10 Gifts for the Bookish and the Writerly

Christmas is creeping up on us! Here in the United States, many begin browsing or purchasing holiday gifts soon after they devour the Thanksgiving turkey and pies. As for myself, I stay home on “Black Friday,” happy to avoid the crowds and the madness. In fact, I do much of my holiday shopping online.

So once again, I have combed the Internet looking for gift ideas for the bookish and the writerly on your present list. If you’re wondering what to buy for someone who fits that bill, or if you’re putting together your own wish list for family and friends, check out some of these fabulous and fun gifts!

Book Dishware. When you love books, you just can’t get enough of them — or even the reminder of them. So why not eat off book-shaped plates and platters? Gone Reading offers a variety of crisp white dinnerware for the book lover in your life.

Book shaped dinnerware

My favorite? The cup and saucer. Perfect for a lazy afternoon of reading and sipping tea.

Tea Cup & Saucer

BabyLit Books. Despite their title, I believe these books are for ages 0 to 99. BabyLit board books teach early learning concepts such as counting, language, and opposites through the use of classic literature references.

Baby Lit Books

 

For instance, Alice in Wonderland teaches colors like this:

Baby Lit Inside

 ~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~

Book Mark Pads. Is it just me, or do others constantly lose their bookmarks? I’m forever hunting around for a bookmark, even though I know I must have several around here somewhere. How about a whole pad of bookmarks? With 25 sheets to a pad, it’s okay to lose one; just get another.

Book Mark Pads

Phone Skin. After using Android cell phones for years, I finally got an iPhone this past fall. And soon after, I started shopping for covers. Decal Girl had many choices, such as these:

iPhone cases

Or you could grab a book cover case from Out of Print Clothing:

Book Cover phone cases

Themed Jewelry. Your book lover or writer might want to wear their passion, in the form of jewelry. I suggest heading to Etsy.com and running a search for handmade jewelry that fits your recipient’s interest and taste. But here’s a lovely necklace I found from ALikelyStory, for the writer in your life:

Wordsmith necklace with pen pendant

Mouse Pad. Zazzle.com has a veritable plethora of book-themed mouse pads, with everything from quotes to reading scenes to add-your-own-book-cover. Here’s a sample:

Mouse Pads

If you’d rather go personalized, check out the options at LillianVernon.com.

Mouse Pads

Crime Scene Tape Leggings. If you read or write mystery or crime novels, you might adore the crime scene tape leggings from PrettyGuide.com. Of course, whether you have the figure to pull off that look is entirely up to you.

Leggings

Steering Wheel Laptop Desk. If only that writer could get some words down while waiting in the parking lot for her kid’s activity to finish or while sitting in the car during lunch break . . .  How about a laptop desk for your car? Zone Tech makes just such a thing.

Laptop desk for car

Office Supply Gift Card. Not surprisingly, the bookish and writerly tend to adore office supplies. We can spend hours perusing office organization products, computer accessories, and desk trimmings. Being let loose with a gift card in an office supply store sounds awesome to many of us.

Gift cards to Office Max, Office Depot, and Staples

Writer-on-Deadline Gift Basket. Yep, you have to put this together yourself, but trust me, this would be wonderful for writers who are under the time crunch of NaNoWriMo, contract deadlines, or self-publishing goals. Here’s one I put together and a list of items you could include:

Writer's Deadline Gift Basket

  • Tea bags – mix up the caffeinated and decaffeinated, for the writer to use as needed
  • Writer encouragement mug – a glimpse at the cup might reinvigorate the writing
  • Snacks – to keep up energy and strength
  • Coffee, soda, or energy drinks – for that extra push
  • Multivitamins or immunity booster (like Airborne) – to keep the immune system strong
  • Composition book – for jotting down scenes, character issues, edits
  • Do Not Disturb sign – to remind the writer’s household not to interrupt the magic (you can find the one I used here)
  • Post-it notes – for marking up the manuscript in the editing stage
  • Highlighters – same as the post-its
  • Pizza delivery gift card – for those times when supper preparation needs to give way to word count
  • Back massager/relaxer – hunching over the computer can give a writer backaches
  • Champagne/wine & glasses – to celebrate when the deadline is met!

