Friday, July 3, 2020

Friday Feature: A Serialized (Free) Read from Barnes and Noble

I love it when something old is made new again. Though I'm too young to have experienced serialized books, I have heard of them and so, when I read that Barnes and Noble was offering serialized reads for free on its Nook app, I jumped right in.

To be honest, my Nook app doesn't get much attention. It's unfair, really, since it has a nice, clean interface and offers a wide variety of e-books which, when purchased, can help to keep an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore in business.

But this idea had me seeking out my long-neglected Nook app. This month's feature is a mystery: A Death at Eastwick by L. C. Warman. I've read two of the six chapters that have been released as of this writing, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

I kind of like the idea of reading in installments but, even more, I like this new twist on an old favorite. It had exactly the effect (I suspect) Barnes and Noble wanted it to have: I re-discovered my Nook app and found new-to-me features that I'm looking forward to exploring. And, as far as the author is concerned,  since A Death at Eastwick is the first in a series, perhaps readers will go on to buy the other books.

Well-played, Barnes and Noble. And thanks for the free read. :-) 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

I Retired. It Didn't Take.

Today's post is a retrospective, peppered with graphics, most of which I made on Canva
using quotes I have posted in my office. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Eight years ago, I was in limbo. I'd retired from my job as an elementary school counselor, cleaned out my office and, for the last time, walked out the front door of the building where I'd spent the last nineteen years. 

I'd spent the previous six months making lists. I'd retired ahead of schedule, not because I was financially ready but because an opportunity arose -- one I did not expect to see again. I had a daughter starting high school, a husband wary of the decision I'd made and lots of time to fill.  

It's been a wild ride. 

I knew the retirement wasn't for real, so to speak. It was, instead, the end of a season. With a child poised for college and, I hope, decades of life ahead of me, my working life wasn't over.

It was just changing.

I retired, but it didn't take. :-) Here are a few highlights of the last eight years.
  • I taught community education classes locally and through Elizabethtown College.
  • I accepted a job as an adjunct professor of psychology, slated to teach one class (early childhood development). 
  • I added Psych100 to my teaching load for a few semesters.
  • I proposed a first year seminar. My proposal was accepted and this fall will be my sixth year teaching it.
  • I created and taught a Special Topics course on Positive Psychology.
  • I began teaching a second development class, which I now teach every semester (and twice in as many summers) along with the first one.
  • I changed offices at work twice and am now in a little suite with the full-time folk, sharing an office with two other adjuncts.
  • I took my face-to-face courses online during a pandemic.
  • I learned how to use Blackboard, Moodle, Keynote, Zoom, Flipgrid, Padlet, Instagram, Canva, projectors in various classrooms and venues and MailChimp (unrelated to teaching). Next up: Canvas.
  • I taught psychology and/or first year college skills to 800+ college students.

  • I performed in Plaza Suite at my local community theatre.
  • I joined a group of friends who plays cards monthly -- or we did until COVID-19.
  • I volunteered at the school where I used to teach, continuing to work with student writers. 

  • My first novel, Casting the First Stone, was published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and its first chapter was accepted for inclusion in a book of works by 50 women writers over 50.
  • I parted ways with my agent.
  • I started a new blog, Organizing by STYLE.
  • I began writing STYLE Savvy posts for
  • I was asked to contribute to a The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion.
  • My organizing posts became a book, Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff.
  • With help from my friend Laurie, I self-published my second novel, Chasing a Second Chance.
  • I got the rights back to my first novel, Casting the First Stone and reissued it last year.
  • I finished my third novel and plan to self-publish it later this year.
  • I completed another novel (previously started) with a different cast of characters and shared it with my critique group.

  • I attended several writing conferences and presented at a Pennwriters conference, a Catholic Writers Guild conference and again at a meeting of the Lancaster Christian Writers.
  • I did book signings and had three launch parties.
  • I started incorporating sprints into my writing.
  • I wrote print and online articles for the Institute of Children's Literature, Teachers of Vision and Today's Catholic Teacher.
  • I learned how to do Facebook Live and did three for
  • I got quoted in an article on
  • I got interviewed for another article because of the article.

  • I helped to take care of my mom while she was sick.
  • I said goodbye to my mom.
  • Along with my sister, I helped my dad move from his home to an apartment nearby.
  • I practiced my de-cluttering and organizing skills on all of the things I moved to my house from my parents' house.
  • The daughter who was entering high school has now graduated from high school -- and college. 
  • The wary husband has changed jobs.

