lies, and threats, Devyn and Marc must trust each other when every instinct says they can't . . . and a terrorist wants to make sure they won't live to try."

Sounds good, doesn't it?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Never Say Never

I met a fellow writer yesterday for coffee and after bemoaning the current states of our works in progress we started talking about all the "rules" we were told had to be followed if we ever hoped to become published. The funny thing is nearly all of these rules have been broken and some of them by the best writers in the Romance industry.

Here are a few of the more prominent "Rules" we were told were never to be broken. These words were always delivered in an authoritative, "you're going to kill your writing career before it gets started if you even think about breaking these rules" tone of voice.
  • Never use a hero that plays professional sports.  This goes hand in hand with the rule that your hero should never be a professional musician, artist, or actor.  (I guess no one ever told Susan Elizabeth Phillips (SEP) this rule. She writes some of the best sports playing heroes out there. One of my favorite books is Nobody's Baby But Mine written by SEP. The hero, Cal Bonner, is a professional football player.)
  • Never write in sentence fragments.  My reaction to this statement was, "huh?" We all want to write realistic dialogue. If you listen to people when they speak, they don't always speak in complete sentences. I know I don't. 
  • Never write using first-person point of view.  (I guess no one told Kristan Higgins or Janet Evanovich this rule. Kristan Higgins writes some of the best first person romance novels out there. And while Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series isn't technically romance, there is the romantic triangle between Stephanie, Joe, and Ranger in every one of her books.) I will admit I tried writing in the first-person. It was hard. I kept wanting to go into the hero's point of view.
  • Never head hop or jump from one character's point of view (POV) to another's to another's and back again. I have to agree with this rule. It drives me crazy when I'm in the heroine's POV and then I'm in the hero's, then I'm in the villain's and then I'm back in the heroine's. I feel jumping POVs all the time creates distance between the reader and the hero/heroine. (Of course, Nora Roberts is well known for head hopping but if you can do it as well as she does, I say go for it.)
So in my experience, I've learned to never say the word never when asked about writing advice. If you need to break a rule to tell the best possible story you can tell, then make sure you do it well. I'd love to hear anyone else's rules they were told should never be broken. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

This I know for sure...

I'm a bit late posting this morning. I planned on posting first thing this morning but you know what they say about the best laid plans.

What I realized this week that I know for sure is that having a loved one feeling under the weather and knowing you can't be there for her is upsetting.  My mom had the stomach bug earlier this week and while she was fine home alone, I didn't like having to leave her there while I went off to the day job. Thankfully, she's in really good health even though she's in her upper 70's, but I wanted to be able to stay home and just be there for her whether she needed me or not.

I was tempted to take my last vacation day that I have for the year, (I work for a small family owned company and only get 5 vacation days a year) but she convinced me she'd be fine so off I went though it didn't stop me from worrying about her all day and calling twice more than I normally do to check in on how she was feeling.

I'm definitely looking forward to the day when my writing will support us and I won't need the job outside the home so I can be there whenever my mom might need me for whatever she might need me for no matter how trivial or important the reason.