For previous years’ gift lists, check out the following posts:

Gifts for the Grammar Geek
Gifts for the Word Lover
Gifts for the Book Reader
Gifts for the Writer
10 Holiday Gifts for Readers and Writers

ROW80 Update

This may be my worst ROW80 yet! I’ve been MIA on my blog for a couple of weeks and involved in a side project that has taken me away from my goals. Still, here’s where I am:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I actually edited a story and sent another one to a critique partner for feedback.

2. Read 12 books. Since checking in, I’ve read There Goes the Groom by Rita Herron, City of Glass and City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare, and a nonfiction title. That takes me up to seven.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. I did Immersion, but I still need to do a lot more editing on my WIP.

What gift ideas do you have for the reader or writer in your life? What would add to my writer-on-deadline gift basket? And how was your week?

Advertisements

Memorable Spy Gadgets: What Would You Want?

My fabulous friends and authors Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes have just published a terrific novella called The Spy Bride, which is part of a Risky Brides collection.

In honor of their release, I got to thinking about some of the memorable spy gadgets from TV and film. Here are some of my faves:

Maxwell Smart’s Shoe Phone

Maxwell Smart holding shoe phone, from Get Smart

Sure, in the days of cell phones, transmitting messages over a shoe might seem silly. Plus, this baby would be caught in two seconds in a TSA security line. But when Get Smart aired in 1965, a portable phone was a swank idea. And hiding it in your shoe seemed pretty spy-cool. These days, I’d probably be happier if the bottom of my shoe had a different gadget, like maybe a Roomba so I could clean my floor just by walking around.

Men in Black Neuralyzer.

Men In Black, Agent J holding neuralyzer

This handy-dandy device erases memories with a flash, which can then be replaced by a different version of events. While useful for hiding the existence of aliens from the common citizenry, I think a lot of people would love to have this gadget to erase the memories of others in their lives who might not have seen their best side and could use a new perspective.

John Steed’s Umbrella.

John Steed & umbrella from The Avengers

John Steed, of the British spy series The Avengers, was known for carrying an umbrella which he used as a weapon. If needed, the umbrella contained a saber he could pull out in a pinch. Currently, my umbrella only protects me from rain, but I could come up with a few handy tools I’d love to tuck into an umbrella.

Mission Impossible Self-Destructing Tape.

Mission Impossible -- smoking tape player

Who can forget the way missions were delivered in the Mission Impossible series, and films following? An agent picks up the recorded message, listens to the instructions, and then hears, “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck…” Yes, I know we don’t have tapes or players like this anymore, but the notion of self-destructing gadgetry is an appealing one. As a parent, some days I’d like to have a “should you not get off this video game and do your homework in the next ten seconds, your cell phone will self-destruct.” (Yeah, I’m fun like that! ;))

Chuck’s Intersect.

Intersect computer from Chuck

The Intersect from Chuck stores all the intelligence data the United States government possesses and recognizes patterns that help catch the bad guys. Unfortunately, this big pile of data gets shoved into the brain of one unsuspecting geek named Chuck. But this would be very handy for an agent, don’t you think? Or even for your daily life, to be able to shove everything you know or should know onto a drive, stick it in your brain, and access it at will? That sounds like a gadget I could use.

James Bond’s Aston Martin.

Aston Martin in Q's lab

The first car to be equipped with gadgets in a James Bond film was this beauty, the Aston Martin from Goldfinger. It had GPS, machine guns, smoke screen, tire slashers, and more — all the things I need to get around in my Houston traffic. (Kidding…just kidding!) But hey, a bunch of cool spy stuff in your car? And not just any car, but an Aston Martin? Yes, please.

So there are a few of my favorites. Hope you’ll share some of yours in the comments!

And now for a quick ROW80 Update! A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) is the writing challenge that knows you have a life:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I did some editing this week and worked on blurbs as well.

2. Read 12 books. Read The Best Medicine by Tracy Brogan. That brings me up to three.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. Attended a couple of weeks back and just got back comments from a valuable critique partner.

Also, I recently learned that I placed 2nd in the YA category for the New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book contest! Congratulations to the other winners, Jessica Ruddick and Ann LaBar.

Now what are your favorite fictional spy gadgets? And how was your week?

Risky Brides book coverEight novellas.

Great authors.

Wonderful price.

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Immersion Master Class…Or What 5 Days at the Top of a Mountain in Colorado Did for My Manuscript

From October 9 through 13, I attended an Immersion Master Class hosted by Margie Lawson. Immersion is an intensive workshop during which you receive general writing coaching and specific help with your manuscript.

