The Three Rs: Reading, wRiting, and Roaming

January 16, 2018

Bonniejean Alford - creative communication strategists talks about the fear of successI met Bonniejean Alford at one of my favorite writing conferences, the University of Wisconsin Writers' Institute. She's a creative communication strategist, word artist, and speaker, and yet, like so many of us, she's experienced something that is a stumbling block in any profession. In a piece written in the style of her memoir, she boldly takes you on a journey to overcome one of the greatest threats to productivity – the fear of success.


The Death of Productivity - Success... I mean Fear

by Bonniejean Alford

I am a famous author.

Don’t believe me?  That’s okay, the world doesn’t know it yet, for my own fear has kept me from the limelight that destiny has waiting for me.

But no more. This year is my year. I have said that before. Haven’t we all? The journey to success at times is quite paralyzing. To the point that I have literally stared at the screen waiting for inspiration to grab me, offering up the success I have only dreamt of. But it hasn’t really been about the inspiration. Honestly, it has been more about what the inspiration can lead to that has left me blocked, unable to shape into words the images in my head.

Bonniejean Alford talks about a writer problem - fear of success.And so, nothing gets done.

Living in the possibility of what if remains easier than living in the reality of success, whatever that might mean. That seems crazy to admit, but come on, you know it’s true. Your mind circles on what will happen when you finish that book, or get that degree, or apply for that most desired job. Then, a nagging voice inside you tells you that your dreams are impossible, that they cannot be achieved.

For me, that voice is my mother’s. She spent my childhood reminding me that I could never be good enough to make a living as a writer, that I needed to stick with something practical. Looking back, her push for me to enter a “stable” profession, such as medicine or law, was more about me having the financial means to take care of her rather than the happiness of a life well lived.

We clearly had different definitions of success.

Money has never been my motivation for doing anything. So then, how do I define success? I suppose I should have started there. If not money, then what? Stability is indeed important, and a part of the success I see in my future. More though, I want to be respected for both the words I piece together and the story of the life they represent. I have been through a lot in my youngish years. It is a story that I know can help change lives for the better, my own included. Whether I am publishing a novel, memoir, or poem, or giving a presentation or performance, it doesn’t really matter. Success rests in the knowledge that I entertained and enlightened my audience, even if that audience is just me.

Just me? Really? Did I just say that?

Yes. I absolutely did. Success is reaching an accomplishment, fulfilling a goal. It is that simple. While I would undeniably love everyone in the world to read my writings, and like them, the fact that I completed a work is enough – remains all the success I need. Reality exists somewhere in between, of course. I have already begun my journey on the road to the ultimate goal of world recognition. I have written. I have published. I have performed. I am building. There is still a lot more to construct.

And yet, I am not there. I am still motionless.Bonniejean Alford - word artist - overcoming the fear of success

What’s preventing me from achieving everything I have ever wanted? Quite frankly, it is the success itself. All those negative what ifs shadow my soul with self-doubt, making me question if I am good enough, question whether I deserve the success that remains just at the edge of realization. Often, this presents as a reflection of the doubts other express about me. They feed my fear, they lead me to that place of paralysis. Like my mother. She didn’t believe in me or my skill, which meant I couldn’t believe in myself. Intellectually, I always knew that I should not let the opinion of other people shape the image I hold for myself, but the reality of internalized feelings isn’t so straightforward.

It took me years to recognize that writing wasn’t just about achieving fame or making money. It is about shaping the words, the story, the characters into something that represents me. And that may be what truly has held me back. My belief in my self-worth lacked definition. Really, it lacked existence. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like who I saw. I grew up believing I shouldn’t like that person. I listened to and internalized what I was taught. My entire being hurt from years of emotional starvation, and thus my lack of success.

Until the day I stopped listening.

One day, I just looked in the mirror and said, “You are beautiful” and believed it. This was somewhere in the middle of writing my memoir. By the time I finished, I truly found love for myself. Success has become more than just a possibility, it is becoming a reality.

I can achieve everything I want. Yes, it’s nice to hear that a writing is well written. It’s a joy to know that my words inspired someone besides myself. While success at its core is the mere completion of goal, the knowledge of its positive impact is an ever-important next level of success. This is where the fear really sets in.

Success - why do we fear it? with Bonniejean AlfordWhat if everyone hates the writing? What if it just doesn’t work to inspire? Further success may be impeded. I would be a failure. Wouldn’t I? I used to believe that. I don’t anymore. I want people to read my words, for better or worse. They can enjoy it or not. Not everyone will. That is reality. I had to stop thinking that I needed everyone to like something for me to be successful.

The completed project is enough.

Of course, there are revisions needed. I require a following to continue to grow the success of a completed project. That isn’t the point. The point is the mindset. I had to start thinking of myself as a success to be successful. I had to believe in my own worth as a person before I could believe in the strength and value of my words. I have not changed who I am, but rather the outlook of how I fit in the world around me.

And yes, I am famous, even if just to the image in the mirror.


Bonniejean Alford manages her own specialty communication firm, where she guides clients in boldly comunicating their identity and branding. She has completed the first book in a memoir series, "Life's a Concert: how I found me, danced through personal armageddons, and ate buttered popcorn along the way." Her memoir also serves as the foundation for her developing motivational presentation, "Life's a _______". Her first novel rests at the precipice of completion. Trained in both Sociology and Communication, she teaches at a local community college. 

Connect with her on social media at:

Twitter: bonniejean401

Instagram: bonniejean401


Author page: 

Company page:

January 9, 2018

Interview with Author and Science Teacher Larry ScheckelToday I welcome author Larry Scheckel. Larry is an award-winning science teacher who turned his love for science into books that teach us how things work. The recently released, I Always Wondered About That: 101 Questions and Answers About Science and Other Stuff and Ask a Science Teacher address our quirky, hypothetical, and somtimes irreverent questions that we never asked in class. In addition, he has written a memoir of growing up in the hill country of southwestern Wisconsin, Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers

Larry, thank you so much for visiting today. I’ve enjoyed your books so much and know that you never stop writing. I Always Wondered About That: 101 Questions and Answers About Science and Other Stuff released just this past month. Do you have any other releases planned for 2018?

Yes, I was offered an additional two-book contract from Boston publisher Tumblehome Learning.  It will be a continuation of the I Always Wondered About That series. The next book, tentatively entitled Science Made Simple, will be published in the Fall 2018. The third in the series is set to be out in Fall 2019.

           Click HERE to purchase. 

I love the idea that you’ve taken your vast science knowledge and made concepts accessible for those of us who are most definitely less ‘science-y’. I’m sure that skill was born out of years of teaching. Can you tell me what led to your decision to begin writing?

John Kinney, the publisher of our local twice-weekly newspaper, The Tomah Journal, urged me to write a general science column. The column has been running since 1993 and is also carried by the Monroe County Herald in Sparta, Wisconsin. The column, Ask Your Science Teacher takes questions from both kids and adults. I started writing a series of science articles for magazines targeted for science teachers. The series is closing in on a total of 900 columns. I also wrote articles for The Science Teacher and The Physics Teacher magazine.

You taught physics and aerospace science for nearly 40 years and your resume is full of some spectacular achievements. Being a high school student in the 1980s, I clearly remember the excitement over the Teacher in Space project and only recently learned that you were one of the teachers nominated from Wisconsin. I’m sure you were watching the day of the Challenger launch as we all were and experienced first the unbelievable horror and then the deep sadness when the mission went so horribly wrong. Even given the inherent danger of space travel, I think we all have a fascination with becoming an astronaut. Can you tell us what it was like to be nominated for such a unique experience and what the selection process was like?           

In 1984, President Reagan put out a call for teachers to apply to be the first Teacher In Space. Over 11,000 teachers filled out the extensive application, 303 from Wisconsin. Five from Wisconsin were selected, then through interviews and tests, it was narrowed down to two. Ellen Baerman from Brookfield was one and I was the other.

About 100 of us met in the summer of 1985 in Washington, D.C. for a week-long seminar, orientation, tours, and the final selection process. We met some of the former astronauts, such as John Glenn, and Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. We were invited to the White House for a reception and a talk by President Ronald Reagan. We attended many NASA classes and met four members of the crew that would be taking the selected Teacher In Space in space with them in early 1986.

