Random Inspirations

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

A Magical Return to Middle Grade Fiction

My latest writing project has been a super fun one, as well as one that is dear to my heart. I’m revisiting a manuscript that has been twenty-some years in the making.

I’m pretty sure all you writers out there have a similar manuscript–one that you started writing as a child, and have been working on for years, a story that just won’t let you go and seems to evolve with your writing experience. I call these “lifetime stories” for obvious reasons. 🙂

My lifetime story just happens to be a middle grade fantasy about eleven year-old twins who can travel to a magical and timeless kingdom called the Aquamarine Isle. There they help the queen to catch a gang of gemstone robbers–and discover some important things about themselves as well.

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I first wrote the story when I was six. I entered an updated version in a writing contest when I was fourteen, and did massive edits at age twenty. Now, in my early 30s, I’m returning to it–and planning to publish it on Kindle.

Returning to middle grade fiction is so much fun, but it’s also quite a challenge. MG fiction must be sassy and smart like today’s kids, grabbing their attention and stimulating their brains. Yet it can’t be so sophisticated that readers become frustrated with the wording and the storyline. No doubt about it, writing MG fiction is an exercise in balance and really stretches us as authors.

With that in mind, here’s an excerpt from the book, tentatively titled “Dazzle.” Do you like reading or writing MG fiction? I’d love to hear about your feedback and experiences, and I hope you enjoy the chapter!

Chapter One: Discovery in the Attic

Wes and Raffie Bonifaze were having an extraordinarily ordinary day—not just dull, but epically boring. And the Bonifaze twins did not do well with boring.

They lounged by their backyard pool, eating red, white, and blue popsicles left over from the fourth of July. They had grown tired of swimming games after a whole morning of them, and were drying off in the sunshine. Even at rest, the twins fidgeted, their bodies as tightly coiled as the copper-colored curls on their heads.

“Wessie, I’m bored,” Raffie said, tilting her face to the sun. Although she and her brother were redheads with nearly translucent green eyes—usually a recipe for disaster in the sun—their skin didn’t burn, and instead glowed a tawny golden-brown.

Wes frowned at his sister, wondering whether he should wear a “Hello, My Name Is” nametag that said, “Wes, the boy formerly known as Wessie.” Even though he was a mature eleven, his whole family still clung on to his annoying babyhood nickname.

“It’s Wes now,” he said. “Get it right. How would you feel if I went around calling you Raphaela-You-Smella?”

Raffie giggled. “Hmmm. Guess you have a point.”

The twins finished their snacks in silence until Raffie said, “Why don’t we go exploring in the woods?”

The backyard forest was one of the best things about living at Bonifaze Acres, although there were so many great things. The twins’ house was an honest-to-goodness mansion. The only catch was that their parents were hardly ever around to enjoy it.

“Exploring,” Wes scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, right. That’s kid stuff.”

“Bet you can’t think of anything better.”

“Sure I can.”

Silence ruled until Raffie said with a twinkle in her eye, “I know! You can laugh at me if you want, but I’m still feeling adventurous. Let’s go upstairs—”

“—into the attic,” Wes interrupted, practically reading her mind. This was one of the good things about being a twin, although Wes frequently wondered whether it was a good thing to be on the same wavelength as his sister. “Great idea, Raffie.”

Raffie sprang up from her lounge chair, sweeping into a dramatic bow. “It’s about time you noticed my greatness,” she said with a dimpled smile. “Now let’s get Aura and go.”

“Do we have to?” Wes rolled his eyes as he hurried after Raffie, who was already bounding toward the house. “She won’t want to go anyway.”

“How do you know?” Raffie called over her shoulder, disappearing through the back door.

Wes shrugged, jamming his hands into the pockets of his still-damp swim trunks. “Just a hunch,” he mumbled. And to be honest, he hoped Aura wouldn’t want to go.

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It’s Here… Amish Redemption Has Launched!

As promised, Amish Redemptionthe epic finale of the Amish Friendships series, launched on October 10th! Check it out here. And if you’re new to the blog, you can find free excerpts of the first three chapters in my earlier posts.

Interested in reviewing the book? The first five fans who comment below with their Amazon IDs will receive the Kindle version!

The cover of Amish Redemption... What do you think?

The cover of Amish Redemption… What do you think?

