Cuenca International Writers Conference, May 28–June 1, 2018

Today’s guest post is by friend and fellow author, Scarlett Braden, one of the organizers of the Cuenca International Writers Conference, where yours truly will be strutting her stuff come May (that’s me in the lower right hand corner of the Mysteries & Thrillers banner!) 😉 I’m totally jazzed to be invited to speak. It’s a conference that promises to be intimate, informative, and friendly. Not to mention, Ecuador!

Do you want to wear my shoes?

My name is Scarlett Braden, and I’m here to tell you about something positive and uplifting. Especially if you are an author, a writer, in the publishing industry, ever even thought about becoming an author, or writing your memoir. I’m in the business of helping dreams come true.We often hear, “try walking a mile in my shoes,” and it usually means, “My walk is harder than yours.” But not in my case. Three and a half years ago I moved to Ecuador. People thought I was either brave or crazy. Within six months, I knew I was neither. I was smart. I came with the idea of wanting to do things I’d never done before. And I did. I have and I still am. Arguably, some of those things might be considered crazy. But the best thing is I started writing. I got involved in the grandest writer’s community in the world.


And my life changed. At least once a month for the last two and a half years, I mutter, I can’t believe this is my life. Not because of anything bad, or hard, or stressful, but because of all the wonderful things that are my life now. The other day my best friend asked, “What did you do today?” My reply, not sarcastic or flippant at all, was “I was just me, living my amazing life.” But this post isn’t about me. Not really. It’s about you getting to walk in my shoes for a whole week this spring.For the last week, I literally can’t sleep. I’ve gotten an average of 3 hours every 24-30 hours. WHY? Nope, not insomnia, not sick, not partying, no crisis. I am SO excited, because in just a couple of short months I get to meet some of the most amazing people. In the flesh. I’ll get to have coffee with them. Maybe a glass of wine. I’ll get to let them tell me how I can be a better writer, a better poet, how I can sell more books, about writing magazine and travel articles, what I should do if I’m signed with a publisher, how can I turn my story into a play or a screenplay, how can I become a publisher, how can I stay on track, motivated, and spiritually kind to myself in the process, how to self-promote when that’s not what I want to do, what’s important and what’s not. I’m talking award winning folks. Around twenty people- maybe you don’t know their names, but as the Director of Content and Learning for the 2018 Cuenca International Writer’s Conference, I do! Come spend a week with us in the Andes mountains of Ecuador, come play with us, enjoy the culture, the food, and the networking with both established and up and comers in the world of fiction and non-fiction writing! May 28th-June 1st.For more details, go to the website, read the bios, read the session descriptions, register for the conference and plan your amazing trip to the Andes Mountains. Then, tell your friends about it. They might ask if you’re crazy, they might tell you, you’re brave, but I know, it’s the smartest thing you’ll do for yourself and your writing career, all year.  

Carol again: Are you psyched? I sure am. Join us!



Friend and fellow author Scott Bury sent me this excerpt from Wildfire, the first book in his new  wine country mystery series,  to be released March 22 (and now available for pre-order).  Keep reading!

Tara got out of the car, recoiling from the heat rising from the pavement. She straightened her jacket, pulled the strap of her briefcase higher on her shoulder and flipped her brown hair back as she strode up the front steps with all the confidence she could fake.
From a distance, the winery looked like a simple barn, but when she got close she could see it was a modern building, painted to match the yellow and orange of the mansion-restaurant. Set into the ersatz stucco front wall was a wide barn door made of solid dark wood. In its center, a human-size door gaped open. When Tara walked close enough, she could feel conditioned, cool air flowing out.

She leaned in and knocked on the open door. No one said anything. She could hear the hum of some kind of machinery. Smooth concrete floors and light grey ducts and pipes gleamed under halogen lights on the high ceiling. To the left, windows in sheetrock walls showed offices, where a man with dark hair sat, writing with a pencil.

Tara took another deep breath of cool air, stepped up to the office’s interior door and knocked on its frame. The dark-haired man looked up quickly, hazel eyes wide, then relaxing. She could now see a shaggy dog curled up on the floor near his feet.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

His voice was deep and smooth, his tone fast but courteous. Tinged with sadness? Stop imagining things, Tara. You haven’t even met him yet.

“Mr. DaSilva?” She stepped farther into the office, hand extended. The dog stood up, looking at her. The tail wagged tentatively. Its head was just below the level of the desktop, its light brown fur curly. It had a square nose and the fur at the blunt end of it looked to Tara like a moustache.

“I’m Tara Rezeck.”

The dark-haired man stood to shake Tara’s hand. He was tall and slim. The sleeves of his open-necked dress shirt were rolled up over his elbows, showing ropey forearms. His hand was rough, his grip firm. On the left hand was a large gold ring with a dark stone. “Rezeck? Oh, yes. Sophia called about you.” He indicated a guest chair in front of his desk and sat again. “So you’re looking for a job?”

The dog’s mouth opened slightly and its tail wagged freely now.

Tara already had a crisp new copy of her résumé out of her briefcase. He took it and leaned back in his chair.

She waited, trying not to look around the office like some kind of thief casing the place. It wasn’t much to look at, just the working office of a company that made wine. Messy stacks of paper and notebooks took up most of DaSilva’s desk, and on an extension at right angles to the main part sat a large office telephone and a laptop computer. The screen saver was a picture of a vineyard.

On the wall beside DaSilva, over the laptop computer, a large whiteboard hung, covered with a multi-colored chart and acronyms that Tara could not begin to interpret. Behind him was a large window that looked out into the winery. Beyond high tanks, Tara thought she could see people moving around.

A window on the other side looked outside, where trucks were parked on a wide, dusty yard. Behind that was a thick hedge, a fence, and beyond that the vineyards, on south-facing slopes bathed in sunlight.

“You have a law degree?” DaSilva was staring at her, eyebrows high and mouth slightly open.

Tara nodded. “From the Vermont Law School. I graduated cum laude last spring.”

“Then what are you doing here? Why aren’t you applying for jobs with law firms in Vermont?”

I knew this question was coming. I’m ready for it. “After my daughter was born 18 months ago, I decided I needed a change.” She kept her voice steady, her words paced. “I finished my law degree and came to California to start fresh.”

DaSilva sat forward, a smile growing across his face. “A baby girl? What’s her name?”


DaSilva nodded. “A beautiful name. And where is she now?”

Tara suppressed the hitch she could feel in her throat. “She’s staying with my parents in Burlington for now, until I get established here.”

“Oh, that must be hard on a young mother like yourself.”

I hope he didn’t see me swallow right there. “Yes, I guess it is.” She blinked rapidly and looked at the vineyards. A man in jeans and work boots climbed into a dusty pickup truck and started the engine. More dust blew across the road.

“Well, you still haven’t explained why you’re applying at a vineyard instead of a law office.”

You have this answer prepared, too, Tara. “Thousands of people graduate from law schools every year and come to California looking to start their careers at a prestigious firm with a big reputation. I guess it was naive of me to think I would land a job with all that competition.”

“Even with a cum laude degree from an eastern college?” DaSilva sat back, twirling a pencil in his hand. Tara tried not to let it distract her.

“Even with a cum laude degree. I guess it’s like everything else—it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And I don’t know anyone in California.”

“Except Sophia Vorona.”

“I just met Sophia in Sausalito. She’s very nice.”

“Ah, that’s better.”

“What’s better?”

“You’re smiling, finally. You know, they say you should try to smile in job interviews. It helps the prospective employer feel more positive toward you.”


Wildfires swept across California wine country in 2017, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, and killing dozens of people. Law school grad and single mother Tara Rezeck finds herself in the middle of the catastrophe. When she returns to her job at the most award-winning vineyard in Sonoma County, she finds her employer’s body in the ashes.

