Thursday, September 11, 2014

Does anyone know how to get rid of spam comments?

I have had it up to here with spam comments on my blog! Does anyone know how to keep from getting them? I thought I had set it up so you have to type in a code to leave a comment, but it doesn't seem to be working. 

Another thing I hate is spam hits where you click on the link to see where a bunch of hits are coming from and it ends up being advertisements. Do other blogging sites have these problems?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pursuing Your Bad Ideas

We all have bad ideas. Most often we're completely ignorant when our ideas suck, but occasionally we're perfectly aware of it.

You already know I'm going to say to pursue your bad ideas anyway. It's easier said than done, though -- a fact I've recently had to learn when I came up with a bad idea.

The most obvious reason to pursue a bad idea is it might end up being a great idea. For instance, I'm a big fan of The Night Circus. In an interview with the author, Erin Morgenstern said she started writing it without knowing a lot of the "rules," such as not to write in second person, ever. Her use of second person is superb! The book would not be the same without it and I'm grateful no one was there to tell her it was a bad idea.

We could swap stories about bad ideas turned amazing all day long. What I want to say is that sometimes when an idea feels bad, we don't realize our minds are in the process of building something great that makes perfect sense. We just can't see it yet.

The best example I can think of is with my current novel VOODOO QUEEN. I originally had a mass of narrators (and finally narrowed it down to one, but that's a different story). When I tried to tell the story of Marie's grandmother, I kept wanting to tell it from her owner's point of view and not from her own.

That doesn't make sense. Why would we want to hear from a slave owner instead of the slave? He was a horrible person.

The story wouldn't come into my head any other way, so I wrote it how it wanted to be written. Months later when I decided to only have one narrator, a brilliant idea occurred to me that I must have known all along; the best way to tell the grandmother's story was through visions from people who had passed on. The slave owner -- who has always been madly in love with her -- tells Marie his story through dreams that reveal all of the grandmother's secrets. I didn't have to make any changes to the story because it was already written from the owner's point of view.

I've seen too many people come up with ideas that seem bad, so they try to "fix" them... which only makes the ideas worse. It's much better to let an idea unfold the way it wants to. Perhaps when you catch the vision of what your mind is trying to create, you'll step back and say, "Wow. That wasn't such a bad idea after all."

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Own Reproduction of the Temple of Vesta

My husband made me the best birthday present ever. Seriously. It's like the coolest thing ever owned in the history of owning things.

Using my research, we worked together on making a model of the temple of Vesta. Then he used his 3D printer to create it. We both painted it together, and voila! My very own absolutely perfect model of Vesta's temple. After spending so much time visualizing and writing about this building in my novel SACRED FIRE, it was amazing to hold in my hands exactly what I had imagined.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Favorite Baby Shower Gift: A Nursing Basket

A friend of mine gave me a brilliant idea for a baby shower gift. I made one for a shower yesterday and I liked doing it so much that I think I'm going to give these away at every shower I go to.

Basically, I got a basket and filled it with everything the new mother will need to start nursing. When I brought home my newborn, nursing was pretty much all I did or thought about. It's hard to figure out how often to nurse, how long, which side, is the baby getting what it needs. If that isn't enough, you also have to deal with the discomfort! Swollen breasts and chapped nipples. It gets better, but that first week is the worst!

The basket a good thing for the mother to have during the first few days when she's still recovering and can't go anywhere. She's also not likely to get the things in the basket from anyone else, or for herself. I'm a big breastfeeding advocate, too, so I like giving the mother some encouragement.

The biggest reason I like this gift, though, is it's for the mother and not the baby. I want the baby to have cute boots and pink tutus as much as anyone, but when I really care about the mother, it's nice to know I'm helping take care of her.

Here's a list of all the things you could put in the basket. My basket only included the first seven things (if you included everything, it would be a pretty big basket!).

