Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Review of Christmas Fiction Off the Beaten Path (Laurie)

Is anyone else in shock we've reached mid-October already?? Despite the fact that we got a little snow here in Minnesota over the weekend (yikes!), I'm not ready to start thinking about Christmas quite yet. However, I have a new short story that recently released in a Christmas anthology! I was thrilled to find a home for "Return to Callidora" in Christmas Fiction Off the Beaten Path, and even more excited when I read the other stories in the anthology because they're fantastic! This is one of those story collections that has something for everyone with a variety of writing styles and genres - the uniting factor is that each is a Christmas story that goes beyond the typical, Hallmark-type norm. I enjoyed every one, and now I get to share them with you!

Mary, Did You Know? by Patricia Meredith

This sweet story, inspired by the famous Christmas song, imagines life leading up to and beyond the nativity from Mary's perspective. I loved the way the author worked in some quiet moments with Jesus as a baby that any parent can appreciate. Definitely a touching way to start off the Christmas season and get a new perspective on Jesus's early family life.

Those Who Stayed by Ronnell Kay Gibson

Wow, this read was intense, but so well done! A gunman terrorizes a store full of Christmas shoppers with an emotionally-packed, unexpected outcome. I'm not usually a fan of suspense, but this story really drew me in with a sympathetic protagonist and powerful message. I found it thought-provoking in a way that really made me question the way I view others and the strength of my faith.

A Rose from the Ashes by J.P.C. Allen

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this story, but I loved how it came together! A young woman sets into motion a plan to reveal the man who tried to kill her mother. The way the mystery unraveled kept me on the edge of my seat, and I really enjoyed getting to know the characters. Best of all, it had an ending that totally put a grin on my face :)

Not this Year by Sandra Merville Hart

"Not this Year" tells the all-too-relatable story of a man who must reluctantly tell his family they won't be buying Christmas presents this year due to the financial constraints of pay cuts at work. This was probably the most quintessential Christmas story of the anthology, with a beautiful illustration of the power of a family's love and the true meaning of the holiday.

Return to Callidora by Laurie Lucking (me!!)

A princess in a dragon-guarded tower awaits her rescuer. But things get complicated when the servant who brings the princess's yearly Christmas deliveries reveals his feelings for her, and the knight who slays the dragon seems to be hiding a secret. Not the typical makings of a Christmas story, perhaps, but I completely fell in love with these characters as I wrote and I hope you do, too!

Crystal Christmas by Michelle L. Levigne

I'll admit I had a little trouble following the details of this story since it's a part of the author's larger Guardians of the Time Stream series. That being said, the fun characters and cool fantasy / steampunk setting made me eager to go read her other books! The sweet romance, joyful sense of community, and happy ending made it a great way to wrap up the anthology.

So there you have it! If you're interested, you can find Christmas Fiction Off the Beaten Path on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Do you have any Christmas anthology recommendations? What Christmas stories are you looking forward to this year?

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Top 3's (Katie)

Top 3 Books I've Read in 2019 (Katie)

Fall is in full swing, even if it doesn't feel like it everywhere (where I live, and as I'm writing this, it is 92 degrees). I've been thinking about the books I've read so far this year, and there's quite the stack. Some have been amazing, some not good at all, and others somewhere in the middle. For today, I'd like to highlight my top 3 (so far!) for the year.

#3 Within These Lines

Within These Lines by Stephanie Morrill is a YA historical fiction set in California during WWII. I have never read a Stephanie Morrill book that I haven't fallen in love with, and this was no different. By the way, I saw on her Facebook page this week that she has new book contract news she'll be sharing soon, so yay!

#2 Flight of the Raven

Flight of the Raven by Morgan Busse is book 2 in the series (you can learn about the series on Goodreads here). This series is gripping, fascinating, emotional, and powerful. I can hardly wait for book 3!

#1 The Electrical Menagerie

The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie Reeder was, I admit, a surprising hit out of the ballpark. Not that I was expecting to NOT like it. Not at all. Only that I had never met or heard of Mollie or her writings before, so I wasn't sure what to expect at all. I read it after seeing a post on this blog about it (Laurie's post here).

This book made me cry, and this may be because I felt an emotionally personal connection starting in chapter 1, but I also think it's because the book is fabulous. It's full of mystery, adventure, real and raw characters, and a whole bunch of awesome gadgets. I definitely recommend it!

