Random Inspirations

Welcome to my blog, full of fun inspirations and insights on writing, self-publishing, and more!

Guest Blog Post: Channeling Your Inner Teen

TGIF!! It’s been an exciting and crazy week of promo for my two new eBooks, as well as the launch of the “Buy Winner & Win” contest.

Here’s a guest blog post I did for Free Book Dude about channeling your inner teen when writing contemporary YA. Hope you enjoy, and have a great weekend!

cartoon_teen_walking_small

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Contest: Buy “Winner” and Win a Special Prize!

I am excited to announce my first ever giveaway for readers, the “Buy Winner & Win” contest!

Contest FB Cover

In honor of Winner, my new eBook about a teenage girl who’s hooked on winning, I am hosting — what else — a competition! I am offering a special prize to one lucky reader who will be picked at random using Rafflecopter.

All you have to do is buy a copy of Winner or  Unlucky 13 between December 17th and December 31st, 2013, and email your receipt to info@kristinaludwig.com.

You can also gift one of the books to as many people as you want – and forward me the receipt. You will receive one more entry for every gift you make!

Write an honest review on Amazon and you’ll receive one more entry in the drawing. Just forward your Amazon.com Review confirmation email to info@kristinaludwig.com.

All participants will then be entered to win the Kindle Paperwhite. Drawing will happen in the first week of January.

The winner of the Paperwhite will be announced on this blog, and will also be notified by email. Here is an example of the email receipt. All you have to do is forward it to enter the contest. Good luck!

Contest Email

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New eBook and Giveaway!

I’m thrilled to announce that my new YA eBook, Winner, just went live on Amazon!

As you know, the first few days on Amazon, are pivotal for the book to rank well in the future. So please download it or gift it to the teens in your life this Christmas …. I promise, you will not be disappointed! Over 12 months of hard work went into the project.

I have a BIG surprise for people who buy the book today through 12/31 … More info coming soon to my website www.kristinaludwig.com!

Winner -- What happens when winning becomes everything?

Winner — What happens when winning becomes everything?

Here is the description of Winner:

Fourteen year-old Aubree is an award-aholic, winning everything from a coveted spot on the cheerleading squad to the most prestigious academic award. So what if she’s practically allergic to sharing the spotlight, and is too busy to make close friends? It’s all in the name of winning!

But everything changes when Aubree moves to Chicago and starts classes at a super-competitive school. Suddenly, she faces contests she can’t win, and has to deal with mean girls and a brutal piano teacher. She also must compete against her crush, Noah, in a high-pressure piano audition.

Aubree finds a place to shine on the struggling dance squad. As preparations for the dance competition and piano auditions heat up, Aubree faces perplexing dilemmas. Will her ruthlessness sabotage her newfound relationships? Can she put aside her ego to save everything she has worked for?

Download your copy today to find out!

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How to Write Full Time – And Never Get Bored

Hi Random Inspirations readers! I’m excited to announce that my blog will be moving to my new author website, www.kristinaludwig.com! Check it out for blog posts, free giveaways, videos, and more. And now, onto today’s post:

When I tell people that I am a full-time writer and work from home, one of the most common questions I hear is, “Do you ever get bored?” And I always answer the same way, “Definitely not!”

I can see why this question comes up, though. When we work for large companies (or even small ones), we often have a list of tasks that we have to complete in a specified amount of time. Our days are super-focused because of that. When I worked as a pharmacist, hours would fly by and I wouldn’t even realize it because I was so busy!

Writing on our own schedules is a huge change from that. But as long as we’re self-motivated and goal-oriented, the day will pass as quickly as it would in a pharmacy, an office, or wherever people work outside the home. Plus, writing is such a creative activity that it’s actually super easy to lose track of time. It goes along with something my mom always said when I was younger, “Our imaginations are our best playmates.” And it’s true — as long as we imagine new things, we’ll never be bored.

Don't surrender to boredom; fight it with my proven tips!

Don’t surrender to boredom; fight it with my proven tips!