Thanks to everyone who helped me to choose the cover by commenting on my Facebook page. I’m so blessed to have interactive fans like you. 🙂 Have a great week, everyone!

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5 Things that Motherhood Has Changed in My Writing

Difficult as it may be to believe, my little Xaviana is 9 months old, and we’ve gotten into a (slightly variable) daily routine of naptimes, playdates, outings, education, exercise, cleaning up, and–yes–writing. Currently, I’m working on book 4 of the Amish Friendships series, and I realized how much my writing has evolved since I became a mom. Here are the top 5 changes that I’ve noticed.

A day in the life of the multitasking writer-mom... Image courtesy of ocregister.com

A day in the life of the multitasking writer-mom… Image courtesy of ocregister.com

  1. The characters – Before and even during my pregnancy, I wrote YA novellas about Amish kids growing up and falling in love, with a brief foray into mermaid fantasy fiction. Now that I’ve become a mom, however, the heroes and heroines have become more mature, and most of them have children present or on the way. After all, we write what we know; despite my best efforts to separate my personal and professional lives, the changes in my own character often seep into my imaginary characters!
  2. The storylines – While family has always been a primary theme in my writing as well as life, it has become even more important since my baby girl made her appearance. Many of my Amish novellas feature young parents chasing their bobblin around, feeding them, or just describing their escapades. I’ve found that babies are an awesome literary device to add comic relief, increase tension, or bring about conflict between couples, friends, and family.
  3. The frequency of book releases – Despite my best efforts, releasing a new book every month just isn’t in the stars. Sometimes every other month doesn’t even work out, but I aim for that. It’s just the nature of the beast!
  4. The blog posts – They’re less frequent too, but the most notable change is in their content. On this blog and Prego in San Diego, my posts now center upon mom activities and balancing motherhood and writing, since these are the topics I currently find most inspiring. I also feel like my experiences will be most helpful to readers, since I’m living them now!
  5. My efficiency – This is perhaps the most positive change; I have become much more efficient at churning out content. Before Xaviana, my workdays consisted entirely of writing, but now I only have about two hours per day to write. This means that I must be laser-focused, getting “in the zone” right away so that I can optimize my limited writing time. However, like zillions of other moms before me, I’ve risen to the challenge. Woohoo!

Writer-moms out there, what changes has motherhood brought about in your writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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The Truth About Writer Moms and Deadlines

It seems as though we live our lives by deadlines, and this is a good thing. After all, they keep us focused and productive, which is essential if we ever want to move forward in our chosen professions.

Deadlines are especially important for us writers–whether we’re writing an article for a major magazine or self-publishing a novella, it’s imperative to take our craft seriously, and that means sticking to deadlines–whether they’re self-imposed or not.

I never had a problem with deadlines; during my school days, my assignments were always done on time. During my stint as a pharmacist, I would stop at nothing to make sure that people had their prescriptions ready by the promised time. When I transitioned into my career as a self-published author, I created my own deadlines. Suddenly, I didn’t have teachers or patients breathing down my neck, and I was able to be totally self-directed, which I loved.

For the first year, I churned out one new book per month, sometimes two if I released a box set, and I stuck to my deadlines religiously. When Antonio and I were blessed with our daughter last October, I set slightly less aggressive deadlines, and was able to meet them all… that is, until about a month ago when I had to ask my editor for my first-ever extension.

Even if your clock is this cool-looking, it's still reminding you of the dreaded deadline. :)

Even if your clock is this cool-looking, it’s still reminding you of the dreaded deadline. 🙂

Every muscle in my body tensed at the mere thought of an extension. I felt like I had failed–my editor, my readers, and, most of all, myself. Yet there was no way that I could’ve submitted my book by the promised date. I’d been traveling, but I’d thought I’d have plenty of opportunities to make up for lost time while Xaviana napped. However, when she began teething, her naps (i.e., my writing time) became irregular, and I just couldn’t catch up.

The good news was that I set a new deadline with my editor, and was able to meet it. I released the book, and am now hard at work on the next one–and hoping to meet the next deadline haha. Xaviana is napping well again, I’m writing, and all is right with my world. 🙂

This made me think about how work for a writer-mom is constantly evolving–just like our babies themselves. As I’ve told myself so many times, we just need to be flexible, and I suppose our deadlines have to be, too. Writer-moms (and dads) out there, what do you think? What experiences do you have with deadlines? Do you always meet them, or do you find that it’s better to keep them a bit loose sometimes? What about those of you with older kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

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Kindle Unlimited New Pages Read Policy: What Do You Think?