*Read any good books this year? Please share, because I'm always looking for new stuff to try!*

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

What to do with Your Story Idea: Building an Author Email List (Lauricia)

Greetings and welcome back to my series about what to do with the awesome story idea you have. If you are here for the first time, this is part six in a ten-part series. You can find the full list of recommended steps at the end of today’s blog, with links to the other parts of the series that have already been written.

If you have been following the series, welcome back! I’m thrilled you are here because today’s discussion centers around the most important marketing tool in your entire author platform: your personal author email list.

While there are many important parts to your author platform, your personal email list is the single most important one. The primary reason for this is because it allows you to do two things at once: connect and promote. Each of these is a separate function of different parts of your author platform, and email lists are unique in their ability to do both. Another feature unique to an email list is its ability to connect you directly to people who want to read your writing. When someone signs up to be part of your list, he or she is giving you permission to speak directly to him/her any time you like.

This ease of access is especially beneficial in regard to social media. As popular platforms like Facebook and Instagram become more and more ad-based, an author’s unfiltered influence wans. Where friends or followers used to have unlimited access to your new posts as soon as you posted them, the algorithms on many popular social media sites filter the posts your connections see based on the amount of money you are willing to spend in post boosts and advertisements. With email, you control your list, guaranteeing that all list subscribers receive each new email you send.

Which leads to the hardest part of building your author newsletter email list: drawing in new subscribers. Conventional wisdom recommends growing your list organically via a call to action placed at the end of your stories and/or a subscription incentive (aka a “hook,” a “draw,” and a “lead magnet”). Since you are a writer, the most obvious incentive is writing-base: a free short story, pre-released chapters of an upcoming work, deleted scenes, or access to a members-only section of your website. The possibilities are endless and are limited only by your creativity and willingness to research new ideas.

Of course, as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben is famous for saying, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Once you’ve convinced readers to subscribe to your email list, you must make it worth their time. In order to keep readers from unsubscribing, you need to provide content that is both original and entertaining. Since your newsletter should be a reflection of your personality, writing style, and story content, there is no one way to “do it right.” Still, there are plenty of resources out there to give you ideas. One of my regular go-tos is the Novel Marketing Podcast, hosted by Thomas Umtstattd Jr. (please note this is a non-affiliate link). Another resources that I’m currently working through, and which I like a lot, is Newsletter Ninja: How to Become an Author Mailing List Expert by Tammi Labrecque.

I’m curious to know how many of you have an author email list. Do you have a subscription incentive? If so, what is it and how useful have you found it to be? Which part of your newsletter do your readers respond to the most? I’d love to hear your comments and insights below.


As promised above, here's the complete list of what to do with your story idea:

1. Write down everything you know about the story idea. Keep writing until you can’t think of anything to add. (Read more here.)

2. When you’re not writing, work on your social media platform.  Develop your on-line presence authentically, in a way that is genuine. (Read more here.)

3. Go back to your idea. Organize everything you wrote in step one into something with structure and shape. Turn that collection of ideas into a plan and begin your first draft. (Read more here.)

4. Start a website. A blog is good because it gives readers a taste of your writing, but if you feel that you can’t commit to a blog, then you need to have a website at the very least. (Read more here.)

5. Edit your first draft. Complete this step as often as necessary. (Read more here.)

6. Start an e-mail list.

7. Enlist alpha readers who will give you story feedback.

8. Once your book is as polished as you can get it, enlist someone else to edit it.

9. Decide how you want to publish (indie or traditional) and study the process. Learning the necessary details will save you a lot of time and, potentially, a lot of money in the long run.

10. Start the next story!

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Top 3 Fantasy Romance Novels of 2019 (Lizzie)

I love a good romance, and I'm very happy to say I've read a few of those this year, both novel length and novella. I'll focus on novels here and have a separate post for novellas next month.

1) Lady of Weeds by W.R. Gingell

I love the way Gingell writes this tale of a cold, isolated Guardian of the Shore who must collect magic-infused seaweed before the selkies get it and whose life changes when a mysterious boy washes ashore with no memory and a hidden treasure. It's not the deep POV I'm used to in historical romance and even many fantasy stories. It's more omniscient and classic in feel, and it is perfectly suited to the brave and lonely (though she wouldn't admit it) Carys. The hero is charming, the story fraught with danger but relatively little action, and full of mystery. With selkies and magic in seaweed and sand, the story world holds an interest as well. I've kept it in my mind's shelf with much pleasure, and I hope to get a print copy to add my bookcase (and to read it again).