The question that challenges her brains and her legal training is: was it an accident? Or was his body burned to hide evidence of murder?

Now available for pre-order on on Amazon (for Kindle e-readers) and Smashwords (for Kobo, Nook and other e-readers).

You can read the first two chapters for free on Wattpad.

About the author

After a 30-year career as a journalist and editor, Scott Bury turned to writing fiction with a children’s story, Sam, the Strawb Part, and a story that bridged the genres of paranormal occult fiction and espionage thriller: Dark Clouds. Since then, he has published 12 novels and novellas without regard to staying in any one genre.

In 2012, he published his first novel, the historical magic realism bestseller The Bones of the Earth. His next book, One Shade of Red, was a satire of a bestseller with a similar title.
From 2014 to 2017, he published the Eastern Front Trilogy, the true story of a Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941, and how he survived the Second World War: Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War.

Scott was invited to write for three Kindle Worlds, where authors base novellas on the fictional worlds of bestselling series. For Toby Neal’s Lei Crime Kindle World, he wrote Torn Roots, Palm Trees & Snowflakes, Dead Man Lying and Echoes.

For Russell Blake’s Jet Kindle World, he contributed Jet: Stealth, featuring the explosive duo of Van and LeBrun.

And for Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye Kindle World, he brought Van and LeBrun back for The Wife Line and The Three-Way.

Now, he is beginning a new mystery series with Wildfire, featuring the smart and passionate Tara Rezeck. Wildfire is currently available for pre-order on Amazon (for Kindle e-readers) and Smashwords (for Kobo, Nook and other e-readers).

Find out more about Scott and his writing on his website,

Character Credibility and Michael Connelly’s The Poet

NOTE: This  post contains spoilers! I am confining my remarks to the relationship arc in The Poet, but these events  impact the  primary story.

Today I’m going to discuss the issue of character credibility, and why it’s important. I’m doing it in the context of Michael Connelly’s The Poet because I just finished listening to the audiobook and I’m still pissed that such a great author handed me two  main characters so lacking in credibility, Jack McEvoy and Rachael Walling. I usually see such problems in books by inexperienced writers, when we are asked to buy a premise that is ridiculous when we consider the actions of the characters. The premise here is that Jack and Rachel had a viable shot at a relationship that is doomed by events during the search for The Poet.

In this case I suspect character credibility the reason there are only two books in the McEvoy series. It’s not the plotting. The storyline is smart. The writing is tight and well-paced. It has to be because I spent much of the book despising Rachael Walling and wanting to  smack McEvoy upside his head while resisting the urge to throw my iPod against the wall.

My issue isn’t with McEvoy’s investigative skills. In those he shows remarkable while believable insight while following the trail Connelly lays out. It’s with McEvoy’s love interest, an FBI agent named Rachael Walling.

Walling has a reputation as a stone bitch who has issues with men. Sure enough, her first encounter with McEvoy occurs when she assaults him, putting him on the ground in the process of  a scam arrest: She makes him believe she is taking him into custody to scare information out of him that she probably could have gotten by asking nicely.  When he figures  out he’s been conned and threatens to file charges, she jeers that he would never admit in open court that little old 5’2″ her put him down. McEvoy scolds her but agrees to start over and cooperate when she turns conciliatory (because dominance and aggression didn’t work).

I’m going to digress here. There are three pit bulls living in my basement. They are not mine, they belong to the owner of the two-family I live in. They are all rescues (Don’t feel sorry for them because they live in the basement. These dogs get primo treatment).

Christmas is a love bug and I always have to give her a good scratch when I go downstairs to do my laundry. Bootsy’s temperament is a little standoffish but he wants a pet now and again and takes biscuits from me easily.

Colby is the reason no one besides me and Rudy can go into the basement.  He will take a biscuit from my hand but reacts aggressively if I move to pet him, even after several years. He once got out and pinned a friend of mine to the wall. It took several tense minutes to edge her out the front door and herd him back into the basement without getting bitten.

I got the message: Don’t trust this dog. Ever.

Back to McEvoy. Given their beginnings, I expect a smart man to look at Wallings the same way I look at Colby: This woman has ISSUES. Stay far, far away. What does McEvoy do? He forgets how she treated him and starts to lust after her. Because she’s hot. Maybe he has his own issues that draw him to abusive women, but he isn’t presented that way so I have no reason to assume he isn’t Connelly’s idea of a rational male.

That was Credibility Ding # 1, that McEvoy was drawn to Walling’s looks and ignored her actions when those actions almost put him in traction. Many women despise this kind of male short-sightedness, as much as many men despise the way women continually excuse men who beat them. I suspect this by itself has alienated female readers.

Ding #2 came when McEvoy has dinner with Walling and all he can think about is wanting to be with her, and what a schmuck he is because when a woman is important, he can’t make the first move (how did she become important? we are given nothing to support that he not only lusts after her but cares about her, and after knowing her like what, five minutes?) He walks her to her motel room and leaves her without attempting to take the evening further, still castigating himself.

Stone bitches with chips on their shoulders regarding the male gender usually respond to  unsolicited advances by filing sexual harassment suits—after using their considerable street combat skills on the schmuck who dared. I would call not making a move on Walling smart. Walling did nothing to indicate she would welcome a move aside from touching his beard, and there was no smouldering look, no suggestive remark, with that touch to indicate it was meant as an invitation. She could have invited him into her room to raid the mini-bar but doesn’t.

While McEvoy continues to regret the pass not made, Walling appears at his door and tells him she’s going to give him a chance to redeem himself. At that point I decided Rachael Walling suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder.

Stone bitches who play fair know they need to make their interest clear and they don’t deal in mixed-messages. Otherwise they are supporting the old, “She really wants it even though she doesn’t say so” BS that women have been fighting at least since the 60s. You can say Walling makes the first move, but she does it by putting Jack down, implying he wasn’t man enough to move on her, even though she made no indication such a move would be welcomed. Walling isn’t fair. She’s manipulative, willing to do whatever she thinks will gain her ends, and has issues. She might even be sociopathic/psychopathic.

You can excuse Jack for falling into bed with her. She’s hot-looking and she offers herself. You can excuse him for being stupid when her behavior continues be erratic (including manipulative games with her ex-husband, also an agent on the team), because he’s still getting laid and people who are infatuated are often in denial about the object of their affections, but still:

McEvoy has established himself as an idiot in my head.

I might stop reading now that McEvoy has lost credibility with me, but the pursuit of The Poet, a homicidal pedophile of the nastiest sort, is worthy. Meanwhile, the investigation has a leak. McEvoy starts to connect the evidence with the dots, and Walling’s erratic behavior (and there is much that she does that’s erratic and manipulative that she glosses over by telling Jack to grow up) leads him quite logically to a horrible conclusion about Rachael.

He’s wrong.

Up to now, The Poet is mostly competent storytelling. I get that Connelly needed Rachael to be a flake for the plot to take the proper shape. He needed Jack to be involved with Rachael for him to know the things he knew to have those dots to connect. But he also needed to make us buy them as characters, as well as buy their relationship, and I couldn’t do that. You can’t have Rachael acting like a psycho bitch and expect us to buy her as misunderstood when the dust settles. As for Jack, his attraction to the crazy woman and blindness to her actions begs for an explanation we are never given.

The icing on this cake is the final resolution:

Rachael blames Jack for reaching the conclusions he did and refuses to forgive him or even listen to him, even though her own behavior would lead any rational person quite logically to the same conclusions. Jack is left mourning the loss of the great love that would never be because he screwed up and didn’t trust her (never mind that she was never trustworthy). He considers following her to Italy where she is said to be on leave. Seriously?

