Hey! I Wrote That!

Good morning, lovely readers! It’s the end of May and COLD, so I’m trying not to be bitter. I want it to be HOT, y’all! I’m not made for chilly weather; you can take the girl out of Africa, but you can’t take the Africa out of the girl.

So we’re about halfway through my Bookversary Readers Appreciation Goodreads Giveaway, and I wanted to highlight one of the prizes: a free digital link for the audiobook. And I wanted to tell you a funny story about me and my fragile ego, and how the audiobook helped me gain some confidence.

It may surprise some of you to learn that since reading over the galley proof (the last step before publication), I have not read my book. I have patted the cover and read a marked chapter aloud, but never once have I sat down and read the entire book in its published form. I’m afraid that I will notice phrases I hate, sentences that may not ring true, parts where I should have cut or added to–a book never really feels done for me, but at some point, I have to let it go and trust that it’s good enough. By not reading the book, I can ignore anything that would make me cringe. I’ve heard some actors don’t watch their performances for the same reason, and I used to think that was weird. Now I totally get it–it’s better to let others tell you how much they enjoy something you’ve done than risk looking at it yourself and just seeing the flaws.

What can I say? We artist-types have fragile egos.

So I was telling my sister all of this when she was here for a brief visit, and she said, “What about the audiobook, though? Have you listened to it?” I admitted that I ‘d only heard the snippet Tantor sent me after acquiring the audio rights, but a friend had told me the voice actor did an amazing job, especially with the accents. My sister said, “Let’s just listen to some of it together.” So I pulled it up on my iPhone, and she and my mom settled in with me for a preview. My friend had been right–the voice actor, Gail Shalan, did a marvelous job. Her soft Southern accent was perfect for Red, and she was able to give each character his/her own personality. As I listened, I found myself wrapped up in the story. I should add that I am a big consumer of audiobooks as well as print books–I always have a book loaded in my phone, and audiobooks get me through exercise, cleaning house, hoeing the garden, driving–every tedious chore in life is made better with a story in my ears.

A good audiobook is like my own “spoon full of sugar” to help the grinding medicine of life go down.

As I listened, I became immersed in my own little story. At one point when Red was in full sass, I started laughing, and my mom and sis laughed right along with me.

“Wait,” I said suddenly. “I wrote that!” Listening to the story in someone else’s voice made me totally forget that this was my story and my words. And I was actually enjoying it!


If you have not entered my giveaway yet, there is still time! All you have to do is click on this link and answer one (or two, depending on the answer to question number one) questions. The audiobook is a great prize, and maybe you’ll chuckle at the same parts that I did.

Until next time, dear chums, stay safe, have hope, and keeps your wits about you.

What’s in the Grand Prize “Swag Bag”? Sneak peek!

I’ve been having way too much gathering goodies to put in the grand prize “swag bag” for my bookversary readers appreciation giveaway. Here are just two of the many items the lucky grand prize winner will receive: a ceramic camp mug and a handy tote. Stay tuned for more!

And if you haven’t entered to win this or the other two great prizes up for grabs, why dontcha go ahead and do it already? It’s easy–just click on the following link and answer a yes or no question!


White River Red: A Novel One-Year Bookversary Readers Appreciation Giveaway

White River Red: A Novel One Year Bookversary Reader Appreciation Giveaway time!

For my awesome readers, I’ve set up the following giveaway, which starts today and ends June 13th. All you have to do is click on this link and follow directions!


Some restrictions do apply (must be 18 years or older and live in the continental US, for example)–details are found on the contest site.

Good luck–I can’t WAIT to ship prizes to the winners!

Happy One-Year Bookversary, White River Red: A Novel!

And what an incredible year it has been! Since my book was published last April, I’ve done readings and had author signings at eight events in various libraries, indie bookstores, shops, and a university. I was interviewed for the newspaper, and I discovered my book has been reserved for the entire year with the Arkansas State Libraries Book Club circuit. And speaking of book clubs, I have had the pleasure of being the guest author at seven different book clubs (I’ve got more to come on my calendar), all unique and fabulous in their own way.

My book was acquired by Tantor Media and turned into an audiobook. (The narrator is fantastic—if you know someone who likes audiobooks, you should encourage them to have a listen. I was so entranced by the narrator’s good job, I forgot I’d written the book! Haha.)

I’ve been sent kind notes and pictures from friends with my book all over the world (the furthest is New Zealand!). I’ve had so many lovely folks tell me how much they enjoyed reading my little story, and every time, I’m thrilled and humbled all over again.

