July 29, 2015

'up to i do' release day

Happy Release Day to fellow Marching Ink author Samantha March and her fourth novel, Up To I Do. Be sure to check out the blurb for this story and enter to win the fabulous giveaway. I'm a sucker for wedding stories (obvi), and I already have this one on my Kindle ready to read.

About the Book
Emerson Sinclair, twenty-seven year old hotel heiress, has said yes. With just over a year to plan her extravagant, over the top nuptials to Logan Worthington, it’s all hands on deck with the wedding plans. A Sinclair marrying into the Worthington family is the talk of their small New Hampshire town, and ideas include filming the wedding for a TV segment. But as the items get checked off the list, plans start to go ... not as planned. From not getting a designer dress to a selfish bridesmaid and unaccountable best man, Emerson is afraid her wedding will be more a joke than anything.

When both her mother and sister seemingly begin to lose interest in her wedding plans in favor of their own personal lives, Emerson fears her big day will turn into the forgotten wedding. With the pressure to pull off a beautiful and elegant event that everyone expects from their respectable families, Emerson starts to forget the reason why she is saying I Do in the first place.

Buy the Book
Barnes & Noble

About the Author
Samantha March is an author, editor, publisher, blogger, and all-around book lover. She runs the popular book/women’s lifestyle blog ChickLitPlus, which keeps her bookshelf stocked with the latest reads and up-to-date on all things health, fitness, fashion, and beauty related. In 2011, she launched her independent publishing company, Marching Ink, and has four published novels—Destined to Fail, The Green Ticket, A Questionable Friendship, and Up To I Do. When she isn’t reading, writing, or blogging, you can find her cheering for the Green Bay Packers. Samantha lives in Iowa with her husband and Vizsla puppy.

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July 27, 2015

guest post with caroline fardig about writing a series

Blogger's Note: Caroline Fardig recently released Bad Medicine, the third novel in her Lizzy Hart Mysteries series. As a new series writer myself, I'm curious about how other authors do it. Caroline graciously provided this thoughtful response to my question of how she writes a series and how she maintains consistency and continuity throughout. Be sure to enter to win a fabulous prize using the Rafflecopter below.

By Caroline Fardig

First, I make sure to have a few very well-rounded characters bouncing around in my head before I ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). These guys live in my mind for months before I ever write a single word. They grow and develop, they interact with one another, and they become a part of me so I know them and can easily tell their story once it’s time.

Then comes the setting. You’ve got to have an interesting enough place in which to set your characters loose, otherwise, you’ll have to struggle to find things for them to do several books down the road. Small towns might be considered “boring”, but when your characters have grown up together, they know all of each other’s secrets and know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. With a big city, you might not always have a plethora of characters with storied history, but you do have a wealth of interesting places, events, and new people to meet. Use the setting to your advantage and broaden it as needed.

As for plot elements, you need to make sure you don’t contradict yourself in a later book. The way I do it is a two-pronged approach. I keep a notebook of ideas and information on each book I write. It will have a list of characters (with their traits), a list of red herrings, all of my potential victim/murderer combos, plot outlines, and so forth.  I refer to my notes all the time to make sure I haven’t already used an idea. My second safeguard is going back to the previous book(s) in the series and searching for the character’s name and any words associated with the description, event, or idea I’m using in my current book. For example, just a few minutes ago, I couldn’t remember if I’d never given a name to one of my “off-screen” characters.  I thought I’d only ever referred to him as someone’s “grandfather”. So, I searched for “grandfather” and found that I indeed had never named the character. If I had suddenly started calling him “Grandpa Bill” when I’d already named him “Grandpa Steve” in a previous book, it would have been a problem. Now that I’ve thoroughly researched it, I can now name him whatever I want with confidence.

Another thing I’ve been doing lately is to read through each secondary character’s scenes in succession in order to make sure I’m being fluid with their personalities. For example, if I want to read all about Lizzie’s best friend Julia, I search my Word document for “Julia” and read only her scenes straight through. It does wonders for continuity.

Lastly, I always have my next book in mind. If I know a certain character is going to have a central role in my upcoming book, I give them a little cameo in the current book. For instance, in That Old Black Magic, Lizzie’s ex Lee is a very central character. So, I gave him a good introduction in It's Just a Little Crush, even though he really didn’t need to be in that book.  I wanted my readers to get to know him a little before I stuck him in the spotlight.

You have to be on your toes when you work with a series. However, if you’re organized and thorough, it’s easy to keep track of your fictional world. Happy Writing!

What do a smokin’ hot detective, an evil chiropractor, and a couple of blind dates from hell have in common?

