Holidays & Traditions in World Building

Today is February 2nd. You know what that means. Groundhog Day!

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Every year, my husband is so excited to get to rewatch the cult classic movie. That’s our Groundhog Day tradition. Maybe one year we’ll actually go to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to experience the day in style and in person.

Anyway, let’s be honest that this is a bit of a weird holiday/tradition. We listen to a large, though extremely adorable, rodent to see if we get more winter. Living in Texas where it’s already creeping into the 80s by February, I have to say, the significance is even less impactful. 

And it got me to thinking as a writer. It seems every culture is going to have unusual holidays/traditions that might seem weird from the outside. Even from the inside.

Writing contemporary romance, I think that means doing my research on any culture I’m including. In fact, I think of the research as fun. An opportunity to try to go experience some of those traditions when I can, or, at the very least, have my mind and heart opened to new ideas. It also means incorporating those traditions or holidays that are ones I don’t practice myself with as much sensitivity as possible.

As a paranormal romance writer, that means possibly creating my own unusual holidays and traditions that my characters might celebrate. What if my big, bad dragon shifters had a day when smaller animal shifters helped predict something important to them?Obviously, I wouldn’t just randomly stick a tradition in a story. I’d give it some history of its own and a particular meaning to or impact on the story.

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For example, if you look at the history of Groundhog Day, you’ll find it didn’t just arbitrarily happen. 

According to the history channel, Feb 2nd falls midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and was a significant day in several ancient and modern traditions.

As Christianity spread through Europe, the day evolved into Candlemas, a feast commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the holy temple in Jerusalem. In certain parts of Europe, Christians believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of cold and snow.

Germans developed their own take on the legend, pronouncing the day sunny only if badgers and other small animals glimpsed their own shadows. When German immigrants settled Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought the custom with them, choosing the native groundhog as the annual forecaster.

It makes more sense if you look at it from that angle. And, when you incorporate it into a story–like the movie Groundhog Day–it makes the story that much more special. 

This is something I’ll have to consider more as I incorporate world building into all my books–contemporary, paranormal, or whatever.  But I’m already starting to think if there’s something I can do in my current WIPs–in paranormal that would be Fire’s Edge #3, and in contemporary my 5th and final Hills of Texas book. You’ll have to wait and see what I think up!

Worst Writing Advice I Ever Got

Worst writing advice I ever got? Honestly, this is a hard question because if someone is giving it as advice, it’s because that tip worked for them, or is a standard for most, if not all, writers.

For me, just like in most life situations, there is no BAD advice. There is advice that is given with bad intentions, or without all the information, or with a perspective that doesn’t work for the situation. Those can all apply to writing, too. There is also taking good advice and going way overboard.

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That is what I find happens the most with writing. Taking a good rule, and being so rigid or methodical about it that you end up with bad writing or a boring story.

Here a few examples…

No Adverbs

The rule is to try to not use adverbs because it’s “lazy” writing. That there are better verbs you can use or a better way to describe that scene.

The girl walked slowly. 

The sentence gets the point across, but let’s be honest it’s pretty basic and even boring. An improvement would be to use a better verb.

The girl plodded along.

But what about this example?

Her screams abruptly cut off as her lips sealed shut. 

Is the sentence boring? Does it seem poorly written? Or too beginner-ish? I don’t think so. Sure you could cut the adverb and get the point across, but personally I can hear the aburpt end to sound with it in. You could reword the sentence, but part of the impact is that the sentence is as abrupt as the action happening. If you try to reword it, you’d get something like:

Her screams cut off in an abrupt manner as her lips sealed shut.

This fix makes it awkward and rather stiff or overly formal.

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Her screams cut off, the sudden silence almost jarring, as her lips sealed shut.

If the goal is to keep the sentence abrupt as well, you start losing that feel with the addition.

So yes, there are ways to remove every adverb, but they’re not always better.

Remove Every Instance of “There is” “There was” “It was”

This one I do search for and kill as many as I can. The idea is that both the noun and the verb are lazy/boring/vague. You can use a stronger noun, a stronger verb, or both. But there are (snicker because I just used those words) instances when killing it just makes for an awkward sentence. I find this is especially true if it’s related to spoken dialogue. Or even internal dialogue.

How about this one…

There was more?

Sure you could reword it. But you might lose some of the meaning or make a worse sentence.

More was to come?

Too formal in most instances.

More, there was?

Okay, I went a little Yoda there.

No way could she handle more.

Now it’s no longer an internal dialogue moment, and internal dialogue can be important. You can break up long descriptions with it, convey the characters inner turmoil with it. So cutting it just to reword a sentence seems pretty dumb.

While we’re on the topic, I’d like to point out that, one of the most famous opening lines in literature breaks this rule:

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. 

Try rewording that and see if you get the same impact.