NASA selected Christa McAuliffe from Concord, New Hampshire and Barbara Morgan from Utah, as the backup and the rest of us were sent home. All 100 of the finalists were invited down to the Kennedy Spacecraft Center for a week of classes, tours, and for the launch scheduled for January 22, 1986. Due to delays in scheduling, a stuck hatch, sand storm in Senegal, equipment failures, and high winds, the launch was actually January 28, 1986. Many of us had returned to our teaching assignments and missed the launch.  

The Space Shuttle Challenger blew up 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of all seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe. An O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster failed at liftoff.

On a personal basis, I was relieved that I was not chosen. I think all of us were. We did meet in subsequent years for week-long sessions for NASA updates and classes, at New Orleans, Cape Kennedy, Johnson Spacecraft Center in Houston, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. It was a chance to meet lots of people, travel, and give talks.

The Shuttle program was delayed for almost three years. We watched the Shuttle tile being attached to the new replacement Shuttle, Endeavor, out in California.           

Ann and I did watch the launch of Barbara Morgan in August 2007 at Cape Kennedy. Morgan was the back-up to Christa McAuliffe. All the finalists enjoyed a reunion at Cape Kennedy in January 2016, the 30th anniversary of the Challenger loss.


Seneca Seasons - A Farm Boy Remembers: A Memoir of Growing up in WisconsinYour science books are great fun, but I truly enjoyed your memories of farm life as well. Did the switch to memoir writing pose any great challenges for you?

Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers is indeed a memoir book about growing up on a Crawford County southwestern Wisconsin farm outside of Seneca in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s the story of my childhood in a family of nine children, attending eight years in the one-room Oak Grove country school, the Fall basket social, the Christmas program, the end-of-the-year picnic, St. Patrick’s Church, the neighbors, the threshing ring, the long hot days of summer work, sledding in the winter, drowning out gophers on Sunday after Church, and squirrel hunting in the woods of oak, basswood, elm, walnut, and maple trees on hills and valleys.

It’s the story of growing up with my two brothers, Phillip, who was year older, and Bob, a year younger, than me. The three oldest Scheckel kids were out of the house when I was about 10 years old, and three sisters came along later. The three of us did everything together, work, school, play, and Church.

Writing memoir was quite easy for me. I’d type (keyboard) as fast as I could think or remember, paying no attention to sentence structure, spelling, or the accuracy of names and dates. Late in the evening, while listening to Willie Nelson and Chet Atkins music, I would go back and correct and edit. It took me about 10 months to write 180,000 words, which is way too many, of course, and it had to be cut down. I employed John Paine Editorial Services, out of New York to do the job. It was a good investment. Every writer must have an editor.

TO PURCHASE SENECA SEASONS:   Kindle     Paperback

You give presentations quite frequently. I’ve been fortunate to hear your talk about Seneca Seasons. Now that you’re retired, do you prefer to give science talks to students or discuss your memoir. (Or are they equally appealing.)

Both are challenging and appealing, but in different ways. My wife, Ann and I, have given book talks concerning Seneca Seasons to about 50 groups around Wisconsin and Minnesota. Many of these are senior citizens groups, retired educators, libraries, and retirement homes. We’ve presented at four Sons of Norway Conferences this past year.

As an example, we motored down to The Behring Senior Center in Monroe, Wisconsin on November 21, 2017. There were 51 attending our 50-minute PowerPoint talk. Over half had attended a one-room country school, and four were former teachers in the one-room schools.

There followed another 40 minutes sharing reminiscences about farm and school life in the 1940s and 1950s. If one grew up in that time frame in a rural setting in Wisconsin, the experiences were amazingly similar.

The science programs we do for schools are the hands-on, demonstrations, gee whiz, fast moving sessions that are high interest to kids of all grades. We try to get many kids involved as volunteers. We do about 30 of those each year, elementary, middle school, and high school.

As an example, we did a two-day set of four science programs in the Platteville, Wisconsin school district on November 30-31, 2017. Early on Thursday morning we had K and 4K kids for 40 minutes. These tykes are about 4 and 5 years old. We concentrated on sound, waves, and flying things. 

The next afternoon we had grades 3 and 4 at another school building. Older kids allow us to do a completely different program. The science of magic, laws of motion, and the science of rotation was the order of the day.

We’ve done science programs for groups as small as 10 and as large as 600. The students are very appreciative.  They are having fun and learning science at the same time.

So far you have focused on writing nonfiction. Do you think you might ever branch out into fiction? (I think you’d be an amazing science fiction author and you definitely could write for the teen market after having a front-row-seat to high school behavior for a few decades.)

I’ve not considered writing fiction at this time and science fiction is not my cup of tea. One does build up a trove of stories and experiences in 38 years of teaching. I do wish I had written down some of those stories, sayings, incidences and events, as I was teaching, keeping a log, journal, or diary. I wouldn’t have to make any of it up.

I could write about the Driver’s Education teacher that rolled the car over while drunk, the students who turned loose a very frightened young steer on the second floor of Tomah High School (Senior Prank), and the dead skunk left in a locker on a Friday, but was not discovered until Monday morning.

I could write about one of my students that was the first female from Western Wisconsin accepted, and graduated, from MIT. Or the family that owns and operates the local Culver’s restaurant with five sons; two in the Marine Corps, one a doctor, one a priest, and one in engineering. Or another student who enlisted in the National Guard right out of high school. Tammy Maas rose through the ranks and was promoted to General in 2016. She is now the commander of the Wyoming National Guard.

Do you have other projects in the works that you’d like share with us?

I continue to write articles for Farm Collector magazine, Small Farmer’s Journal, The Country Schools Association of America newsletter, Good Old Days magazine. Writing a series for The County Today, an agriculture newspaper out of Eau Claire, and also a series for The Plymouth Review Current. I am writing a narrative of a murder that occurred in Crawford County in the 1920s.

Who is your favorite author, and what do you like most about their work?

I’ve read all the books written by Michael Perry. He is a keen observer of the human condition. His prose is descriptive and detailed. He’s a real wordsmith.  

Jerry Apps is a prolific Wisconsin historian and writer. I can identify with his  environment and times  growing up on a farm and attending a one-room school.

What book are you reading now? 

Bullet Holes and Ivory Soap  by Wallace Fromm 

(To purchase: paperback)

Killing England by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard   

(To purchase: kindle or hardcover)


Is there anything I’ve missed asking that you’d like readers to know about you and your books?

Retirement (2010) has been very good to me and my wife, Ann. We’ve had time to travel extensively in Europe, New Zealand, and Canada. We returned in October, 2017 from a 10-day trip to Israel. We are proud of our two grandchildren attending Madison West High School.

We enjoy bicycling, flying radio controlled planes, playing guitar, and trying to keep healthy and fit.

Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview! You can learn more about Larry and his work at:

Larry Scheckel

1113 Parkview Dr.

Tomah, Wi 54660

(608) 372-3362



January 1, 2018

We all crave connections--real, meaningful person-to-person connections. It doesn't matter if we work in a solitary profession like writing or if we're in an occupation that just feels solitary. So when I saw Amanda Zieba's year-end post about her Word of the Year, CONNECTIONS, I immediately set aside time to read. 

Amanda Zieba and her word of the year "Connections"I loved her post so much, I am sharing the whole thing below with you (with Amanda's permission). But first, let me tell you a story (because that's what I do). Before I met Amanda, before I knew her word of the year was Connections, she reached out to me in May. She had heard about the Columbus Books & Beer book club (which I moderate) from another author who I met at a conference and was wondering if her book Champion Chocolatier might be a good fit for a December visit to our group. After reading her book and presenting it to our group, I got back to her with a unanimous yes that we'd love to extend an invite to her for our December gathering. (This makes a lot of sense when you realize her book is set during the holidays.) Finally, in September I met Amanda in person at the Wisconsin Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference. Her visit to our Books & Beer night in December was a huge success. She brought with her the cutest gift boxes EVER that included her book and some sweet treats made by a baker from LaCrosse. (Another connection Amanada had made during 2017 was with LaCrosse area baker Jennifer Barney who recently won the Food Network's Holiday Baking Championship!) In 2018, Amanda and I are already planning to guest post on specific topics on each other's blogs and who knows what else!??

This all might seem rather serendipitous and sometimes connections are--but more often they are the result of purposeful effort to connect with others. It doesn't happen magically but it can feel like magic when those efforts pay off. So let me introduce you to Amanda. 

