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

Why I gave $500 to ProLiteracy today

Did you know more than 43 million adults in the United States lack basic literacy skills, two thirds of whom are women? As a lifelong reader and writer, literacy is something I tend to take for granted. For those living without strong skills in reading, writing, and basic finance, it massively affects their job prospects and quality of life.

We’re all readers and writers here. Imagine how illiteracy would impact your life. I want everyone to experience the joy, education, and freedom contained in books and the ability to express themselves.

I usually attend the Romance Writers of America annual conference in the summer, but I recently withdrew from RWA—along with many other writers—to support the marginalized authors for whom it was not a safe or supportive space.

However, this mass boycott jeopardizes the nearly $50K raised at the conference book signing for ProLiteracy each year. So, Tessa Dare, Beverly Jenkins, and others got with the ProLiteracy folks to figure out how we could still support them, and the Romance for Literacy fundraiser was born.

To that end, I’ve donated $500 to the cause (in lieu of my conference registration). I hope you’ll help me empower women through the power of adult literacy with whatever you can spare at https://proliteracy.rallybound.org/romance-for-literacy/GwenHernandez.

Thank you! ❤️

Presence

rearview of woman meditating at the beach

I don’t know about you, but my mind is constantly “on.” I’m thinking ahead to upcoming interactions, coming up with strategies to meet my goals/deadlines, ruminating on past conversations, trying not to care what others think of me or my social media posts, figuring out how to improve my relationships, running through book ideas, planning out my weekend, and on and on…

It’s exhausting being in my head. I’m sure I’m not alone, though I sincerely hope you’re in your head, not mine.

So, I recently started meditating (again) just to start my day with a calm instead of a rush. I’m still testing out whether I prefer guided meditation, with or without affirmations—usually without—or just a timer and silence. So far, it depends on the day.

But that’s not really what this post is about. It’s about what makes us feel happy.

A recent guided meditation I tried focused on the idea that we’re happiest when we’re present in the moment. Nothing new. That’s one of the key points of meditation, to focus on our body, our breath, our space, right now.

Can we even be happy when our minds are elsewhere on the timeline? (Rhetorical question.)

Luckily, you can be present without meditating, though meditation is great practice for learning how. Simply concentrate on what’s going on right now. Give this moment, the person talking, the task you’re working on, your full attention.

Some activities give you little choice but to focus (boxing, jousting, watching a newly mobile baby). Which is one of many reasons I enjoyed martial arts in the past, and returned to yoga a few years ago. Both require an awareness of my body and my breath to keep me from taking a header onto my mat.

Even while running—which shouldn’t be that mentally taxing—I find that I can’t hold a complex thought for long (like, don’t ask me to do math) because my focus is on my breathing, my form, sometimes the pain, and my surroundings.

Much like traditional meditation, these moving meditations are a much needed break from…well, myself.

You might find relief in knitting, painting, singing, coloring, or building a bookshelf. Or, you know, writing. Maybe that’s why having a creative outlet is so important. Though when that outlet becomes your job, can it still serve as a calming intermission? (Also rhetorical.)

Other things that tap into that “present” feeling for me are traveling, hiking, watching the ocean, or exploring a new-to-me part of town. Half of what makes a sightseeing vacation so much fun is that my thoughts are mostly captured by the new and interesting things around me, keeping me in the moment.

If a week on the beach or in a cabin is more your speed, that relaxing holiday might be one of the few times that you allow yourself to slow down and fully tune into your surroundings and your companions. Or a really good book.

Vacations offer a break not just from work and school and routine, but from our scattered attention—hello cell phones and email and social media—from our concern about what comes next and all that we need to accomplish. No wonder we can’t wait to take a break.

I’m not traveling as much as I’d like right now—and I can’t do it every day anyway—but I am stepping up the frequency of yoga and meditation (and always running). I’m honestly shocked how much better I feel during and after yoga. Even at the end of a short routine, my muscles and my mind are less tense.

Such mini “vacations” have become a brilliant respite from the whirlwind of my thoughts. I’m grateful to have found activities that give me the rare gift of presence.

How do you cultivate a sense of contentment or find a moment of peace in your life?

P.S. If you’re interested, yoga doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. There are plenty of free online resources, videos from your library, and even monthly online subscription services that cost less than a single yoga class. In-person lessons are my favorite, but I attend a class once a week and use videos or my own made-up routines the rest of the time. If you’re just starting out, a rug is fine if you don’t have a mat. You also don’t need special leggings from fancy “athleisure” stores. Any workout wear or comfy clothes will work, especially in the privacy of your home. Heck, do it in your underwear if you want to! Just, maybe, close the curtains. 😉

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! I was at my first-ever major league hockey game last night and the announcer said the average American eats more than three pounds—yes pounds—of candy on Halloween. How’re you doing on your pumpkin-sized stash so far?

Witch  little girl with bucket of candy.

If you can roll out of the house after eating all that candy, I’ll be on a romance panel and signing books at the El Segundo Public Library Author Fair, this Saturday, November 2nd from 10am-5pm. If you’re in the Los Angeles area and can tear yourself away from the perfect weather, stop by!

author fair flyer

So tell me. What's your favorite candy? (I'm a sucker for Justin's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter cups and Ritter Chocolate with Marzipan.)