Don’t Use Verbs for Dialogue Tags

This is one I will get in a knock down/drag out with editors over, particularly with my paranormal romances. I have editors who insist you can NOT use words like moan, bark, choke, gasp, and so forth, as dialogue tags. They insist that, for example, one can not both speak and moan at the same time. That it’s physically impossible.

I disagree! Ask me demonstrate next time you see me. Lol.

It’s not that the character is physically doing both things. It’s describing how the words are coming out. Does the tag help the reader hear how those words are being uttered? I say YES!

Example my way: “Right there, John,” she moaned.

She’s moaning the word as she says it. She could be moaning in pleasure or pain. The scene would set that up. But next time you see Meg Ryan do that famous orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally, tell me she’s not moaning some of those words.

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Example without: “Right there, John.”

Sounds so emotionless, right? No oomph.

Example how editors want to fix it: “Right there, John.” She moaned.

Uh. Now she’s saying the words matter-of-factly, and then moaning after the fact. This particular fix gets even funnier with dialogue tags like “barked.”

“Drop and give me twenty,” the drill sergeant barked.

vs.

“Drop and give me twenty.” The drill sergeant barked. 

Aahahahahaha. Don’t tell me that works. It makes it sound like he’s barking like a dog after he says the words. Meanwhile, changing the dialogue tag to a standard “said” is so boring. So is “ordered” IMO. But barked… you can hear that, can’t you?

My way is clearly better. 😉

My point is, rules and advice are made or given for good reasons (usually). But always remember that when you are writing, YOU own that story. Rules are there as guides, but if I feel bending or even breaking them will make my story better, damn strait I’m going to do that.

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$0.99 Sale | Resisting the Rancher

Haven’t had a chance to pick this one up yet? Get it for only $0.99 today! Fall in love with Williams Hill as he falls for Rusty Walker. This book stands alone and does not have to be read in order.$0.99 – Jan 18-26 ONLY  


Rusty Walker has spent her entire life trying to earn her tough, ranching father’s respect and approval by learning the business inside and out. But now her uncompromising parent has decreed she must marry if she wants to inherit. Worse, her husband has to be someone who can help her run the business. As if she needs it!

Williams Hill kissed Rusty in a bar in an act of temporary insanity, and lost his heart to her on the spot. Despite the complications to his own rodeo stock business, he agrees to marry the feisty red-head, hoping to woo her once they’re hitched. But she only views him with suspicion and resentment.

Can this soft-spoken Texas cowboy convince his proud wife, who’s never known unconditional love, that she is everything he wants?

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How Far Back?

How far back does your earliest memory go? 

My most vivid memories start around the ages of seven and eight. Before that, it’s mostly snippets or specific moments. Special occasions like Christmases and birthdays. Family visits. Tea parties my mother would put on for my neighborhood friends. My first watch–Mickey Mouse. The different houses we lived in before settling in Texas. 

Grandmother

My very first memory, though, goes all the way back to when I was probably about two years old, at a guess, and involves my grandmother.

My dad’s mother lived in Texas in the same town as us, so I was lucky to get to spend time with her. She and my grandpa also owned the family house we all vacationed at in Estes Park, Colorado. And, if you know me, you know that’s my favorite place on the planet. Fitting that this memory is also tied to that place. 

My grandmother was very proper. Manners were important. Thank you notes were expected for all gifts. And we’d better call her “Grandmother.” Not Grandma, or Nana, or, heaven forbid, some southern version like MeeMaw. Children were to be heard and not see. That was harder when we were younger, but she was so lovely as I hit my teens and twenties, always sharing stories of growing up and her life with Grandpa.

But maybe you can picture her–always dressed beautifully and a little on the formal side.

In this earliest memory of mine, I’m sitting on her lap in a rocking chair in that house in Estes Park. I can picture exactly where the chair was, beside a large window that looked out over mountains. That ugly red and orange and green shag carpet. The wood panelling on the walls that would give you splints if you touched it, and the red wallpaper with the eagles.

I can picture Grandmother–slender and lovely, with her short gunmetal grey hair worn in teased curls. Although, it’s harder now to separate what she looked like when I was older from what she must’ve looked like then–younger than I’m picturing I’m sure. She would have only been in her mid-fifties at the most, which, as I’m only a decade or so away, seems super young to me these days. 

My being about two years old sounds right, because I remember my parents along with several aunts and uncles vaguely being there. Everyone was watching me with Grandmother. So probably one of those moments of a grandparent and grandchild with lots of pictures.

Grandmother, at the time, wore glasses and she always had them on one of those chains so she could wear it around her neck. And in this memory, I reach for the chain. And every single adult (except Grandmother), shout, “No! No! No!” Now, I doubt they were actually shouting. But to a child that young, that’s how the memory works. Grandmother, meanwhile, very calmly and gently took the chain from my grasp. 

