Archive for August, 2013

August 25, 2013

Bruschetta for writers

Homemade Bruschetta and string cheese

Homemade Bruschetta and string cheese

I have wonderful memories of cold winter days made warm by the company of good friends.

Once a week, we met together to talk, work on projects, watch chick flics and allow our young children to run around in the immense back yard of one particularly wonderful lady.  While they wore themselves out in the snow, we rejuvenated our minds and hearts.

Here I found willing readers for my first attempts at fiction, encouragement when I accepted challenging nonfiction assignments and dedicated discussions about books. We talked about books we were reading, books we loved, books we hated, plot lines and characters and what made certain books original. I found several new favorite authors this way.

A larger group of us met once a month for lunch. In the summer, we often picnicked at parks in and around the Bismarck area. During cold weather, we met at restaurants.

One February day, we met at Olive Garden, where one of my dearest friends introduced me to Bruschetta.

I’m busy chopping fresh garden tomatoes today, content with the idea of Bruschetta for dinner.  It’s like dining with a friend.

I’m inclined to believe that all writers need friends.

Author Janet Sketchley recently put it this way:

We may do the actual writing alone, even if we do it best amid the background chatter of the local coffee hangout, but it’s the writing community that lets us thrive.

I’m nodding my head here. Writers need a strong network, for emotional health if for nothing else.

I haven’t been able to attend a slightly geographically-distant critique group for months now, but the few times I was able to attend saved my sanity during some rough times.  I’m hoping to get back to it this fall. I loved it.

Likewise, I love the local writing group that I attend more regularly. I love chatting with my daughters about their own works-in-progress, and I love that some of my writing friends I’ve left behind will call me two or three times a week just to talk writing with me.

I do, however, think that writer’s friends can—and should—extend beyond other writers.

Like my Bruschetta friend from North Dakota, and my daycare-crib-keeper friend, my German party friends, my do-it-yourself home decorator friend, my librarian friend, my running friends.

Those friends are now joined by my dessert club friends near my non-North Dakota home—the one who takes in pets for the animal shelter, the one who creates beautiful beaded hair  clips, the one who knows how to make gum paste flowers for wedding cakes and the one who enjoys Dr. Who and Monarch of the Glen.

Every person is amazingly unique, and yet it seems like any time I get together with friends, we talk about stories of some kind. I learn something from each interaction with them. Usually, I learn something about myself.

I believe that transfers directly to my writing. It makes me both a better person and a better writer.

These moments with friends are like the basil in my Bruschetta—they make something ordinary like garden tomatoes into something completely wonderful, something worth savoring and worth sharing.

August 24, 2013

Personal deadlines are hereby banished



Five years ago, I  paced my hallway floor, venting to my sweetheart.  I was overwhelmed by my writing workload. I felt inadequate as a wife and mother, completely backward when it came to social situations and I sometimes thought I could drown in a constant flood of paperwork, laundry and dishes.

He spoke as kindly and truthfully then as he always does. “You don’t need to take on so much work if you don’t want to,” he said, and “You don’t need to set deadlines for every project you want to do.”

Okay. I sometimes still feel overwhelmed, but his advice has been stewing on the back burners of my mind for long enough that I think I’m finally getting it.

Here’s how I know: As I wandered through the JoAnn Fabrics store a few weeks ago, I realized I didn’t need to buy materials for a new creative project, no matter how much I love the idea, no matter how great the coupons are. I’d really rather be writing.

Beyond that, my creativity cup already runs over.

My shelves at home are still stocked with half-finished quilts, sewing and needle work projects, crochet and knitting endeavors and a plethora of materials for other hobbies. I used to list them out on a notebook page. (It generally took two columns.)

Of course, sewing and craft projects were only part of the notebook. I also had pages for my writing projects, for landscaping and gardening ideas, for recipes and cooking ideas I meant to try, and on and on and on.

