Monday, March 31, 2014

It All Begins Tomorrow!

It's official! Tomorrow marks the start of my first A to Z Challenge! I'm getting excited but also a little nervous. Will I be able to keep up with posting and visiting blogs?  I hope so!

What do you think of this cool badge I made to show off my theme for this year? I've been having fun playing around with PicMonkey lately. A good friend showed me how to use it and now I'm totally addicted. It's so much fun creating these cute things. In case you haven't noticed, my blog header got a facelift too. Fun, huh?

For those of you new to the A to Z Challenge, this is a commitment to post every day in April (with the exception of Sundays), each day beginning with a letter of the alphabet going in ABC order. So, it is a pretty big commitment, and one I think I'm ready for. I know you want to check out others in this epic blog challenge. You can find the linky list HERE.

Also, it's not too late to sign up if you want to get in on all the fun! Go HERE to sign up. But hurry, you don't want to miss out!

Hope to see you around here again soon! Happy Posting!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Author Crystal Collier in the House!

Woo Hoo!!

I am so excited to have author Crystal Collier here today to tell us a little about her debut novel and answer a few questions about herself. I gave her some hard ones, and thankfully, she was up to the challenge!

But first, let's take a moment to meet Crystal.

Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids with a thriller pace. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, three littles, and “friends” (a.k.a. the slaves scientists locked in her basement). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her blog and Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

Crystal's debut novel, Moonless, was recently released to print. For inquiring minds who want a great read, here's a little teaser.

                                                      Jane Eyre meets Supernatural.

Alexia’s nightmares become reality: a dead baron, red-eyed wraiths, and forbidden love with a man hunted by these creatures. After an attack close to home, Alexia realizes she cannot keep one foot in her old life and one in this new world. To protect her family she must either be sold into a loveless marriage, or escape with her beloved and risk becoming one of the Soulless. 

If you're interested in obtaining your own copy of Moonless, you can get it HERE.

Soulless, book 2 in the Maiden of Time Trilogy, is scheduled to be released July 2014. Be on the lookout for it, you don't want to miss it!

Now, on to the Interview with Crystal!

List five adjectives to describe yourself.

Creative, determined, musical, caring, and busy.

If you were to create a slogan for your life, what would it be?

If all else fails, eat cheese and be happy.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

The power to stop time, to really soak in every moment and enjoy the best of the best.

If you were planning the most awesome dinner party of your life, which 3 celebrities/historical figures (past or present) would you add to your guest list to keep the dinner conversation interesting?

Benjamin Franklin, William Tindale, and Joan of Arc. (I’m little bit of a total history fanatic.)

If you could only take five things to a deserted island, what would you take?

A lifetime supply of cheese, my hubby, a piano, a constantly reloading kindle with a solar battery, and a teleportation device.

 A BIG thank you to Crystal for being a good sport and answering my questions. Doesn't she sound AMAZING! 

Also, don't forget to stop by the Unicorn Bell website this week to check out all of the Inspiring Stories--there are some great ones you don't want to miss! 

Do YOU have a question you'd like to ask Crystal? Do you LOVE cheese as much as she does? What's your favorite cheese? Have you stopped by Unicorn Bell yet?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Guest Post--Charity Bradford

So excited to have author Charity Bradford here today with an insightful guest post on Getting the Most Out of a Critique Group.

Not only is Charity a great friend, but she's also been a fantastic mentor these past few months as I've ventured into the realm of publishing. She always has great advice and tips for improving my writing, and I love her ideas on critique groups. By the way, I am still in need of a critique group so if there is anyone out there who would be interested, just let me know!

Take it away Charity!                    

     Getting the Most Out of a Critique Group

When I decided to get serious about writing years ago, there was one thing I wanted more than anything else. Okay, maybe two things—to get published, obviously, and to find an amazing writers group. I mean a real life, meet at a coffee shop or library and talk about writing, publishing and critiquing our work so we could get published.

I lived in a huge city. How hard could it be to find three or four writers who wanted the same things I did?

It turned out to be near impossible.

I tried to start one in my rather large neighborhood—825 homes in the HOA. Surely there were other writers there? I published an ad in our HOA monthly newsletter to gauge interest. It sounded like a good plan at the time.

Four people responded and we picked a day and time to meet. A testing of the waters so to speak. I graciously offered my home as the place to be. *sigh* It sounded like a good plan at the time!