As of July 1st, Amazon has rolled out a brand-new policy, which affects authors with books in the Kindle Unlimited borrowing program. Check out the details here. In a nutshell, authors will receive payment based on pages read instead of number of downloads. There’s even an algorithm called Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC), which Amazon employed to determine the page count of each book.

Will we have to write books this thick to reap the benefits of the new Kindle Unlimited policy? Only time will tell ;)

Will we have to write books this thick to reap the benefits of the new Kindle Unlimited policy? Only time will tell 😉

Admittedly, I didn’t realize the new policy at first; I’d somehow missed that particular email from Amazon. When I saw my borrowed units jump well into the thousands–just in the first week of July–I was ecstatic. The news of the change burst my bubble, but once I really thought about it, I had to admit that it’s totally fair. I have removed some of my books from KDP Select, and may yank out a few more depending on how my sales are impacted–and how high they are in other markets. As always, the process of choosing where and how to publish is one of trial and error, and always being adaptable.

Authors out there, what do you think of Amazon’s new policy? Has it impacted your decision to place your books in the Kindle Unlimited borrowing program? As always, I welcome your feedback and thoughts!

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Amish Blessings Release + Giveaway

I’m psyched to announce that Amish Blessings has launched on Kindle… Check it out here. In this book, we catch a glimpse of the lives of Miriam and Abram, young business owners who, up until this book, have been minor characters. In past books, Abram and Miriam mostly cropped up in party scenes (Abram in the Amish Hearts series) or moments of annoyance for Mercy and Hannah (Miriam). However, I think readers will find love and compassion in their hearts for this surprisingly sweet couple as they take in a runaway boy…and face an unexpected shunning.

Interested in reviewing Amish Blessings? The first 5 people to comment here will receive free review copies!

Thanks to everyone who provided me with valuable feedback on the cover designs yesterday. Many readers commented on the Facebook post, and it helped so much! Here’s the finished version of the cover. What do you think?

 

You voted, we listened... Here's the Amish Blessings cover reveal.

You voted, we listened… Here’s the Amish Blessings cover reveal.

And, as always, I’m happy to share a free excerpt with you. Here’s Chapter 2. (If you missed Chapter 1, you can read it here.)

Chapter Two: Abram

 The brisk fall wind whips across my face, nearly blowing my straw hat off my head. I shiver, tugging my jacket closer around myself as I harness the horses to the buggy for the first tour of the day.

My Amish tour business is a relatively new one. Miriam and I started it, and the bed and breakfast, after my vadder passed away and left me, along with my bruders and schweschders, a bit of money. My dear maemm had died of cancer a few years before, and Vadder hadn’t taken it well. He’d simply stopped taking care of himself, despite the constant concern of the family.

The heavy gray clouds above make it the perfect day for gloomy thoughts, but I force the sadness out of my head and focus on the tasks at hand. Vadder and Maemm are with Herr Gott and each other in heaven, where they belong. At least, I hope they are. We Amish try our best to live purely and simply, and my parents were gut people. But even so, you can never be sure that you’re going to heaven.

I’m glad when the Quigleys, who will be staying at the bed and breakfast for the weekend, head out the front door. They’re scheduled for a morning tour, and it will be nice to be distracted from the turn my thoughts have taken. But I’m surprised to see that they’re not coming outside empty-handed; they have their bags, and the twin girls are pouting and whining.

I hurry over, wondering what could have possibly gone wrong. The tours are fairly popular, and I even hired two of my friends, Jeremiah and Aaron, to help out. They’ll both be coming in a little later today, when the tour schedule is full.

However, very few people have stayed in the bed and breakfast. So far, only a few families have visited, and all of them have either cut short their stays or canceled when they’ve found out that there’s no indoor plumbing.

Honestly, what do these Englischers think? We’re Amish!

I look down at the Quigleys’ overstuffed bags and ask Mr. Quigley, “Something wrong, sir?”