I used these notebook pages to set goals, in every area at once, and all of them had target deadlines.  That was a bad idea. Having set deadlines for myself only increased the stress and pressure I felt, and it sometimes meant I got so frustrated that I gave up completely.

It became a vicious cycle of perfectionism: I’d try, fail, get angry, tell myself I could do better, write even longer, more detailed lists and create more unrealistic goals with even more unreachable deadlines. I set myself up for failure.

Finally, I landed on the idea of a personal level up system where I could focus on the amount of time I spent working on a project rather than on accomplishing a certain number of things each day. Even then, I struggled to focus on just one or two areas at once.

It’s taken some time, but I’m getting better at it. I’ve created some rules for myself to help protect  me from my own perfectionist tendencies.

  • I am to hold the perfect Gwen Bristol in my mind every day–not as something I have to be immediately, but as if I already am the way I intend to be. This is a no-pressure exercise. I mean to savor and enjoy what it feels like to already be there, and I refuse to allow myself to even think about how I get there.
  • Beyond my simple housekeeping routines, I can only focus on three level-up areas each day–and one of those always, always gets to be writing. 🙂 Happiness and Joy!!!
  • In writing, I can work on no more than three projects at a time–this includes writing, editing, publishing, marketing…the whole gamut of what it means to be an author.
  • I will accept deadlines from other people, but no more than three deadline-oriented projects at a time. (If I say no to a request, please understand that it isn’t a permanent no…more than likely, your request will remain in a ‘possible project’ queue for me to get to when I can. This is important to me, because I really do love helping other people. I love it so much that I sometimes let what they want get in the way of other things I’m trying to accomplish. In the long run, that’s not good for anyone.)
  • Where my own projects are concerned, deadlines are hereby banished.

Instead of goals, I’m going to track my progress in a journal. More Writing! Hurrah! I’m hoping this will help me celebrate my successes rather than focus on what I haven’t yet finished.

My theory: If I remove the stress, I’ll actually get more done, in every area of my life, but specifically with my writing works-in-progress. I expect all my priorities to balance out and increase my joy.

So here begins my no-deadline experiment. I’ll try this out and I’ll report on it here on my blog when I have a feel for whether this can work or not.

See how I didn’t create a deadline for myself? See?!? This is going to be a lot of fun. 🙂

August 17, 2013

An Award


I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing anything with blog awards, but Lena Bitare at The Red Box blog recently nominated me for the WordPress Family Award–and I couldn’t resist. Thanks, Lena, for passing on the fun!

Here are the rules:

  • Display the Award Certificate on your blog.
  • Announce your win with a post. Link back to the person who nominated you as a ‘thank you’ for the nomination.
  • Present 15 awards to 15 deserving bloggers.
  • Leave them a comment to let them know after you have linked them to a post.
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

Here we go!

Fifteen Deserving Bloggers (Not in any particular order)

  1. So, I Read This Book Today…
  2. Black and Write
  3. Share Your Articles
  4. Beth Warstadt
  5. Helen Valentina
  6. Write My Brains Out
  7. Julie Israel (The Read Room)
  8. 1WriteWay
  9. A Word a Day
  10. Ashley Jillian
  11. Identity Renewed
  12. Jessica Schaub
  13. Ontyre Passages
  14. Elf Writer
  15. Caroline Skanne

Seven (Possibly) Interesting Things About Me

  1. I like to drive, but I very rarely speed…mostly, I’d rather be late than speed.
  2. I like hosting baby showers.
  3. I have more than 252,000 miles on my vehicle. I hope it lasts a little longer…
  4. I seem to be collecting turtle figurines, without meaning to.
  5. In college, I almost switched my major to geology because I liked my entry level class so much. I still like geology enough that a variety of stones seem to make their way into my writings. Also, I like it enough to subscribe to a geology blog.
  6. I like discovery writing better than outlining books before I write them. I only recently discovered this about myself.
  7. I really like instrumental music. I don’t know why.
August 14, 2013

Never Submit

I agree. Ionia is amazing–so are you, Destiny Allison. Thanks for posting this.