One of the four showed up. She was a lovely older woman who admitted she always “wanted to write something” but never got around to it. For an hour and a half she told me her life story, barely breathing for me to get a word in to direct us back to writing. I was getting desperate. Then, she asked to use my guest bathroom.

Ten minutes later the door opens and she’s calling for help. After helping her off the toilet I decided I didn’t need a writers group.

True story.

Fast forward two years. I move westward two states and fall into the best writers group in the universe. No joke.

Another author with my publisher, Tamara Heiner, lived fifteen minutes away from my new home and had started a writers group in my town. How did she do it? She went to a writer’s conference and made friends. Turns out they all lived fairly close to each other and the group was born!

This wonderful group of people meets every Thursday at a local frozen yogurt place in the back room. Writers take turns reading from their manuscripts out loud, and then we all talk about it. The concept is simple, and it works.

Today I want to share with you my top three reasons I believe finding a real life writers group (as opposed to just participating in online groups) can make you a better writer.
A New Meaning to Hearing Voices

I love, love, LOVE my online writer friends and critique partners. They have saved my sanity more than once, but there is something unique and magical about sitting down with living breathing people. You can’t hide behind the keyboard. You must learn to communicate verbally as well as with the written word.

The first time I attended, I read the selection from the other writers before I got to the meeting and made comments in the document. Then I listened to the person read their story the way they felt and meant it. It changed many of my comments.

We always hear, “Read your story out loud.” Some of you are probably smart enough to do that. I’m not always that bright. I know I should do it, but I feel stupid sitting at my desk reading out loud to myself. The first time I read in the group I was sweating as much as when I run. My mouth was dry and I feared I would pass out. What if they hated my writing? I learned a valuable lesson though. You really do catch more of your own mistakes when you read aloud. 

Two Heads Are Better Than One

How many times have you been stuck at a spot in your story? You know its missing something but you aren’t sure what it is. Or maybe you know but you can’t figure out how to fix it. There have been times at our group where we’ve all pulled out our laptops and started searching for things to help one of our members. Be it names or how to build a warp drive. More people coming up with ideas can save A LOT of time. And it’s way fun!

If you have a sizeable group you will learn another very important lesson that will ease some post publication woes. Everyone likes different things, has their own perspective and you’ll never be able to please everyone. And that’s okay. You can still be friends over a dish of sea salt caramel frozen yogurt even if you didn’t “get” or like someone’s story. Being in a group makes the word “subjective” real.
People to Celebrate With You

When you have successes, there are people who are genuinely happy for you. They show up at every book signing you have. Sometimes they’re the only ones that show up. They give you hugs and tell you next time it will be better. And you believe them because you know they wouldn’t lie to you. I mean really, after telling you to completely rewrite that last scene, how could they lie about anything?

So how do you get the most out of a writers group? I mean, it could be a really scary thing, and I’ll admit after a year I still sweat like crazy when it’s my turn to read.
Don’t take criticism personally. You are there to improve. If your group has lots of comments about things that aren’t working, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It means you have some work to do. Look at it this way, if you were a hopeless case they wouldn’t bother to give you so much feedback. They believe you can make your story better and they are just trying to help.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. The first time my friend Hillary read out loud, we all laughed until we cried. She was pretty new to writing and reading a rough draft at the time. Some of the mistakes were really funny, but what made it fun was Hillary. She taught me an amazing lesson that night. Whenever she read something that screamed “new writer!” or a description that put crazy images in our heads, she would burst out laughing. She wasn’t embarrassed or scared of what we would think or say, allowing us to have fun with her. Her writing has grown tremendously over the last year, and her writing retained her amazingly humorous voice.
Learn the correct way to give a critique. We’ve lost a member or two in the past because the first time they read they were swept away in an avalanche of negative comments. There is a skill to being honest and still giving the writer some hope. It’s one you have to learn, and it isn’t easy because you have to learn to watch and read people. If there are a hundred things “wrong” with someone’s writing, you have to ask yourself what is the most important thing I can say to help them right now? Maybe it is watch out for passive voice or overuse of adverbs. Then you phrase it in the comment sandwich. EVERY TIME!

A comment sandwich is simple. Start with something you liked–great voice! Next pick one or two big things that could be improved upon. Finally, say something else positive about the person, the story, something so the writer is left with a good taste in their mouth.

