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Friday, December 30, 2016

Ending 2016 in Pictures

We wish you a Merry Christmas,
Almost got everyone to smile at the same time.

           We wish you a Merry Christmas,
Swords, necessary for all of life according to Joe-Joe. #armingbabybrother

             We wish you a Merry Christmas,

Pretend ax. Shudder to think what Joe-Joe might think up for Dolphy-Dolph to do with a real one.

                    and a Happy New Year.

My boys
       Here's wishing you all the best for a wonderful 2017.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Baby Chip: Progress Report

Our little Baby Chip is five months old, and at his four month doctor check up last month, he got a clean bill of health.

He's still tiny, but catching up. Went from about 1% overall on the preemie chart to now 20% on the preemie chart. No health issues at all except for the crookedness in both feet that we are doing stretches for. We see an orthopedic surgeon for that next week, but it's a fairly simple issue so shouldn't be a big deal.

We are praising God for how healthy our little guy is!

Here's a re-cap of how far Baby Chip has come.
20 weeks (March): Abnormal ultrasound found Baby Chip with short arms and legs, less than 1% bodygrowth, and a clubbed foot.

21 weeks: Specialists' level II ultrasounds confirmed that diagnosis, but found two clubbed feet. Since clubbed feet and small growth are very related to genetic issues, the doctors immediately thought about potentially lethal genetic issues as well as spinal dysplasia.
24 weeks: Specialist found absent bloodflow. Without blood, babies die. The specialists expected to have to deliver a one pound preemie in the very near future.
25-27 weeks: Doctors do a DNA blood test and amnio, preparing me meanwhile that genetic abnormalities, potentially lethal ones WILL be found. Doctors are shocked to find that Baby Chip's DNA blood test and amnio come back with no abnormalities. Bloodflow to Baby Chip is improving, not deteriorating, which puzzles the doctors, but makes us all very happy. The doctors still tell me to be prepared to deliver any time.
29 weeks: A routine bloodtest shows that my blood is attacking Baby Chip's blood big time. From then on out every week (up to 3x a week) the doctors consider giving him a blood transfusion in-utero. Several times we are sent or almost sent to Children's Hospital because the test results show that Baby Chip is very anemic. Every time he improves enough that we can avoid the transfusion.

30-36 weeks: On top of blood issues, Baby Chip is still less than 1%. With doctor appointments up to 3x a week, the doctors are continually talking about when to deliver, and how long they can keep Baby Chip inside. Because of the clubfeet, doctors say that Baby Chip still has a 4% chance of having genetic abnormalities that the amnio failed to detect.
36 weeks 3 days: Doctors induce Baby Chip. He's born at 4lbs, breathing well, but with obvious signs of my blood attacking his. The first physical therapist thinks he has clubfeet.

Baby Chip spends 12 days in NICU for blood issues. The specialists confirm he does not have clubfeet and, after a thorough examination, that he doesn't seem to have any genetic issues either.

 Baby Chip ends up on oxygen, no one's quite sure why, but probably from the combination of high altitude, prematurity, and blood issues.

Through the next three months, he visits the pediatrician at least once a week for blood-draws and gets six or seven blood transfusions and is on oxygen. All that time he is slowly catching up with growth and moves up to the 10% on the preemie chart.

4 months: Clean bill of health, 20% on preemie chart. We stretch his crooked little feet daily, but they aren't clubbed.

The doctors' most recent theory is that there was a massive bleed in the placenta, which caused the blood issues and the tiny growth. That massive bleed somehow improved and that's why Baby Chip was able to stay in until 36 weeks.

Thank you for all your prayers and support on our journey! I don't know if you believe in God or answered prayers, and I can't actually prove that our baby didn't beat all those odds stacked up against him at 20 and 24 weeks by chance.

I can't actually prove that our first son didn't survive his at-birth meningitis with no damage by chance either, though all of Baby Chip's maternal fetal medicine doctors that I told about Joe-Joe were surprised.

Still, when one has two healthy little boys in the house who the doctors believed should be dead or greatly delayed, it takes a lot of faith to believe that all happened by chance. I, for one, think the theory that my God intervened in my boys' life makes a lot more sense.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Neither Pro-Lifers Nor Pro-Choicers Have the Answer

         Since the Trump/Hillary debate moment on abortion, many moms have been sharing their stories about babies who died inside of them during the third trimester, saying that late term abortion laws endanger mothers. Pro-lifers have been responding with insistent demands that pro-life laws are perfectly written as is. I've found the social media debates very triggering because I have a four month old, and those stories so easily could have been me.

