The Bodacious Blogger’s Essential Ingredients

I’ve never been great at following recipes, perhaps because my first works of fiction were faux cakes and pizzas baked in my magical kitchen. (Okay, the sandbox.) My recipe ineptness has its perks, though. First, it’s made coming up with my own concoctions practically necessary. (I’m happy to report that they no longer taste like air or sand.) Second, it prepared me for writing, on the page and in the blogosphere.

Like baking a cake, there is no one “right” way or “perfect” recipe to achieve blogging success. But there are useful guidelines…

Essential Ingredients for Blogging Bodacious-ness

1. Authenticity. We hear this word a lot in regards to blogging, for good reason. Writing about issues and topics we care about, in our own voice makes for captivating posts. Our blogs should be natural extensions—or reflections—of us and what our brands represent. In other words, bake your own “cake” from scratch, using your own ingredients (your thoughts, beliefs, knowledge…). Readers can tell if we use a mix or swap the bakery label for our own. ;)

2. Readability. Ever looked at a recipe and felt so daunted by the tiny print, long lists of unpronounceable ingredients or lack of photos? I personally believe that posts should be as long as they need to be. Breaking up longer paragraphs with spaces, bullet points or photos, and using clear fonts and non-distracting themes can help ensure a comfy reading experience.

3. Takeaways. Imagine going to a cooking demo and leaving with an empty, ravenous belly. Might be okay if the chef was highly entertaining, but if not, your low blood sugar and emotional upset would probably prevent you from visiting again. Blogging works similarly. Giving our readers some sort of takeaway, be it entertainment, inspiration or how-to tips, functions like welcome and thank you gifts, bundled into one.

4. Supportiveness. When I was a kid, I loved going door-to-door selling everything from candy and cookies to 1-child plays. But I was weird. And have grown up since then. Not only is pushiness counter-productive for writers, but ineffective. (Thank goodness!) Supporting others creates connectedness and community. Visit others’ blogs. Follow those you find intriguing. Post thoughtful comments when a post strikes you, and share links you enjoy. (Not convinced? Read social media guru Kristen Lamb’s post, 10 Ways to Increase Your Likability Quotient.)

5. Effective Titles. Would you have read this post if I titled it, Random Stuff? “With 500,000 new blog posts published per day on WordPress.com sites alone, we can’t afford to use vague or boring titles if we want our blog to stand out in tweets or in someone’s Google reader,” Marcy Kennedy, one of my favorite bloggers, wisely said. For more of her insight, read Four Little-Known Factors that Could Destroy Your Blog’s Chances of Success.

Bloggers Who Take the Cake
The proof is in the pudding, right??? The following bloggers bodacious supreme, in my opinion. They have their ingredients and style down pat, never cease to inspire, entertain or teach, and continually bring joy to my cyber-villa. I’ve awarded each blogger one of my cake concoctions.

Natalie Hartford takes the Pink Rainbow-licious Cake for bedazzling the blogosphere with her unique enthusiasm, color and pizazz. She’s as sweet as her blog is PINK! She spilled some of her fab blogging secrets here: Keeping Your Blogging Mojo Alive and Burning.

Tameri Etherton takes the Berry Yummy Oatmeal cake. She’s wholesome, fun and nurturing, with no need for added sweetener. Because Tameri loves happy endings, her natural cake has sweet surprises inside.

Louise Behiel takes the Sassy Salmon Cakes. Louise never fails to educate and inspire. Her gluten-free cakes are fortifying, like her posts, and delicious, much like her friendship and support. She recently shared 8 Steps to an Emotionally Rich Family, and drew a brilliant comparison between old-fashioned radios and kids.

Kourtney Heinz takes the Flourless Chocolate Cake for her rich writing skills and ability to savor every bit. No room for extra fluff in this writing woman’s life! You’ll see what I mean when you read her captivating post, Looking at Who You Were. Loved loved loved it.

Amber West takes the Fortune Cookie Cupcake for her entertaining, inspirational and grin-inducing posts. Her Friday Inspiration series is loaded with insight, and she’s consistently one of the first to lend a helping hand.

Susie Lindau takes the Crazy Cake. Whether Susie is giving us glimpses of her “wild ride,” throwing blog bashes or sporting flash fiction, her blog is a crazy-cool treat. Oh, and she’s also a mass murderer

Roni Loren takes the Hot Fodue Cake. Her novel, Crash Into You, caused more perspiration than the stairclimber I read it on. If you know what I mean. It’s one of my favorite reads of 2012, and her writing/blogging posts are some of the best. As for the “cake” portion of this recipe, that’s up to YOU. ;)

Nigel Blackwell takes the Blappleberry Pie Cake for his ability to blend education, entertainment and wit. His post, A Non-Controversial Sockumentary, is one of the most entertaining post I’ve ever read.

