Announcing: The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest II!

Words, stories and music… I struggle to think of entities more powerful. When I was enduring the darkest time of my life, the eating disorder I shared in my last post, this poem struck me like a dart between the eyes, pinning me to a wall of “What if?” What if its words hold true—not just rationally or solely for other people, but in my heart, soul and beliefs? What if we’re all beautiful and the truest, deepest beauty has little to do with shape or size? What if the “something more” so many of us long for exists inside of us, waiting to be unlocked and cherished? What if I wasn’t afraid of being large, but living large? And in doing so, missing out on the most remarkable beauty of all?

The Beauty of a Woman

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge you’ll never walk alone.
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; Never throw out anybody.
Remember, If you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.
The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.
The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mole, but true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows, and the beauty of a woman with passing years only grows!”

Authored by Sam Levenson, quoted often by Audrey Hepburn

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Eating disorders, like many addictions and fixations, have little to do with aesthetics. Whether we’ve had such an illness or not, most of us are not strangers to insecurity or harmful attempted ways to cope. We try to diet away our lack of self-esteem, drink to douse our pain or party, sex, eat or shop our way to fulfillment. Sadly, these efforts only mask and stunt the authentic beauty we’re capable of while the underlying issues grow deeper.

The answer? There are no simple ones. But life has taught me that sharing our thoughts, beliefs and stories, expressing ourselves creatively and joining forces with like-minded others has the power to uplift, open eyes, bring healing and even turn lives around.

Last year, over 40 writers shared touching, honest, poignant and laugh-out-loud funny posts in the first annual Beauty of a Woman BlogFest. Thousands collectively enjoyed the submissions, turning that day and numerous following into a beauty-celebrating extravaganza. Thanks to everyone who made last year’s event successful, I’m THRILLED to announce the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest II.

What: A blog-fest designed to celebrate beauty, however you define it. BOAW 2013

Who: YOU! The fest is open to women and men.

When: Friday, February 22nd

Where: Right here!

How: Sign up on the blog-fest page. On fest-day, stories will appear in order of appearance, so the sooner you sign up, the better. You’ll post your installment on your blog on Thursday, February 21st, along with this year’s badge. On the 22nd, submission links will appear here. Participants will then read, comment on, “like” and share everyone’s posts throughout social media.

Why: To have fun, be inspired and entertained, inspire or entertain others, gain exposure and blog readers and, potentially, win a Kindle Fire or equivalent Amazon gift card. (All participants and commenters will be entered into the prize drawing. The more blogs you visit, the greater your chance at winning becomes.)

To signup and for blog post prompts, head over to this link: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest 2013. To check out last year’s fest, visit the BOAW BlogFest 2012. If you’d prefer to participate as a reader only, please do.

Did you participate in the BOAW blog-fest last year? What was your experience like? Any questions about this one? What words have struck you at a particularly important time? If you have questions about the fest, please post them in the comments below or email me. (The BOAW tab is intended for signups only.) I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!


Punch-Drunk Indie: A Gratitude Party

“If serotonin is the Zen-master among neurotransmitters, dopamine is Pollyanna, responsible for the highs of infatuation, new love, joy, self-confidence, and motivation.” — Deborah Bloom, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer

I’d have to add publishing decisions to Bloom’s list. As if I wasn’t stoked enough about Girl Boners! 😉 Sadly, they aren’t on today’s menu. Welcome to #ThrillerThursday, the day I feature whatever else I find thrilling.

Those of you who read my post on self-publishing with an agent know that I’ve been deciding whether to do just that.

The moment I spotted “consider self-publishing” in my agent’s email a few weeks ago, giddiness filled my belly. I felt as though I’d been clocked on the head by the love monster—woozy, butterfly-filled and punch-drunk in LOVE. My inner Pollyanna took over, proving the Zen-master obsolete. I’ve learned to listen to my gut, and it was screaming.

I knew I shouldn’t make such a huge decision on the spot, so I researched like crazy, thought and dreamed about it (when sleep was possible), until I had all of the answers and affirmations I needed. Soon, my brain had caught up with my gut and I braced myself to run around yelping officialize my decision.

Then…Sandy struck. The largest Atlantic hurricane on record blasted the Northeast with 85 miles per hour winds and torrential rain, flooding streets and buildings, cutting power and taking lives. That morning, I sat huddled on the sofa, watching the news with suffering from what felt like a nation-wide emotional flu, making my indie decision seem trivial. But I was also inspired.

Atrocities like Sandy show us how connected we all are. They also bring out incredible strength, resilience and compassion. While I’m still head over heels with with my  choice, Storm Sandy brought me back down to Earth and enlarged my gratitude in one gargantuan, if pain-staking, fell swoop. I suppose that’s positive on another level; I can share my decision without screaming so loud your ears hurt. (You’re welcome. ;)) So without further ado…

To say I’m stoked is a major understatement. More will follow on the specifics, but for now, I’d like to invite you all to party with me “pimp and promote” style, a term coined by the fabulous Chuck Wendig, with a slant toward gratitude.

