On a Reading Binge

I signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge last year. Ha! That went well. I committed to reading fifty books. I read a whopping twelve.

I decided to give the challenge a go again this year. With a positive mindset, I set my number once again to fifty books. I can say with confidence that my goal won’t be a problem. I’ve already read twenty-two of the fifty.

I’ve definitely been on a reading binge. I read at night before bed, in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, and I read for at least two hours every morning before I start my day. Even though I’d prefer to be able to sleep more, I’m enjoying reading.

I read many books in my own genre of writing, so my list has quite a few fun, light mysteries, but I’ve also picked up some other good reads.

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I got a big kick out of the western Unwanted Dead or Alive by Gene Shelton. Two ranch hands lose their jobs and decide to try their hand at being outlaws. A reviewer said they were like “Abbott and Costello go west,” and I have to agree.

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Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes by Rich Israel was a hoot! He recounts his travels and travails in the sixties as he traveled around the country during the time of free love and drugs, all the while hoping he wouldn’t be drafted.

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One of my favorite reads so far was The Devil and Preston Black by Jason Jack Miller. The book is billed as Appalachian Noir fiction and “… is your ticket into a world where love can save your soul, where a song can change your destiny, and where evil still hides in the dark corners of the night.” I enjoyed the music references and the description of music as the characters played their instruments. Preston Black was a well-written character. It was easy to feel sympathy for him and to root for him.

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Summer at the Comfort Food Café is by British author Debbie Johnson and had a wonderful mix of humor, heartbreak, and family life. I like when I continue to think about a book days after I’ve finished reading. This book was like that for me.

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I’ve only recently become aware of Richard Branson and what a motivating person he is. I read Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way. Having worked in the music industry for several years, I especially enjoyed the stories around Virgin Records, but the entire book was a good read.

Have you ever heard you should never meet your heroes? Well, I think that should be extended to include don’t ever read tell-all biographies of your heroes. I read a Frank Sinatra biography last year, and although it was fascinating, I was so disappointed to read about the man’s faults. Of course, I knew he would have faults, but I should have left that sleeping dog lie. However, I do still love to listen to him sing. I’m currently reading a biography about Jimmy Stewart. He’s not a hero, but I do enjoy a good biography, and he seems to have led a tamer life.

Have you signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge this year? If you haven’t, it’s not too late. If you have, what have you read, and what has been your favorite book so far?

Sailing Bravely Into the Unknown

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I’ve been pretty quiet for well over a year now – not only with my blog but also with my writing. It’s hard to write humor when you feel like your world is falling apart.

I’ll spare you the details, but with my mother’s diminishing health, Rich’s allergic reactions to medications, and my own blood pressure problems, it’s been pretty rough at times.

It all came to a head last week when Rich had no other choice than to quit his job of thirteen years. It’ll be a few months before the adverse effects of the medications are gone, and then we’ll see how he feels.

I don’t know what the future holds for us. We are in unknown territory. It was terrifying to think of no more job security, but I’m calm about it – for now. With Rich finally making the decision to stay home and get well, my stress level has reduced greatly. That’s good for my blood pressure and my heart.

What’s also good for my blood pressure and my heart is that I’ve lost twenty-seven pounds since Thanksgiving. After a particularly rough day of heart palpitations, I went cold turkey off added salt, sugar, caffeine, and processed foods. I’m eating mostly fruit, vegetables, nuts, and protein.

Do I miss pizza, Taco Bell, M&M’s, and junk food in general? You bet I do, but fear is a great motivator, and I’m too afraid to eat that crap. It’s a good thing I like to cook, because there’s a whole lotta cookin’ goin’ on here. I even make my own spice mixes and salad dressings. It would be nice to have a sous chef.