Here are 4 tips to prevent boredom when writing full-time:

  1. Vary your extracurricular (i.e. non-writing) activities. Playing sports, working out, doing yoga, and practicing a musical instrument are all awesome activities to incorporate into your day. They get your blood pumping, keep you in superior physical and / or mental shape, and shake things up so you’re not just sitting in front of the computer all day. And bonus: All these activities can inspire you for your next writing project!
  2. Divide your day into chunks. Remember middle and high school, when your day was divided into seven regimented class periods? Recreate that feeling as a writer by cutting up your day into time allotments for each activity (i.e. marketing, blogging, writing new material, editing). Not only will you prevent boredom, you’ll also accomplish more. Win-win!
  3. Work off-site. If you’re feeling bored and stagnant, sometimes a change of scene is all you need. The local library or cafe can be a perfect cure for the mid-day writing blues. Plus, you’ll look every inch the part of the hipster indie author. 😉
  4. Close your eyes and imagine. I had a teacher in elementary school who said, “If you’re bored, you’re boring.” I don’t entirely agree with this, but I do think an awesome boredom-buster is just taking a time-out and letting your imagination run wild (i.e. become “un-boring”). If you’re bored because you’re stuck on a stubborn scene of your novel, sit back, take cleansing breaths, and imagine. The answer will either come to you, or you’ll know it’s time to give the work a break and start something else.

Freelancers out there, what are your best boredom-busters? I’d love to know if there’s something I missed!

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Just in Time for Friday the Thirteenth: Unlucky 13 Re-Released!

Happy Friday the Thirteenth, all! It’s a day to watch out for black cats, avoid walking under ladders, and…download the new and improved version of my first-ever eBook, Unlucky 13.

A few blog posts ago, I wrote about my extensive editing process, from cover to content to formatting. After I finally finished all the edits yesterday, I realized that the launch day would be Friday the Thirteenth. How appropriate is that?

To get you in the mood for some Friday the Thirteenth fun, here is a link to an article about silly luck superstitions. I think Jordyn, the thirteen year-old heroine of Unlucky 13, would appreciate these!

And finally, I have a special treat for all you blog readers out there. Of course, you can click here to download a free sample of Unlucky 13 on Amazon, but the sample trails off in the middle of Chapter Two. If you’re curious about how the chapter ends, here’s an excerpt…because why wouldn’t you want to read about luck on Friday the Thirteenth? 😉 Enjoy!

Unlucky 13 -- re-released just in time for Friday the Thirteenth!

Unlucky 13 — re-released just in time for Friday the Thirteenth!

“I’m not turning into her,” I said. “I’m just taking some pointers. After all, she gets all the guys.”

“Yeah, she gets the guys all right,” Avery said, “and they don’t like her for herself at all. I know how Karilyn used to be. She was really cool. Now she’s so fake-y and flirty it’s annoying. And you’ll notice I used to be friends with her, but I’m not anymore. Just keep that in mind, Jordyn.”

I was speechless as my face heated up with anger. What kind of bestie was Avery? This was my big moment — Andrew seemed really into me — and she was ruining it.

Luckily, Ms. Emmett, our gym teacher, began her announcements, breaking the uncomfortable silence that hung over my friends and me.

“Good afternoon, seventh and eighth graders,” Ms. Emmett called, “and welcome to our forty-fifth annual Track and Field Day. Today, we will be participating in a wide variety of events…”

Gianna tapped me. “Ms. Emmett sure takes this seriously, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah,” I mumbled.

Gianna put her arm around me. “Hey, it’s ok, Jordyn. I think you look great…and so do the boys.”

“Thanks,” I said, leaning my chin on my hand and staring straight ahead. Right now, even Gianna’s sweetness was not enough to improve my mood.

Ms. Emmett droned on. I didn’t hear one word she said until she announced, “And before our first event I just want to remind you of our dress code. There are to be no hats, no clothing with obscene messages, and no sports bras. At this time, all seventh grade shot-put participants please report to the lower field.”