2) The Lord of Dreams by C.J. Brightley

A young women must rescue the fae prince who's been the villain of her previous adventures in the realm of the fae. A delightful romance and lovable, related heroine and noble hero; it still makes me smile to think of it. This one is definitely on my read-again list. You can read Laurie's review of it here.

3) And a tie for third: Identity by Camille Peters and Firethorn Crown by Lea Doue

My initial thought was to put Identity by Camille Peters as third and The Firethorn Crown by Lea Doue as Honorable Mention. Then I realized I read The Firethorn Crown at the beginning of the year and Identity a few weeks ago, which might affect my judgment. I enjoyed them both, both sweet romances with a fairytale tie-in. The Firethorn Crown is a fun retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" with a sweet romance and lots of dragons of all shapes and sizes. Identity is a sweet romance and a Goose Girl retelling with a goose girl who becomes a ladies maid to a princess who looks just like her and who is then forced to impersonate the wild princess--on her honeymoon. The prince Anwen is forced to marry is sweet and a bit childish and Anwen is soon torn between her growing affection for him and the premonition that the princess will tire of her current scheme and force Anwen out of the marriage she forced her into.

Extras: Fawkes by Nadine Brandes and Mark of the Raven and Flight of the Raven (Ravenwood Chronicles) by Morgan Busse

I couldn't not mention two others of my favorite novel-length romances, but I put them here because I wouldn't say the focus is the romance. They have more of an adventure feel to them. But I love the romance as much as the rest of the stories. :)

Fawkes, with its fantasy retelling of the Gunpowder Plot and intriguing world of color powers and a protagonist who must become a hero, this is definitely one of my favorites--of the year and ever.

Mark of the Raven and Flight of the Raven (Ravenwood Chronicles) by Morgan Busse, again with a main character torn between family and destiny and the truth, is another great book. Great story world and wonderful hero to our strong, troubled heroine as well. :)

What are your favorite fantasy romances? Have you read any of these?

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Stranger Things (Julie)

Okay, so this post is not about the show (sorry for you fans out there). This post is actually about Margaret Peterson Haddix's book Greystone Secrets: The Strangers. There are some pretty strange things that happen in the story, admittedly some unexpected things.

Here's the synopsis:

Siblings Chess, Emma, and Finn and their widowed mother are very close. They are always there for each other until one strange day a news report turns their world inside out. Three kids, who look exactly like Chess, Emma, and Finn, are reported kidnapped. Even stranger than having their doppelgangers kidnapped, they also share the same exact birthdays and names.

The sibling's mom suddenly leaves on a "work" trip that ends up not really being a work trip. As in many kids's fantasy stories, the kids have to rescue the parent and save the day, or try anyway.

What makes this story different:

Haddix switches from all three sibling's voices. So you have the story being told from a 6th grader's, a 4th grader's, and a 2nd grader's perspective. It's very interesting to read the story from Finn's POV because he is the youngest. How he deals with his mom's disappearance, how he deals with danger, and with new knowledge. Sometimes I felt that he was a bit too babyish for a 2nd grader, but then again, what do I know of an 8 year-old's mind?

Chess, the oldest, isn't very brave. Which I found unusual for the older boy character. Even Emma,a the middle child has moments of freaking out (which would be more real life). It's Finn, the youngest who tends to be the braver one-because he wants to show his siblings that he can handle things.

As with most Haddix's books, there's fantasy/sci-fi involved that includes a dystopian type society. Only this time she builds in alternate worlds.


