Holiday Book Rec: Johanna Lindsey’s The Present

This month’s book rec: Johanna Lindsey’s The Present

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!

November Goals + Fun Holiday Event

November Goals

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! 

Several authors & I are hosting a fab holiday event – join the fun!

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.

#AmReading: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

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? 

#WriteTip: How to Approach Edits

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.”

There you have it, writers, 4 approaches to editing that I hope will help you develop a system of your own. Next time, our #howwedo will deal with approaching editor feedback. Stay tuned!

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

  1. 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!
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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?

#AmReading: Carol Burnett In Such Good Company

Carol Burnett’s In Such Good Company

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?

#WriteTip: Setting Up Your WIP Notebook

Kristina’s Project Planner Worksheet

I get asked a lot about my writing process, and while we all have our processes and most writers are cool sharing what works and what doesn’t, I think the real value in knowing how other writers write is in knowing that there are so many different ways to write a book. There is no singular right way. You look at what is working for you and you adjust accordingly. My process isn’t the same even from book to book. Some books I write beginning to end. Some books I write out of order. Some books I turn in and realize that I need to rearrange a few key areas. Books are beautiful, frustrating, really weird things. But.

You knew there was going to be a but. 

But, there is one thing that stays true with my process: my WIP Notebook/Project Planner. So I thought I’d share that part of my writing process with you guys this week because it might help you, too. My WIP notebook becomes a kind of catch-all for each book. It has details like drafting/editing deadline, series name/information, and detailed plot and character notes. I love it because having all the details in one spot makes it easy to double-check a character’s eye color or change names when you realize every.single.name begins with “M” or to fill in the “blah blah make this funnier” notes we leave in our WIPs while we’re fast-drafting.

Here’s how my WIP notebook works for me:

The brain dump: The brain dump is exactly what it sounds like: a dump of information. I write everything I think I know about the book, characters, and backstory on these pages. Things I think might happen, things from the past, where my characters are emotionally at the beginning of the book, where they are at the end, what the romantic storyline is, what the personal storyline is. It takes up the bulk of the notebook and is usually four of five pages of…stuff. Stuff that I need to get out of my head before I can actually start parsing through to see what works and (more importantly) what doesn’t. 

Kristina’s Plot Worksheet

The Plot Worksheet: After I’ve written down the pertinent backstory stuff, character stuff, maybe even opening or closing scene details, it’s time to start parsing through that to create an actual sort-of plot. That’s where my plot worksheet comes in. Here I’ll list the tropes for the book, the series (if it’s part of a series), title and length details. But, the real work is in the scene listing. I’ll write out scene ideas for the different acts of the book – some will make it in and some won’t, but having the scene ideas written down is very helpful in create an actual outline. 

Kristina’s “W” Worksheet

The “W” sheet: From that dump of information and general scene listing comes some actual outline information. I’m a fan of the “W” plot and I kind of integrate it with a three-act structure to create my outline – and for those of you who think this is too rigid, just know that I go into every outline knowing that once the draft is finished I’ll probably move at least 2-3 scenes around in the book. Back to my worksheet. So we have the highs and lows of the initial trigger and problem, the first turning point, a second triggering moment, a deepening of the conflict, and so on. Some of these moments will be in my brain dump of information. Some in the plot worksheet. It’s why I do a brain dump, a plot worksheet, and then a W sheet – because genre romance is all about certain moments happening at certain times. By winnowing all.the.details. into specific.plot.ideas. and then into an outline form I get a clearer vision of the conflict. Conflict, as we all know, comes from the past. Something bad happens as a child. Something bad happens as an adult that confirms to the character that they are not worthy of whatever it is they want/have/need. It’s conflict math. 1+1=2 or Incident+Incident=Confirmation. For me BrainDump+Plot Workheet=Solid W plot-plan.

Kristina’s Character Worksheet

Character Sheets: Then come the character sheets. Each character gets a main sheet with details about their physical features, their home, their family, their wants/needs, job information, hopes/dreams, nicknames. Why they have what they have and don’t deserve what they want…all that good, emotional stuff. 

Kristina’s Setting Worksheet

Setting Sheet: Keeping track of business names and locations, seasonal details, big events, even the town layout and a timeline of events can be hard in a single book…its even harder when you write a series. Having a setting worksheet keeps all those minute details in one place so that I can refer back to find that I called the local bar Shorty’s in book one (or, heck, chapter one) and Logan’s in another book/chapter. 

If you like these pages, I have printable versions that you can print and use for your WIP notebooks. Do you use a WIP notebook (either online or offline!) to help your plotting? 

Author Services from @AuthorKristina Knight

..and I’ve done a thing. One of my favorite parts about the writing business (other than the writing, naturally) is the other creative stuff we get to do: coming up with promotional graphics for book releases, setting up files for e-versions of books, and even the occasional cover. The graphic to the left here is one I did for an anthology from a group (including me) of Harlequin Superromance authors last fall.

Graphic design has been something I’ve enjoyed doing since college and my journalism school days – I think I was one of the only people in my class who had as much fun laying out the paper or designing promo graphics for the nightly news shows as I did the actual writing/reporting. I’m also updating my printables for writers all the time – a handful of planner printable are up now (and they’re FREE!) and more will go up periodically. Right now, the planner/manuscript/project printable are free; they are something I really have fun making for myself, and I see how much simpler it is to stay on-task when I use them, so I wanted to share them with you. 

After a lot of thought, I decided to hang out my shingle for other authors or, heck, businesses in general, to create social media graphics and headers. You can click over to my Author Services page for in-depth details, and if you think I could help you design some graphics, feel free to drop me an email and we’ll chat! I also format ebooks for publication using a really fun (and beautiful!) software program. 

And an update to the blog schedule: I’ll be here every Friday with a new post – some silliness, some book reviews, some author interviews/writing tips, and we’ll of course talk organization and goals…so be sure to stop by often! 

 

#AmReading: Still Writing

During my yearly reading challenge last year, I rediscovered my love of the memoir. I’ve been a fan of autobiographies for a long time, but I’d gotten away from memoirs because they seemed too preachy or too vague or too…something. But, I’d set a reading goal for the year and I was in a bit of a rut and so I decided to step outside my reading comfort zone to pick up a book I’d heard writers buzzing about for a few months. 

I’m so glad I picked up this book! Part memoir, part writing guide, part advice, Shapiro’s book helped me get a better handle on where I was both professionally and personally. 2017 was a big year of change for our family – the line I wrote for at Harlequin closed, my husband changed jobs, a magazine I’d written for for several years cut way back on freelancers…there was a lot of upheaval and had left me wondering what the heck I was doing with my life. When I picked up Still Writing I wasn’t sure what to expect. I ended up laughing a little and crying a little and being really inspired to take control of the things I can control: the writing. Publishers will come and go, and so will editors and publicists and cover artists. What I can control is the writing. I can sit my butt in the chair every day and write the words. And the next day, I can write again. By controlling the writing, or at least putting myself in the chair to write, I’m doing my part in this crazy roller coaster ride of publishing.

If you’re looking for an inspirational read – whether your in a creative field or not – I think you’ll find something to enjoy about Still Writing…What are you reading right now? Feel free to share in the comments!