In the comments below, post two links you’re GRATEFUL for:

1) Pimp out one of your own links, such as your Amazon author page, Facebook fan page or a blog post.

2) Promote someone else’s book, blog, author or fan page.

This is a fun way to gain and give exposure, particularly if you take the courteous route by checking out others’ links. (No one wants to party or promote solo. Ask any indie. ;)) Post now and pop by later, or check out others’ links before posting your own.

I’ll start by pimping my interview with David Freed, author of the Cordell Logan mystery series. David is a spectacular writer and person I’m grateful to call friend. He’s also an award-winning journalist, dog lover and pilot with a wicked sense of humor and a passion for Mexican food. (What’s not to love???) For more fun, connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

I’m honored to promote one of my favorite indie-divas, Steena Holmes. Author of the award-winning best-seller, Finding Emma, Steena is as sweet as the chocolate she adores, and as supportive and driven as Megan, the indomitable mother in her novels. She’s also a mother of three, wife to one and a talented graphic and book cover designer who’s doing a brilliant job on mine. (Yeah-hoo!) To learn more, check out her wonderful website.

Your turn! Share, share away. I can’t wait to explore your links, and hope you have as much fun as I plan to. Thanks in advance for brightening my day, and as always for your support. *raises glass*

Is it Time to Change Your Blog?

What the heck should I write about? What if no one reads my posts? What if EVERYONE does? What if HE does? Or SHE does?

Many bloggers obsess over ponder these questions early on. Then little-by-little we mature, from little baby blog-o-nitas to blog-alescents until finally, we reach hot blog mama-and-papa adulthood—perfect post, after perfect post. They flow from us like soap bubbles through a blower, impressing every reader equally and never ever causing a lick of stress.

*Falls over laughing* Yes, we gain confidence and skills. But even then, blogging involves continual growth. While that’s a great thing, it can bring growing pains. We may realize we’re posting too frequently or seldom, that our graphics or theme needs work or that we’ve grown complacent, too wordy or sloppy. Blogs grow along with us. It only makes sense that they’d change as we do.

Sometimes the greener grass we seek is right beneath our feet.

I’ve experienced a bit of my own blog-angst recently over a couple of secrets I’ve been keeping from you all. Sorry! Not my preference, trust me. Normally, I write whatever I’m compelled to. But for reasons I shan’t fully disclose (involving technicalities and even legalities), a couple of sizzling-hot tid bits (sizzling to me, anyway) have been growing into untamable flames inside me, making me want to burst on a daily, sometimes more frequent, basis.

So, spill ’em already! I hear some of you saying. Not yet. 😉 I can set the stage, however, by announcing some blog changes I’ll be making pronto:

A new blog schedule. (Did I just use the s-word? Yipes!) Until now, I’ve posted twice most every week, on whatever days I choose. From now on, I’ll aim to post every Monday and Thursday. Guessing many of you haven’t noticed my variance anyway.

Thematic post days: On Mondays, I’ll focus on sexuality, sexual empowerment for women and related topics, such as romance and sexual health. In honor of #ThrillerThursday (a fabulous weekly Twitter event), and my main fiction work, I’ll post on whatever thrills me at the time on Thursdays. This could include writing, books, authors, movies, animals, food, psychology, music—the list goes on, and on… I didn’t mention Mondays’ theme-name, now did I? NOPE! T.B.A. 😉

Perhaps now you can see why the schedule is important. Sex and all-(other ;))-things-thrilling are vastly different channels. If you’re not into sex-related topics, you can skip over my Monday posts. If you LOVE reading about sexuality, or simply want to join in upbeat, sex-related, empowering, sometimes silly discussion, you might opt to read my blog only on Mondays. Totally up to you, as always. I think this shift will make things easier for all of us.

Making these decisions got me thinking about blog changes in general. We all make tweaks along the way. The following have helped guide my ways.

Signs Your Blog or Blog Habits Need Changing:

1. It takes away from other writing. When I started blogging, I posted three times per week. To keep this up, and work on articles, my novel and semi-keep up with housework and other basics, like showering (well, practically), I quickly learned that two posts worked better. To keep my novel work a high priority, I blog after, and occasionally as a warmup or break.

2. You aren’t in love with your topics. Perhaps love is a strong word, but if we aren’t excited or at least interested in a topic, our posts will probably fall flat. As many of you know, authenticity rules in social media. Don’t fake it. Change it.

3. Your gut says CHANGE. This holds true for all writing, in my opinion. If the little voice in the back of your head says, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and the thought makes your heart beat a little faster, the voice is probably right. Nervousness and self-doubt may try to mute that voice. Don’t let it.

