Thursday, March 27, 2014

One of the Best TED Talks Ever + a Boxed Book Sale

First things first: 
Through March 29 (Saturday), BREATHTAKING, a 7 title e-book boxed set of romantic suspense novels is on sale for only 99 cents. I haven't read the books, but I know three of the authors and wish them the best.
Get it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and Smashwords.

A Must-See Video for Creative Types

Creativity is a funny/strange/aggravating/wonderful thing. It's complex and hard to understand (if understanding it is even possible).

A few years ago I found Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk. If you don't know her by name, you surely know her by at least the title of her most famous book, Eat, Pray, Love, which was made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts.

I haven't read her work or seen the movie, so my opinion about her TED talk have no bearing on those things. And my opinion on the talk is pretty emphatic: If you are a creative type, you need to watch it.

I'm not the only who thinks so. Since it was filmed in 2009, the video has been viewed almost 10 million times (8.1 million times on the TED site, and another 1.7 times on YouTube).

I can't remember how I first stumbled on it, but it stuck with me. Every six month or so, I find myself drawn to watch it again, to listen to what she says about creativity, specifically the the creative genius and work as a creative person.

Every time I watch it, something different jumps out at me. And I'll admit that the first five times I watched it, there were entire sections I didn't remember hearing before. Maybe I hear what my creative mind needs to at any given time.

So here it is. Watch it. It's just under 20 minutes, and it's worth every second.

Oh, and here's the Breathtaking Box Set link at Amazon again, just to make things easy.

Friday, March 07, 2014

TWO Super Secret Projects & a Cover Revealed!

Many friends and readers have known for some time that Luisa Perkins and I have been working on two super secret projects. We're ready to reveal what they are!
Here we are at the 2014 ANWA Conference in February.
Aren't we totes adorbs?
(As my teenagers would say.)
Luisa and I have a long-time love of the English language. Long-time readers of this blog know my love, as evidenced by my Word Nerd Wednesday series.

We're now teaming up, creating a podcast about all of the language issues that frustrate so many people: Grammar, Usage and Mechanics.

I capitalized those words on purpose, because they are where the name of our podcast comes from: Luisa and I are your GUM Shoes! (Get it? Grammar, Usage, Mechanics? GUM!) Go like the Facebook page at that link so you can stay up to date. The first episode will be posted on Tuesday, March 11, and we'll be sure to share the link to the website when it's live.

Here's the badge you'll look for on iTunes. (Look carefully at the words in the shoe. Isn't the logo awesome?!)

Each episode will be short: a bite-sized tip to help improve your speech and writing. If you have specific questions for us, leave a comment on the GUM Shoes Facebook page!

Our other project won't be live until late April, but we're in the final stages of getting it ready. Many people have asked about our accountability partnership, and we've even blogged about it before. But those posts didn't cover everything we've learned over the years of working together, and people had many more questions, too.

We pitched the idea of teaching a class at the annual Storymakers Writers Conference about accountability partnerships, and we are teaching it!

But not everyone can attend that, and even for those who will, a 50-minute workshop isn't enough to cover the subject entirely.

So here's the second big project: We'll soon have a book released about how to create an accountability partnership to meet your goals. Check out the cover:

Again, awesome, right?! (And no, we didn't plan for both the GUM logo and the cover to be red and black, but it works!)

We'll be sure to link over when it's live. Exciting stuff, people! I'm thrilled to finally share the news!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

WNW: Grammar Girl's Quick & Dirty Tips Book Review

As long-time readers know, this isn't a review blog. The only reviews I post are about books I have handpicked, and they're usually nonfiction titles I want to pass along to fellow readers and writers. I think the last book I reviewed was Mignon Fogarty's 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know.

Truth be told, shortly after that post, I meant to post a second review of another book by Fogarty (also known as Grammar Girl, from the podcast of the same name), but after reading the other book, I promptly misplaced it in one of those cases of "I'll keep it in a very safe place so I won't lose it" and, of course, I promptly forgot the safe place.

I didn't want to post a review without having the book beside me because, as I do with so many reference books, I wrote in the margins and wanted to be able to refer to my notes.

For this week's Word Nerd Wednesday, the first bit of good news is that the book is found and at my side! Hooray! Now we can discuss Grammar Girls' Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

The second piece of news is that I had a great time rereading my notes and then going over the passages they refer to, and I found the book as delightful as I did when I first read it a few years ago. I found stars, underlined passages, and smiley faces all over the place.

Best of all, the author and I share many of the same stylistic peeves, which made me like her even more. Seriously, I couldn't stop grinning over to try and versus to try to on page 45, something I rant talk about on page 90 of my own grammar book. Beside her discussion of another of my peeves, the weak there is/are way of beginning a sentence, on page 81, I'd written, "Yay!"