So what did I get out of my trip to the Rocky Mountains for this writing workshop? Here are five takeaways:

1. Receiving terrific writing instruction. Writing coach Margie Lawson offers some wonderful craft classes online and through her lecture packets. However, some teaching is specific to Immersion.

Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)
Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)

This was my second Immersion class, and this round reinforced what I’d learned before and added new craft knowledge. Margie not only explains principles of good prose, but provides examples so you can see how other excellent authors wield these useful tools.

2. Spending time with fabulous writers. Our writing group came from here, there, and yonder. With writers from Colorado, Texas, California, D.C., and Montreal, it was an eclectic group. Yet we bonded like a trial-by-fire sisterhood. Those who’ve attended workshops and conferences know the benefit of hanging out with other writers who share their experiences and wisdom, not to mention their laughter and chocolate.

My Lovely Fellow Immersioners
My Lovely Fellow Immersioners

Oh, and I roomed with the marvelous Jenny Hansen. That was an extra punch of fabulousness.

Jenny Hansen and Me
Jenny Hansen and Me

3. Seeing my progress. The commentary from Margie and fellow Immersioners made it clear I’ve improved my writing skills. Having Immersion experiences one and a half years apart made it easier to see how far I’ve come. It’s a bit like the kid who grows bit-by-bit, but you only recognize just how tall they’ve gotten when you scratch that pencil-mark onto the growth chart and compare it to last year’s mark below.

Sometimes it’s worth stopping and celebrating how much further down the road you are. Especially since it can be easy to get frustrated that you’re not yet writing like your novelist hero or hitting the bestseller lists or even waving your three-book contract around to your family (“See? It’s not just a hobby!”). I had the pleasure of feeling I really have “come a long way, baby!”

4. Learning my weaknesses. Before we get too worked up about my progress, this workshop also highlighted where I still need work. I’ve come a long way, but I haven’t arrived.

An edited ("Margie-ized") page from Immersion
An edited (“Margie-ized”) page from Immersion

Of course, no author arrives entirely, since there’s always something one can improve. But I know where my focus needs to turn, which writing skills require more of my attention and effort. As I edit, I’ll be looking for those problem areas and applying new skills to fixing them. If I struggle with an issue, I also know to request specific feedback from a critique partner (e.g., “Did anything in this chapter sound stilted to you?”).

5. Falling in love (again) with my story. There’s nothing quite like reading a chapter you wrote and getting all tingly-excited about your story. As I worked on scenes in the Immersion class and polished them up, I read passages I loved, reintroduced myself to characters who engage me, and stoked my desire to share this story with a young adult audience. I fell in love…again.

Ultimately, every word, every scene, every character needs to be something the author really, truly likes — such that she’s bouncing in her boots to share it with readers. And with a few more tweaks to this book, I’ll be raring to go.

While I’m partial to Margie’s excellent writing coaching, I know there are other wonderful workshops available, both in person and online. Writers can look for workshops, retreats, “boot camps,” and intensives that meet their needs. I believe such endeavors are a good investment for a writing career.

ROW80

Speaking of good endeavors, I’m back on track with A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Given my trip to the Colorado and the hard drive crash I experienced on my last night there, I haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, I spent much of last week getting a new hard drive, reloading programs, and working with my tech guy to get back my files. Fortunately, all my data seems to be there. But here’s the scoop for last week:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I met a wonderful writer at Immersion who also likes a bit of snark on the page, and she will be taking a look at one of my shorts to give feedback before I publish. I know this isn’t exactly progress on my part, but I feel good about her being able to help me edit well.

2. Read 12 books. I read The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig and Nothing Sweeter by Laura Drake. Two down, ten to go.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. During the workshop, I made some great changes to my young adult novel and got a much better sense of where my weaknesses still are. I’m ready to tackle the edits head-on this week and look forward to having a pretty, polished manuscript very soon.

So what workshops, retreats, or online courses do you recommend? And how was your week?

Introducing Wednesday Word Tip

So a week and a half ago, I wrote a post on Blogging: What’s the Point? And then I skipped a post on Sunday. Which might have looked like I was backing away from blogging, but honestly, I just flat-out missed it.

Yet I have been thinking more and more about my blog and what I want to offer. So without further adieu, I’m giving this a shot!