“Oops,” I mumbled. I hadn’t actually known about the dress code, mostly because I’d never worn anything that could possibly violate it. I looked around to see if anyone else was wearing a sportsbra. Maybe I was a trendsetter.

No such luck. I was wearing the only sportsbra in the place. I fumbled around for my tank top, but it was stuck in my sweatshirt.

Ms. Emmett raised the megaphone again. “Anyone violating the dress code and making no attempts to change will be dismissed from track and field day immediately and given detention.”

I looked up from my valiant struggle with the sweatshirt and saw that her beady little eyes were boring holes straight into me.

I heard some snickers from behind me, one of them Kayleigh’s signature snort, but I was too busy untangling the tank top to care.  Finally, the tank top came loose and I pulled it over my head as quickly as possible, my cheeks turning pinker than Karilyn’s sportsbra.

“All ready, Ms. Bodenschatz?” Ms. Emmett asked.

I decided that the only way to get out of this situation without complete and lifelong embarrassment was to make a joke out of it. I remembered how Adam Hollinger had saluted Avery on the bus on my birthday, so I did the same thing to Ms. Emmett, adding a loud, “Aye, aye cap’n!”

A bunch of people laughed, for once with me, not at me. Among them were all my friends — except Avery. She just sat there frowning, her arms folded across her chest.

“Mouthy,” Ms. Emmett observed. “I’ll be keeping my eye on you.”

“Thought she already was,” Lexie commented out of the side of her mouth.

I gave Lexie a half smile, and headed down to the lower field for shot put.

I did okay at shot put, and amazingly at long jump. I jumped 16 feet, 3 inches, almost a whole foot better than I had in sixth grade. I knew that I had probably won first place again. So, I hopped out of the sand pit and bounced up to the bleachers to tell everyone.

I found Avery slathering herself with SPF 100 sunscreen, Lexie painting her nails with hot pink nail polish, and Gianna fishtailing Gretchen’s long brown hair into a fancy-looking style.

“Guess what guys,” I said. “I jumped 16 feet 3 inches in long jump.”

“No way.” Lexie looked up from her brilliantly painted fingernails.

“No, it’s true.” I did a little dance.

“You’re going to win for sure, Jordyn,” Gianna said, her soft brown eyes shining.

“Congratulations, Jordyn,” Avery said. She set down her sunscreen for a minute. “I’m proud of you. Look, I’m really sorry for flying off the handle earlier. I shouldn’t have said that stuff. But I do think you haven’t completely been yourself lately. Now you are, though. You’re not obsessing about how you look and what Andrew thinks of you.”

I pondered that for a moment. “Yeah, you’re right. I haven’t thought about anything but the long jump for the last half hour. I don’t even know what my hair’s doing right now.” My hand flew up reflexively. “It’s ok, right?”

Avery laughed. “It looks great, Jordyn. You look like yourself. Friends?”

I hugged her. “Best friends.”

At that minute, Ms. Emmett called the hurdle race participants down to the track. “That’s me,” I said.

“Good luck,” Avery said. “You’re on a roll today. You’ll probably kick butt at hurdles too, even though you’ve never really done them before.”

I laughed, waved at all my friends, and made my way to the track, feeling on top of the world.

There were about 15 hurdle racers, mostly guys. The only two I knew were Adam Hollinger and, of course, Andrew. Adam and two of his goofy friends were contorting their bodies with weird, exaggerated stretches and bursting out laughing. I rolled my eyes and walked straight over to Andrew, saying, “Hey.”

“Hey, Jordyn,” he said. We were standing so close that I noticed things about him that I had never seen before, things that made him even more adorable. Like the little mole he had under his right eye. His breath smelled like Bubblemint gum.

Wow. I could barely think. “What’s up, Andrew?”

“Not much,” he said, stretching a little. “Why don’t you risk detention and show me your sportsbra again? I think I would lose this race if you were wearing it.”