Jennifer L. Oliver and M.G. Miller take the (Practically) Instant Chocolate Cake, for Jennifer’s fine author interviews—her latest of which featured M.G. and his spectacular book, Bayou Jesus. Read it. Once you start, you won’t want to waste time slaving over baked goods. This whole grain cake takes minutes in the microwave. And it’s delish.

Debra Kristi, Coleen Patrick, Fabio Bueno and Ellie Ann Soderstrom take Health-Nut Choco-Copia Cake for their versatile mix of upbeat, inspiring posts on everything from mythology and HILARIOUS mistaken song lyrics, to family pets and sustainable agriculture. You can’t go wrong with these sweet tweeps. Ya just can’t.

So there you have it. My baker’s dozen. (Told you we bloggers can break rules. ;)) What blogging ingredients do you find most important? What kind of cake might your blog be?

****If you’re interested in preparing one of the cakes above, hop over to my Facebook author page and place your vote!****

Saying ‘No’ — A Successful Writer’s Must

There’s no one way to build a successful writing career, but there are essential ingredients. One of the most important, I believe, boils down to two little words: saying no. Think about it. How can we produce our best quality work and continue growing, day after day, year after year, if we’re bogged down by needless obligations?

If I sound harsh, don’t worry; becoming selfish writing-only ghouls isn’t the goal. And supporting others and taking time away from writing are invaluable. But there’s a big difference between saying ‘yes’ to every request for a favor, lunch date and job offer, tending to others instead of our craft and careers, and obliging when it matters most. Each time we say ‘no’ to obligations that detract from our success, we strengthen our commitment to our work and step further into our dreams. While it’s not always easy, it’s worth it. And it does get easier along the way.

Seven Ways to Say ‘No’ With Greater Ease

1. Swap guilt for gusto. It’s not easy to tell your pal you can’t meet for lunch or walk her ferret. But if doing so takes away from your writing, is it worth it—even to your friend? If she asked you if you could “please walk Snoopy instead of progress as an author,” declining would be easier. So view it that way. Once you’ve made your decision, make the most of that preserved time. Productivity breeds gusto and kicks guilt in the keister.

2. Feel the twinge. When someone asks you to take time away from writing, listen to your gut. As some of you may recall, ‘saying no’ played a big role in divorcing my acting career. The more auditions and offers I turned down, the more apparent the right decisions became. Now every time a question sounds, I feel the twinge—a no-longer-subtle stir inside that tells me exactly how I feel. Awareness and practice strengthen our ‘saying no’ muscle. So even if you can’t yet abide by it yet, start honing in on the twinge.

3. When in doubt, take time out. When we’re put on the spot, we are much more likely to yelp, “Sure! Anything!”… on the outside. When your palms sweat in the face of a time-sucking request, tell the person you need to think about it. Or call them later. Or say “hang on!” and rush away to your private cave. Whatever it takes to give yourself that privacy, which often brings clarity, do it.

4. Weigh your options. How much time and energy would fulfilling the request take? What are the consequences of committing versus declining? Is there a way to fulfill the request and still get your work done? How much of your desire to commit stems from guilt or perceived obligation, and how much from genuine desire? How important is the task to the asker? Looking at a situation from all angles can help clarify our decisions.

5. Speak your passions. Talking about our creative goals, progress and priorities gives them breath and deeper meaning. When we say “I’m now prioritizing my writing,” “I am a writer,” or “I’m stoked about my loaded work day” (referring to writing), we’re more likely to believe ourselves and take our work seriously. Sharing our priorities with others also helps keep us accountable.

6. Sleep on it. Ever wake up with an epiphany about your WIP? I know I have. Our brains work through questions and conflicts during sleep. Sometimes the best way to recognize the best decision involves catching those zzzs. Try not to stress too much just before bed, however. Not sleeping enough or well can have the opposite effect. For useful information on sleeping better, check out MayoClinic.com’s Sleep Tips.

7. Hold yourself responsible. No one can make us take on endless favors, tasks and responsibilities. Blaming the friend who calls or the ferret who needed sunshine won’t do anything but increase our grumpiness. And probably other people’s. And maybe the ferret’s. We make our own choices, so choose your goals and dreams. Go after them like the protagonist in your novel, and never, ever back down. You don’t need anyone’s permission but your own.

Do you overload your plate with non-writing commitments? Have you mastered your ‘saying no’ capabilities? Any tips to add or challenges to share? I’d love to hear your brilliant thoughts. :)

Genre Love Stories: How Did You Fall?

