Sunday, December 18, 2011

Three More Free Gifts for Writers

Last year I received great feedback with my Free Gifts for Writers post, so I’m doing it again, with three different ideas.

Let’s face it, money is still tight for a lot of people, especially those whose job description includes the words “starving artist.” Before you grab the glue and spray-paint and turn a few blocks of ramen into bookends, try these suggestions. All of them are guaranteed to draw fewer bugs than glitter-soaked noodles.

Goalbook or Planner

No matter what the genre, writers live and die by the deadline. Make 2012 easier by creating a planner to keep your writer organized. (Hint: if you have kids, this is a great family activity.)

Dig up a 3-ring binder, a hole-punch and some card stock or construction paper for dividers. Print out a calendar for each month or go all the way and print out every week. (Microsoft Publisher will print calendars, and there are tons of free, personal-use calendars on the Net.) Also print out several blank pages with headings like “Goals”, “To-Do” and “Ideas”. Make sure each month has plenty of space to scribble notes, and separate each monthly section with the card stock. Include quotes from his or her favorite authors or other motivational sayings. Decorate accordingly. Just takes a couple of hours and some creativity to make your writer weep like a Barbara Walters interviewee.


I have a lot of friends who are e-book authors, so let me put this out there: if you can buy an e-book or two (many cost less than three bucks) then please do so. If that’s out of the budget, welcome to the world of free e-books. Project Gutenberg has always been my go-to for great, zero-cash reads because you can find so many irresistible and esoteric books besides the classics everyone claims they read in school. Feedbooks and Smashwords are also great resources, and I’ve found a few new fave authors through them.

Don’t have a smartphone, e-reader or tablet? No worries. You can download books in a variety of formats at Gutenberg and make a file folder on the computer for your giftee. Amazon, Kobo and B&N also offer freebies if you have their particular reader software. Remember, stay legit with your downloading, because good karma is the gift that keeps on giving.

Office Party

Working from home is wonderful, because the dress code runs from casual (Scooby Doo PJs) to extra summer casual (powdering your butt so you don’t stick to the chair). There is one thing writers miss out on, though, and that is the office party. Throw a tiny shindig by your writer’s desk. Bake some cookies, put up a few decorations. Let your writer talk all he or she wants about work: editors, publishers, magazines, etc., and don’t tune it out. Invite a couple of friends or family members over if you want, but it’s more fun when it’s intimate. Keeping it to yourselves also avoids those nasty “crazy people” rumors, too. You’ll be surprised how much it will perk up a writer’s spirits just to talk, laugh and have their own little holiday ritual.

Photo credit:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Remember all those crazy stories you believed when you were a kid? How would your life change if you found out they were true? Young Jacob finds out that and more in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs’ debut novel with Quirk Books.

After an early peek into his innocent childhood and his granddad’s stories, we next see Jacob when he’s an unlikable, privileged teen. His rebellion against his life and his parents soon takes a backseat to the murder of his grandfather; the wild stories his grandfather told him when Jacob was little, plus the old man’s cryptic last request, haunt the teen's mind as apparent reality and fantasy fight for control. Riggs knows the troubled teen psyche well, because Jacob’s feelings and thoughts in therapy are spot on, and the “real” world the author builds is so convincing, you’re ready to believe the fantastic when it comes along.

What would normally be a solid paranormal coming-of-age story gets a mighty goose from the book’s gimmick: several real (albeit re-touched or bizarrely posed) photographs from historic collections depicting the characters and situations Jacob encounters. The old pictures have the fantastic element of a 19th century circus: creepy, unsettling and you can’t look away. A floating girl, twins painted like clowns and connected via a ribbon, a man covered in bees: they connect you visually to the story and add an extra layer of weirdness so you feel just as fascinated and befuddled as Jacob does during his long journey to learn the truth and discover his purpose in life.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and it got the Pratchett treatment from me, i.e., I stayed up until 2 a.m. reading it. I simply could not put it down until I reached the end. It’s a great story that touches on the desire to be special in all of us, something we get to live out through Jacob. I highly recommend it for folks who enjoy a nicely paced, spooky Twilight Zone-style tale. I’m sure this will be the first of many adventures with these characters, so I’ll start catching some catnaps now, if I can just stop imagining those little clown kids. Shudder.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Campaign for Real Humor