Lizzie has to wrangle them all in the third book of THE LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series!

BAD MEDICINE is the third book in THE LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series. Now available on Amazon.

About the Book
Lizzie Hart is overjoyed that six whole months have passed without a single murder in the sleepy town of Liberty. It’s also been six months since Blake Morgan heartlessly dumped her, but she’s determined to get over him. She’s slimmed down, ready to party, and injury-free, except for a little nagging pain in her ankle. She’s also very single, but her friends are doing everything in their power to fix that—including setting her up on one disastrous blind date after another.  Lizzie’s reprieve is short-lived when an old friend of hers is found dead from an apparent drug overdose. She wants to write it off as bad behavior after having seen the guy cheating on his wife with the new chiropractor in town. However, when she sees that same chiropractor playing doctor with another man who ends up dead, she worries there could be murder afoot. 
Doing her best to stay on the right side of the law this time, Lizzie decides to go straight to the police with her suspicions. Unfortunately, the only cop available to speak with her is the stern yet hot new detective who has already given her a traffic ticket and a reprimand for public intoxication. Not surprisingly, he brushes her off, leaving her no choice but to begin snooping on her own. Lizzie soon learns she’s going to need help to get to the bottom of this mystery, but her best partner in crime solving, Blake, has turned into her worst enemy.  
Can Lizzie and Blake find a way to work together to catch the killer…or will they kill each other first?
About the Author
CAROLINE FARDIG is the author of the LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series and the forthcoming DEATH BEFORE DECAF, available November 2015 through Random House.  Her eclectic working career included occupations of schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

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July 21, 2015

britlit challenge: hamlet

Blogger's note: Like any good amateur anglophile (I'm not really devout enough to call myself a full-fledged one) and English major (okay, it was technically a double minor) I desperately wanted to take BritLit in high school and college. Unfortunately it never worked out. So in an attempt to make up for lost time, I'm working my way through the list of stories I figured I'd read in those classes and (true to form) skipping the ones I would've used Spark Notes for instead. This is my Brit Lit Reading Challenge.

My sophomore year of college, my mom won tickets to see a traveling theater's performance of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Vaguely familiar with the play (anyone who grew up during Adam Sandler's movie making hay days of the 90s will recall the rendition of the "To be or not to be" monologue) one of my roommate's and I gladly accepted the tickets. I mean, it was kind of exciting. We had a chance to dress up on a school night and go to the Lied Center and pretend we were super cultured. (We tried to be, but going to the campus art museum and one play after countless nights spent binge-watching every variation of CSI and The Girls Next Door probably doesn't count.)

While watching the play (by a performance group I can't remember, but was quite good) I was struck by a few things:
  1. You had to pay attention. Though it can be easy to zone out in Elizabethan English, you really shouldn't. You might miss something.
  2. People kind of suck. At least they do in a Shakespearean tragedy. Everyone is killing everyone, people are shacking up with other people's wives. It's a big mess.
  3. Hamlet, in particular, is kind of a dick. Look, I get that he's upset about his father's death. I get that having the ghost of his father tell him his uncle (who is now the king) did it is probably even more upsetting. But he was kind of wishy washy about how to deal with the whole thing, and Hamlet, to quote that knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you "chose poorly." 
  4. Women are perhaps portrayed the worst. This wasn't a big shocker. I did read Romeo and Juliet (Quick survey: Did anyone educated in the U.S. during the past 50 years not have to read this play?) and King Lear in high school. But between Ophelia and the Queen, there's no strong female protagonist in the story. (And they're always talking about the men. Shakespeare wouldn't pass the Bechdel test.)
Still, it was entertaining, and when it came time to kick off my Brit Lit Challenge, which included a list of Shakespeare's plays, Hamlet seemed like a good place to start. For one, I had seen the play, so I figured that would help me follow the story better as I read. For another, my one-time love Benedict Cumberbatch his playing him in London later this summer. Since I couldn't swing a trip to England to see him, I used my imagination while reading.

I was left with many of the same thoughts I had while watching the play, but I did highlight some text passages that stuck with me after reading. Brace yourself: You're about to get insight into what I was like in most of my English classes. I was the nerdy girl who spoke up often and then made herself even nerdier (while probably dumber at the same time) by spouting off connections to other basically unrelated books/movies/TV shows/plays.
"This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
(Please tell me I'm not the only person who reads this passage--which is all good and probably inspiring--and remembers the scene in Clueless when Cher corrects Josh's date for mis-attributing the quote to Hamlet when "that Polonius guy did"?)
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
(Maybe I've been following the news a little too closely during the past year or so and feeling really bummed about the state of things, but this quote kind of stuck with me. Not entirely for the point it raises--that people's thoughts and beliefs are ultimately what define morality, but because it put things in a bit of perspective. I'm guilty of frequently falling into the mindset of "Wow, things are terrible these days" or "What an awful world." But really... every generation has the moments. That's by no means comforting--wouldn't it be great to live in a world that was always wonderful and free of pain and suffering?--but maybe it's a challenge to keep fighting the good fight? I don't know. I'm attempting to channel intro philosophy, and I never took it.)