This book could be redeemed. Jack could look at everything that happened and realize Rachael was an entitled, psychotic princess, that she never had anything to give, and he had a narrow escape. Even better, he could tell Rachael she only has herself to blame for his conclusions because she never played straight with him and he doesn’t need a woman who plays games. He could come out of this sadder but wiser about himself, that he invested so much into someone so unworthy. If he had done that, I would not have been left with a sour taste at the end of the book.

In another scenario, Rachael could listen to Jack and realize she invited the whole sorry mess. She could acknowledge the truth about herself. She could for once be honest with Jack and share her truth, whether she realizes she’s damaged and wants to change or whether she likes who she is and Jack was only a means to an end.

Instead, The Poet sinks into romanticizing  Rachael Walling, glossing over immature, irresponsible,  dishonest behavior and never holding her  to account. It asks me to buy Jack McEvoy as a doomed romantic hero instead of a man who is too stupid to live. And that I can’t do.

Rant over.

This is supposed to be a post about writing.  I’m hoping I’ve illustrated can happen when you don’t ground your characters well enough. It’s not just their actions that have to be grounded in and consistent with their motivations. You also have to ground their perceptions of the people and events around them. If your characters are not acting/reacting in a logical way according to events; if they are not perceiving those events through a reasonably accurate lens, you need to lay groundwork to address this in a way that will keep your protagonist sympathetic to readers. Otherwise, they might finish the book, but they are unlikely to come back for more.









Making Your Dog Vomit

16 months ago, eight-month-old Gypsy, canine love of my life, worked the lid off a bottle of 5-HTP and gobbled the pretty capsules like liver treats (did I say she is a very smart girl?) I took the bottle away and thought nothing more about it because it’s just a supplement. Supplements are healthy. Less than two hours later she had a series of small seizures.

I didn’t associate her seizures with the supplement. It was only after running tests and pointed questioning by the vet that I remembered she ate them. At which time, the vet informed me: A. 5-HTP is very dangerous to dogs, even in small amounts,  B. You can preempt many toxic disasters by using hydrogen peroxide to make your dog vomit, and C. if you wait even a few hours, it’s too late to do much of anything. I had to take Gypsy home and pray my ignorance hadn’t caused her permanent harm.

Like a good dog parent, I put all my supplements well out of reach, hopped on the internet, and researched 5-HTP toxicity and how to make your dog vomit. I determined that I would need a 20 ml dose. Oral syringes maxed out at 10 ml (there are now larger syringes available). Knowing how wiggly Gypsy is, I decided to order two so I could deliver the entire dose without stopping to refill.

Fast-forward to last Saturday (incidentally, Gypsy’s second birthday). The vitamin D capsule I poured into my palm bounced and landed on the floor. I bent over to find no capsule and Gypsy licking her lips. This was bedtime on a Saturday night. By the time I got her to a vet that would see her, the window for treatment would be closing.

I read the following at Pet Health Network: “When ingested in poisonous amounts, vitamin D can result in life-threatening elevations in calcium (i.e., hypercalcemia) and phosphorous (i.e., hyperphosphatemia). When this occurs, it results in soft tissue mineralization–or hardening of the tissue. This mineralization often occurs in the kidneys (renal tubules), gastrointestinal tract, aorta, and even the heart. This can result in severe acute kidney failure within just a few days.”

This was followed by an arcane formula for determining toxic levels per your dog’s weight. In my panic, I found the formula too frustrating to deal with and  jumped to emergency action. I hopped onto a couple of sites with written instructions (I found this article to be the most practical).

I then opened my bathroom closet, a catchall for linens, cleaning supplies and various health and hygienic items I haven’t used in more than a decade. In my mad scramble to find the syringes I’d bought more than a year before, I knocked several unopened bottles of supplements and a light bulb onto the floor. The light bulb shattered, drawing Gypsy’s attention. I shut the door and continued my search, ignoring the mess.

I unearthed the syringes and grabbed the peroxide. I measured out Gypsy’s dose (there is disagreement about dosages, anywhere between 5-10 ml per 10 pounds for a dog, with one site saying you should never give more than 45 ml to your dog. Dosage is hugely important. Too much hydrogen peroxide will harm your dog.

Per the article, I mixed it with yogurt (no ice cream on hand) and she ate it, though I had to encourage her. I chose to mix it with food because she’d taken a tiny volume of toxin on an empty stomach and therefore, had little to vomit up.

Ten minutes  of sitting on my front stoop later, nothing happened. I went back to my articles. One said that making your dog move is important. Another said you can give your dog a second dose after 15 minutes. I took Gypsy outside again and walked her up and down the street for several minutes. Nothing happened. Time for a 2nd dose.

This time I loaded the syringes, sat on a stool and wrapped my legs around her while I pried her jaws open and shoved the syringes down her throat. I immediately took her outside and kept walking her until she vomited—which she did several times over the next half-hour.

Relieved, I hugged my girl. I wanted to give her a biscuit, but she was still queasy so I held off on treats for the night. I cleaned up the broken glass, then returned to the page about vitamin D toxicity and carefully reviewed the formula. I did the math.  Gypsy would  need to  ingest 20 capsules to reach a toxic dose. Some birthday.

Lessons learned:

  1. Keep your syringes in an easily accessible spot where you will see them immediately when you need them.
  2. Print out the instructions and keep them with your syringes (Note: Don’t rely solely on this blog post – it’s important to know when to induce vomiting and when to do so will cause more harm. Review several websites and talk to your vet, as opinions differ about dosage and hydrogen peroxide can be toxic).
  3. Get your dog (or cat) moving immediately after you give them the peroxide and keep them moving.
  4. Don’t give a 2nd dose unless you must. I would give it longer than 15 minutes. If you act immediately, you can give a second dose after 20 or 25 minutes and still achieve vomit inside an hour.
  5. Buy a new bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide every year (it does expire. I suspect part of the delay in Gypsy’s vomiting was old peroxide.
  6. Review ALL of your supplements and take the time to determine the amount necessary to reach toxic levels for your dog or cat. Attempting to figure this out in the heat of the moment leads to delays, panic, and mistakes. write this down. Keep it with your syringes.
  7. Review other household dog toxins, including house and garden plants. The ASPCA has an excellent directory of safe and unsafe plants for pets. If your dog likes to chew vegetation, you may want to remove these, or at least put them out of reach.
  8. Don’t have syringes? Amazon now has 30 ml oral syringes. I just bought these.

7. do what I say, not what I did.

Typos in Published Books

Question- how many mistakes  should people find before you upload a fresh copy of your book?

Typos are the bane of every book. They multiply in the dark, like cockroaches. Best-selling author Colleen Hoover once said  her editing team  introduced eight errors into one of her books while applying revisions. As an author, you proofread until you’re cross-eyed, hand the book over to one or more proofreaders and your beta team, and still they creep in.

The difference between self-published books and traditionally published titles is that you are not stuck with the typo once it’s published. You can correct errors at any time and upload a new file. This is both wonderful and awful. It’s great to be able to fix your book, but it also means that “published” doesn’t mean “finished.” And while it’s simple to correct a typo in a manuscript, it can be onerous to transform your updated book into all the files you need and upload them to multiple providers.

Currently I upload to nine distribution platforms, each with their own file requirements. Even with advances in formatting technology that make updating the files easier than ever, It’s a lot of work. If you pay someone to format for you, it can be cost-prohibitive to order up new files every time a reader emails you to point out that a period on page 173 should be a comma or that your book says “two” where it should say “too.”

Today, Stacy Bender (author of Ursa Kane) messaged me to ask how many mistakes  people should find before uploading a corrected manuscript. The answer is, it depends: Ask yourself, how egregious are the mistakes and where are they in the book? Are they true mistakes or grammar nazi* directives? How much time do you have?

One mistake on the first page is worth a new copy because it is a glaring red flag in your Look Inside. Readers will assume that the book is riddled with errors and wasn’t edited or proofed, even though that may not be the case. Always correct errors that occur in the first 10% of your books (the typical online sample) immediately.

