Random Inspirations

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

New Vlog: Reading an Excerpt of Amish Awakening

Is it just me, or are we never truly too old to be read aloud to? Whether it’s listening to Bible readings in church, attending poetry or book readings, or listening to Audible books, the ancient tradition of the storyteller is still alive and well! Here’s a recent blog post I wrote on the topic after doing a public reading of my eBook, Amish Baby.

This weekend, Antonio and I filmed a video of me reading an excerpt from my newest Amish book–and grand finale of my Amish series–Amish Awakening: Rebekah and Braeden’s Book. It’s the last Amish book I will write, at least for a while, so I’m super excited to share it with you. I hope that listening to this reading of Chapter One will bring the characters to life and set the stage for the story of Rebekah’s dramatic summer and re-awakening of her Amish roots.

Click the picture to watch the YouTube video of me reading an excerpt of Amish Awakening!

Click the picture to watch the YouTube video of me reading an excerpt of Amish Awakening!

Readers out there, do you still enjoy being read to? Writers, have you filmed reading videos and/or read your work publicly, and if so, what kind of reactions did you receive? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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It’s Here: Amish Awakening Has Launched!

Amish Awakening sliderI’m thrilled to announce that Amish Awakening: Rebekah and Braeden’s Book, has launched. I will be offering it for only 99 cents (almost 70% off regular price) today through Sunday, so be sure to check it out!

Amish Awakening has been a team effort in many ways. The cover is the product of tons of fan feedback on my Facebook page, and even the title of the book was my friend Jonathan’s idea when a big group of us had a brainstorming session during brunch. Thanks to everyone who provided me with helpful feedback throughout the writing and cover design process!

Here’s a free excerpt from the new book. Chapter One can be found in the back of Amish Bakery Challenge: Mercy and Samuel’s Bookwhile I shared Chapter Two on a recent blog post. Happy reading!

Chapter Three: Rebekah

 I sip my second cup of coffee, typing furiously on Braeden’s laptop. For the past hour, I’ve been Googling summer veterinary internships in the Pittsburgh area, and even outside the city. So far, however, I haven’t found anything promising. Everything I’ve found has been closed; the interns have been selected, and some of the internships have even started.

Braeden peeks over my shoulder. “Impressive typing skills, lightning fingers. I can’t believe that there was once a time when you didn’t know how to type at all.”

I laugh at the memory of my first experience with a computer. In my years of Amish schooling, I’d never touched a computer, and when I’d had a biology report due, I’d tried using the computers in the Cathedral of Learning lab to type it up. Braeden had been with me, printing off his own lab report, and he’d watched with amusement as I’d hunted and pecked my way around the keyboard. Thankfully, he’d been there to show me how to save the report, and print it out. Otherwise, I would’ve had to spend another two hours redoing all my work.

“Yeah, I think I’ve improved a bit.” I smile at him, and when he grins back, I appreciate just how handsome he is for the first time that day. His glossy black hair falls into his bright blue eyes, and a bit of stubble coats his chin; it’s just enough to look rugged and manly without seeming scruffy.

Without warning, Braeden takes my coffee cup from my hand. And then, a second later, my toes curl and my entire body rushes to life when his lips land on mine.

Braeden really is the best kisser, not that I’ve had a ton of experience. The only other boy I ever kissed was Jakob, an Amish guy who is now married to my old friend Hannah, and already has a child.

When Braeden and I finally pull apart, it seems like I have to spend a full minute just to catch my breath.

“I guess we should get back to work,” I say, rubbing my lips, which feel swollen and hot. “This was the best possible distraction, but I have to focus now. There’s got to be some internship that’s still hiring.”

Braeden points to the computer screen. “How about this one?”

“Ugh, it’s in Butler County—that’s so far away. And it doesn’t start until next month. Plus, it’s with a vet who specializes in farm animals, and I really don’t want to work in the country.”

“It’s funny how much you’ve changed, Rebekah,” Braeden says. “A couple of years ago, treating farm animals was your dream. Now it’s like your nightmare.”