Wednesday Word Tip

For a long time on my blog, I had Wednesday Words and then Amazing Word Wednesdays in which I gave grammar tips, explored words and phrases, and tried to make the hodgepodge language of American English semi-understandable. I’ve had a few people wistfully refer to those posts, with almost a nudge-nudge in their comments. And I appreciate that! I guess it means I was doing something right.

In the interest of time and to reach more people, I’ve decided to try out a Wednesday Word Tip — which will be a quick video with a vocabulary word, a phrase, or a grammar usage highlighted and explained. It could also be a book-related video. We’ll just see how this goes…

And I’m still working on A Round of Words in 80 Days! Here’s my weekly update.

ROW80 Update

We’re supposed to be all wrapped up by tomorrow, but I will probably need until the end of the week to feel really good about things.

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novelSo. Very. Close. My read-through showed a few issues, but nothing that stopped me cold. I’m tweaking now and super-excited about this story!

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. So let’s just move this goal to the next round, shall we? 😉

3. Read 12 books. Read Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler and Unleashed by Rachel Lacey. That makes 13 books for the round!

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Just about done. A thread or two still dangling, but I can tie it all up pretty easily.

What do you think of videos and vlogging? What word tips would you like me to cover? And how was your week?

Contests, Critiques, and Queries: Not for the Fainthearted

If you want to be a real writer, you have to get better — better than you started out, better than thought you were, better than you are. You have to be okay with putting your work out there and seeking feedback from good critiquers. This past week, I’ve been on that road.

Wizard of Oz

Way back in December, my local RWA chapter had a Christmas party, and one of the activities was to write down a goal for 2014 which we would review at the next Christmas party (this December). I wrote down: “Enter three contests.”

And I did enter those three contests, finaled in two, and placed first in one. (Which, I won’t lie, felt awesome.) But I’ve decided to enter two more contests as well, and I’ve been getting those submissions ready. Entering contests provides an opportunity to get your work in front of other writers, hear their feedback, and possibly get an industry professional’s take. I was reluctant at first, but now I’m sold on the benefit of contest entries.

When choosing which ones to enter, look for appropriate genre categories, what exactly gets judged (chapters? synopsis? query?), what the requirements are, and who are the final judges. I chose one of my contests solely based on an editor judge from my dream publisher; the potential of getting a request from them is worth the entry for me.

I’ve also been getting critiques from critique partners in my midst. I am so blessed to have fabulous writer friends willing to do everything from brainstorm plot or characterization issues, to read a passage I’m struggling with, to go over whole chapters and provide detailed feedback. I also love getting to read work from others and give my perspective. I believe my commentary has improved as my understanding of craft has deepened.

One of the most common questions I see in the writing community is “How do I find a good critique partner?” And honestly, I still don’t know how to answer. I sort of stumbled upon my marvelous luck. My beta readers/critique partners came from an in-depth writing class, a conference, online interaction, a local writing chapter, and a long-term friendship. I guess the threads through all of those are finding ways to link to other writers and being willing to share your work, try out those connections, see if you fit.

Critiques are a must-have for any serious writer, and your critique partners should be your most honest critics and your best cheerleaders. This past week, I’ve been getting the criticism and the cheerleading, both of which I need.

Speaking of critiques, I am taking an online query class through Lawson Writing Academy this month: Submissions That Sell with RITA Winner Laura Drake. Queries are a different animal. Many writers hate the idea of having to summarize their hundreds-of-pages novel in a few paragraphs or — how can it be done?! — a single logline. But this is the business of selling the novel you spent so much time writing. Whether you query a traditional agent or publisher or write marketing blurbs for a self-published novel, you’d better know what your book is about and be able to state it in the attention span of a gnat.

I’ve queried before and actually enjoy writing up these letters, along with loglines and synopses. It’s a good challenge. However, I admit to feeling a little wounded by the critique of my query I posted on the online class forum. (Just right there — in the left chamber of my heart, a half-inch by half-inch space, a little bit of an ouch.) Yeah, my query could be better.

But this is no time to be fainthearted. If my query can be improved, I need to know. I need to present the product I’ve spent hours and hours and hours putting together in the best light possible. I want people to read this baby! So there will be blood, sweat, and tears expended on query writing. Which I consider well-worth my effort.

So that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing this past week: contests, critiques, and queries. Oh, and writing. And editing. And . . . well, here’s my progress report for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

ROW80

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel.