I've been a member of several writing groups through the years, but there's only one I would take up arms for: the Ermas. Okay, Nerf arms. I really hate confrontation. Thanks to the brainstorm of our fearless leader, Stacey Graham, we're whipping up something special for 2012. The official word is because of the Presidential election. I'm thinking it's a back-up plan for survival in case the Mayans were right about 2012.

Anyhoo, here's the top brass:

"An Army of Ermas is gearing up for the upcoming United States presidential election and looking at the crop of candidates we have to choose from so far, we're going to need as much humor as we can get. Thus, the Campaign for Real Humor has begun.

In the next year, your favorite Ermas will be competing for your votes with their posts. It's up to you to vote by liking a post on facebook, linking on websites, leaving comments on their posts, RTing on Twitter and Stumbling your favorites. Who will emerge the victor? Your vote counts!

We'll be kissing babies, and stumping for votes at the upcoming Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop in April, 2012. Come out and say howdy! Most of us don't bite."

I think all the Ermas are hilarious, talented people and I'll be occasionally posting them throughout the year so you, my dear, lone reader, can easily find the best humor writing on the web!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Geek and the Plaid

You may have noticed that Squiggle isn't updated as often as it *snort* used to be. (Don't look at me like that.) There's a good reason: I post every single day at my new site, Pure Geek, which gives you a geeky holiday for every day of the year!

But don't fret, because I'll be back here in just a few days with a couple of brand new book reviews and the usual silliness. Could even be a giveaway in the works...just stay tuned.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Carrot cake to carrot sticks

My bathroom scale and I had a fight this morning. I put up a good defense, even insulted its mother, but in the end I knew it was right. Especially in the end, judging by my shadow. I’ve gained weight. Thanks to a few seasons of unbearable weather, the blessing of steady work and the occasional absence of automotive transportation, my original 100-lb weight loss is now more like a 60-lb loss.

But hey, that’s ok. I took it off once, I can do it again. I’ll also do it more sensibly, and not make really stupid decisions like last time. On my second go-round, I’ve learned a few things:

Good Lord, ignore the commercials. “Follow my simple plan of cookies/bars/shakes and you’ll lose weight!” Yeah, and how does that re-enforce healthy eating habits? Or help me deal with stress eating?

“I’m not this person anymore!” *tears up photo* Honey, lean over here so I can slap the taste out of your mouth. You’re the same person, you just weigh less. If you hate yourself when you’re fat, there’s a good chance you won’t love yourself when you’re skinny.

Don’t diet. This was a major breakthrough for me. Dieting forces you to obsess about food. If you only eat certain things five times a day, you’re always thinking about food. After a couple of weeks, I would dream about food. Just sidle up sideways to better eating by making healthier choices. Occasionally try carrot sticks instead of carrot cake. A few baked chips instead of a bag of regular Ruffles. Don’t think about it, just say “Hey, it’s no big deal. I’ll have a salad just for today.” Keep making changes until your eating plan would make Michelle Obama cry like Miss America.

Realize this is a long-term commitment. Say this out loud to yourself: “There are no easy fixes.” Because there are none. You can get lap band surgery, but if you don’t follow the eating plan, you’ll be right back where you started. You can cut calories, but if you cut too much, your body will kick into survival mode.

Sure, you may fall off the horse, or horse may just buck your big butt off occasionally. Don’t get discouraged. It takes time to slim down, learn better habits and love exercise. In this instant, gotta-have-it-now world, people are so obsessed with losing weight fast. It’s not good for your body, and you don’t get the unbelievable pleasure from every accomplishment along the way. Don’t cheat yourself and miss out on the journey.

