Friday, January 27, 2012

Guest Post at My First Book

I am excited to be guest posting at Misha Gericke's My First Book today. If you already follow Misha, you know she is generous enough to open her blog to guest posters every Friday. This year, Misha set up a theme for each month, and the January theme is Beginnings. If you want to see my take on this theme, please join me over at Misha's. You can find my post here.

Also, if you want to see the themes for the rest of the year or learn more about Misha's Guest Post Friday feature, you can read all about the details here.

Thank you, Misha for this fun and rewarding opportunity!

I hope everyone has a great weekend ahead!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pets for Vets

Thanks to my articles for, I learned of an organization called Pets for Vets. I'm so impressed with it that I just had to write a short post to help spread the word about this great group.

Photo courtesy of Pets for Vets
Founded by animal trainer Clarissa Black, Pets for Vets rescues dogs who are set to be euthanized at shelters and pairs them with military veterans who could benefit from a companion animal. The dogs are nursed to health if needed, and completely trained before being paired with their matched veteran. Some of the veterans who have already been helped are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, as well as physical injuries from their time in the service. Their dog companions provide emotional support, love, and companionship, and both the dogs and the veterans heal together.

If you'd like to learn more about Pets for Vets, including ways to help, my article on this wonderful organization can be found here. In addition, check out their website.

One of the things I have loved the most about my journey into writing has been the amazing people I have had the chance to meet, not only through blogging, but also through writing articles like this. In a world that can often be quite harsh, it's really a joy to be able to interact with people who are doing such positive things, and using their talents to help both people and animals alike.

The Pets for Vets success stories are so heartwarming, and I can't deny that on a day when I needed a lift, the people and animals involved in this article really gave me a reason to smile. It's great sometimes to have a reminder that every day, people are quietly working to help others in need, and I'm truly honored to be able to play a small part in that by sharing their stories.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Using Social Media Effectively

One of my resolutions for 2012 is to learn to make better use of social media. While I love blogging and feel very much at home in the blogosphere, I haven't really mastered any of the various social media options. I have a bad habit of setting up a profile and connecting with others, then never doing anything else, leaving my profile to wither away and resemble a ghost town.

That's not because I don't want to do anything but, as an introvert, I find it difficult to feel comfortable on these sites. I end up analyzing the situation so much, worrying about whether I will have something relevant or worthwhile to post, that I wind up not posting anything. Along the same lines, I worry if I say too much I will get on people's nerves and they will think, "God, I wish she would shut up!" ;) I end up with the same result, not posting anything, and letting my profile turn to dust.

I want to break this pattern though, as it seems clear that social media can be a gold mine for writers if used effectively. I have seen writers do such amazing jobs of promoting their work, and it seems foolish to ignore these constantly evolving opportunities to not only promote our work, but also connect with other writers and build relationships, while also connecting with editors, agents, and publishers.

I guess one reason for this post is so that I can ask advice from those who are social media savvy. Which sites do you find the most effective and worthwhile to use? Which do you feel provide the best opportunities for networking with other writers? Do you have a favorite or least-favorite site?

Also, I have noticed that some bloggers have their blog posts shared on LinkedIn and Google+. Is this something that can be set up automatically, or do you just add posts into your feeds manually? I'm curious and haven't been able to figure this out. I admit I am pathetic, so take pity on me, please. :D

One last question, are you signed up on sites like Digg and StumbleUpon? If so, do you find those sites to be worthwhile? 

I do have profiles on several sites, and have connected with many great bloggers already. I am on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.

Am I missing any? Are there any sites you recommend that I have not listed?

If anyone has any advice on how best to use these sites and, conversely, how not to use them, I'd appreciate any suggestions you may have. Thank you in advance!

Happy Friday and Happy Weekend to all! :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bylines Calendar, and A.A. Milne's Birthday

Thanks to my friend Becky Povich, I learned of a fantastic resource for writers called the Bylines Calendar which, as stated on its website, is "by, for, and about writers."