Snoopy doing happy dance

That is my update. I’m now letting the novel sit until midweek, then tackling another edit.

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I can now start on this goal this week!

3. Read 12 books. Read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and almost finished with Promise of Magic by Melinda VanLone — which will make 11 books for the round.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Just waiting to finish #1.

So what feedback do you receive and recommend? What do you think of contests, critiques, and/or queries? And how was your week?

My Name is Julie, and I’m a Binge-TV Addict

Binge-watch is in the dictionary now. Check out the Dictionary.com definition (based on Random House):

binge-watch definition

I still remember the days before Netflix and Hulu, before DVD players, before VCRs . . . the long-past days when you had to plant yourself before the TV right as your favorite show aired or you flat-out missed it. There was no catching up online, recording the show for later, or view on demand anywhere. You were either there at Monday 8:00 p.m., or the show went ahead without you.

Thank goodness that’s changed.

But I’ve gone farther lately than catching up on a show here and there I missed. Instead, I catch up on the whole TV series I missed. My name is Julie, and I’m a binge-TV addict.

White Collar Logo
My current binge-watch show

Here are some reasons why:

I’m extremely impatient. (Really! Just ask my husband.) Don’t you hate that cliffhanger at the end of a season, and then you have to wait months and months to see that plot line resolved? Wait no longer! If you’re impatient like me, you just watch the whole series as you want. Too eager to wait for the season 3? Simply cue it up at the end of season 2. Binge-watching was made with the impatient in mind.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Logo
Didn’t catch it? Binge-watch it!

I can get cool really quick. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I missed quite a few good shows. I was a little busy parenting young children and thus watching series like Blue’s Clues, Maisy, and Bear in the Big Blue House. So when people talked about how cool Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, I had no idea what they were talking about. I vaguely recalled seeing a commercial with a blond chick and fanged people, right before I turned to the channel back to Disney. Now with binge-watching, I’m back at the cool table. Yep, binge-watching got me caught up on shows like ScrubsCharmedBuffy, Arrested Development, and Leverage.

I feel a little queen-like when the series is at my beck-and-call. When other little girls were oohing and aahing over Barbie and her fashion accessories, I was enamored with a Miss America doll we owned — because she had a crown and scepter and was clearly in charge of something. I’ve been knocked down enough in life by now that I’ve learned a sufficient amount of humility; however, that desire to rule can peek through at times and get sated just enough by binge-watching a whole series. As if I’m Queen of the TV World, I simply summon the next show when I’m ready — like royalty would summon their entertainment in the form of a minstrel or court jester.

I more easily grasp the big picture. When you watch a series in a compressed period of time, you get a better sense of the series as a whole. Which means you can spot references to previous plot lines, recurring characters, the broader character arc, and — yes, indeed — mistakes and contradictions with previous shows in the series. I can see the big picture because there isn’t so much time between the first episode and the middle episode and the finale.

Jericho TV series logo
Just one of my many casualties. Sorry!

If I watch shows as they air, I kill them. I’m convinced that merely by my watching a show, its chances of survival decrease by 63%. Don’t try to tell me otherwise. It’s simply safer for me to wait until the show has had its full run — whether that’s one season or eight — and then watch the whole series. That way, my choice to partake in a series doesn’t impact its renewal outcome.

Now if only I could binge-write and binge-edit . . . successfully. Instead, here’s my step-by-step progress in A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

1. Read 12 books. I’m in the middle of three different books right now! I’m reading Sketchy Behavior by Erynn Mangum.; Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain; and while sitting in an ER lobby without nothing to do while I waited, I downloaded The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and started reading. I didn’t finish any of these this week, however. So I’m still at 10 of 12 completed.

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. Didn’t happen.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. I received comments back from one teenage beta reader on the next short and agreed with her summary. When I receive the other beta reader’s comments, I’ll finish editing and polishing that story.

In the meantime, I did work on some editing for a third story. Some progress.

4. Publish and promote two short storiesMy Sister’s Demon is available on Amazon. I’ve been troubleshooting some issues with the Barnes & Noble account and think I have it worked out finally to upload the story there this week. Half done!

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. I did not get to check in this week, since my internet time was very limited.

