Join my newsletter for freebies and info on upcoming books, classes, appearances, and discounts.Join Now!
banner image
Fun, sexy reads

Fun, sexy reads

Looking for fast-paced, sexy romantic suspense with military heroes? All books in the Men of Steele series are connected but can standalone. Find fun facts and excerpts on each book's page.

Learn More

Scrivener Training for Everyone

Scrivener Training for Everyone

Need help with Scrivener? I provide Scrivener training to individuals and groups all over the world through online courses, in-person workshops, and private training sessions.

Learn More

Resources for Writers and Scrivener Users

Resources for Writers and Scrivener Users

A great reference for new and experienced Scrivener users, a guide to software and apps that help with productivity, and essays on every facet of writing from the Writer Unboxed contributors.

Learn More

A manufactured life

Until I started writing, the absolute best job I ever had was working as a manufacturing engineer. While I don’t miss the hours, I miss the great people, and being surrounded by really cool machines that turn raw materials into something (usually) useful. In fact, my favorite part of grad school was the factory tours and working with local manufacturing companies on class projects.

So when our family took a tour of the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Alabama on Monday, I was back in my element. I don’t honestly know much about Hyundai, but the three year-old factory is impressive. It’s clean, highly automated, uses Just-in-Time (JIT) delivery of parts, and spits out a new car every 50 seconds.

No, this is not a sales pitch for Hyundai…

While I was on the tour I kept thinking how much I miss being part of the manufacturing world. Maybe after we move this summer I should consider working again, I thought. But then, by the end of the visit, I realized that as much as I miss parts of my old job, I’m happiest writing.

I’ll always have a soft spot for lean manufacturing, continuous improvement, Six Sigma, and the like. Heck, I may even find some way to get involved in it again. But not at the expense of writing or time with family.

It’s good to go back and visit that world, but I no longer want to stay.

The Daily Squirrel: soda

Maris looked down at her white shirt, now covered in diet soda. It just figured. If she’d been wearing red, she wouldn’t have spilled anything. She should have known better on her first date with Josh.

She felt her cheeks heat as she looked at him, and choked back her tears. He was so handsome and nice. Now she looked like a spastic twelve year-old. All she needed were pigtails and braces and the image would be complete.

“Hey,” Josh said playfully. “Didn’t your mom teach you to share?”

What was he talking about? Her jaw dropped as he picked up her half-empty glass and poured it down the front of his own shirt. Then he winked and gave her a smile that made her head spin. At that moment Maris knew.

She was in love.

Never give up

I was sad yesterday when a woman I’ve never met gave up her dream. She’s a member of an online writing class that I’ve been taking, and she received another rejection. It was the last straw. She’s apparently been writing for twenty years without publication and has decided to “face facts”.

Okay, granted, if I am still doing this in 2029 and I haven’t been published, maybe I’ll be considering giving up, too. But, I hope not. Because at the end of the day, I write because I’ve finally found the one piece in my life that was missing.

Yes, I want to be published. I really, really want to be published. I can’t imagine the joy of seeing my name on a book at Barnes & Noble, or better yet, receiving a check in the mail for it. But ultimately, I’m writing for me.

I hope that after a few days this woman will get beyond the pain and change her mind, but she might not. And, maybe writing romance isn’t what she’s meant to do, but I have to think that if she’s stuck with it this long, there must be something in it for her besides the desire for publication.

She may find that her characters won’t shut up until she writes their story. Or after a few weeks, the itch to write may overtake her when she least expects it. If writing (or anything else) is what you love, then it’s never a waste of time. For me, it has to be for me first, publication second.

The Daily Squirrel: airplance

Simon gripped the armrest, ignoring the overstuffed sausage of a man squeezed into the seat next to him. Why had he ever thought he could strap himself into a tiny, metal tube and leave the ground without having a panic attack? His chest contracted as if it was being crushed by a vise.

He fumbled with the seatbelt latch, unable to get it undone, trying desperately to catch his breath. If he didn’t get off this plane, he was going to die.

But then a baby’s cries pierced his consciousness, and he remembered why he was on the flight in the first place. Gloria. His beautiful, amazing Gloria was about to have his baby, and he wanted to be there.

He pulled a worn photo of his wife out of his shirt pocket and rubbed it gently with his thumb, as a flight attendant gave the safety briefing. No panic attack, no mere phobia would stop him. He might be half dead from fright when he arrived, but God dammit, he’d get through this flight.

Looking for worms

Are you a lark or a night owl? Me? I’m a night owl who really wants to be a lark. As much as I’d like to rise with the sun and get working, I just can’t do it. I love being up early, but I hate getting up early.

The funny thing is, once I’m up, I’m very productive before lunch. Then my brain usually crashes in the afternoon and starts working again after dinner. Even if I’m tired at eight o’clock, I get a second wind and get some of my best work done before midnight.