Grammar Girl is known for her conversational, accessible style, and this book is no exception. It's laid out in an easy-to-read format, with clear headers and fun examples, as well as text boxes with background and other additional information, often fun trivia related to language. (Yes, fun and language can exist in the same sentence.)

The book goes over many common problems in writing, from grammar to punctuation to style issues. She even discusses why the rule of two spaces after a period has changed in the computer era (page 85). (See this post for my explanation, which agrees entirely with her.)

The final chapter is short, and while it won't be one you turn to regularly to remember a rule, it's helpful for writers of all kinds. It talks about breaking through blocks, finding writing groups, revising, proofreading, and more.

At the end of the book, you'll find appendices with lists of commonly confused words and other great references.

I can't cover all of the great parts of a book with more than 200 pages, but here are a few highlights I particularly enjoyed:
  • Squinty modifiers. (Page 65.) Great name for an easy error to make with modifiers, with a clear explanation and a great example.
  • The semicolon splicer image to help remember how to use the mark (page 75).
  • Properly punctuating indirect questions. (Page 89.) I've seen this issue a lot in my editing work, and agree with Fogarty so entirely that in that margin, I wrote "For the love!" because people need to learn this!
  • How to properly use a colon. (Pages 92 to 96.) A much-needed explanation.
  • The Oxford comma. (She favors it! Woohoo!) 
  • The title of chapter six: "Prozac for Pronouns: Getting the Stuntmen of Language Under Control." (Page 139.) LOVE IT.
And this gem on page 96: "Using a hyphen in place of a dash can cause your copy editor to have a mild fit."

Amen and amen.

The book is a quick read, and it's one you'll want to keep on hand as a reference for a long time. 

My only complaint is tiny: A few things have changed since the book's publication in 2008, such as how long Facebook status updates can be. Like I said, very small things. Considering how fast technology changes, I'm impressed how on top of technology she is, and that I noted only a couple of spots where things are different in 2014. 

Get a copy for yourself and another for the writer in your life. (Hint: That's everyone in today's society. We all need to know how to write clearly.) Here's the link again to make it really easy for you. And if you haven't gotten my book, here's that link too.

Stay tuned for the announcement of two projects I'm working on with Luisa Perkins. We'll roll out the first one in a few weeks, and the second one a few weeks after that. 

You won't want to miss out on them! 

Coincidentally, right now, Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl) is raising money to fund an awesome card game called Peeve Wars. I've chipped in; I hope you will too. The campaign has just 10 days left to reach its goal. Learn more about Peeve Wars and donation rewards HERE. If you have personal grammar and usage peeves (and you know you do), you'll want this game.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Valentine's Day Special: Romances for 99 Cents

To celebrate Valentine's Day we've put together an amazing $.99 sale of clean romance books. Here's the catchy title: Finding Romance this Valentine's Day. But I think we should just call it: Awesome books for $.99. Please scroll through the list, each has a short description and buy link, they're all fabulous.
Hope you have a fun Valentine's Day!
$.99 price effective 2/10/14 through 2/14/14

This Very Moment by Rachel Ann Nunes - Click here to purchase
Bill Dubrey is a sought-after plastic surgeon for LA’s prestigious and wealthy, and an equally sought-after bachelor. On the surface it appears he has it all—money, respect, and fame. Yet behind his aloof exterior lurks a tragic past that prevents him from finding lasting happiness.
All that changes on the day Kylee Stewart reenters his life. She alone knows Bill’s secret agony, and she is determined to help him face his past. During the years they’ve been apart, Kylee’s own life has been far from easy, but unlike Bill, she has turned to God in her need, finding a faith to which she desperately clings.
The tentative friendship they begin has Bill rethinking his stark future, yet he keeps his heart in check—afraid to commit, afraid to lose again. During Kylee’s darkest moment, when she needs him most, will he be there for her?

Tomorrow and Always by Rachel Ann Nunes
Click here to purchase
Anyone would think that Karissa and Malcolm have the perfect life. Young and successful, they've built their dream home on beautiful Kodiak Island in Alaska. But behind closed doors it's a much different story. Unable to have children and inactive in their religion, Karissa and Malcolm's marriage is beginning to fall apart. 
When Jesse and Brionney Hergarter move to Kodiak, Karissa senses a kindred spirit. With Brionney's friendship and support, Karissa feels a growing desire to return to activity at church. But this means confessing the one sin that has haunted her for years—the one sin that could drive Malcolm away forever.