Everything else is a value judgement. If you have five minor errors, it’s worth correcting no matter where they are. Fewer, but more egregious errors may require fixing immediately. If you do as I did in Drool Baby and accidentally reveal the killer’s name 20 pages early, stop whatever you are doing,—even if hot pizza just arrived at the door—and fix it. If more than one person points out the same thing, chances are many more people noticed it and are bugged by it, so it’s worth correcting.

On the other hand, If you did something that offends  grammar purists, it may not be a mistake on your part. Some people will insist that contractions have no place in fiction, even in dialogue. Some people are excited by sentence fragments and overused elipses. Creative punctuation or patterns of speech intended to convey deeper meaning  will always have their detractors. In such cases, consider each instance carefully.

Some you chalk up to operating by a different set of conventions. Others, especially when using creative punctuation or patterns of speech, are more serious. It may be that your intent is not clear in the choices you made and your readers find the result distracting to the point it pulls them out of immersion in your book. When this happens, your creative license is working against you. Then it’s time for some tough love. Is there a way to reframe your phrasing or punctuation to make your intent clear and distraction free?

Whatever decision you make, be gracious to the reader who pointed out the mistake. Whether you agree with them or not, they care enough about your book to take the time to tell you about it. Okay, some folks do have darker motives, but you can’t always tell who they are, so always err on the side of being gracious. Well-meaning (even if cranky) fans will appreciate it, and it will piss off the nasty sort. ;D

*I adore and rely on my grammar nazis, but there are times I don’t agree with them.

Things You Don’t Know About Michael Dourson

I normally stay away from politics in this blog, but I find myself in a unique position. Dr. Michael L. Dourson, my Northside neighbor for 28 years, has been nominated for the office of Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention in the EPA. His Senate hearing is imminent. There is much in the press questioning Michael’s ties to industry and expressing worries that he will relax standards. None of this has been written by anyone who actually knows him.

Michael’s wife, Martha, is a dog park regular. I house sit for them when they are out of town. A few years ago, Michael requested my help publishing his Evidence of Faith books. This series is based on classes he has taught at his church for many years, demonstrating how science (including evolution) supports, and it supported by, the Bible. There are currently three books in this series, with a fourth nearing completion.

I took on this project because I was impressed  by Mike’s ability to reconcile two traditionally opposed sides of highly inflammatory topics while honoring both; his ability to share this information in a way that is engaging and accessible to anyone; his transparency in citing sources and rationale; his willingness to cite alternative views; and his humility in recognizing that new research and discovery will need to be taken into consideration. I have found him passionate, engaging and empowering to work with.

Some have questioned Mike’s ability to separate religion from his duties, based solely on the fact that he has published these books. In all the time I have known him, Mike has never once asked me about my religious views or discussed his books in a way that suggested he was trying to influence my beliefs—even though some might justifiably feel that my beliefs were relevant to working on this project.

As for relaxing standards, I am no expert and am not qualified to judge his work. I do know that he is an internationally recognized and awarded toxicologist. In any conversations we’ve had about his toxicology work, Mike has been utterly transparent and provided sound reasoning behind his decisions. In his three plus decades doing this work, I am not aware of any instance where Mike’s recommendation resulted in harm. If such instances existed, surely the people expressing concern about his nomination would blare them from their headlines.

As I said, I am no expert. But I know many things about the Dourson family that are not being made public, and say much about Mike’s values as well as his position on ecological matters:

The Dourson family owns both a farm, which they lease out, and wilderness property with cabins that they rent. I’ve eaten many meals in the Dourson home, made with produce from their one-acre kitchen garden, which is 99% organic (Martha uses chemicals to combat potato bugs when they occur). I’ve stayed in their cabins, which are currently managed by one of their sons, who is involved with innovative, ecologically-oriented technologies.

I’m intimately acquainted with the Dourson home. The house was designed for minimal energy usage—well before ecological concerns came into public awareness. They rarely have their air conditioning on. 90% of their garbage goes into the recycle bin or a compost heap. What remains (usually less than a gallon of garbage) is hardly worth putting out on the curb. Their overall lifestyle is modest. They’ve owned the same cars for years. I frequently take photographs of the gorgeous flowers in their natural gardens.

The Doursons are very community conscious. Mike and Martha hold monthly brainstorming sessions with the owner of Happen, Inc., a Northside non-profit dedicated to strengthening families through art activities. Additionally, Happen empowers teens to find employment and learn how to run a business. They also engage in other community building activities. Martha has served as president of the Northside Community Council. She has volunteered at Dress for Success for 15 years.

When I am looking for someone to make decisions about matters which I am not qualified to assess, I have to look at the man, and by extension his family. These are modest people who love living things, are committed to community, and willing to get their hands dirty to make the world a better place. Everything I know about Michael Dourson tells me he acts out of conviction and rigorous research, not for gain;  that he is honest, honorable, and uniquely qualified to make difficult decisions that affect millions of lives.

Summer Indie Reads

Summer Reads Bonanza – Indie Series Starters and Anthologies

This page is a love story.  in 2011, I threw A Shot in the Bark up on Amazon. I had no clue what I was doing. I wasn’t alone. There were a thousand like me congregating in the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) forum, all trying to figure out this new world. Unfortunately, people who reported successes often wound up with a slew of 1* troll reviews on Amazon. Bobbi Holmes messaged me on Facebook one day in 2012 and said she wanted to start a private group where serious self-publishers could share their experiences without fear of retribution. We named this group The Retreat.

We have become family.

This page lists series starters from some of our members. Many are free or priced at $.99. I’ve also included four Retreat short story anthologies (2 are free). There is also  a romance box set that includes one of our authors, with the proceeds designated   for a good cause.

Click on any of the covers to read a preview on Amazon. NOTE: Prices are subject to change. 2nd NOTE: The covers with preview links are not showing up if you are viewing this post through a third party, such as Goodreads, or via email. Surf on over to the site for the full effect.


End of the Road

This is a multi-genre anthology of short stories on the theme of “the end of the road.” My own contribution became the prologue for Maximum Security.

Roads end. They begin somewhere, too. In between, all manner of things happen: friendship, betrayal, horror and maybe even joy. For some, the End of the Road brings love and happiness, for others agony and suffering, and for a precious few, sorrow may lead to something revelatory. The potholes and pitfalls found in this anthology are many, but for every character, there is an end of the road.

This road ends in a collection of short stories by 25 of the most gifted writers of our time. Intended for lovers of short fiction everywhere, the End of the Road is a must read for anyone intent on keeping current with the literary scene.

Contributing authors: Brandon Hale, Robert Thomas, Saxon Andrew, James Rozoff, Anna J. McIntyre, Donna B. McNicol, Randall Morris, James Rozoff, Alison Blake, Jeanette Raleigh, L. S. Burton, Jess Mountifield, C. A. Newsome, J R C Salter, Michael Meyer, E. B. Boggs, David A. Cuban, Scott Langrel, John Daulton, Kathleen Steed, Chris Ward, Jacques Antoine, Suzie O’Connell, Thomas Jenner, Angeline Perkins

The Kiss

Another multi-genre offering with each story centered around a kiss. Bonus: a Colleen Hoover story in the Slammed universe.

A kiss is a simple communication. It can also be an exchange, a betrayal, an assault, a promise, a hope…or it could be a goodbye. The intimacy of a kiss cannot be denied. Whether shared, stolen or simply dreamed of, its recipient will be affected. Thirty-one stories by authors from around the world will tease your imagination as you anticipate ‘The Kiss’ in each weird or wonderful tale.