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The stress reduction was so immediate after Rich quit his job that I’ve been able to work again – with joy. I’d almost forgotten that he was an audiophile, and he has music blaring from the den for a big part of the day. I actually enjoy this. It’s conducive to his healing and spurs my creativity. I’m happy to say, I finally banged out the ending of the seventh book in the Two Sisters and a Journalist series. I even have the main plot and the beginning of the next book mapped out. Onward and upward! This year can only be better than last year, and I’m expecting great things.

I’ll have the cover to Murder Wears a Veil soon. I’ll post it here with an approximate date of publication. And then I’ll get cracking on those Appleseed cozy mysteries.

In other news …

I think I have my Don’t Starve video game addiction under control. … I think I do. … Maybe I do.

I’m planning to come back to blogging on a regular basis.

I signed up for the MasterClass, Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting, so look for an Aaron Sorkin and Me post soon.

And last but not least, or as Word wants me say, finally yet importantly, my friend Tim Dittmer published his second book this week. Five-Toed Tigress. I enjoyed his first book, The Valley Walker, and I’m looking forward to reading his new work. Take a look and grab a copy for yourself! (Click the cover to go to Amazon.)

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Blog Post #3

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Good grief.

It’s June, and I’ve only managed two blog posts so far this year.

Blogging aside, I was going gangbusters there for a while with books published in October, December, and February. My plan was to continue putting out a book every two or three months this year.

You know what they say about the best-laid plans.

I suppose the number one reason for the screeching halt of pretty much everything in my life has been health problems for several family members. I had a few months of concern with my own runaway blood pressure, and Rich has had some heart problems, but we’re both doing well now, and enough of my stress has been alleviated that I’m ready to get back to writing. I find it difficult to write humor when I have too much stress.

Our granddaughter isn’t coming to visit this summer, so my new plan is to write as much as I can over the next two months and have something ready to publish in September. It shouldn’t be too difficult, because I have works-in-progress.

Five chapters of the next book in the Two Sisters and a Journalist Series are completed. This will be book number seven – Murder Wears a Veil. There’s a bit of a prologue followed by this opening line: No one screamed when Buck Swenson threw Lucille Crabtree over the cliff to the sharp rocks and pounding surf below. Can you tell it’s a humorous scene?

Also finished are six chapters of the first book in my new series. The series will likely be three books total, and I already have covers for two of them:

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Delicious Death is definitely the first book, but I think Dying for Pie will be number three. I’ll use a yellow apple on book number two, and that will give a traffic light effect – red, yellow, green. I wonder if that will have a subliminal visual/mind effect that is positive. I figure it can’t hurt. The books will be squeaky-clean, romantic cozies.

I still have Stanley Pearl hanging around, too. Three chapters of Stanley’s story are in the can, and as much fun as this book is to write, it will be a stand-alone, and it’s a bit of a departure from what I’ve been writing, so he’s on the back burner until I can decide how to present him and market him. Poor Stanley.

In other news, Rich and I were out on the motorcycle this past weekend. The weather was fantastic, and I soaked up some much-needed sun. We have a new motorcycle this year. We’ve upgraded from a 1984 Goldwing to a 1989 Goldwing. Rich actually bought it on eBay, and had it shipped to us from Utah (the picture of bike with snow on ground was taken in Utah). I have to say it’s more comfortable to ride than our old bike, but the airflow is horrible. If my hair isn’t pulled back with a million clips on the sides, it flies forward and whips my face.

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Finally, I’ve been so distracted by life that I’ve allowed myself to escape into a video game for a while. Our son used to play the indie game Don’t Starve. I loved watching him play. I remember Rich going to bed one night and coming down the next morning to find Mike and me still in front of the television playing the game. I found several people on YouTube who posted videos of their game play, and I’ve had a ball watching them. I eventually worked up enough courage to fire up the Playstation and try playing myself. Crikey, that game is so intense, it messes with my blood pressure. I died three times the first day I tried playing, but on the second day, I managed to stay alive, and I’m currently on Day 268. I’m due for a Deerclops attack, so I’m letting a few days go by before I play again. I have to give my heart a break. Please let me know if you’ve ever played this game!