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That’s my earliest memory. Kind of a funny memory to have. You’d think my earliest would be of a parent, or maybe a sibling. But no. A simple memory, too. Just a small moment.  A drop in the bucket compared to an ocean of many other moments of my life.

As a writer, memories like these are not only precious for personal reasons, but also for professional reasons. Those little details are characteristics I could write into a grandmother in one of my books, or a scene I could add with a grandmother and baby granddaughter. Those small memories give those scenes and characters in my books a realism that I think would be difficult to imagine otherwise.

I’m smiling even as I write this because it’s so real to me. I miss Grandmother. 

Cheat Sheet for Great Beginnings

Beginnings and endings are my favorite parts of books to write. Not just because with one I am starting a new exciting journey and the other I’m finally crossing the finish line. Endings we’ll talk about another time, but beginnings…

Beginnings I love because I get to use a relatively small amount of real estate to get readers invested while setting up the entire rest of the story.  I’m not talking about the first page, but the first roughly 10%. Sounds like a lot, but it’s not. Which is what makes it so exciting as a writer. It’s a challenge I love to dig into.

In the beginning

So… what goes into writing a great beginning?

That is a HUGE question. And we could spend days/hours/many, many blogs on things like GMC (goal, motivation, conflict), building/establishing/developing characters, setting up your plot, and so forth. All fantastic tools to use as a writer, but for this blog, I’m going to assume you’ve practiced all of that (or at least know what it is). 

For me, once I’d learned/read/taken workshops/watched videos, it helped to have a “cheat sheet” of reminders pulling from those teachings and putting them together with my own personal preferences and experience.

Here’s my cheat sheet for great beginnings:

Wait… first I have to share this…

The PIXAR Example

The best help I’ve ever had with beginnings I came across just this year. It’s a short video from Michael Arndt on his website, Pandemonium Inc. Michael is a writer at PIXAR who examines great beginnings in this video. Watch and thank me (and Michael) later…

Beginnings: Setting a Story in Motion from Pandemonium

Okay, now that I’ve shared that, HERE is my cheat sheet great beginnings:

1. Start with Action

I critiqued a beginning written by my friend Mia Darien once, and it has stuck with me for years. Why? Because she immediately kicked the beginning off with a scene full of action, but, layered in that action, we met interesting characters, got a bit of background, and set up quite a bit of conflict.

We didn’t need to meet the characters first and learn their entire history to understand why this scene was important to them. She made it obvious within the scene. But that action was so gripping, I can still close my eyes and picture it. I still want to know what happens next. 

In other words… JUMP IN to your main character(s) life. Don’t bore the reader setting up every detail of that life first with a ton of internal thought, exposition, or you (the writer) telling the reader who this is. 

2. Equilibrium

This was the first ah-ha for me from that PIXAR video. Show what your main character (or characters) lives are like/worlds are like now. However, this isn’t just things like they eat breakfast, get dressed, and go to work (unless this is The Matrix and that info is critical to the story). Show them in their world doing what they love most / what they are about to lose / what’s about to change. 

BTW… by doing this you’re also getting in setting, introducing your character(s), and even a bit of backstory. Add to the action, and readers will be hooked. 

3. Fatal Flaw

Show your character(s)’s fatal flaw. Only this isn’t that they swear too much or don’t wash their hands. This is something that is going to impact them in a major way and eventually bring about their troubles/conflict/downfall. Is your hero arrogant or brutally honest? Does your heroine struggle with speaking her mind too much, maybe not at all? Want a list of possibilities?

Even better, tie the flaw to what they love most, what they are passionate about, or what they want.

For example, in The American President, the flaws are pride & popularity – Sydney is good at what she does and loves it, takes pride in it. Meanwhile, the President has a high approval rating which he needs to get his job done.

4. Limited / Purposeful Backstory – The “Salt” of the Story

On Writers Helping Writers, James Scott Bell shares a terrific article on incorporating backstory (and agrees with my immediate action thing, too). James and I both agree that backstory should only be shared if it’s important to the scene/story. Also, think of backstory like salt. Sprinkle it a little here and there. Don’t overwhelm the food with it.

I love James’s suggestion to go back through your beginning and highlight all the backstory. It will help you see when you’ve put in too much in one section.  My advice is to limit backstory mentions to 1-2 sentences at a time. I’m not always successful, but keeping that in mind helps.

5. Save the Cat

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is a book recommended to most writers, and I’ve found it very helpful to help me tighten my plot. There a ton of plot points to consider, but for my cheat sheet on beginnings, I always try to remember to save the cat.

This is especially true if one of my main characters is a tough one (love me those antiheroes and snarky heroines). By having them do one small act of kindness (doesn’t having to be literally saving a cat), I immediately make them human/likable/relatable in the reader’s eyes. 

