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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Interview without a vampire

I don’t have vampires in my books, but I do interview my characters these days. I haven’t been consistent about it, and I sometimes go back and change the answers when I get a better idea, bit I’m starting to really like the outcome.

I recently reviewed an old interview with Steve Reyes (from my current WIP) and decided to change his fear to something interesting. That gave me a whole new idea for several scenes, and part of a plot twist. So, not only is he human and vulnerable–in spite of being a kickass DEA agent–I can use his weakness against him later.

Yes, our characters suffer for the enjoyment of our readers.

Unlike a job interview, I can ask my characters the most personal Qs. Biggest fear? Worst day of your life? Age? First time you had sex? All fair game. And even though I’m the one providing the answers, I’m often surprised by what they are.

Do you interview your characters? If so, what kinds of questions do you ask?

[No Daily Squirrel today. I’m typing this on my iPhone while on the cross trainer and my thumbs are getting tired!]

Permission granted

When I go running, I usually set out with a goal for that run–say 35 minutes. Sometimes, when I’ve met that goal, I think, “Great, but it’d be even better if I went around the loop once more and made it 45.” Yes, my hips will thank me, and an extra ten minutes will not normally throw off my whole schedule, but surpassing a goal isn’t always the right choice.

There’s a delicate balance between shirking your work and going overboard. It takes discipline to keep going when it feels like you won’t make it, but it also takes a sort of discipline to stop when you reach your goal.

For example, I have set a daily writing goal of 1000 words. Some days it takes me less than two hours, and other days I sit in front of the computer for 12. And some days, I don’t meet it.

Often, I feel like I should keep pressing, even if I meet my 1000 words, to make up for the days when I don’t. Shouldn’t I just keep typing until bedtime? Write during lunch? Skip reading that book I’ve been dying to open?

No!

As tempting as it is to work on my MS day and night (and I still do, a lot), I’m granting myself permission to stop at 1000 words. Stop after reading one contest entry. Stop after doing one class exercise.

Otherwise, I’ll miss out on the little joys that I so look forward to. Every good effort deserves a reward. I’m not yet getting paid to write, but I can pay myself in other ways. Relax with a good book. Hang out with the kids. Have lunch with a friend.

How do you keep yourself from burning out, but still meet your goals?

The Daily Squirrel: goal

A crimson banner emblazoned with the word “FINISH” flapped in the breeze at least a mile down the road. It appeared closer on the long, straight path, but she had only passed the eleventh mile marker a few minutes ago.

Her legs dragged as if weighed down with lead, but she kept shuffling forward in a pathetic jog-walk. No one thought she could do this. Brad had laughed right in her face when he overheard her telling the boss she signed up for the half-marathon.

She might not finish in ninety minutes like super jock, Brad, but she would finish if it killed her. She couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when she crossed the finish line. He wouldn’t be laughing then, and he might start to wonder what else she could accomplish if she set her mind to it.

Let him worry, she thought with a smile.