  • I watched The Gilmore Girls all the way through. Twice. 
  • I watched The West Wing all the way through. Twice. Working on time #3 this time with my daughter. 
  • I re-started voice lessons after losing my singing voice for a second time.
  • I kept going to my critique group and introduced two new members -- writers who had been students in my community ed classes.
  • I started meeting weekly with a writer friend/accountability partner.
  • I attended a week-long virtual writing workshop.
I retired. It didn't take. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Journées sur la Page (Days on the Page)

 cromaconceptovisual via Pixabay
I have been reading the same beach devotional for eight years now and, on this trip, I might just finish it.

If that sounds pathetic, please let me explain. The book in question is devotions for the beach, and I tuck in a drawer at home, saving it to read only when I'm at the beach. Every morning, I read an entry and write in my journal. Some days get busy, and I end up doing this whole process in the evening but, most of the time, it's how I start my days. The condo we rent has a screened-in porch, and I sit out there under the ceiling fan and start the day not with news or social media, but with quiet contemplation.

It's a habit I wish I could carry over into daily life but, journaling in the traditional sense is not a habit I'm able to maintain. I was a pretty regular journal-keeper in my twenties when I was single and living alone (and not writing!) but life is a lot more hectic now. It could certainly be argued that my current life pace is an excellent reason to re-start the habit but it never seems to take.

At least not in words.

As a writer and an educator (and a parent), my days are full of words; contemplation without an element of planning doesn't stand a chance, especially at the beginning of the day. But recently, as I was working on my (endless) inbox reduction project, I came across some sketchnoting videos. In one of them, presenter Doug Neill suggested a keeping a daily sketchnoting journal as a means of developing our skills. I was all over that idea, beginning my sketching at the end of May and quickly filling page after page in a cheapie drugstore sketchbook. You won't find many actual sketches, but I'm having a great time playing with color, space, borders and lettering. I packed my sketchbook and markers and am continuing this project alongside my journaling with words project during this vacation.

It's likely that, this trip, I'll write on the last blank page of my beach journal as well. It's been a journey from the beginning of that journal to now -- from retirement to a full load as an adjunct, and from no novels and two nonfiction books to four novels (two published), three nonfiction books and two gigs as a contributor.

But more on that Wednesday. 

How about you? Do you journal? If so, what do your journals look like?

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Feature: Bringing Mindless Habits to Mind

It's summer, and so I'm doing a lot more reading than usual. Typically, I'm reading more than one book at a time, and I move from one to another depending upon what interests me and how much time I have to dig into whatever I'm reading. 

One theme that keeps popping up in what I'm reading is habit -- developing good ones, breaking bad ones and how they form in the first place -- which is how I ended up reading a Fast Company article about how a few common habits are perhaps worse for us than we think.

Don't get me wrong -- it's not a doom and gloom piece -- in fact, my favorite takeaway was the simple concept of allowing more time for a task in an effort to cut back on multitasking. Written in plain English by neuroscientist Tara Swart, the article points out that mindless habits can have a long-term impact on our minds -- and our bodies. 

The good news? Making a change can start with one simple step: paying attention to what we're doing rather than operating on autopilot. 

What will you strive to be mindful of today?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

4 Reasons I'm Still Here on the Porch Swing

loginueve_ilustra via Pixabay
It's Wednesday, which means that today, I'm preparing posts for two different sites -- this one and my Organizing by STYLE site. Some weeks I'm ahead of the curve, having come up with an idea and written the scheduled post. Other weeks, I stare at the screen or look around my office, hoping a topic will present itself. 

Needless to say, I prefer the former to the latter.

When I retired from Education Career #1 eight years ago, I committed to posting here regularly. I'd been dabbling at blogging for six years, squeezing in posts whenever time and the muse became available simultaneously. One of my goals when I left my job as a school counselor was to move toward full-time writing, and posting regularly was a step toward that goal. I'd heard other writers complain about how blogging detracted from "real" writing but, as a newly retired person, I thought I had time to do both.

Lately, though, I've been finding it easy to identify with those complaints. I have multiple writing projects going and, having embarked on Education Career #2, it's no longer simply a matter of time, but a matter of creative energy as well. I find myself sighing on Tuesdays, the day I don't post anywhere, relieved that I can jump immediately into a writing project that's not a blog post, pouring all of my energy into a book or an article. 