A Portrait for Toni by Annette Lyon - Click here to purchase
Toni has no idea what she’d do without her best friend, Carter. Who else would she be able to vent to about her parents, her job at the dance studio, or her latest relationship woes? When Toni’s father lands in the hospital, Carter, as always, is there for her. 
That is, until he starts questioning Toni, saying he thinks she has an eating disorder. Then she starts dating Clint, the hot new guy at the studio, and somehow that puts a deeper wedge between her and Carter. When she’s hospitalized after an on-stage collapse, and Carter stupidly starts in with advice about food and weight, she sends him away—then instantly regrets it. 
One night after a performance, Toni tries to mend the hurt between them. Instead of finding Carter, she stumbles onto proof that he has feelings for her that go way beyond those of a friend. Toni is left with the very real prospect of losing Carter forever, unless somehow she can return his feelings—but that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

A New Dance by Lucy McConnell
Click here to purchase
For most people, letting go of a "what if" can be difficult - for Kiley Roberts it's almost impossible. As her final semester of college begins, a past relationship prevents her from fully opening her heart to Brandon, her almost fiance. When TJ unexpectedly drops back into her life as an assigned dance partner, Kiley's sure that it's a sign. Only she's not sure if it means she should put their past behind her or try for a future with the man with the broken heart.

Spy Noon by Jordan McCollum
Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and!
Canada's the last place you'd expect to find an American spy, but CIA operative Talia Reynolds has problems piling up higher than a Canadian snowbank. When Elliott Monteith, her ridiculously handsome new coworker, shows up, Talia decides it's game on. She'll be the first to track down a dangerous counter-spy, and she'll give Elliott an unforgettable souvenir of his time in Ottawa: some humble pie.
Her plans don't work as well as she expects, though. Elliott's over-the-top flirting dredges up too many painful memories for Talia and undermines the confidence she's worked hard to regain. To do her job and keep her integrity intact, she'll have to keep her personal feelings at bay. Now Talia must find a way to work alongside Elliott—and maybe even trust him—to outsmart the enemy

Snowed Inn by Heather Horrocks - Click here to purchase
Mystery buff Vicki Butler plans to kill someone this weekend. Nothing personal, just business.
The killer grand opening weekend at her new Who-Dun-Him Inn is all fun and games---until an unplanned dead body makes an appearance.
With a murderer running loose, young widowed mom Vicki is forced to keep her family, guests, and actors safe while searching for clues. Her author guests, also the prime suspects, try their hand at solving this real-life whodunit, in the process hindering the investigation by local law enforcement officers. Things really go downhill when her twin Liz shows up, trailed by flamboyant Grandma Ross, who announces she’s seeking a boy toy among the suspects. When both a local younger man and an out-of-town newshound start sniffing around the inn---and her---Vicki realizes she's got more than just a murderer to worry about. Can she solve the mystery before the killer strikes again? Or will this case of opening-night jitters prove to be terminal?

Bah, Humbug! by Heather Horrocks - Click here for a free copy
 Lexi Anderson is an up-and-coming, Martha Stewart-type TV hostess whose two kids love the Jared Strong adventure novels, which happen to be written by their new neighbor, Kyle Miller. For the first time in his writing career, Kyle has writer’s block--until he sees the snowman on his lawn and realizes it’s the perfect solution to his plot problem. He digs in and discovers two things: one, his villain’s weapon will fit inside a snowman's body, and two, this particular snowman was supposed to be the backdrop for Lexi’s next show. From this improbable beginning comes friendship, but can there be a happy ending for a woman who is afraid to get close again and a man who has shadows from his childhood? Families join together and hearts are healed as this couple goes walking in a winter wonderland.

Click here to purchase
VL. Virgin Lips. You may not have heard of it, but where I live, it's a thing with a card, even if it is a figurative card. I was Brooklyn Hamlin, certified virgin lips, and I planned on clinging to that figurative card with all I had--while dating as many of the hottest guys at school as I could.
Maybe that's a bit strange. I mean, what teenage girl isn't interested in kissing? Locking lips definitely interested me, but the drama that came with it didn't. No kissing, no drama. Simple.
But on my sixteenth birthday, on my first real date even, the drama found me. His name was Luke Graham--cute, funny, and bad news for the whole female race.

The Princess Problem by Diane Darcy - Click here to purchase
In real life, she's given up on the fairy tale ending...
After having her heart broken twice, Alicia Dayne has sworn off men, decided to concentrate on her career, and is delighted to win a lucrative contract to make a commercial for Highborn Mattresses.
She could make the most awesome fairy tale commercial ever--except for Jonas Highborn, who isn't exactly thrilled with her Princess and the Pea ideas, and really doesn't want a prince in tights representing his company.
Though he's trying to keep his grieving mother happy by letting her have charge of the commercial shoot, and though Alicia's trying to keep in mind that this annoying guy is her boss for the moment, they can't seem to keep from clashing.
Throw in an overly-handsome prince, a matchmaking mama, and a stunning rose garden, and maybe, just maybe, Alicia can be convinced they have a chance at something real.
Because while she might not be a real princess, sometimes an ordinary girl's got to take a chance, even when it seems too good to be true.
When did Happily Ever After become so complicated?