Destiny Allison

I was thinking about Ionia Martin this morning. If you don’t know her, check her out. She’s an inspiration. Recently, Ionia went through major surgery in her ongoing battle against cancer. A few months ago, she ran a marathon. She also runs two amazing blogs, nurtures her children, and never complains – or at least I’ve never heard her complain.

I complain a lot. 

I am not proud of this, but it’s part of my nature. I want things a certain way. Or, to rephrase, I want certainty.

As an artist turned writer, I tend to look beyond surfaces and find the things that might be out of balance. I think if I can spot them, I can do something about them – stabilize what’s wobbly, root out unhealthy growths, or stave off impending disaster. I’m wrong, of course. I know this, but somehow can’t manage to stop…

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August 14, 2013

Slow Blogging, emotions, and marketing

Best-selling writing elicits emotions strong enough to move a reader to action. Could this apply to blogs?

Best-selling writing elicits emotions strong enough to move a reader to action. Could this apply to blogs?

About four months ago, I came across an idea called slow blogging. I’ve seen it several times since then, and wondered about whether or not it’s a good idea–specifically when health, hearth and other obligations recently kept me away from my blog for more than two weeks.

As I understand it, slow blogging refers to blogging less frequently, but putting more time and thought into posts–kind of allowing them to age.

I admit, my first reaction was one of skepticism. How, exactly, are writers supposed to develop a decent platform for selling their work without gaining followers on their blogs? And how, exactly, are bloggers supposed to build their followings without writing three or four posts a day, at least?

Then I came across this guest post at ProBlogger, written by Brooke McAlary ( This is what she had to say about it:

I’ve been writing about simple living for over two years, but it wasn’t until I started applying the elements of slow blogging that I saw vast improvement in my work, my community and my readership.

Slowing down, posting less frequently, spending more time thinking, studying and writing my posts, has ultimately led me to attract a much bigger audience. My readers now are engaged, inspired and my greatest champions, and I put much of that down to my decision to go Slow.

I’ll say that part again, because it bears repeating.

My readership has grown as I’ve posted less.

I’m giving the idea of slow blogging some serious thought now, partly because, although my readership dropped when I wasn’t posting, I kept gaining followers.

Mind you, I like getting followers, but that’s not why I blog. I blog because I’m a talk-a-holic, and I sometimes just have to get things out of my system.

I blog because I like the online community of writers, photographers and other artists–everyone has something wonderful to share. I like to be there to enjoy it all.

Also, I blog because I have a nagging need to learn, and it seems like the best way to really internalize what I’m learning is to share it with someone else. Blogging is the perfect medium for this.

I can’t say I don’t enjoy the feeling of attracting readers who think about and dream about the same things I think and dream about. I appreciate the fact that these people form part of my platform, but I really value them as a network of real-life friends that I just haven’t had the chance to meet in person yet. The really important thing about blogging, for me, is not so much the possibility of using my contacts to promote my work as the fact that my blogging friends add joy to my life.

Who doesn’t like joy?

And that brings me to my next point: my recent marketing studies have convinced me that if I really want to get the hang of writing books that sell, I need to get the hang of writing books that evoke emotions strong enough to move a reader to action.

From Dave Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines:

Do you see the relationship between reading and other forms of recreation? Here it is: when we read, we buy into a shared dream, a fiction, and by dong so we put ourselves in emotional jeopardy.

Later he wrote:

At the very heart of it, reading stories or viewing them allows us to perform an emotional exercise. And the better you as a writer are at creating fiction that meets your audience’s deepest needs, the better your work will sell.

(Read more about what I think about this book here.)

From Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On:

When we care, we share.

This includes sharing things on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets.

Berger also wrote:

When trying to use emotions to drive sharing, remember to pick ones that kindle the fire: select high-arousal emotions that drive people to action.

I’m convinced that emotion-provoking writing is a must for fiction. It’s likely a must for nonfiction, as well–and maybe it’s even more important in that arena.