So thank you, dear readers, dear supporters, dear friends, for making the debut year of my debut novel so very special. I appreciate you all more than you will ever know! And since someone once said a picture is worth a thousand words, well, here are a few thousand for you!

From the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU.

And hey! Stay tuned for a reader’s appreciation giveaway, starting on MAY 9th. Details and a link coming soon!

St. Patrick’s Day Is My Favorite Holiday

Why, you ask? Well, I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it’s because I have Irish blood in me–my Grandpa Ira used to fondly call my Grandma Jean his “flat-footed Irishman,” and ancestry.com backs him up on that heritage. Perhaps it’s because it’s one holiday that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to pull off–no presents to buy, no trips up and down from the attic needed to carry decorations back and forth, no carols or social gatherings or stress required. Perhaps it’s just that I really, really like corned beef and cabbage alongside some hearty Irish soda bread (recipes to follow).

Whatever the reason, I love St. Patrick’s Day. Here’s how St. Paddy’s Day looks around my house: I get up in the morning and start the day by pinching anyone in the family who was unwise enough not to wear green before going to bed. The pinching will continue throughout the day, and you can bet I’ll be wearing green on various parts of my body. 

As I begin working on the bread for dinner, Irish music is turned on and played full blast all day. By far, my favorite song is “Rocky Road to Dublin,” sung by The High Kings. 

Once dinner is ready, I gather with my family and we feast. After dinner, we enjoy a green dessert (usually mint chocolate-chip ice cream, because let’s face it, I’m tired of cooking by then), coffee with a dash of comforting Bailey’s Irish Cream (hair of the dog), and whichever of my favorite three Irish films I feel like watching this year. Those films, alternated year after year, are Waking Ned DevineWar of the Buttons (1995), and The Secret of Roan Inish. I’ve linked the trailers in case you’d like to watch them too.

Honestly, I think the REAL reason I love St. Patrick’s Day so much is that it means that I’ve managed to live through another long, cold winter, and that spring is finally, finally here. Since the real St. Patrick was all about hope, luck, faith, and perseverance, I think he’d approve.

“For behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth once again; the time for singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land” (Song of Songs, 2:11-12).

Corned Beef and Cabbage (and Boiled Potatoes)
I make this part easy. I buy the biggest corned beef I can find (because it always shrinks down and everyone always wants more), I open it over the sink because the meat juice runs if you’re not careful, and I dump the corned beef into the crockpot. I open the little spice packet that comes with it and dump it in too. 

On top of that, I throw a large onion, cut into rough wedges, and a head of cabbage, also cut into wedges, and jam it in to fit. I pour a bottle of dark Guinness beer over it all and add water, about covering the meat. This goes on “low” for most of the day–I’d say six hours or so.

When it’s time to eat, I strain the cabbage and onion from the juice with a slotted spoon and put that into a stoneware bowl. I remove the corned beef from the pot and slice it, placing it onto a platter.

For the potatoes, I am partial to small red, unpeeled. I quarter a 3 lb. bag and boil them in salt water until they are soft, then put them in a bowl to serve as well. 

Irish Soda Bread

3 c. all-purpose flour

2 c. whole wheat flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 Tbs. baking powder

2 Tbs. dark brown sugar

2 to 2 1/2 c. buttermilk

green food coloring (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix all the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and brown sugar. Add the buttermilk until the mixture forms a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead just enough to blend the ingredients. This is when you can add a few drops of green food coloring, just for fun. (My kids always said it made the bread look “moldy,” which I thought was hilarious.) Divide the dough into two portions and form each into rustic rounded loafs.

Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on racks for 10 minutes, then slice and serve with butter (Kerrygold Irish butter is my favorite, of course.) Serve all of this with whatever beverage you fancy–maybe the rest of the Guinness? If so, sláinte!

And finally, an Irish blessing, from me to you:

Flood of Books, Mouths Filled with Cocoa

 I recently discovered a Christmas tradition from Iceland called “Jolabokaflod” (which roughly translates to “Christmas book flood” in English), wherein folks give each other books on Christmas Eve, and they all spend the evening quietly reading their new treasure in front of a roaring fire and sipping cocoa.

Sounds like heaven, right?

The tradition began in World War II. Because paper was one of the few things that was NOT rationed during this time, books became the one present that Icelanders could count on being readily available.

Since 1944, the Icelandic book trade has sent a catalog of the newest available books to every household in Iceland (can you even imagine??), starting in mid-November so people can start planning  which books they will order to give as gifts on Christmas Eve. Though I obviously cannot read Icelandic, I still had a blast looking at this year’s Bókatíðindi. 