My body’s natural schedule wouldn’t bother me so much if it didn’t conflict with the rest of the world. I have to get up early to make sure the kids are getting ready for school, or drive them if they’re not riding the bus. My husband is up early for work. In the evening when we could all be hanging out, I’m just getting into the swing of writing again.

I’m starting to learn the best times of day to focus on writing, working out, running errands, and reading emails, so that I can be the most productive. But, I’m struggling with it because it doesn’t match up well with the rest of my family’s schedule.

What kind of schedule are you on. Are you fighting it, or does it work with the rest of your life?

The Daily Squirrel: rejection

Madison held the crisp paper in her hands, and blinked back tears. Another rejection. With a fat red marker, she scrawled “#159” in large numbers across the paper. Each letter chipped away at her heart, and yet every denial only made her more determined to prove that she could make it as a writer.

If she wasn’t good enough now, she’d keep on working at it. Her dad’s mocking face flashed across her mind. She’d show him. Her brother invaded with his own taunts. She’d show him too.

She’d met published authors with suitcases full of rejections. They’d earned their success, and she would too. As long as she didn’t give up. With firm resolve she sat back in front of her computer. If it took her fifty years, she’d show them all, show the world, show herself, that she could do this.

Treading water

I love to read my favorite authors, but it’s a double-edged sword. I alternate between being inspired by their greatness, and wallowing in the certainty that I’ll never be as good as any of them.

The only way to get through this is to remind myself that each of those great writers started out as a beginner, just like me. They wrote books that have never been published, received rejections from agents and editors, and sometimes still struggle with self-doubt.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Just like a swimmer doesn’t make the Olympics without years of training, practice, technique refinement, and discipline, a writer must continue to improve her craft, write every day, query agents/editors, and never give up.

A swimmer has a coach, I have a critique partner. A swimmer has teammates, I have chapter mates. A swimmer–if she’s lucky–has a supportive family, I have mine. A swimmer has a swimsuit…well, moving along…

UPDATE 12/21/09: I was reminded by a faithful fan, that like a swimmer, I have fans who support me along the way, too. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by supportive people!

How do you get past your self-doubt and keep writing?

The Daily Squirrel: snow

Kelly jogged along the trail adjoining the road and watched the pine trees rustle in the bitter wind as snow fell in wet clumps all around her. Every last inch of her body was covered except for her cheeks and nose. Sunglasses cut the glare and blocked the wind that seeped in through every seam of her clothes.

Still, she loved the serene stillness of a snowy day. The white blanket cleaned the normally foul-smelling air and muted the usual din. Her lungs burned with each frosty breath, even as her body heated and relaxed into the rhythm of her run.

Inhale, step, exhale, step. The meditative movement soothed her mind as the exertion cleansed her soul. These stolen moments of time alone were worth more than the wealth her mother sought in men’s arms, more than anything someone could give to her.

For those few moments, surrounded by the frozen landscape, she could taste freedom. One day soon, she vowed, she’d keep right on running.

Inventions to make Q proud

I always thought Q stole the show in the James Bond movies. Bond might be more like the hero in one of my novels, but Q was the real hero coming up with gadgets to save Bond’s ass in any situation. He had a prescient knack for inventing the perfect toy for whatever predicament Bond was going to face.

December’s issue of Popular Science had a list of their 100 Best Innovations of the Year, and there are some gadgets that would make Q proud. While I found cool items in every category, especially Health, the products that really caught my eye were in the Security category. Since I’m focusing on military and law enforcement in my writing these days, here are some of the gizmos that would be fun to incorporate into a story.

  • X-flex wallpaper: super-flexible wallpaper keeps walls from collapsing–and contains flying debris–when hit by a bomb blast. This one fed right into my love of plastics and textiles.
  • XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System: Huh? This mouthful allows a soldier to program where a bullet should explode, so if the target is around a corner, the bullet will fly just past the end of the building and then blow up, sending shrapnel everywhere.
  • Ears gunshot detector: the Ears system can pinpoint the origin of a gunshot in less than a tenth of a second, allowing troops on the ground to find snipers more easily.

These may not be as fun for a book, but I also want to give a shout out to the following:

  • In the Automotive category, Ford Active Park Assist enables the car to parallel-park itself. If I ever move back to the big city, I need this!
  • In Health, the Lung Flute makes it easier and cheaper for people with chronic lung congestion to break up the mucus that plagues them. Gross, but so simple it’s amazing.
  • Also in Health, the Hygreen system ensures that medical workers have sanitized their hands before handling patients. In a field test, it brought infection rates to zero! I’m all for that.

The Daily Squirrel: complaint

Lucy glanced at the clock and stifled a groan. Two more hours and an endless line of customers with complaints about the new operating system.