I was twelve years old and babysitting, at least in body. In my mind, I was Jenny MacPartland—a single woman who’d been knocked punch-drunk breathless in love with an alluring man she at a trendy New York art gallery. While the real, live characters—i.e., the kids—played in the background, I stayed with Jenny as she began discovering clues to Mr. Seemed-So Right’s sordid past. As her marriage and life neared their perceivable ends, so did my babysitting career. (I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say it involved twin toddlers, one’s digestive issues, a locked bathroom and some unusual, um, “artwork…”)

Mary Higgins Clark’s A Cry in the Night had me at page one.

During middle school, mysteries and thrillers saved me from math and science class boredom, kept me entertained during lengthy car rides and distracted me from insecurities that run too rampant in teens. After high school, the spine chillers kept me company at New York modeling castings and became my only “friends” in an apartment full of roommates by whom I felt intimidated. One clue that I was in dire straits later on, while living in Paris, was the fact that I couldn’t enjoy the stories I’d so loved.

So, it came as no surprise when my first novel turned into a thriller—before I had a grasp of genres, much less which one my story suited. I suppose the takeaway from my genre love story—likely from yours, too ;)—is this: Read and write what you love. Oh, and if you have kids, do not hire a hyper-focused daydreaming girl with a book bag…

What’s your genre love story?

Leaping Smart: Useful Steps for Authors

“Leap, and the net will appear.”
—John Burroughs

I’m a big fan of leaping toward our dreams, fueled up on faith and determination. If we hold off, waiting for that “net”—i.e., the perfect job offer, mate or opportunity, it may never appear. That said, effective leaping takes a lot more than gusto and springy legs.

Today marks the end of a near 40-year career for someone I admire and respect more than most anyone—my dad. His dedication and commitment to UPS, the company he’s worked for, is something we can all learn from. He worked his way up from loading packages to landing and managing top, international accounts. He created and nurtured friendships with coworkers, treated (and still treats) everyone he encountered with equal respect and never let his work come before his family.

Far more than an end, Dad’s retirement is a beginning—one he’s anticipated and planned for with thoughtfulness, organization and, I sense, glee. He didn’t leap too soon, after frustrating days or times, or too late, out of fear of what lay ahead. In other words, he’s a smart and savvy leaper.

In honor of this landmark day, here are six ways we authors can learn to leap smart, increasing our odds of living happily and creatively ever after.

Leap Smart Steps for Authors

1. Listen to your instincts. Research shows that our instincts frequently strike us first on a visceral level, relaying important information before our consciousness catches up. In other words, there are valid reasons your gut tells you to focus more on craft, quit your day job or start that new creative work. If we rationalize ourselves out of listening, we may never discover what we’re capable of. To hone in on our instincts, buddhist physician Dr. Alex Lickerman recommends we take pause and listen for that inner-voice; awareness can go a long way. I’ve also found journaling, therapy, quiet hikes and talking to loved ones helpful.

2. Don’t self-publish out of desperation. You’ve slaved over that novel, read, revised it and shared it with trusted, well-read friends who gave it a unanimous thumbs-up! And dang-nabbit, you want it published. So you send out twenty e-queries and a week later, you’ve received ten replies, all rejections. A smart leaper views this as a natural part of the process, ten ‘noes’ toward a ‘yes.’ The not-so-swift leaper heads straight to PublishItNow.com and sends an email blast announcement to friends: “I’m published!” There are loads of terrific reasons to self-publish. Desperation is not one of them.

3. Practice patience. Whenever I reach the end of a draft, my inclination is to send it, print it, share it! When I’ve done so, I’ve found loads of errors and other reasons I should have waited. When we rush, we run the risk of bypassing our instincts, acting on desperation and producing low-quality work. When a flurry of “Must do it now!” strikes, take a breath. Passion and eagerness are great attributes. Add patience to the mix and you’re gold. For a dose of inspiration, check out Marc Schuster’s post, A Setback Circa 2004—a great example of perseverance paying off.

4. Trust the process. Many “overnight success” stories derive from years of hard work. Envying others’ success or wallowing in frustration (“It’s not FAIR! I’ve been working so hard and so long!”) are counterproductive. Invest time and energy into steady progress instead. Write routinely. Take craft and career pointers from qualified professionals. Then write and write some more. Slow and steady also wins the race when it comes to building social media platforms. In 10 Ways to Improve Your “Likability” Quotient, Kristen Lamb shows us why the quality of our readers and connections trumps quantity big time.

5. Savor the leap! Once you decide to leap, whether toward more daily writing, a new creative venture or less hours at your day job, do it with gusto! Share the accomplishment with friends. (Yes, leaping is an accomplishment in itself.) It’s natural to experience some level of nervousness post-leap. (“Agh!!! What did I just do?!?”) Taking time to reflect on how far you’ve come, what you foresee in the future and celebrating it all can work like chamomile tea for anxiety. For insight on keeping our fears of failure and success at bay, read Marcy Kennedy’s post, Icarus and My Fear of the Sun.