Steal His Heart by Diane Darcy - Click here to purchase
What if keeping your job depended on keeping a secret? 
Daisy Manning has been testing security by shoplifting in Worthingtons Department store for five months. Not once in that entire time has she been caught by security personnel. Until today.
Kent Whitaker is disgusted by the beautiful thief he’s caught red-handed, and even more disgusted by his attraction to her. While he won’t allow himself to become romantically involved with a thief, he can certainly help out a friend by curing his daughter of bad habits. 
They both fight their growing attraction, Kent because dishonesty is the one trait he cannot tolerate, and Daisy because Kent is directly interfering with her long-range career goals. 
But when an unskilled matchmaker tries his hand at getting them together, the unexpected happens to them both as Kent gets distracted and Daisy steals his heart! 

Gifts and Consequences by Daniel Coleman
Click here to purchase

Jonathan decides to honor the wish of his dying wife – that he give away his fortune – but his methods are dangerously unconventional. He takes extreme measures to witness human struggle and watch the discovery of hidden strength. But when Jonathan goes too far, he faces consequences of his own.

The Colony by Cami Checketts - Click here to purchase
To protect her sons from the mistakes of her past, Brinlee Trapper escapes to a secluded mountain home. But there are dangers lurking in the mountains she has never encountered. The little family is saved from injury by Jed, a mysterious hunter. Brinlee is drawn to him, but she worries about his involvement with a peaceful commune hidden deep in the mountains behind her property.
Lance, Brinlee's attentive neighbor, has his own troubled history. Between his obvious attraction to Brinlee and his developing love for her children, Brinlee finds it more than difficult to guard her heart against this tender intrusion.
While Jed offers a life of excitement and freedom, Lance holds the key to the family Brinlee always wanted. When it comes time to choose, she learns that both men have secrets that could shatter her fledgling trust in men and the wrong decision could leave more than her heart exposed to danger.

Blog This by Cami Checketts - Click here to purchase
Will protecting children throughout the world cost Natasha her own family?
Devastated by the loss of her brother, Natasha Senecot works to expose the dangers of Matthew Chrysler's violent video games, succeeding in bankrupting and humiliating him.
Chrysler retaliates and sends a hit man after her. Natasha is forced to fake her own death to protect her children, but after witnessing another tragedy, Natasha won't hide any longer.
In a race against time, can Natasha expose Matthew Chrysler before his assassin murders her family and shatters her world?

All Fall Down by Julie Coulter Bellon - Click here to purchase
Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes we all fall down . . .
That simple rhyme turns negotiator Claire Michaels’ current hostage situation into an international incident. Claire just wants to help get everyone out safely, but as the crisis escalates she realizes she’s dealing with an al-Qaeda operative who has the means to become another bin Laden---with the potential to attack America. Claire has her own personal reasons for wanting to stop al-Qaeda, but time is slipping away as negotiations break down. Can she overcome her scars of the past in order to get the hostage out alive and possibly stop an assault on U.S. national security? 
Navy SEAL Rafe Kelly is on leave to recover from a knee injury he suffered during his tour in Afghanistan and he doesn’t expect to be fighting terrorists on his home turf. But when he is taken hostage and his brother is kidnapped, Rafe teams up with a hostage negotiator in order to stay alive and get his brother back. The terrorist is always one step ahead of them, however, and the situation quickly turns from desperate to deadly. Will Rafe be able to save himself and his country without anyone he loves getting caught in the crossfire?

The Reluctant Bachelorette by Rachael Anderson - Click here to purchase
Luke Carney has no idea what possessed him to move back to Shelter Springs, Colorado, to set up his veterinarian practice. His parents had long since left, the small farming community is on the brink of extinction, and only one close friend from his childhood remains--Taycee Emerson, his best friend's little sister, who isn't so little anymore. Then there's the matter of Shelter's Bachelorette, an online reality dating show created to raise some much needed funds for the town. 
Unknowingly cast as the bachelorette for her town's charity event, Taycee Emerson wants out. Especially when she discovers her old teenage crush, Luke Carney, is one of the bachelors and it's up to the viewers--not her--to decide which bachelors stay or go. Coerced into participating, Taycee does what any self-preserving girl would do. She launches a subtle attack on Luke's good name with the hope of getting him voted off the show. Unfortunately, Luke's an eye-for-an-eye kind of guy, and when he discovers what she's up to, it means revenge.