OMG. This could not be happening. I was so incredulous that I actually forgot to speak, creating an awkward silent moment. But finally, I recovered enough to give Andrew the answer I was sure he wanted to hear. “Yeah right, Andrew. You lose a hurdle race? Not likely.”

Andrew threw back his head and laughed. “Yeah you’re probably right. But still, I just wanted to tell you, I like your outfit.”

I held back a squeal. I grinned at him, but the smile was wasted. Andrew was not looking at me anymore. Instead, he was focused on stretching his calves and hamstrings

Adam, however, had stopped his stretching long enough to realize I was there, and he winked at me. Eeew. I couldn’t believe Adam had done that not once but twice in the past month. I quickly looked away, just as Ms. Emmett reached the track. She raised her megaphone and I prepared to be deafened, since I was one of the people standing closest to her.

“On your marks…” she yelled, “get set…GO!”

Andrew took off running. He was a blue and tan blur; one moment, he was beside me, the next he was gone. I couldn’t even watch him very well…especially because I was concentrating so hard on making the hurdles. Even though we were only jumping the smaller ones, they were not as easy as they looked.

I cleared the first hurdle and mentally congratulated myself, then saw the next one looming ahead. One, two, three, I counted in my head. On three, I bounded over it and grinned a little.

I scaled the next few hurdles a little more confidently, and looked around to see where I ranked in the race. I was not as fast as some people, like Andrew and Adam, but I was beating about half of the participants. Not bad. Maybe I was better at this than I gave myself credit for.

I looked straight ahead just in time to see that I was heading right for a hurdle, the highest yet. Oh crap. I jumped as high as I could, but I hadn’t had enough time to prepare. My front leg just barely cleared the hurdle, but my back leg didn’t. Before I could think another thought, I was pitching forward onto the track. To make matters worse, one of my Nikes flew off, and I just lay there, shoeless and shell-shocked.

The first thing I remembered was Ms. Emmett standing over me asking questions, like how many fingers she was holding up. “Can you stand up?” she asked, disentangling my leg from the hurdle. “Try it.”

I obeyed, groaning. My right ankle was impossibly sore. But the main reason I was groaning was not because of the pain; it was because the whole race had stopped. 15 pairs of eyes stared directly at me, not to mention those of the students in the bleachers. Andrew raised his eyebrows in surprise, as though he had just realized I wasn’t as hot as he’d thought I was.

Ms. Emmett took my arm and said I should go to the nurse’s office. So, I began hobbling off the track. I stopped short when I heard Ms. Emmett and some other people calling my name.

Adam Hollinger sprinted over to me, holding one of my running shoes. In all the excitement, I had forgotten to retrieve it. “Oops,” I said to Adam, rolling my eyes at myself, and trying not to cry.

Adam got down on one knee and held out the shoe. He bowed his head so that all I could see of him were his moppy, sunstreaked curls.  “I have been searching the whole kingdom for the girl whose foot fits this slipper. Could you possibly be her, oh fair maiden?”

I laughed, despite myself. I needed a little comic relief. “I so do not feel like Cinderella right now.”

Adam looked up, and I could see flecks of golden in his lazy-day green eyes. “Oh, but you are. May I please try this slipper on you?”

I shrugged. Things couldn’t get much more embarrassing right now. “By all means, my prince.” I raised my foot, and Adam slipped on my sneaker.

Adam clapped his hands. “Oh, it fits! How lucky I am.”

I laughed and slapped him on the back. “Thanks for grabbing my shoe, Adam. It was nice of you, especially when I was so out of it.”

“Any time, my princess. Is this the part where we live happily ever after?”

I giggled uncomfortably. This was getting creepy, and I had no idea what to say. “Um, no. This is where it ends, Prince. Thanks again.”

I looked away from Adam and focused on hopping into the school, trying to keep my weight off my right ankle. I was glad to escape my staring classmates and find sanctuary in the nurse’s office.

Nurse Jones was a chubby little woman with very pink cheeks, and she always smelled like potpourri and the oatmeal raisin cookies that sat in a jar on her desk. She shook her head when I told her what had happened.