The stifling hot air was tinged with sweat and anger, but her temperature shot up several degrees when she spied Kurt Lloyd in her line. She had talked to him briefly at a party thrown by her roommate’s ex-boyfriend, but he probably didn’t even remember meeting her. Her dreams, however, had been about nothing but him for months now.

As the customer before Kurt turned to leave, Lucy pushed the damp hair off her face and took a deep breath. She’d give anything for a quick shower right then. How embarrassing to be seen in her dumpy polyester knit polo shirt with the big orange logo. She blew out a frustrated breath. At least he wouldn’t know who she was.

Putting on her best smile, she asked, “How can I help you, sir?”

“Well,” he glanced at her nametag, “Lucy. I have a complaint.”

Of course. She pulled up a new form on the computer. “Yes, sir. What’s the problem?”

He flashed her a movie-star smile complete with dimples and fixed his blazing green eyes on her. “The problem is that you haven’t been back to any of Rick’s parties, and I’ve been waiting to ask you out to dinner. Is that something you can help me with?”

Lucy’s mind reeled with shock and her stomach dipped, but she managed to stay upright. He remembered her? And he was asking her out? With all the poise she could muster, Lucy said, “Yes, sir. I believe I can.” She wrote down her phone number and slid it across the counter, then turned to the next customer with a grin. “May I help you, ma’am?”

I could care less

I could care less about people misusing this statement, but unfortunately, I don’t. Using “could care less” instead of “couldn’t care less” has become one of my pet peeves, probably because I’m all about logic, and the first statement isn’t logical the way most people use it.

If you could care less, then there’s still room to go before you hit bottom. When you couldn’t care less, not even a little bit less, then you’re really saying something!

Maybe I should care fewer. The misuse of less and fewer is another one of my grammar pet peeves. Advertisers are some of the worst offenders, and are just adding to the confusion over this one.

According to Grammar Girl, less should be used with a mass nouns (those things you can’t count individually, like tape, coffee, rice, money), and fewer is for use with count nouns (like dollars, presents, cookies, fingers).

Target had an ad campaign last year based on their slogan of “Expect more. Pay less.”. The campaign was pretty clever, and included the following slogans:

  • more splash, less cash
  • more soft, less cents    [Eek! It hurts my ears just thinking about it.]
  • more bread, less dough

Cool right? Except that the second one should really be more soft, fewer cents. No wonder everyone’s confused. If they hear and read it used incorrectly often enough, after a while it sounds right.

So, by now you probably think I’m a complete nerd, but really, I couldn’t care less. 😉

The Daily Squirrel: patched

Bindi sat on the hard bench and swung her feet, the din of children laughing and playing filling her ears. She picked at a loose corner of the stiff fabric covering a hole in her jeans. No one else had iron-on patches on their knees. She frowned and quickly wiped the tears from her cheeks, looking around to make sure none of the kids had noticed her crying.

She hated her new school. The other girls always had new clothes, and they never had holes in their pants. Abby even got a pretty pink T-shirt from Justice over the weekend, and it wasn’t even her birthday!

Someday, Bindi would be able to buy whatever she wanted. She was going to do whatever it took to make sure she had enough money, because her children would never go to school in hand-me-down clothes. But first, she had to survive fourth grade.

Digging deep

Did you know that Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) have built sophisticated tunnels running under the border between Mexico and the US? The tunnels are reinforced or bored into rock, and often have electricity, phone service, and fresh air ventilation systems!

An article about a tunnel discovered in 2006 sparked the idea for the opening scene in my current WIP. DEA agent Steve Reyes and his team are ambushed during a raid on a warehouse where one such tunnel entrance exists. Here’s a video of Anderson Cooper touring a tunnel found earlier this month in Tijuana. Amazing!

For my past books, I’ve done minimal research, usually which could be accomplished on the Internet. Which street connects downtown San Diego to Ocean Beach? Does UCLA have a swim team and a sports medicine degree? Are the cliffs of Malibu rocky like the central coast?

You get the idea. But for my current story, I need more. I just ordered several books about undercover DEA agents and money laundering inside the DTOs. If I want this to be a series, I figure I need to have a better understanding of what it’s like for these guys to be undercover, and how the DTOs operate. I want my stories to ring true, and I hope what I read will spark a few scene ideas.

So, I have some heavy, but interesting Christmas reading ahead of me. What about you? How much research do you do for your stories?

Daily Squirrel: officer

The smile on Taryn’s face refused to be tamed, even as she stood at attention. The slim gold bars in the Colonel’s hand sparkled like glitter in the brilliant sunlight. Thirteen weeks of screaming instructors, room inspections, leadership exercises, push ups, and overdosing on caffeine were over. She’d made it!

In two more minutes she’d be an Air Force 2nd Lieutenant. The first woman in her family to join a longstanding family tradition. Every day, every event of her life, had led to this moment, and she intended to savor every second of it.