My son, Baby "Chip"

         In April of this year, at 24 weeks gestation, the doctors discovered that Baby Chip's umbilical cord  had absent bloodflow. Without blood, babies die. The only solution is an emergency c-section and NICU. One problem, at only 16 ounces, babies often die in NICU.
    The doctors suggested taking Baby Chip out that week and gave him a 1 to 5 chance of survival after months of NICU and probably severe delays from prematurity. Or I could choose to keep Baby Chip inside and he very well might die from lack of blood. I chose to keep Baby Chip inside.
     The waiting was torture. I remember counting kicks, counting movements, and wondering every hour between my often thrice weekly appointments if my son still lived.
      I now have a beautiful four-month-old baby with no delays, so I'm thrilled with my decision. It could have turned out very differently though. Either way, as Baby Chip's mother and a mentally competent person, keeping Baby Chip inside me was my decision to make, not some government board's.
    From 20 weeks to about 27 weeks gestation as doctors ran tests and tried to discover what was wrong with Baby Chip, they often threw out the term "incompatible with life." The point of the tests was to discover if Baby Chip had some sort of genetic abnormality which would make it impossible for him to survive outside the womb. Praise God, the tests showed he didn't have anything like that. The doctors warned me though, that should they discover that Baby Chip was incompatible with life, I'd have to make a choice. Did I want to eke out every hour I could with Baby Chip, or would I let him pass sooner rather than later?
     I had a truly horrid pregnancy, nausea the whole time etc. to the point that I was unable to be present for my 4-year-old or husband the way I should have been. If the doctors told me that Baby Chip was incompatible with life, I may have chosen to induce labor early and let him take his first and last breath at 26 or 27 weeks rather than 40 weeks. Parents of minor children who are critically injured by a car accident, brain dead, and only able to function on life support choose what hour they remove the life support. Don't mothers have the right to choose what hour to remove the life support of a placenta for their dying baby? Under many proposed pro-life laws, they don't have that right.
      Pro-lifers like to think that every abortion is a 40-something-married mom with a healthy baby and an SUV. They like to think that a stroke of a pen will turn a would be baby's death into a Walton family. Pro-lifers would like to believe every situation is like that, because then the choice would be easy.
    On the other hand, pro-choicers talk like every single abortion happens because the mother's about to lose her life from a baby who's dying anyway. They'd like to believe that,  because, if so, the choice would be easy.
      No matter what our political orientation, we make up little lies to eliminate the hard decisions. One pro-choice lie I've heard is that babies don't feel pain. Give me a break. I suffered every day knowing my baby was getting starved in-utero from lack of nutrient-rich bloodflow. I knew he was hungry and suffering and there was nothing I could do about it. It would have been easier for me to believe Baby Chip didn't feel pain, but that wasn't true.
My son in-utero

      A pro-life lie I've heard is that doctors are often, even usually wrong. All the tests will say your baby is "incompatible with life", but actually he'll be born perfectly healthy. An amniocentesis is as accurate as a blood draw, genetically speaking. After the amnio, blood DNA test, and 50 gajillion ultrasounds, doctors knew more about my unborn son, than they did about me after thirty years of doctor visits. It would be easier to believe that all children are born healthy because doctors don't know what they're talking about, but it's not true.
      Another pro-choice lie I've heard is that unborn children aren't really babies. Come on. We've all seen sonograms. Even the pregnant 14-year-olds I counseled who ultimately chose abortion still told me in each therapy session that their first trimester pregnancy was a baby. You're as smart as a 14-year-old. Admit it's a baby. It would be easier to believe that the baby who is complicating a woman's life, perhaps even putting her life in danger, is just a fetus, but it's not true.
      A pro-life lie I've heard is that only life or death matters, not suffering. Let's disregard maternal suffering. You're in a domestically violent relationship and getting hospitalized for abuse?--so what, you're not dead. We don't need to change the laws. Those parental rights we fought for mean a child is getting educationally neglected and yet no social worker shows up? Not my problem. No one's dead. We don't have to make hard decisions to stop this suffering. That's a lie. Even when it doesn't result in death, suffering matters.
        For example, hawkish types often post the death toll of the Iraq war. It's a smallish number compared to a lot of wars. See, the cost of war was small, they say. What about all those missing limbs from IEDs though? Four years ago, I met a man missing both arms and legs from the war. What about those with PTSD? What about those kids who didn't get to see Daddy or Mommy for months and years at a time? What about those marriages which broke because of the war? It would be easier to believe that the cost of war is small, but it isn't. I know war comes at a cost, you see, because I'm a military spouse.
my soldier on our wedding day