I shrug. “People change. Back then, the country was all I knew. I actually thought I’d want to move back to my Amish community after graduation. Now I definitely know better. I like the city. There’s no way I’m moving back there unless I’m forced.”

Braeden chuckles. “Well, you know I wouldn’t force you. I like having you here. But Rebekah, don’t you feel like you’re just a bit in denial of your Amish past?”

“Not really. What did we learn in freshman psych? People adapt to their environments. So do animals, for that matter. It’s a survival mechanism. So, of course, I’m not going to want to go back to the way things were before—not when I’m so happy now.”

“Okay,” Braeden says, quirking his mouth up on one side. “But still, why don’t you apply for the internship anyway? It’s better than nothing.”

“I guess.” I click the link, and fill out my application. Braeden is right—it is better than nothing, and right now, nothing else is out there.

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5 Tips to Switching Genres Seamlessly

As much as I’ve loved writing my Amish books, I’ve decided to take a hiatus from the YA Amish Romance genre, mostly because my imagination called me in another direction. I’ve always been intrigued by mermaids, and even dressed up as one last Halloween! During a trip up the coast of California a few months ago, I admired the deep blue waters and the jagged rocks of Monterey, and thought, “Wow, this place looks like there should be mermaids.” Add in the appeal of Monterey’s history as a vacation and fishing town starting in the 1880s, and I had all the inspiration I needed to create a series about generations of mermaids with a peculiar curse, starting in Victorian times!

Me as a mermaid, partying with friends dressed as other mythical creatures, last Halloween.

Me as a mermaid, partying with friends dressed as other mythical creatures, last Halloween.

One reason that many authors find themselves pigeon-holed into one genre (besides sales and fan base, of course) is because it’s difficult to transition from one genre to another. I’ve taken several steps to prepare myself to write YA Mermaid fiction–mindset really is everything. And guess what? I’m already eight chapters into my new mermaid book!

Here are 5 tips to switching genre.

  1. Read at least 20 books in the new genre – Market research not only helps you to generate ideas, it’s essential in order to create a book that fits into the overall market, yet still has enough individuality to stand out. During your market research, pay close attention to the length of the books, the pricing, the covers, and the descriptions. Finally, checking out the reviews will show you what your new target audience likes and dislikes.
  2. Watch TV shows and movies about your new genre – This can be anything from documentaries to movies to TV series. I happened to stumble upon a Netflix original series called Mako Mermaids, geared toward tweens, and Antonio and I started watching it. Although it appeals to a younger audience, watching the series has spurred my creativity and exposed me to mermaid myths. It’s so important to really saturate yourself in your new genre, during your work and play hours! Which leads me to my next tip…
  3. Quest for inspiration constantly – Do activities that bring you closer to your characters. For example, take “educational field trips,” like I did when I was writing my Amish series. Lately, I have been doing mermaid-like activities–not difficult for me, because I tend to do these things anyway. For example, I’ll take a break from writing to swim in the  pool–great exercise, and I’m often inspired during this time. I also go to the beach with Antonio at least twice a week, usually around sunset, and some of my greatest ideas come to me there. And inspiration can strike when you least expect it. This weekend, after lunch in Old Town, I saw a store called Mermaid’s Cove, which is full of mermaid memorabilia, books, and other curiosities.
  4. Do your research – Check out non-fiction sources on your new topic. I’ve learned a lot about mermaid mythology just by Googling the subject–isn’t the information age great?! However, I’ve also read some books about mermaid legends and lore, such as “Among the Mermaids: Facts, Myths, and Enchantments from the Sirens of the Sea” by Varla Ventura.
  5. Follow blogs – These are one of the most often overlooked resources when writing in a new genre. While writing Amish fiction, I followed various blogs written by ex-Amish, and lately, I’ve begun following blogs by fans of mermaids. Not only are blogs an awesome place to find facts, opinions, and discussions about your subject, they also bring you closer to your target audience!
A golden-hour beach picture  from yesterday. Getting inspired for a new series has never been so much fun.;)

A golden-hour beach picture from yesterday. Getting inspired for a new series has never been so much fun.;)

Authors out there, do you write in more than one genre? If so, what tips do you have for a smooth transition? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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5 Ways to Become a KDP Select All-Star

A few days ago, I was blessed and humbled to receive an email proclaiming that I had been chosen as a KDP Select All-Star for the month of August. This is a brand-new incentive offered by Amazon “to reward the books that are most popular with our customers.” Amazon determines ‘most-read’ rankings by combining the number of books sold with the number of qualified borrows from Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. My book, Amish Baby, was ranked #95 on this list, so I will be receiving an All-Star bonus.