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So, there you have it. An update. I’ll stop messing around, stop gaming, stop wallowing in whatever I’ve been wallowing in, and get back to writing. Maybe I’ll manage a few more blog posts this year, too. I’ll certainly be back to let you know when I have another book ready to publish.

Oh, one more thing. I enjoyed the James Patterson Master Class well enough that I’m considering signing up for Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting. I’ve always wanted to turn one of my books into a screenplay. I think it might be fun. If it isn’t, please don’t tell me.

If you’re celebrating the Fourth of July weekend, have a safe and wonderful time!

Bathroom Humor and a Free Book

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My mother is a good sport. I’ve used and abused her in my books but always with a loving heart and with her knowledge and support.

My mother and father were the inspiration behind Susan Hunter’s mother and father. When physically describing Susan’s father, and her close relationship with him, I may as well have been talking about my own late father. Susan’s mother doesn’t resemble my mother in appearance, but many of her characteristics and her love of laughter do. Mom loved reading my Susan Hunter books, and I know she enjoyed knowing so much of her personality went into Susan’s mother.

My mother is now eighty-five years old. A few years back, she proclaimed she didn’t care what people thought any longer. She said she’s lived long enough to say and do what she wants. That made it easy to base Mama in my “Two Sisters and a Journalist” series on my own mother in her later years.

I grew up with three brothers who thought they were comedians. I can’t tell you how many whoopee cushions, fart machines, farts recorded on cassettes, belching contests, and just about any other manner of PG-13-rated potty humor went on in our house. I won’t say which brother, but one of them had so much gas one summer, he kept a notebook and logged each one as it passed.

My mother laughed at those boys until she cried. We all did.

If you don’t know by now, my “Two Sisters and a Journalist” books have bathroom humor in them. With the popularity of Melissa McCarthy and over-the-top humor in movies, I decided to go this route with the series. Where Susan Hunter wouldn’t pass gas in front of herself, Jo Ravens and her family are less couth. There are a few incidences of minor swear words (four in my new book), but they are used as humor rather than as angry swearing.

In Murder Under Construction, Jo laments the fact that her mother passes gas while shopping and then walks away, allowing Jo to come around the corner and walk into the gas cloud. Anyone coming near Jo would assume she was the offender. True story. I told my mother if she didn’t quit doing that to me, I wasn’t taking her shopping any more.

My sister called one day to tell me she picked Mom up to take her to the grocery store, and as Mom walked across the back porch, every step produced a puff of smoke. Upon further inspection, she realized Mom had put foot powder in her sandals. She was laughing so hard, she could barely tell me about it. In Murder Welcomes You to Buxley, Mama has an incident with baby powder in her shoes at the bowling alley.

One of my nieces read Murder Under Construction and asked her mother, “Has Grandma read this? Does she know she’s in here?” The false teeth incident gave it away for her.

My mother has threatened my siblings on occasion. She’ll tell them not to tell me about something she did, because it will end up in one of my books. She’s right, but she always laughs when it does. I know she secretly loves it.

Just last week, I published book number six in the “Two Sisters and a Journalist” series: Murder – A Chummy Affair. Mama is her usual inappropriate and silly self, but her bowling crony Lucille, who was mentioned in a previous book, has a bigger role this time, and she has chronic flatulence.

My mother loved the book and thought Lucille was hilarious. Of course she did! My mother’s middle name is Lucille.

I’m in the mood to give books away today. If you would like a copy of Murder – A Chummy Affair, let me know in the comments section below, and I’ll send a book to you from Amazon. If you need a copy for a different format, I’ll send a code for a free book at Smashwords, and you can choose the file that’s right for your eReader. Just make sure you let me know which venue – Amazon or Smashwords. If you prefer to write and ask me personally, my email is on my About page.