“I can’t believe the stunts you young people are expected to pull off these days,” she told me in her soft Southern drawl. “I wouldn’t even know what to do if you told me to jump a big old hurdle.”

I giggled because I knew she probably wanted me to, and also because the thought of this roly-poly little pink lady leaping over a hurdle was absurd.

Nurse Jones did a check-up, and told me I had no broken bones or sprains, just a little pain that would probably go away in a few days.

“But under no conditon are you to jump those hurdles for the next month or so,” she added. She offered up some Tylenol, ice, and an oatmeal raisin cookie as I waited for my mom to come pick me up.

Ten minutes later, my mom dashed into Nurse Jones’s office in a cloud of Yellow Diamonds perfume. My mom was a grown-up version of Karilyn — glamorous and fashionable. She was a freelance writer and worked from home most of the time, but that didn’t stop her from dressing up.  I still held out hope that I’d turn out like her — eventually.

My mom thanked Nurse Jones and took my arm, leading me out to her car. “How did you trip over a hurdle, sweetie?” she asked, her forehead wrinkling in concern.

I decided that I wouldn’t hold anything back, so I used most of the fifteen-minute car ride to tell my mom how I’d tripped, and why. I included the parts about Andrew and Adam, but omitted the fact that I had been yelled at for wearing only a hot pink sportsbra.

By the time she’d heard everything, my mom seemed so sorry for me that she detoured at Starbuck’s for comforting frappuccinos. We sat outside for a few minutes, relaxing in the sun.

My mom sipped her Mocha Lite frapp and pushed up her sunglasses to look at me. “I bet you’re glad that’s over. I know it was rough, but two things really jumped out at me while you were telling your story.”

“Hmmmm?” I asked thickly, gulping my Caramel frapp.

“First of all, you weren’t being true to yourself when you competed in that event. You’d never practiced jumping hurdles, and that’s the main reason you fell.” She raised her eyebrows. “The other thing I noticed was that you said Andrew looked at you as if you’d let him down. Then, he didn’t even ask if you were okay. So you think you let him down, but really, he let you down. One minute he was flirting with you, and the next he wouldn’t even talk to you.”

“It wasn’t like that, Mom,” I protested. “He really didn’t have time to talk to me. So much was happening at once.”

My mom shrugged. “Look, I wasn’t there so I won’t try to tell you what to think. But from what you told me, Adam actually sounds like a nicer boy than Andrew.”

Eeeew. How could she possibly say that? I had no response — what she’d just said was too ridiculous for words.

“Who is this Adam, anyway?” my mom asked.

“A buffoon.” I made a face. “He’s always winking at me and acting weird. I have no idea what his problem is.”

“Oh, I think I might,” she told me, her eyes tilting up at the corners, as they did when she was amused. “I’m going to give you some motherly advice here, ok sweetie?”

“Uh, sure.”

“Don’t write Adam off. Be nice to him, and give him a chance. You may find there’s more to Adam than meets the eye.”

Doubtful. But I kept quiet. It was obvious that my mom must have seen something in Adam that I, and the rest of the world for that matter, didn’t.

I was saved from any more talk of Adam when my phone vibrated. Avery had texted me.

“Hey gf. Hope ur feeling ok,” she’d messaged. “If it makes u feel any better, u won first place in long jump again!”

“Thx,” I texted back. “Good 2 hear:)”

Avery messaged me a picture of my shiny gold trophy.

“Check it out, Mom,” I said, holding up my phone. “First place in long jump. Maybe today wasn’t so bad after all.”

“Congrats, sweetie,” my mom said. “This is great news.”

I smiled, until the unwelcome image of Andrew’s face after my fall flashed into my head. If only I could’ve jumped that hurdle as easily as I could jump 16 feet, 3 inches, maybe Andrew would’ve asked me out.

I stuck my phone into my bag, suddenly repulsed by the picture of the sparkling trophy. Winning every track and field event wouldn’t begin to make up for humiliating myself in front of my one true like.

I needed to do some damage control so that Andrew would see me as a hot girl again…but how?