After Becky posted about this great calendar on her blog, I ordered my copy, and was thrilled to receive it last week. In addition to features such as tools for developing monthly and yearly goals, a submission tracker, and a listing of great writing-related books and websites, the calendar also lists "literary" holidays and famous writers' birthdays. The writers' birthdays feature has turned out to be one of my favorite things about the calendar, and I thought I would try focusing on one or two of the authors listed each week here on the blog.

Today is the birthday of A.A. Milne, who was born on January 18, 1882. As Winnie The Pooh was one of my favorite childhood friends, and I love the Pooh stories to this day, I couldn't resist selecting Mr. Milne as my first birthday celebration post.

I was quite an Anglophile as a child, as my favorite books were Winnie The Pooh, Paddington Bear, and the Beatrice Potter stories, such as Peter Rabbit. I adored them all, but none as much as Winnie The Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. One of my most cherished possessions was a stuffed Pooh Bear that I still have wrapped gingerly in my storage closet, and I was also thrilled to have his friends Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore in my collection.

I so admire Mr. Milne for creating a world that was so enchanting to children all over the world. When reading the Pooh books, children everywhere could feel as if they too were in England's Ashdown Forest, where Milne used to take his son Christopher Robin to play, and which was the inspiration for the Hundred Acre Wood.

Milne wrote about Ashdown, "In that enchanted place on the top of the forest a little boy and his bear will always be playing."

I was delighted to discover that Christopher Robin Milne donated his original stuffed animals to the New York Public Library before his death in 1996. I love this photo of the inspirations for Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, and little Roo on display:

Finally, as anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows, I love quotes. While preparing for this post, I came upon this quote from Mr. Milne that I found so touching and bittersweet I couldn't resist sharing.

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." ~ A.A. Milne

I was lucky that my childhood was enhanced by the charming world of Mr. Milne's Hundred Acre Wood. So it's my pleasure to have the opportunity to celebrate how much this author's work brought to children everywhere. Even now, 56 years after his death, children and their bears are still playing in his enchanted forest, just as he predicted.

If you haven't already heard of the Bylines Calendar, I can't recommend it enough. This will be an annual purchase for me from now on, and I look forward to years of writing inspiration. Thanks again to Becky for the recommendation!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sample Sunday: Polar Night Protagonist

I posted a quick intro to the antagonist for my WIP when I first wrote about my story and shared the prologue, so I thought I would share a glimpse of the protagonist now that I have made significant progress in completing my first draft. I have to admit, I've become very attached to the character as I've been writing.

His name is Danny Fitzpatrick, and he is a detective in Fairbanks, Alaska. This is a short chapter from the middle of the story.

Danny walked into his Chicago apartment and was immediately hit with the smell of something delicious. That was the norm for dinner time at his home. He didn’t know how he had gotten lucky enough to find a French chef who wanted to marry him, but he was certainly grateful.

He headed for the kitchen and the source of the yummy smell, and found Caroline at the stove, her back to him as she stirred whatever was making Danny salivate. She was dressed in her favorite attire, blue jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, and her brown hair fell in waves past her shoulders.

“Hi, Danny,” she said, without turning to look at him. She lifted a spoon full of broth from the pot and sipped at her creation, testing to make sure she had the taste she wanted.

Danny walked to the stove and slid his arms around her waist, kissing the back of her head. “What smells so good?”

“Coq au vin.”

"I’m guessing the vin is wine.”

Caroline nodded. “Burgundy, to be exact. And coq is chicken. Or actually rooster if you want to be precise. It was my grandmother’s recipe and I’m testing it for the restaurant.”

Danny could hear his stomach growling. “How long until I get to eat it?”

Caroline smiled and put down her spoon. She turned away from the stove and faced Danny, her arms around his neck. “Are you hungry?”

“Starving.” Danny leaned into her and kissed her lips. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

“Why do you skip lunch so often? You’re too skinny as it is.”

“I can’t help it. It was a busy day.”

“Still the same case?”

Danny kissed her again and pulled away from her. He opened the refrigerator and grabbed a beer, twisting off the cap as he leaned against the sink.