From the "To be, or not to be" monologue:
"To die, to sleep -To sleep, perchance to dream - ay, there's the rub,For in this sleep of death what dreams may come..."
"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all..."
(Again, both of these lines bring out the philosopher in me. They're also more beautifully put than anything I say when I get all broody.)
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
(This is another example of Bill Shakespeare being more poetic than I am. I like to tell people "brevity is beautiful," which I actually stole from someone else, but maybe I'll use this line going forward.)
“I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum.”
(Right, so I'm the girl who read Fifty Shades of Grey--without trying to be ironic--and enjoyed it. And I'm guessing it's that part of me who read this passage--spoken after Hamlet has been a total douche nozzle to everyone, including the woman he apparently loved prior to the play, and discovers she's dead, seemingly by her own hand--and thought, "Wow. That's kind of beautiful. I guess he really did love her." I promptly reminded myself that Hamlet was hardly a romantic hero--not even Byronic based on the way he behaved during the play--and pretended to be offended by his too little too late statement, all while kind of wishing someone would claim he loved me more than 40,000 other people's love combined.)

If you're still with me after reading through this rambling mess, and gaining a little insight into the way my brain works while I read, thank you. And as your reward, here's my favorite interpretation of Hamlet:

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July 14, 2015

book four, draft one

If you follow me on social media, then you saw this little announcement super late Saturday night...

There's not a ton I can say just yet about this project other than:

  • It's a sequel to my third novel (which should be released this fall with the lovely Marching Ink)
  • Which means it involves football
  • It's about 12,000 words longer than I thought it would be (but that's why we edit)
  • It was started during NaNoWriMo 2014 and finished during Camp NaNoWriMo 2015

So what's next? Well, obviously after publishing one novel earlier this year followed by writing and editing a novella, preparing a third novel for publication, and finishing the first draft of my fourth novel, I need a break. So I gave myself all of Sunday to night work on any writing projects, and I started my fifth book on Monday night. ;) There's definitely not much I can say about this new project (it's WAY too early of days), but it feels good to keep pressing forward now while the engines are going.

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July 9, 2015

#bookselfie: 'dark sparkler'

This new Book Selfie is coming a little late, because yours truly was up way past her bedtime reading another book. I ordered Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn after reading a couple of articles about this new book of poetry from an actress I admire. Here's the premise:
The lives of more than twenty-five actresses lost before their time—from Marilyn Monroe to Brittany Murphy—explored in haunting, provocative new work by an acclaimed poet and actress Amber Tamblyn is both an award-winning film and television actress and an acclaimed poet. As such she is deeply fascinated-and intimately familiar—with the toll exacted from young women whose lives are offered in sacrifice as starlets. The stories of these actresses, both famous and obscure-tragic stories of suicide, murder, obscurity, and other forms of death—inspired this empathic and emotionally charged collection of new poetic work. 
Featuring subjects from Marilyn Monroe and Frances Farmer to Dana Plato and Brittany Murphy—and paired with original artwork commissioned for the book by luminaries including David Lynch, Adrian Tome, Marilyn Manson, and Marcel Dzama—Dark Sparkler is a surprising and provocative collection from a young artist of wide-ranging talent, culminating in an extended, confessional epilogue of astonishing candor and poetic command.
I was intrigued by the subject matter when I first read that article. Now that I've read it, I'm even more intrigue.

Many of the poems are raw and devastating. (I audibly gasped on a few occasions, because what I read or saw so stirred me.) And like Tamblyn's experience creating this work, I found myself obsessively reading more on the actresses featured (previously known to me and unknown alike). My copy of the book is covered with Post-it notes of my research and my reactions.

And while the subject (and admittedly the author herself) drew me to the work, what perhaps most reached me and evoked greet thought and feeling was the honest and sometimes dark, seemingly more personal. Without giving it away, I found myself better able to relate to it from my own personal experiences, which in turn better helped me identify with the other pieces in the book. (Basically: actresses--they're just like us, right?) Women live, they sometimes die too young and tragically. But they love, they have hopes and dreams that sometimes come to fruition or sometimes fail.