  • Nipple cream. This is a must! I had no idea latching on would hurt so badly. Luckily it becomes more comfortable later, but for that first week, lanolin was a life saver.
  • Nursing cover. I could never nurse in public with just a blanket as cover. My baby likes to kick and squirm so much that I know she'd throw a blanket right off. A nursing cover straps around the neck or the arms. I don't go anywhere without mine.
  • Breast pads. These soak up any milk that leaks. I don't need them anymore, but when my milk first came in, I would often wake up at night in a puddle of milk. Every mother has had that awkward moment when they leak in public and have to hide a conspicuous wet spot on their shirt, and breast pads prevent that.
  • Milk bands. I used to latch hair clips on my bra to keep track of which side I nursed on last, but milk bands work better (and they look better in a basket). It's a rubber bracelet with numbers on it so you can keep track of not only what side you used last, but also what time you nursed and for how long.
  • Nipple shields. These are used when the baby has problems latching on, so hopefully the mother won't have to use them, but they supposedly help with sore nipples too.
  • Oatmeal. I don't know the science behind it, but mothers everywhere swear that oatmeal helps them produce more milk. I swear by it too... it really works!
  • Charts. Before my baby and I got a good rhythm going, I spent all my mental energy trying to keep track of all the times I nursed, how many diapers my baby had gone through, whether I needed it increase my supply, and so forth. The basket can include several print outs to make the mom's like easier: click herehere, and here to view the ones I used.
  • A water bottle. The best way to keep up a milk supply is to drink a lot of water.
  • A nursing book. La Leche League recommends The Womanly Art of Nursing, but there are many other books on nursing the mother might appreciate. 
  • Mother's Milk. It's a tea that's also supposed to boost milk supply.
  • A night-time nursing bra. I loved mine.
  • Nursing clothes. There are lots of clothes besides bras that make nursing easier, like night gowns, tanks, and shirts with stretchy collars.
  • Lactation cookies. A lot of people on Pinterest are pinning recipes for cookies that are supposed to increase supply. I've never tried them, but they'd be fun to give to someone.
  • Burp cloth. When my baby was still spitting up, I was constantly searching the room for a nearby burp cloth. You can never have enough of them!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Which Picture Should I Use for Kickstarter?

I've decided to start a Kickstarter campaign for VOODOO QUEEN. Research is expensive! I'm pretty excited about it. The campaign needs a killer cover photo to draw people in, plus I'm going to put the image on swag like t-shirts and mugs as prizes for people who donate, so I did a photo shoot with a friend of mine and a snake named Cali.

Now I need help from my readers! I narrowed down my favorites to six, and I need your help deciding which one to use. Let me know in the comments which is your favorite. I'm eager to see which you all like.

NOTE: We're going to edit out the green screen and add a picture of New Orleans, so please ignore the ugly background.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Make a Simple Sea Cake

I love decorative cakes, but alas, my imagination exceeds my skill. I wanted to make an incredible cake for my daughter's Under the Sea birthday party, but I needed one that was easy enough for me not to mess up. Too often I find myself the day of an event frantically trying to put together an impossible cake.

This cake was not only simple, but it looked fantastic. It was exactly what I wanted! 

If you want to make a cake like this, all you need is:

  • 2 boxes of white cake mix.*
  • frosting
  • blue food coloring
  • white chocolate
  • small crock pot, a microwave, or a double broiler
  • shells candy mold
  • a spoon
  • vanilla wafers
*I've tried making cake from scratch, and honestly, it doesn't taste all that different from cake in a box. I only use the Pillsbury cake with pudding mixed in; of all the boxed cakes I've tried, that's my favorite.

First, I add blue food coloring to the batter. Don't add the egg yolks to the batter or it will turn green. Cook the batter in four cake pans (or two at a time). Stack three of them on top of one another with frosting in between the layers. Since this was a 1st birthday party, I cut two circles in the fourth to make a smash cake for the baby.