And last, but not least…

Allow the Group to Grow and Change

When I started attending this group there were eight or nine people coming regularly. Lately we average three to four. We used to have one week a month where we would talk about a craft topic. That hasn’t happened in a long time. In November we just write. The point is, we talk about what we need as individuals as well as a group. Then we put it into action.

Life is all about change. We change. Our writing changes. Don’t lock yourself into a single idea because eventually it will choke you. Remember that the main point of a writers group is to help you become a better writer and for you to help others become better writers. That may mean sometimes you just sit and talk with other people who “get you”.

Good luck finding or starting a writing group and happy writing!

--Charity Bradford

Facebook Page—
Amazon Author Page—
Goodreads Author Page—
Tamara Heiner’s Blog--

Friday, March 21, 2014

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal!

26 Days of Gratitude

Since this is my very first A to Z Challenge, I wanted to do something that encompasses who I am and helps you get to know me a little bit better. 

There are so many things I'm grateful for and I'm excited to take you on a journey through some of the things that have been meaningful in my life, whether they be people, places, or events of my past. 

There will be a few serious posts, but the main thing is that we will have fun! 

You might even come away looking at aspects of your life a little differently. Can't appreciate the overflowing basket of laundry? Well, I can't make any promises, but maybe even THAT won't seem like such a chore!

Hope you'll stop by April 1st - April 30th to check out my posts. You won't be disappointed!

**For those of you new to the A to Z Challenge, this is a commitment to post every day in April (with the exception of Sundays), each day beginning with a letter of the alphabet going in ABC order. I hear people get awfully creative with their themes, so make sure you check out others in this awesome challenge. You can find the linky list HERE.

Also, it's not too late to sign up if you want to get in on all the fun! Go HERE to sign up. But hurry, you don't want to miss out!

Did you sign up to do A to Z this year? Did you choose a theme? 

Monday, March 17, 2014

A New Project & Inspiring Stories Contest

Remember how I mentioned I haven't written anything since before Christmas (other than my blog, which I guess is a pretty big feat in and of itself)?

Well, over the weekend, I pulled out an OLD manuscript, my very first attempt at writing a novel. I never finished it, but knew someday I would return to it.

As I read through it, fixing my most common mistakes, I realized how far I've come since I first sat down to start that novel over five years ago. I also realized how far I still need to go to improve my craft. But, that comes with time and experience, right?

So, I'm super excited to start a "new" project. To get back into the writing mode. And the best part? I'm not starting from scratch. This manuscript has potential, but it needs to be molded into something better. I can't wait to see how it turns out!!

Now, onto an IMPORTANT reminder!!

Don't forget about Unicorn Bell's Inspiring Stories Contest! In case you haven't heard about it yet, I'll repost all the details. Hope to hear YOUR story soon! :)

Send your Inspiring Story to before March 24th.

Enter the contest for a chance to have YOUR story chosen to be the featured story on the Real Imprints website! Also, the winner of the contest will receive a $10 Amazon gift card!!

Things to know:

*Please submit real life stories, an experience that happened to you or someone you know.

*Stories should inspire, uplift, or encourage, and can be as simple as an act of kindness or as life-changing as an unexpected tragedy or triumph.

*All stories will be posted on the UB website with your name unless otherwise specified.

*Stories should be as concise as possible while still giving enough background information and detail. I'd rather not post a word limit, but I would think 1,000 words (give or take) would be sufficient.

*The Real Imprints team will comment and choose a story to be featured on their website with a link to your blog (if you have one). The writer of the chosen story will receive a $10 Amazon gift card.

*After the contest ALL stories will be submitted to Real Imprints with the possibility of being posted on their website in the future.

*Please spread the word via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, email, homemade megaphones...(Sorry, got a little carried away!) Anyhoo, you get my drift.

Any questions?

If not, then you better get writing! Can't wait to hear YOUR story!!

So, tell me, do you have a new project you're working on? Are you going to enter a story for the Inspiring Stories Contest? You know you want to...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Naked Truth

It's hard to get an agent.

And if you're gonna try, you need to have thick skin. No, I'm talking about super tough, rhinoceros hide type skin.

You'll get lots of rejections. You may even begin to wonder if your work is any good. You may lose self-confidence. You may even shed a few tears.

But, not to worry. There is hope.