See you there.

Photo credit:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Adam Baldwin: Dream Saver

My two worlds of perceived reality and dreamtime have always had a dysfunctional relationship. I’ve had frequent nightmares since I was very young. Notice that I didn’t say I suffered from them. By having nightmares I taught myself lucid dreaming so I could change the dream to be less scary. This is how I turned a vampire into Sonny Bono, which, on reflection, might have been a lateral move.

Sometimes, though, I’m stuck in the dream with only a minor ability to control it. This happens a lot when I’m stressed or especially sad. When my mind just can’t take another beatdown, it assigns a protector. For some reason, lately that protector has been Adam Baldwin. (Steady, ladies, he’s dressed. I know. I was disappointed too.)

He usually appears in some role with the secret agent earpiece and a sidearm, although the weaponry depends on how bad a day I’ve had. I’ve seen him in so many shows and movies as the strong, aggressive type (Chuck, Firefly, Independence Day) that my psyche has waved the wand and made him a dreamtime Patronus kicking the butt of assorted werewolves, supervillians and nameless fears. Kinda cool, really, and a sign of the times: years ago, my dreamtime avatar of protection was Magnum, P.I.

I believe dreams are very important to writers. I get lots of story ideas from my dreams, and writing them down lets me take the emotional temperature of my week. Getting the occasional guest star who kicks butt for me is just icing on the cake.

Do you remember your dreams? Do you use them in writing? Who’s been your most recent guest star?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Quickie Guide to the South

Good thing: I've been extremely busy on some writing projects lately. Bad thing: I haven't updated my blog in a while. So here's a quickie in between deadlines!

Four Things You Should Know About the South

1. Mimosa is a tree, not a drink.

2. Thongs go on your feet, not up your butt.

3. If someone looks at you and says, "Bless your heart," you should immediately review your manners and/or life choices.

4. There is no problem so great it can't be solved by duct tape, WD-40, Vicks VapoRub, pie or kisses. In fact, all those items are essential for an excellent honeymoon!

Monday, August 8, 2011

An Army of Ermas Day: Salute to the General

Stacey, welcome to your holiday! Happy An Army of Ermas Day!

Today we’re celebrating our editor and general in charge of the weirdness, Stacey Graham. She’s the brains and brawn behind the Ermas website, a mostly thankless job. Today we remedy that.

An Army of Ermas has meant something to each and every one of us. Seventeen months is a long time in web life, and Stacey has worked hard to get our names out there and make the site a popular stop for readers. She did all this while having tons of her own work to do. (Does digitally stalking Daniel Craig qualify as work? It should.)

So, what did An Army of Ermas do for me? It toughened me up, soldier! My writing became sharper after watching others work, more creative by learning to write to a theme, and tighter by self-editing until the wee hours so I wouldn’t embarrass myself in public. It also reawakened my ticklish muse who loves to laugh.

My fellow Ermas make me snort tea on a daily basis, and I’ve seen a few shy ones blossom into something wonderful. We’re a very diverse group who comes together in one place to make folks chuckle. It’s all because one talented, crazy granola-making, ghost-chasing, Chuck Norris-loving lady decided to do something fun. Stacey is a fantastic editor: she’s the ninja master of Carrot-and-Stick Fu. She’s kind, patient and quick with a joke or a guiding hand when needed. Herding this crowd is like filing snakes in a Rolodex, but she does it with style.

Thanks, Stacey, for being awesome. General? Nah. Hail to the king, baby.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Action Movie Girlfriends: Are You at Risk?

One of the greatest dangers to fictional women through the decades is the role of Action Movie Girlfriend. These innocent ladies are killed off willy-nilly just so their secretly-super guys can step up and wreak vengeance on evildoers.

Worried that your zero might turn out to be a hero and your days may be numbered? Take this quiz and find out!