Why was your internet time limited, and why were you sitting in an ER this past week? you ask. Well, I was at church camp with no WiFi and on the last day a kid got a concussion, but he’s fine now. Thanks for asking! 🙂

Do you binge-watch any TV series? Why or why not? And how was your week?

How Do I Proofread Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

As I mentioned in my last post, editing is a crucial part of turning out a quality story. After solidifying story structure, plugging plot holes, nailing characterization, and powering up the writing itself, it’s time for proofreading.

Proofreading and polishing your own manuscript is nearly impossible. However, it’s awfully hard to spot your own mistakes. Since you know where there should be a “the” or a comma, you don’t necessarily see when it’s missing. Your brain fills in what’s not there.

Two sets of eyesSo how can you improve the odds of noticing and fixing your errors? Start with that tried-and-true saying: “Two sets of eyes are better than one.” Then create two sets of eyes from your own single set.

In other words, find ways to approach your manuscript from different viewpoints, and you’ll catch more than if you read it only one way. I’ve discovered this trick myself and want to share some ways a writer can edit or proofread their own words.

On the screen. Start with whatever program you typed it on and read through to catch the big errors that would stand out to almost anybody, as well as a few others you’ll notice.

Print it out. Yes, this requires using paper and ink, but there’s no substitute for seeing the story printed out on the page. Even more will jump out at you this way.

Read it aloud. I was surprised the first time I took someone’s advice and did this. It yielded such important information, including grammar mistakes, poor cadence, and stilted dialogue. Which I was then happy to edit to a higher quality.

Put it on an e-reader. I use Scrivener writing software, which allows me to easily compile my manuscript into an epub format for my Nook or a mobi format for my husband’s Kindle Fire. For my short story release, My Sister’s Demon, I read the story on both e-readers and caught different things each time.

Change the background and font. On an e-reader or other program, change the background to black and the font to white (or white/black if you usually do the other way). Flipping your color scheme reveals even more words and punctuation you may wish to change.

Have it read aloud to you. Check for a text-to-speech feature on your e-reader. Or save your manuscript as a pdf file and use Adobe’s Read Out Loud feature (Menu / View / Read Out Loud / Activate Read Out Loud). Yes, the voice sounds monotonous and robotic, but hearing your words can you help notice things you don’t see on the page.

Of course, once you’ve done all you can do, it’s time to get that real second set of eyes. Have an extremely knowledgeable friend or fellow writer (not just, “Hey, I was an English major!” but more like, “My friends want to pummel me sometimes because I’m such a grammar stickler.”) take a look.

Even better, hire a copy editor. Ask for recommendations and be prepared to pay a little for professional quality.

I’ve got my own fingers crossed that I caught all of the errors in my recently released short story. But, of course, if anyone notices a grammar oops, I’m all ears. I’ve definitely run out of sets of eyes.

Speaking of having my fingers crossed, let’s see how my writing went in the past two weeks. (Yep, I failed to check in last week!) Here’s my progress update for A Round of Words in 80 Days:

ROW80 Update

1. Read 12 books. I read Defiant, a historical romance novel, by Jessica Trapp, and How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, YA contemporary, by Simone Elkeles. I’m also halfway through Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. 8 1/2 of 12 finished!

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. I started editing, then peeled away to do more research on plotting and scene crafting. I’m currently reading The Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain and next up is Create a Plot Clinic by Holly Lisle. Another Mother May I baby step.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. Edited all the way through A Little Fairy Dust, the next short story to be released. I also rewrote the first chapter, using feedback from a beta reader, and I’m happy with the result. Solid  progress.

4. Publish and promote two short storiesMy Sister’s Demon is available on Amazon and coming soon to Barnes & Noble, plus I now have a Goodreads Author pageHalf done!

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. Visited 7 blogs, including a couple of new ones. Done!

What do you do to proofread your own writing? What tricks have you discovered? And how was your week?

Giving Fans a Good Series Finale

Two seasons ago, I decided to stop watching How I Met Your Mother. I was frustrated with the slow unfolding of the main plot line and decided to shelve that show in favor of others. But a friend brought me back into the fold by encouraging me to get back on board because “it gets better.”

So I binge-watched the penultimate season and then watched the final season, which recently concluded with the series finale. I’d seen a bit of hubbub surrounding the conclusion of the series, but I didn’t understand until I watched the hour-long show the next day. I promise not to give any spoilers, but like many fans my take-away was . . .

Worst. Finale. Ever.