At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

A year ago when I sat down to "finish" my manuscript, I had no idea what was in store. As I wrote that last line of my novel and triumph surged through my veins, I had visions of success running through my head. When I wrote my query (let me back up, first I had to figure out what a query WAS), I was giddy and nervous with excitement. My book was awesome. Who wouldn't want to read it?

Then reality set in. Apparently my book wasn't as unique as I first thought. Apparently, not EVERY agent is dying to get their hands on it. No, I might not be the female version of Nicholas Sparks (that one is still debatable).

As the rejections keep coming from agents, I take a small moment to be disappointed, but then I feel a glimmer of hope. I WILL get this book published. I want it so bad I can taste it. This novel is a creation of my heart and soul, with pieces of myself poured into the pages. I want to share it with others. I feel almost an urgency to get it out there. I ask myself, "what's the rush?" I don't know. But I do feel anxious as I play the waiting game.

There are other options, right? I don't HAVE to get an agent to have this novel published. But, it would be a dream. To have someone recognize my work as worthy of representation. As worthy of their time and skills. To have someone take a chance on me.

Courtesy of
And then I wonder, should I set this manuscript aside, polish the third one, and start querying with that one? Maybe the smart, sassy character is the one who will have more success at getting an agent's attention.

Or I could go the small pub route, or even self-pub.

Choices, choices. Too many choices. 

What about you? Have you had to make some HARD choices? What did you decide?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Good, Better, and Best

In keeping with my IWSG post from last week about finding balance, I realized something about myself. I sometimes beat myself up about the kind of mother I am versus the type of mother I want to be. Especially in the last few months with the recent shift in my focus. What was once 24 hour access to mom has become mom needs time to write as well as be a mom.

The house isn't perfect.

The laundry isn't always done.

I don't take my kids to the park like I used to.

I don't play games with them as much as I'd like.

I could easily list all the things I'm NOT doing, but then I realized something. No matter what I may be doing WRONG, there is one thing I'm doing RIGHT.

I am always here.

When they get home from school, I am here.

When they need a snack, I am here.

When they need help with their homework, I am here.

When they have a meltdown because life is too overwhelming, I am here.

When they need help with a new piano piece, I am here.

If they need encouragement, a hug, a talk, a reminder, a boo-boo kisser, or even a time-out, I am here.

In the end, isn't that all that REALLY matters?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

IWSG--Finding Balance

Since this is my first post as a new member of IWSG, I thought I should share with you something that has been plaguing my mind lately.


How to find balance with this recent shift in my focus. It used to be that I was a mom 24/7. I'm still a mom, but I also have to fit in time for writing, reading, blogging, critiquing, etc. Oh, and did I mention revising, querying, and keeping up with social media? Are there enough hours in the day to fit all this in? I feel as though I'm on overdrive.

My head barely hits the pillow each night before I'm shooting out of bed to make breakfast, fix lunches, and usher kids out the door to school the next morning. By the time I get all the kids to their various destinations, I have a couple hours with an active two-year-old at home before I start the pick-up/carpool process. My car could auto-pilot its way to my children's schools because we travel there so much. In fact, many times I drive the entire way to pick them up from school in a trance-like state and am surprised to find myself pulling up into the carpool line. How did I get here?

But sorry, I digress.

There simply aren't enough hours in the day. I haven't written anything since before Christmas and I feel as though my creativity well is drying up. I need to write. No, seriously. I NEED to write.

So I ask myself. Is there anything I can remove from my day? The amount of time I exercise? Nope, already nonexistent. Food? Do we have to eat everyday? If we didn't, I could shave off several hours in preparing, feeding, and cleaning up meals. And think of the dishes... no dirty dishes! Not practical? But it would be so nice...

I think blogging has put me over the edge. I see the need to connect with other writers and it has been AMAZING these past couple months as I've "met" so many other inspiring writers and authors. BUT, I feel as though any extra time I have is spent blogging instead of writing.

Anyways, I'm in need of finding the right balance.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can do this? All you mothers/writers/bloggers out there, how do you balance it all?

Be sure to check out the others in IWSG here.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Gratitude Blog Hop

I'm so glad Sheri Larsen decided to do this Gratitude Blog Hop. After watching the video on her blog, I realized that for the most part, I'm a fairly happy and thankful person. The only part I struggle with is the exercise part--that comes in waves of commitment, but I do agree wholeheartedly that exercise is good for a happy soul.