Mix food coloring into the frosting until you get a pretty light blue color and spread it over the top half of the cake. It's easiest to pipe the frosting onto the cake and then spread it with a spatula instead of using only the spatula; you'll pick up less crumbs that way. You'll still pick up crumbs, though, so add a second layer afterwards. 

Mix more blue food coloring into the rest of the frosting to get a darker color and spread on the bottom half of the cake. Using the back of a spoon, make waves in the frosting. When you get to where the different colors of blue meet, blend them in a little bit.

Next, fill a ziplock bag with vanilla wafers and crush them until they're super fine and they look like sand. Line the plate the cake is on with the "sand." You can also pour sand on the top of the cake, if you like.

To make the shells, melt some white chocolate. My preferred method is to put the chocolate in a crock pot on low. That way the chocolate is always at the right temperature and I don't have to worry about it seizing up, and since I had to fill the candy molds three times, I didn't have to reheat it or heat it in shifts.

You can get candy molds in most cake decorating sections of grocery and craft stores, and they're pretty cheap. I found mine in my cupboard the day before the party. I still don't know how they got there.

Once you've poured the melted chocolate into the molds and let them cool in the fridge for ten minutes, arrange them on the cake however you like.

That's it! So easy, right? I had a bunch of extra chocolates so I arranged them on the table, and I added a real shell we found in Tonga to the table because it matched so well.

She loved her sea cake!

Friday, July 18, 2014

What Book Should Every Kid Study in School?

I love hearing what my readers have to say. It makes this blog feel more like a community. Starting now, I'm going to post questions for my readers to discuss.

Since this is my first time doing it, I'll start with something relatively simple.

In an interview with Sue Monk Kidd, someone asked what book she thinks every child should study in school. She said The Awakening. Since female liberation is a strong theme in all her work, I'm not surprised.

My pick is The Giver. Personally, I see a lot of value in youth reading Utopian and Dystopian literature (books about perfect and imperfect societies). It helps them stretch their minds past what they're used to and to view the world's many possibilities. I believe it makes them better voters and citizens when they can constructively think about ways to improve society.

That being said, I do NOT think The Hunger Games should be studied in school. Don't get me wrong, they're fantastic books for recreational reading, but they don't ask any hard questions. They help kids to enjoy reading. They don't teach them to think constructively.

What book do you think every child should study in school?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When Writing Feels Selfish

I've been working on my novel Voodoo Queen for over a year now, and I keep getting stuck. It boggles my mind because it's never happened to me before. I always believed writer's block stems from a lack of discipline and focus. If you sit in front of a blank screen long enough, eventually the words will come.

The mind is more complicated than that, and creativity is especially fickle. Sometimes interior things get in the way, like attitude and perspective. 

After tearing my hair out for a while, I've finally narrowed down on what is getting in my way:


It was easy to write when I was in school and my homework was done. It was easy to write when I had a full-time job that wasn't very demanding. Now I'm a homemaker with a 10-month-old baby, and when I take time to write, there are negative consequences. Dishes don't get done. Meals don't get cooked. Errands don't get run. My baby gets less attention.

How do I justify taking time out of my busy day to work on a book that might not go anywhere? I decided to work on my book just when I had extra time. Which was never.

I've made peace with the fact that my creativity doesn't let me simply sit down and write a chapter. If I restrict myself to just one project, I will get stuck every time. I have to be free to work on whatever comes to me, whether that be blogging, journal writing, working on a different book, or whatever.

I had three ideas that have really worked for me. First, if I plan my day around writing, I don't have to feel guilty because I know I'll have enough time for what's on my to-do list. Sometimes that means putting a thing or two off until tomorrow, but as long as I plan ahead, that isn't a problem.

Second, I do the thing on my list that are the least appealing first. There are certain jobs I'm going to make time for no matter what. Cooking dinner, for instance, or buying diapers. Then there are phone calls, home-improvement projects, and (sadly) my book that I can put off indefinitely. Those are the things I need to do first.