Obviously, as a reader and a writer, I LOVE this tradition and very much plan on starting it at my house. I’ve chosen books for each member of my immediate family, and it’s been great fun thinking of their personalities and what they like the most, and then trying to tailor my book choices to those personalities. For example, my husband is from Wyoming, so the next book he’s yet to read in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series will work for him. My son, who has never been one for fiction but loves facts and curiosities, will receive this year’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not annual book. I will search out a fantasy novel for my son-in-law, who loves Tolkien, and find a quirky novel for my daughter, whose tastes in books are usually much like mine. I also very much look forward to opening the book my family decides fits ME, too!

If White River Red: A Novel fits the bill for someone in YOUR family, well, it’s available in several formats. It’s also very easy to wrap, and is 100% calorie-free! 🙂

And hey! If you’re in reasonable driving distance of Siloam Springs, AR, I’d be more than happy to personalize a copy of my book for you. Adding a “Merry Christmas” from the author makes the gift even more special, right? Just drop me an email and I’ll see what I can do! 

Let the flooding of books begin!! 

White River Red, A Novel: The Book Trailer

My oh-so-talented daughter made the following book trailer for White River Red: A Novel. There is an exciting announcement at the end; I’d be grateful if you’d watch it, like it on YouTube, and share in on whatever socials you frequent the most. Word-of-mouth is how books from small presses grow!

And as a side note: Books make GREAT calorie-free holiday gifts, and they are super easy to wrap! 🙂

Be Your Own Editor (and Make Your Actual Editor Happy):

As a writer, a writing teacher, and now an editor for TPP, I can tell you that no matter how good your story is, it can always be better. (My theme for my first-year college composition class is, “There’s no such thing as good writing—only good REwriting,” and I believe this in my core.) Once your magnum opus has been freed from the confines of your skull, the hard work begins—polishing, cutting, adding, cutting some more, and polishing again until that baby shines.

Then, if you’re lucky enough to get published, you’ll receive an editor who will go in with a machete and hack away, all for the benefit of your darling sweet baby. It stings—indeed it does—but it’s so worth it when your book goes in as a frog and comes out as a prince. It’s like childbirth—you’ll forget the pain when you gaze in wonder at what you wrought.

So my first piece of advice is this: Don’t be precious about your work. I’m sure it’s splendid, I know YOU’RE splendid, but honey, I’m here to tell you right now that it can be splendider. (Yeah, I just made that word up. My editor would totally get rid of it.)

Amazon.com: "Write Drunk; Edit Sober" - Ernest Hemingway: 9781987433111:  Cultural Bindings: Books

So how can you polish your own work in a way that catches a publisher or agent’s eye? Having caught said eye, how can you make life easier for both you and your editor?

Here are some practical tips I use to make my manuscripts better, and I urge you to keep them in mind as you transform yours.

First, use the following Microsoft Word tools:

*If you have not formatted your document accordingly, please CTRL-A to highlight the entire document. Start at the “Home” tab and format your manuscript to Times New Roman, 12 pt. font. This makes it much easier on your editor; we don’t need or want fancy formatting right now. That will come later, in your galley proof!

*Go to the “Paragraph” block and click the little symbol in the corner. In the dialogue box, find the “line spacing” dropdown and choose “double.”

*Make sure you insert your last name/title of the book, and the page number in the top right of the page (double click in the header). It should look something like this:    

        Marietta/WhiteRiverRed 39

*When it is time to start a new chapter, go to the “Insert” tab and then choose “Page Break.” Indicate your next chapter on that new page. Don’t just hit “enter” to get to a new page, as this does not always stick.

*Go to “Review” on the tool bar and run the Spelling and Grammar Check. Check, too, any spelling that you are using as “slang”–in creative writing, slang is fine, but it still should adhere to basic spelling rules. If you’re not sure, type the word into Google real quick and see what Merriam-Webster has to say.

NOW FOR MY FAVORITE EDITING TOOL OF ALL TIME. Seriously, how did I write before I found this? I honestly don’t know! It’s called the “speak” function (called “read aloud” in Office365), and I cannot tell you how vital it is as an editing tool you can use for yourself. There’s something about hearing the robot voice of the machine reading your words back to you that helps you catch so many common writing errors: repetition of words and phrases (we all do it!), awkward sentence structure, grammar issues like too much (or too little) comma use, inconsistencies in plot . . .

Other than spell-check, this is the ONE tool I’d love for all my writing clients to use on a regular basis. (Side-note: I used it before I hit “post” on this blog. I mean, I use it for everything!)

