Lessons Learned

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A while back the fabulous Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson asked me to guest post on her fabulous blog. I was immediately excited, and of course terribly honored. And then…terrified. The subject that she wanted me to blog about was ‘Lessons Learned’.

Oh….good grief.

Let’s just say, it was a lot harder then I thought it would be. You can read about it on her awesome blog, here.  And please…feel free to show me some comment love, I’ll be popping in and out all day.

renee

You can also follow her on Twitter to join in the awesomeness  @rasjacobson and hang out with her on Facebook

Don’t forget to check out the giveaways I have going on over on my Facebook page right now. Super easy to win some great kindle books in time for the holiday season!

My 100th (Non) Post

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This is my 100th post! Big deal, right? Or not.

Anyway, whether you share my excitement or not…I was both excited and shocked that I was at 100 posts already. That’s both cool and strange. Clearly I have a lot to say.

So, to celebrate my 100th post, I’ve decided not to post on my own blog at all. (Except of course for this very brief introduction. Pretend you didn’t see me.)

We need balloons...it's a celebration!

I am honored and excited to be guest posting over at one of my besties blogs – Ironic Mom. Leanne Shirtliffe and I have been part of the same writing group for about four years and over that time become very good friends. I’m proud to say, “I knew her when.” Because Leanne is on the rise! If you haven’t read her blog, you must. It’s hilarious.

So, without further ado…go check out The Top Ten Signs Mom Needs a Vacation. Leave a comment, I’m giving away books!

Diana Murdock Feels the Cyber Friends Love

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While I’m busy wrapping up my holiday, I am very proud to have my beautiful friend Diana Murdock hanging out at the blog today. Not only is she an amazing author and mother but she has a very interesting history that not only includes alcohol smuggling but organizing hurricane relief fundraisers and cookie baking for seniors. I know, amazing! As I’ve gotten to know her over the last nine months, I’ve been blown away by the raw honesty of her posts. She tells it like it is, and I love that about her. Diana has an excellent novel out, Again (I loved the two interwoven stories in this one) and her new release is coming soon, watch for it! That’s enough of me, here’s Diana…

 

Cyber Friends – It Ain’t Is What It’s Cracked Up To Be

In years past I’ve been known to complain that technology is widening the gap between people and making our interactions increasingly less personal.  After all, I’m a touchy-feely hugger.  I need physical, face-to-face contact.  But like a good little sheep, I fell in step with everyone else.  A couple years ago, when my then-husband and I worked at home in different rooms, we would email each other rather than get up off our butts and walk across the house.  It was convenient.  I got the concept, but I still felt so isolated.  Kind of like sitting on my own little island sending up flares hoping someone would see me.  And because of that, I never saw the value in on-line communication.

But now?  Hell, I’m all over it.

I hadn’t really thought about my change of attitude because it was such a gradual shift.  Fueled by Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone (WANA) teachings, that attitude has now grown into such a deep appreciation, I’d climb to the top of the highest on-line mountain and post and retweet it over and over again how much I appreciate my cyber friends!

So when Elena asked me to guest post for her while she was away, I didn’t hesitate.  I wanted to help my WANA sister in a big way.  Because that’s what friends do for each other, cyber or no.

In the last six months I have met the most incredible people.  Actually, I’ve never met any of them face-to-face.  I only know them through pictures and posts, but I do feel I know them, I mean, really know them.  Six months of daily emails, tweets, smiley icons, LOL’s, and tons of support tend to open the door to familiarity.

Some may still insist that cyber relationships are impersonal and they are as potentially misleading as on-line dating, but the truth of the matter is that although everyone has the power to delete, backspace, write and rewrite our messages and posts, we can see who’s at the other end of the keyboard.  There’s no hiding who we really are inside.  Our writing reflects who we are, no matter how perfectly poised the words may be.  We can’t help it.

And it’s through these words that we connect, sift through, and ferret out those peeps we choose to hold closer to our hearts than most.  It’s just like in the days of old:  You meet someone at a party or at school or work.  You talk, maybe have coffee, and by the end of the day you’d know whether you’d shake their hand or pull them into a hug.  (It doesn’t hurt that we can go trolling around profile pictures and Facebook pages and albums to see who someone really is.  And don’t deny you haven’t done that!)