Want to be the writing equivalent of All-Stars Kobe and Lebron? Check out these tips below! ;)

Want to be the writing equivalent of basketball All-Stars Kobe and Lebron? Check out these tips below! 😉 Image courtesy of 5thquartermag.com

This honor made me think of all the steps I’ve taken to reach “All-Star” status, and of course, I want to share them with you! So, here they are:

  1. Know Your Numbers – We’re well aware of how important it is to track the sales of our eBooks. By noticing which of our titles sell well and which don’t, we can determine the direction of future projects and tailor our marketing efforts. But now, there’s another reason as well–to land on the KDP Select All-Star list, there are certain sales quotas. I can’t tell you how many sales and borrows the #1 book on the list had, but I can tell you how many mine had. Amish Baby, the book that landed me on the list, sold  3,782 net units in August, and 853 units were borrowed under Kindle Unlimited. As Kindle Unlimited continues to gain popularity, I expect that we will need a higher number of borrows in the future to make this list. My estimate is 50% more for the month of September, based on the fact that the number of borrows is rapidly increasing. It will be interesting to note how the trends change over time–as Kindle Unlimited continues to pick up momentum, we may need less sales to land on the list, as long as the number of borrows balances it out.
  2. Choose non-DRM versus DRM – When you publish on Amazon, you’re always asked whether or not you want to “enable DRM.” DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a feature designed to inhibit the unauthorized distribution of your book. Basically, it prevents your work from being shared with people who are not buying it. Amish Baby was the first of my books in which I chose the non-DRM option, since I’d heard that encouraging your work to be shared can actually increase sales. And I couldn’t have been more right. Amish Baby has been my best selling book so far.
  3. Try, Try Again – We’ve all heard this many times: It’s super rare to break out and be recognized on Amazon (or any other platform) with your first book. This means that, unless you’re an exceptional case, you’ll probably have to release many eBooks before Amazon will choose you as an All-Star. For example, Amish Baby was my fifteenth eBook!
  4. Have a Catchy Cover – I theorize that one of the reasons Amish Baby is selling so well is because of its cover. Before releasing the book, I did a split test with two different cover concepts, and the one I chose received the overwhelming majority of votes from my Facebook fans. Since readers really do judge a book by its cover, it pays to have a well-designed, appealing book cover.
  5. Use Your Free Days – KDP Select free days are an amazing way to jack up book sales. This is especially true when you have more than one book published on Amazon. I make it a point to schedule two KDP Select free days–and promote them heavily–every week. I have never offered Amish Baby for free, but sales of this book and my other books always increase on my KDP Select free days.

So there you have it, indie authors: 5 ways to become a KDP Select All-Star. I hope that these tips help you. If you landed on the list and have any additional feedback, please let me know. I always love comparing notes!

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Productive Writing: 5 Tips to Writing 1 Novella per Month

Woohoo! Last Friday, I finished writing my last Amish ebook (for a while, anyway), Amish Awakening (The Finale): Rebekah and Braeden’s Book. With a word count hovering around 23,000, this novella is approaching novel territory, in keeping with my trend toward longer ebooks as I’ve advanced through my three Amish series. The Amish Hearts books were short novellas (60-70 pages on Amazon) as I introduced the twins at the beginning of their Rumspringa. In the Amish in College series, the twins and their friends Hannah and Samuel explored deeper growing-up issues, and the length of the novellas grew accordingly–up to 80-90 pages on Amazon. And finally, the books of the Amish Couples series range from 102-121 pages on Amazon.