So yeah... Super rambling review, but that basically reflects the way my mind is still processing what I've read.

I highly recommend this poignant and thought-provoking work.

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July 7, 2015

kicking off camp

Even when you do your best to set realistic goals and carve out time to write, it can be challenging to follow through with your plans. That was certainly the case for me over the weekend. We celebrated Independence Day in the U.S., which meant many of us--myself included--had three days away from our offices. While I'm a big fan of the Fourth of July, I also set some essential writing goals for the month as part of Camp NaNoWriMo. As such, I'd hoped to devote my non-predetermined holiday time to non-stop writing so I could knock those goals out of the park.

Yet, as way leads to way, I found my social opportunities expanded, my desire to nap multiplied, and the call to watch far too much bad TV too loud to ignore. And it was all wonderful.

Despite my self-indulgence, I managed to generate stead word count. It didn't happen as planned, but on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, I found about 90 minutes or so to write 1,200-1,500 words a session. (I need to maintain 1,200 words daily to meet my monthly goal, so this was perfect.)

On Sunday, which had even more spaces filled on my social dance card, I still ended up with 1,600 words by using the notes app on my iPhone. It was surprisingly easy to find 15 minutes here or there to sneak in a little bit of writing without missing out on an of the fun. And I was even able to take a nap mid-afternoon!

I doubt this would be a sustainable long-term writing plan for me, but I'll take it for now. Here's hoping I keep the momentum going.

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July 3, 2015

reading in the kitchen - patriotic cupcake, take two

One of my favorite parts of my debut novel, Hard Hats and Doormats, is when Lexi Burke spends the Fourth of July hanging out with her longtime crush Jason Beaumont. Not only was this a big turning point for their relationship, but it involved one of my favorite holidays--the Fourth of July. Both of those factors made it fun to write.

Growing up, my family always did the Fourth of July pretty well. We'd have brunch with some of our close friends (someday I'll have to work my mom's egg and potato casseroles into a future story so I can share the recipes for a future Reading in the Kitchen), watch 1776, and spend some time outdoors either taking our rubber rafts out to the lake or grilling at home. Some years, my dad (who is a percussionist) would play patriotic tunes with a band. No matter how we spent our days, the night always ended with fireworks. I love a good fireworks show, so any night that ends with fireworks always seems kind of magical to me.

At some point on the Fourth of July, we would also typically eat some sort of red, white, and blue cake. This was usually done by adding blueberries and strawberries on top of white frosting. So when I set out to write this part of the book, I made sure to have Lexi arrive at Jason's house with a patriotic cupcake. It's the sort of thing you'd expect a good Midwestern girl to do.

The last time I tried to make the recipe, it didn't go exactly as planned. You can read more about those cupcakes here, but basically I took the easy route (boxed cake mix, pre-made frosting, frozen fruits), and the results weren't what I wanted. They tasted fine, but... they were missing that special Fourth of July-ness.

So with the Fourth of July upon us here in the United States, and this scene from Hard Hats and Doormats on my mind, I decided to give this culinary adventure another try.

Here's what you'll need to make this dish...

Cake Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Zest from one lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Frosting Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Juice from one fresh lemon
Pinch of salt

Fresh strawberries
Fresh blueberries

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and line one muffin pan (makes one dozen regular-sized cupcakes). In a bowl, mix together flour, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine together butter and sugar with a mixer for several minutes. Add eggs, vanilla, and part of milk. Add in flour mixture and remaining milk. Once the mixture is smooth (and it will be, though thicker than some other batters), distribute evenly in pan. Cook in oven for at least 15 minutes. Allow to cool properly before adding toppings.

While the cupcakes are baking, prepare the toppings by rinsing the strawberries and blueberries. Slice the strawberries into eighths including a mixture of small and large berries. To make the frosting, combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until smooth. The result will be a whipped, lemon-flavored topping.

Top the cooled cupcakes with frosting. In the left corner, add four blueberries to represent the stars on the American flag. Add four strawberry slices in three rows (leaving white space in between) to represent the stripes on the flag. (I'll admit I was a little sloppy with some of the stripes, but it was late on a school night. I just wanted them done!)

The result was 12 delicious cupcakes. I'll admit, I would have liked the cupcakes to taste a little more lemony, but the frosting was perfectly tart and sweet. The cupcake itself had a consistency and taste similar to pound cake, which was yummy. And because these turned out so well (and because my dad asked) I'll be making another batch of these tomorrow to share with my family as we celebrate the holidays.

In case you're interested, I also made a short little how-to video to accompany this recipe. You can watch it here or on YouTube.