She is an author, a teacher, a word nerd, a mom, a wife, and so much more. You can learn more about her writing adventures on her website at: And she had a great year in 2017 making connections as you can read in her post below:

Making Connections as a Writer


My 2017 Word of the Year... CONNECTIONS, a recap

By Amanda Zieba

December 27, 2017

Last year my writing club suggested trying something new. Instead of making a few New Year’s resolutions (that we will likely abandon by March) our leader encouraged us to select a word to represent the upcoming year. This word, once selected, would guide our thoughts and actions, goals and plans, interactions and reactions throughout the year.

I am usually pretty gung-ho about goals. In fact, I love them. A goal is like a to-do list on steroids. A goal is a big ol’ dream with a strategic plan that will take me from where I’m at to where I want to be. Thanks to a healthy dose of instilled discipline I learned from my uber-diligent parents… I’ve got some pretty good stick-to-it-tive-ness. Goals work for me. But hey, I’m up for trying something new every once and awhile… and you know I love words. So why not? 

The first word that popped into my mind was MOMENTUM. At the end of 2016 things had started picking up in my writing world. Instead of being the one to reach out and ask to be included in the word-nerd world, sometimes, people were inviting (and paying!) me to attend and lead events. I had been selling more books. I’d found a supportive (and fun!) word-nerd tribe. I wanted more than anything for this to continue. I wanted to keep moving forward, and momentum felt like a good word to promote that.

But it also felt like this word had a single focus. Writing. Despite occupying a large chunk of my brain space - in both my waking and sleeping hours - writing is not the only important thing in my life. I had just moved my family back to my hometown. We had left the comfortable world we had known for a decade and traded it for new jobs, new schools, a new house, a new church… so much new. Momentum didn’t feel like the right word for my personal life. There was already so much movement. I wasn’t certain that adding more movement to an already chaotic time would make things better.

And so I came to my second word choice, CONNECTIONS. A focus on making connections… on a daily basis with my family, with new co-workers and neighbors, and with other word nerds would benefit my life in multiple areas.

Because I couldn’t totally abandon my type A personality ways of goal setting (and achieving!) I made a targeted plan to consistently work on connecting in 2017. While out Christmas shopping last year I stumbled upon the perfect tool to help me create a gateway for my future connection making endeavors. I purchased a page-a-day, motivational calendar and wrote up this simple note.

“I bought myself this calendar for Christmas. Something fun… and motivational. Each day as I looked at the quote, a person’s name popped into my mind and I decided to share these words of wisdom, power and momentum with others. 

So today, I want YOU to know, that I thought of you. I hope you are happy, healthy and well, and that you are having a great year. I hope you are kicking ass in the world that you live in and working towards achieving your dreams.
All my love, Amanda”

Inspiring Voices - Reaching Out to Make Connections Each Day

Each morning as I sat down at my desk and tore off a new page of the calendar I asked myself, who does this remind me of? Who would appreciate these words? Who needs to hear this message? 85 times throughout the year someone specific came to mind. 85 times I mailed out a calendar page and my note. 85 times I wrote a person’s name on the calendar page and called out to them: I see you. I’m thinking of you. You rock. Keep fighting. Don’t give in. Shine bright! Be you. Be amazing. Celebrate!


Making Connections - One Inspiring Quote at a TimeMaking Connections with Snail Mail 

Some of the people I sent notes to I see every day. Some I haven’t seen in months, maybe years. Some are people I’ve never met in person. I gave some notes to my students and some to my idols. Many were mailed out my family members. A few people were recurring recipients, but most were one time-ers. At times I would reverse the action… thinking to myself, who could use a pick-me up? Who is important in my life that hasn’t gotten a calendar page yet? Who would benefit from a connection this week?

Sure, there were days that I saw the quote and struggled to connect the thought to a particular person. Some days the quotes were just plain un-inspiring and therefore took up residence in my recycling bin. But 85 times I sent out these hugs in an envelope, these paper pep-talks.

These pages weren’t my only attempt to live out my word of CONNECTIONS. I also joined SCBWI this year and made some great new friends as well as a few professional connections at the state conference this fall. I spent three months in an online mastermind group and networked with some amazing creative professionals across the country, one of whom became a good, good friend. In 2017 I made connections to other local entrepreneurs through my business coach and reached out to many small businesses and writing organizations about possible partnerships. But the calendar pages remained the constant throughout the year. Each and every day, I came back to the calendar.

Do you know what happened?

41 times someone responded. With a Facebook message, a voicemail, a snapchat, a text. 41 times someone took the time to say, “I see you too”. And really, in my book, that’s pretty amazing… and in my opinion, what we need a little more of in our world.

Making Connections - One Note at a TimeMaking Connections MattersMaking Connections - Reaching Out

I already have my new page-a-day calendar ready to go for 2018. I’m really excited to continue this daily ritual. I’m not sure what my 2018 word will be, but check back to the blog in early January and I’ll let you know.

Until then, I wish you all sorts of wonderful end of the year experiences… and all the words in the world to describe and record them. I’d also encourage you to think about your word for the year, and if you feel so inclined, share it with us in the comments below!

Happy holidays, happy reading and happy writing!







December 26, 2017

December Writers' Forum - Indie Author Advice You Can't MissIn my journey through the steps of independent publishing, refining my writing skills, and completing a successful agent search, I’ve come across some excellent information, tips, tools, and shortcuts that I think would be beneficial to any writer. Once a month, I’ll share the “best of” information and news from the publishing industry as well as feature other authors and writing instructors with tips to share. I am incredibly thankful for the assistance and advice given to me from writing and publishing professionals and am happy pay that forward. On a professional level, I also use my publicity and editorial skills to aid other authors through my company Lost Lake Press

January Book Events

Mystery to Me Bookstore, 1863 Monroe Street, Madison

Sunday, January 14th at 2 pm Maddy Hunter launches her newest mystery Say No Moor

Friday, January 19th at 7 pm Doug Moe interviews Nick Petrie about Light it Up

A Room of One’s Own, 315 W. Gorham Street, Madison

Wednesday, January 31st at 6 pm Thisbe Nissen talks about her book Our Lady of the Prairie along with Jay Baro Nicorvo author of The Standard Grand

Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer, Milwaukee

Boswell Books and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Union, present an evening with Colson Whitehead, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad!  Wednesday, January 31, 7 pm, at UWM Student Union, Wisconsin Room, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd.  For ticketing info click here

Featured Subject

Top 2017 Headlines in Publishing - 5 Things Authors Need to KnowA Look Back on 2017 Publishing Headlines: 5 Issues Raised for Authors

Jane Friedman, as always, gives fabulous advice and insight into the publishing industry. I highly encourage you to read the article on the issues raised for authors in the past 12 months. (Just in case you missed any.)

Here’s a quick takeaway:

  1. Barnes & Noble is in trouble. (Okay, maybe that’s not news.) But this article contains some frank talk from the CEO about Nook and their plans moving forward for smaller stores that they hope will provide a better shopping experience. Additionally, in this section there’s a link to a Nathan Bransford article (What If Barnes & Noble Went Bankrupt?) about the grave impact the closing of B&N would have on trade publishing.
  2. The self-publishing and self-publishing service market shows signs of maturity. If you’ve been following the trends here, you already know that Pronoun recently closed and the market share of CreateSpace keeps growing. Lots of great stats here.
  3. Is Traditional Publishing Losing Its Ability to Launch Block Busters—and How Much Does It Matter?
  4. Ebook Sales Are HUGE! And the self-publishing market by some numbers accounts for 60% of Kindle Unlimited reads.


Pre-Publication Information

Build Your Author Platform with Blogging - Dos & Don'tsYour Author Platform – Blogging

If you’re already blogging or thinking of starting one, you’ve certainly come across the folks that say their making mega bucks off of theirs—and often they want to teach you how to do this, too. (FOR A FEE! HA!!) The temptation to figure out how to have a piece of that pie and monetize a blog is very real, but maybe not the best dream to chase for authors whose main goal is to grow a following for their book-length works.  

Anne R. Allen talks very frankly about her failed effort to monetize her blog and gives ten excellent tips for writers on blogging. My favorite one is #7 – NEVER SACRIFICE YOUR WORK IN PROGRESS FOR YOUR BLOG!

Should You Build an Email List? 

In a related topic to blogging for authors, Tim Grahl gives tips about building your email marketing list. For me this is connected obviously to my blogging because those who are subscribed to my email list receive my blog directly to their email inbox. I find that there are a lot of authors who are resistent to building their own email list. Why did I decide to do this? Simply because I do not want to be solely reliant on social media platforms to reach those people who follow me.  I consider building an email list a good business policy.