But how does it relate to blogging, and slow blogging in particular?

My initial thoughts are these:

  • If I’m blogging fast because I’m feeling emotional about something, that’s probably going to be apparent to my readers, and it might be okay to share that. If, however, I’m blogging fast just to blog something–anything–then I may just be blowing smoke and wasting the time of readers I respect and care about.
  • If I’m blogging slow, I have time to savor my own thoughts before I share them with others. Since I tend to be impetuous, this might save me from the embarrassment of sharing things that are too personal. It also gives me time to think about what I have to offer my online friends, hopefully protecting them from seeing careless posts they feel uninterested in but obligated to respond to.
  • The more I control my blogging, the more real writing work I do–and that’s emotionally rewarding on an entirely different level. Conversely, if I’m discouraged about something, I tend to avoid my works-in-progress (and any other uncomfortable challenge) and focus solely on my blog. I have to wonder what kinds of emotions my readers pick up from me then.

At this point, I’m not sure how seriously I take slow blogging. It may happen on my blog by default as the demands of life create new priorities. A quick note here: I refuse to get frustrated by this. 

If slow blogging becomes a bigger part of my life, it won’t be because I don’t enjoy blogging. Rather, it will mean that I’m enjoying the balance of ALL of my life–blogging included.


August 8, 2013

An Interview with author Charles Yallowitz

Charles Yallowitz is the author of Beginning of a Hero.

Charles Yallowitz is the author of  Beginning of a Hero and Prodigy of Rainbow Tower.

I love learning about how other writers do things about as much as I love reading their works. Charles Yallowitz, author of Prodigy of Rainbow Tower and Beginning of a Hero, is particularly inspiring, partly because he genuinely cares about the other authors he networks with, and he makes everything fun. He recently allowed me to interview him regarding his writing–and here it is!

Which was harder for you to write and edit–Beginning of a Hero, or Prodigy of Rainbow Tower? What made the difference?

Both books had their difficulties.  With Beginning of a Hero, I had to start from scratch and there were only my notes to fall back on.  There was a sense of freedom with this, but also a sense that I could end up going too far.  So, I had to be very cautious.  With Prodigy of Rainbow Tower, I had a foundation for the world and characters.  The utter freedom was gone and I had stability in the world, but I had to worry a lot more about continuity.  I found myself going back to check facts because I doubted myself.

In terms of editing, I have to give the win to Prodigy of Rainbow Tower.  I could change things while working on it or I would have to go in to alter something that came from the editing of Beginning of a Hero.  So, the first book could be laid done to rest while the second book was always a factor when editing anything in the series.

What would you like newcomers to the series to know about Prodigy of Rainbow Tower?

I’d like them to know that this book is going to have a lot more action and testing of the characters.  The first book was very light-hearted and the characters were still getting to know each other.  Now, I really put them through the wringer, including the newest character, Nyx the caster.  Caster is the Windemere term for people that use magic.

Another item that I want newcomers to know about is that the magic of Windemere is going to take a central role.  In Beginning of a Hero, there more mostly warriors and it was a very sword-oriented story.  The inclusion of Nyx and her magical rival, Trinity, allowed me delve more into the workings of magic and write some big caster duels.  Those only get bigger and better as the story progresses.

 Of all of the characters in this world you’ve created, which is your favorite and why? Or, if you can’t choose one, how about your top three?

It’s hard to pick even a top three.  Fizzle the Drite (tiny dragon) definitely has the biggest fan following since the first book.  I’ve come to enjoy writing his scenes more since people directed my attention to him.  So, he’s taken on a bigger role in the overall series, which I gently flushing out as time goes on.

I’ve come to really enjoy writing The Lich because he’s such an evil character, but he has this habit of sabotaging himself.  He shows such promise to be a big villain that I start to feel sorry for his stumbling.  You almost want him to succeed every now and then because he tries so hard to win.