Fair Catch by Cindy Roland Anderson - Click here to purchase
Ellie Garrett never planned on being a divorced, single mother—she also never planned to get married again. Ever. Her ordinary life changes when the house across the street is sold. The new owner is Nick Coulter—quarterback and MVP for the Sacramento Defenders. Oh yeah, he’s also one of People magazine’s top 100 most beautiful people and America’s most eligible bachelor. So why would she pick him to have her first crush on since her divorce? 
 Recently retired from the NFL, Nick is more than ready to find a wife and start a family. He's tired of his high-profile lifestyle and moves to Pleasant Wood, Colorado, hoping to finally settle down and focus on his foundation Kids Come First. It would just feel nice to be a normal guy. Of course being rebuffed by Ellie the first few times he meets her makes him feel a little too normal. 
As Nick and Ellie become acquainted, their mutual attraction is hard to ignore. But Ellie’s been hurt before by her womanizing ex-husband. She’s not sure that Nick has left behind his playboy reputation. Can she risk falling in love with the celebrity football player or will she miss her chance at scoring big in the game of love?

*7 Romance Novels, 7 Bestselling Authors.

UPDATED TO ADD: The Romance Boxed Set is still available, but it's now for $9.99. Still a great deal for SEVEN complete novels! 

RUNNING BAREFOOT by NY Times & USA Today bestselling author Amy Harmon! *Over 260 4 & 5 star reviews* 
MASQUERADE by Janette Rallison, who has sold more than 1 million books! 
THE RELUCTANT BACHELORETTE by Rachael Anderson, Amazon Bestseller! *Over 230 4 & 5 star reviews on Amazon*
PRIDE AND PRECIPITATION by Heather Horrocks, Amazon Bestseller!  *Over 80 4 & 5 star reviews on Amazon*
MY OWN MR. DARCY by Karey White, Amazon Bestseller! *Over 120 4 & 5 star reviews on Amazon*
SHE OWNS THE KNIGHT by Diane Darcy, Amazon Bestseller! *Over 50 4 & 5 star reviews on Amazon*
HEART OF THE OCEAN by Heather B. Moore, Amazon Bestseller!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Unexpected Haven

This post is something I wrote as a guest blogger for my friend Lara's blog several years ago, and I thought I'd resurrect it here, as most of my readers haven't seen it. 

Rereading it was a great reminder that I want to be the kind of person for someone else that Mrs. Peterson was for me. (It also reminded me that you couldn't pay me to return to middle school.)

Originally posted at Overstuffed September 2011 

Entering junior high (or in my case, it was called “middle school”) is always a nasty experience, but I’d venture that mine was a bit rockier than most. My family had just returned from a three-year stint in Finland. Although I wouldn't give up my time in Finland for anything, those years were hard in their own way, especially the first one, where it was cool to beat up the American girl, I had to make friends, and (!) learn the language.

But there was one big plus: I spent all three years with the same teacher and with the same classmates, in the same classroom. I had no idea what a good thing that was until I lost it.

Back in the States, Mom took me to get registered for school. Now I’d have seven new classes with seven new teachers and likely few students I knew at all—a far cry from my last three years.

On our tour through the school, we happened past the library, and my mother recognized the assistant librarian, Mrs. Peterson. They chatted a bit, and then Mrs. Peterson said they still needed another TA. Was my schedule full, or would I like to be a library TA for one of my electives?

I thought that sure, it might be fun, and signed up. I didn’t give it a second thought, beyond thinking it would be an easy A.

School started, and every single day, I ached hour after hour. Even though the halls were packed, I’d never felt so alone. The school was fed by several elementary schools, but I recognized students everywhere I looked.

Only they didn’t recognize me. For all they knew, the person I’d been three years ago had vanished off the planet. But I knew so many them.

That girl right there? She’s Keisha and she plays violin. Once, we had some stupid fight. I didn’t remember what it was about, but I always felt bad about it.

The guy behind me in French was Kyle. In fourth grade he sat by me and was really smart. He used to bring Boy’s Life to school.

That kid over there? Chad. He had a crush on me one year and baked me a lopsided heart cake for Valentine’s. He even tried to kiss me, and that was the one time I was grateful for a big brother who beat up on me, because I shocked the guys by fighting for my “honor” and got away.

It went on and on. In science it was Emily, whom I recognized from kindergarten.

Sarah from third grade showed up in another class.

There was Mark from second grade, who tried switching places with his twin Jeff on April Fool’s Day. And the boy who ate paste and had his hair pulled in first grade by the teacher who was later fired for child abuse.

I saw Jeannie and Stacie and Kelly and Loralee and . . . it went on and on. And oh, my heart just broke. None of them saw me. They looked right through me, because I didn’t exist to them as someone they already knew.

They didn’t have the slightest clue who I was, and I couldn’t very well just grab them by the sleeve and say, “Hey, remember me from three (or more) years ago? Remember how we played at recess together in Mrs. Wallace’s class? Or, “Remember how I came to your house when we were in Mrs. Mixa’s class?” It’s not like they’d remember, even if I had the guts to say something—which I didn’t.