Tim Grahl helps dispel five myths about email marketing for authors this article. (I’ve heard nearly every single one of these from other writers . . . and might have held a few of these beliefs in the past myself.) This is worth the read for the serious writer who wants to maintain a direct connection to their followers. 

Why You Need a Writing Group for Author Success!YES, You Do Need a Writing Group

If you’re at the beginning of your writing journey and wondering if you need a critique or writing group to give you feedback, let me tell you in a word -- YES. I don’t know where I’d be without my critique group. The consistent feedback I receive keeps me on track and definitely lets me know when I’ve got some work to do on my current project.

And, in my experience not all writing/critique groups are created equal. I’ve been in some that have been less than productive for me. Sharion Bially of Writer Unboxed gives a well-developed list of what to look for in a group as well as an overview of an amazingly powerful group that has gone on to launch a number of bestselling authors.   

Top Trends in Book Cover Design for 2018

Will you be publishing a book in 2018? You’re going to want to pay attention to Linsey Vontz’ article for The Digital Reader where she analyzes what’s working for different genres. I’m always fascinated by how fast trends in font and image seem to change in cover design. 

Are You Planning a 2018 Book Launch?5 Things to Take Off Your Book Launch List

Now here’s something I know quite a bit about. In addition to launching my own books, I aid other authors with their launches. I immediately clicked on Deanna Cabinian’s article: 5 Things I’m Not Doing to Launch My Book—And What I’m Doing Instead. She gives specific advice on what activities she’s ditching and why. I appreciate her sensible approach to keeping the process of launching a new title manageable and effective. You can’t do everything and must pick and choose which things have the most value.


Your Book Autograph

Your book is out!! YAY! But have you given much thought to how you’re going to sign copies for readers? I know that I didn’t really beforehand, but I’m so glad that Dr. Judith Briles has written an article which talks about your actual signature as well as some fun add-ons to consider when you’re at an event.

If you’ve been at this a while, you’ve probably developed certain go-to items and processes that work for you. I have pens that I like, but I’ve recently graduated to a gorgeous bronze sharpie that works even better. I also ALWAYS carry post-it notes with me to double check the spelling for particularly tricky names before I start signing. And, I have some giveaway goodies I like to tuck in—bookmarks, postcards, and even some Celtic temp tattoos.

Enabling X-Ray for your Ebooks on Amazon

Step-by-Step Instructions for enabling X-Ray on Kindle Books & MoreIf you’re asking yourself what the heck is X-Ray? You are SO not alone. There’s always something new to learn in the indie pub world and this is a great example of staying on top of things. (And to be honest, X-Ray has been around for a while, but it seems that author control of the X-Ray search is the newish thing that has everyone buzzing.) Readers, please correct me if I’m wrong on this!!

X-Ray is (according to KDP) “… a unique Kindle eBook feature that allows readers to learn more about a character, topic, event, place, or any other term, simply by pressing and holding on the word or phrase that interests them.” Okay, so in another word it is indexing without the index. Currently, you can search a word or term in ebooks that allows you to access the web. The difference here is that (as I understand it) you can control where the link takes you and it eliminates a step in the search process.

Melinda Clayton's "how-to" article for Indies Unlimited gives detailed step-by-step instructions on enabling X-Ray on your books. 

I encourage you to read the comments below the article as well. There are some authors who found that Kindle had enabled this feature automatically for their books with poor results. For instance, if you’re writing science fiction you might be creating terms and definitions for things that won’t match up well with the real internet search world.

Creating Diverse Income Streams That Build Your Brand and Your IncomeDiversify Your Income Stream & More Advice for the Indie Author

This article from Michael Larsen comes at the perfect time as we contemplate our goals for 2018. His list of more than 50 IDEAS gives you new ways to use your current knowledge, books, articles, and publishing know-how and adapt it to other income streams. I’ve found at least four things I could try in 2018. How many might work for you?

I hope that these articles helped you on your writing and publishing journey!

Happy Reading & Writing, Valerie  



December 14, 2017

We all sing about the Twelve Days of Christmas, but you might not have realized that the pagan celebration of Yule is twelve days long, starting (this year) with the eve of the winter solstice on December 20 and ending on December 31. 

Back when people followed a lunar calendar there were twelve days “leftover” at the end of the year.  These twelve nights thus became a special time where the veil between the worlds was thin and celebrations abounded. In ancient Rome, the Festival of Saturnalia (honoring Saturn—the god of agricultural bounty) lasted about a week at this time of year.  (Christmastide is also twelve days long from December 25 through January 6th —Epiphany.)

The Twelve Days of YuletideWhat Does Yuletide Celebrate?

Beginning with the day before the Winter Solstice celebration, Yuletide kicks off with Mother’s Night, honoring the Mother Goddess (& the coming of spring) along with the protective female ancestors who watch over us. This is always a celebration of the lengthening amount of sunlight as the calendar moves forward away from the darkest day of the year. Indeed, nearly every celebration has origins invoking the rebirth of the sun or the sun god in some way. (You can learn more about the history of Yuletide in my previous post.)

Yuletide concludes with the celebration on the Twelfth Night, which often coincides with the modern New Year’s Eve celebration—full of revelry, food, and drink. The Twelfth Night is also associated with the burning of the greens for good luck. This is not directly attributable to pagan culture or Yuletide, but seems to be linked more to Christian Epiphany. (However, I liked the timing of this so much that I adopted it as part of the pagan culture’s Twelfth Night in my Circle of Nine series.) Modern pagans often have a Yule tree as part of their celebration, although it is noted that pre-Christian Gifts of Yuletidepagans would likely not have done so. Instead, they would have only cut boughs of evergreens for decoration within their homes. These may have been left up until Imbolc at the beginning of February when they would have been removed and possibly burnt.  

Other traditions that were initially part of the pagan or pre-Christian festival of Yule have come to be part of the Christmas tradition, including the use of holly and ivy and mistletoe as decorations, the burning of the Yule log, and gift giving, which was an important part of the Roman Saturnalia festival.

And in the spirit of the season, each day of Yuletide I am going to give a gift of thanks to those that have made my writing and reading adventure a good one in 2017. First, I’m giving thanks for my family for all the help and support they give me as I try to forge my path in this crazy publishing business. They listen to my rants, help me with tech issues, remind me to eat better, and tell me not to give up when I feel like throwing in the towel. You are the best!

(This is nearly all of my extended family in the photo.) 

To see the photos that accompany the gift of thanks for the remaining days of Yuletide, you'll need to click on the highlighted title text to reach the Facebook post for each day.  

ON THE SECOND DAY OF YULETIDE . . . my gift of thankfulness is for long-time critique partners Silvia Acevedo and Keith Pitsch (who-really-needs-to-get-a-Facebook-account-but-we-love-him-anyway.) We've lost track of how many books we've critiqued for each other. I couldn't do this crazy writing business without them. 

ON THE THIRD DAY OF YULETIDE . . . My gift of thankfulness goes to all of the bloggers and authors who have been guests on my blog, celebrating new releases and letting me interview them. I've had such fun this year getting to know you all better and getting a first look at your new books! You're a talented bunch!

ON THE FOURTH DAY OF YULETIDE . . . my gift of thankfulness goes to all of the wonderful librarians and libraries across the state! You make a difference every day! I'm particularly thankful for my home library (@ColPubLib) and the wonderful Cindy Fesemyer

ON THE FIFTH DAY OF YULETIDE . . . my gift of thankfulness goes out to the incredibly fun school and library visits I made throughout the year. Smart students, asking smart questions. I'm certain that I've met some future bestselling authors!

ON THE SIXTH DAY OF YULETIDE . . . my gift of thankfulness is for all of the wonderful stories I've read this year. I've been transported to so many beautiful, enchangting, scary, and completely horrible places in such wonderful ways. I've fallen in love with characters who have made me so sad that I'd read the last page of their story. I couldn't possibly list everyone who has entertained me this year with their words, but thank goodness for every single one of you. 

ON THE SEVENTH DAY OF YULETIDE . . . my gift of thankfulness goes to the readers and reviewers of my books. First, thank you for taking the time to read my stories and second, thank you for letting me know what you thought--even those of you who had critical things to say. I've learned something from every review I've ever gotten. (And here's a nudge to those of you who have received a wonderful book as a gift . . . pass on the love and write a review for that author. It truly means a lot!) 