6. Get to work. Even smart leaps will land us on the pavement if we fail to follow them up with necessary work. Sitting around wondering if you’ll finish that book, surfing the internet or partying too long in post-leap glory won’t put words on the page. Leaping takes time, but reaching our full potential as authors takes a heck of a lot more.

What about you? Have you taken a big leap? Are you considering one? Any suggestions to add? I always love hearing your thoughts!

Happy Leap Year! I hope you do something to make yours special.

Beauty of a Woman BlogFest

I first read Sam Levinson’s “The Beauty of a Woman” during a dark time in my life and repeatedly as I journeyed out. In honor of the poem and its message, I’m thrilled to welcome you to the first ever Beauty of A Woman BlogFest!

Since the posts began rolling in yesterday, it’s felt like Christmas and Valentine’s Day combined; each love-filled post is a gift as unique and insightful as its author—to all of whom I’m in awe. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself lost in the words and stories, shed a few tears and laugh until your belly aches. I hope you find them as inspiring, hilarious and thought-provoking as I did.

To participate, simply click on the following links—all of them or whichever strike your fancy. Then pop back here, post a comment and share this page via Twitter, Facebook and/or your own blog. I’ll put your name in a drawing for each shout out (maximum of 4) and for commenting and announce the winners on Monday. Prizes include a Kindle Touch, gift cards, books, body image coaching by Karen R. Koenig, dog training, a 10-page writing critique by Kristen Lamb, healthy sweets, e-classes and BOAW mugs. For more details on the prizes, click here.

Without further ado, let the fun begin!

Emma Burcart: What Is Beauty?
Serena Dracis: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Cynthia Cheng Mintz: Beauty of a Woman or How I Came to Accept My Petiteness
Cynthia Cheng Mintz: Beauty of a Woman: Trying to Embrace My Cinderella Feet
Louise Behiel: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest 2012
Kara Flathouse: Dear Daughters, A Beautiful Heart is Yours
Shannon Esposito: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest! 

Ginger Calem: Dear Thighs…We need to talk.
Julie Hedlund: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Sharon Howard: What is Beauty?
Amber West: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Kristine Parker: The Beauty of My Mother
Susie Lindau: Reflected Addiction
Karen Koenig: Why Can’t Our Bodies Be Okay?
Tamara (FitNitChick): The Last Time I Felt Beautiful 


Nisha (NM): Discovering the Joy of Mascara and Other Fun Stuff
Write On, Jana!: What Makes a Woman Beautiful?
Kecia Adams: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: The Beauty of Aggression
Coleen Patrick: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Marcy Kennedy: The Lie of Helen of Troy
Debra Kristi: Defining Beauty of a Woman
Lena Corazon: Discovering My Beauty Through Writing

Prudence MacLeod: Beauty of a Woman
Myndi Shafer: I Am Beautiful…Just The Way I Am
Liz: the beauty of a woman.
E.C. Stilson: What is True Beauty?
Alicia Street: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Sheila Seabrook: The Beauty Within
Ingrid Shaffenburg: Love Thy Temple 

Julie Jordan Scott: You Are Beautiful—From the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Debra Eve: Unearthing the Beauty of a Woman
Sharon K. Owen: The Beauty of a Woman
Shanjeniah: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest 2012
Patricia Sands: You’re Beautiful, Just the Way You Are
C. Nicole White: Secret Envy
Mollie Player: I Can’t Admit I Like Chubby Girls

Proud2BMe: Everyone is Beautiful!
Katie (Oracular Spectacular): Beauty of Being a Woman: BlogFest 2012
Kristen Lamb: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest—Making Peace with My Thunder Thighs
Stephanie D: New Dimensions – Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Samantha Warren: Just As You Are
Audrey Kalman: Tribute to a Different Kind of Beauty
Julia B. Whitmore: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: Dye Baby, Dye

What did you think of the fest? How do you define beauty? Have a quip or tale to add? Share your thoughts as a comment below for a chance at the fab prizes!

Thanks for making the BOAW BlogFest an uplifting success!
You are all beautiful butterflies.

Special Announcement: Celebrate Beauty & Win Fab Prizes

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is beauty? What does it mean to you? When do you feel beautiful?

Though I’m a big fan of getting gussied up on occasion, even my most “glam” days in the fashion industry can’t compare to the beauty I feel now. (No makeup required for this kind of beauty. See??? ;))

The Em-meister, as I like to call him, was right. Beauty isn’t something we can buy, apply, chase after, whittle ourselves down for or attract. It’s within each of us and grows when we seek, accept and embrace it.