Sure, technology has made the personal touch a luxury, but it has also picked up the four corners of the world and gathered them together in the middle so we are able to broaden our reach.

Personally, I have friends in Pakistan, Wales, Italy, United Kingdom, Ecuador, and Canada (and other countries, I’m sure).  I’ve discovered friends in my old stomping grounds in California and a few in the states surrounding Idaho. When my cousin passed away not too long ago, his friends in New York and I befriended each other to lend comfort, and though I don’t know them personally, I do know I can count them as my friends because of the shared love for my cousin.

As for the handful of peeps who my soul knows and embraces, through the words that we have exchanged, I can say without a doubt that I do know them and feel comfortable enough to open up my life and heart.  I trust them and I know they trust me.

Do you have some of those?  Try Skyping one or two of these special friends and tell me if the both of you don’t just fall into step as if your last conversation happened only a few minutes before.  Yeah.  Friendship, love, and trust can be nurtured on-line.

Nuff Said

For me, and many others, cyber friendship can be the most viable way of socializing.  Sure, we all have our friends we hang out with once or twice a week, or family on the holidays, but on a daily basis, how else can we connect with as many peeps as we do when our daily lives are filled with working, writing, raising children, chasing our pets, trying to find family time and personal time?  On line, we give each other the boosts, nudges, validation, and high five’s we need to get through the day.

We’re adaptable creatures.  I think we’ve all been able to wrap our heads around the fact – without guilt – that we can carry on conversations with ten different followers on Twitter and comment and like another ten on Facebook all while multitasking our normal daily activities.  We all get it.

As a single mother who works ungodly hours, raising two very active boys, with a WIP about to bloom, there’s no way I would have any hope of a social life, let alone have an opportunity to meet fellow writers, soul sistas and brothas, and overall just really cool people.

So Kristen, you’re so right…We are not alone.  Not ever.

Thank you, Elena, for inviting me over to your place!  It’s been a lot of fun to get out and stretch my legs in your neighborhood!

                                         

I can not think of a better way to finish up with my blog babysitters than with this post. It’s been an absolute privilege to get to know such amazing ladies who have become an important part of my life. Thank you, Diana for an awesome and perfectly fitting post.

If you wnat more of Diana, check her out

On Twitter @Diana_Murdock

And at her blog dianamurdock.wordpress.com/

Passion, Chocolate Cupcakes and Steena Holmes

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I’m still MIA this week, so my fabulous friend Steena Holmes has stepped up to babysit my blog today. Steena and I ‘met’ last summer and it was an instant friendship. The fact that we live only about twenty minutes away from each other and haven’t actually sat down for coffee and/or cheesecake yet, is craziness and totally inexcusable. It’s also on the top of the to-do list upon my return.
Steena’s a very talented writer. Check out her racy romances Devil Unknown and Hot for Cowboy. AND…she has a heart wrenching women’s fiction Finding Emma that will be available soon. (I’m lucky enough to have had a sneak peak of this one, you will NOT want to miss it!) She blogs about passion and what else…chocolate, over on her blog, check it out. Alright Steena, take it away…
Elena wanted me to write about passion, but all I can think about right now is a chocolate cupcake I have hidden away in my cupboard. There’s this little store close to where I live that sells the most decadent cupcakes you’ve ever tasted. The name of their store says it all. Crave.

Actual Crave Cupcake

I’ve been craving this cupcake for over a month now. I image it’s smooth icing on the tip of my tongue and my stomach gets that tingly feeling … you know, the one where butterflies erupt?
Chocolate does it for me every time.
But this post is supposed to be about passion. Not chocolate. Sigh.
Passion for me is about life. I love to write passion in my stories – whether it’s a passionate embrace, a passionate argument or a breath-stopping moment when life hits hard. I think living a life full of passion is crucial. Without it, we’d be stagnant, lifeless and boring. What makes you passionate? What makes you smile? Laugh? Sigh with contentment? Fill you with peace?
Can you name it? That thing called passion? For me it’s my writing. It’s my family. It’s my baking. It’s my chocolate. It’s my faith.
What about you?
                                           
Thank you so much, Steena for hanging out on my blog today. I LOVE the topic of passion because I believe it’s central to living a fulfilling life. Find your passion…live it!
Want more from Steena?
Follow her on Twitter @steenaholmes
And of course, check out her website www.steenaholmes.com