“Yeah. It’s driving me nuts, I admit it. Jackson and I aren’t getting anywhere.”

“What about the FBI? Are they any help?”

“Are you kidding? When are they ever any help?” Danny shook his head. “I did talk to John Fisher today. He’s running the files I’ve got through some of their systems, but I don’t expect him to find anything we don’t already know.”

“Which is?”

“That this creep’s been raping and murdering women all over Chicago. I just can’t figure out how he manages it without leaving a shred of evidence. It’s like he knows everything we look for.”

“Maybe he watches CSI.”

Danny rolled his eyes and took a swig of beer. “God help us.” He watched as Caroline opened the refrigerator and pulled out a puff pastry. “Ooh, dessert?” he asked.

“Yeah. It’s your favorite. St. Honore Cake.”

“Let’s skip the coq au vin and move right to that.”

Caroline laughed and set the pastry on the counter. She opened the cabinet to take out her mixer, and turned to Danny, her face now pale and panic-stricken. Drops of blood began to drip from her neck.

“Caroline? What is it?”

“Help me, Danny. Please…”

The blood turned from a drip to a deluge, gushing out of her neck and turning her shirt bright red. It splattered all over Danny, instantly soaking his shirt and pants.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I'm Hearing Voices Blogfest and The A-Z in April Challenge

I’m Hearing Voices

Thanks to the Insecure Writer's Support Group meeting last week, I met some great new blogger friends and learned of a fun upcoming blogfest. As soon as I read about the I'm Hearing Voices! Character Blogfest, I knew I had to participate, as I totally love the title. Not that I hear voices in my head or anything like that. ;)

I'm Hearing Voices is hosted by Cassie Mae at Reading, Writing, and Lovin' it! and Angie at Live to Write...Edit when Necessary. Here are the details, from Cassie and Angie's sites:
February 6th - Monday: Characters on the couch: Have one of your characters answer the following questions (to make this work to your benefit, choose a character who is the hardest for you to write :) Max 250 words (Not including the questions—only the answers).

1.    What is your biggest vulnerability? Do others know this or is it a secret?
2.    What do people believe about you that is false?
3.    What would your best friend say is your fatal flaw? Why?
4.    What would the same friend say is your one redeeming quality? Why?
5.    What do you want most? What will you do to get it?

February 8th - Wednesday - Dialogue Introduction: Have two characters introduce each other using only dialogue—no backstory, no internalization, just dialogue between the two. Max 250 words.

February 10th - Friday - Emotion Flash Fiction: Emotion is the engine of a story. Pick an emotion and in a flash fiction piece of 250 words MAKE us feel it! We want to connect with your character. This will be a challenge in 250 words.
I thought this blogfest sounded like an opportunity to not only have fun, but also stretch my writing muscles, and possibly find ways to more fully flesh out my characters in the process. I think writing the posts will be a great challenge. 

In addition to the writing challenges, Cassie and Angie are also offering prizes as part of the blogfest. If you want to participate and take your shot at winning some great prizes, just go here to sign up.  Thanks to Cassie and Angie for hosting this fun event!

And speaking of fun blogfests,  the fabulous A-Z in April Challenge is right around the corner! Sign up begins on January 30 and, in addition to many familiar hosts, there are a few new members of the A-Z team this year.

I had such a great time with last year's challenge that I knew I wanted to sign up again, but I was having a terrible time trying to come up with post topics or any sort of unifying theme. Last year I had just "winged it," and I really wanted to be more prepared this year, but I was drawing a blank in my preparations.

Until yesterday, when I had to go to the dentist to get a crown. Not a fun task but, amazingly enough, it gave me the theme I've been searching for. I was waiting in the lobby and looking around at the pictures on the wall. Out of the blue, one of the pictures gave me an idea for my theme! I spent the rest of the day running over topics in my head, and getting more and more excited. This is definitive proof to me that you sure never know where inspiration will hit. It might even be at the dentist's office!