ON THE EIGHTH DAY OF YULETIDE . . . my thankfulness is for inspiration for new stories. I will never in my lifetime be able to write all the stories in my mind, but I'm grateful for the ideas nonetheless. And I'm grateful for the ability to share the ones that I manage to get down on paper. May you find inspiration for your creativity--whatever that may be throughout 2018! 

ON THE NINTH DAY OF YULETIDE . . . my gift of thankfulness goes out to all the other writers who are part of my tribe. I've met you at conferences, book festivals, ethnic festivals, and through social media. We've commiserated together, we've learned together, we've presented sessions together, we've sold books together, we've drowned our sorrows together (at least once or twice!), and we've cheered each other's successes. I'm so grateful for you all! 

ON THE TENTH DAY OF YULETIDE . . . my gift of thankfulness is the ability to travel and see so many new places that fuel my writing. Here are two images from Ireland and two from our most recent trip to Spain. 

ON THE ELEVENTH DAY OF YULETIDE . . . my gift of thankfulness is for my agent, Kim McCollum of The Purcell Agency. It took quite a few years and an exponentially greater number of queries to find my agent. It's a blessing to have someone else on my team in this crazy publishing business.

ON THE TWELFTH DAY OF YULETIDE . . . my gift of thankfulness if for the "Never Done THIS Before" Challenge I started at the beginning of the year. I tried to do at least one, new challenging thing each month to help boost my creativity. I ended up boosting my confidence, too. I've witnessed many people all year with the courage to try new things and expand their horizons. So on this last night of Yuletide . . . and New Year's Eve, too. Here's a toast to COURAGE!


December 13, 2017

Incorporating Holidays into Your Writing!






A Combination as Good as Santa’s Cookies and Milk:

Incorporating holidays into writing

Holidays are special for writers. In addition to being fantastic in themselves, holidays can serve as writing inspiration. For example, Halloween is a natural fit for a mystery, but other times of year could serve, as well. Christmas or New Year’s—counter-programming against a scary season—could be a great backdrop for a whodunnit. Yes, holidays can serve as excellent resources for writing. The methods of incorporating holidays include using time with family and friends as both a writing break and a way to investigate and contemplate characters; using the heightened senses surrounding holidays to improve writing craft; and finally, holidays serve to ground writing in a specific time and place.

Contemplate charactersHow Holidays with Your Family Can Inspire Your Writing. (Really!)

Time spent with family and friends during the holidays can be inspirational for a writer. For instance, during the Christmas season, time with loved ones reveals expressions of gratitude and love. Those moments are like nectar for a writer. We are sensitive creatures and any comment, revelation, or even facial expression is something we may store for later, using it in relation to a character or a future scene. (I recommend changing names and locations to protect the innocent, by the way. No need to add more stress to a future holiday.)

Also, holidays are a break from routine. If a special event serves as a complete break from writing for the day, let it be just that. Perhaps the break will allow new ideas to sneak in unaware while one is enjoying a hike, or indulging in Christmas treats or a glass of wine.

Heightened senses

The holidays, for me, are about the five senses: The smell of fresh pine during the Christmas season. The aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg at Thanksgiving. The crisp air of the Northwoods in spring. At Easter, it’s the taste of sweet jelly beans, one after the other. Deploying all five senses (rather than just seeing something) in a story is recommended as a way to reveal motivation, events, or character background.

Use the Holidays as Inspiration for Your Writing!The holidays provide reasons to incorporate other senses in a novel. A Christmas carriage ride in the cold numbs the fingers. The aroma of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving brings back memories of a beloved grandmother. The taste of Valentine-gift champagne is tantalizing. Yes, using a holiday provides plenty of fantastic methods to incorporate all the senses, not just sight.

Further, holidays assist both plot and character. Plot wise, holidays can either trigger or resolve events. A major holiday can be a moment to write toward; it can be a time when issues are resolved, revealed, or a plot twist occurs. Also, a character can be obsessed with a holiday; have had a tragedy occur; or, be otherwise impacted by a special time of year.

Finally, a writer’s senses can be heightened during the holidays. We are affected by special times of year just as our characters are; it’s a time when we’re more aware of our surroundings; those in our vicinity; and, the events in which we participate. 

Time and place

In a previous blog post, I wrote about how seasons affect writing. Holidays can act similarly in that special times of year offer plot markers for stories. How a writer uses those markers depends upon the story, of course, but it bears repeating that holidays are fantastic resources for writers. From plot ascension to behavior triggers, holidays can affect a story in many ways.

I can still hear my writing professor directing us to ground our stories in time and place. For me, a holiday was a go-to; using a holiday around which to center a story was one of the first things I did as I created a plot outline.

Question: Has a favorite holiday inspired your writing? Will you be incorporating a holiday in a future writing project?

This year, I received a special gift for Christmas: A clean mammogram. That was what I wished for — and I’m extremely happy to have received it. It was a few weeks early, but I’m not complaining. As for the rest of my holiday season, it will be too busy, too short, and overflowing with food, drink, and loved ones. I am eternally grateful.

Happy Birthday, Jesus, and Merry Christmas to All!

As always, happy writing.

December 10, 2017

Author Brea Behn and her post-apocalyptic worldsToday I welcome author Brea Behn! I’m a big fan of the dystopian genre, so I was excited to get to know Brea and read her stories. And today is a big day! She is celebrating the release of the fourth (and final) novel in her Wolves series: Wolves in the World. The series begins with Wolves in the Woods, which follows the disintegration of society after a devastating virus hits the world in 2056 with subsequent novels Wolves in the City and Wolves in School.


ABOUT BOOK ONE: When the C47 virus hit in 2056, no one was prepared for the devastation that followed. Even fewer of the survivors were equipped to provide for themselves without technology. Now an orphan, a young girl named Braelin is forced to take care of herself. Come see the secret place in the woods Braelin escapes to and how she finds peace and happiness in a world that is harsh and all about survival. Her journey inadvertently leads to sanctuary - and even love - when she meets two brothers, Aravon and Timber. She is still young and naive and the world is different place. There are new laws and new law makers - and keeping the peace is not their primary goal: It’s more about keeping the biggest piece. Rape, murder and pillaging are a means to an end and purity of heart is a rarity. Can Braelin stay true to the person she was raised to be in a world that has been so vastly altered? Without family to guide her, she discovers that some of the hardest survival lessons, have nothing to do with finding food and shelter. Filled with suspense, passion and excitement Wolves in the Wood will keep Braelin fighting for her life and for her love until the very end. 

Best in post-apocalyptic series Wolves Series Now complete!









    Wolves in the Woods: Buy Paperback or Kindle

    Wolves in the City: Buy Paperback or Kindle

    Wolves in School: Buy Paperback or Kindle

    Wolves in the World: Buy Paperback or Kindle

    Boxed Set -- All Four on Kindle: Purchase Here

Final Story in the Wolves Series -- Best in Post-Apocalyptic Novels

Thanks for stopping by so I can pepper you with questions, Brea. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your journey to becoming an author?

Thanks for having me Valerie! I started writing my first book when I was fifteen after my twin brother died. I was looking for a book about losing a twin and couldn't find one that fit my situation, so I decided to write one. It took me ten years. When I finished it, I realized how much I loved to write. So I kept writing!

What was your inspiration for the “Wolves Series”?

The first book, Wolves in the Woods, came from a reoccurring dream. I kept seeing this young woman with long blonde hair running through a field. At the time, I was facing a major health crisis. This imagery of this young woman became my escape. The dream continued over several months. Eventually she ran from a field into woods. Then from the woods she went through a hidden tunnel in a huge briar patch. She came out onto a perfectly groomed lawn. In the middle of this lawn was a house up on stilts with a rock face on one side of it. Finally, I decided to write it down. The last time I dreamed of her was while I was recovering from brain surgery. She finally got up into the house. In the house was a man with blonde hair pulled back in a tie. He had scary blue eyes. Wolves in the Woods poured out of my mind after that. I have never dreamed of her again. I think a lot of the Wolves Series was facing my grief, fears and pain. It has been an emotional journey to write.

It’s clear you have a love for dystopian and futuristic worlds where not all is well. What other books have you written in this genre.