Photo courtesy of
I recently heard a story about a woman who decided to count the number of negative thoughts she had in a day. She'd heard a statistic that the average person thinks 1,000 negative thoughts a day and she was convinced that couldn't possibly be true. She bought herself a clicker and put this statistic to the test. In that first day, she clicked so many times that she became depressed and in a serious funk. Every time one of her kids spilled their drink, made a mess, or cried over a toy, she had a negative thought/reaction. Over the next couple of days she decided she needed to make a change. She began to click all the positive things she noticed and the positive thoughts she had. Amazingly enough, this change in her thought process caused a change in her attitude, in her reactions to her children, and the general mood in her home. Positive, happy thoughts do lead to a happier, more positive person!

So, in keeping with the Gratitude spirit, I feel I must share with you those things I am most grateful for.

I am grateful for my family. Even though they leave me piles of laundry and sinks full of dirty dishes, I can't imagine my life without them. I'm even thankful for all the chaos that comes with having five extremely loud and incredibly active boys, because without the chaos, all I'd have is a quiet, lonely house.

I'm grateful for my husband's job. Even though he works long hours at times, I'm thankful he is able to support our family so I can stay home, raise our children, and pursue my own dreams and aspirations.

I'm grateful for imagination, inspiration, creativity, art, and books.

I'm grateful for humor, smiles, and kind hearted people.

I'm grateful for beautiful sunsets that cause the world to stand still for a small moment.

I'm grateful for the sound of the ocean, the calming influence of the ebb and flow of the tide.

I'm grateful for music. I think the world would be a very dull place without it.

I'm grateful for knowledge and truth, and my own journey to find knowledge and truth (in a religious sense).

Lastly, I'm thankful for the stories that fill my mind. That beg to be told. For the characters who rattle around in my brain and fill me with thoughts and emotions. But most of all, I'm thankful to be a WRITER.

You can find all the others in this awesome Blog Hop HERE.

So, tell me, are you a positive person? How happy are you on a daily basis? What are you grateful for?                                                                                                                

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Music For the Soul

I love music.

I love that when I listen to a song it can take me back twenty years to when I was a geeky, braces-wearing, freckle-faced teenage girl. I can envision myself laying on my blue and white coverlet listening to my boom box or reading a book on a hot summer day while the world sweats outside.

Then I hear another song and it reminds me of my first boyfriend, or my first dance, or sometimes my first kiss. There are some songs with memories attached that I don't want to be reminded of, then there are others that I want to put on repeat and play for hours.

It's interesting though. As much as I love music and music is a part of my life, I came to a surprising realization as I sat down to write this post. My husband and I don't have "a song." Sure, we have a song we danced to at our wedding, but it was never "our song". It was just a song I picked because I liked the words and thought they were appropriate for how I was feeling towards my soon-to-be husband. But alas, there is no such thing as "our song". Kind of makes me sad, especially since I have "a song" for every other boy I've ever dated. I think I'll have to remedy that!

One thing I've found as a writer is the incredible impact music has on the scene I'm writing. Therefore, I choose songs to listen to that will mirror my characters thoughts and feelings. As I wrote my first novel Letting Go, I had a playlist I listened to repeatedly. There was one song in particular that seemed to mirror Giselle's pain at the loss of her husband. Even now when I hear this song, it has the power to give me chills and bring tears to my eyes. Any of you who have been one of my beta readers will know why.

About a year ago, my love for music reached new heights when I discovered that I had a knack for composing songs. I've always played the piano, and in the past I'd written lyrics to songs that were more like poems to me. In my mind, that's all a song really is, poetry set to music. But one day, I took one of these "songs" I had written and I sat down at the piano, curious to see what would happen if I tried to put it to music. I was shocked to find my fingers fly over the ivory keys, and they were actually making music! Some parts came easier than others, and afraid I'd forget, I began recording what I would play on the Voice Memo part of my phone. Somehow that seemed to work for me. I wrote that first song in a day and have since written several others. Unfortunately, right now they are all in my head (or on my Voice Memos) but I hope someday to put them on paper.

There is nothing more fulfilling than to sit at the piano and play a piece you've written. The music resonates long after the last note has been played. But then again, that is the way with music, your soul still hears it and recalls the memories associated with it no matter the passage of time.

Do you love music as much as I do? What is your favorite song? If you're a writer, do you write to music, and if so, what's your playlist like?