1. My boyfriend/husband is…

a) A stoned pizza delivery guy who plays World of Warcraft all day.

b) Secretly trained by a deadly cult/martial arts school/bunch of gangsters/killer aliens but now he’s just trying to lead an ordinary life.

c) Chuck Norris.

2. I can defend myself by….

a) Getting committed to an asylum and doing enough pull-ups that I can cock a shotgun with one arm.

b) Throwing a few kung fu moves until I am overpowered by bad guys and/or knocked out a window.

c) Screaming.

3. Together, my guy and I have….

a) No hopes and dreams, just an asthmatic turtle named Frank.

b) Secret superhero identities and separate cans of whoop-ass.

c) An adorable tot who either has a target on his back or the ability to learn ninja moves from his daddy.

4. Lately my boyfriend has seen me….

a) In a giant cargo loader kicking an alien’s ass.

b) In a slow motion montage of happy moments laughing in the park.

c) In a picture frame that will be broken and strewn about later in the movie.

If you answered with all Bs, you are at risk. Step up the jujitsu lessons, practice at the gun range more often or just leave him for someone else. Any guy will do, as long as they don’t sparkle. (That opens up a whole new can of worms.)

If you answered all Cs, RUN! Don’t pack a bag, don’t scribble a message, just run! You are moments away from hearing bad guy theme music while you’re unpacking the groceries.

If you answered all As, you’re not in danger, but your boyfriend could be toast, because you’re the hero. Congratulations and condolences.

Photo by GonzaloMerat via Flickr

Saturday, July 9, 2011

First Friday AW Review: The First Ghost by Marguerite Butler

Portia Mahaffey had a crummy job, no boyfriend and a tiny apartment. Still, she believed she had a good life until the ghosts showed up. Who knew adventures with the undead could get you fired, make you solve a murder and help you find not one but two hot guys?

THE FIRST GHOST by Marguerite Butler is a thoroughly enjoyable, fast-paced paranormal ride. When the reader first meets Portia, she’s unlikable and slightly pathetic, a Muggle in a family of clairvoyant women. She thinks her life is perfectly fine without the family ‘gift,’ but when she finally sees her first ghost, her universe is tumbled upside down with clingy spirits, a farty dog and a talent for finding trouble.

I loved Butler’s new characterization of Death: she’s sharp with a deadpan (naturally!) sense of humor. In fact, all the characters are fully-rounded and very believable. Each has his or her own flaws and talents, and the dialogue is very natural, from the hot doctor she starts dating to her neurotic, funeral home-owning family. These characters act like real people and it makes this book a joy to read.

At first I didn’t care for Portia, but once she began her journey and her ultimate transformation from selfish chick to kind-hearted protector, it all made perfect sense. The story really took off for me from the initial hospital room scene where she meets the ghost of murdered secretary Corinne, and I was hooked from there until the very last page. Butler has a deft hand for weaving plotlines together and keeping the action flowing from one chaotic day to the next without losing the reader in a flurry of murders, suspects, industrial espionage and romance. This is the story I would wish for Nancy Drew; you know, if she grew up, got a concussion and saw dead people.

The book ties up some loose threads but not all of them. I’m hoping that’s because Butler plans to continue the series and give Portia a rich, full, dangerous life.

THE FIRST GHOST by Marguerite Butler is published by Lyrical Press and available in a variety of ebook formats on the publisher's website and at Amazon.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Vacay for First Friday

Since this is a holiday weekend (and I've been up to my neck in freelance work lately) my monthly AW book review will post on the second Friday in July on the 8th. I'll review Marguerite Butler's ebook THE FIRST GHOST! Need some great suggestions for holiday weekend reads? I'm rotating between Butler and three other great books: HEXED: THE IRON DRUID CHRONICLES by Kevin Hearne, A GRIM PACT by Adam Slade and ALMOST A SPINSTER by Jenna Petersen. Enjoy!