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In Quest of Reviews: 5 Tips for Indie Authors

You’ve written and published your ebook on Amazon and you’re ready to tear up whatever category your book fits into. Congrats! But after patting yourself on the back comes the fun part, searching for good reviewers for your book.

Reviews are necessary because not only do they provide useful feedback and social proof for potential readers, they also influence Amazon’s algorithm. If a book receives 12 or more positive reviews on Amazon, the algorithm will recommend it to dramatically more users. And 25 reviews is the real sweet spot. Receive that many and Amazon’s algorithm goes wild recommending your book!

Of course, you could bother family and friends for reviews…but, after all, they do have a life. And what if your book is about something they’re totally not interested in? Or what if you write multiple books? Recruit your friends to write reviews about every one of your books, and they’ll mysteriously start avoiding you…

Then, there are reviewers who read and post reviews on indie books. They’re all there in a database online for your perusal. Great, right? Not necessarily, when they’re so glutted with indie ebooks that some of them take months (or even a year! True story!) to review your book.

books

Luckily, I’ve learned a lot about getting reviews, and I’m super excited to share some helpful hints with you! Here are 5 tips to get more reviews:

  1. Make friends with other authors in and out of your genre. Authors I’ve met at conferences as well as through various social media channels have agreed to review my ebooks.
  2. Join a book review group on Facebook. These groups are made of readers looking for new, fun reading material and indie writers looking for reviews of their work. Match made in heaven, right? Here are some of my faves: I Need Book Reviews,  Review Seekers, Reviewers Roundup, and Julie’s Book Review.
  3. Recruit reviewers on your author website. These are your fans anyway — give them incentive to write reviews by hosting book giveaways and even a raffle for fans who write honest reviews.
  4. Join a book club. Check your local library or meetup.com for book clubs in your neighborhood. You’ll meet people who share your passion for reading, and will be only too happy to review your book.
  5. Post a link at the end of your ebook that says, “Did you enjoy this book? If so, please leave me a review on Amazon…” and give a link to the Amazon page. This reminder is a great call to action for readers, many of whom enjoy helping out indies.

What do you think? Have you tried these techniques before? What works for you? I’d love to hear your opinions.

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Sneak Peek of My New eBook

I’ve been immersed in edits of Unlucky 13, my first ever Kindle eBook. I am completely revamping both the cover and the storyline, which is great fun but also hard work!

This was the old cover. It’s living proof that you should not try designing an eBook cover at home, unless you have a professional graphic design background, anyway. Which I don’t…

Unlucky 13 amazon

Here’s the new cover, which was designed by an artist on Fiverr. This is a great site for indie authors looking for affordable, professional-looking covers.

The new cover of Unlucky 13 -- Could she get any unluckier?

The new cover of Unlucky 13 — Could she get any unluckier?

I am also excited to “leak” a brand-new excerpt from Chapter 1 of the new and improved Unlucky 13. I hope you enjoy reading it. And, as always, I’d love to hear your comments and / or critiques!

Chapter 1: Falling for You

Jordyn’s Quote of the Day: Never wear too much more (or too much less) skirt than you can comfortably handle.

The morning of my thirteenth birthday seemed like a good omen. The birds sang, the new leaves fluttered in the breeze, and the sunshine painted the world in shades of lemon yellow. April weather in the North Hills of Pittsburgh can be pretty schizo: rainy and depressing some days, sunny and perfect on others. I’d definitely lucked out.

“Spring at last,” I said to my sister Karilyn as we headed to our bus stop at the end of the street. “This weather is gorge. My golden birthday is literally golden.”

Karilyn laughed. “Yeah, I love spring. Gives me a chance to wear cuter clothes. The guys love when girls start wearing less.”

And, therefore, Karilyn loved wearing less. She was fifteen years old and the boy-craziest girl I knew. She always wore clothes as skimpy as my dad would let her get away with.

“Yeah, and now I’m wearing less, too,” I said, looking down at my short strapless dress, white jacket, and sky-high wedge heels. “Hopefully Andrew likes my new outfit.”