What were you thinking?

Sorry, but I’m weeks past that moment, and I’m still kind of angry. Which got me thinking about series finales in general — whether a TV series, a movie series, or a book series. What makes an audience thrilled with the ending, and what makes the audience revolt in frustration?

Here are my own ideas about giving fans a good series finale:

Don’t cop out with a twist ending. Yes, you want to go out with a big bang. But a big bang is probably more of the same. Make it bigger and better, but don’t pull a bait-and-switch on the audience. It may feel clever to introduce something entirely different at the end — like you’ve created a breath-taking A-ha! moment. But it can backfire.

If you do give a twist, make it one that falls in line with the tone of the rest of the piece. For example, this is the best-ever twist ending for a TV series I’ve seen:

Do maintain the character arc. The main and supporting characters should grow through the series. Through trials and triumphs, they learn something important about themselves. They’re still the people we’ve come to know and love, but a better version for having gone down the path we journeyed with them. Keep that arc until the end. Regression is not acceptable. If they learned something, let them hold onto those hard-earned lessons.

Do answer the main question. If we know that a character’s main goal in life is discovering the true identity of his mother, and we endure seven books or five TV seasons or four movies, the protagonist better know who Mama is by the end. Not every thread must be tied up perfectly, but if a question has been a driving force throughout the series, it needs to reach some satisfactory conclusion. Maybe it’s not even fully explained, but it’s enough for the main character to find peace.

Don’t get silly. Maybe you can’t imagine what this point is about. But you know it when you see it: Lost, the Ewoks of The Return of the Jedi, the last few seasons of Heroes, . . .

When writing a series, the author or screenwriter may feel like they’re running out of material or they may wish to push the envelope further and further. It can be tempting to get more and more imaginative until you finally cross a line that makes your fans say, “What the heck was that?!” Instead, keep the tone, the tension, and the integrity of a series all the way to the end.

Those are my four Do’s and Don’ts for giving fans a good series finale. But ultimately, you have to Respect the Audience. Think about why the series has been so successful and then amp that up for the final goodbye.

Who’s done it well?

One that comes to mind is the most watched finale ever: M*A*S*H:, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” The finale remains a classic because it honored the characters, pushed Hawkeye (the main character) through the remainder of his personal struggle, and gave closure to the series through the ending of the Korean War and the characters parting ways. As they said goodbye to one another, we felt like we were saying our goodbyes as well. If you want to watch that final scene, you can find it here.

MASH Goodbye Final Shot

And now for the beginning of my series of progress updates with this round of A Round of Words in 80 Days.

ROW80 Update

1. Read 12 books. Read The Collector by Victoria Scott. One down, 11 to go!

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. Put this off until I finish the first draft of another story I needed to finish. No progress this week.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. Worked on a plot hole I need to resolve in one story. Some progress.

4. Publish and promote two short stories. Not ready to publish until end of the month or early May, but I finally picked all of my stories’ titles — with the fabulous help of my fabulous book cover designer, Melinda VanLone. Need a cover? Check her out here. Progress made!

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. I already submitted my sponsor article for the ROW80 blog, and it should go up later this month. Then checked in on everyone on Friday. Done.

Now what’s your vote for best and worst book, TV, or movie series finales? What advice would you give to an author or screenwriter when crafting the final installment of a series? And how was your week?

Tips for a Photo Shoot and ROW80 Wrap-Up

For years, I’ve used a photo here on this blog and on my social media sites I took myself. It worked fine, since it was a pretty decent picture and really did look like me. However, it was time to update the photo and get a professional involved.

So I recently hired a friend whose photography I admire to take author photos of me. Before going for my shoot, I consulted online articles and asked fellow authors for advice. Here are some helpful tips I received:

Choose a good time and place — both for the look you want and for making sure you’re comfortable for the shoot. If you’re taking an outdoor photo, the best lighting is usually at sunrise and sunset.

Wear make-up a little darker and heavier than normal, but not too heavy since you want to look like you. Even if you don’t wear make-up (girl or guy), you may still want some powder to take off the shine.

Bring more than one outfit. Certain colors may clash with the background, and you don’t always know what will look best ahead of time.

Wear solid, darker colors, long sleeves. Avoid black with a black background, but otherwise a darker color keeps the subject from looking washed out. Stay away from busy patterns and heavy jewelry. Keep it simple.