4. It feels like trivial homework. Blogging should be fun. Many of us blog as part of an author platform, but that doesn’t mean we should dread or drag ourselves through the experience. Even informative posts should be pleasurable to read and write. And I bet I’m speaking for many when I say I’d rather read a post someone had a blast writing than a “perfect” one.

5. You’re unfulfilled. Fulfillment derives from all sorts of stimuli. Posts and topics we care about and interaction with fellow bloggers and readers can be hugely gratifying. If you’re low on the interaction spectrum, make efforts interact more. This post by Kristen Lamb, on improving your “Likability Quotient,” is chock-full of helpful insight. If your posts aren’t gratifying, see #s 1 through 4.

Making changes, and committing to them, can be scary. What if our new content doesn’t jive well with readers? Or topics that seem cool in our heads come out wonky? What if a schedule we set for ourselves seems impossible to maintain? The answer, I’ve decided, is who cares? It’ll all work out somehow, and it’s far better to take the risk—especially if your gut says DO. Transitions may go smooth-as-PB or as clumpy freezer burnt ice cream. Fortunately, the latter—like most obstacles—is fixable. (We can always buy new ice cream. ;))

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you changed your blog? Are you considering changes? I always love gabbing with you.

Thoughtful Blog Reading: Habits and Perks

Thoughtful readers can transform desert-like blogs into decadent desserts.

If you maintain a blog, you probably remember the first time you filled up a draft page then hit publish. Perhaps you worried that no one would read your post—or that everyone, including your mother-in-law, ex-boyfriend/girlfriend and neighbor you pissed off, would. In either case, I bet you felt a rush when comments and subscribers trickled in. (Well, depending on the comments… ;)) Your readership has probably grown since then and with it, your appreciation.

When Raani York nominated me for the Reader’s Appreciation Award, I was giddy—and not just because she’s a terrific gal. Any chance to say THANKS to readers is well worth it. First I thought I’d share the makings of a thoughtful reader and the super perks of being one.

Thoughtful blog readers tend to…

…read, rather than glimpse at, posts.
…choose and read posts with titles or topics they’re intrigued by or care about.
…post genuine, heart-felt or hilarious comments.
…share desirable blog links on community sites, like Facebook, Twitter, WANA International and Google+.
…subscribe to blogs they enjoy.
…visit beloved blogs often.

Benefits of Thoughtful Blog-Reading

Fun, inspiration and education: With the many millions available to us, it’s not difficult to find blogs that strike our funny bones or hearts. We can learn about animals from Amy Shojai, glamping (glamour + camping) gear from Natalie Hartford, surviving a creative existence from Chuck Wendig and building online communities and platforms from Kristen Lamb. Doing research for a new novel? Why not seek out blogs related to your topic? Yes, we should keep in mind that we’re reading blogs, not textbooks or the New York Times. But  you know what? I’ve learned a heck of a lot from blogs and blogging friends.

Friendships and community: We can make friends, and not merely with the bloggers we follow. I’ve encountered fabulous new blogs I read regularly now, after admiring their thoughtful comments on others’ posts. Our comments could spark conversations, inspire more blog posts (hopefully with proper credit ;)) and gain attention from readers throughout the web. You just never know who’ll read your comments, follow you on Twitter or “Like” you on Facebook in response to your thoughtfulness.

Reciprocation: Supporting others through thoughtful comments and shares tends to bring that boomerang directly back. It’s not the main reason we should read and support blogs in my opinion, but it’s definitely an added perk. The more we give, the more we’re likely to receive.

Gratification: It feels good to support others, particularly when we believe in the work. I read posts by numerous bloggers who’ve never, to my knowledge, read mine. That’s fine with me. We should give for the sake of giving, IMO. I’m usually compelled to comment or share the links simply because they’re so darn awesome. (In this way, sharing makes US look good—quality links shared with our own readers. More “frosting.” ;))

I’d love to give this award to all of you. The fact that you’re reading this warms my heart. Please feel free to carry Reader Appreciation on via your blog. I’ve also selected a handful of recipients to highlight. As you’ll see, thoughtful blog commenting and fantastic blog writing go hand-in-hand.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you love most about blog reading? Have you been surprised by readers’ thoughtfulness (or lack thereof)? Do you consider yourself a thoughtful blog reader? Why or why not?

Blog Images Made Easy: Tips From a Non-Graphic Artist

“I have made it a rule for a long time, not to part with the copyright of my drawings, for I have been so copied, my drawings reproduced and sold for advertisements and done in ways I hate.” — Kate Greenaway, artist and book illustrator

How would you feel if someone published one of your blog posts or stories without asking and called it their own? Using someone else’s photo in a blog post without permission is similar. Yet it’s become  so commonplace that many bloggers do so without a second thought. It’s easy to presume that crediting Google Images or other sources covers our rears, but it doesn’t.