This cross-genre anthology contains stories by Kate Aaron, Saxon Andrew, Jacques Antoine, Alison Blake, E. B. Boggs, Shirley Bourget, Ben Cassidy, Jason Deas, Sharon Delarose, Meghan Ciana Doidge, Suzy Stewart Dubot, Corrie Fischer, Brandon Hale, Traci Tyne Hilton, Colleen Hoover, Mona Ingram, J.L. Jarvis, Elizabeth Jasper, Anna J. McIntyre, Jess Mountifield, C. A. Newsome, S. Patrick O’Connell, Suzie O’Connell, Jeanette Raleigh, J. R. C. Salter, Molly Snow, Holli Marie Spaulding, Cleve Sylcox, Robert Thomas, Chris Ward and George Wier.


Bobbi Holmes – The Ghost of Marlow House, Haunting Danielle #1 

$.99 (13 Book Series) Bobbi is a veteran writer who started self-publishing back in the days when that meant a garage full of books that you hoped you could sell before they mildewed. She is the sister I’ve never met. One of the drawbacks of working at home is no one to have coffee with.  Bobbi and I have frequent chats via Messenger when we need a break. In Haunting Danielle, Danielle Boatman  discovers  a flirtatious Flapper era ghost named Walt in residence when she decides to turn Marlow House into a seaside bed and breakfast. It’s the beginning of a beautiful partnership. Their first job: Discover who killed Walt, and why.

Read this fun series in sequence. Each story builds on the last as Danielle’s life becomes increasingly complicated with new friends, new ghosts, and new murders.


Nick Russell – Big Lake, Big Lake #1

$3.99 (11 Book Series) Nick looks like a big teddy bear (okay, a short, wide teddy-bear, or as he prefers, “dwarf-portly”). Don’t let his looks fool you. Nick is the guy I want at my back in dark alleys. This New York Times best seller is a Vietnam War hero, a former criminal investigator for the Arizona attorney general, and a long-time newsman. His books are  humorous, fast paced reflections of the chaos real cops deal with, as sheriff Jim Weber wades through trigger-happy preppers, delinquent teenagers, a nymphomaniac suspect and a bombastic mayor out for his badge as he searches for the person who shot his brother in law and took off with S300, 000. An essential truth in Jim Weber’s world: Tough guys do cry.

C. A. Newsome – A Shot in the Bark, Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries #1

FREE! (6 Book Series) This is my series, just in case you found this post through one of the other authors and have no clue who I am. You know the people you see at the dog park every day? The ones you talk to more than you talk to your own family? The ones you know nothing about? One of Lia’s dog park friends is a serial killer, and this special friend has decided to do Lia a very special favor. If you enjoy A Shot in the Bark, you can get the next book in the series, Drool Baby, by signing up for my newsletter.

Billy Kring  Hunter Kincaid Mystery #1: QUICK

$4.99 (5 Book Series) Billy is another former border patrol agent with a grittier style featuring  Hunter Kincaid, a badass female border patrol agent in West Texas. Not for the faint of heart.

D. B. McNicol – Not a Whisper, Klondike Mystery #1

$3.99 (2 Book Series) Sparks fly when When Cherie Marshall meets  State Trooper Fire Marshall Jamison “Jazz” Maddox at the scene of a mysterious fire. They soon find themselves in the middle of a local crime wave where arson, kidnapping, embezzlement and a decades old murder are just the tip of the iceberg.

Zoey & Claire Kane – The Riddles of Hillgate, Z & C Mysteries #1

$.99 (7 book series ) Zany good fun: Zoey and Claire must appease a riddle-happy ghost if they are ever to  complete their plan to turn an old mansion into a hotel.


Jacques Antoine – Girl Fights Back, Emily Kane Adventure #1

$3.99 (7 Book Series )  Jacques was inspired to write this series by his daughter’s pursuit of martial arts. Emily Kane’s life is sheltered and quiet. Her only passion is the martial arts. An attack by a trained assassin exposes family secrets as well as Emily’s inherent, previously unrealized, and alarming talent for mayhem. The only thing more terrifying than the men hunting her is what she may discover about herself.


Colleen Hoover – Slammed (Slammed #1)

7.99 (3 Book Series and numerous stand-alones) I  first met Colleen when she was under attack in the KDP forums. She’d just released Slammed, and other forum members decided she’d faked or bought the 50 5-star reviews that popped up on Amazon the first week it was out (No, it was just that good). A few months later it wound up on the New York Times best seller list (She’s been a regular on that list every since) and she signed with Simon & Schuster. Now hordes of young women riot at airports around the world when she flies in for a book signing. Colleen’s world has gone crazy but she remains kind and generous and down to earth and fun. Her secret sauce: Colleen draws on her years as a social worker to give you relatable young people fighting the kind of challenges she encountered in her years as a social worker, and she draws her characters so well you can’t help but ache for them. Prepare to cry fat, ugly tears.

Colleen also has a Free Novella

Suzie O’Connell – The Abalone Shell, Sea Glass Cove #1

$3.99 Suzie is well known for her Montana romances. She’s also a fabulous photographer and her shots of big sky country on Facebook are a treat. This is the first book in her new series. If you like cowboy romances, check out the box set below. You’ll find her first book, Mountain Angel and five other full-length titles.

Kiss Me Cowboy

$.99 (6 book box set) Six Western Romance authors have joined up to support  veterans through their favorite charity — Heroes & Horses — and offer you this sexy box set with Six Full Length Contemporary Cowboy Novels, filled with steamy kisses and Happy Endings.

Mona Ingram- Forever Changed, Forever #1

Free! (8 novella series) Mona had a long career as a mid-list author of sweet romances before she took the reins in her career and started self-publishing. Each book in the Forever series features a different woman and explores the common theme of a major life change, and how that change leads to an enduring love. Set in and around Victoria on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, many of the characters appear in more than one book, affording a sense of continuity. There are no cliff-hangers. The entire series is also available as a box set.

Amazon US:

Amazon UK:




Author’s website:


Stephen Arseneault

Free! (Stephen has 38 books in the several  series that comprise his universe) Stephen’s books span millennia of wars and interplanetary politics in a style reminiscent of the golden age of sci-fi.



T R Harris

$.99 (19 book series) Since the dawn of science fiction, aliens have always been stronger and more powerful than  humans. When Adam Cain’s ship is hijacked by aliens he didn’t know existed, he discovers power he didn’t expect. Sounds great, right? The problem? There’s only one of him. Roam far galaxies with Adam as he kicks butt and takes names.

Jess Mountefield

$.99 (5 Book Series) Jess is the originator of Adamanta, a multi-author sci-fi series that follows a rag-tag military unit fighting for the survival of the human race. Their secret weapon is Adamanta, a recently discovered metal that can be controlled by thought alone. Their mastery of the metal is a small ray of hope in an otherwise unwinnable struggle.

Use this clever link to by Adamanta at your choice of Amazon stores: –

Chris Wood

Free! (4 Book Series) In a dystopian future, London tunnel rats—tube riders—are the only hope to topple a corrupt government whose depredations are only beginning.


Meghan Ciana Doidge

Free! (6 Book Series with 2 spin off series) Meghan is my Canadian BFF (buried somewhere on Facebook are photos of us sharing a booth at BookExpo 2016). She writes urban fantasy with chocolate. I’m not sure how that works with dog park detectives, but we share a lot of fans. Jade is a twenty-something half-witch, who thinks her only talent lies in baking cupcakes and making pretty trinkets. When a vampire and a group of shapeshifters show up at her bakery, she discovers how very wrong she is – and not only about her meager magic. Jade’s only defense against this onslaught of betrayal, black magic, and murder is her trinkets, sarcastic wit, and substantial chocolate stash. The Dowser Series is a wickedly fun read full of magic and mayhem.

Amazon Smart URL (non affiliate):

Web page:

Steve Hammond

$3.99 (6 Book Series) An ancient race of penguin has reemerged and is determined to drive the human presence away from Antarctica and exact revenge for  atrocities against penguinkind. Only Lavour questions the motives of his Overlord. But can one penguin bring an end to the bloodshed and change their course of probable annihilation and restore peace?