“Oh, he will. Trust me,” Karilyn said, winking. “I’m just glad you’re finally getting some fashion sense.”

Karilyn was right. I’d never really cared about clothes, and had usually dressed like a tomboy in comfy jeans and sweatshirts. But now that I had a crush on the hottest guy in school, I had to step up my game.

I slugged Karilyn playfully on the arm. “Yeah, whatever, you’re just saying that because you helped me pick out this outfit.”

“Ok, you caught me,” Karilyn said. “I admit it.”

We rounded the corner and saw the other kids at the bus stop. There were about ten of us who waited together every morning. Avery was one of them. She saw us and gave a demure little wave. Unfortunately, Kayleigh Nelson, my nemesis, was another. She pretended not to see us, then made sure to flirt openly with Tyler, Karilyn’s cute sophomore boy du-jour.

Tyler scrunched his nose, looking disgusted that a seventh-grade girl would even talk to him, let alone flirt with him. Karilyn walked to Tyler with a confident swish of her hips, and wrapped him in a long embrace. I’d always admired how at-ease Karilyn was with guys. She had Kayleigh skulking off in a second flat, trying her luck with the younger boys.

“Ooh lala,” Avery said under her breath. “That’s some dress you have there, birthday girl.”

“You like it?” I asked, swirling around in a little circle.

“On you more than on me,” Avery said.

Avery would never wear anything like my dress, since her style was far too conservative. That day, she wore a pair of khakis, a jean jacket, and a red scoop-neck top. With her glossy, shoulder-length brown hair, deep blue eyes, and makeup-free ivory skin, she was pretty without even trying.

“But it’s not really like you to wear a skirt like that,” Avery continued. “Did you buy that with Karilyn?”

“How’d you guess?”

“Look, Jordyn, it’s probably none of my business what you wear, but as your best friend let me tell you something.” Avery lowered her voice. “You should always remain true to yourself. If you’re dressing like that just so Andrew Hartman will notice you, it’s not a good idea.”

“Relax, Avery,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I like this dress. And Andrew will like it, too. So it’s a win-win.”

Avery must have sensed I was getting annoyed, because she dropped the subject. Avery was nothing if not sensitive — it went along with her being so mature. Of course, it also didn’t hurt that we’d been besties since we were four years old. We practically had ESP after being friends for so long.

Just then, the bus arrived and I followed Avery on. We headed for our seats, which were a bit more than halfway to the back. The oldest kids got the best seats in the very back. As seventh graders, we could expect to have better seats than, say, the fifth and sixth graders, but we still had to give way to the high schoolers.

As we approached our seats, I found myself admiring how Avery walked, as if she owned the whole bus. Avery had a quiet confidence that I’d always wished I could imitate.

And there was no better time than my thirteenth birthday to channel my inner Avery. I straightened my back and tilted my chin ever-so-slightly upward, and it felt amazing. As I strode past the fifth graders, I felt like they were all looking up to me.

This is awesome, I thought, and it goes just perfectly with my new outfit. I have to do this all the time. Andrew will notice me for sure.

So there I was, walking the walk, completely oblivious to the two sixth grade boys sitting just ahead. They were fighting over which of them got to finish the orange cream Sobe they were sharing.

They started tugging the bottle back and forth, and one boy pulled so hard that the Sobe spilled all over the aisle, hitting the back of Avery’s pants as the rest trickled to the floor.

“Hey, watch it,” Avery scolded him. “These are new pants.” Then, she added, “Watch out Jordyn, it’s slippery.”

What happened next was a total blur. The boy turned to Avery, sticking his foot into the aisle. But I didn’t see it. I tripped, and since my high wedge heels left me no margin for error, I fell like a ton of bricks — right into the spilled Sobe.

Disgusting stickiness and grime from the bus floor coated my legs and the palms of my hands. To make matters worse, my skirt had flown up and my underwear with the cute little monkey face on the butt were displayed to all.