Last week Roni Loren admirably shared her story of photo-use gone wrong—and expensive—on her blog, in hopes that others would learn from her experience. And Roni is far from alone. In 2007, a photo agency sued celebrity blogger Perez Hilton for $7.6 million for using 51 copyrighted images. In 2011, Brian Hill, a 20-year-old blogger with autism, was sued and asked to settle for $6,000 for posting a photo that belonged to the Denver Post. And the list…goes…on.

I’m no graphic artist, but I have learned some ways to create simple graphics. Doing so can prevent taking from and offending visual artists, safeguard us from lawsuits and make our posts Pinterest-friendly and fun.

5 Simple Steps:

1. Start simply, with what you know. You don’t need to be Picasso. If you’ve mastered your phone camera yet feel intimidated by self-concocting images, stick to phone pics for now. Or use royalty-free images from a free-to-use Flickr site or morgueFile. (See more below.) Then gradually take steps to tweak the images, add text and branch out into more complex programs. Ask a friend to help you, trade images or services with friends or take a workshop. Working within our comfort zones can help prevent frustration and giving up.

2. Keep royalty-free image sites bookmarked on your computer. Here are some good ones:

morgueFile: Free photos for creative professionals

Flickr: Here you can share and use free photos. Do an advanced search for photos upheld by Creative Commons, which are free to use. Then credit the owner properly, which requires giving the owner credit without endorsing yourself. For example, state this in the caption: Photo used under Creative Commons from MomandPopPhotos.

Creative Commons search: Here you can search 12 different web sites and services that utilize Creative Commons.

123Stock Photography: Photos and vectors for a low-fee (Images go for 21 cents and up.)

Deposit Photos: Photos and vectors for a low-free (The smaller the image, the less you pay. They have lots of basic background images you can easy doll up and add text to.)

3. Create text-only images. Use whatever graphic program you have on your computer to create simple boxes with eye-pleasing text. These images work great for blogs, especially if you want them shared on Pinterest. Pinners will know straight away what the post is about, and will be more likely to click and read it. Use the title of the post or a strong quote and easy-to-read text with a light or otherwise non-distracting background.

4. Use simple apps to create and edit photos. I use ArtBoard—a super easy Mac app available on iTunes. It’s one of the easiest ways to add text and create text-only images. It also provides a variety of free backgrounds and clip art. And I LOVE PicMonkey. Upload your images to the website and start playing. It’s almost too easy to explain. 😉 For PCs, I’ve heard that Power Point rocks. With your phone, it’s tough to beat Instagram. It can make amateur photos look artsy with the click of a button.

5. Keep a camera nearby and keep life interesting. Flowers, animals, food, rainbows, funky buildings, ocean views, trees, bridges, sidewalks, carnival rides, hairdos, the sidewalk, dirt paths, sunsets, ourselves… Almost anything is material for a great blog image. If you don’t take pictures or feel your daily life isn’t photo-worthy, perhaps consider being more adventurous. As writers, many of our activity takes places in our minds. Taking breaks and working outside of our homes can add funk to our writing, our lives and our photos.

What blog images do you use most? What graphics do you find most appealing? Any awesome tricks I’ve missed? Or lessons you’ve learned the hard way? I’m sure y’all have brilliant ideas to add, so please, bring them on!

Speaking of photos, if you haven’t sent me your “I’m a writer” image and would like to, I’m accepting them until August 1st. By submitting your photo to me via email, you’re granting me permission to include it on one page of my site. Don’t worry. I won’t share or sell them! 😉

100th Post Pimp and Promote Party

My blog is stepping into the triple-digits in posts. Can you believe it? I’m excited, and so is sweet Roberta over there. She’s so pumped, she lit up!

To celebrate, YOU’RE INVITED to pimp your own work and promote another’s. HOOORAH!

Special thanks to Chuck Wendig, who I believe created the concept, and Jenny Hansen for introducing me to it. (You’re both kick-butt party-lovin’ awesome!)

And now…

Here are the rules:

1. PIMP: Share a link to a blog post, book or other venture you’re stoked about.

2. PROMOTE: Share a link to a pal’s post, book or other work you think ROCKS.

3. MINGLE: Have fun checking out others’ links, while the rest of the partygoers enjoy yours. Feel free to pop by later or over the next few days to catch links of the fashionably late. ;)

I’ll start by pimping THIS POST, and promoting one of my newest favorite authors—M.G. Miller. His award-winning novel, Bayou Jesus, is one of the most beautiful, compelling books I’ve ever read. Ever. To quote my friend, Kourtney, it is “unputdownable,” and a sure-fire literary classic that reads with page-turner suspense. The writing is breathtaking, the story and characters inspiring. I simply can’t say enough about this book or M.G. Miller’s artistry.