Trish Dawson

FREE! (6 Book Series) When Piper commits suicide, she winds up at the Station, a place where she is given the opportunity to redeem herself by becoming the conscience of someone at risk of making the same choice. ill-equipped and facing an eternity in a personal hell, Piper will learn more about living than she ever knew when she was alive.






Kristie Haigwood

$.99 (3 Book Series) Heaven and Hell are out of balance and war is brewing. Love exists in the afterlife. What happens when it crosses enemy lines? These books are love stories as much as they are fantasies and stories of redemption.

John Daulton

$.99 (5 Book Series) Good old-fashioned mages … with aliens. Worlds apart, Altin and Orli share a destiny, but neither knows the other is alive. The Hostiles know. And they have other plans.

Brandon Hale

Free! (4 book series) Despite his love of horror, Brandon is possibly the most pure soul I have ever known and has only become more so since we met. In Day Soldiers, Vamps and werewolves have ended millennia of hiding and joined forces in a war against humanity. While this series is good paranormal/horror/adventure fun, it also considers the larger questions of war in a thoughtful way.

The Bitten

$4.99 Vampire, Werewolves and Spooks, oh my! I helped Jess Mountifield organize this anthology in 2014. Previous Retreat anthologies were free, intended as a fun way to share a bit of ourselves with readers. We needed to make money with this one. Fun, funny Brandon quit his job some months earlier to write full time. Then he was struck down by an obscure variety of colon cancer. His life since that time has been a battle as horrific as any ever described in the pages of one of his beloved horror novels. It’s a battle that rages on today, and one that has left Brandon and his wife Laura struggling to make ends meet. It has been humbling to witness their courage and the love that this devastating disease has been unable to shake. We put this anthology together in the hope that it would provide a measure of ongoing financial support for this amazing couple.

Jeanette Raleigh

FREE! ( 2 Book Series, with book 3 due out any day) Two untrained elemental sisters must put aside their differences and work together if they are to protect family secrets and rescue the third sister from a vile next of vampires.

Randy Morris

$3.99 (3 Book Series) Follow Shadow, Leech, and Lilith as they fight angels, nephilim, and sometimes other demons on the path to become minor demons.

Flights of Fantasy – Anthology

$.99 This collection of wintry tales mixes the strange and the macabre, and swirls in a touch of holiday magic. Captured within a globe of dancing mists, these stories take the reader across the worlds of Fairie and alien alike, while Texas-sized dreams fill the void of a lifetime across the fields of hardship. This varied collection touches the heart and fuels the soul to bring these worlds to life, at winter’s edge.


Cameron Lowe

$2.99 (5 Book Series) Cameron is the funniest guy I know. I stalk him on Facebook just to catch transcripts of his conversations with his pug, Yoda. Blending suspense, the supernatural, and romance, the Rankin Flats supernatural thrillers follow Garrett, friend the dead, as he and his ghostly best friend take on shapeshifters, serial killers, and mystical cannibals out to make Garrett their next meal. Their lives are thrown into more upheaval when the fiery Brianna comes back to their city, leaving Garrett wondering if he can still live a vigilante’s life and have happiness too. Though at times dark and gruesome, the Rankin Flats novels are really about finding a hand in the darkness. Fans of Dean Koontz or Robert McCammon in particular might find a lot to love here.

Scott Langrel

FREE! (7 Book Series) Finn McCoy is a paranormal handler. He handles things that ordinary paranormal investigators can’t or won’t, and he often ends up cleaning up behind them. For fifteen years, McCoy has turned his back on his hometown of Shallow Springs, Virginia, and the dark secrets the town harbors. But now an evil, unstoppable force has been unleashed on the unsuspecting residents of the town, and McCoy finds himself the only thing standing between the town and total destruction.

James Rozoff

$3.99 (2 Book Series ) Ambitious young magician Doug Slattery enters a Faustian deal with the mysterious Ashavan. In return for finding seven powerful stones, Ashavan will cough up his secrets. The pair soon realizes they’re in over their heads and the stones would be better left buried. That’s no longer an option: Larger events have now been set in motion and a clock is ticking.





I Have a Hunger to Write a Book

” I have loved words and books since I was a child. I feel I have a hunger to write a book brewing back in my subconscious. Hoping that in my lifetime it can come to fruition by the right timing and place in my life, not while working fulll time as an RN.”

Courtney wrote the above in a comment on one of my posts about writing. This is my response:

Courtney – There is no such thing as “right timing” to begin writing. Yes, there will hopefully come a time when work and family are not so demanding you you have more time to pursue things that please you. I know many authors who started writing in retirement.

But if you wait until the perfect day comes, chances are you will eagerly clear your desk, sharpen your pencils (or load a new cartridge in your fountain pen, or set up that writing software), shoo your spouse off to play golf, then sit down and open your notebook or document …

And draw a complete blank.

You will make false starts that will have you deciding you’re not quite ready.  You will decide to do research, you will retreat to read books by popular authors to help you decide what you should write. Maybe you will invest in a bunch of writing books and tutorials to help you get started.

None of these things will help.

After many unproductive and unrewarding days, you will find it easier to watch Seinfeld reruns and that book you want to write will slip away as a silly dream of your youth.

Waiting to begin is a bad strategy. Think about friends who have decided to get fit. Maybe they set a goal, they will hike the Appalachian Trail, run a marathon or even bike across America. None of these people waited until the day came to get started, and we understand why: to launch yourself into such a lofty goal with no preparation is to doom yourself to failure.

Writing a book can be compared to hiking the Appalachian Trail. It is an overwhelming  undertaking. You are guaranteed to find yourself stuck in  the woods during a torrential downpour regretting that you ever left your cozy home. And when you finish you will feel a satisfaction as great as anything you ever accomplish in your life.

The thing is, when you run into trouble on the trail, you’re miles from civilization. You can only go forward or back, and back is just as painful as forward, so it is easier to make the decision to stick with it.

(Ten years ago I crossed the Andes on horseback, riding over a skinny trail  that hugged the mountainside—a trail covered with loose gravel from many rockslides. Have I mentioned that I am terrified of heights? It was an incredible experience, but one I only completed because I had No Way Out.)


You are focussing on the wrong things. It’s all well and good to buy a map if you want to walk the Appalachian Trail, but no amount of knowledge, time or money will help if you don’t exercise your legs and strengthen them slowly over time.

A writer’s legs is his/her imagination. This is the muscle you need to exercise and strengthen so that when the time comes it does not fail you. Everything else is secondary.

Start today. Play the What If game. The advantage of this is that there is no pressure and you can play with characters and scenarios to your heart’s content. You can play What If in five minute increments, anywhere. You can do this on the bus, while you are doing dishes, or even during boring sexual encounters.

The advantage to this approach is that you are under no pressure to be productive and therefore your imagination will not disappear faster than a teenager who has been told to mow the lawn.

As you exercise your imagination, you are also exploring ideas that you will use later. And if you jot down your ideas (say keep them in One Note on your phone) you will find yourself refining a book treatment without thinking about it.

BONUS: Folks with demanding jobs will find a quick round of What If is a great way to handle stress. Especially if they indulge in question #5, below.

When it comes time to write your book (and you will become so enthused you will FIND the time), you will already know what to write and it will be FUN.

Playing What If is easy. All you do is ask yourself questions and play with the answers. My dad travelled for work and used to amuse himself on the road by speculating what the people around him in restaurants were doing – where they came from, why they were with the people they were with, and the nature of their conversations.