Naturally, Kayleigh and some random guy were right behind me, snapping pictures on their phones and giggling uncontrollably. “Did you have a nice trip?” Kayleigh asked. “You sure were monkeying around.”

“Yeah, and now it’s a sticky situation,” the guy chimed in.

“Hilarious. I’m totally Instagramming these,” Kayleigh told the guy.

I was too dazed and embarrassed to think up anything to say. My hands flew to my dress, hiking it down furiously as I realized that everyone on the whole bus was staring at me.

And that’s it for the excerpt. There’s more where that came from — I’ll be releasing the new Unlucky 13 later this month! I’ll keep you posted on the blog and my Facebook page. 🙂

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Reflections on a Writing Field Trip: A Visit to Amish Country

The Amish are known as a secretive society — outsiders may be curious, but it’s hard to observe their customs and culture firsthand. That’s why I took a trip to Lawrence County, Pennsylvania during my long Thanksgiving holiday in Pittsburgh. I’m constantly searching for inspiration and new material as I write books 3 and 4 of the Amish Hearts series.

Lawrence County is about an hour north of Pittsburgh, and it’s home to two major Amish communities, New Wilmington, the setting of the Amish Hearts books, and Volant. Both of these small towns contain a mixture of Amish and “English” families. So, it’s not unusual to see an Amish man walking toward a pizza shop, or an Amish buggy in a public parking lot. In fact, the bank in Volant actually has a parking area especially for Amish buggies.

An Amish man walks in downtown Volant.

An Amish man walks in downtown Volant.

 

This Amish buggy was parked outside the bank in downtown Volant.

This Amish buggy was parked outside the bank in downtown Volant.

Our first stop was Teena’s Quilt Shop, a family-owned business in Volant. It was about 35 degrees that day, and the entire store was heated by a wood-burning fireplace. The Amish in the area are Old Order, the most conservative sect, and they do not use electricity or central heating.

We found fragrant handmade soaps, elaborate quilts and blankets, and adorable little Amish rag dolls, which had no faces. The Amish craft dolls with blank faces for the same reason they will not pose for pictures: the biblical book of Deuteronomy prohibits the creation of “graven images.” Many Amish don’t seem to mind candids, but posed pics are off-limits. Some Amish, however, are very camera-shy. The woman working at Teena’s, for example, even dissuaded us from taking pictures of the buggies outside. We tried our best to learn the ways of the Amish without being too intrusive!

Amish buggies parked for the day.

Amish buggies parked for the day.

When we purchased our items, the register transaction was done the old-fashioned way: cash only, and hand-written on a receipt. The Amish woman manning the register was pleasant but rather shy, which was the norm among the Amish we encountered during the trip. They make business transactions with the “English,” but seem to prefer keeping the relationship professional.

We learned a lot more about the Amish through local merchants who deal with them on a regular basis. For example, the Amish Peddler has handmade furniture, and the store employees interface with Amish from Pennsylvania and Ohio. The local “English” are a rich source for anyone who might be curious about the Amish.

In front of the Amish Peddler, a gorgeous store full of handmade Amish goods. "English" and Amish teamwork at its finest!

In front of the Amish Peddler, a gorgeous store full of handmade Amish goods. “English” and Amish teamwork at its finest!

We also drove the back roads, encountering two Amish buggies, which quickly turned the other way when we arrived on the scene. We also saw completely random but interesting things. For example, the Amish hang their clothes outside on a line to dry, even in the winter!

The Amish hang out their clothes to dry even in the winter.

The Amish hang out their clothes to dry even in the winter.

My Amish field trip inspired me, and gave me so much material for Books 3 and 4 of Amish Hearts. Observing the way the Amish conduct their businesses will be invaluable as I write my next book about Rebekah’s sister Mercy, who works in a bakery. I was also interested to notice the avoidance of any kind of “media” by the Amish, and will certainly incorporate that theme into the books. My trip to rural Pennsylvania was so stimulating because it allowed me to experience an entirely different culture just an hour from my parents’ house!

 

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