I never harvest email addresses for my mailing list. If you’d like to sign up to receive notices of new releases, the link is on my breezybooks website, but I’ll make it easy today and link HERE.

Finally, I was going through old pictures for a family member last week, and I came across pictures of my mother and father. I forgot how attractive my dad was when he was young. He could have been in the movie Grease! For that matter, my mother could have, too.

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James Patterson and Me, Part II

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James Patterson is a patient man. He’s been sitting in the bay window next to me since June of last year. I tossed a couple of my manuscripts on top of him, but I don’t think he read them. Nevertheless, I finally dusted him off and listened while he presented the next eleven lessons of his MasterClass.

Here are some of my notes as well as some of my thoughts.

Lesson 12 – Building a Chapter. James wants us to choose a viewpoint. He writes in first person with limited third person. Others have told him that’s cheating, but he says, “I don’t give a shit. It’s my creation. I can do whatever I want.” I thought that was rather funny. His reasoning? There are no rules, and you can do whatever you want as long as it works. Ahh, a man after my own heart.

James also wants us to find a voice. I think I’ll save the challenges to my voice for another blog post. Let’s just say, I like my voice in my writing, and one of the most consistent comments in my reviews is that my books are an easy read. I contribute that to my writing style – my voice. I read once that just because something is an easy read doesn’t mean it was easy to write. So true!

The lesson also covered using each chapter to grab the reader’s attention and propel them on to the next chapter.

Lesson 13 – Writing Suspense. We are encouraged to know our genre and what’s already out there. Not to imitate it, but to avoid it. Be fresh, new, and fascinating. Intrigue your reader. Set up questions that the reader must, must, must have answered.

James said he doesn’t always write realism. One of his characters is a detective with ten adopted children and a wife dying of cancer. It could happen, but it’s not a likely scenario. We have to be willing to allow our readers to suspend disbelief. I liked that, and I think that’s what makes writing fiction so much fun.

Sidebar. Do you have a DVR? Do you ever pause a television show and see you have captured an actor with a less-than-flattering look on their face? I pause James frequently while I’m taking notes. I couldn’t stop laughing for a few minutes when I realized I caught him mid-pick. I’m sure he would proclaim, “There was no pick. I did not pick. There was no pick.”

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Lesson 14 – Ending the Book. James asks us to think of the endings to books and movies that we have enjoyed and to think about why we liked those particular endings. He also addresses cliffhangers. Cliffhanger for a television show = ok, fine. Cliffhanger for a book = people get mad. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write them, but there will some fallout from people who despise them.

James also imparts an activity for the ending of your book that he says is the secret to all great endings. He claims this one tidbit of information is worth the price of admission to the class. I don’t know about that, but I did think it was a good idea. I won’t share it here. I’ll let James tell you if you choose to take his class.

Lesson 15 – Editing. Not your editor’s editing, but the editing and polishing you do yourself. Keep these thoughts in your head at all times: move the story forward and hold the reader’s attention. If your words don’t do this, rewrite. Remove distractions in your writing and cut the boring stuff – in dialogue, too. Stay positive during your edit. You didn’t make mistakes; you are making your story tighter and better.

I starred this item: Pace will pay the electric bill. Write a page-turner. I love when people write to let me know they couldn’t put down one of my books. And yes, I am paying our electric bill. Maybe one day I’ll be able to replace the wiring in our old house. Or the evil plumbing. Or maybe we’ll just move.

Lesson 16: Working with a Co-Author. Now that I’ve made James sit in my bay window for six months, and then showed him mid-pick, I’m sure he won’t be calling me anytime soon to co-write a book with him.

However, he does clear it up once and for all that writing with another person is a true collaboration with both people writing the book.