His cheeks flush pink under his light stubble. “We decided that we won’t be staying at your facilities,” he says, the timid tone of his voice making him sound rather embarrassed. With a little chuckle, he adds, “My wife can’t do without running water and indoor toilets.”

“Like you could, either,” Mrs. Quigley snaps. “We decided to skip breakfast, too, but we’d still like a tour around the neighborhood, if you’d be so kind.”

I raise an eyebrow. I’m surprised that they’d willingly miss out on Miriam’s breakfast casserole; it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

However, they’re paying customers, and they did reserve a tour. So I force a smile onto my face and say, “Of course. Why don’t you let me take your bags to the car, and we’ll be on our way.”

After I’ve helped the family to repack their huge SUV to Mrs. Quigley’s satisfaction, I load everyone into the buggy and start the drive around town. The route stretches from New Wilmington to Volant, and I usually stop to showcase the shops and Amish homes if the Englischers are interested. Often, we’ll run across other buggies on the way, and the English tourists generally try to snap pictures with their cell phones. This has led to some pretty funny episodes, since we Amish don’t believe in having our photos taken. Just last week, a man tried to take a picture of Minister Eichler as he passed by, and the minister placed a hand over his face and nearly steered his buggy into a ditch.

As I begin the tour, trying unsuccessfully to block out the whines of the little girls and Mrs. Quigley’s constant griping, my stomach gives a slow, long roil, and not just because I’m getting hungry from thinking of my fraa’s breakfast casserole.

We have to get this bed and breakfast off the ground, or the business may not be able to stay afloat.

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5 Things You Never Knew About Amish Shunning

I am gearing up to release Book 3 of the Amish Friendships seriesAmish Blessings: Miriam and Abram’s Book, and I can’t wait to share it with you! Look for release date giveaways on the blog and my Facebook page this week.

Here are the two cover concepts for the book. Which do you like better, LEFT or RIGHT?

Here are the cover ideas for Amish Blessings... Which do you like better?

Here are the cover ideas for Amish Blessings… Which do you like better?

This book has many unexpected twists and turns. An ex-Amish runaway young man shows up at Miriam’s bed and breakfast, and asks Abram and Miriam to keep a secret.  Unfortunately, the elders don’t like this… Is an Amish shunning in the cards for Abram and Miriam?

Amish shunning, or Meidung, is an interesting and unusual subject, so I thought I’d share a few fun (or not so fun, for a person placed in the Bann) facts about shunning with you.

Image courtesy of sodahead.com

Image courtesy of sodahead.com

  1. Shunning occurs when an individual disobeys the rules of the Amish church, and refuses to change. Adult baptized members of the church can be shunned for offenses ranging from owning an automobile to drinking alcohol.
  2. Shunning is not done to be punitive or harmful to the offender. Rather, it is done to bring about repentance and rejoining of the fold. If a shunned person repents and shows that he/she will change, that person may return to the church.
  3. Elders speak with the offender and try to persuade him or her to change before the shunning is made official (announced in church).
  4. If one member of a married couple is shunned, the couple may continue to live together, but may not engage in sexual activity.
  5. Shunned members may attend church or family gatherings, but must sit separately from everyone else.

For more interesting facts about Amish shunning, check out this website. Readers out there, what do you think of these practices? Do you think the system of shunning and repentance makes more sense than the traditional system of crime, punishment, and labeling as a “convict?” I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Sneak-Peek of Amish Blessings!

After a month of hard-core writing, I finally finished Book 3 of the Amish Friendships series. I’ve submitted it to my editor, and am targeting the launch date for the last week of June!

Amish Blessings centers around two new characters, Abram and Miriam. Up until now, they were minor characters who showed up every once in a while, mostly to annoy Mercy or Hannah. Miriam and Mercy have a rather unpleasant history–in Amish Valentine, Miriam and Mercy competed ferociously for the same boy, Samuel. However, Miriam is all grown up now and married to Abram, and the two have just started a bed and breakfast and buggy tour business. They receive an unexpected guest, a runaway boy who is different than what he seems. His identity–and the favor he asks of them–jeopardize their position in the community.

Before the book comes out, I’m excited to share an excerpt with you. Check out Chapter One of Amish Blessings. I’d love to hear what you think!