Managing the Social Media Beast with Natalie Hartford

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Today, while I’m on vacay, sipping rum punch and digging my toes in the sand (don’t hate me),my good friend Natalie Hartford agreed to come over to my blog digs and entertain you with her antics. She’s a writer just starting out in the adventure of novel writing and she’s been blogging for about a year and a half. She posts on her blog 4 days a week with posts such as my metrosexual hubby made me realize the power of clothes that fit (no matter the size), Twisted Tuesdays (with stuff like sunglasses that rock my beer! or the new trailer hitch stripper pole), and her Urban Word Wednesdays (where she teaches us words like masturcising and vajazzle) always keep me laughing! Take it away Natalie!

I am so excited to be here Elena. Thank you for hosting me and allowing me to give your readers a little taste of my style.

Today I thought I’d talk a little bit about an elephant in the room; social media. I’ve come across a couple blog posts lately where writers are talking about feeling overwhelmed and ill-prepared for the mass amount of social media platforms that are out there right now not to mention the accompanying learning curve.

Do I need to be everywhere? Should I sign up for StumbleUpon, do I need a vision board on Pinterest, how do I work Twitter, do I need an author page on Facebook, what in God’s name is Triberr, how do I blog twice a week/once a week/three times a week, read and comment on blogs, write a damn fine book, and master all this…stuff? It’s overwhelming to say the least.

Now, let’s be clear. I am not saying I am a social media expert, not by any measure. I have definitely not mastered all the platforms out there nor can I answer most of your “how do I????” questions (people, just google your tech questions…seriously it’s that easy) but what I can share with you is my approach and tactic to social media and maybe…just maybe…it’ll help take some of the pressure to be all things on all platforms off.

I am tech challenged to so if I can do, you can do it!

Keep in mind, I am just like you. I am tech-challenged. It might not sound like it but you can ask my IT guru hubby. He believes I have an electromagnetic force field around me that literally sets everything off and in all the wrong ways. He claims he’s never seen someone who has such a love/hate relationship with all things technology. But even given my aversion to electronics, I still love all things techie especially new software (even if it means swearing a lot). I love the challenge and I love learning.

Take the pressure off!

I met Elena when we both signed up for Kristen Lamb’s blogging to build a brand course in July 2011. I have to say, the absolute best advice I got from Kristen was this (embed this into your brains): when it comes to social media, as a writer, yes you NEED a presence. But, you don’t need to be on everything. Do what works for you and do that well. If you hate Facebook but enjoy blogging and Twitter, stick to that. If you prefer Facebook to Twitter, enjoy that. You don’t have to be on everything but you do need to be out there somewhere. So let the pressure to be everywhere go.

One thing at a time people!

My approach is to work at learning one social media platform at a time while asking myself “is this something I will enjoy; does it fit in with my target audience; and is this something I can/want to maintain with my already full schedule?” Most importantly, I do not start playing around with something else until I feel like I have mastered the one in front of me (no matter how shiny, change-my-world, must-have-immediately, everyone-is-doing-it, you-are-missing-the-boat, easy it sounds). One thing at a time people!

Learning a new social media platform

In learning a new social media platform, I research it like you would a new man you are dating or a new story world you are building. I scour the Internet, read every FAQs and all the help files (if there are any), search for and watch dozens of tutorials, and read tons of blog posts etc. I sign up for an account and start clicking every button, link and file to see what does what. You can’t be shy here. You gotta jump right in with both feet and take an assertive role in your learning. You can’t let the fear of making a mistake stop you from clicking every little button and playing around. Go wild. Go nuts. See what this platform is all about, what it can do, how it could potentially work for you. My experience is the more I learn on my own by playing around, the more I retain.

Is it for you?

Once I feel like I’ve mastered it (and seriously, don’t cheat yourself here), I ask myself objectively if I think this is something I enjoy, feel is useful in my overall objectives, and want to continue. If not, I let it go and move on. If times change and said platform grows in much greater popularity, I can always revisit it knowing I will have an easier time picking it up again. Time invested in learning is NEVER wasted!

Because trust me on this, as you learn different social media platforms, you start to become more comfortable and adept at trying new things with a greater understanding of how most Web-based platforms operate. This means that the learning curve gets smaller and smaller with time. Groovy!

A few of my current social media favs!