Finally, I love writing scenes with Nyx.  She’s a very dynamic character and one of the best I ever created.  She’s very powerful with her magic and her temper means she’s very likely to react with a spell.  Yet, she has many moments of vulnerability and an almost maternal reaction to some of the other heroes.  Neither mentality is strained or out of character for her.  For example, I’m working on a later book where Nyx has to fix a mistake from Prodigy of Rainbow Tower.  She’s scared and timid instead of her defiant self, but the opposite persona comes off as natural for her.

How important is networking with other authors? Does it make a difference in morale and support alone, or does this actually transfer to sales and publicity?

Networking with other authors is a must across the board.  You can get feedback, support, morale, and so many other things.  I use my blog to describe what I’m doing and let other authors know what worked and what didn’t while I was publishing.  This has led me to get into many conversations with other authors about self-publishing.  So, it helps get a good dialogue going to learn about pricing and marketing.

It’s invaluable for publicity too.  There is a lot of ‘you mention my book and I mention yours’ on WordPress.  For Prodigy of Rainbow Tower, I did a blog blitz the night before it debuted.  Over 10 bloggers made posts about my book and promoted it right before it went live.  At the same time, I did was involved in two blog blitzs for two other authors.  So, you see a lot of community and support from authors.  Self-publishing is really a team sport because one self-published author making it justifies the actions of the others.  That successful author can show the way and be a real motivator for those still aspiring.

What is the best, best, best thing about being a writer?

Hearing somebody tell me which character they loved or which scene moved them.  Even getting an e-mail about a scene that angered someone makes me smile.  A few scenes in Prodigy of Rainbow Tower resulted in me getting an e-mail or two from a beta reader.  The e-mails were mostly ‘Wow!  I can’t believe you did that!’  Getting that kind of reaction from a reader is why I love to tell stories.

What food do you think you ate the most of during this time?

I drank a ton of seltzer while writing.  As far as food, I tried to vary it, but I think it was mostly pineapple or M&M’s.  Not together.  Though I’m now tempted to try that and see what happens.

How many hours of sleep did you average per night during this time?

I typically average 4-5 hours sleep in general because I have trouble sleeping.  It would be deep sleep, but I always wake up around 6 AM.  There are occasional days where my body is just out of commission and I’m in a coma for 8 hours.  Those typically happen on the weekend against my will.

What is THE BEST thing that happened to you during this time?

So many things.  I’ve met so many great friends during this journey, which is at the top of the list.  As for specific events, I would say being in the 20’s of the Top 100 Epic Fantasy eBooks on Amazon is up there.  Tied with having a brief Facebook conversation with R.A. Salvatore.  It was really me asking him a question about writing and he answered.  So, I answered back and then got another response.  It ended with me writing a thank you and beaming for the rest of the day.

Prodigy of Rainbow Tower, by Charles Yallowitz

Prodigy of Rainbow Tower, by Charles Yallowitz

August 8, 2013

My #amreading: Prodigy of Rainbow Tower

Prodigy of Rainbow Tower, by Charles Yallowitz

Prodigy of Rainbow Tower, by Charles Yallowitz

Late last night–well, actually, very early this morning–I finally had a chance to start reading Prodigy of Rainbow Tower, by Charles Yallowitz. So far, it’s been as rewarding a read as I anticipated it would be.

Here are the parts I’ve enjoyed most so far:

  • A pocket cabin. I want one!
  • An exciting fight scene in the gardens at Rainbow Tower–I heard the crashing and the roar of fire and the wood breaking during this scene. It was VERY well done.
  • Everything about the character named Nyx. She is a real firecracker.
  • Four moons that slink behind clouds over a river…such beautiful imagery!
  • Two very intriguing fight scenes in a city called Rodillen–one on the rooftops, and one in the thieves guild.  One quick comment here on Charles Yallowitz’s writing–he really knows how to write interesting, detailed fight scenes that include the setting and dialogue as well as action. This is one of the things I liked best about his first book, Beginning of a Hero, and I’m glad to see even more of it in Prodigy of Rainbow Tower.
  • I always love the banter between Yallowitz’s characters. In this book, I’m particularly enjoying Nimby’s dialogue sequences.