6. The Meet Cute

I write romance, so this is important to me. The meet-cute is that moment when the hero and heroine meet. It is critical to the romance and (usually) happens pretty quickly. Longer books (like historicals) might stretch it out. Personally, I love it when the meet cute happens fast. 

I have a list of things I try to incorporate into the meet-cute.

  • Fitting for the book/characters.
  • Unusual or unique in some way.
  • Snappy. I want it to move quickly.
  • I want witty banter that sets up the H/H interaction for the rest of the book.
  • And I especially love it when the meet cute can also be incorporated into other aspects of the beginning–like it’s also the inciting incident (#7) or the insult to injury (#8).

7. Inciting Incident

This is one of those basics, but your entire story hinges on you getting it right. By the way, the inciting incident , just by rule of thumb, should hit about 10% into your book. This means you’ve set up quite a bit before you yank the rug out.

Your beginning doesn’t end until the conflict for your character has been “incited” (challenge accepted). Which means you need to know the conflict so you can set it up. What is going to kick that off? This is an event that is going to send your protagonist(s) down a new path into the main action of the story. 

Without an inciting incident, we’re just watching a character keep doing what they always do. One of the best examples… Katniss volunteers as tribute in The Hunger Games.

8. Tie #6 to the Grand Passion

Remember the video. If you can tie the inciting incident to the character’s grand passion (what they love or want most in this life–that you established in the equilibrium), it makes the turn of events that much more gripping for the reader. This was a huge “ah-ha” for me (thanks Michael!).

You take that passion/love/interest/need already established and then you twist it, flip it, throw a fly in the ointment, or take it away altogether.

Back to my Hunger Games example. Prim is who Katniss loves most. Only her name being selected could make Katniss step up that way.

9. Add Insult to Injury

This was a fun ah-ha from Michael’s video for me. What is your inciting incident and what would make it worse for your character? Rub salt in that wound. In the video, Michael’s example is that not only is Mr. Incredible no longer allowed to be a hero (because he saved someone being a hero), but now he works in insurance. That just…sucks for him. 

I have to say I have a great time coming up with ways to add insult to injury. Torturing characters is really fun. 

10. Less Is More

This is the hard part. With each and every element above as well as other elements like dialogue, descriptions, internal thoughts, showing the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict), you don’t need to write a dissertation for each piece. Think of it as a playing a piano. If you hit the same note over and over, listeners will tune you out pretty quickly. The goal is to play lots of different notes in a way that makes music. Same with your words, especially at the beginning when you have to establish so much.

Like James’s suggestion with backstory, read through your beginning multiple times. Each time focus on one element to tighten/trim/perfect/whittle as needed.


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So when I start a new book. On top of established my GMC, plot points, and various other character development notes, I also list out the following for my beginnings:

  • Beginning Action
  • Equilibrium for Hero
    • Love/Need/Want
    • Fatal Flaw
    • Save the Cat
  • Equilibrium for Heroine:
    • Love/Need/Want
    • Fatal Flaw
    • Save the Cat
  • Meet/Cute and Inciting Incident 
    • Tie to Love/Need/Want
    • Tie to Fatal Flaw
    • Insult to Injury
  • Remember to…
    • Limit Backstory
    • Read several times to see if any one element is in there too much or too little

I highly recommend to writers that you spend time look at books like Save the Cat and and taking workshops on GMC and other techniques. Writing a book takes many tools in an author’s kit. It’s also incredibly personal. This cheat sheet is what works for me. Put together your own of things that work for you. (Feel free to borrow!)

Author Spotlight: Jessica Lauryn

Y’all know how I love to spotlight my fellow authors, and Jessica is such a sweetheart. I know you’ll love her latest release!

A Sultry Performance

Chris Gordon, stage manager at Rabourn Theater, suspects his late wife’s hit-and-run was never an accident. He believes the man she was having an affair with, Oakley Sutherland, was responsible and he vows to get Evelyn justice, igniting a plot to ensnare Oakley, working through Oakley’s fiancée, Victoria.

A well-known exotic dancer by night, Victoria Morrow has been fighting to make a better life for herself, and she won’t be taken advantage of. But when the most handsome man at Rabourn Theater takes an interest in her, she finds herself spiraling down a path she never expected to. Can Victoria resist Chris’s charms? Or will both of them fall prey to the danger that lurks in the wings?

AMAZON | B&N


EXCERPT

“I’m fine.” Victoria hid her eyes.

Chris tucked a disheveled wave behind her ear. “You don’t look fine. You’re trembling, and you look as though you’ve been crying.”

Victoria did her best to hold it together, like she always did. But seeing the compassion in Chris’s eyes, compassion that ran deeper than anything she had ever been on the receiving end of, the emotions welled inside of her. As the tears spilled down her face Chris took her into his arms. His strength surrounded her. He brought her inside of it, brushing one strong hand up and down her back.