The best technique for catching some of your own writing problems using “speak” is to highlight one paragraph at a time and read the words with your eyes as the computer reads aloud. This way, you can focus on the paragraph (instead of glazing over and running ahead), and you can catch and fix problems as you encounter them. I suggest you proof your work using this method in little chunks of time—perhaps ten pages per day.

You can add the “speak” function to your tool bar; this handy little video walks you through how to do this:

It’s good for EVERYONE, y’all!

So that’s Word and all its glory. Now let’s talk grammar and punctuation, shall we?

Yes, we shall.

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Grammar/Punctuation Issues to Check For:

*Ellipsis: An ellipsis is used to mark an omission from quoted speech or text, signal an incomplete or unstated thought, or a pause or gap in speech or text. It consists of THREE dots, with a space before each one. It is NOT written like … or like. . . . It is . . . (space, dot, space, dot, space).

*Dashes vs. hyphens: Hyphens separate actual letters in a word that belong together; for example, straight-up, mid-week, switch-task. They are the short dash on the keyboard and require no spaces.

*Em dashes (long dash) can function like a comma, parenthesis, or colon. If you are an em-dash user, please check the following link, as it clearly expresses when to use an em dash: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/em-dash-en-dash-how-to-use

In terms of editing, the important thing I would like you to remember is that 1) you create an em dash by hitting the dash button TWICE (–) AND 2), you do not add space after the last letter of the word before the dash or before the second letter of the word after. In Word, if you will just write the word, hit the dash button twice, and start the next word, it will automatically and helpfully change your two dashes to one long one—this is the em dash!

*Numbers: Spell out numbers unless it is a time (10:00, 10 o’clock) and/or you are writing a.m. or p.m. (10 a.m./ten a.m.), date (October 4th, 2022), or if the number is longer than two words. (Two billion = correct; one thousand, four-hundred, and eighty two pennies = incorrect. In that case, is should be 1,482 pennies).

Now onto content work:

Passives: Avoid them when you can. Always try to find your active voice. In other words, something should do the action of the sentence, not have something done TO it. For example: Instead of saying “It was inferred that Jack was thirsty,” say “Jill noticed that Jack was thirsty.” (JILL is doing the action.) One neat little trick to catch passives is this: If you can add “by zombies” after the verb, it’s passive and you need to change it (because nobody wants zombies doing the work). Back to the above example: “It was inferred BY ZOMBIES that Jack was thirsty.” Mm-hmm. Fix it.

Remember us... Next time you think you're using passive voice - zombies  from the walking dead | Meme Generator

Italics: Inner dialogue, direct thoughts, dreams, visions, things the character reads should all be indicated in italics.

Repetition: Watch out for “pet phrases” or repeated words. One thing you never want to do is wake the reader up from what my favorite expert on writing, John Gardner, calls “the fictional dream”—in other words, you don’t want him/her remembering that this is a book written by a person. You want your reader to disappear into your words and once she’s there, you don’t want to wake her up with clumsy writing. It is a truth universally acknowledged that repetition can make even the best story seem tedious. The perfect tool to catch this problem, again, is the “speak” function in Word.

Dialogue: Be careful with your “dialogue tags.” Remember: The speaker of the dialogue must be the subject of the dialogue OR the action tag that follows it.

For example:

“Good morning,” Trish said, glancing up at Shannon from her chair by the fire. (dialogue tag)

“Well, good morning to you!” Shannon plopped down in the chair next to her. (action tag)

“Have you seen the sales at McCloud’s this week?” Trish passed the catalog she’d been reading to her friend. (action tag)

“Chuck Taylors are half off? I guess I know where we’re going tomorrow,” Shannon said, tapping an ad with her index finger. (dialogue tag)

What NOT to do with the above (we’ll keep the first line the same and correct):

“Good morning,” Trish said, glancing up at Shannon from her chair by the fire. (dialogue  tag)

“Well, good morning to you!” Trish smiled as Shannon plopped down in the chair next to her. (Now it’s Shannon’s turn to speak, so she should be the subject of the action tag—not Trish.)

“Have you seen the sales at McCloud’s this week?” Shannon grabbed the catalog Trish was holding out to her as she asked the question. (Trish is asking the question here, but because Shannon is the action tag, it is confusing to the reader who is saying what. Even with “as she asked the question” added, the reader doesn’t know for sure WHO is asking the question—Shannon or Trish?)

ALSO: Give each person his/her own line for response in dialogue, indicated by a paragraph break!