Amish Blessings takes place in the fall. Here's a beautiful picture of Amish country in the autumn to get you in the mood. :)

Amish Blessings takes place in the fall. Here’s a beautiful picture of Amish country in the autumn to get you in the mood. 🙂

Chapter One: Miriam

 Autumn in Amish country brings many blessings: freshly picked apples and warm cider, piping-hot pies smelling of cinnamon and sugar, crisp breezes through colorful leaves, and tourists who want to enjoy these things.

My mann Abram and I figured out a way to take advantage of this; we’ve just started a bed and breakfast and a tour business, charging for relaxing buggy rides through the country. When we’d visited family in Lancaster last year, I’d noticed the long lines of Englischers waiting for the Amish tours, and had suggested that we start something similar. However, we didn’t have the money to do so until recently, when Abram’s poor vadder died and left us an inheritance.

Setting up the business was the easy part; actually running it is another story. Sure, Abram is doing well with the tours, but the bed and breakfast seems as though it will take a great deal of work and patience to get off the ground.

I’ve always had an easy time keeping haus, first at home with my parents, bruders, and schweschders, and then later on with Abram and our growing family. However, English tourists are more demanding than I’d ever imagined.

This morning, I’ve just fed Henry, my one-year-old bobbel, and am starting to prepare a breakfast casserole and some coffee soup for the Quigleys, English guests who will be arriving soon.

The telltale crackle of thick tires on the gravel driveway tells me that they’re here. I tug aside the front curtains and peer out. A huge, truck-like vehicle, which I’ve heard Englischers call an SUV, has rolled in. Seconds later, a family emerges: a maemm, a daed, and twin girls who look about five years old. I have no idea why such a small family needs such a large car; I’d grown up packed into a buggy with my parents and eight bruders and schweschders, and I hadn’t minded at all.

No matter, though. Who am I to judge the Englischers’ worldly excess? Holding Henry in one hand and placing the other under my belly, I rush to the front door to greet the guests.

I fling open the door and smile brightly. “Hello. You must be the Quigleys. I’m Miriam, and I will be taking care of you.”

“Hi, Miriam,” the Quigleys chorus. The little girls hop up and down, peppering their parents with questions as they follow me into the living room. Abram hurries downstairs and carries in the family’s bags, dragging them up the stairs to the guest room. After we exchange pleasantries, Abram vanishes outside to prepare the buggy for today’s tour schedule.

As I lead the Quigleys back downstairs and motion for them to have a seat on the large couch in the living room, Mrs. Quigley gives Henry and me a quick once-over with narrowed eyes. I feel instantly self-conscious. Does she doubt my ability to run a bed and breakfast with a small bobbel and another on the way? I’ll just have to prove her wrong.

So, I paste on a broad grin. “Would you care for some coffee soup?” I ask. “And I have fresh apple cider for the little ones.”

“Is the cider organic?” Mrs. Quigley asks. “Mia and Sophie only drink organic.”

Thankfully, I know a bit about this because my neighbor Samuel is heavily into organic farming. So, I answer with confidence, “Jah.”

“All right then,” she says. “Two of those, please, and what is coffee soup?”

She screws up her face as I explain that it’s coffee made with plenty of cream and sugar, and either toasted bread or crumbled-up soda crackers floating inside. I prefer it with bread, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Everyone says my coffee soup is the best.

But Mrs. Quigley seems unimpressed. “Holy carbs,” she says. “Let’s skip that. Black coffee for me.”

“I’m having the coffee soup,” Mr. Quigley says. When his fraa raises her eyebrows, he throws up his hands and says, “What? I’m on vacation.”

“All right then,” I interrupt smoothly. “Two juices, a black coffee, and a coffee soup, coming right up. And perhaps after you’ve enjoyed your refreshments, you’d like to follow me into the dining room for breakfast.”

Before I’m even out of earshot, Mrs. Quigley says, “I don’t know about this place, hon. Let’s check it out before we commit to staying here. There’s a Holiday Inn not far away.”

When I return with the tray of drinks, I’m not surprised that Mrs. Quigley demands a full tour of the haus. So, I place a bleary-eyed Henry in his crib for his morning nap, and oblige.

Drinks in hand, Mrs. Quigley, her mann, and the girls follow me through the haus, commenting on each room. Unfortunately, they don’t have much gut to say.

“Where are the TVs?” one of the girls lisps when I show her the guest bedroom. I bite my tongue when I notice that she’s dribbling little drops of cider all over my grandmother’s hand-hooked rug.

