Hey, everyone! It’s time for another book recommendation and since I’m in full-on holiday mode – I mean, our tree isn’t up but most of the presents are bought! – it’s going to be a holiday book.
I love a holiday romance. Contemporary, historical, suspense, paranormal. You name it, if there is a holiday theme – and maybe a little bit of redemption and definitely a lot of heart – I’m going to pick it up. I have a lot of holiday favorites from childhood books like Jingle to fictionalized-biographies like The Real Story of Santa Claus.
This recommendation is one of those favorites. A book I pick up just about every year. It’s Johanna Lindsey’s The Present, and is part of her Mallory series. The book tells the story of the family’s great-grandfather, who married a gypsy (maybe), and as the story develops, long-held secrets from the current generations are told. Assumptions are reconsidered and (just maybe) minds are opened to other possibilities.
What I love about this book is what I love about all Lindsey books: there is a lot of heart, the family dynamics are incredibly realistic, and the love story is just…swoon-worthy. It’s easy to see the people in the story, to feel the cold of a British winter a couple of hundred years ago, and to wonder just how the family will come together in the face of this new obstacle. It’s family saga at its best. If you’re looking for a fun, rompy, holiday read that will take you back in time this is definitely a book to check out.
What about you? Do you have a favorite holiday read (or re-read)? Share below!
When November rolled around last Thursday I was floored. I mean, how did it get to be November already? And what happened to my October goals? And how am I going to get through the rush of the holiday season with my sanity – and my deadlines! – intact? Seriously, these questions stressed me out for almost a full day before I got hold of them, and my calendar, and came up with a plan. Before we get to the plan, though, how about a goals recap. For October, my four goals were:
- Track my meals and workouts – I’ll count this as half a point because I did track my workouts – and averaged 5/week, yay! – but I wasn’t so great at tracking my meals/calorie intake.
- Finish an indie novella for a project that is releasing in March – This is not even half a point, because I didn’t finish by October 31, it took until November 2. But, the project is now with my proofer and editing will commence in a couple of weeks.
- Themed planning days – this is a full checkmark! I started block-scheduling my days in October and I really like how that is working for me, although it also caused a planner hiccup which I’ll explain in another blog. What I like about block scheduling is that every task (errands, appoints, emails/social media, writing, etc) has it’s own box (or “theme”, which actually allows for more freedom with writing time. Block scheduling will continue!
- Finish revisions: also a full checkmark. I sent revisions for a brand new project to my agent mid-October and am waiting for her feedback and a final polish before sending that project out into the world.
All in all, October wasn’t horrible. I give myself 3.5 out of 4 checkmarks, which I think is totally great! For November, my goals will be a little different because, lets face it, Thanksgiving will eat into writing/editing/authoring time, as will preps for December. Here we go with that list:
- Edit and format the novella to prep for publication; start an initial publicity plan.
- Do any last minute touches to the with-the-agent project before it goes out into the world.
- Prep and send 2 proposals to the agent for new projects that I’m super excited about <– this is my NANO project. I know, NANO is for writing a book in a month, but that doesn’t work for me so I use it in a different way.
- Continue with block/theme scheduling my days because that is really helping me to be more productive – and happier, too!
- Track meals Monday – Friday and track workouts Monday – Friday, too.
What about you? Do you have a goal or two for November? Share in the comments and we’ll keep one another accountable!
Oh, and Through Thanksgiving, some author friends and I are hosting a really fun event – filled with books and games and maybe even a holiday recipe or two. It’s happening over at our Facebook Group: Coffee, Cupcakes & Contemporaries. Stop in, join the group and see what we’re up to – I’m hosting on November 10 – that’s this Saturday! – and I have some fun stuff in the works.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about productivity. Every year about this time, I start looking ahead to the next year. I begin to cull through my potential Word of the Year List and reflect on my word for this year. I look at my goals for the year and come up with a plan to make it through the holiday season with my goals still intact.