I’d just spent three years with the same group of students. When I made friends with the Finnish girls, I never had to step out of that comfort zone and do it again, let alone in so many classes and in a new culture (US culture felt foreign), and a new language (English did feel new again). Somehow, my mouth was paralyzed shut. I couldn’t make friends. I couldn’t speak.

But each day when my library TA hour arrived, I walked in, and the burden fell from my shoulders like a physical weight dropping to the ground. There were no students to interact with beyond those checking out a book. There was no one to judge me, no one for me to try to get along with, or to make friends with or to impress. Just shelves and shelves of my best friends: books.

Plus Mrs. Peterson. She became a dear friend that year.

My library jobs were easy. Checking out books to students wasn’t too scary. Checking in books even less so, as it required no social interaction. Shelving was quiet and non-threatening. I could do that with nothing but me and silence and my thoughts. If there was nothing urgent needing to be done, I sat at the front desk and read. Sometimes I brought along some knitting.

But quite often I found myself in the back room talking to Mrs. Peterson. She made me feel at ease; my paralyzed mouth could open around her and speak. I could be myself. She never once treated me like a dumb little kid. I was always an equal in her eyes. My opinion mattered. I was there. I was present. I was never invisible to her. Her face lit up when she saw me, and she waved good-bye each time my hour was up.

She was the bright spot in my days, the one thing that kept me going during that miserable year. I had someone and something to look forward to. Someone to talk to, one place where I could drop my worries at the door and be and matter.

By the second semester, thanks to Mrs. Peterson’s genuine friendship, I had the confidence to open my mouth just enough to make two friends, one of which—miracle of miracles—is still close to me today.

I doubt Mrs. Peterson has any idea of the enormous impact she had on me, even though I kept visiting her off and on over the years, even after I got into college.

That school building is no longer a middle school. It’s been remodeled to the point that it hardly resembles the old building. And I have no idea where Mrs. Peterson is now. But if I could find her again, I’d give her a big hug (and likely some chocolate), then let her know what a balm she was during a difficult transition for one girl in desperate need of a soft place to fall during a difficult year of adolescence.

And then I wonder if I’ve ever overlooked the chance to be someone else’s balm by doing something as simple seeing them and talking to them in a genuine and real way. Because when I boil down what Mrs. Peterson did for me, that’s what it was. She cared. She listened. She talked to me. She saw me.

I can do that, can’t I?

Have I? It’s something I should strive for, because I know firsthand what a powerful effect it can have on a person’s day—and on their lives.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Love Letter Anthology Cover Reveal! And News!

It's downright amazing to think that it's been over a year and a half since Heather, Sarah, and I sat down around my kitchen table to hammer out the concept of creating anthology collections with clean romance stories.

We're close to releasing our SIXTH collection, each of which has six stories: three novellas in addition to the three written by us. The others are all by authors we've hand-picked for each theme.

That means this collection marks EIGHTEEN guest writers we've worked with and that I've edited, in addition to twelve stories by Heather and Sarah I've edited, and the six I've written for the collection myself.

(Although full disclosure: as of today, my novella for this collection isn't quite done. Soon!)

(And I love where it's going!)

Here's the new cover for the collection that will come out on February 1:

Isn't it pretty?!

As you can see, this time the theme is Love Letters. But unlike any collection we've done so far, this one will have both historical and contemporary stories.

I love the cover, and I'm excited for our readers to get their hands on the whole collection!

Note: There are whisperings among the three of us about a possible development regarding the anthologies. Stay tuned!

P.S. Be sure to enter the GoodReads giveaway for a hard copy of Lost Without You. Use the link in the sidebar!

P.S.2. This week, the Kindle version of At the Water's Edge is on sale for only 99 cents. Sale ends Saturday night, December 21!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

This Is Your Writing Brain on ADD

My older sister and I are similar in a lot of ways. We're both writers. We're both readers. We both majored in English. We both adore good chocolate. And on and on.

We're dissimilar in a lot of ways, but it turns out that one thing I thought was a difference actually isn't.

As an adult, Mel was diagnosed with ADD. The diagnosis made so much sense for her, at least with my limited understanding of the condition. She can jump topics in a conversation like hummingbird flitting from flower to flower, only faster. I can keep up, but I assumed that it was because I grew up around her.

The thing is that Mel's ADD has a bit of the hyperactive ADHD in it, although I wouldn't classify her as hyperactive in the typical sense. She's high energy, for sure. When I've mentioned to close friends that ADD runs in the family, they always follow that up with, "Mel, right?"

And then I have to say that well, yes. She's the one who is buzzing around all the time, always doing and thinking. But there's also the son of a different sibling with significant ADHD, and I suspect the parent of that same nephew has it too, which is why a desk job is out of the question. Plus at least two of my kids have it.

And so do I.