I felt that the ending was abrupt, although I know this is book one. I wished she would have fleshed out the ending a bit more as there were questions I would have liked answered in this book to help understand things a bit better.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and would read the second one.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Top 3 Series That Just Keep Getting Better! (Laurie)

Do any of you get a little nervous when you fall in love with the first book in a series? There's always the excitement and anticipation of getting to dive back into that story world, revisit those characters, and see what happens next. But also a hint of anxiety...what if the next book isn't as good? What if the plot starts to fall apart, or the later books just don't have the same magical pull as that first one? I've experienced that disappointment enough times to know the worry is justified, but on the flip side, there are so many series out there that just keep getting better in each book! So today, I wanted to celebrate some of those series, in the form of a Top 3s, of course :)

3. The Chronicle of the Three by Tabitha Caplinger

This series had a lot going for it right from the start. Relatable main characters with a fun group of friends and lots of banter. Action, demon fighting, mystery, a prophecy. But there was also a lot of world-building and backstory to establish in the first book, and the writing style was more omniscient than what I typically read. But by books two and three, the tension just kept getting higher! Characters made sacrifices for each other, loyalties were called into question, and I got so emotionally involved with these characters! Add in more pie, lollipops, and hilariousness from Maggie, and I was hooked :)

2. The Green Princess series by H.L. Burke

I enjoyed the first book in this series - cool world-building, interesting characters, Burke's signature heart and snark. But the romance tended a bit too much toward insta-love for my taste, and the main characters had a few frustratingly naive moments. But I'm so glad I kept reading! In books 2 and 3, several years had passed, during which the main characters developed and matured. After spending some time apart, their romance was stronger and more meaningful. And the world-building just kept getting better, creating high stakes and an epic conclusion. By the end, I was loving every moment with these characters and couldn't put it down!

1. The Sentinel Trilogy by Jamie Foley

This series started out with a bit of a Harry Potter feel as the main character found himself at a new school, discovering a world of supernatural powers and training to use his own unknown abilities. So, of course, I was in love! And it just kept getting better! The writing was so good, the characters so complex, the world-building so fascinating. The story expanded from a boy trying to adjust to a new environment and worldview to an entire cast of characters making difficult choices and fighting for survival. And it all came together so brilliantly, with just the right ending for each beloved character and so many laughs and tears for the reader! Just what a series conclusion should be, in my humble opinion :)

I have so many potential runners up that I'm not going to even try to list them, but let's just say I've read a lot of great series! Plus, I didn't include any ongoing series that I have a feeling will come to epic and satisfying conclusions once they're complete (hmm, there might be the potential for another Top 3s post in here somewhere...). But now I want to hear from YOU! Have you read any of these series? Which series would you recommend that just keeps getting better as you read?

See you next time!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Creative Outlets Anyone? (Katie)

What's Your Creative Outlet?

Writer's Life (Katie)

Writing is definitely a creative outlet. It's something I've been doing since early childhood (have I mentioned before that I can remember the first stories I wrote as a kid?). But there are times I need a break from writing. At those times I focus on other creative outlets. I thought it'd be fun to talk about those things today, and I'd also LOVE to hear about your creative outlets!


When I was a little girl, my mom always baked with us kids. We made rolled sugar cookies for just about every holiday you can name. I can also remember making cakes.

Today, it's something I still do when I need to keep my creative juices flowing but don't have the energy or "muse" to write. I love tweaking recipes to make something a little different or new. I love fruity desserts, chocolate desserts, sweet and savory desserts. 

The other day I decided I needed fruity, so I created a mini dump cake from blueberries and lemon creme. I used lemon cake mix on the bottom and top, and I topped it all with butter. They turned out very yummy (even though they're nothing pretty to look at, I know!).


While it's not technically something I'm DOING to be creative, getting outside and enjoying nature is also a MAJOR source of keeping my mind clear and helping me think through plot holes and writer's block for when I am being creative. We have a cotton field behind our house, and we like to walk the dirt paths through it. We also have a cow pasture in front of us, so walking our road is relaxing and beautiful!


OK, I have to admit, this has slowly worked it's way to my top creative outlet when I need a break from writing. 

I love growing things, be it flowers, fruits, or vegetables. Working in the dirt is relaxing and cathartic, and it gives my brain a break when it needs it! I am always thinking of ways to rearrange, prune, or better "feed" my plants. I promise you, watering plants is just about one of my favorite things! Does that make me weird? (ha!)

*So, what about you? Do you have a creative outlet you like to do to clear your mind and help you think? There are other types of art, of course, like music or drawing. And lots of people like to get out and do adventurous, physical things (rock climbing, anyone?). Those are fun for me too, but these ones I've mentioned are definitely my go-to's. I'd love to hear about yours and get a few new ideas, so let's have them!