         One of the biggest lies I've heard from both the pro-life and pro-choice camp is that life matters because it is innocent. This is why some liberal groups focus so hard on saving the endangered random bird while disregarding troubled teens in foster care. This is why some conservative groups focus so hard on passing laws to save an unborn child while turning their backs on laws which could save the mother whose life is at risk from domestic violence.
         As a mental health counselor, I've worked in jails, sex offender programs, substance abuse recovery, and mental health facilities. In my work, I've rubbed shoulders with some of the least innocent in our society.
          Often times, I'm the one who gets the client who is thinking of suicide and I'm tasked with the job of convincing him or her to choose to keep on living because their life matters. How do I convince this man or woman sitting in front of me that they matter? I'm not presented with a lot of material to work with.
         I can't tell him, "oh, look at all the career rungs you've climbed, that makes you matter." For the last thirty years, he's been living on the streets holding up a cardboard sign.
          I can't tell her, "but think of all the loved ones who will miss you if you die, that makes you matter." She grew up in foster care, her friends are drug dealers, her last three boyfriends beat her up, and the man she sees most often is the pervert next door who pays her for sex.
     So I look into their eyes and I tell them, "you matter because you are you." I mean every word I say. Life doesn't matter because it is innocent. Life matters because it is human and, I believe, made in the very image of an all-powerful God. It would be easier to believe that those who have made bad choices no longer matter so we can just focus on saving the babies and the animals, but it isn't true.
     Even when we see evidence that our little lies are wrong, we cling to them, because they make life easier. Without our lies, life is gruesomely difficult. I wish there were easy answers to the brokenness in this world. I wish I could pass a piece of legislation that would prevent all men, women, and children everywhere from ever experiencing death, pain, or suffering. Newsflash pro-lifers and pro-choicers: no government can do that.
       Suffering, death, and disease will haunt us at every turn in this world. If we're to create a culture of life, we have to first acknowledge that we will often be put into situations where we can't save everybody. We have to accept that and we have to work from that premise to save as many as we can.
      What about people who just genuinely hate other human beings and don't value any life at all, you ask? Those people exist and they are horrid human beings. If you're reading this post though, I don't think you're one of those. I think no matter what side of the aisle you come from, all the pain and suffering in this world hurt you as much as they hurt me.
         If you and I can drop the political labels for a moment, I think we can try to work together for solutions that truly minimize suffering, death, and disease for all people, guilty or innocent, man or woman, unborn or born.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Free Clean (PG 13 or less) Romance Books for Book Bloggers

Book bloggers make the world go around. Or at least they make authors' worlds go around because book bloggers are who post the insightful reviews that allow readers to find authors' books.

One of the perks of being a book blogger is free books. One of the downsides of being a book blogger is a ton of authors asking you to review a book of theirs which you have zero interest in reading.

As an author, I've teamed up with some authors to create a Facebook group geared toward book bloggers who like to read clean-ish (PG-13 or less) romance novels.

Bloggers, want to take control over your review requests and pick the free books YOU want to review? Search no further. In my new group (, you can look through files of romance novels sorted by subgenre and request the ones you want to review. No being spammed by authors, ever.

The group launched today and we're actively recruiting bloggers. Newer/smaller-audience bloggers very welcome. Check out the group here.

Friday, October 7, 2016

7 Reasons to Keep it Real on Social Media

judge not, lest you be judged ;)

       Ever written a Facebook status or posted an Instagram picture that had no bearing on your actual reality just so you could look good? I know I have.
    Thomas Jefferson once said: "The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers." The modern translation of this quote might be, "You know more about the friend you haven't seen in twenty years, than the friend who've you only kept up with through Facebook."
       Social media wouldn't have to be this way. We could all start telling the truth on Facebook. Here are seven reasons why it's to your advantage to keep it real on social media.


1.  Your opinion matters most. By lying on social media, you're signaling you care a whole lot more about other people's opinions than you should. Who cares about other people's opinions? Be yourself and let them start worrying about your opinion, rather than visa versa. In other words, live the life you want, not the one other people want you to want. Life's too short to live any other way.

2. Fake joy is only skin deep. You can convince the rest of the world your life is perfect. Or you can work on actually making your life perfect. One pursuit will only detract from the other.

3. You're selling false goods. Lying about your life not only messes with your head; it messes with others' heads. Think how guilty you will feel when all your Facebook friends buy two dozen rats because you have convinced them through your photo-shopped Facebook pics that the impulse purchase your husband made for your two-year-old that weekend you were gone at the women's retreat really did enhance your quality of life. ;)

4. Denial is bad. If you spend all your time pretending the bad things in your life don't exist, i.e. the Facebook version of denial, you'll never actually fix the things in your life that need fixing.

5. Lies are bad. Lying is morally wrong. Didn't we all learn that in Sunday School?

6. Have some self-respect. By faking things on social media, you're really showing you lack self-respect in your accomplishments. Your life doesn't actually stink all that bad. Embrace your life. Maybe, wonder of wonders, your friends might like the real you.

7. Everyone knows the truth anyway. If the last six reasons don't motivate you to bring a little honesty to your social media profiles, think of this: you're not actually fooling anyone. We all know Facebook code. Here's the translation tool.

FB post: "My husband is amazing."
Real life translation: "We had a fight last night and I want to make up." Don't you miss the old days where people could kiss and make up behind closed doors? ;)

FB post: "My wife is so hot."
Real life translation: "My highschool ex just friended me on FB and I really want her to know I'm over her."

FB post: "Look at my well-behaved kids."
Real life translation: "My kids tried to burn the house down last night. I narrowly stopped them. At this rate, I'll have no hair left by the time I'm 40."

FB post: "See my perfect Pinterest recipe."
Real life translation: "Pinterest is about the only thing going right in my life right now."

FB post: "Dolled up selfie."
Real life translation: "Ever since my boyfriend cheated on me, I've felt insecure about my looks."

FB post: "My kids are adorable."
Real life translation: "SOS. SOS. Can someone PLEASE bring me a bottle of wine and a babysitter?"