Find ways to relax — whether by sipping some wine, listening to music, chatting with the photographer, etc.

Be clear about what you want. Communicate expectations so that you and your photographer are on the same page about the look you’re going for.

Make sure the photographer takes enough photos, so you have plenty to choose from.

Don’t freeze up during the photo session. Instead, shift your pose a little here and there, trying to get the best and most natural pose you can.

Consult others if you need help choosing which photo to use. When you receive your final pictures, ask someone who knows you well which pose does you justice. You want a photo that represents what you truly look like, while also putting your best foot forward.

By the way, August McLaughlin, author and former model, has an excellent article on Mastering Your Author Headshot with more suggestions.

Armed with great tips, I headed to my photo shoot last week.

I’d requested an outdoor photo, both full body and head shots, and wardrobe changes. My photographer friend and I met at a local park around sunset. I wore jeans and boots and brought four long-sleeved shirts, so switching clothes was easy. My make-up was a little heavier than usual, but only enough to make my facial features stand out. The photographer took several photos with each outfit and in different locations with different poses. It was a relaxing experience, and I’m very happy with the results.

And since it seems wrong after all that not to share a few photos from my shoot . . .

Julie Glover - author photo

Julie Glover - author photo 4

Julie Glover - author photo 3

Julie Glover - author photo 2

Julie Glover - author photo

My photographer did an amazing job!!!

ROW80 Update

This is IT — the final check-in for this round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Participants choose their own goals and report weekly or twice weekly on their progress. Here are my round’s goals and how I did for the round:

1. Read 12 books. Read 15 books, the last one being Solstice by P.J. Hoover.

Goal exceeded.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. I drafted two young adult paranormal stories and worked on some others. My plan is to begin publishing shorts during the next round.

Goal met.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. I missed a week in my sponsor responsibilities but checked in every other week. Loved hearing about all the fabulous progress from my writing peeps!

Goal met.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary. I went through Good & Guilty and made a bunch of notes, so it sort of went through an editing process. I did not, however, complete all those changes before getting drawn over to Sharing Hunter. I worked on Sharing Hunter some as well, but didn’t complete a full edit there either. All in all, I felt frustrated that my short story goal and this editing goal didn’t mesh as well as expected. This will be a primary goal in the next round.

Some progress, but not fully met.

Have you ever had your photo taken professionally? What tips would you give for making sure you get a good shot? And how was your week?

Dancing Bacon and My Three Degrees to Kevin

Jimmy Fallon has a knack for producing interesting clips on his shows. Now the host of the The Tonight Show, he recently hosted guest Kevin Bacon on the 30th anniversary of the 1980s movie Footloose. Check out Bacon’s fabulous entrance:

Lest you think that whole premise was ridiculous (a small town banning dancing), I attended college in Abilene, Texas — only a half-hour drive from Anson, Texas. Anson may, or may not, have been the inspiration for the movie FootlooseA 1933 city ordinance banned dancing and spurred the common phrase, “No dancin’ in Anson.” The law was finally removed in 1987 (a year after I started college), although some continued to warn against the perils of dancing.

Speaking of Footloose, I remain three degrees from Kevin Bacon. I’m friends with someone who worked on the set of 24 with Kiefer Sutherland, and Sutherland starred in Flatliners with Kevin Bacon. If anyone can get me closer, let me know! 🙂

3 degrees of Kevin Bacon
Photo credits: the1secondfilm.com & David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons

ROW80 Update

Now let’s look at how close I am to completing my goals for this round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Participants choose their own goals and report weekly or twice weekly on their progress. Here are my round’s goals and progress on each:

1. Read 12 books. Read #13, Stronger Than Magic by Melinda VanLone, and #14, This Matter of Marriage by Debbie Macomber. Goal exceeded for the round, but I still have plenty more books in my reading queue.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. The first story is finished, and I wrote more on the second story. I expect to meet this goal in next few days, as long as I can stay on track. Doing fine.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Checked in on the Sunday and Wednesday posts from my peeps. The reports I’ve seen range from lots of progress to some progress to oh-my-gosh-do-we-only-have-one-week-left! Yes, we do. Done.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary. This goal and the short story goal haven’t gone together as well as I’d hoped. Very little progress.

Are you a Footloose or Kevin Bacon fan? How many degrees of separation do you have from Mr. Bacon? And how was your week?