Friday, June 3, 2011

First Friday AW Review: Dustin Time by June Kramin

I haven’t read a romance in a long time, but when I heard about a time-traveling romance I was intrigued. So I downloaded Dustin Time by June Kramin late one night and opened it up to make sure the download worked. Four chapters later, I realized I was about to have a weekend devoted to reading about Kaitlyn and Dusty.

Dumping your boyfriend on your birthday? That’s no problem for Kaitlyn. Too bad she can’t follow through with that thought before she starts traveling more than Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap.

As she jumps through time, she creates different timelines with the man in her life, but what will scare her more: love, marriage and a baby carriage or ending up alone? While spinning through disastrous first dates to an ultimate sacrifice that may cost Kaitlyn her true love, she finally works out the reasons behind her dimension-hopping. Too bad time may not be on her side.

Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, Kramin expertly turned me on my ear. This was literally a story I could not put down. Plus, the plentiful love scenes were sexy without being X-rated.

You hear people say “I couldn’t put this book down!” That was the honest truth with this book. Every time I turned off my e-reader, ten minutes later I turned it back on. Dustin Time is an irresistible story of love with a neat sci-fi kick with a thoroughly satisfying ending. Thanks to June Kramin, I’m back on the romance bandwagon!

Dustin Time is published by Champagne Books, and is available in both ebook and print.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


This day is the holidapocalypse for geek celebrations—pick one, or get creative with the costuming and go for all four; personally, we think that a towel-toting Jedi with a lilac corsage and duct-taped glasses would sweep any costume contest held today.

Don’t forget your towel, and don’t panic! Towel Day celebrates the work of author Douglas Adams, who wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Feel free to celebrate any way you want, you zarkin’ frood—read a book, show off your “42” tattoo or lay down in front of a demolition if you’re feeling very brave and somewhat stupid.

This is also Geek Pride Day, a chance to wear your dice bag out in the open or argue over the virtues of Apple vs. Linux.

Of course, this is Star Wars Day, the annual celebration of the first movie’s release date in 1977, which was really the fourth movie and the official first movie was released fourth. Confused you are? It all makes sense in a galaxy far, far away.

Finally, May 25 marks a tongue-in-cheek serious note ( like there’s any other kind with Discworld fans.) This is Wear the Lilac Day, which mixes a fictional holiday with a real cause in true nerd style. Originally written into the Discworld mythos by Pratchett as a day to remember those lost in the Glorious Revolution of Treacle Mine Road, it’s now also a day for fans to raise awareness and money for Alzheimer’s Disease, which Pratchett now suffers from.

Any holiday that makes me choose between Adams and Pratchett is a tough one, but my lilac towel and Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster (yea for TeeFury!) t-shirt await.

How will you celebrate today?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Kind Words: Better Than Prozac

Ever have an entire week of Mondays? I did recently, and on one of those endless days I was cranky, frustrated and rushed. I hopped out of the truck to run an errand, dropped off the package, and the person facing me said something that changed my day:

“I love your horoscopes.”

It’s a short sentence, but a powerful one for a writer to hear. I thanked the person and floated back to the truck.

I have been lucky enough in my freelance career to receive many such compliments, and they always seen to arrive just when I need them most. Sometimes it will be a face-to-face meeting with a reader of my column, other times it will be an e-mail or card from someone who appreciated an article I’ve done.

Within the last few years, I’ve started paying it forward by e-mailing, tweeting or leaving a Facebook comment for an author whose work I’ve truly enjoyed. Those comments are usually received enthusiastically, since under those rejection-hardened thick skins are often delicate egos needing a boost. Knowing that you’ve touched someone in a positive way with only your words makes all those nights and days hunched over a keyboard worth it, and kind, sincere words are something every writer needs to hear now and again.

If you’re concerned that all that praise goes to my head, don’t worry. If I’m feeling too big for my britches, that’s when I hear this:

“I read your stuff, you’re almost as funny as the last person who wrote for the paper.”

At least it all evens out.

What was the most memorable compliment you’ve received for your writing? Share below!