The most important thing, however, is to remember that all the writing I do is important. Even if I'm just fiddling with some poems. If I separate in my mind the writing that matters from the writing that doesn't, I'll get frustrated and blocked.

Every word I write matters... every word you write matters. If we could all just remember that, we can defeat our guilt.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Baby Shower: Cupcakes in the Garden

Back when I was pregnant, my sister threw me a lovely baby shower. We ended up working on it together because she was also pregnant and therefore too sick to do much of anything, much less plan a party!

The theme was Cupcakes in the Garden. We already had a lot of lovely garden-ish decorations, so we hardly spent any money. We bought pink boxes filled with candy for party favors, some silk flowers for a centerpiece, pink table cloths that we used as curtains for the entryway, and pink plates. We also had most of the food already, so I don't think the whole thing cost more than $25.

I had the idea to make a cupcake bar. We cooked a dozen each of four different kinds of cupcakes, make four different kinds of frosting, cut holes in the cupcakes for filling, and had lots of different toppings. 

Everyone went nuts over it. We made sure to have at least three cupcakes per person because everyone wanted to try several combinations! This would be great for a child's birthday party, too.

Cupcake Flavors: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and spice.

Frosting Flavors: Chocolate, buttercream, strawberry, and peanut butter.

Fillings: Custard, pudding, mandarin oranges, strawberry jam, cooked blueberries, and chopped bananas.

Toppings: Chocolate, caramel, and strawberry syrup, maraschino cherries, nuts, milk and white chocolate chips, sprinkles, granola, and cinnamon mixed with sugar.

For the first game, we worked together to make Baby's First Alphabet Book. Each guest was given a page with a letter on it and crayons so they could draw something beginning with that letter. I love it and I will always treasure it. Then we filled out a questionnaire with wishes for baby, such as "I wish you learn," "I wish you always," etc. There's lots of them on Pinterest, but this is the one I used. 

Finally, we played one of my favorite shower games: Daddy Knows Best. The host asks the father several questions beforehand, such as "What part of motherhood is your wife most excited about" and "Who will change the most diapers," and the mother-to-be has to guess what he wrote.

We had so much fun throwing this shower that I wish one of my friends would get pregnant so I can throw another one!

Monday, May 26, 2014

I Hate it When Authors Say...

When a person says, "I have a degree in engineering," or, "I'm a doctor," you pretty much know that person's level of knowledge and experience. When someone says, "I'm a writer," you have no idea what you're dealing with. 

There are certain kinds of writers who -- while I value their talent and contribution to the art -- drive me nuts. They quite often use these phrases:

1. People will steal my work if I'm not careful.

You wish people would steal your work. This thinking is so egotistical to me. It's hard to get people to even read unpublished books, much less claim them.

I have a hard time believing theft of intellectual property is as big of an issue as some writers make it out to be. A friend of mine won't submit her work to an agent because she thinks the agent will steal it. Another person I know won't connect his computer to the internet because he's afraid of being hacked.

2. I don't believe in genres

Many authors want to work outside of the restrictions of genre rules, and that's a very pretty idea. It just doesn't work. Unless you're Tolkien and you invent a new, revolutionary way of writing, your story will fit into a genre whether you intend it to or not.

3. I don't read when I'm writing because I don't want authors to influence me

Actually, you do want other authors you influence you. That's how you learn to write. The key is to read so many authors that you don't imitate only one person's voice. Your style should be a collage of all your experiences, including books you read.

4. I'm a published author! My publisher is Lulu.

It's wonderful that self-publishing is an option for authors. Traditional publishing is stringent, demanding, and unlikely to yield results. Now we all have the freedom to put our work into book form. 

The thing is, anyone can get self-published. Anyone. It's not impressive, so quit acting like some kind of celebrity.

5. I was published when I was 18!

I appreciate when teenage writers are so driven, but most of us wrote books when we were 18. They all sucked (except for Christopher Paolini's). I'm more impressed that a teenager raised enough money to be self-published.

What are your writing-related pet-peeves?
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