“Victoria,” he whispered, “why are you marrying that man?”

Victoria tried, but couldn’t think of a single reason why she was. For years, she’d been telling herself that she was humoring Oakley, biding her time with him until she could approach him from a position of power. But the more time passed, the more she questioned whether that day would ever come. The night Oakley had asked her to marry him, there hadn’t been any question in her mind that she was going to say yes. Such had been the way of their disgusting farce of a relationship. She presented a hard-edged front to the world, but when it came to the man who’d been manipulating her for half her life, it was as though she had no power at all, as though she might just as well be nothing more than a mouse.

Avoiding Chris’s eyes, because she couldn’t possibly hide the truth from him if they were looking at each other head-on, Victoria simply said, “I love him.”

Chris’s arms stiffened and Victoria froze in turn, barely breathing as he took her by the shoulders, saying, “Victoria, that man just embarrassed you in front of two hundred people. He berated you, he manhandled you and he exploits you every night of your life. How could you possibly love a man like that?”

Victoria gnawed her lip, completely at a loss for words. She had no defense for the man in question and by aligning herself with him she was sacrificing more of her identity every day. Not that the life she’d led had made her crazy about relationships in general, but she wasn’t even opening herself to the possibility of another man’s companionship, to his soothing words and soft touch. Was it so wrong to want these things, so impossible to have them? Bringing Chris into the middle of her relationship with Oakley was liable to prove dangerous for both of them. But Chris was strong. He had to be, to have survived the loss he had.

Cautioning herself not to allow her thoughts to get away from her, knowing that Oakley would probably kill a man he perceived to be a serious enough threat to him, Victoria lifted her chin. “I know what it looks like, but I couldn’t count the things Oakley has done for me over the years. He’s protected me, and I sleep soundly at night knowing that no one is going to hurt me. He makes me feel safe.”

She realized right away that she shouldn’t have put things in those terms because the twinkle in Chris’s eyes told her exactly what his reply was going to be. She ought to run. He was giving her a chance to do just that, but her legs refused to stand. Instead, they eased sideways, leading the way like the smokestack on a train as her body leaned helplessly into that of the man sitting beside her.

“Tell me, Victoria—” Chris looked into her eyes, “does Oakley Sutherland make you feel like this?”  


ABOUT JESSICA LAURYN

#1 BookStrand bestselling author Jessica Lauryn has been writing since before she could hold a pen. Her days of storytelling through the art of playing with dolls inspired her to write romantic suspense novels The Romance Reviews describe as having “Just the right amount of passion and romance!” Villains often reform in Jessica’s stories, and just may become heroes themselves! Jessica is an avid antique collector, as well as a proud member of Romance Writers of America and her local chapter, New Jersey Romance Writers.

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My Favorite Thing I’ve Written

Often, the last story I finished is my favorite thing I’ve written. I think it’s because, with each new story, I’m always learning and growing. However, some stories are harder to write, some characters harder to get to know. And some are easier.

My favorite contemporary romance I’ve written, unfortunately isn’t quite out yet. But good news! It releases March 21st!!!

Why is Taming the Troublemaker my favorite (at least so far)? Several reasons.

Mostly it comes down to the hero and heroine. Beth and Autry are an unlikely couple, but just worked so well in my head and on paper. They are fun and funny together, but also become each other’s biggest, unexpected partners. In fact, this was originally titled Partnering the Playboy for just that reason.

I also loved writing in several scenes that had me laughing out loud as they came to me. Incidents which fit these characters and yet drive them. Most of these scenes I drew from my own real life experiences–including a skunk and a scene with a purse in a car. (You’ll see.)

Finally, I used a different technique while writing this book. One that served me so well, I intend to use it on all future books, because I think it helped me craft a smoother, more polished first draft which resulted in easier revisions.

I will be very curious to see if readers love this one just as much as I do!

Look for Taming the Troublemaker this March!!!

2019 Personal Blog Challenge

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I loved doing the blog challenge last year with Marketing for Romance Writers. This year, I’ve decided to make my own personal challenge to follow. Here are the topics for 2019:

  • Week 1: Favorite Thing I’ve Written (& Why)
  • Week 2: Writing Great Beginnings
  • Week 3: My Earliest Memory
  • Week 4: Worst Writing Advice I’ve gotten
  • Week 5: Groundhog’s Day (2nd) – Unusual Holidays in the U.S.
  • Week 6:  What Would I Do If I Couldn’t Be a Writer
  • Week 7: Valentine’s Day (14th) – Why Romance Novels?
  • Week 8: My Contest Experiences
  • Week 9: A Book That Has Influenced My Life
  • Week 10: Mardi Gras (5th) – Feast Before Famine
  • Week 11: What I Learned from My Worst Review
  • Week 12: Skunks & Purses (Taming the Troublemaker)
  • Week 13: Top 5 Things on My Bucket List
  • Week 14: April Fool’s (1st) – What Is Funny?
  • Week 15: Creative Outlets I Enjoy
  • Week 16: Easter (21st) – Faith in Romance Novels
  • Week 17: Dreams vs. Reality (The Rookie)
  • Week 18: What is the Top Comment/Question People Ask?
  • Week 19: Mother’s Day (12th) – Mothers in Romance Novels
  • Week 20: Book Lover’s Con
  • Week 21: When Did I Know I Could Be a Writer?
  • Week 22: Memorial Day (27th) – Great Sacrifice
  • Week 23: The American President: A Lesson for Writers
  • Week 24: Father’s Day (16th) – Great Dads are Sexy
  • Week 25: Who Do I Look Up To or Aspire to Be?
  • Week 26: What Does Success Look Like for a Writer?
  • Week 27: July 4th – A Rogue Nation
  • Week 28: New Methods That Have Worked for Me This Year
  • Week 29: Confidence: Fake It and Fake It Some More
  • Week 30: RWA Nationals
  • Week 31: Our NYC Vacation
  • Week 32: How Much of Myself is in My Writing
  • Week 33: Dealing with the “Middle” of Your Book
  • Week 34: 20 Rookie Writer Mistakes
  • Week 35: Mass Market Paperback vs. eBook (The Rogue King)
  • Week 36: Labor Day (2nd) – Hard Work & a Little Bit of Luck
  • Week 37: My Biggest Frustrations as a Writer
  • Week 38: What I Learned from Rejection
  • Week 39: Native American Day (27th) – We Should Do More
  • Week 40: Writing: Myth vs. Fact
  • Week 41: Friends or Enemies to Lovers Trope (Claiming the Cowboy)
  • Week 42: Boss’s Day (16th) – Agents & Editors
  • Week 43: Me Too & Paranormal Romance
  • Week 44: Halloween (31st) – Why is this My Favorite Holiday?
  • Week 45: Where Do All the Ideas Come From?
  • Week 46: Veteran’s Day (11th) – Modern Day Warriors
  • Week 47: What Would I Say to Younger Me?
  • Week 48: Thanksgiving (28th) – What Are Characters Thankful For?
  • Week 49: My Favorite Blog Posts This Year
  • Week 50: What I Learned from My Parents
  • Week 51: Greatest Successes & Epic Failures
  • Week 52: Christmas (25th) – Writing Fantastic Endings
  • Week 01: 2019 Accomplishments & 2020 Goals

2018 Accomplishments & 2019 Goals

It’s coming up on the end of the old year and beginning of the new, and you know what that means… Goals. 

Look at how you did on the old ones and set some new ones. I do this every year for personal and professional goals. Let’s take a look at those author ones.

2018 ACCOMPLISHMENTS

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I had a wonderful 2018 with new releases, time with wonderful friends, fun at conferences, and growing my skill set. Here are some of the highlights:

  • WRITE BOOKS – Contracts to fulfill means a ton of words written and books edited… 
    • 300k words written
    • 4 novels written, 2 novels edited, 1 novella edited
    • 3 proposals written and submitted (pending)
    • Finished edits on and released:
      • Resisting the Rancher, Hills of Texas #2 (contemporary)
      • The Mate, Fire’s Edge Prequel (paranormal)
      • The Boss, Fire’s Edge #1 (paranormal)
    • Finalized edits, release pending:
      • The Rogue King, Inferno Rising #3 (paranormal)
    • Wrote, submitted, and edited:
      • Partnering the Playboy, Hills of Texas #3 (contemporary)
      • Claiming the Cowboy for Christmas, Hills of Texas #4 (contemporary)
    • Wrote and submitted (in editing process):
      • The Rookie, Fire’s Edge #2 (paranormal)
      • The Blood King, Inferno Rising #3 (paranormal)
  • CONTRACTS – 3 books contracted
  • MY PEOPLE
    • A huge thank you to everyone who helped make this a great year. Especially those who really believe in my books and AOAD! In particular:
      • My awesome readers. Your words of enjoyment and encouragement mean more than I can express. xoxo
      • My husband & kids
      • My family
      • Evan Marshall, my agent
      • Heather Howland, my Entangled editor
      • Sinclair Sawhney, my Tule editor
      • Nicole Flockton, my bestie
      • Alyssa Day
      • Anna Stewart
      • Tracy Goodwin
      • Erin Bevan
      • Dawn Dowdle
      • The awesome teams of folks who make me a better author in so many ways @ Entangled Publishing, Tule Publishing, Crimson Romance, and Wild Rose Press.
      • Every author I get the opportunity to share my love of writing with throughout the year, because y’all are my people, my tribe, my friends.
      • The fantastic bloggers/reviewers who took the time to read my books an post reviews. You rock!
  • FUN & FRIENDS – Great times with fellow authors
    • Loved every second at RWA Nationals in Denver and Shameless in Orlando, as well as on writing retreats, at my ARWA chapter meetings, and online with friends.
  • ACCOMPLISHMENTS
    • Fresh Fiction Fresh Pick – Resisting the Rancher (contemporary)
    • Beat my own ranking record twice
      • The Wrong Kind of Compatible – BookBub sale
        • #105 Amazon, #1 B&N, #10 Apple, #30 Kobo
      • The Attraction Equation – BookBub sale
        • #45 Amazon, #3 B&N, #4 Apple, #2 Kobo
    • Grow revenue
      • While writing is my passion, reality means I also have to grow it as a business. I had a goal to double my gross revenue. I beat that goal and tripled it. 
  • AOAD – Authors On A Dime
    • Continued to grow the business.
    • I had a goal to double my gross revenue. And I multiplied it by 5X!!!!! (Wow!)
    • Took on new clients and more contractors.
    • Loved every second of working as Alyssa Day’s VPA.
    • Took a position as a cover artist for The Wild Rose Press.
  • EDUCATION – Get Better
    • My goal every year: Improve as an author by attending workshops. Between 2 conferences, my awesome local RWA chapter, and online chapters, I took a ton this year. Feel like I learned a lot!