M.G. is also an incredibly supportive writer, equally passionate for people and his craft—which says a lot. I could go on and on… Instead, I’ll refer you to his links. :)

Please visit M.G. Miller’s website, where you can read his terrific blog, follow him on Twitter and learn about his upcoming releases. (They’re darker than Bayou Jesus, says Miller, about which thriller-lovers like me are stoked.)

To purchase Bayou Jesus for Kindle for only 99-cents, visit Amazon.com. It’s FREE for Prime members. I suspect you’ll be mighty glad you did.

Thanks, all of you, for making blogging such a wonderful experience. I hope you keep having at least an ounce of the fun I have.

Artists Flocking Together (It’s PARTY Time!)

Gone are the days of bar hob-nobbing with Hemingway and Stein… 

…but that doesn’t mean we’re doomed!

If you’re like many artists, stories of writers’ bars and artists’ coves make your heart tighten in envy. (Youch. Yep, like that.) How are we supposed to accomplish our real work (our art) when we have bills to pay? Households to run? Relationships to nurture? All without going crazy? While varying opinions abound, I believe that prioritizing our passions is necessary for artists, if we want to be happy, healthy and successful. This past year, I’ve learned a great deal about another crucial factor—community.

Signing with my literary agent last August was exhilarating, but the aftermath left me a bit lonely and confused. What now? I wondered. So accustomed to working my butt off to land an agent, I assumed there’d be plenty to do, other than writing my next novel. When I asked my agent, he sent me a packet of marketing tips intended for post-publication. May as well start early, right?

In the packet I spotted that loathsome daunting annoying beautiful word: blogging. A web-search led me to Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer, a book by social media guru Kristen Lamb. I dove in and soon felt not only less annoyed at the thought of social media, but excited. No, seriously. (I still have mental double-takes at that revelation…) Kristen demystified Twitter and other social media platforms, and led me toward a world full of talented, passionate creatives, many of whom struggled with the same lonely bouts, passion for writing and determination I had.

The people I’ve met through #MyWANA—a hashtag based on Kristen’s second book appropriately named We Are Not Alonearen’t simply fellow artists, but friends. Before connecting with these fab folks, I thought I’d find passionate, driven writers solely at writer’s conferences. But guess what. While many of these passionate souls do attend conferences, they’ve also sought avenues to bring their craft and careers to the best possible level in between. Rather than complain or shrink away in the face of e-books and social media, they’ve embraced the digital age. They blog, Tweet, share and promote their work on Facebook, support one another in the dark times, the blah times and the brightest of shiny-happy-news times. They are my WANA sisters and brothers, and I love them with my big, squooshy heart. 

Francis, the WANA mascot

Here is more good news: The more we support and connect with others, the more our own artistry grows. And the more we grow individually, the stronger artists become as a whole. Like birds, each artist brings unique beauty and flare to the world. (Just ask Francis!) As a flock, we become breathtaking, empowered, empowering, and even world-changing.

This week, Kristen Lamb and her business partner, Ingrid Schaffenburg, launched WANA International. It’s goal? To empower artists—singers, dancers, writers, painters, actors…—of the digital age.

WANA’s Mission:

WANA is seeking to fill a vacuum. We were inspired by the movie “Midnight in Paris.” We found ourselves longing for a time when creative people—ALL types of creative people—could all hang out, talk, chat, brainstorm, help each other, etc. 

One of the things that bothers me about social media is that I see a lot of inbreeding. Writers talk all to writers about writing and that is good, but after time it stagnates. No new blood and no new ideas. Thus, WANA will solve this
problem. 
—Kristen Lamb

HOW EXCITED ARE YOU, SERIOUSLY??? 🙂 WANA International offers a powerful new social media platform and a broad range of webinars, taught by experts ranging form New York Times bestselling authors to technology, lifestyle and business pros—all of whom are artists, first and foremost. I’m stoked and honored to be among the teaching crew, with my first course, Write-amin 101: Eat Well, Write Better, launching in July.

To help celebrate, please join us on Twitter tonight, using the hashtags #MyWANA and #WANAPARTY. To learn more about WANA and all it has to offer, visit Kristen Lamb’s post, I Bring You…A Gift–A New Era for the Digital Age Artist.

So I WANA know. 😉 What’s your favorite aspect of being an artist of the digital age? Have you dipped into WANA International? Will you be joining the Twitter party tonight? I’d love to see you there.