I like to be productive. I’m happier when I’ve checked off my to-do lists, when I have a plan for the day (or week or month or, heck, year). I feel better, not just in my headspace, but physically when I’m meeting my health goals and I feel better in my headspace when I’m making time for creative outlets. But it’s hard to be productive all the time – some days, no matter how many things are on my to-do, I just don’t feel like it. I don’t want to write or read or finish that craft or make those phone calls or pay those bills or fold that last load of laundry. I just flat-out don’t want to.
When those days hit, there are two choices: 1) don’t do anything and feel even worse the next day or 2) fight back against the don’t-wannas with a few tricks. Here are five ways I push through those blah days:
- I use a focus app called Tide: I’ve been using focusing apps for a long time, but I switched over to this app in the spring and I am in serious love with it. There are several different settings (nap, meditation, focus, etc), with different timing options starting at 15 minutes. I usually set it for 45 minute writing sessions: write for 45, take a short break to fold that load of laundry or get a drink of water or play ball with Hazel-the-pup, then it’s back at my desk for another session.
- Put the phone in another room: This seems like a given but for a long time, I was working with my phone right next to me. Email would bleep or someone would call and wham! I’m out of my zone and distracted again. Putting the phone in another room (and turning off the notifications for my watch) is key to keeping my focus where it needs to be. Going along with this one: turn off the internet! Seriously, disconnect from wi-fi and if you need to check “just one thing” online, make a note in your WIP or on a piece of paper and keep pushing forward. Check that one thing during your morning routine or after you’ve met your word count for the day.
- Use a paper planner: There are a lot of digital options for planning and I think they’re great. For me, though, a paper planner is the best option (the Happy Planner is my jam! Love the flexibility/customization options of the disc system). My planner holds daily to-do lists (like cleaning and appointments) but it also houses my business plan, deadlines, quarterly goals (including action steps to meet said goals). Plus, there are stickers and stickers make everything better! There are a couple of different studies that have shown the physical act of writing down a goal or appointment helps us meet those goals. I’m a firm believer in paper planners for accountability and goal setting.
- Make a date with yourself: have lunch with girlfriends, go for a walk in the botanical gardens, or just head to the mall to people-watch. I like taking my writing notebook with me. Sometimes I brainstorm book/character ideas, sometimes I write down blog/social media post ideas and sometimes I just bring dump a lot of the stuff in my head or doodle. Here’s the thing: as much as I love planning, there are times that I plan too much for too long. Being unable to focus on my work can sometimes mean that I haven’t made time for *me*. When that happens, stepping away from my computer is crucial, even if it’s only for an hour. Creative dates help me clear my head so I can focus again.
- Sleep: I don’t mean a nap in the middle of the day (although a good 20 minute power nap can be ahhhh-mazing!). I mean getting a full 8 hours of sleep. Having a set bedtime and sticking to it. Along with eating healthy and drinking water, the best thing I can do for my focus is to make sure I’m getting enough sleep. Being rested is crucial for me to feel good, to feel like working, and to be able to focus on my work.
When I’m having one of those days when I just can’t focus, I’ll think about what I’ve been eating/drinking, the sleep I’ve been getting or the schedule I’ve been keeping…if I need it, I’ll take an hour or so for me, and then I’ll go back to the basics of turning on my focus app, turning off the internet, and getting back to work.
What about you? How do you focus when your focus is gone?
It’s still slightly green here on the NorthCoast, but fall definitely blew in over the weekend. It was blustery and grey and cloudy and there were little flakes of…not really snow, but also not rain. I don’t have a good word for it. What I do have? A favorite fall recipe that I’m so glad I dug out for the weekend. Knowing it would be blustery and cold, I knew it was going to be a soup kind of a weekend. So I headed to my trusty recipe binder and pulled out a favorite: Wisconsin Cheese Soup.