Lesson 17: Getting Published. He gives good advice on how to handle your query letters. Publishers are spared my query letters, and I am spared rejection letters, by simply self-publishing whenever I have a book finished. In fact, I published my latest on December 10 but neglected to stop in here to show it to you. Have a look:

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Lesson 18: Book Titles and Covers. James didn’t go into what’s good and what’s not with a cover. He mostly wanted to impart that your cover will draw the consumer to your book and communicate what’s inside. A tag line, blurbs from other writers, and your own information will sell your book. I’m happy with all of my covers. My pink covers convey the light, breezy aspect of the stories (also the chick-lit genre), and you can’t miss that the books in my second series have a murder in them.

Lesson 19: Marketing the Patterson Way. James suggests we brand ourselves. I think I did a pretty good job of establishing my Susan Hunter brand. I’ve used pink and her face everywhere. James says that we also establish a relationship between the consumer and ourselves.

James Patterson = page turner
Maddie Cochere = humorous mysteries

What’s your brand?

Lesson 20: Hollywood. I got a kick out of this lesson. The lesson to be learned is if Hollywood comes calling, take the money and run. Everyone will lie to you (even if they don’t have to), and the movie will most likely not resemble your book at all.

Lesson 21: Personal Story. James shares a bit about his life and how he came to be a writer. Very nice.

Lesson 22: Class Closing. Thank you James Patterson for taking the time to present your MasterClass.

So, the bottom line. Was it worth the $90 I spent?

I don’t believe I learned anything that I haven’t read or heard before, but I’m glad I took the class. James’ thoughts and insights helped to reinforce my belief that I’m on the right track, and it was good for me to hear how he writes. He’s also an engaging and motivating speaker. The class was worth the price for his passion, motivation, and encouragement alone.

He finished with a thought that made me smile. He said we don’t have to blindly follow the rules that have been set down for writing. (I split an infinitive to tell you that.) People get too into the rules. Just because it’s been done forever a certain way doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right. You don’t want to walk away from what’s been done, but “we do new shit.”

If you’ve read both of my blog posts about the James Patterson MasterClass, and you think this is something that might benefit you, please tell me in a comment below. On January 15, I’ll be randomly gifting one class from all interested parties. If you’d rather send a note directly to me to be added to the giveaway, my email address is on my About page.

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Have you already taken the class? What were your final thoughts?

EDITED TO ADD: 1/15/2016 – All names in the hat for the free class were assigned a number. I used the random number generator at random.org … and the winner is … Jami Gold! Thank you to all who participated.

A Few Reading Recommendations

policeAre there blog police?

If there are, they will be coming to my blog any day now to shut me down for dust, cobwebs, and lack of content.

I love blogging and reading blogs, but I’ve been on a tear writing. This past Wednesday, I published book number four in the Two Sisters and a Journalist series – Murder Wins the Game.

I’m also over fifty percent finished with book number five – Murder Between the Covers. I’m hoping to have the book published by Thanksgiving.

A new series snuck up on me, and I have three chapters finished of Delicious Death. I’m choosing to be optimistic and say the book will be published in time for Christmas. I’ll save the details of that series for later.

A character by the name of Stanley Pearl has been tormenting me since April. He’s not a priority for 2015, but he’s still managed to get me to write three chapters of his story. I expect to finish the book next year.

To top everything off, a reader recently convinced me to write another Susan Hunter book!

I’m sure I’ll be around a little here and there, but for now, let me clear out some of the dust and cobwebs and show you the new book.

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I also want to share some books by my friends and fellow bloggers.

Jackie Phillips at To Breathe is to Write has written and published two books! The Canine Caper is a short story introducing her main character, DeeDee Watson. A Case of Deceit is a full-length novel. The books are fun, cozy mysteries featuring a Papillion. A Case of Deceit was just released this week.

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Carrie Rubin has a new book – Eating Bull. I was honored to read the book ahead of publication, and it’s a great thriller. Not only does Carrie address topics pertinent to many people today – fat shaming, obesity, and bullying – but she writes about the topics in such a way that you will be thinking about the book long after you’ve finished reading. The paperback is available now; the eBook may be pre-ordered for release on November 12.