2019 GOALS

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Like last year, my goals this year surround completing contracts already signed and releasing several books that have been ready for a while. Also on the list is setting up contracts that would continue my trajectory through 2020/2021.

  • PUBLICATION – Look for the following releases…
    • Taming the Troublemaker, The Hills of Texas #3 (contemporary) – Mar 21
    • The Rookie, Fire’s Edge #2 (paranormal) – April 22
    • The Rogue King, Inferno Rising #1 (paranormal) – August 27 (MASS MARKET PAPERBACK!!!)
    • Claiming the Cowboy for Christmas, The Hills of Texas #4 (contemporary) – Oct 15
  • WRITE BOOKS – Contracts to fulfill means a ton of words to write… (between 300k-400k words total)
    • Finish editing process and/or rewrites…
      • The Rookie, Fire’s Edge #2 (paranormal)
      • The Blood King, Inferno Rising #2 (paranormal)
      • Claiming the Cowboy for Christmas, The Hills of Texas #4 (contemporary)
    • Write and submit
      • The Faller, Fire’s Edge #3 (paranormal)
      • Loving the Lawman, Hills of Texas #5 (contemporary)
      • The Warrior King, Inferno Rising #3 (paranormal)
      • The Enforcer, Fire’s Edge #4 (paranormal) – won’t finish this one in 2019, but not long into 2020)
      • Possible novellas in between. Hoping to finish the last novella in the Legendary Consultants series. 
  • AOAD – Authors On A Dime
    • Continue to grow the business thru cold calling.
      • Since we grew revenue so much last year, my goal is to double revenue YoY
    • Continue as a Virtual Personal Assistant for author Alyssa Day.
    • Continue to design covers for The Wild Rose Press
  • FUN & FRIENDS – Great times with fellow authors
    • Secretary on Board of Directors for Austin RWA (local chapter)
    • Attending a local Romance Readers Social, Book Lovers Con in New Orleans, and RWA Nationals in NYC this year. Check out events!
    • A writing retreat with bestie Nicole.
    • Spending time with my tribe of awesome readers/authors/editors/agent/and friends. One of the best parts of what I do!
  • CONTRACTS
    • I’m fairly busy with the contracts signed in 2017/2018. I have 5 more contracted books to complete thru 2020.
    • Evan and I are in process on 3 or 4 different proposal projects, so we’ll see where those lead. 🙂
  • EDUCATION – Get Better
    • It’s a goal of mine every single year to continue to improve as an author by attending lots of workshops.
  • ACCOMPLISHMENTS
    • This is a passion, but also a business. A few business goals this year.
      • Cut spending by 50% YoY (already have a plan here)
      • Hold gross income flat YoY

The Easiest Holiday Meal Ever

I have a confession to make… While I LOVE great food, and I can cook or bake just fine if I have to, I actually don’t like to cook or bake. I don’t enjoy being tied to the kitchen, probably because cooking is often one of those activities that I can’t multi-task. Just not my favorite.

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That being said, when I have folks over, especially for a holiday meal, I still want to feed them fantastic food. Which is why, over the years, I have garnered a list of the easiest–yet still mighty tasty–holiday meal dishes. (For you food snobs out there…don’t knock these until you try them.) I can cook Christmas dinner with little to no time, stress, or dishes to wash afterward. And yet, I still get asked for my recipes.