This is the perfect soup for a chilly day. It’s warm, it’s filling, it’s got all these tastes. It just makes you feel warm and cozy from the inside out. Here’s my recipe:
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2-1/2 cups milk
- 1 cup beer or water
- 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1-1/2 tsp. dry mustard
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 cups (8 oz.) Sargento® Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese – Traditional Cut
- Garlic or herbed croutons (optional)
Melt the butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. From here, you have two choices: continue on the cooktop or transfer to the crockpot. Cooktop Method: Stir in milk, beer, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper. Continue heating to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in cheese until
melted. Ladle soup into bowls. If desired, serve with croutons or oyster crackers. The cooktop method takes about 30-45 minutes. The Crockpot Method: Once the flour and butter are cooked/combined, transfer them to the crockpot and turn it on low. Stir in milk and beer, keep stirring for maybe 2-3 minutes, just until the flour and butter are combined. This is what thickens the soup, after all. Next, add in the Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper. Give it a final stir and then cook for 4 hours. Serve with croutons or oyster crackers.
Last week, I decided my office needed a little bit of a makeover. Okay, technically this is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time – I’ve had cube shelves for a while and the fabric boxes I’ve been using were getting old and a bit worn and … frankly, kind of boring. And they didn’t match how I wanted my office to look. Which led me to a Pinterest rabbit hole and then an IKEA rabbit hole and then Michaels…and you get the idea.
I liked everything I saw at IKEA and Michaels and the ideas on Pinterest were amazing as always, but there was nothing specific to my problem of the cube shelves other than *more fabric boxes* and I didn’t want fabric boxes for all of the reasons I listed above. I decided to hit Pat Catans (which is a kind of small town version of Michaels) to see what I could find.
And I hit the motherlode. Seriously. They were having a huge sale on photo storage boxes – you know, the kind that are about shoe box size? I picked up 14 of these boxes for less than $20.
My first step was to go through the fabric boxes I already had, separating and organizing the detritus of a home office. Supplies (paper clips, rubber bands, etc) in one area, extra cords in another, stationery over here, “author” stationery over there…you get the idea. Then, it was as simple as organizing how I wanted to store all the bits and bobs and labeling each of the boxes.
I think it turned out great – and I even had enough boxes left over to update bebe’s bedroom cabinet that houses her supply of hair stuffs and tween makeup and whatnot. I couldn’t be happier with how my office turned out or her cabinet – and the bonus is that now I know where everything is again!
Do you use storage boxes in your office? How do you organize your shelves?
Time for another book recommendation, and this time it’s one I’m sure y’all have heard of because a movie-based-on-the-book just came out. I watched the Netflix adaptation of The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society (henceforce simply called Guernsey in this blog) and adored it in a different way than I loved the book. I picked up the book on a whim when I caught it in the bargain bin at our local Books-a-Million. I’ve heard from people that they didn’t like the letter-and-telegram format, but that is what I really loved about the book.
I thought this format was really interesting. The movie did a good job of showing us what happened before Juliet came to the island/during the war, and digging into the depths of the islanders. But it was so…heartwrenching to read the letters of those characters. It was a kind of glimpse into what actual people might have felt during that time. For me, the letters made the book a bit more personal.
Which leads me to a few quotes, that have made it from the book into my commonplace book (a book of quotes and lyrics and other things that I love). Here are a handful.
“The first rule of snooping is to come at it sideways.”
“I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.” <– who can’t relate to that? I adore RadioMan, but some of my favorite times with him aren’t when we’re debating and talking but when we’re just *being* together.
“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.”
“All my life I thought that the story was over when the hero and heroine were safely engaged — after all, what’s good enough for Jane Austen ought to be good enough for anyone. But it’s a lie. The story is about to begin, and every day will be a new piece of the plot. ”
“I am a grown woman– mostly– and I can guzzle champagne with whomever I choose.”
“I never met a man half so true as a dog. Treat a dog right, and he’ll treat you right. He’ll keep you company, be your friend, and never ask you no questions. Cats is different, but I never held that against ’em.”
“Sorrow has rushed over the world like the waters of the Deluge, and it will take time to recede. But already, there are small islands of – hope? Happiness? Something like them, at any rate.”