For a very long time, I had no inkling that I had the condition, and I haven't been officially diagnosed, but I recognize it all too well . . . now.

The thing is, back in the day, I did well in school. I was never a behavioral problem. Yet now that I know the signs, many of which I just thought were normal things, and that everyone was like that, I can point to parts of my personality that are actually signs of ADD and realize with startling clarity that yes, that's me. I see the signs in my childhood, with a big memory that screams "ADD" from 2nd grade. I'm betting my parents could point to some of the same things much earlier.

I've learned, thanks to early posts on The Weed, that technically the condition I have is ADHD-I. The means I have the inattentive sub-type of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Essentially, I lack the hyperactive component, but it's considered to be under the same umbrella. And because I don't fly around like a hummingbird, I had no clue that I also had the condition.

It took me researching ADD for the sake of one of my kids to realize that holy cow, this is me. My son is quite open about his ADD, so I feel all right mentioning him here. Like I did, he did well through grade school. Sure, he was disorganized, forgot notes, and his backpack was a disaster. He has horrible handwriting (as do I). But it turns out that he's very smart, and grade school frankly isn't that hard. The first time his grades plummeted, getting him glasses was enough.

Enter junior high and puberty, however, and we had a perfect storm for his ADD to cry uncle. His grades tanked, he grew frustrated and depressed, and nothing I did helped. He misplaced simple things like flashcards and other small but important items, which yes, he'd done in grade school, but now the stakes were much higher.

I learned that he'd drift off during conversations, but you wouldn't always know it, because he'd still be looking right at you, seemingly fully attentive, but his brain was off on some other planet, designing a video game.

He had no control over such drifting. The effort he put into homework, only to have nothing to show for it an hour later, was heartbreaking.

At one point I thought he had to have hearing loss, because I could be six inches from him, but he wouldn't hear me. I even had his hearing tested, but it came back normal. I dug around further.

That's when I started researching ADD, and I learned about hyper-focusing, which is exactly what he did. I tested him once when he was making a batch of cookies. While they baked, he sat at the computer, maybe ten feet from the oven, reading an article or playing a game or something. When the timer went off, I waited to see what would happen. Nothing.

I didn't turn it off. I waited. It beeped for a solid minute. Nothing. Finally I called his name. Again. And a third time. I raised my voice with his name, and he jumped. "What?!" he demanded.

I stood there staring at him expectantly, waiting for him to hear to obnoxious beep and get his cookies out of the oven. Instead, he just looked at me and again said, "What?"

"Do you hear something?" I asked.

Only then did he tune his attention elsewhere, notice the timer, and get up to take the cookies out of the oven. Classic hyper-focusing. He was so focused on the computer that nothing else existed. The house could have been burning down, and he wouldn't have noticed until the monitor was obscured by smoke.

Hyper-focusing suddenly sounded awfully familiar. I remembered reading a book in eighth grade and having no earthly idea how much time had passed or that a classmate was asking me an important question (likely several times) before I was pulled from the story and back to earth.

As an adult, I could focus so intently on my writing that reality faded, and my fictional world came to the fore. There were times I drove my husband crazy because my focus was so totally on one thing, and I was entirely oblivious to something else that really did need my attention.

When we told my son's teachers that he had ADD, no one believed us. He was well behaved, they said. He paid attention in class. (Sure, they thought he was paying attention. He looked like it. He wasn't climbing the walls with hyperactive behavior. He was even sitting still and looking right at the teacher.)

As a teenager, I did well in school by focusing on nothing but AP US History or whatever else was on my plate. Yet I probably had no idea what was going on outside my bedroom door. Very much like my son. I was one of the lucky ones; I was able to use a symptom to my advantage. Hyper-focusing became my superpower. It's how I got stuff done. (Other stuff fell by the wayside, of course. I was supposed to clean out the kitty litter? A week ago? Wait. What kitty litter?)

My son's case was far more severe, and I knew we needed to do something. I'd previously been anti-medication, but that was back in the days when I smugly thought that ADHD was usually just bad parenting. My son was suffering, and he needed help. I'd learned enough from other sources (a neighbor with severely ADHD kids, my nephew, Mel) to finally admit that medication can help because this disorder has a biological basis.

So I buried my pride and went to our family doctor. He listened to my son's symptoms (which consisted of a lot more than what I've discussed here) and agreed that my son was a likely candidate. I also learned something that was huge and worth mentioning here:

ADHD medication doesn't act like an upper on someone who has an ADHD brain.

Rather, we'd know within a couple of days if the medication was helping the symptoms, and if it wasn't, then, in his words, "The proof's in the pudding." If meds didn't alleviate his symptoms, my son, quite simply, didn't have ADD.