Anything can inspire a round of What If, and you can create your own questions. Here are some examples to get your started:

  1. What kind of heroine do I want to read about in a book?
  2. What world does she live in?
  3. How does she get her laundry done?
  4. What does she do when she’s pissed off?
  5. What would be the most enjoyable way to murder my boss?
  6. How could I get away with it?
  7. What are the two women in the next booth talking about?
  8. What is my dog thinking?
  9. What, besides cockroaches and Twinkles (oh, wait, we no longer have Twinkles) will survive Armageddon?
  10. Where is that weird-looking guy going and what is he going to do when he gets there? How will that work out for him? For everyone around him? What will he do next?

It really is that easy. Quick now, the next person you lay eyes on, what will they do if they will the lottery?


Mastering Productivity with Food

TBI makes me the canary in the coal mine when it comes to focus, and nothing brings on brain fog faster than food. I’ve known which foods to eat for years, but it’s taken me longer to accept which foods not to eat and to develop a comprehensive strategy around my eating.

Last November I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in which hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world—from aspiring to published—commit to writing 50,000 words in one month. I knew if I was going to be successful I would have to rehab my eating. Not only was November my most productive month since my injury, I started losing weight.


Cut the Carbs. This means refined sugar, grain, and starchy vegetables. Sweets and bread vie for top offender.

Limit sugar to fruit and very small amounts of a raw honey, pure maple syrup, or dehydrated cane syrup. Any kind of corn syrup—now the primary sweetener used in commercial foods—is horrible and should be eliminated. Stevia is okay, if you like it (I don’t). There are a lot of issues around artificial sweeteners and studies that demonstrate they actually make you eat more to make up for the calories your body expected to get with the sweetness.

Wheat and gluten have been associated with brain fog, so it’s doubly important to cut back or eliminate wheat products. Sprouted wheat is acceptable. I buy Food for Life sprouted grain bread. (Bonus: their Ezekiel 4:9 bread is available at Costco). I keep it in the freezer and pop slices in the toaster whenever I need it. I’ll use it instead of a bun when I make a hamburger at home. No, it doesn’t have the same mouth feel, but I like it better. Especially after I’ve grilled it in ghee and spread it with pesto and mozzarella cheese.

My favorite pasta substitutes are spaghetti squash and raw zucchini noodles. I’ll bake a couple whole spaghetti squash for about an hour until the skin is soft, let them cool, then scrape out the “strings” inside. I package single servings in baggies and freeze enough for weeks.

Zucchini noodles are great because they are fast, fresh and raw. Raw foods are fabulous for health and energy. I have a device like an oversized pencil sharpener that allows you turn an 8 inch zucchini into a single serving of raw pasta in less than 5 minutes. Then you can top it with anything your heart desires.

I eat sweet potatoes instead of white. They’re still starchy, so I save them for the evening. I’ll microwave the potato and mash it up with ghee, walnuts and a touch of maple syrup. You could try curry and cashews instead of the maple syrup and walnuts for a savory taste. Bonus: The turmeric in curry is associated with cancer prevention as well as having a healing effect on dementia. Turmeric also helps manage arthritis.

If you must have a grain, quinoa is your best bet for a variety of reasons.

I  don’t advise giving carbs up entirely because to do so is likely to cause rebellion and binging. Instead, schedule your once or twice weekly carb-y treats for late in the day when focus is no longer an issue.

I developed specific eating strategies to promote maximum mental focus that I pulled together . Happily, this strategy is also excellent for losing weight and I dropped 17 pounds over the holidays.

Control your potions. Overeating causes food comas. The average restaurant meal is twice the size of what your body comfortably handles. Yes, the average person can consume a quart of food without discomfort, but it is not optimal to do so. I’ve cut back my meals to a single item, no more than a pint of easily digestible food. I eat 4 – 5 times a day, saving anything heavy or carb-y for evenings.

The lighter your meals, the better your focus. People who fast one day a week report being very focused and productive on fasting days. Some day I will try this, but I’m not there yet.

An average day for me:

2 hard-boiled eggs in the morning followed by decaf coffee. I boil up a dozen at a time using either my Dash egg cooker or my InstantPot, so it’s easy to grab them on my way out the door to the dog park.

Mid-morning I make up a 1 quart smoothie (1 cup blueberries, ½ avocado-frozen for convenience, 1 banana, my assortment of superfoods and Silk almond milk.) I’ll sip on this over the few hours. It keeps me until 2-3 p.m.

Late afternoon I’ll have something that is heavy on vegetables with some protein. One of my favorite things is nuking chopped spinach and tossing in a handful of mozzarella cheese along with a mashed can of sardines. If I have something lighter, I’ll eat heavier in the evening.

Somewhere in here I may sip on 24 ounces of water with 2 tablespoons of chia seeds (I’ll make this in my water bottle a day in advance to give the chia seeds chance to soften and germinate) flavored with tart cherry juice and a little raw honey.

Later in the evening, I’ll have a snack – a banana, a sweet potato, or Costco’s Mega-Omega Trail Mix. Another favorite snack is dipping romaine leaves into dressing, salsa or sauce.

You must have fats. Fats are essential for brain function and are a much better brain food than sugar. Not all fats are equal, and some of the most widely used are linked with health issues. There are exotic oils I have jet to experiment with, but the best and most readily available fats are coconut oil (for cooking, but I also make brain candy with it), Olive oil for salads, and my newest best friend, ghee, which is clarified butter. Butter is good, though ghee tolerates higher temperatures and the same country which brought us cancer-fighting curry has claimed ghee as a healer for centuries.

Ghee adds wonderful flavor to foods. I cook eggs in it. I grill sprouted-gran bread in it. I’ll add a large spoonful to soups and sauces.

Other sources of healthy fats are nuts—walnuts are a special brain food (not peanuts – they contain aflatoxin and should not be eaten), avocados, and oily fish such as wild caught salmon, sardines and anchovies. Bonus: canned sardines and anchovies are no only super convenient, they are caught young, before they have time to accumulate high levels of mercury, making them among the safest fish to eat.)

As for animal fats, this long reviled food has seen a rehabilitated reputation in recent years. Do your due diligence on this.

Eliminate stimulants. The more powerful the stimulant, the bigger the crash. Most Americans live in a constant cycle of consuming stimulants followed by crashes. Get rid of all of them. This includes carbs, especially sugar, and caffeine. That doughnut and coffee (or soda) you eat first thing in the morning is setting you up for a major crash.

People who crawl to their coffee maker in the morning don’t realize that they are in caffeine withdrawal. Their morning cup is necessary to make them feel normal. They often get started on this cycle because they don’t get enough rest and drink coffee in the morning to make up the difference.

Ditch the coffee or cola. If you must have your morning joe, switch to decaf. It will take less than a week to clear the caffeine out of your system (tough out the headaches they only last a few days.) Provided you get enough rest and aren’t taking medications that interfere with your natural rest cycle, you’ll wake up feeling rested and alert and feeling better than you have in years.

If you feel the need for extra focus, raw cacao powder (I put it in smoothies and make brain candy with it) and green tea will give you a boost but do not cause the extreme crashes of coffee and colas.

Avoid processed foods. They’re full of everything bad for you: high fructose corn syrup, wheat or other carbs, and a whole host of chemicals that do Heaven knows what to you. Instead, get bags of frozen vegetables (reasonably priced bulk frozen organic vegetables are available at Costco) you can nuke a serving at a time and top these with carefully vetted, preferably organic, condiments and sauces.

If you must have convenience foods, buy imported foods and check the labels carefully. Many other countries do not dump chemicals into their food supply the way we do. Some countries will not allow our processed foods to be imported for this reason. I do not profess to be an expert here. Do your due diligence. Tip: shop at culture specific groceries (Mexican, Asian, Indian) for great deals.

Forget fast food, or at least limit it to once a week, preferably less. It’s full of everything bad. You may, with careful research, find an item or two on the menu that is acceptable.