And, perhaps, my very favorite –> “Is it so small a thing to have enjoyed the sun, to have lived light in the spring, to have loved, to have thought, to have done, to have advanced true friends?”
Guernsey is charming and thoughtful, and though it deals with both war and the aftermath of war where it could become heavy and hard, it instead is uplifting, although at points devastating. I think, maybe, the devastation is the point. Because war is awful, both for those fighting in battle, those waiting at home, and especially those whose homes and towns are occupied by forces on either side of the fight.
Have you read Guernsey? What did you think of the book?
Wow, it’s a new month and I’m here posting on a brand new day! There’s a reason for that: a couple of group blogs that I’m involved with are changing up their posting schedule, which prompted a change to my blog’s schedule. Starting today (and how apropos that this is actually starting on the first day of a new month?), I’ll be posting every Monday here.
Today’s post is part of my #howwedo series, in which I ask a few author friends how they approach different parts of the writing life, from brainstorming a story concept to that final round of edits. I started this series because of the most-often asked questions writers get is how do you _____. And what I’ve found over my years in publishing is that there is no one approach to anything in this business. I think it can be incredibly helpful to see the various ways that different authors approach aspects of their career because we may be able to grab a little nugget of something Writer A does and adapt it into our own processes. So, without further ado, How We Do: Self-Edits.
What is a self-edit? It’s that round of edits we do to polish our manuscripts before sending to our agent/editor/hopeful-publisher.
My approach is first a quick-hit with my grammar program because I have a serious problem with commas thanks to my years in TV journalism when we used commas to “tell” the anchors where to pause. This also helps me find obvious typos and the occasional run-on/wordy sentence. Then, I save the manuscript as a PDF and put it on my iPad Pro, so that I can read through and mark it up using my Apple Pencil. From there, it’s as simple an inputting those changes and sending off to my agent.
But you don’t just want to hear from me. Here’s what my friend, Nan Reinhardt (who happens to be a super-talented author and editor), has to say. “I start with whatever my Betas have discovered—typos, time line issues, name problems, etc. and fix those. Then I put it on my Kindle and read the whole manuscript that way, making notes the entire time. Then I run it through an editing program I have—one that I use when I’m editing other people’s work. After that, one last spell check before I finally send it off. This last time, I knew the heroine could have been fully developed, but I was running short on time, so I sent it off with a hint of doubt. Sure enough, my editor loved everything about the story, except she thought the heroine needed fleshing out. I think most writers have a gut feeling about their stories when they finish a first draft.”
Author Claire McEwen wrote for Harlequin’s Superromance line with me, and we did a fab multi-author novella collection, based on our different Superromance series. She now writes for Harlequin’s Heartwarming line and says, “If at all possible, I like to take a break from the manuscript before I try to revise or edit. It is amazing what I can see if I have a few days off from the pages! So I set my writing schedule up to accommodate this. For example, right now I’m writing the first draft of a contracted book. I plan to finish the draft in the next few weeks, then set it aside. I’ll spend the next few weeks working on a proposal for another book. Then I’ll go back to my draft and revise and edit before I send it off to the editor.”
My friend Liz Flaherty has written for Harlequin’s Special Edition as well as Heartwarming line, and her approach to editing is so on-point because Liz believes that you have to own the book and story you’re telling. “I type it as clean as I can, my friend Nan Reinhardt—who, blessedly enough, IS an editor—then gives it a read. I fix or I don’t, depending on what she tells me <g>, then it’s off to my editor. If I were newer, or not published, I’m not sure how I’d do it.”
Oh, and since it’s the first of the month, how about we do some goals? I know I am much more likely to accomplish my goals if I tell people about them. So…here we go. Kristina’s 3 October Goals:
- Track my meals Monday – Friday, and create a workout schedule. I have a plethora of workout videos, a running/interval program on my phone, and a number of WiiU fitness games. The problem is that I can sometimes put off a workout because I can’t decide what to do. So, like my buddy Jill is doing, I’m going to create a rotating schedule of Monday-Friday workouts, put them in my planner and then it’s as simple as loading the DVD (or going outside) and checking off that list item!