Yes, it is my favorite genre to read and write. Besides my Wolves series, I also wrote a zombie apocalypse book, called Vaxxers. In the main character's world, teens Vaxxers - a new post-apocalyptic world to enjoy!(nicknamed Vaxxers) turn into "Flesh Fallers" before they reach adulthood. It's really about how short life can be and what we choose to do with the time we have. It's also about finding hope in situations that seem hopeless. It was a fun project. I also have three short stories in dystopian anthologies. One is a prequel story to Vaxxers in Undead Worlds. One is a zombie short in Tricks, Treats and Zombies. Then, Prep for Doom, is a very unique anthology. It is twenty-two stories based around one post-apocalyptic event. The stories intertwine with each other. So you often see two sides of the same story. There were authors from all over the world, so it was a huge undertaking for us to work together and have the final book come out as smooth as it did.

PREP FOR DOOM - Band of Dystopian Writers creates the best in post-apocalyptic story telling.VAXXERS: BUY ON PAPERBACK OR KINDLE


So I have to ask, are you a prepper at heart or just a fan of this genre? I know you watch “The Walking Dead” because we’ve had conversations when we’re upset with that storyline.

I would say I am a bit of both. I certainly have a plan. I would also say that I'm a bit old-fashioned. I am fascinated with the "old-ways" of doing things. I blame this on the fact that I was baby-sat by my great-grandparents a lot growing up. I make our own toothpaste and laundry soap, cook everything from scratch, love to can and I'm very into finding a balance between non-traditional and traditional medicine. 

I’m curious about the research you have to do to write authentic dystopian tales. Can you tell us about some of the stranger things you’ve had to look up (without giving away any spoilers?)

I love that part of writing. Going through the motions of the character in their world and thinking about details like: what would they use to get clean? How do you tan leather? What herbs would you keep in a medicine chest? Also, as dystopian and especially post-apocalyptic can be dark, I've done a lot of research on everything from the healing process of wounds, symptoms of very contagious and deadly diseases to contamination protocols in hospitals or at airports. The strangest thing I've researched, however, is probably the theories on where the Garden of Eden is located and how you would get there from the United States. That is for one of my WIP that is outside the genre of dystopian. 

With the Wolves series coming to a conclusion, what’s next for you?

Something completely different! I am about four chapters into a YA fantasy I am writing with my kids. I was listening to them play a game they made up for months. My daughter made up a team of super heroes, while my son made up the team of super villains. I told them their story would make a great book series! After months of discussions, planning and plotting I'm finally getting to write it down. It has been so fun already. I can't wait to see where it leads me. 

When you sit down to begin a new project, do you outline or are you more of a “pantster”? (Or maybe a little bit of both?)

The Wolves series and Vaxxers were written entirely pantsing it. With exception of the last book, Wolves in the World. There was just too many characters and story lines to keep track of. I froze up without an outline. I also typically write an outline with the non-fiction books I have written. So I guess you can say I am both, depending on the project. 

Who is your favorite author, and what do you like most about their work?

I have many favorites, but Stephen King comes first to my mind. I have read his books since I was twelve. My favorite thing about his work is that he tells it like it is. There is almost no sugar coating it. He is blunt, brutal and fantastically crude at times, because the world can be all of those things. I don't like when writers sugar coat a story to sell books or only write about the best parts. I suppose that's because I've been through a lot in my life. Often my books show the worst parts of life, but they also balance that with the best parts.  

What book are you reading now? 

I'm usually reading three books at the same time, depending on my mood. So currently, I am reading a book by an inspirational speaker named Brendon Burchard, called The Motivation Manifesto. I'm also reading The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1 of the Lord of the Rings series) to my kids. Finally, I just finished reading several textbooks, as I am back to school this fall for a Digital Marketing degree. So I'm looking forward to winter break and reading a book just for fun again!

And, just for fun, what does your ideal day look like?

I am a blessed person. I have many ideal days. I would love a day with my husband and two kids, just having fun, laughing and doing something together. My kids are growing up fast, so I cherish those days I get to spend time with them.

Is there anything I’ve missed asking that you’d like readers to know about you and your novels?

I can't think of anything! Thank you so much for your time in putting this together and all you do for the writing community. 

I love having the chance to work with other authors!! Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview!  Congratulations on your book launch!    

Thank you, Valerie!                                                          

Readers can learn more about Brea and her work at:





December 6, 2017

Has it really been three months since I’ve told you about the great books I’ve been reading??

Apparently, but I know what happened. Instead of reviewing multiple books, I’ve been sharing new releases and interviews of Wisconsin authors.

If you missed those, here are some great ideas for Christmas gifts. (AND READ ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A GIFT FROM ME!!)

Great Gift Ideas - Biblical Fiction by Barbara BrittonBarbara Britton’s Jerusalem Rising: Adah’s Journey. Read her guest post and my book review here

Purchase Paperback

Purchase Kindle e-book



Christine Keleny’s middle-grade Agnes Kelly Mystery Adventures 1 & 2. (Review and interview here.)

Great middle-grade books - Mystery Intrigue AdventureGreat middle-grade books - Mystery Intrigue Adventure

Intrigue In Istanbul:

Purchase Hardcover or Kindle e-book

Narrow Escape in Norway:

Purchase Hardcover or Kindle e-book





Fun Romance with a Twist

I Temporarily Do from Ellie Cahill aka Liz Czukas. Click here for the review and interview. 

Purchase Paperback or purchase Kindle e-book



In addition to these lovely titles, I’ve read 13 other books during the past three months.

Historical Fiction You Won't Put Down Until You're Done!My favorite was The Girl with No Name by Diney Costeloe

I highly recommend this book. While there are many books about the WWII era, many about London during the Blitz, and many about Jewish children who came to Great Britain as refugees, few combine all three elements as this title does. Add in the mystery surrounding the main character’s identity and you have a book you can’t put down. I was further intrigued by this book because when I was on my semester abroad in London I lived with a couple who lived both sides of the Blitz. The dad had stayed in the city and remembers running to the shelters in the subway when the German’s dropped their bombs. The mother, however, was one of the children evacuated to farms in the countryside while her parents stayed in the city to work. This book reminds me so much of their first-hand accounts of both experiences.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Thirteen-year-old Lisa has escaped from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport. She arrives in London unable to speak a word of English, her few belongings crammed into a small suitcase. Among them is one precious photograph of the family she has left behind. Lonely and homesick, Lisa is adopted by a childless couple. But when the Blitz blows her new home apart, she wakes up in hospital with no memory of who she is or where she came from. The authorities give her a new name and dispatch her to a children's home. With the war raging around her, what will become of Lisa now?

Purchase paperback or Kindle e-book

Mystery - suspense - in 1960s New York CityWeepers by Nick Chiarkas 

Chiarkas weaves a compelling and complicated tale of revenge and loyalty set in New York City’s housing projects in the 1960s. No one is completely innocent, but some are decidedly guiltier than others. Really fascinating story!

ABOUT THE BOOK: The 1957 murder of an undercover cop in a New York City housing project has unexpected ties to the unsolved disappearance of a young father walking home in those same projects with his son, Angelo, on Christmas Eve six years before. The only witness to the cop killing is Angelo, now 13, while on his way to seek his own revenge in the early morning hours—he is also seen by the killers. 

A series of gripping events forge a union between a priest, a Mafia boss, a police detective, and Angelo, a gang member. In the end, Weepers shows us that the courage of the underdog—despite fear and moral ambiguity—will conquer intimidation. 

Purchase paperback or Kindle e-book

I also devoured a series that I found on a Facebook ad. If you know me at all, you know that I love post-apocalyptic/dystopian themed books and the EMP Lodge series by Grace Hamilton is awesome. (For those of you who don’t know, EMP stands for Electro-Magnetic Pulse, and it is the kind of thing that can knock out all of our electronics and power plants etc… The description is more complicated than that but that’s the basic premise.)

And for those of you who won’t start a series without all the books being out—don’t worry the final installment releases on December 14. With the final installment there’s a total of six books, including a free prequel call Dark Descends that you can only download from Grace Hamilton’s website. (You really should start with this one.)

EMP Lodge Series -- Best Post-Apocalyptic of the Year!

