If you’re so inclined, visit my blog this Friday, February 10th to participate in the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest. Tour the links to over thirty fantastic blog pieces, composed by some of the most talented writers in the blogosphere. Then post a comment on my page for a chance to win a Kindle Touch, gift cards, books and more.

For additional chances at prizes, promote the fest via Twitter, Facebook and/or your blog. For each promotional shout out (between now and Friday) and comment (on Friday), your name will be entered into the prize drawing, for a maximum of 4 chances. For 2 more chances, enter the fest as a blogger. (Today is the last day for signups.)

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”  —Maya Angelou

Hope you’ll spread your wings and party with us! Any questions, drop me a note. :)

LSR #5: Groovy Moving

Of the countless available writing guidelines, I believe that one applies to all of us. We hafta write. Sure, we might daydream up some doozies of stories, but without sitting our butts down to the page consistently, the world’s greatest tales might never take flight. A sedentary writing lifestyle leads to one thing: creative atrophy. (Ah… You see where I’m going with this. ;)) Welcome to Lifesaving Resolution #5.

As writers, failure to care for our bodies is like a big time business exec building his or her office out of rotted wood. (What good are our minds if the casing wears out?)

Inactivity runs so rampant in the U.S., researchers have coined the term sedentary death syndrome (SDS): an expanding list of medical conditions exacerbated by a lack of physical activity that causes premature disability and death in millions of Americans each year. The less we move, the greater our chances become for developing arthritis, obesity, breathing problems, depression, gallstones, hypertension, osteoporosis, heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, colon cancer, memory loss and sudden death.

WOW. That was happy! Why don’t we all pause to do a few jumping jacks?

Yes, the stats are depressing. But I’m guessing they’re not exactly news to most of you. You probably also know the common reasons exercise gets missed—too little time, exhaustion, lack of motivation, strong-hold habits, pain or difficulty, allergic reactions to sweat… (That last one might be emotional. ;)) Here’s the irony: regular physical activity can improve or rectify these hurdles and guard against SDS—once we’re on track.

Groovy Moving Guidelines

Getting and staying fit isn’t as hard, boring or horrible as it seems. (I’m not speaking of the Svens in the room!) With experience at all parts of the exercise spectrum personally and professionally, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. If a girl who wrote papers to get out gym class can do it, so can you. ;)

1. Set realistic, positive goals. Signing up for a marathon when you haven’t run since high school is like aiming to churn out a novel per month. It may seem like a fantastic goal, but for most of us, it’s a setup for failure. And fixating on weight or calories is a bit like striving toward a specific word count, rather than your best quality work. Realistic goals promote steady, gradual change. They also support your wellness and happiness.

2. Consider your motivation. You know how important it is for our main characters to have intense motivation? The same applies to physical fitness. How boring would “Silence of the Lambs” be if Jodi Foster’s character met Hannibal Lector and said, “I’d stay and chat but I could really use a pedicure. Think I’ll hit up Google from the salon.” No. She has to WANT the information in his head as desperately as he wants to withhold it, taunt her and manipulate. We must feel moved, in order to more. Why do you want to exercise?

3. Apply your work style. Personality, worth ethic and overall style play an important role in fitness success. Are you a super independent writer? You may not need much handholding regarding fitness either. If you work best with an agent or mentor, seek the support of a personal trainer or fitness-savvy friend. Do you rely upon schedules and meticulous outlines? Apply similar techniques to your exercise routine. Bore easily and use your calendar for scratch paper? Try something new each week or month. Dig critique groups? Join an aerobics class or boot camp.

4. Savor the path. While there’s nothing wrong with envisioning your book at the airport shop or rolling in so much dough you use twenties as wallpaper, the real prize is the process. Losing ourselves in our stories. Experiencing them as they grow and change. Writing most every day because, even if we hit a rough patch, we’d feel sad if we didn’t. Fitness is similar—or, at least, it should be.

By choosing activities we enjoy, seeking ways to add pleasure and focusing on the positives, fitness success isn’t about a finish line or simple calories in/calories out. It’s about cherishing our bodies, recognizing the miraculous work they do for us and dancing around in our boosted creativity, better sex lives, sounder sleep and kick-butt yippee-hoo moods. (Got your attention there, didn’t I? ;))

5. Rest. As with most things, too much exercise causes damage. Breaks and days off enhance our creative work, emotional well-being and physical fitness. Out tissues repair themselves and strengthen and we’re less likely to get bored. Unless you’re a professional athlete, exercising 60 minutes or longer seven days a week is generally considered excessive. (Getting enough good-quality sleep, water and nutritious food is also important.)