- Finish writing a novella for an indie-continuity project that releases early next year. The books are light-hearted, sweet romances, set in the Caribbean (y’all know how I love a beach!) and I can’t wait to share more with you.
- Create a “themed” schedule. Even though I’m a full-time writer, I don’t write from 8am – 4pm; I can’t, as much as I want to. But, I also waste some of the time I have when bebe is at school. So, I’m creating a block schedule in which certain times of the day are for writing and others are “themed” – like for professional development, content/social media creation, “me” time. You get the idea. I’ll let you know how I like this block schedule.
- Do a final revision pass once I get a project back from my agent this month. It’s something I’ve been working on for a while and I’m so excited about it but it’s been such a HARD book to write!! This is my final goal of the month because I don’t know when I’ll get her comments back and I’m not sure how many changes will be needed…so this goal may bleed into November.
Do you have a goal or two for the month?
Last week was my annual writer’s retreat in Michigan – writing and brainstorming and laughing and eating and having a ball. I miss them already! And I miss the food. I made something new-is to me this year because we have a couple of vegan/vegetarian eaters in our group. And I can sometimes be persuaded to put away the chicken or beef. Not to worry, if you need chicken and beef in your life, I’ll tell you what to add at the end of this post. In the meantime, this recipe turned out so good – you could do it as a main dish (as we did) or even as a dip on those chilly football weekends coming up this fall.
Without further ado, Vegetarian Enchilada Orzo! The ingredients:
• 1 (14.5-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
• 1 (10-ounce) mild enchilada sauce
• 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained (Note: for both the tomatoes and green chiles, feel free to dice them yourself from the produce aisle…or if you’re cooking on the road like I was over the weekend, use the canned version)
• 1 can vegetable broth, as needed
• 1 cup corn kernels, frozen (if you use canned, the taste will be the same just make sure you drain them)
• 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
• 1/2 can Vegan refried beans
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 1 Tablespoon chili powder (optional)
• 1 Tablespoon ground cumin (optional)
• 4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
• 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
• 2 cups uncooked orzo pasta
If you have all day set your crockpot to low and cook for 8 hours, but if you only have the morning, set the crockpot to high and cook for 4 hours. In the crockpot, combine the corn, black and refried beans, chiles, tomatoes, enchilada sauce, and spices. Stir and then add in the cream cheese and half the can of vegetable broth. Stir once more and then put the lid on and let the crockpot do it’s thing. About once each hour, stir again, making sure the cream cheese is melting and combining with the other ingredients. After 4 (or eight, if you have all day) give the ingredients one more stir and then add in the orzo pasta and cook for another 20-30 minutes. Once the pasta is ready, grab some bowls and serve, sprinkling the cheddar over the top to your taste.
*Recipe Notes: Total cook time is 4:30 and this recipe serves 6 people. You can substitute quinoa for the orzo if you like; for me that adds too much of a nutty flavor but I’ve heard from several people that it’s really good that way. Also, if green chiles are too spicy for you, simply leave them out or halve that part of the recipe. If you want to add meat, I suggest about 6 ounces of grilled chicken or steak, already cooked, and then either cubed or shredded and added to the mix.
Y’all know my penchant for office supplies by now – planners and pens and notebooks and folders. These are functional, basic office items. I also have a basic, functional office because it doubles as a guest room when we have friends or family come in to stay with us for a while. But, just because my office needs to function well (for me and for guests) doesn’t mean it has to be boring or ugly.
Part of what I love about office supplies is the sheer variety. Sure there are plain manila folders and basic yellow #2 pencils and you can get a 24 pack of basic black Bic’s. But, you don’t have to. When I was redoing my office a couple of years ago I looked at all the office supplies I have – a myriad of colored pens and pencils, folders with designs and images on them, notebooks repurposed from old planner pages. I wanted to give my basic, functional office pops of color so I decided to use my folders and notebooks and yes pens as part of the decor.