Three months after life as she knows it was decimated, Megan Wolford has only one goal: protect her daughter, Caitlin, at any cost. When a mysterious illness strikes Caitlin down, Megan is forced to forage for medical supplies at a remote lodge. The last thing she wants is help from her fellow survivors when so many in her life have let her down—but soon she'll find herself with no other option.
Ex-Navy SEAL Wyatt Morris is doing everything he can to hold his family together after the tragic death of his prepper Dad, so when Megan enters their lands, he is mistrustful at first despite feeling drawn to her. He won't turn away an ill child though--no matter how deadly the world has become. But the arrival of another stranger named Kyle soon gives them all a new reason to be suspicious. Wyatt knows he’ll have to forge alliances in order to keep his family safe, but trusting the wrong person could be a deadly mistake. 
When Megan and Wyatt discover her daughter’s illness may be linked to Kyle’s arrival, it sets off a race to discover the truth before it’s too late to save Caitlin—and the rest of the Morris clan. Can they work together for survival . . . and something more?

Purchase Dark Retreat in Paperback or Kindle e-book (Note: If you’re an Amazon Prime member this is a free Kindle read right now.)

Middle-grade story telling at its finest!Switching gears to something much more lighthearted and fun, I highly recommend Mary Amato’s middle-grade novel Please Write in this Book.

ABOUT THE BOOK: When a teacher leaves a blank book in the Writer’s Corner for her students to find, with the instructions “Please Write in this Book,” she hopes it will encourage her students to talk to one another in its pages. They do, and the result is an epic classroom battle.

Purchase in Hardcover or Paperback

And to wrap up my three-month reading spree, I did (mostly) enjoy a number of books from some of my favorite authors:

JD Robb’s Secrets in Death was very good and better (I think) than the last two or three in this series. Purchase in Paperback or Kindle

Janet Evanovich’s Hardcore Twenty-Four (obviously #24 in the Stephanie Plum series) fell a little flat for me. I love this character and the fast-paced shenanigans, but I was less enthralled with the storyline this time. Of course, I will never miss an installment because you have to know what is happening to this crazy cast of characters. Purchase in Paperback or Kindle

I was also a little disappointed with Julie Garwood’s Wired. (I don’t mean to be picky, but it felt like this might have been written in a hurry.) Julie Garwood writes both modern romantic suspense and historical romantic suspense. I went back to an earlier title of hers in the historical category and was reminded why I like this author so much when I read The Secret.

This book is one reason to keep reading Julie Garwood. Historical Romance

Purchase The Secret in Paperback or Kindle

One of my other go-to romance authors is Jude Deveraux. The Girl from Summer Hill did not disappoint in the least. This is an Austen-inspired novel and the first in a series set in Austen inspired storytelling from a master of romance!the fictional town of Summer Hill, Virginia.

Purchase in Paperback or Kindle

I think I’ve enjoyed every book by Jude Deveraux. In fact, my incredibly tattered copy of A Knight in Shining Armor is an annual re-read of mine. (Yes, I know some people re-read classics by authors like Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Emily Bronte, but I do not.) Seriously, if you’re looking for a deliciously romantic tale, buy a copy of this book because you’re going to read it more than once.

My Favorite Annual Romance Re-Read. What's Yours?ABOUT THE BOOK: New York Times bestselling author Jude Deveraux will capture your heart with signature classic novel, a time-travel romance featuring a present-day heroine and a dashing hero from the sixteenth century! 

Abandoned by a cruel fate, lovely Dougless Montgomery lies weeping upon a cold tombstone in an English church. Suddenly, the most extraordinary man appears. It is Nicholas Stafford, Earl of Thornwyck…and according to his tombstone he died in 1564.

Drawn to his side by a bond so sudden and compelling it overshadows reason, Dougless knows that Nicholas is nothing less than a miracle: a man who does not seek to change her, who finds her perfect, fascinating, just as she is. What Dougless never imagined was how strong the chains are that tie them to the past…or the grand adventure that lay before them.
Hailed worldwide as one of the most romantic novels of all time, A Knight in Shining Armor is “a glorious love story that spans centuries, worlds, and souls. It is the epitome of every woman’s fantasy” (Chicago Daily Herald).

Purchase in Paperback or Kindle

So what book do you re-read at least once a year? Everyone who comments below by December 31 at midnight will be put in a drawing for a kindle copy of A Knight in Shining Armor.

November 28, 2017

November Writers' Forum - Indie Author Advice You Shouldn't MissIn my journey through the steps of independent publishing, refining my writing skills, and most recently completing a successful agent search, I’ve come across some excellent information, tips, tools, and shortcuts that I think would be beneficial to any writer. Once a month, I’ll share the “best of” information and news from the publishing industry as well as feature other authors and writing instructors with tips to share. I am incredibly thankful for the assistance and advice given to me from writing and publishing professionals and am happy pay that forward. On a professional level, I also use my publicity and editorial skills to aid other authors through my company Lost Lake Press

December Book Events

There aren’t as many events scheduled in the month of December, but it is a great time to remind everyone to stop by these fabulous bookstores for Christmas purchases!

Mystery to Me Bookstore, 1863 Monroe Street, Madison

Saturday, December 16 – USA Today best-selling author Allen Eskens discusses “Deep Dark Descending” at 2 pm.

A Room of One’s Own, 315 W. Gorham Street, Madison

Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer, Milwaukee

Featured events in December include authors Dr. Henry Jay Przybylo, Sergio M. Gonzalez, Martha Greene Phillips, David Fishman, and Elizabeth Berg.

Books & Company, 1039 Summit Avenue, Oconomowoc

Featured Subject

Kindle's 10th Birthday -  What it means to the publishing industry & moreThoughts on Kindle’s 10th Birthday, Amazon’s place in the book market, traditional publishing’s reaction to the challenge to their supremacy, and sad news about Midwest bookstores closing . . .

It’s been ten years since the launch of the Kindle and the true expansion of the e-book market. (There were a few other e-book devices before then.) David Gaughran writes an insightful article about the birth of the Kindle and the revolution of the e-book marketplace. 

The biggest takeaway from this article and Amazon’s undisputed dominance in the e-book market is this,

“So why did eBooks suddenly flourish? How did Amazon essentially create the modern eBook market? Why did Amazon end up being the dominant force rather than, say, a first mover like Sony? These questions are easier to answer if you realize something important: it was never about the device. While Amazon is responsible for many hardware innovations, I don’t think anyone would argue that the Kindle Fire is higher spec than the iPad, and Kobo arguably led the way for many years in terms of dedicated e-readers without grabbing Amazon’s market-share.

It was about the store.”

Gaughran also goes onto describe/analyze traditional publishing's reaction (and inaction) as their dominance in the book market was challenged, and the importance of Kindle and the birth of Kindle Direct Publishing to the growth of the marketplace for indie authors. This is a fascinating read for those of us involved in the indie book industry. While people love to hate Amazon for oh-so-many things, indie authors would not be where we are today without them.

And we often blame Amazon’s pricing structures for closing bookstores, but most news accounts surprise us with headlines like “Indie Bookstores are Thriving.” Here’s a host of articles on this link that tell us why that is, store by store and region by region.  

So, I was sad and a little surprised to learn that Book World (a Midwest chain with 45 stores) will be closing. I’m sure people were quick to blame digital book sales. However, it seems like there was more at work here. Book World’s stores are mostly located in smaller cities and often in malls and downtown locations. A Senior VP was quick to point out that many of the stores, especially those in downtown locations are still doing well. I don’t think it takes a professional market analyst to understand that mall locations in recent years have been a failing endeavor. I’ve stopped at Book World locations across Wisconsin in these nearly-vacant malls and wondered how they were getting the traffic to stay in business—I guess the answer is that they weren’t. While upper management laments the loss of mall anchor stores as one of the cause of Book World's mall location failures, I also wonder why they didn’t shift those stores to new locations with more traffic. Although none of that matters if your town now has no bookstore at all.

Pre-Publication Information

Maggie Stiefvater takes on book piracy! Go Maggie!!








An Absolutely Fascinating Tale of a Bestselling Author and Book Piracy

Do you know who Maggie Stiefvater is . . . no? Let me introduce you. She’s the fabulously talented, bestselling young adult novel author of so many of my favorite titles. The Shiver Series, Raven Cycle, Scorpio Races etc…

Can you tell I’m a fan? She writes great posts on Facebook and is just coming off the tour for her latest release. But this story isn’t about her bestselling titles or her great books, it’s about how she debunked THE MYTH THAT E-BOOK PIRACY DOESN’T HURT PRINT SALES. She did this in such a brilliant way that there’s no way I can paraphrase the whole thing. Read her Facebook post on how she and her brother teamed up to thwart piracy! Go Maggie. I’ve included this in the pre-publication section because you may make some different decisions as you approach your own book launch based on her story.