About the Book
Lexi Burke has always been a stickler for following rules and procedures. As a human resources manager for a leading Gulf Coast chemical company, it’s her job to make sure everyone else falls in line, too.

But after losing out on a big promotion–-because her boss sees her as too much of a yes-woman––Lexi adopts a new policy of following her heart instead of the fine print. And her heart knows what it wants: Jason Beaumont, a workplace crush who is off limits based on her previous protocol.

While navigating a new romance and interoffice politics, Lexi must find the confidence to stand on her own or face a lifetime of following someone else’s orders.

Who says nice girls have to finish last?

Now Available on

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July 2, 2015

book selfie: 'down the rabbit hole'

The college student in me who binge-watched episodes of The Girls Next Door (then for the next couple of years sporadically followed along additional adventures in Holly's World and Kendra) couldn't resist reading Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny by Holly Madison.
A former girlfriend of Hugh Hefner describes how her years inside the Playboy Mansion went from a fairytale of A-list celebrity parties to an oppressive regime of strict rules, scheduled sex, and a total loss of identity, so much so that she even contemplated suicide.
While watching the show, Holly was always my favorite. I admired Bridget's spirit and work ethic, and Kendra made me laugh, but there was something about Holly that really drew my attention. Sure, she was living in a mansion, traveling the world, and having any number of adventures, but I felt a little sorry for her. Behind her perfect hair, makeup and body, she always seemed a little sad and even lost. As she describes in her account of living in the Playboy Mansion and the years following, she was both sad and lost.

The book also showed that Holly was probably more shy than I would have expected, but also smarter and more aware of how to play the game than others might have suspected during her run on TV. (I've been re-watching the first season of The Girls Next Door since reading the book, and I swear it--in particular she--looks different after reading this story. Like, I've noticed how much general knowledge she seems to have, and how most of her ridiculous lines are said pretty tongue-in-cheek.)

I received what I expected from reading this book--the revelation that what happens behind-the-scenes if a reality TV show isn't what you see on screen. I'll admit, I anticipated more dirt and flat-out name-calling, particularly with the outcry of contempt from some in the Playboy camp. I was also a little surprised by how much of the story took place after she left the mansion, but that was some of the most interesting to learn about.

I also know that this is only her side of the story, and we always know there are three sides: what he says, what she says, and the truth. And what she says made for an easy read that reminded me of the guilty pleasure I gained from tuning into E! regularly in the pre-Kardashian days. Fans of the show (and maybe even light beach reads) will likely find this entertaining or at least interesting.

Even knowing that there is probably more to the story, I found myself admiring Holly for her honesty and her personal growth. She accepts responsibility for making her decisions, but she also shows that she has learned some of them were mistakes and that she has learned from them.

Perhaps what most surprised me about this story was how well the it cold be spun into a New Adult novel. Granted, we would have to introduce the roles of Criss Angel and Holly's eventual husband much sooner to have us readers forming our opinions and becoming #TeamHugh, #TeamAngel, or #TeamPasquale much sooner in the trilogy (yeah, I've decided this will be a trilogy, pre-GND, GND era, and post GND), but Holly, I think we could make it work. ;)

I'd recommend this book for anyone who shares my fascination with the Playboy Mansion, particularly in Hef's three "girlfriends" during the early days of the E! show. And until then, I recommend this interview Holly did with Buzzfeed.

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July 1, 2015

let the camping begin

It's July 1, which means it's time to head back to Camp NaNoWriMo. After using Camp NaNoWriMo to fulfill my writing goal in April (look for an announcement about my holiday novella later this summer), I'm excited to see if I can replicate that success again this time around.

A few facts about this journey to camp:

  1. My word count goal for the month is 40,000 words, though it wouldn't hurt my feelings if I surpassed that.
  2. I'm tackling two projects this July. The first will be to complete the final part of my fourth novel (which is a sequel to my third novel, which will be out later this year). Then I'm moving on to book five, which will involve...
  3. Writing what may be my most complicated project to date. Book five has multiple points of view and some heavier themes. But I still want it to carry some of the humor I include in my other works.
  4. I've scheduled one week of vacation during the final week of the month. With no concrete plans for most of that week, I'm hoping to really bury myself in my writing and see what I can do. I've taken time off for writing before, and it doesn't always lead to success. I mean, I always accomplish something, which is nothing to frown at, but I'd really like to make this one count. I'll have to do some more planning and configuring before that.
  5. I'm really excited to get back into heavy writing mode after taking May and most of June off to be in editing, querying, and promoting mode.

With that, I'd better hit the writing. Stay tuned for more updates on how this month goes. To my fellow participants. good luck.

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