Are you ready for my super secret holiday meal list? You can pick and choose from the following:

Appetizers

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Raspberry Chipotle Cream Cheese Dip

Sounds so complicated. But what you do is buy a block of cream cheese, a box of Tricuits (or other crackers), and a bottle of raspberry chipotle marindae from the aisle with all the marinades and sauces.

On a tray, put the cream cheese block in the center. Smother with the sauce. Place the crackers around it or nearby. Done. 

Pre-cut Cubes of Cheese

All grocery stores have these in the  deli area. I’m a fan of smoked gouda, cobly jack, or sharp cheddar. The trick with these is to also get a selection of crackers, some plain and some fancier.

Jason’s Deli Fruit Tray

Or, if you buy a fruit tray from a grocery store (or, gasp, take the time to make your own, which defeats the purpose of this list), make sure to make the sauce.

Mix brown sugar into sour cream until it is the desired sweetness. Thank me later!

Grocery Store Veggie Tray

I would say “enough said”, but honestly, I can’t stand the ranch dressing that comes with the store bought trays. Plus there’s never enough. So make sure to buy a bottle of your favorite ranch dressing with this.

Lil’ Smokies in BBQ Sauce

In a small crock pot, mix the Lil’ Smokies with a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce. It seams hokey, but people eat these up.

Queso (Spicyish Cheese Dip for you northerners)

This is so much easier than anyone not from a state with lots of Mexican or TexMex foods makes it. 

In a crockpot, mix a block of velveeta cheese (sometimes more than a block) and a can of Rotel (I prefer mild so it works for everyone). 

Serve with tortilla chips. I like the scoops. 


Main Course

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I’ll admit, I don’t have a ton of main courses for you.  Lol. 

Honey Baked Ham

As easy as reading the directions to pop it in the oven. OR you can serve it cold as well. I like it both ways. Also makes for fantastic leftovers, or chop up the left overs and add them to the cheesy hashbrown dish listed below for a whole new meal days later.


Side Dishes

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Country Crock Mashed Potatoes

Buy in the deli part of the grocery store usually. I prefer the homestyle. Heats in 5-10 minutes. One thing feeds 5-7 people. I serve in a nice dish and get asked for my mashed potato recipe all the time.

Cheesy Hashbrown Potato Bake

Mix 1 back of hashbrown style potatoes (from the frozen section) with 8oz sour cream, a can of cream of chicken soup, and a bag of shredded mild cheddar cheese. Stir in a full stick of chopped up butter. Put it in a baking dish (9×13) and bake at 350 degrees until it’s bubbling and a little brown on top (usually about an hour). BTW…you can cook these hotter and faster if you need to. It’s hard to mess them up.

Green Bean Casserole (with a trick)

Get the French’s Crispy Fried Onions and follow the recipe on the back. To make it go faster, buy a few bags (2 usually does it) of the “steamers” green beans that you just steam in the microwave. Also cuts down on baking time because they’re already hot. 

Cranberry Sauce

I love the canned stuff. And nothing is easier. Open can, plop on tray, cut into slices. Voilà.

Honey Baked Ham Sweet Potatoes

One of the best sweet potato recipes out there. Buy the dish, bake per instructions (it does take a while, so time it well). Done. 

King’s Hawaiian Rolls

I love them for every dinner. Lol. And don’t bother toasting them in the oven. They’re great served as is.


Desserts

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Restaurants Are Your Friends

I actually have a TON of dessert recipes that I love, but this list is about ease. So when I want dessert done easy, I turn to restaurants. Not just any. I scout and scour and sample the desserts at all local restaurants, ask about if I can order my favorite ones for parties, until I cultivate a list of go to desserts guaranteed to please. 

Here in Austin, it’s Dahlia’s pies–especially their buttermilk pie and chocolate chess pie. OMG. So tasty.

So Are Your Family & Friends

You know how for holiday meals, the people you are feeding usually ask how they can help? Well…have them bring the desserts. Doesn’t get easier than that. 😉

Oh… you want some ideas you can make yourself? Okay. Here are two super easy crowd favs.

Better Than Sex Cake

Super easy cake that happens to be one of my all time favs (and not just because of the name). I wrote the recipe out on Paranormal Romantics this month. Here you go:

http://paranormalromantics.blogspot.com/2018/11/a-dessert-for-romance-readers-writers.html

Cherry Dump Cake

In a 9×13 bake dish dump a large can of crushed pineapple in and spread evenly. Then dump in a large can of cherry pie filling and spread evenly. Cover with a box of yellow cake mix (dry / unprepared). Top one half with chopped nuts (I like walnuts for this). Drizzle the whole thing with a stick of butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes (until bubbly and lightly browned on the top). Done.

I hope I’ve given you some stress free holiday meal ideas. I’m always looking for ways to serve great food for the least amount of effort possible, so if you have any ideas to add, please share in the comments!!!