Eat lots of veggies. raw veggies in salads are excellent for focus. Frozen veggies that don’t contain extra sauce are good. Carefully vet canned food. Too much of it contains additives that aren’t good for you.

Keep it green. The greener the better. Kale and Swiss chard are the best of land greens. Romane lettuce is far behind but better than other lettuces and has the bonus of being raw. Seaweeds are fabulous. Some folks supplement their green intake with algae powders such as chlorella, which studies indicate has benefits for the brain.

Get your protein, but not too much. A high protein, low carb diet is optimal for brain focus. Keep your portions of protein small, a quarter pound or less. More can send you into a food coma. You can, however, have as many veggies as you like.

About alcohol and recreational drugs. Seriously? You have to ask this? No. Just no. Some folks say a glass of red wine a week is okay, but why torture yourself?


  • Avocados
  • Basil
  • Beets
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Cacao
  • Celery
  • Chlorella
  • Coconut Oil
  • Egg yolks
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Oily fish, Wild-caught salmon, sardines and anchovies
  • Rosemary
  • Salmon
  • Seaweed
  • Shrimp
  • Turmeric
  • Walnuts

Endless Rewrites and How to Stop Them

Someone shared the above graphic in Taylor Stevens Facebook group recently. Podcaster and really good guy Stephen Campbell of The Author Biz commented: “For me, the erasing and retyping what you just wrote areas need to be larger, which probably shrinks that already small purple section.”

It was a call for help. Not really, but it felt like one and it got all my “gotta fix this” neurons buzzing. Our group was just wrapping up a conversation about how annoying it is to get unsolicited advice, so instead of telling Steve what he should do, I am tossing my thoughts here where people can stumble upon them and be awed by my wisdom (yeah, right).

NOTE: None of the thoughts below are commentary on Steve’s writing or his processes. The first is quite competent and the second I know nothing about. These are my thoughts, generated in response to his statement.

What does it mean when you keep rewriting the same scene, paragraph, sentence, over and over? 

  1. You aren’t clear about your characters’ motivations.
  2. You know something is wrong, but you don’t know what.
  3. You don’t believe the way you write is good enough and you’re chasing “Style.”
  4. You’re afraid.

Which one it is depends on the nature of your rewrites.


If you keep changing what your characters say and do, if you’re unsure what should happen and how it should happen, it points to not being grounded in who your characters are and why they do what they do. Maybe you are too focused on the what and not enough on the why.

Action starts with motivation. If you know what motivates your characters, you don’t have to invent what happens next. You just have to ask them how they’re going to deal with matters as they stand.

Inventing a character’s motivations and personality from scratch is, to me, an overwhelming process of “if X experienced Y, she is now motivated by the need for Z and is likely to do A, B and C.”

After five novels, I am more comfortable inventing characters. In the beginning I drew on people I knew – in some case, soup-to-nuts, with their permission. (BTW, I don’t recommend this. It has worked for me, but with the caveat that I have to consider how they will feel about what I do with them in my books.) Most authors do this to some extent.

Pick your boozy Uncle George to be the alcoholic father of your victim, but make him a plumber instead of a stockbroker, make him 50 pounds lighter and shave his head. This gives you plausible deniability.

When your detective questions him, you’ll know exactly how he will respond and what he will say because you’ve been watching Uncle George all your life. Perhaps you’ve given George sixteen tentacles or super strength. You still understand him well  enough to know what he’d do what that kind of power.

This is a form of working backwards, taking an existing personality and unpacking it. You may never have considered why George acts the way he does, but you start out instinctively knowing what he will do. Over the course of your book you can explore NotGeorge and discover important things about him that will enrich your story. Meanwhile, you will have a believable character with consistent behavior.

The bonus of this strategy is the events in your story evolve in an organic fashion, with solid grounding, and complications will emerge on their own.


Something in your story isn’t working, so you keep rewriting bits, hoping it will come together. The rewrites aren’t helping because they don’t address the real problem. There are three issues that will kill a story:

Your lead character isn’t compelling enough. The character isn’t sympathetic or admirable. They don’t have to be perfect. It’s better if they’re not. But you do have to give us reason to care about them or your story will fall flat and readers won’t finish your book.

Your story lacks structure. A story is like a house. If it doesn’t have all the parts we expect, nobody will buy it. This topic is beyond the scope of a blog post, but there are many books on the subject.

The stakes aren’t high enough. You haven’t communicated why all the drama in your book matters. Ho hum.


You want to be a wordsmith with a unique voice. I get it. We all want that. Pursuit of a “mature” style was something everyone aspired to during my years in art school. The thing is, if you pursue it for it’s own sake, you are likely to wind up sounding like someone else or very contrived.

Imagine we are all ice cream. We look around us and we see Sally, who is chocolate ice cream. David is cherry cordial ice cream and Becky is black raspberry chocolate chip. And there’s us, and we’re just plain old ice cream. No flavor. It’s horribly demoralizing.

What I need to understand is I’ve got a flavor, I just don’t know what it is and I need to grow into it. Other people can see it but it’s invisible to me because it’s just the way I do things, and since I do it all the time, it’s nothing special.

True style grows from the inside out. It results from your unique tastes, sense of logic, and priorities. If you ignore everything else out there and listen to yourself when you look at your work, what makes a sentence or a paragraph fulfill its purpose—in your eyes, you will get there.

Focus on the story and what it takes to tell it. Please yourself in the process. Style will take care of itself.

Chances are you have heroes who are amazing wordsmiths. They didn’t start out that way, and it takes years to learn enough—about writing, about yourself—to make tweaking every word a productive enterprise. In early days it’s more likely to be a case of polishing the deck on the Titanic.

Focus on your story and getting it told. Get it all down on paper, and expect much if not most of it to be written badly. Put it away for a month and when you come back, apply yourself to structural issues. chances are, your issues are there, not in how you word your sentences. If you tell a good story, 95% of readers won’t notice that you’ve used “that” ten times on one page.

Save line editing for the third go round. Focus on whether your sentences flow well and convey what they need to convey, no more. If you spend a lot of time prettying up your verbage, you risk creating “darlings,” those precious but useless sentences we refuse to cut because they are so adorable.

You’re allowed to own a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, but read it and forget about it.


Endlessly rewriting your stuff can be a means of coping with fear. You can sit down at your computer and work on your book every day without ever coming close to having a finished manuscript. This keeps you safe from ever having to face public opinion.

The way to reduce fear is to manage your expectations. Very few writers launch their careers with bestsellers. If they did, chances are, Like Harper Lee, they had extensive mentoring and editing before they published. (Taylor Stevens is another matter. We won’t talk about her.)

Most big name authors published not-so-great stuff under a different name before they hit upon their secret sauce and big success. I’m talking Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, and even Lawrence Block, who wrote lesbian porn early in his career. Tami Hoag published meh romantic suspense early in her career before she wrote A Thin Dark Line.

But what about first books that became NYT bestsellers? The Celestine Prophecy? The Christmas Box? Fifty Shades of Grey? Slammed? In every one of those cases, the author wrote a book to please themselves, one that was not available in the market place. The books were personal and originally not intended for the marketplace. The books took off because their authenticity resonated with the public.

Fifty Shades and Celestine Prophecy (along with many titles by very successful self-published writers) have been castigated for sub-par writing. That should tell you that the average reader cares more about good storytelling than they do about perfect English. If you tell a good story, people will forgive a lack of eloquence as long as your writing is adequate.

The other thing you you need to accept is there is no way to get around your fear except to plow through it. Tell yourself, “Yes, I’m terrified, but if I don’t finish this book and get it out there, I will look back on my life as a failure to pursue my dreams and I will wind up old and bitter and have nothing to show for myself. I would rather give it my best shot and fail than live with never having tried.”

Dogs, romance, and the occasional dead body