Okay. I have to mention this, too: the setting in the prologue was detailed and rich. Even though it dealt with disgusting things like rotting corpses and maggots, It was again something I could picture very well. I almost gagged at one point.

According to Dave Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines, books should evoke strong emotional responses. I would say Yallowitz’s settings do that for me. I’m only a third of the way through the book, but I had to fight myself to put it down long enough to blog about it.

For any reader new to Charles Yallowitz’s work, I recommend his blog site, which contains more information about the books, the characters, and the artwork he uses.




August 6, 2013

Reality Check: even writers need down time

For me, crashing sometimes involves exploring new and interesting places.

For me, crashing sometimes involves exploring new and interesting places.

It’s been ten days since B.R. Chaston’s wedding, and nearly three weeks since my last blog post, I’ve been wrapped up in family and friends I never get to see, keeping promises to my children and catching up on everything else that was neglected during this time…including my works-in-progress, which I think are now somewhat back on course.

Overall, it’s been very enjoyable…although, a few times, I really was running faster and laboring more than I had strength and means. My beautiful Mom told me once when I get that way, I’m like a car running on empty. I’m sure she’s right. As is normal for me when I let my life get unbalanced, I had to take some time to re-adjust my attitude.

At one point, my sweetheart shared with me something he learned in his certified public management course: You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

Logically, I know this. Getting my heart to concur is a completely different story–hence my sometimes-obsession with time management strategies.

I suppose it comes from loving life a little bit too much. There are so many things I want to do, so many people I care about and want to help, so many things to enjoy and so many wonderful things to learn that I sometimes overwhelm myself with self-imposed deadlines. My long to-do lists that needlessly increase my stress levels. When my stress gets too high, my body is affected and my ability to do anything productive drops dramatically. This includes my writing.

I get frustrated with myself for not being perfect RIGHT NOW. And I know I would never treat any other human being as harshly as I treat myself, which is also frustrating…

When I reach that point, I have to take time away. It’s no one’s fault. It’s one of those things that simply IS. I do better with my writing, with my parenting and other relationships, with everything else in my life, when I take time to perform a reality check.

For me, this usually involves five steps:

  1. Crashing–a day or two away doing something relaxing, completely unrelated to anything else in my life. In the past, crashing has taken the form of escaping into nature, reading all day, watching Korean historical dramas, sometimes playing video games and in very rare instances, exploring someplace new and different on my own. (Once, when I had no resources for traveling by myself, I spent all day long on Google Earth, exploring Ireland and Scotland and the Shetland Islands.)
  2. After a day or two of these kinds of solitary activities, I’m able to take stock of who and what I am–what my goals are, what my dreams are, and what is realistic for me to accomplish with the time, means and energy I have.
  3. I almost always end up prioritizing my dreams, and usually I find I’ve spread my energies too thin. I have to pull them back, refocus them on the highest priorities in my life and forgive myself for not being able to do it all right now.
  4. As I do this, I tend to take stock of all the wonderful things I already have in my life. The truth is, I really think I have everything I want, right now. When I remember that, I remember also that I don’t want my life to change too quickly. I want to savor and enjoy what I already have, and that means I want to slow down.
  5. This realization recharges me with gratitude. Once my heart is thankful again, I find I have plenty of energy to keep working toward my goals.

For me, it’s a somewhat spiritual process, and the cycle takes at least four days to complete. This time, it took a full week.

I suppose I’ll get the hang of real life some day. I know I’ll have on-and-off periods like this while I try to keep my world balanced. There’s something wondrous and grand and completely mysterious about the whole process. I secretly feel if I can find a way to balance my life and keep it that way, I’ll have gained access to the secrets of the universe.

Meanwhile, I feel very much like this:

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