Some people think that medication is about zoning kids out, as if it's Valium or something. That's not what the medication does. In a sense, people with the condition have part of their brains that can't stay "awake." Medication turns that part of the brain back on, so everything else can focus. For hyperactive kids, they act out and move around constantly in an effort to wake up their brains. When it's woken up, they can sit still and focus. 

For someone without true ADHD or ADHD-I, however, the medication does act as an upper, which is why the medication can be abused in the wrong hands. Someone with ADHD doesn't get addicted to the medication; it simply helps them think clearly.

No, that's too simplistic. Meds do far more than that. In the cases of my two children who have both been diagnosed, medication has been a huge boon in helping their self-confidence, easing depression, and calming anxiety, because they can try to do something and actually accomplish it. For a growing teen, those things are huge. Simply put, medication helps them be their best selves.

After a week or so on medication, my son couldn't tell a difference, but his dad and I absolutely could. He was more himself. It was like I had my carefree, happy son back. The daily hair-pulling frustrations fell away, leaving his awesomeness to shine. We could have long conversations, which he was fully present for.

When he forgot to take his medicine one day, he came home from school with his eyes opened. "I had no idea what it was doing, but now I do. Today, school was so hard." He took his medication faithfully after that, although he'd often spend weekends and school breaks off it. A couple of years later, he said it wasn't working as well as it used to. I thought that maybe he was building a tolerance to it, or maybe he was imagining something.

But when we saw the doctor next, he nodded and said, "He's grown three inches really fast. Of course he needs a higher dose. He's a bigger kid now."

We've done more than give him medication to manage his condition, of course. We've studied a lot and implemented coping skills and techniques, and he's done much of that on his own as well, wanting to understand himself and how to best succeed. For example, in his high-school psychology class, he researched ADD and wrote a paper about his theories on how it works and why certain behaviors he'd figured out on his own helped him cope.

The same goes for my next child with ADD. She knows that she'll forget important papers or items at home if she's rushing out the door in the morning, so she's made a habit of packing her backpack the night before to be sure she doesn't forget stuff. She makes detailed lists to keep herself on track. She color codes her to-do list. And, like her brother, she uses timers as well as other tools.

As for me, I've come to see how ADD has affected my writing in both positive and negative ways. There was a time when being able to hyper-focus helped me crank out words fast. But as I age, I find that sustaining that hyper-focus is getting harder and harder. I've almost lost my one ADD strength altogether; I can't really hyper-focus anymore.

Some of my coping mechanisms are things my son figured out that work for him, which he then shared with me, and I do all the time. But things have gotten worse in the last few years. I simply cannot accomplish what I used to.

My youngest child has been in school for several years now. Some time ago, I dreamed that when this day came, I'd be able to write for five hours straight. In theory, I can write 2,000 words in about 45 minutes. (A benefit of having been a secretary in college: I type fast.) For argument's sake, if 2,000 words took me longer, say a full hour, and if I could focus for five hours, I could whip out 10,000 words a day, meaning the equivalent of a NaNoWriMo book every work week.

Instead, I'm lucky if I can focus long enough to get in 1500 words a day. On some days, I can't do that much, but not for lack of trying. I recently had the chance to go on a trip with my husband as he traveled for work. He attended a convention during the day, and I stayed in the hotel room and wrote.

My past records for writing all day long without interruptions were well into the five figures. The few times I'd holed up somewhere for a Saturday and cranked out words were years ago, but my one-day record for writing was over 14,000 words. 

On our trip in November, the best I managed to write in the hotel room was 5,000 words in one day. And getting those words in was hard. My brain was beyond fried at the end of each day. While I made good progress on that manuscript, I came home with nowhere near what I'd hoped to accomplish. After all, I used to be able to do more, when I could hyper-focus. Now I'm just plain old ADHD-I, without the hyper-focusing superpower.

Managing my ADD is getting harder with age, no question. The condition is unquestionably getting worse. I don't know if that's typical, but I do know that I'm in the position of constantly trying new coping techniques, taking new nutritional supplements, relying on my accountability partner, and so on. Even so, I'm quite sure that I'll soon be the third family member on medication.

I'm eager to give it a try. My tired ADD brain has so much it wants to do, but the broken part of my brain keeps those things from happening, interfering with the smallest everyday activities. ADD not only rears its head when it comes to my writing; it also interferes with my family life, with being a wife and a mother. It causes problems with housekeeping, grocery shopping, errands, and with so many other very basic things that people with normal brains take for granted.

At times, I have to remind myself that I'm not crazy; I'm just ADD.

Somehow, I'll get things done, even if it's a lot slower than for other people and in a less direct way. And, unfortunately, a lot slower than I used to be able to do the same thing back when I could hyper-focus.

I'll report back if and when I get on medication. If I do as well as Mel has (she's finishing up her MFA in creative writing!), I'll be able to reach my goals . . . finally. I hope.