Pinterest-Friendly Blog Posts: 5 Important Steps

I was 8 when I received my first bulletin board. *sigh* Memories… *pauses to ponder whether non-to-be writer kids cherish cork boards* My family had just moved to suburbia, and to ease the angst of moving, my mom bribed me with gave me Sweet Valley High and Babysitter’s Club mysteries. (Smart woman. ;)) So guess what landed on my board? Photos of my favorite books and characters, and anything else I found compelling—Paula Abdul, hot pink and purple what-evers, our family dog, my BFFs and code names for boys I totally did not have crushes on.

That, my beautiful friends, is Pinterest in a nutshell—virtual cork boards to fill up with content we’re intrigued by. And like childhood cork boards, they reflect our interests, personalities, goals and dreams. For bloggers, they are also visual platforms that can enhance our blogging/writing brands.

Whether you’ve joined Pinterest or not, your blog posts may have.* We can respond to this with an aggravated, “How dare they pin my stuff without asking?!?!” attitude, or appreciate the promotion and accept the fact that making our posts more pinnable can be highly beneficial. As the current fastest growing social media platform, Pinterest offers bloggers a fun, visual way to connect with readers we might not connect with otherwise. Cool, right? And because it’s a top referral to many online retailers, those of us with books or other products for sale have multiple reasons for excitement.

In my last Pinterest post, I focused on 7 keys for blogging/pinning success. Today, we’re digging deeper into the blog posts themselves. **If you’re a Pinterest brand-newbie, take a peak at the Pinterest Getting Started guide. If you’d like an invite to Pinterest, drop me a note. Trust me, it’s less confusing once you get started. 😉

1. Start with compelling content. Most successful blog posts have a common denominator: compelling content. Sure, it helps if the text, format and backgrounds are clear and the topics are tagged well and popular. But from my experience in reading and writing posts, the stronger the content, the more eyes and interest they gain. (If your heart races a bit at the thought of a topic, you’re probably on to something… ;))

2. Feature a fabulous, topic-specific image. Using an adorable koala bear photo is a great idea if your post somehow relates to animals. But using an animal photo just because it’s cute and you think people will pin it isn’t the best idea. Why? Because people will pin the photo, but they’ll be less likely to click to read the connected post. Or they’ll be disappointed when upon clicking the koala bear, they find a “how to de-lint your carpet” post (unless they happen to love koalas AND struggle with lint-laden rugs). It’s better to have a simple graphic that ties into your topic than to be cute but on two different planets.

Photos that work—and don’t infringe on copyright violations:

  • Your own snapshots and graphic creations. If you have visual arts skills, use them! If you don’t, now’s a great time to start practicing. I use my camera more often since joining Pinterest; you never know when a great photo opp will arrise—including those that require little, if any, expert skills. 😉
  • Purchased photos upheld by the Creative Commons license, which is a legal code that allows you to utilize images freely. Many Flickr users offer uphold CClicensure. You can also enter keywords into the CC Searchtool,which will take you to independent companies that offer CC-friendly works. Once you find an image, look for the CC license trademark. If you don’t see this—> contact the site owner.
  • Free (not stolen) images. Many stock photo companies offer free images. To find them, Google-search “free stock images.” TurboPhoto.com, iStockPhoto.com and Getty Images all offer royalty-free, affordable and/or totally free images. (When I use such images, I add text, crop them or combine them with other graphics to make them unique. More on this below.)
  • Fellow artists’ work, with permission. If you’re in love with a particular image, contact the creator. As long as we credit artists’ work properly, many are happy to share work samples. If you have an artistically-inclined friend, team up! By working together, you can both benefit.

3. Enhance your images with text or other “tweaks.” I’m not very graphics art-inclined, yet have been able to edit images and add simple text using Artboard—a Mac app I found on iTunes. Trust me: If I can do it, you can. I’ve also heard great things about PhotoShop and PicMonkey. Add your web address, a powerful quote that ties into your blog post or your post title—whatever floats your blogging/pinning boat.

4. Use easy-to-read text. When adding text to images, the words may read loud and clear until you make them into a smaller image on your blog, and smaller yet on Pinterest. Particularly if the words are the focus of the image, i.e., you’re featuring a quote, use bold, extremely legible font.

5. Invite blog readers to pin your posts by implementing Pinterest share buttonsAdding the “Follow Me on Pinterest” button to your blog also helps, by showing your readers you’re in the game. Notifying your current readers that you’ve joined Pinterest and that they’re welcome to pin your posts isn’t a bad idea either.

Once you’ve created a Pinterest-friendly post, pin it along with intriguing text that gives readers a feel for the post. To make it even easier for pinners to read your post, paste the address after the description. Then, use hashtags as you would on Twitter. You can also tag others in your post by adding their Pinterest handle. If your account is linked with Twitter, insert the Twitter handle of anyone featured in the post. If I’m posting a link by talented writer Lisa Hall-Wilson, for example, I’ll put @Lisa Hall-Wilson to ensure that she’s notified. If I want to tag her on Twitter, I’ll add @LisaHallWilson.