The funny thing is, I’ve stuck to my one book a month release quota for an entire year, but the books have grown in length. Much of this might be due to practice and increased efficiency as I’ve transitioned from my life of pharmacist to full-time writer, and I’m excited to share my experiences with you!


Here are 5 foolproof tips to writing 1 novella per month, brought to you by someone who knows 😉

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice – The best way to increase your efficiency as a writer is by practicing every day. As we become acclimated to the routine of writing regularly, the words just seem to flow more easily.
  2. Have a Standing Appointment With Your Editor –As soon as I submit my manuscript to my editor, I schedule the date to submit my next one–in exactly one month. This deadline keeps me on track and creates a sense of accountability. Regardless of how busy my month is with travel and other engagements, I’ve never missed a deadline, and sometimes I even finish early. The key is piecing the writing into your month as a whole, and if you must skip a few of your normal work days, you must create the time to make them up later.
  3. Know Your Best Writing Time – Are you a morning, afternoon, evening, or late-night writer? This is one of the most important questions to ask yourself, because your writing “golden hour” (or hours) will be the time at which you’re most productive and inspired. I happen to write best in the mid to late morning and early afternoon, and this is the time when I write the bulk of my novellas.
  4. Set Up Daily and Weekly Writing Quotas – I find it helpful to target a number of chapters that I would like to complete per day and per week. My minimum quota is 10 chapters per week, but when I’m feeling really creative or in the zone, I’ll sometimes write 4 or 5 chapters per day. Bonus!
  5. Take Break Days – Mental health breaks are crucial to stay productive on your on-days and to find inspiration. Make sure you fit them in!

Writers out there, what tips help you to be more productive? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Free Excerpt of Amish Awakening

I am finishing up the grand conclusion of my Amish Couples trilogy, Amish Awakening (The Finale): Rebekah and Braeden’s Book. I’ve had an awesome time writing the Amish Hearts, Amish in College, and Amish Couples series, and am gearing up for my new project, my first YA mermaid fiction novella–as yet unnamed–due out this fall!

I enjoyed writing my Amish series, but I'm ready for a hiatus. Next stop: Mermaids! (Photo courtesy of fineartamerica.com)

I enjoyed writing my Amish series, but I’m ready for a hiatus. Next stop: Mermaids! (Photo courtesy of fineartamerica.com)

I will keep you posted on the launch date of Amish Awakening here on the blog, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the book. Note: Chapter One can be found at the end of Amish Bakery Challenge: Mercy and Samuel’s Book.

Chapter Two: Braeden

 Rebekah hurries out of the room, retreating into the hallway to speak on her phone. I groan and roll over, wanting to enjoy every last morsel of sleep. Yet, I can’t stop myself from listening to her conversation. Her voice becomes more and more agitated by the second. By the time she’s hung up with whoever she’s been talking to, she sounds so anxious that I can almost feel my own blood pressure skyrocketing.

I sigh and roll out of bed, pushing a handful of hair out of my eyes. I have to be the good boyfriend here, and find out what’s bothering her.

I find Rebekah hunched over the kitchen counter with her head in her hands, her long, coppery hair falling all around her face. As I step on the telltale creaky floorboard, she raises her head, and I can see that her eyes are swollen and puffy.

I slide onto the barstool next to her, and immediately drape my arms around her shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

Rebekah sniffles loudly, and says in a quivery voice, “My internship is off, that’s what’s wrong. I can’t believe that they’d have the nerve to call me, one week before I start—”

“Wait,” I interrupt, kneading the tense muscles of her upper back. “How is that even possible? I’m doing the same internship as you are, and they didn’t call me. At least, I don’t think they did.” I glance at my phone, my stomach doing a quick flip-flop. “Nope, no call. Are you sure this wasn’t some kind of prank? You know how Connor likes to mess with you.”

It’s true. My old roommate Connor is always ridiculing both Rebekah and me for being Type-A personalities. He calls us the Anal Twins, a moniker that Rebekah detests.

But Rebekah just shakes her head. “No way. It was a woman. And she told me that they cut all the sophomores because they over-hired and didn’t have the funds to pay us.”