Groovy Moves for the Un-Athletically-Enthused

Walk your story. Ever have an epiphany smack in the middle of a workout? There’s a reason. Movement naturally boosts brain function. (More on this below.) The moment you feel stuck or your eyes feel computer-buggied-out, slip on your sneakers and go.

Walk your dog. One of my favorites! And according to a study featured in TIME magazine, dog walkers are more likely to reach their fitness goals versus their non-pooch-walker counterparts.

Sweatin’ to the Moldies: Okay, kind of gross. But the idea rocks IMHO. ;) Actively cleaning your house is exercise! In other words, you need not make like a hamster at the gym. Pump tunes if you like, preferably with a peppy beat. Wear workout attire. (This is also an awesome time to contemplate your WIP.)

TV Triathalon: Pick a show, any show. Choose three activities you can do on the spot, such as crunches, lunges and jumping jacks. Each time the program moves to a commercial, switch to another activity.

Play! I still love swinging on the big metal and rubber swings at parks. Play with your kids, your nieces and nephews, your best friend, your spouse. Throw a football or frisbee. Remember, the key is finding something you enjoy and doing it.

For more information, check out these fabulous links:

Research Journal: Effects of Exercise on Cognitive Potential: Immediate and Residual Results (2005) That’s right, folks! Exercise immediately increases brain sharpness and creativity. Nothing kicks “writer’s block” like a little tae bo…

MayoClinic.com: Seven Benefits of Regular Physical Activity

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Key Fitness Guidelines for Active Adults

Dr. Weil: Making Aerobic Exercise Simple and Fun

Dr. Oz Show: 10-Minute Exercise Ideas

Gary W. Small, MD: Keep Walking to Stay Mentally Sharp (via JaneFonda.com)

Jenny Hansen: Fear of the Week: Hot Yoga Might Kill Me. While not a fan of sweaty yoga myself, I highly condone the kind of laughter Jenny inspires. ;)

What groovy moving tip resonates with you? Any you’d like to add? Challenges or goals we can support you toward? If leading a healthy lifestyle helps you feel beautiful, visit The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest—just 9 days away! Spread the word or enter as a blogger for a chance at a Kindle and more…

Blog Blast: Literary Agents’ Advice for Writers

Happy weekend, all! As a followup to my last post, I’ve gathered recent posts composed by literary agents for writers. I hope you find them as insightful as I did.

Have the BEST book idea? Mike Larsen, of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents, shares 16 Questions for Test-Marketing Your Book Idea on his award-winning blog. 

Think your book is publish-ready? In her post, I Don’t Believe You, Janet Reid, of Fine Print Literary Management, suggests you think again.

Can publishers predetermine which books will sail to the top of the charts? No, according Jane Dystel of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Gain her insight here: A “Sure Thing?” 

Eager to attract an agent? Dawn Dowdle, of Blue Ridge Literary Agency, shares her top pointers here: Agent Advice.

Frustrated by having to write AND build your platform? Read Publishing in a Brave New World: Rachel Gardner, of WordServe Literary Group, on the value of publishers and why authors should stop complaining about platform-building.

Thinking of wallpapering your home with rejection letters? Carly Watters, associate agent at the P.S. Literary Agency, tells us How to Avoid the Rejection Blues.

Thinking of attending a writer’s conference? Learn How to “Pick-Up” a Literary Agent and other conference tips from former literary agent and founder and CEO of Literary Agent Undercover, Mark Malesta.

Pssst! Contrary to popular belief, literary agents are not only humans, but often congenial, helpful and sharp as whips. (Few pout as much as Rosie.) The first agent to read my manuscript sent me such a kind “rejection” letter, I considered adding his family to my holiday gift list. My perhaps worst response came from a woman who said she found my novel “quite disturbing” and that I best convert the whole thing into a family drama. Seeing as I write suspense thrillers, I wasn’t offended. ;) I did, however, question my agents-to-approach picking skills…

Have an agent-related story to share? Lessons you’ve learned or are grappling with?

Author Mike Sirota on Writing and His Latest Work

It’s been said that thriller and horror authors are the nicest people on the planet because they get all of their angst out in their fiction. Doubtful? A conversation with renowned horror author Mike Sirota might convince you otherwise.