*To learn if your blog has been pinned, plug this into your web browser, with your site inserted: http://www.pinterest.com/source/WEBSITENAME.COM.

I’d love to hear from you. Are your posts already Pinterest-friendly? Any tips to add? How has Pinterest helped your own blog?

Flying High with Thriller Author David Freed

David Freed is a screenwriter, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, pilot, father and dog lover with a passion for Mexican food and “virtually all things with wings”. He’s also one of my new favorite authors. David’s debut thriller, Flat Spin, is a witty, entertaining tale chock-full of captivating characters that never lets go. The Library Journal called it “a delightful romp” and “highly recommended.” Kirkus Reviews said it’s “full of interesting episodes and feels authentic…” TRUE THAT, says me.

Flat Spin overview:

Based in sunny Rancho Bonita – “California’s Monaco” as the city’s moneyed minions like to call it – Cordell Logan is a literate, sardonic flight instructor and aspiring Buddhist with dwindling savings and a shadowy past. When his beautiful ex-wife, Savannah, shows up out of the blue to tell him that her husband has been murdered in Los Angeles, Logan is quietly pleased. Savannah’s late husband, after all, is Arlo Echevarria, the man she left Logan for.

Logan and Echevarria were once comrades-in-arms assigned to a top-secret military assassination team known as “Alpha.” The only problem is, the LAPD can find no record of Echevarrias ever having toiled for Uncle Sam. Savannah wants Logan to tell the police what he knows. At first he refuses, but then, relying on his small, aging airplane, the “Ruptured Duck,” and the skills he honed working for Alpha, Logan doggedly hunts Echevarria’s killer.

His trail takes him from the glitzy Las Vegas Strip to the most dangerous ghettos of inner-city Oakland, from darkened, Russian Mafia haunts in West Los Angeles to the deserts of Arizona. But that’s the least of his problems. It is his love-hate relationship with Savannah, a woman Logan continues to pine for in spite of himself, that threatens to consume him.

Sounds thrilling, right??? Well, I have more good news. David is here with us today, in the form of his insight. Grab your favorite beverage and take a seat. I suspect you’ll want to take the time to savor what he has to say. 😉

AM: First, congratulations on your book release! How does it feel to have your first thriller published? What was launch day/week like for you? 

DF: Thanks, August. The experience has been thrilling, no pun intended, and surreal. As you know as a writer yourself, you spend many months or even years in a room all by your lonesome, filling one blank page after another with words conveying fanciful ideas from a world you’ve concocted in your head. Then, one day, if you’re incredibly fortunate, some publisher says, “I like the way you’ve arranged those words enough that I’m going to pay you—though not very much–to put them in the form of a book.” A year or so later, your friendly UPS delivery driver dumps a cardboard box on your doorstep and there you stand, hefting in your hand that very book, many copies of which you hope will find favor across the land.

All hyperbole aside, opening that box certainly rated as one of the great moments of my life to date. However, my ego balloon was quickly shot down by the handful of good friends I invited over to help me celebrate what a huge honking success I am. They quickly reminded me that I’m still the same guy who picks up the dog poop in his backyard, prefers turkey burgers over fine dining and wears his T-shirts into the ground.

AM: Not to re-inflate that balloon or anything, but I think all of that makes you cooler. What inspired you to write Flat Spin?

DF: I’m a journalist by background, and I don’t think there’s ever been a journalist born that didn’t secretly aspire to write a novel. My goal, having reported more than my share of stories exploring the dark side of humanity, was to write a book that would be fun to read while incorporating into the plot subject material of which I was at least somewhat familiar. I also wanted to write something that I could claim at the end of the day was truly mine. When you’re hired as a writer in Hollywood, which is another hat I’ve worn, you sign a contract that literally states the studio is the author of your work. I cannot tell you how my scripts I’ve cranked out that ultimately and absolutely bore no resemblance to what I wrote.

AM: You really put the reader in Cordell Logan’s head. I felt like I was the secret military assassin turned Buddhist flight instructor. (I mean that as a compliment.) How similar is Logan to you?

DF: Thanks for the compliment. Hey, I’ll take all I can get! You’ve asked a tough question. In terms of life’s experience, I’d say that I’ve traveled on the periphery of where Logan’s gone—though, certainly, he’s led a much more bombastic life than me. For example, I didn’t played football for the Air Force Academy, as Logan did, but I did play football. I never flew Air Force A-10s during Desert Storm, but I did help cover Desert Storm for the Los Angeles Times. Like Logan, I’m an instrument-rated pilot. Unlike him, I am not a flight instructor. Nor am I an aspiring Buddhist, though I am intrigued with the religion. One more thing: Logan is a former member of a covert, since-disbanded government assassination team. I can assure you I have never worked for such a team, though I have done work in the intelligence community. If Logan and I share any undeniable similarities, it is that we both really enjoy flying airplanes and eating really good burritos, though not necessarily in that order.