Facebook (author page vs personal page): My personal Facebook page is for people I feel I am friends with. I don’t mind them seeing my Dominican bikini pictures, my crazy status updates, or my personal pains. They know when I am home sick fighting the flu or having a tough day at work. My author page (which I will start someday soon), will be for author-only stuff; fun status updates to keep readers engaged about books, upcoming promos, blog posts etc. I will want my reading fans (who are essentially strangers) to go there as opposed to my personal Facebook account where I am not likely to accept a friend request from a stranger. So yes, I see the usefulness of having two Facebook accounts.

Blogging: I think everyone can agree that as a writer, having a blog is pretty much a must. For the first year that I blogged, I flailed around terribly. I posted without consistency in my schedule or my content. Readers would have had no idea what to expect from me day to day. How would I build a steady, loyal following with that? Think clothing store. If I went into a clothing store that one week featured high-end women’s fashion, the next week pre-teen clothing, and the next week men’s fashion, it wouldn’t be long before I’d outright avoid the store. Same with a scattered brain blog!

So, I took Kristen’s course and applied her concepts like the gospel. I implemented her technical suggestions: my own name blog URL, coordinating email and Twitter account, developed and launched a new theme and header that matched my blog voice (hire an expert if you have no graphic abilities), and ensured I had black text on white background. I implemented a consistent posting schedule (4 times a week now) and introduced theme days (which actually made finding blog content WAY easier). I think my readers now have a very good idea of exactly what to expect from me and when, which rocks. Most importantly, I embraced blogging as not only an extension of my fiction writing but fuel for it and the inspiration and fun has been exponential.

From blogging, I moved to Twitter. I signed up and started following people. I started following hashtags like #mywana #row80 and my #wana711 crew. I try to keep Kristen’s 1/3 rule in mind (1/3 tweets are information you are pushing out, 1/3 of tweets are RTs of other people’s important stuff, and 1/3 of tweets are conversational/connection). I sometimes struggle with the balance but I strive towards it.

TweetDeck: TweetDeck is an application I use to manage and streamline my Twitter account (a lot of people also use Hootsuite). I installed it and went on a watch-a-million tutorials mode. I also started playing around with it clicking buttons. My natural curiosity of “I wonder what this does…” really helps! Using TweetDeck, I now have all my important hashtags of interest in columns so they are easy to follow. That way I can jump in on conversations in real time. My @mentions and DMs (direct messages) are each in their own column so I never miss a beat when someone’s trying to connect with me or when someone’s talking about me. Just recently I learned I can connect my Facebook and other social media platforms into my TweetDeck so I’ll be learning about that next.

A few months ago, Jenny Hansen introduced me to Triberr. I gotta say, at first, I was skeptical because the learning curve to Triberr seemed a little extensive. It’s works with a different lingo and I believe when I first joined the developers were still tweaking the application so it didn’t always function properly. That being said, Triberr is a wonderful tool that helps me streamline the promotion of bloggers I love across all social media platforms from ONE PLACE. Imagine?!?! I will say the Triberr FAQs suck hard so I rely heavily on YouTube tutorials, blog posts, google, and just playing around to master this beast. I am still learning but I am totally pumped for what I think it will do for me. My next step with Triberr is to create a couple new tribes.

Next on my social media must-learn list is: stumbleupon (I have an account but I am under utilizing it) pinterest, goodreads, and google+. I also have to learn more about Klout and google analytics.

Well, that’s my approach to social media and how I use a few tools right now. I hope if anything, this post has helped ease the pressure you might have put on yourself to learn too many things at once time. And if it’s inspired you to venture outside your comfort zone to check out some new tools, then that’s just gravy!

Thank you again for having me Elena! It’s been fun wreaking havoc all over your blog digs!

Social media can be extremely overwhelming; what is your approach to managing it? What tools do you use and what do you find the most effective in meeting your objectives?**

_________________

Thank you for swinging by my blog and sharing your experience with my readers, Natalie. I know when I got started in this big crazy world of social media, it was VERY intimidating! You break it down nicely AND I love your advice of mastering one thing before you move onto another.  Also, I think we share the same ‘freaky technology’ gene. DH also swears I have a weird electro magnetic field…eerie.