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And last but not least, Valerie Clarizio has a new release coming out next Tuesday, November 3 – Plan Interrupted. I’ve read other books by Valerie, and I enjoy her writing style. Her books are a mix of romance and suspense, and I’m always entertained.

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Happy reading!

Feel free to add your own new releases and recommendations in the comments below.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

I must be having fun, because I can’t believe I haven’t been here since June. It seems like just yesterday James Patterson and I were discussing writing.

In July, I flew to Texas to pick up Princess Pancake and bring her to Ohio. What a whirlwind of playing with dolls, playing games, drawing pictures … and being loud just because we could. Everything in my life took a back seat while I played for five weeks.

CutiepieShortly before she left, Rich dug a hole in our old garden and made a fire pit. Not only did we have fun roasting hot dogs and marshmallows with our granddaughter, but we also spent a few Friday nights around the fire with our neighbors – the ones who moved into the house with the stairway to nowhere. I’m not much of a camper or the outdoorsy type, and I had no idea I would enjoy sitting around a fire so much.

firepitWe took a ride on the motorcycle. Yes, only one ride for me this year, and it was to visit with our friends at the horse manure ice cream stand. I have a knee acting up, so I haven’t been so keen to ride this year, but it sure was nice to feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair again. We have a few ninety-degree days coming up, so maybe I’ll try to ride again.

In book news, I have a few things to share.

5,000_WordsI read this book – 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox – and found the information to be helpful. By putting Chris’ ideas into practice, I’ve been able to quit procrastinating and make steady progress on Murder Wins the Game. Not only will I be able to finish the book soon, but I’ll be able to complete another book I started this year. The $2.99 price for the Kindle edition of 5,000 Words Per Hour is definitely worth it, and if the iphone I have wasn’t a dinosaur, I would have purchased the app he wrote to go along with it.

Speaking of Chris Fox … when I was searching for information on his book, I stumbled upon his WordPress blog – Chris Fox Writes. One of his more recent posts is an inspiring post about time and how his attitude toward time affected his life. It’s very motivating. Give it a read.

bookreportFor those of you who are authors with a book(s) at Amazon, if you haven’t yet seen the BookReport tool – try it out. It’s colorful, accurate, and the ka-ching sound when you sell a book is a pretty cool. BOOKREPORT (click the Learn more link.) The program is free unless you have over $1,000 in sales during the month. The cost is then ten dollars for that month.

bookbubBookBub. Ahh, BookBub. BookBub is frustrating and awesome. I tried for six months to get an ad spot with them. I was turned down every month – once within two hours. I was thrilled when I received word in July that Murder Under Construction was chosen for a feature to run on August 15. The ad would run on a Saturday, and I didn’t know if that was good or bad, but I didn’t care. It was BookBub!

I’ve been blown away by the results. Since the ad ran eleven days ago, there have been over 100,000 downloads of the book (105,555 to be exact). Within twenty-four hours, the book reached #1 in the Amazon Free Store, #1 in Cozy Mysteries, and #1 in Women Sleuths. The book is still holding in the top 100 in the Free Store and remains in the top ten in the two sub-categories (as I type this). Out of thirty new reviews, twelve are five stars and twelve are four stars. This thrills me! I’ve had requests from several people to be added to my mailing list, and I’ve had more interaction with people who have enjoyed the books than ever before – many of them going on to read the Susan Hunter series. It’s been quite a ride.

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Now it’s time to get my head out of the clouds and get back to work. As with any good ad, downloads and sales will taper off, so it’s best to keep moving forward and write the next book.

That’s where I’m headed this evening – off to the pink room for some “writing sprints” ala Chris Fox. I’d like to knock out another scene or two today.

I’ll be back soon with my report on the second half of James Patterson’s lessons on writing.

How has your summer been going so far?