AM: Nice. I liked the fact that you didn’t go overboard in describing characters’ appearances. I envisioned Savannah like Anna Nicole Smith for some reason… Way off? 

DF: Waaay off! [*August laughs, LOUDLY.*] But that’s cool. As a reader, you should have the right to imagine fictional characters however you wish. If you see Savannah as Anna Nicole Smith, you’re not gonna wreck my day, even though I may have conjured her with a completely different image in mind.

As a screenwriter, I learned that movie casting options dwindle proportionately to the degree of description you write into a script when it comes to your  characters’ physical attributes, or lack thereof. The perfect dilemma of too much detail can be found in the upcoming Jack Reacher film. Author Lee Child describes Reacher, a former military police officer, as a big, brawny guy, well over 6 feet. Who’s purportedly going to play Reacher?—5’-7” Tom Cruise. Not that Cruise wouldn’t do a great job with the role. But fans of Child’s books are already grousing about how casting Cruise will absolutely ruin the franchise. I’ve heard that author Sue Grafton refuses to sell the film rights to her wildly successful Kinsey Millhone series simply because she doesn’t want her readers equating Kinsey with the likes of a real life actress.

AM: What was the toughest part of the process, from beginning your first draft to publication?

DF: With Flat Spin, it was having no choice but to set aside the draft to work on gigs that paid. By the time I’d get back to the novel, weeks and sometimes months would have gone by; I would’ve forgotten major plot points and even characters’ names. It’s much easier to build a head of steam and maintain a daily momentum, writing a book start and finish without distraction.

AM: I imagine many writers can relate to that. Anything you’ll do differently next time around?

DF: I already am. I’ve turned down or postponed several other writing assignments to devote myself full-time to Flat Spin’s sequel.

AM: Love that. Your career background is extremely  intimidating impressive. How does thriller writing compare to your work as a journalist?

DF: They’re two distinct animals. A journalist is married to facts. In both reporting and writing a news story, you go where those facts take you. Writing a fictional thriller can be vastly more exhilarating and intimidating if for no other reason than the immensity of the potential creative landscape you, as a novelist, look out upon. You must make myriad creative choices that you don’t typically make in a news story. The process can be analogous to feeling your way through a minefield: every step bodes potential success or disaster.

Writing a thriller versus a journalistic story is also different because of the much more subjective nature of the final product. When you’ve published a first-rate piece of journalism, there is usually broad agreement you’ve accomplished something significant. With fiction, a writer rarely achieves that kind of consensus, if only because of the disparate tastes of individual readers. It’s like a Jackson Pollack painting. Many people will see genius in it; others will see it as one huge paint splatter.

AM: How many secret sources have you met in smoky bars? Has the work put you in danger? Do I watch too much crime TV? (If yes to that last bit, feel free to make up something saucy.)

DF: Meeting sources in bars is not nearly as sketchy as meeting them in underground parking garages or empty parks at night, where there are fewer witnesses to identify your body. I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been a few occasions when I felt like things got a little gnarly in such places. I remember once making arrangements to rendezvous in a bar with a really sketchy dude who’d called me, claiming to have direct knowledge of the alleged second gunman in the John F. Kennedy assassination. He insisted after we met that I come with him to his apartment where he had all of the “evidence” in safekeeping. I went to the men’s room, called my editors, and gave them the address, so that if I didn’t show up for work the next day, they’d know where to send the coroner. Turns out the guy, who proved to be a totally harmless whacko, had devised some theory that the second gunman was secretly hidden in the trunk of JFK’s limo. Yeah, right.

On another occasion, I was working on a series of stories targeting members of organized crime in a major land fraud scam. I came home late one night and my phone started ringing immediately. The anonymous caller proceeded to spent about 30 seconds telling me where things were in my cabinets and drawers that you wouldn’t have otherwise known about unless you’d been inside my apartment—and I lived in a secure building. The next morning, I went out to my car and discovered somebody had put a screwdriver through the fuel tank. There were was gas all over the parking lot. I carried a pistol for several weeks after that. For the most part, however, investigative reporting is incredibly tedious. You spend vast amounts of time interviewing boring bureaucrats, and hours sifting through government archives where you are much more likely to catch some obscure respiratory disease than you are a bullet.

AM: Yipes. Aside from staying healthy and bullet hole-free, what’s next in the pipeline? 

DF: I’m hard at work on the next Cordell Logan mystery. If all goes well, it’ll be out next year. I hope you enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed this!

*****

He’s GREAT, right??? To purchase Flat Spin, zip over to Amazon.com or David’s website for more options. In the meantime, or after, any thoughts or questions to share with David?

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 Rainbowlicious 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!****