Dialogue helpers: Use other words for “said” sparingly. Sometimes speech words can indicate a mood or action, but overuse them, and you run the risk of waking the reader from your fictional dream. “Said” is a generic term that does not interrupt the flow of the sentence like other speech words may. So avoid things like:

            “What are you doing,” she queried.

            “I’m taking the dog to the vet,” he growled.

            “Why?” she wondered.

            “Because he won’t stop barking,” he shouted.

            “But he’s just excited to see you,” she cried.

            “That’s why we’re going to the vet—he needs some calming pills,” he insisted.

Do you see how these speech tags piled on top of each other slowed things down (and started to sound pretty ridiculous)? Think of them as salt in a soup—a little is great for flavor, but too much and it spoils the taste! Use “said” the most—trust me, you’ll have plenty of other places to get fancy with your words.

I will probably add to this post as things occur to me, but this is a healthy list to start with. If you do these things, you’ll find your manuscript is more polished-looking, and you won’t have so many things to fix after your editor gets her hands on it.

Happy writing, y’all—and have a great Thanksgiving! I’m thankful to our great and good God for you, my faithful readers and splendid friends.

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Book Clubs Are Divine

I love when book clubs choose White River Red: A Novel as their pick to read. I doubly love when the members of those clubs invite me to visit them after they have finished the book; this is a strange phenomenon, as I am the world’s biggest introvert and I typically dread talking to strangers. But maybe because I love and appreciate my readers so, they don’t seem like strangers to me, and I can put my weird anti-social tendencies in a box in my mind for a while.

I’ve now attended five book clubs of all sizes (from four people to fifteen), in person and on Zoom, locally and further afield (all the way to Tulsa!). One thing I have discovered is that each group has some of the same questions; for example, every group wants to know about the real White River Red and how I came up with the idea to turn her story into fiction. They want to know which parts were real and which are made up. and it’s fun for me to see if they can guess. However, I have also realized that each group brings its own spin on the evening. One group, filled with aspiring writers, had a lot of questions about how I found a publisher. Another, hosted by a local librarian, delighted me in the very astute discussion questions she had created about the book’s content. She asked the group to reflect on aspects of the books, and I listened, charmed and somewhat thrilled by their answers. After spending so much of my life discussing and looking for meaning in other people’s works, it was a surreal experience to be in the room while others did the same for my book. It allowed me to see what resonated with the readers, and it brought home to me how we all really do see fiction from different perspectives, depending on the personal baggage we bring to the table. There were several times I had to happily admit that the person speaking about my book had ascribed a deeper meaning to the scene than I had intended–I told the group I appreciated that they saw me as smarter than I really was. 🙂 Then, when they zeroed in on something I HAD specifically meant to be seen and read a certain way, I wanted to sing because the point had landed, the connection had been made. They liked me, and I liked them, and we ALL liked Forrestina. That was the most important part for me—because I love Red, and Rocket George, and Ruby, and Sarah—these pieces of my heart—I was thrilled that they loved these characters, too.

Last night, I had the great joy of attending a book club in Tontitown. This club is BIG—there were about eleven ladies in attendance, but a lot of the members were unable to attend because they had an important function at their church that night. Most impressively, the group has been meeting for fifteen years—an absolutely stunning amount of time! Once I was there for a bit, though, I could see why the club has endured so long; the host, Bonnie was all gentle warmth and kindness. Her home was comfortable and cozy, with a fire blazing in the fireplace. She’d decorated the tables with carnival-themed food and decorations—we started the evening supping on hot dogs, nachos, and corn dog bites. The ladies all sign up to bring food each meeting, so the dessert table was loaded with fall deliciousness such as pumpkin cake, peach pie, and, in a direct nod to the book and Red’s “Forrestina Campbell Day,” blackberry shortcake!

After supper, we had a wonderful conversation about the book, and I loved getting to know these precious readers a little more personally, as they shared struggles and triumphs in their lives. After I signed some books and rose to leave, I was given a “parting gift” that delighted me to no end—the three plastic rats that had graced the coffee table as part of the night’s decorations! As I drove home in the rain, my favorite line from Tolkien’s The Hobbit flitted through my mind: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” I was certainly feeling merry! I put my gifts of Peter, Paul, and mean old Judas on my book shelf in my office. As I sit down to work on my new book, I know I will glance at them often and smile.

Side note: If you are part of a book club, and you decide to read White River Red: A Novel as a club pick, holler at me! I would be overjoyed to hang out with your group—after all, my readers are not strangers; they’re friends! ❤