If you're wondering if this is a Dear Reader, it's-not-you-it's-me letter, let me put your mind at ease. I mean, it is me and I have thought of cutting back so I can see other projects but, for one reason or another, I always decide in favor of sticking to the promises I made in 2012, six years after I first posted from my perch on the porch swing, and again in 2015, when I launched Organizing by STYLE

Here are a few of the reasons I continue to show up.
  1. I like talking to my readers. Sure, I can still do this to a certain extent with articles and non-fiction endeavors like Know Thyself, but they're more like business meetings. Blog posts, on the other hand, are more like sitting down with a friend over a cup of coffee (iced tea for me, please) or, some days, a glass of wine, depending on when I sit down to write the post.
  2. It's good practice. Writers get better by writing and we get better at meeting deadlines when we get practice doing that as well. Enough said.
  3. I'm better with words than other formats. I've been encouraged more than once to go on Instagram, something I did last summer before Know Thyself came out, but I'm a writer, not a visual artist and I hate selfies. Perhaps I'll learn to love Instagram over time but, right now, I'd much rather be here than there. Did I mention that I like talking to my readers?
  4. I enjoy it. Most of the time anyway. Sure, I sometimes wish there were 27 hours in the day so that saying yes to blogging didn't mean saying no to something else (often Instagram) but most of the time, I like being here.
So, I guess that means you're stuck with me. And, if you'd like to throw a topic suggestion my way, I wouldn't have a problem with that. 

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Ingredients for a Writing Life

Goumbik via Pixabay
Every once in a while, I like to share one of my favorite posts. This one, posted in April 2017, remains not only one of my favorites, but every bit as true three years later. 

Being a writer is a wonderful way to spend a life. But, like every other job, it has its challenges, and there are those who are better suited to the writing life than others. Being a writer requires...

Perseverance. Writing is part relay race, part marathon. Most writers have day jobs and/or families, and don't get to write in day-long sessions that resemble "real" jobs, so we write in bits and pieces here and there. Those relay race bits and pieces get cobbled together into blog posts and articles and stories and novels and works of non-fiction, all of which require a certain amount of finesse and editing to morph from files on the the computer to something we'd actually let someone else read. Together, all of those relay races become the marathon that is a writing career -- a marathon that requires sustained energy and concentration, even if most of it takes place sitting down.

A thick skin. Every writer experiences rejection. Sometimes it's well-intentioned and even growth-inducing; other times, it's mean-spirited, even devastating. Over time, we develop the necessary mechanisms for coping with the sting of rejection, throwing ourselves back into the projects we love, hoping someday, someone else will love them, too. The sooner we learn to accept the growth- inducing parts and deflect the mean-spirited stuff, the better able we become to channel all of it into our work, adding depth and richness to the voice we put on the page.

The ability to imagine and defend people who are different. Most writers of fiction put at least a little of themselves into the characters they put on the page. The real challenge lies in writing the characters who aren't like us -- those who are hard where we are soft, or vice versa, those who approach where we'd retreat. Antagonists and protagonists alike need to resound with readers, which means we need to be able to defend our characters' actions, even when we disagree with them.
The capacity to be a self-starter. As a writer, I am my own boss. No one is going to come to my house (or my satellite office at Starbucks) and make me put my butt in the chair and pound out 100 or 1000 or 10,000 words. If I can't get past my own fears and procrastination and make myself write, no one is going to do it for me. If I'm too tired or too distracted or not in the mood, I need to rest or get away from distractions or get in the mood, or otherwise make a plan to get my work done. No plan, no book. It's that simple.

A community of writers. No one understands the writing life like other writers. Parents and spouses and children try. They commiserate, they support, they advise. But no one really gets it like those who are pushing past their own procrastination and fear to run that relay race/marathon alongside us. They know what it feels like when people we've developed out of thin air won't shut up or, conversely, freeze us out and leave us staring at a blank screen. They give us feedback that is growth-inducing (and, if they don't, they don't last long in the community) and trust us with the ephemeral bliss of just-right words on the page. They celebrate with us when we get the words right, and lift us up when we think we can't pour ourselves onto the page anymore.

The writing life is a pretty good life, and the traits it requires can all be cultivated. Fortunately, writers get a lifetime to do just that.