Today, I’m going to show you how I created a folder filing system that isn’t one of the those yucky, gray things that hang on walls in office buildings. Here’s what you need:
3-4 small easels for pictures
3-4 of your favorite folders
Find a place on your wall or the side of a bookcase (like I did!). Place 2 Command hangars side by side but about 3″ apart. Next, hang your easel upside down, so the “V” shape is ope toward the ceiling and the “lip” is pointed toward you. Go up the wall or bookcase about 6″ and repeat for the second easel and continue on like this until you’ve hanged each easel. Now put your folders there and, voila!, you have hacked your office and made your pretty folders part of the decor!
For additional functionality, you could add a pretty binder clip to the “lip” of each easel to create a label. I don’t do this because I label each of my folders, which takes care of me knowing what they’re for. Also, I keep my most urgent (as in have a deadline of 1-2 months) in the bottom easel, things that have a bit more time in the middle, and the top easel is for story ideas and future projects (things that don’t have a deadline just yet).
One more tip: I always find the best (prettiest!) folders at Target, but the easels and Command hangars I picked up at our local dollar store – for the rock-bottom price of $5 total…making this also a very economical office hack!
What do you like best about your home office?
At the beginning of the year I had a plan to read all 50 books on the 50 Best Books from Every State list. I’m going to fail that writing challenge, not because I haven’t been reading but because I’ve been reading off of my list of books to read…don’t worry, I’m still going to read all 50, but I think this is going to be a multi-year reading challenge for me. I first got off track with my reading challenge about the second week in January when, instead of James Michener’s Hawaii, I picked up Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’m not sure why I picked it up; I’ve read that book probably five times in my life. But I was walking through the library (I’d gone there to write and had met my wordcount so of course I started wandering the stacks) and it was right there on a shelf calling to me. So I picked it up. I’ve worked my way through about 1/3 of the 50 books list.
Another book that called my name? Carol Burnett’s In Such Good Company. Y’all know my love of the memoir by now, but this book isn’t so much memoir/self-help as it is memoir/memory, and it was wonderful.
I’ve been a Carol fan since I was little, watching the reruns on Sunday afternoons on a fuzzy UHF channel with my mom. I didn’t get most of the jokes but I can still hear mom’s giggle turning into a full-blown snort-laugh in my head. I laughed at the jokes I didn’t get because her laugh was just so contagious that I couldn’t not laugh. As I got older I started getting those jokes and laughed for other reasons.
What I liked best about the book were the stories behind the scenes – how Vicki Lawrence became a cast member, how Carol nearly fired one of the cast after a particularly bad show. Those were things I didn’t know. I didn’t know that she fought hard to have her own variety show in a time when male studio heads didn’t think women should. I didn’t know that she ran that show, every aspect of it, in a time when women just didn’t do that. And my biggest takeaway from the book that is more memory than self-help is this: You have to fight for the things that you want in life. Carol fought for her show. She fought for the actors and performers on her show. She fought for certain skits and writers. She knew what her vision was for the show and she fought hard to make that vision a reality.
My favorite quote from the book sums up what I think is her true legacy – aside from the laughs on the show! – that you have to be present and embrace your life, and fight for the things you believe in: Fifty years have passed since we “pushed the button” to do the show. Sure, I’d like to be younger, but then I could never do today what we did back then. Sadly, variety shows like ours have gone the way of the dodo bird. A variety show today can never duplicate what we did. Why? Money. The cost of clearing the songs and music alone would sink the Titanic. Sixty to seventy costumes a week? No way. A twenty-eight-piece orchestra? Twelve dancers? A rep company of five? Six to eight sketches a show? Major guest stars? Block the entire show and rehearse with the orchestra in one day? The following day tape the whole shebang in two hours? Dream on. We all get older, if we’re lucky. So, if I had to choose, I’m happy I was there at that time…to have a laugh or sing a song.
If you have the chance, definitely pick up the book – I think you’ll love it! What are you reading now?