Unbelievable. “Is that even legal?” I ask. “I mean, we signed papers when we were hired, right?”

Rebekah lets out a flat, joyless laugh. “We signed papers all right, but they don’t protect me. That job is at-will employment. The pay and the hours were in the contract, but the papers said that the intern or the vet could end the position at any time.” She exhales deeply. “The woman told me I could volunteer, but what good would that do? I can’t afford to stay here unless I earn some money.”

I massage my way down her spine, trying to work out all the kinks in her back. “It’s not as bad as you think. We have a whole week off to find you another internship, and even if you can’t find anything, I can cover your rent here. Don’t forget, my parents help out a lot. And the internship will be paying me well.”

I nearly bite my tongue in half after I utter the last sentence. Rebekah’s face falls, and she looks down at the ground. All the knots I’d worked out of her back return with a vengeance.

“Well, I’m glad at least one of us will be well-paid,” Rebekah says, her voice low and tinged with bitterness. “But I can’t take your charity. I pay my own way. You are right about one thing, though. I have a week to find an internship, and I’m going to have to make the most of it.”

She pushes herself up off the barstool, straightens her thin, cotton pajamas, and pads into the kitchen in her bare feet, pulling out two mugs and starting to brew the first cup of coffee in the Keurig. “Is it okay if I borrow your laptop? I need to find a new job, and fast.”

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Business, Publishing, and Life Vlog Episode #9

This past weekend, Antonio and I shot the latest episode of our BPL vlog! In it, we share a business tip specifically for writers about diversification in products and pricing. We also share a publishing tip about DRM versus non-DRM. And finally, in our life tip, we unveil a surprise from our 1-year wedding anniversary. It’s a super-fun episode, so you should definitely check it out!

BPL 9 Thumbnail

Writers, what so you think of the tips? Have you found the business and publishing tips to be true in your own careers? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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LIbraries Going Strong: Trends in Libraries Today

This past weekend, Antonio and I traveled to Chicago to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, bond with friends, and revisit our favorite places. Naturally, we ended up in the Harold Washington Library, one of the most beautiful–and hugest–libraries I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.

The gorgeous interior of Chicago's Harold Washington Library.

The gorgeous interior of Chicago’s Harold Washington Library.

I’ve heard about the struggles of libraries to fit into today’s internet-centric world of eBooks, emagazines, and online resources, and this news always saddens me. I grew up in libraries, signed up for my first library card the summer before first grade, and checked out books by the armload all through my childhood. Back in the 90s, we had summer reading programs, in which kids could earn prizes according to how many books they read. For me, the prizes were just the icing on the cake; the real prizes were the books themselves.

Librarians were creative back then, dreaming up ways to recruit kids into the library in droves, but now they have to be even more resourceful. My trip to the Harold Washington Library showed me that libraries–and librarians–have stepped up to the challenge, and truly are evolving with the changing times.


As the surge in YA fiction’s popularity has demonstrated, teens are a huge group of readers, but it’s difficult to filter them into libraries, with their busy schedules and propensity to buy eBooks online as opposed to checking them out of the library. Harold Washington Library’s solution was building the YOUmedia Center, where youth can congregate, meeting with mentors who teach them about various 21st century skills like digital design, 3D printing, robotics, coding and digital music production. Antonio and I dropped in to the YOUmedia Center on a Saturday afternoon after sight-seeing at Millennium Park, and we were impressed with the turnout, as well as by the teens’ projects on display.

The "Maker Station" in the Harold Washington Library is where teens head to work on interesting projects, such as digital design.

The “Maker Station” in the Harold Washington Library is where teens head to work on interesting projects, such as digital design.

Our local library in Carlsbad also offers many interesting programs for teens, such as the homework zone and special events like talent shows, popcorn and board games, and pizza and movies. All of these events are the perfect way to draw teens and their friends to the library and steer them toward reading.

And great news: Libraries and eBooks don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Several libraries have now become “eBook lending libraries,” and there might even be a branch near you. Check out this link for a list of libraries that participate in this program.

Readers and writers, what do you think of today’s library trends? Have you noticed anything new and innovative in your local libraries? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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