Not only does Sirota have twenty published novels (including the recently released Fire Dance) and fourteen years as an award-winning magazine feature writer and editor under his belt, he is a kick-butt writing coach, book editor and friend who cares as much about his writers’ success as he does his own. And he took time out of his busy schedule to answer questions on our behalf. (Thanks, Mike! :))



First, here is what others are saying about Sirota and his work:

“Mike Sirota is an absolute pro of a writer and, even for non-aficionados of ghost stories, these pages sing.” John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of Treasure Hunt and Damage

“Dear Mike: What can I say? Because of your expert guidance and fine touch I’m now a published author. When we first hooked up and started working together, I worried that the job of writing my novel would be an arduous task, filled with hours of agony and tedious rewrites, but I was wrong. Your lively comments and sense of humor have made the effort truly enjoyable. You keep editing and I’ll keep writing. It’s a pleasure working with you.” Jeff Sherratt, author of Detour to Murder

About Fire Dance:
LEGENDARY AUTHOR MIKE SIROTA RETURNS! The searing wind whistles through the ruins of Concordia Sanitarium in Southern California’s bleak Anza-Borrego Desert. Now, something else stirs: the tormented spirits of the staff and inmates who perished in an all-consuming fire over a century earlier. As one gruesome murder after another plagues the nearby quiet retirement community of Smoke Tree, Tracy Russell and Mark Alderson try desperately to stop the one inmate that should never have been released—either in life or in death.” ZOVA Books

“Sirota returns…with this atmospheric tale of horror in the American Southwest. Horror fans will enjoy this updated take on the western ghost town.” Publishers Weekly

“So great to have a new book from legendary writing coach Mike Sirota. When he writes, you should listen!” Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author of Live to Tell

Here we are at his book signing at Mysterious Galaxy. Good times!

What inspired you to write Fire Dance?
MS: I go hiking in the Anza-Borrego desert, the setting for Fire Dance, at least once a year. On one trip, the old “what if” kicked in. What if, during the 1870s, they put a sanitarium in the desert where no one could run away, given the heat, the terrain, etc.? What if one inmate—Bruno—was a violent mass murderer? What if they all burned to death during a dance? And what if, over a century later, they all came back…

What aspect of Fire Dance are you most pleased with?
MS: While it is a ghost story—some even call it a horror novel—it has a strong romantic element. Tracy and Mark, the main protagonists, are two emotionally wounded people who come together in a small desert town—a retirement community, no less—under some remarkably challenging conditions. As they learn to love and trust again, their future is in doubt as they face the nightmare that is Bruno.

You have a gift for luring readers in from the get-go. How do you do it? Any tips for other writers?
MS: We call the opening of a novel the HOOK. Engage the reader on page one and don’t let go. Just recently I presented a hook workshop at a writers’ conference and I read the first page of Fire Dance to the attendees. It gratified me that they were so taken with the visualization of the desert, and the inmates wandering around the grounds in their white, ghostly shrouds. Scene builds on scene, each one designed to make the reader want to know more. Don’t bore the reader with expository narration, weather reports, the main character describing herself while looking in the mirror, the history of the world, part I, etc.

Of your many accomplishments, what makes you the most proud?
MS: All writers hope to be reviewed in Publishers Weekly, our major trade publication. Even a bad review can be a good thing. Of my first nineteen novels, not one was reviewed in PW. But Fire Dance was, and positively. It made my day.

What do you love most about writing?
MS: Just about everything. I love it when a scene comes out of my head so fast that I can’t input it quickly enough. I love doing research. The book/Internet research is cool enough, but for my final draft I do what I call “living research,” where I travel to the scene of my story to actually experience the setting. Last month I traveled to the Sierra Nevada foothills, the setting for my next novel, THE BURNING GROUND. Fantastic trip that, after I got home, enabled me to bring my pages to life. I do this for every story.

Do you make mistakes?? ;) Let me rephrase: What aspects of writing do you find most challenging?
MS: I’m a perfectionist, so I probably go overboard in being anal. As an editor, I want no typos or other errors. As a writer I want every detail to be correct. If the woman is wearing a red dress on page 23, she’d better not be wearing a blue dress in the same scene on page 36. I’ve seen it happen—in published novels.

What common mistake(s) do you see new or up-and-coming writers make?
MS: Oh, how much time and space do you have! Weak opening hooks, inability to handle a POV (point of view), poor dialogue—I could go on and on. If you want to write a book you need to READ READ READ, which sounds basic, but you wouldn’t believe how many writers hardly read. Some writers even try to write in a genre of which they have never read a single book—because the genre is selling, they think.

Take writing classes. Go to writers’ conferences. Join a read-critique group. Read books about all aspects of writing. Subscribe to THE WRITER and WRITER’S DIGEST. Learn your craft!

Anything you wish you’d done differently throughout your career?
MS: I always tell writers to keep their day jobs. Had I followed that advice for myself years ago, I might have kept writing and improving my craft, instead of taking a hiatus of about seventeen years.

If you could give one bit of advice to writers, what would you suggest? Write for the love of writing. If you write to become a bestselling author and make a gazillion dollars, you will likely fail.