On a scale of 1(lies) to 10(honesty), how honest are you on social media? Comment below...if you dare. ;)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to Become a Successful Writer: Part 5--Josette Downey

      Here's the final installment in my guest blogpost series, how to become a successful writer. I hope you've learned something. I know I have. A big thank you to all the authors who have participated and especially today's guest, Josette Downey. She brings up the excellent point that success as an author isn't just about sales numbers, but about being able to write the stories that you want to write. Read how she succeeded in that goal below.
     Succeeding at writing is always something I want to know more about, so if you're an author and have a guest blogpost to share on this topic, feel free to drop me an email,
     I apologize for being so late posting part 5 of this series. I wish I had some wonderful excuse, but the truth is I've been whiling away my hours doing this.

Ok, just joking. My husband put that octopus on Baby Chip. You can tell we're responsible parents, right? ;)

Writing the Stories On Your Heart
By Josette Downey

I remember the day clearly. I was in church singing, swaying to the music and feeling lost. I had just lost a job I had had for three years, and now was working temp - wondering where my life was heading. My novel had recently been edited and proofed in hopes of seeking traditional publishing, but not one part of me wanted to start submitting to agents or  trying to find a publisher. It just seemed like too much work for little reward. I don’t remember what led me to utter the prayer that  I said, but something must have. In that moment, I asked God to lead me on the writing path he had for me. That single prayer led me to accept the path I’m on now. But if I’m honest with myself I had stepped on that path a long  time ago.
The path began in a small military town in Havelock, a town I now just drive by to get to the beach. See something happened in that town.  An event that would shape my writing. Writing that attempts to reclaim an innocence lost before I even knew what innocence meant.  But God didn’t want me to focus on the innocence, but forgiveness.
If you read my novels, a theme that runs through them is forgiveness. Not only for the hero but also the antagonist - no matter how grave the offense.
I believe that God allowed that horrible early event to happen in my life, so as a writer he could use me to write stories that would remind Christians, we don’t get to set the limits of God’s grace. And no matter the offense, we as Christians are called to forgive.
Shortly after that prayer during church, God put the idea of self-publishing on amazon into my head. So I published my first book A Time to Say Goodbye and soon I followed it with several others including my American Prince series. Now I can see the wisdom of such a move. Why? I could be wrong, but I don’t believe my American Prince
series would have ever been accepted by the CBA. A book series that challenges Christians to forgive, a wife beating/ murderer, a character God wanted me to turn into a great preacher for God. A man much like our beloved Apostle Paul.

Josette Downey  is the Christian romance author of
A Time to Say Goodbye, The Secret Son and Bonds of Tradition. She has a master’s degree in English from East Carolina University, and currently works for a premier test scoring company. She is the mother of a precocious six-year-old girl, who enjoys bugs, snakes and superman.  She enjoys southern cooking, reading and exploring emerging technology, but is best defined by her devotion to her faith and the empowerment of women in the modern world.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How to Become a Successful Writer--Part 4: Katie Robles

When I first read Author Katie Robles guest blogpost, I have to admit I did a double take on the post's title. If Katie's book is as vivacious and witty as her following blogpost, and I'm sure it is, I'm eager to read it. Read more about her path to publication below.

A Sexy Soupy Path to Publication
by Katie Robles

If you had told me ten years ago that I would publish nonfiction, I would have laughed in your face. If you had told me that it would be a diet book, I would have rolled on the floor in hysterics. You see, I rarely read nonfiction (I find it mostly boring) and have never been a diet girl (because diets rarely involve butter or brownies). Ten years ago I wrote my first novel, a fantasy. Over the next few years I wrote three more novels, all romances of varying subgenres. I attended a writers conference and acquired an agent—or, rather, he acquired me. At the conference that year there was a big emphasis on blogging. If you want to be a writer, you must blog. Blogging is the future! Platform is key to success! I came home and started a blog the next day.
I had no idea what an author’s blog should look like, especially a yet-to-be-published author, but the year before I had lost over twenty pounds and my cup ranneth over with healthy living tips, encouragement, and ways to make weight loss fun. (That’s right, I said fun! Read the blog.) I started a blog called Sex, Soup, and Two Fisted Eating. I figured I could learn this blogging thing and later use those skills to start an author blog. I posted once a week and learned as I went. Some weeks I was brimming with ideas and other weeks I slumped in front of the computer hoping inspiration could be found at the bottom of my coffee mug.
Two years passed. My agent and I had nibbles, but no bites on the novels. I gathered two years worth of Sex Soup posts, edited them into a book by the same title, wrote a proposal to go with it, and shopped it around at a writers conference. I got lots of positive feedback, but no interest from editors. One month later my agent emailed with good news: I had been offered a contract from a small publishing house. The book Sex, Soup, and Two Fisted Eating: Hilarious Weight Loss for Wives is coming out this summer. This is not where I thought I’d be when I started writing ten years ago, but I love where I am.

What works for me:

Beta readers you can trust – Before I submit any articles, short stories, novels, etc. I often have my parents read them and give feedback. Parents as beta readers doesn’t work for everyone, but mine are avid readers and aren’t afraid to critique my work honestly, so it works for us.