Visit the A-Z Challenge site to learn all about the April event. If you are new to the Challenge and unsure about whether or not to sign up, I couldn't recommend it more. If you're anything like me, it will be the best blogging decision you make this year.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Travels With Clancy: A Winter Morning Walk

Clancy and I finished up our 2011 Travels by discovering a new (to us, anyway) treasure in our own backyard.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Clancy and I regularly walk in Embshoff Woods, which is right down the street from our home. There is a trail that goes deeper into the woods that I have always wanted to try, but dogs were not permitted on the trail until recently. I'm not sure why the change was made, but the "no dogs" sign disappeared, so Clancy and I took advantage of some great weather over the Christmas weekend to check out the trail.

I love to walk in the morning, so we left home early and headed off down the road to the woods. We started down the trail just as the sun was peeking out through the trees.

As we continued walking, we saw six deer hanging out together and looking for their breakfast. I so wanted to get a picture of them, but unfortunately by the time I had my camera ready, the deer had disappeared, and all I could see was a blur of six white tails bobbing into the woods.

The deer appeared to be our sole companions though, as the only sound around us was this small creek babbling over the rocks.

I stopped to take Clancy's picture, and he was not the least bit pleased about having his walk interrupted. He didn't even try to hide his irritation.

Finally, after some prodding on my part, he made a feeble and totally insincere attempt to smile.

We had gone up a fairly steep hill at the start of the trail, and came upon this staircase at the end to get us back down to where we had started. I was a little on edge as the stairs were covered with a frosty glaze, but Clancy couldn't wait to head down them.

When we got to the bottom, I turned and looked back up the staircase, and was immediately reminded of the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I wrote about in my New Year post.

Since I had been making my way up the figurative staircase of the writing world throughout 2011, it was somehow fitting that Clancy and I discovered this literal staircase to round out our 2011 travels.

My goal in traveling with Clancy was to discover the beauty in my own little corner of the world and, while I didn't get to as many places as I originally intended last year, I definitely feel I met my goal, as we discovered some absolutely gorgeous parks and trails. This trail alone is a great find for me, as it is so close to home, and I know it will be beautiful when the greenery of spring returns.

We may not have traveled to as many places last year as I originally planned, but we still have lots of time in 2012 to discover those places and more. I know Clancy will be ready to go too, even if he does have to suffer through the frustration of dealing with me and my camera.

Happy Friday to all, and I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group

I was really glad to learn that Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group would be continuing in 2012, as I have been intending to participate since the first meeting, but time seemed to keep getting away from me in the fall. So this is my first posting for the Group and, as insecurity is my middle name, it seems appropriate that it is also my first post for the new year!

One of my biggest insecurities lately is comparing myself to other writers when I read. We've all heard how important it is for writers to also be readers, and that has certainly never been a problem for me in the past as I've loved reading for a long as I can remember.

But ever since I started writing my own novel, I find I am taking the pleasure out of reading by obsessively comparing my own writing to everything I read, and deciding that I surely come up short in each instance. I will read a passage and think, "what a great simile, I could never come up with that." Or I will decide that the character I am reading about is so brilliant and memorable that no character I envision could ever compare. I read about a street scene or landscape and convince myself that I could never describe something with that sort of detail, and there's no point in even trying to immerse my potential readers in my setting. Before I'm fifty pages into a book, I'm ready to throw in the towel on my own manuscript and forget the whole thing.

I'm not even talking about classics or works of great literature here. I can be reading a total guilty pleasure, the ultimate beach read, and I decide that everything about it puts my own work to shame.

Fortunately, I've managed to keep working on my own manuscript in spite of this bad habit I've developed, but I wish I could go back to enjoying a book for sheer pleasure and stop worrying about how my own work compares to what I am reading.

Does anyone else find themselves comparing their own writing to authors you read, and fearing you come up short? If so, how do you stop the internal critic from hammering away while you read?

Thanks again to Alex for hosting this great group, and I'm looking forward to participating on the first Wednesday of each month. If you'd like to join in, just click here for the link to get started.

See you all again next month! :)