If you want more of Natalie:

Visit her at: http://nataliehartford.com
Talk to me at: natalie@nataliehartford.com
Follow me on twitter at: @NatalieHartford

**(If your comment does show up right away, I swear I’m not ignoring you, I’m totally offline.)

Jillian Dodd Shows Us the Love

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Since I’ve run away gone on vacation, and am not prepared enough to think ahead and write posts in advance, some of my lovely friends have stepped in to help me out. Since today is Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t think of anyone more suited to write a post about love then my blogging buddy, Jillian Dodd. Her book, That Boy is an amazing example of true love, and I can’t wait to read, That Wedding (just released) for some more super sweet, and totally fun antics from her characters. If you haven’t read her book yet, go…now!

And without further ado…take it away Jillian.

Valentine’s Day. The day we show the people we love how much we love them with overpriced roses, cheap stuffed animals, crowded dinners, and five dollar greeting cards.

Gee. That sounds a bit cynical coming from a person that loves romance. I do love romance, but to me, Valentine’s Day has lost some of it’s romance.

Remember when you were little and someone gave you a homemade Valentine? How you felt when they signed it with love? Or even better, XOXO? That’s how I wish Valentine’s Day could feel. In a way, Valentine’s Day makes us feel like we need affirmation that someone actually loves us. It puts pressure on us. Think how you feel when your friend gets a bouquet of flowers, but you don’t. Does your man not love you? I’m sure he feels a bit like I do. It’s hard to find a present that is worthy of our love.

When my man brings home roses on Valentine’s Day, I feel guilty. Like he felt like he had to buy them, not because he wanted to. I’d rather he bring me home flowers four times a year than spend $100 on roses once a year. Does that make me unromantic?

I love the idea of Valentine’s Day. A special day to share with your love. So I’m suggesting that you take the commercialism out of your Valentine’s Day this year.
Make it about the two of you.

About your love.

Here are some simple ideas:

Have a candlelit dinner. Even if you order in pizza, make it special. Turn off the lights. Sit on the floor by candlelight. Have a picnic in front of the fireplace. Open a bottle of wine. Bonus points if you do all this naked.

Make a list of the things you love about him. Tell him all the reasons why you love him. (Here’s my list of reasons why I love my husband.)

Dress up. Take a few extra minutes getting ready. Put perfume on. Wear a sexy dress and high heels even if you are staying home. Wear your good underwear.


Or wear something sexy. Something you could never wear out to dinner.

Dance. Make a playlist on your ipod. Slow songs. Sway and hold each other.

Talk. Turn off the TV, the movies, the phones. Shut out the world and talk. And more importantly, talk about your future. Whether that future is what movie you want to see next weekend, to your future wedding, your future kids, retirement, your dreams. It doesn’t matter as long as you share them. Dreaming together helps keep you close. When you have a long term dream, it makes getting through every day life easier.

Take a bath. Light candles, play soft music, put in some great smelling bath oil. Have some more wine, maybe those chocolates he brought you, and relax.

Give each other a massage. Nice and slow and soft. My hubby loves the massage bars from Lush.

Make some cute coupons for each other. And I’m not talking the kind that offer sexual favors. I’m talking something they will really appreciate. For my husband, I could offer to take the trash bins out to the street every Wednesday for a month, let him watch the game without interruptions, pick up his dry cleaning, get his car washed, coffee in bed everyday for a week. Think of the little things that he hates to do, or wishes he could do and give him them.

Make a homemade card. It doesn’t have to be amazing. Just cut out some hearts like you used to when you were little and add an I love you. It will mean more than a card with someone else’s words. If you’re married and wrote your own vows, put a few of the vows in the card. Or find a great love poem. (Poems by Keats are a good place to start.)

Be thoughtful and grateful this Valentines day and be sure to say,

“Will you be my Valentine?”

Thanks for letting me be here today, Elena!

Happy Valentineʼs day to everyone.

Do you have any great simple Valentineʼs gift ideas?? Share them with us!!

                                      

Thank you so much, Jillian. I love those ideas. I am the worst gift giver ever, so I’ll be sure to file some of those away for the future.

If you want more of Jillian, check out her blog Glitter, Bliss and Perfect Chaos

Follow her on Twitter @JillianDodd

And Jillian has all of the pictures featured here today on her Pinterest board

Check her out on Goodreads

Say hi on Facebook

And don’t forget to buy That Boy at Amazon and Jillian’s latest. That Wedding