Writers conferences – I’ve only been to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference, but I’ve been four times. Conferences give you a look at how the industry works, gives you leads for writing opportunities you might not have considered before (devotionals, articles, etc.-some of which pay, imagine that!), gets you face to face with agents and editors, and connects you to a community of fellow writers.

Blogging – Let me clarify here. Blogging ultimately led to publication for me, but when I signed the contract, I had less than 500 followers, so it wasn’t my platform that attracted the publisher. The value I see in blogging is the discipline of writing a succinct, catchy, interesting post every week. In short, it improves your writing skills. Is an online presence beneficial to writers? Yes. Am I convinced that you must have thousands of followers to succeed as a writer? No. That might be wishful thinking since I’m releasing a book and I don’t have thousands of followers, but it is what it is.

Letting my work breathe – once I have a rough draft revised once or twice, I try to step away from it for a couple weeks or months and then come at it with fresh eyes to do the final revising.

Love what you do – writing is work and success is not guaranteed. It won’t always feel fun, but if you write what you love (and/or learn to love writing what sells and to write it in your own unique voice), then there is joy in the work.

Katie Robles spends her days raising four sons, teaching part time at the YMCA, writing, gardening, and sneaking vegetables into baked goods and entrees. Her blog Sex, Soup, and Two Fisted Eating: Hilarious Weight Loss for Wives can be found at

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How to Become a Successful Writer--Part 3: Beth Ziarnek

I'm excited to welcome a fellow author from my literary agency, Beth Ann Ziarnik, for part three in my How to Become a Successful Writer series. She has quite the inspiring success story. Read more below and check out her novel here:

Making a Dream Come True
By Beth Ann Ziarnik

When on January 2 this year, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas released my first novel, Her Deadly Inheritance, I was thrilled. At last I reached my elusive dream of becoming an author of romantic suspense—my favorite genre.

What followed astounded me.

Readers raved about it, saying they couldn’t put it down. I would say, “Really?” As it remained on the Amazon bestseller lists for months (and at this writing still is), again, I’d say, “Really?”
If these things entitle me to be named a “successful author,” I confess I did not achieve this alone. Hundreds of friends and professionals helped me during the many years I worked toward learning the fiction writing craft. When Her Deadly Inheritance debuted, hundreds more joyfully helped to promote it. I will be forever grateful.
If you are an aspiring writer or book author, here is my best advice on how to realize your dream of publication. They made a difference in my life. You may find them helpful, too.
BELIEVE in yourself and the writing gift God has given to you. Work hard toward making your manuscript the best it can be. Read and study those books and magazines on writing. Take courses online, at your local college, through the mail. Read the kinds of books and articles you would like to write. Most of all--write, write, and write some more! Reach for excellence.
NETWORK by joining a local writers’ or critique group. If you can’t find one, start one. You’d be surprised how many writers live and dream near you. I helped organize Word & Pen Christian Writers which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and still attend its meetings. Participate in online writers groups like American Christian Fiction Writers. Encourage other writers and let them encourage you. You will grow much faster toward publication.
Go to writers’ conferences and seminars. I try to attend at least one each year—such a worthwhile investment of time and money. This year it was Write-to-Publish where I was named “Writer of the Year” and the Green Lake Christian Writers Conference.
You will have fun, make many wonderful writer friends, and become a familiar face to agents, editors, and publishers. Through attending conferences, I connected with my agent Jim Hart, my book’s publisher Eddie Jones, and my editors Rowena Kuo and Christine Richards.
PERSEVERE. No matter how long it takes to achieve your dream, don’t quit! I had to cling to this piece of advice, especially towards the end when sorely tempted to stop trying. If I had quit, I would’ve missed seeing my dream come true by mere months. The closer you get to publication, the harder it is to hang in there. But don’t quit. Keep honing your craft and marketing your manuscripts, and one day you will hold your published work in your hands.
PRAY and ask others to pray as you work at your writing and marketing. Each week I send reports to my prayer team, telling them what I’ve accomplished and what I intend to work on so that they can support me in prayer. In my humble opinion, every writer needs a caring prayer team. Writing can be a lonely pursuit.

BIO: A long-time fan of romantic suspense, Beth Ann Ziarnik offers her first novel with all the twists and turns, cliffhangers and romantic tension she and readers have come to love. She is a co-founder of Word & Pen Christian Writers in Northeast Wisconsin and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. In addition to her 450 published pieces (several included in anthologies), she is the author of Love With Shoes On, her ten-year devotional column about love in action and based on 1 Corinthians 13.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

How to Become a Successful Writer: part 2--Michelle Lazurek

Excited to welcome Michelle Lazurek to my blog for part two of my series on how to become a successful author. Read her five pieces of advice below and check out her new release here:

Five Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Writers

A lot of people ask me, “I am an aspiring author and want to write a book. What advice would you give me about how to go about it?”  Although I’m still learning about this process, I can say I have learned a lot in the seven years I have been a writer. Here are five of my best tips to becoming an author:

1)     Writing is a calling, not a hobby- I say this because a hobby is what you do in your spare time. Often people think they can scribble to some quick words, click the publish button and they will magically become an author. In some ways, that is true. But I have also learned that the thing that separates authors and writers is calling. Writers jot down words on a page, but don’t always want to do the hard work of editing, marketing and publishing their books. An author is the one who toughs it out, no matter how much time, money and resources they need. The calling is what gets an author out of bed and at the computer. Writers stare at a blank page after a year; authors hold their shiny books in their hands.
2)     Platform is king- No matter what anyone tells you, it is simply not enough to have a great idea or even be a good writer. Both of these help, but it’s not what puts your proposal into the hands of a publishing board. The clincher is and always will be if you can sell the books you write. The bigger your outlets for getting out your message, the better.  However, after seven years, this still remains an enigma to me. There is no magic formula to becoming an author large enough to become published. But hard work and hustle do help. Speaking engagements, guest posting on largely known sites and driving traffic to your blog all expand your platform, helping you to build it plank by plank.
3)     Read. Write. Repeat- If you don’t read, you’ll never hone your craft. Who are some of the most memorable writers you know? What makes them good writers? The only way you’ll know that is if you read their work. Reading about the mechanics and process of writing also help you develop your skills.
4)     Utilize those around you- in the words of the Beatles, we get by with a little help from our friends. Critique groups, editors and mentors all help you develop your skills effectively. Find people in your area (either in person or online) and meet regularly to discuss writing. Give them your word and solicit feedback. Isolation never helped anyone; constructive criticism from a trusted group of friends does.
5)     The book is the marathon; the blog is the sprint- One of the first pieces of advice I give to anyone is to start a blog. Wordpress and blogger both have free hosting sites to help you get started. Pick a topic and write everything you can on it. I mean everything. Write until you know nothing else about it. Establish yourself as an expert. Then branch out into other areas of writing interest. You’ll spread yourself too thin if you write about a bunch of random topics. Pick a topic you know well and tell the world about it. When you finish, post your work to social media. Get the word out about who you are. Slowly, you’ll build an audience that no matter how big your platform, will always gather to hear your message.

Michelle Lazurek is an author, speaker, pastor’s wife and mother and loves to help people reach their potential. She has been published over one hundred times for places such as Christianity today’s Gifted For Leadership,, and Charisma Magazine. She teaches at writers’ conferences and mentors new writers. Please visit my website 

Monday, July 25, 2016

How to Become a Successful Writer: part 1--Richard McCuistian

I'm excited to welcome Richard McCuistian to my blog for part 1 of my series, How to Become a Successful Writer. I loved reading about how he ventured into the article world as well as the novel world. Writing for periodicals is an often overlooked venue for those looking to make a career of writing.

A Lifelong Love of Reading and Writing

By Richard McCuistian

In the 1960’s there was nothing I’d rather do on a Sunday afternoon than read a book, so down the church hallway my Sunday shoes would carry me clopping on those ancient oak planks to invade and peruse the church library, where it seemed I could always find a good book to read. I still remember the musty smell of the old books in that place, how checking volumes out was done on the honor system, and the library door was never locked. The tiny room was lined with shelves and had a single table at the end under a frosted glass window. For some reason, Nancy Drew mysteries were my favorites from those crowded shelves (I could never get interested in a Hardy Boys book), and I could read a book in an afternoon, even when I was in elementary school.

I have always loved libraries.  Once I went with my older sister to the library at Fort Rucker – she sixteen and I was fourteen at the time, and she was doing a research paper.  Since she was going to a library I hadn’t visited before, I was tagging along.  While she researched (we couldn’t check anything out because we weren’t a military family at the time), and the Alabama sun receded behind the pine trees on the western end of Fort Rucker, I read an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel called The Lad and the Lion. I was reading the last page when she finished her research, and she was rather stunned that I had managed to complete the book before we left that evening.

It wasn’t as if we didn’t have books at home; my mother had a floor-to-ceiling bookcase in the room I shared with my brother Mark (all shelved alphabetically by the authors’ names), and when I was in the fourth grade Mrs. Cassidy asked if anyone knew the names of any famous authors.  Somebody in the class mentioned Mark Twain, and somebody else mentioned Shakespeare.  When she finally called on me, I had a lot of names to share.
“Robert Louis Stevenson, Louisa May Alcott, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Victoria Holt,…” on an on I went, and the list was so distinguished that she later told my mother that while she didn’t want to stop me, she was astounded at how many authors’ names I could recite from memory. 

I had read the spines of my mother’s books as a boy because one room of my bedroom was nothing but a huge bookshelf, and right up until she died, she collected books and read every night before she went to sleep. Dad said that if he ever put up an empty shelf somewhere in the morning, Mom would have it full of books by that afternoon.  We lost Mom’s original collection of books in a house fire back in 1970, and we lost another library of her books – along with my mother – this past October of 2013 in a different house fire.

I just turned 59, and I discovered when I was in high school just how much I enjoyed putting words in a row to teach, tell a story, or share information. I also wrote poetry, and a couple of songs nobody sang but me, but then, I didn’t expect those to go anywhere. 

I have forty years under my belt working as a professional mechanic, the last fifteen of those years as an automotive instructor at a small college, and so I write technical articles for Motor Age magazine and have since May of 2000. That writing pays well. 