What’s next in the pipeline? I mentioned THE BURNING GROUND. It’s another ghost story, and also a romance, this time with three emotionally wounded people: a man, a woman, and a ten-year-old boy. It also became a statement book, as it involves a small Sierra foothill Native American tribe, the Maidu (they’re for real), and one particular village where everyone is exterminated by miners during the Gold Rush (true). Their spirits remain trapped here, and in the contemporary story their graves are desecrated by “thieves of time” (also a real problem) for artifacts. Now the spirits are really pissed, and guess what…

CONTEST!!! Order Fire Dance or Demon Shadows (Kindle edition). Send a copy of your purchase confirmation to august@augustmclaughlin.com and I’ll place your name in a drawing for a $20 iTunes gift card. And as always, I welcome your thoughts!

Writers’ Deadly Vices

Okay, so there are LOTS more than seven vices that can nuke a writing career. Fortunately, there are plentiful ways to prevent and stop them. Simply recognizing potential dangers can go a long way toward safeguarding us against them.

Take a peak at my list and feel free to add your own. I look forward to hearing your thoughts…

FYI, this list is in no way meant to promote, dissuade or inspire religious beliefs of any kind. You are, however, welcome to share your “confessions” with whoever you choose. ;)

  1. Lust
    When I asked a friend—we’ll call him Tommy—what inspires him to write, he said he wants his name to appear in the “New York Times” and on the stands at airport bookstores—an urge so powerful he dreams of it. “The women will go crazy for me,” he said. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the prospect of fame and adoration, successful writers bring much more to the page. People like Tommy love the idea of being a writer—not the actual writing. If you find yourself lusting over a writing career like a hormone-enraged teen with a movie star crush, it’s time to check your motivation.
  2. Greed
    “Buy my book! Follow my blog! Vote for my story—or else!”
    “Introduce me to your agent!”
    “Blurb me!” I haven’t read your book, but whatever.
    Desire is a good thing. And we’re all selfish to an extent. But begging your way to a fan-base, piggybacking on other writers‘ achievements and being flat-out annoying are likely career killers.
  3. Wrath
    “It makes me so angry that I don’t have time to write!” (Solution: So…make time.)
    “I hate my job! It keeps me from writing.” (Only we can keep ourselves from writing.)
    “I’d write more if I weren’t so distracted.” (Solution: It’s our responsibility to eliminate distractions—turn our phones off, find a quiet spot and WRITE.)
    “Why does she have an agent/publisher/book deal? I work harder. I’ve written longer. I deserve it (more)!”
    Every writer’s success story should bring us joy. People are buying books. Deals are being made. We could be next! And we want our friends to succeed, right? It’s natural to wish it was our chance NOW. But getting worked up and frustrated because a cohort got an agent or book deal before you did is counterproductive.  It also burns bridges; you can forget about those blurbs you greedily lust after…
  4. Envy
    “How can that lame book be a best-seller (when mine is so superior)?”
    I’ll use Twilightas an example. I personally didn’t dig it—no offense to Stephanie Meyer. But I consider the thousands of youth her series has drawn into reading and loving books and feel nothing but grateful.Some of us make the mistake of envying another’s success so much, we try to duplicate it. (Hmm…Why not throw a vampire and a magically-gifted child named Larry Plotter in my mystery?) Not a good move. Gaining inspiration from other’s work is positive. Attempting to clone it, however, is not.
  5. Gluttony
    “Pigging out” on writing conferences, books about writing, lectures about writing and conducting research for a book are not writing. Although they can undoubtedly benefit our writing and careers, spending all of our time not writing leads to one thing: nada to show for our energy, time and efforts.
  6. Pride
    “How dare my agent ask me to cut that scene/character/plot twist? It’s perfect the way it is.”
    Okay, so most of us aren’t that arrogant; if anything, we fall on the side of self-conciousness. But it can be difficult to swallow our pride and accept others’ feedback. We want our work to be the best it can be, right? Choose your critique-ers wisely, of course. I’d much prefer a Simon Cowel-like editor to an uber-polite relative who rarely reads thrillers.
    And your agent, if you’re working with one, maintains success by knowing what works and sells and what doesn’t. Getting angry and, worse, ignoring his or her criticism stirs up bad energy. It also makes that 15 percent they work for somewhat useless.
  7. Sloth
    Apathy toward our writing is perhaps the worst vice because if we don’t care, we won’t try. We’ll never share the stories our readers desire to hear or reap the fulfillment that comes from creating literary art. If we care, but not enough, we’re liable to self-publish a manuscript in dire need of revision, query agents before we’re ready and bypass necessary research for our second work. Patience, hard work and persistence are necessary parts of the game.
     What vice are you guilty of? Which have you overcome? Any to add??? Regardless… Happy writing!
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