Write Publish Profit 2.0 Flash Sale!

If you missed out on the Write Publish Profit 2.0 (WPP 2.0) deal back in June and you have serious regrets, you’ll be happy to know it’s back for a limited-time encore, now through October 3rd.

Treat yourself (and maybe a writer friend or two for the upcoming holidays) to this epic deal. More than $5000 worth of writing craft and business tools—including my introductory Scrivener course—for only $49.

WPP 2.0 books graphic

Some of my favorite products in WPP 2.0:

  • Mastering the 10 Universal Hooks ($297 Value) from one of my favorite writing craft teachers, Mary Buckham, teaches you how to create compelling hooks that keep readers wanting to turn the page.
  • The Productive Writer ($197 Value) will help you hone your writing skills so you're no longer waiting on your ‘muse' to show up. 
  • Love Letters to Writers ($4.99 Value) will give you all the encouragement you need at every point in your journey, especially how to manage negative feedback.
  • Fixing Your Plot and Story Structure Problems ($3.99 Value) will help you strengthen your story and avoid the common mistakes authors make that turn readers away.

Honestly, I think the Hooks class alone pays for it. Don’t miss out this time, grab Write Publish Profit 2.0 before it’s gone forever. And if you know a friend who might be interested, feel free to tell them about it. Thanks!

8 Steps to Surviving an Author Reading

I recently gave my first public reading of one of my own books. And I didn’t die! Probably largely thanks to three years of Toastmasters in my mid twenties (one of the best personal/professional development things I ever did).

But here are a few other things that really helped make the reading (I think) a success. All of them fall under the category of PREPARATION.

Shocking, I know.

There’s little I can do about that last shot of adrenaline that hits right as I’m about to speak—I guess 50 jumping jacks is out of the question—but being prepared goes a long way toward reducing nerves.

Here’s what worked for me.

1. Know your timeframe and other conditions. Our coordinator gave us each four minutes of reading time. That’s not as much as it sounds like. For my book it ended up being about 800 words/3-4 pages.

Since this was a public library event, they asked us to keep it PG/PG-13 in case there were kids present. Given that I write steamy military romantic suspense, careful selection was required. 

2. Pick a passage. My approach was to skim through looking for scenes with both main characters (since I write romance and they share the spotlight) that ended on some kind of hook and contained some action. Not necessarily suspense, just a sense of forward motion, like conflict, sexual tension, danger, a first kiss, or an important realization.

I selected five or six possibilities, restricting myself to the first quarter of the book to avoid spoilers, and then read each of them out loud with my stopwatch app. They were all too long. I chose two that came within a minute of my timeframe and sent both to a couple of friends.

Based on their feedback and my gut, I went with the one that ended with a literal bang—my heroine’s house exploding. (According to a woman who bought my book immediately after the reading, she said she had to find out what happened next, so I think this one did it’s job.)

3. Edit your excerpt. To fit within my allotted time, and—maybe more importantly—make the scene easier to understand, I edited it. I cut a couple of paragraphs of internal dialogue and description that were irrelevant to anyone who hadn’t read the previous chapters. Also, I nixed any R-rated words, per library policy.

4. Practice and Mark Up Your Words! Honestly, if nothing else, do this. A reading is a performance, so once I picked my excerpt, I did at least five read-throughs, both for timing and to practice delivery. The text did not always come out of my mouth the way it sounded in my head, so I underlined certain words to remind myself where to place emphasis for a smoother, more natural flow.

Sample from the printed excerpt I used for the reading.

Then, I practiced until my delivery was consistent and I was happy (as possible) with it.

When it came time to read for the audience, I had practiced enough that the flow was mostly solid. The underlined words helped immensely. I relaxed and fell into my rhythm instead of racing through in an unintelligible blur. I made eye contact. I was in the moment!

5. Print the text. Surprisingly, printing out exactly the portion of the book I planned to read was probably the second-best thing I did. Turns out we had to hold our own microphone, so by using printed pages, I wasn’t trying to turn the pages of a book one-handed. I could lay my printout on the lectern, and easily flip pages.

Plus, printing enabled me to have only the words on the page I wanted to read (no distracting cross-outs), and to add my own emphasis (e.g. underlining words) in a clean, readable way.

6. Prep the audience. I didn’t want to start reading cold, so I worked up a short blurb about the book, including where it fell in the series, and then added a sentence to introduce the scene.

I also held up a print copy of my book to show the cover.

7. Breathe. If you’ve done all of your homework, you’ll be in good shape. Just relax, remember that the audience is there because they like you. Or they like books. Or they wanted cookies. Whatever the reason, they’re friendly.

shelf with two plants and a wooden sign that reads "Breathe."

8. Plan for next time. What would I do differently next time?

  • Practice more. 
  • Look to books outside the first in series or most recent release for the best possible scene.
  • Mark potential live-read passages on my final revision read-through before publication so I don’t have to spend so much time searching for an excerpt.
  • If I’m invited to an event where people are giving readings but I’m not one of them, I’d prepare something anyway. Two authors were asked to fill in for no-shows and they had to read with no prep at all. Being ready for the unexpected makes it easy to say yes.
  • Put my hands on the table when getting my picture taken. 😉

Got any tips or stories of your own? Leave a comment below.