These days, I write a 2000+ word Sunday School lesson commentary every week, and I’ve been doing that ever since 2003.  I also publish 25 copies of a trifold handout I put together every week, but I just pass them out at church, and everybody seems to like them.

Before that, I wrote Bible lessons for the mechanics and car salesmen I worked with at the local Ford dealer.  For about two years I published a 33 copies of 3 lessons a week and gave them out at work.  But then I discovered something – when I wrote my lessons story form, more people read and enjoyed them, and so I started writing stories a lot of the time, every one of them with a Christian theme.

My Christian fiction stories got longer, and I generally tried to craft a surprise ending and/or some kind of spiritual lesson that could be learned.

The first short story I wrote that appeared in print was a story called Scars that I sent to a local college to be considered for a literary journal.  Scars was included, and it was the only Christian story in that entire journal, and some (if not most) of the Christian message I had written into it had been edited out, but there it was – I had something in print that more than just a few people might eventually read, because it was between the covers of a book.  I had poured a lot of myself into that story because I lived through most of it; I just wrote a different ending to make the point I was shooting for.

The first book I had published was a Christian Fiction novel that is available on Amazon right now both in paperback and for Kindle entitled Digital Superman. I published that one through Publish America (now American Star Books) because I didn’t see any point in paying somebody hundreds or thousands of dollars to put a book in print, and Publish America publishes your book for free without editing it.  And they do a really good job. All I had to do was do two book signings, which I did, along with a TV interview about the book, which I wasn’t required to do. Sadly I have colleagues who have paid massive amounts of money to companies who promised to make their books best sellers. Those dreams were never realized and, while their books are in print, that money will never be recovered.

And while Digital Superman didn’t sell a zillion copies, everybody I know of who read it really liked it, but most of them never wrote a single review on Amazon, and most people won’t buy or read my books because they don’t know me as an author.

One of the dreams many authors have is to be able to write books for a living – well, I’ve earned enough money writing for trade magazines to have built and paid for a new house, because I take my love for wordsmithing and storytelling with me into my technical articles and I have a LOT of fans in that crowd – 140,000 repair shops all across the country.

Since Digital Superman, I have published eleven other books on Amazon for Kindle, to include a couple of trilogies and a collection of short stories, all Christian fiction.

For me, writing is a creative outlet, even if only a few people read what I write – I enjoy crafting the stories I write, creating and developing the characters, and I enjoy putting a little something for just about everybody in the books I write.  I try to come up with original plotlines that aren’t predictable, characters that are (hopefully) dear to the reader’s heart, and stories that are fun to read and uplifting (with the exception of one short story I wrote, which has a powerful message, but isn’t a lot of fun).

My most recent work is a novel called Born Out of Time that is available on Amazon. My daughter’s review pegged it as my best story ever.

I like to instill my female characters with great character, beauty, and strength, and I try to craft my male characters as men of integrity and honor. And let me say that a story just doesn’t work well if there isn’t an element of romance or attraction, but I stay away from anything lewd or racy.

If there is a pastor in the story I write, he is typically a heroic sort of fellow who is generous to a fault.  I despise how so many TV shows and novels paint Christian ministers as evil and heavy-handed.

For me, writing and publishing novels is a hobby of sorts, nothing more – if God sees fit to have my books sell lots of copies, so be it. But I plan to write in a way that honors my Creator.  Always.

Check out Richard McCuistian's books at:

Richard McCuistian has three children and seven grandchildren and lives in South Alabama with Lynne, his wife of nearly 24 years.

His day job is teaching Auto Mechanics and with his wife he teaches two Sunday School classes each week and is also a free-lance technical writer for trade magazines in his spare time.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

How to Become a Successful Writer

Ever wondered what it takes to become a successful writer? Over the next few weeks, I will be hosting a variety of different authors on my blog as they talk about their writing journey and how they reached what they define as success.

I meant to run this series at the beginning of July, but this cute little fellow got in the way.

Baby Chip

He's really too adorable not to forgive for my lack of promptness, don't you think? Or at least that's what I'm hoping my guest bloggers think. ;)

#successasanauthor #babychip #write4aliving

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Announcing Baby Chip

After months of uncertainty, he's alive. He's ours. We get to keep him!

Always trying to take his cords and shades off

He's even healthy, aside from the half-starved from IUGR and anemia/bilirubin issues. APGAR score of 8 or 9 coming out, breathing on his own, (unlike Joe-Joe who got an APGAR score of 4), and eating on his own.

Baby Chip's currently getting a small blood transfusion because of anemia due to my Rh negative antibodies attacking his Rh positive red blood cells.

 His bilirubin, the byproduct of breaking down red blood cells, is a problem too because of my antibodies, hence jaundice lights and immunoglobulin injections.

The neonatologist said at this point they most likely won't have to do the more dangerous large transfusion where they swap out all his blood for new blood and get rid of my antibodies, but will be able to manage the anemia with lights, immunoglobulin, and possibly more small transfusions. The doctor will take this more conservative route because it is much safer, but it also means we will be hanging out at NICU on jaundice lights days after Baby Chip is big enough and otherwise healthy enough to come home.