And before I step off my soapbox, I’ve now incorporated a segment on copyright infringement into my workshops and talks to students.

Taming the Social Media BeastTaming the Social Media Beast & More Indie Author Advice

If social media seems like a beast to you, Anne R. Allen’s article on the best way to approach your social media strategy as you create your author platform is short and to the point. Best take away for me is that you don’t have to update on every social media. You can have an “outpost” on those sites that you don’t intend to update regularly that redirects readers to the space where you do “reside” online. Smart! 

The Authors’ Website

I know I talk about this often, but I don’t think it hurts to repeat the advice that “yes, even a pre-published author needs a website.”  Jane Friedman gives an intelligent checklist that can have you up and running quickly. Tim Grahl also has a succint post on "Building the Ultimate Author Website in 1 Hour using Wordpress".  And if you have a website already, Joan Stewart gives you ten things to check to make sure your website is all it can be. (Even if you’ve had a website for ages, take the time to scan these articles. I’m always finding ways to improve the way I present my author image to the world.)


Our Love-Hate (mostly Hate) Relationship with Book Marketing

Book Marketing Tips -- Love it or Hate it -- You have to do it!Let me first say that your initial book marketing discussions/plans ought to take place in the pre-publication phase, but I’m placing this series of notes/articles here in post-publication to emphasize that book marketing is an ongoing process that really never ends. (This is the point at which we all groan!) But it doesn’t have to be something you dread, and it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it seems.

First, start with something easy. In the article by Judith Briles, “Three Essential Questions Every Author Must Answer”, you will get yourself into the right frame by thinking about your book’s target audience and summarizing what your book is about. 

Then you’ll be ready for “The Shortest Book Marketing Plan” by Joel Friedlander, which will put some solid marketing ideas down on the page. 

Next is the really good news from Sandra Beckwith, “Book Marketing Doesn’t Stop at the Book Launch”. Why is this good news? Well, if you didn’t have a stellar launch, all is not lost!! Beckwith gives some easy checklists of what you can do to keep moving forward. 

If this just all seems like too much, you might be ready for Belinda Griffin’s article asking, “Are you a Swan? How to Overcome Book Marketing Overwhelm”. She gives a great action plan to overcome being overwhelmed, including giving yourself a day off, along with solid steps to move forward.  

And finally take stock with this article from Author Marketing Experts about how relationships are one of the most important elements to book marketing. 

I’m going to talk about that more next month when we address the need to build your own email marketing list and how to do that by offering something of value to your audience without being annoying.

Sales Tax Advice for Authors -- Yes you do need to pay that!Sales Tax Advice for Authors

Helen Sedwick is back with fabulous advice on sales tax for authors. This might not be the first thing you think of when getting ready to sell your book, but you definitely need to know the ins and outs of collecting and paying sales tax in your state. 

Keeping your Back Matter Up to Date

Back matter is exactly what it sounds like—all the great stuff at the back of your book like links to other books, requests for reviews, newsletter sign up etc… Author RJ Crayton’s article for Indies Unlimited is a great reminder for adding this housekeeping task to your to-do list. While easier done when updating digital titles, if you’re uploading your paperback print-on-demand titles yourself, it’s not hard to fix your print copies either.

Are Book Fairs Worth It?

Are Book Fairs Worth Your Time - Indie Author Advice - Finding Your AudienceI’ve been seeing some increased opportunities for independent authors to engage in the big international book fairs. This article from Erica Verrillo discusses these opportunities and gives a list of the international and major national book fairs in the United States. While I’ve not attended any of these, I have had mixed results with regional events within Wisconsin. I caution against signing up for fairs with steep table fees without hearing from authors who have had success in making money at these events. Sometimes sales aren’t the only litmus test. If an event is great for networking and possibly booking speaking engagements, then you have two different thresholds to gauge the effectiveness of the event. To be honest, some of my best sales have been at locations where there are very few others selling books--craft/vendor fairs and ethnic festivals. (I write Irish-themed books.) These have been fabulous for me and far better than any book fair I’ve ever attended.

How to Dazzle at Your Next Speaking Engagement

Are you booking speaking engagements or presentations? I hope you are, because it is an excellent way to increase your income by sharing all you’ve learned on your writing and publishing journey. I enjoy speaking engagements, because the interaction is good for me with writing being such a solitary endeavor otherwise. Here’s a fab article: “20+ Pro Tips to Dazzle During Your Next Speaking Engagement”. I was happy to see that I do nearly all of these, but I didn’t at first and sure would have appreciated a list like this!  My favorite is making your slide deck available for download. I’ve gone one step further and I’ve narrated my slide decks, turning them into YouTube presentations that you can listen to at your own pace. Here’s a link to my YouTube Channel if you’re curious.


I hope that these articles helped you on your writing and publishing journey!

Happy Reading & Writing, Valerie  



November 22, 2017





November is the month to express gratitude, so it fits that this blog post is dedicated to personal thankfulness. While there are a few things I’d change about myself — let’s not go there; that’s a different post — being a writer isn’t one of them. To the contrary, I wouldn’t trade being a writer for anything.

While writers have varied and interesting (well-deserved?) reputations, this blog is dedicated to the wonderful traits that comprise being a writer. I contemplated a variety of skills Are You a Writer? The 3 traits that matter most. and narrowed it to three: Insightfulness, patience, and willingness to be alone. While there are many, many others, those three comprise the traits for which I’m most thankful. Those God-given abilities are some of my strongest skills; I value them because I believe they comprise my writer-identity. Without them, I couldn’t be a writer. While technique can be studied and craft can be practiced, certain traits must comprise a writer’s DNA. Or, this writer’s DNA, anyway.

Question: What traits are you most grateful for? Do you know? Are you willing to ask?

Traits of a Writer: The 3 You Need Most!Insightfulness

Writers have a gift, a magic. We find treasure. We find hidden meaning, true motivation. We read between lines; we find truth. We trace random ideas to overarching themes, sometimes when authors or their characters are oblivious to them. In short, writers are insightful creatures. We understand that words on a page are so valuable that nothing written or spoken by a character is ever random; every moment in a well-written story has weight, meaning.

The greatest aspect of being insightful is that writers enjoy it. We like solving the puzzles of humanity. Like a mathematician that spends joyful hours wrestling with numbers, writers spend similar effort poring over words and phrases. Seeking meaning based upon keen instinct is in our genes. Don’t play Balderdash against us, include us on your team. We relish in discovering evasive behavior and obscure words.


To enjoy a novel means to savor a novel. By definition, to savor means to enjoy completely. Writers understand that good writing is meant to be consumed slowly. That means word-choice is appreciated; paragraphs and chapters are read and re-read; and reading sometimes is halted entirely to contemplate and create images in one’s mind. In short, good books should never be rushed. On occasion, I’ve encountered books so superb that I delayed the ending, stopping at mid-point and returning to the beginning to savor and study each page.

In addition, putting words to page takes the patience of a 2017 Green Bay Packers fan. Further, after a novel is written, edited, and queried, the resulting agent and publishing decisions takes the patience of none other than Job.

The 3 Traits Writers Need MostWilling (and Happy) to be Alone

This idea is misleading because no writer I know is ever truly alone. Rather, the best thrive in something called productive solitude or productive discomfort. Most writers crave isolation, and if they’re not putting words to page, they’re reading. Books are an evening’s entertainment, and favorite authors and their characters become a writer’s beloved friends. If a writer is lonely, the cure is located in a keyboard, a bookshelf, or in the stack of tomes at bedside. Most writers I know don’t consider being alone a hardship; in fact, they prefer it. They would rather spend an evening reading than doing almost anything else. (No offense to family and friends; it’s just a writer’s nature.) We’re wired to seek and enjoy solitude. It’s refreshing, it’s our creative space, and it’s where we immerse ourselves into make-believe worlds created by like-minded writer souls.

I am enormously grateful that I enjoy solitude. It means I accept myself and enjoy my own company. I’m willing, simply, to be.

I couldn’t imagine not being intrigued by books and stories, by not having the urge to put words on a page. I’m thankful that my inherent skills — insight, patience, solitude-seeker — match my passion. It’s almost as if the good Lord knew what he was doing when he created me, eh?

Happy and safe Thanksgiving to all!

As always, happy writing.