Top Baby Chip quotes:

Joe-Joe, after peering at the baby: "He's much bigger than I thought he would be." (Guess we talked about Baby Chip's smallness a little too much. :)

Daddy and Joe-Joe to me the day before labor: "If it weren't for you, we would name him Woodchuckletree."

Me looking at Baby Chip: "Are you sure he's mine? He's so BLONDE."

Black-haired, brown eyed Joe-Joe
Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Baby Chip

The less than socially in tune doc immediately after delivery: "Next time, I suggest you find a Rh negative father." :P

NICU is exhausting and un-fun, and it's sad that I can't hold Baby Chip much because of the jaundice lights, but unlike when we were in NICU with Joe-Joe's meningitis, nothing scary is happening. All the top doctors and geneticists at the research hospital have yet to find anything wrong with Baby Chip and he doesn't even have clubfeet, just a little curvature that stretching will fix.

So, worst case scenario, I have to sit here a couple extra weeks and waste a perfectly lovely summer not sleeping in a dimly lit cell while Joe-Joe has Daddy bonding time. So we are persevering and praising God for answered prayer.

Note: Baby Chip is not his real name. Baby Chip does have a real name. If you want to know his real name and are not a stalker or child molester, feel free to privately contact me or Gabe and we'd love to tell you his name.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

5 Things NOT to Do on Your Honeymoon

Originally posted on The Writing Prompts Crew

As the summer wedding season kicks off, so do summer honeymoons. If you’re counting down the days until your honeymoon or know someone who is, here are some quick tips to make sure your special week is a success. Purely hypothetical advice, of course. Not in any way drawn from personal experience. :)

Our Wedding 7 Years Ago

1. Use the Do Not Disturb Sign
Sure, growing up you saw that little white thing with a door knob hole punched in it as just a useless piece of paper. Trust me, it’s not. Use it. Or perhaps the evening of your wedding you thought, oh I’ll wake up early and hang that up in the morning.
Procrastination, a mortal flaw.
On the bright side, you will only make this mistake once. Ever. In your entire life.
2. Trust Reviews
If a hotel’s reviews say ‘lovely place, but not good for honeymooners,’ don’t think oh they meant other people, not us. We are adventurers. This will be a wonderful hotel for a honeymoon. The reviewers could know something you don’t, such as the hotel staff is entirely INSANE.
Speaking of crazy hotel staff . . .
3. Do Not Cook Microwave Popcorn
I love popcorn. I wanted to introduce my new husband to this passion of mine, so I made a bag of microwave popcorn. Unfortunately, I didn’t watch the microwave timer. The popcorn burned.
No biggie. I threw it away.
A half hour later, the crazy hotel staff rushed our room. Not just one of them, hordes of them. The lady in charge glowered at me. “I smelled smoke. Are you burning down our hotel?” She gave me the evil eye, as if to say, I’ve been warned of terrorists like you.
“Uh. We made microwave popcorn. It smoked.”
“I see smoke marks on the shower.” She glared at me.
Really? From one bag of popcorn? “I’ll scrub them off.”
The hotel staff ripped open the microwave door as their gazes flicked around the room, looking for evidence of other nefarious deeds we might have done in their absence. “Look at this! Popcorn stains on our microwave. You’re replacing that entire microwave for our hotel.”
“I’ll scrub the microwave. I’ve cleaned burned popcorn from a microwave before.” Besides, most of the yellow scum in the microwave wasn’t even from me.
“No, you can’t.”
“Yes, I really can.”
The entire horde of hotel staff crossed their arms. “We’ll believe it when we see it.”
“Alright.” Cue several hours scrubbing a microwave of not only my popcorn, but every previous tenant’s popcorn. Just how we wanted to spend our honeymoon.
Learn your lesson here. Don’t cook microwave popcorn on your honeymoon. Maybe just don’t cook anything. Your brain’s probably not fully functioning this week anyway.
4. Sunscreen EVERYWHERE
And I mean everywhere. You know that adorable bathing suit you bought just for your honeymoon? Skin that’s never seen the sun before burns easily–really easily. You don’t want burnt skin on your honeymoon. You really don’t. Don’t be like me. Use sunscreen.
5. Imagine Two Screaming Babies
No matter what delays and less than perfect planning interrupts your honeymoon, you will instantly have an entire new appreciation for these days of your life if you try this simple exercise.
a. Walk into the shower. Close the door. 
Did someone scream? Did someone twist the handle? Did someone pound on the door and yell “Mama, Dada, I’m lonely!”
No? You’re having a great honeymoon.
b. Put food on your plate. Lift your fork.
Did someone scream? Did someone throw peas on the floor? Did someone jump out of their chair and start sticking their fingers into electrical sockets?
No? You’re having a fabulous honeymoon.
c. Sit down. Put your feet up. 
Did someone scream “Mama, Dada, I fill in bodily function a toddler needs cleaned up“? Look down at your shirt? Is there any kind of small child’s bodily function on it?
No? You’re having a wonderful honeymoon.
Enjoy your honeymoon. It will end all too soon.