“They’re Amish, Sophie,” Mrs. Quigley says. “They don’t watch TV.”

“Where are the potties?” Mia asks.

“Now that’s a good question,” her maemm says.

I point out the window. “When nature calls, we use that outhouse out back.”

“Then I’m afraid to ask about showers,” Mr. Quigley says with a laugh.

I gesture to our best claw-footed tub in the corner. “I can boil you some water if you’d like to wash up. And I made the soap myself.”

Mr. Quigley nods, but his fraa looks at him and says, “Jack, I just can’t do this. I mean, I knew we’d be roughing it, but this is crazy.”

The girls instantly begin to moan, and Mr. Quigley says, “Angela, can’t we talk about this?”

I slip out of the room and call from the doorway, “I’ll give you some privacy.”

I stop by Henry’s crib to check on him. The bobbel has rolled from his back to his stomach, and is sleeping soundly, snoring and making occasional happy coos. By the time I’ve tugged the quilt back around him, the Quigleys have appeared in the doorway.

“We won’t be staying after all,” Mr. Quigley says, clearing his throat and looking down at the ground as though he’s embarrassed.

I force my lips into a grin, hoping that I’m hiding my disappointment. “Won’t you at least stay for breakfast? I made authentic Amish casserole, with bacon and eggs—”

“No thank you,” Mrs. Quigley interrupts with a pinch-lipped smile. “We’re watching our diet. We’ll just get continental breakfast at the hotel.”

“But we still want the buggy tour,” Mr. Quigley says in an apologetic voice.

“Very well,” I say, leading them downstairs. “Abram will be happy to take you out.”

As the Quigleys tromp out the door, I head into the kitchen and cut myself a hefty slice of breakfast casserole, enjoying the first meaty, cheesy, salty bite. My portion fills an entire plate, but I’m stuck with the whole thing now, and besides, I am eating for two—three if you count Henry, who is still breastfeeding a few times a day.

However, when the pleasure of that first mouthful wears off, I drop my head into my hands. We need to figure out some way to make the bed and breakfast more attractive to the Englischers, but how?

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Writing and Kids: 5 Ways to Have Both

Shortly after I gave birth to my daughter, I wrote a blog post listing 6 essential tips for working from home with a newborn baby. The strategies I outlined worked well for me; in the past 7 and 1/2 months, I’ve released 4 books and am nearly finished with the fifth one. Of course, there have been setbacks and less productive days (and weeks), but one look into my little girl’s big, bright eyes and I realize I’m doing the right thing at the right time.

No doubt about it, balancing writing and parenthood is no easy job. However, this writer-mom combination can be immensely rewarding, and is much more common than I thought. I realized this when I went to the writing section of the library the other day and picked up a book called Writer Mama: How to Raise a Career Alongside Your Kids

This book, published in 2007, is chock-full of amazing tips and tricks on everything from identifying your writing specialty to time-management. It was written before self-publishing and eBooks were popular, and the emphasis on query letters and agents shows that. As I’ve progressed through the book, I’ve decided that writing is an even better career option for moms today, because of the flexibility that self-publishing allows.

I’ve also realized that life as a writer mom (or dad) is very individualized. Author Christina Katz’s thoughts prompted me to reflect on my own experiences balancing writing and motherhood, and I just have to share them with you.

Writer-Mama-Cover-Final-257x300

Here are 5 ways to balance writing and kids (okay, in my case kid. We’ll probably get to the plural form in a couple more years.)

  1. Record your inspirations – Creative story or blog post ideas come to us moms at the most random times, and sometimes those ideas have to sit for awhile before they can be transformed into brilliant prose. In Writer Mama, Katz recommends various kinds of notepads or notebooks. I keep an inspiration notebook, but I’ve also been known to send myself an email every so often if a new idea strikes when I’m out and about.
  2. Write during nap times – New moms are often told to sleep when the baby sleeps, and I agree with this–to a degree. At night, Xaviana and I sleep around the same time; my earlier bedtime (around 10 or 10:30 PM) helps me to be more alert when she’s raring to go in the morning. But daytime naps are a different story. I use those to get as much writing done as I possibly can, especially now that Xaviana is more playful and aware, and is not content to just sit there in her chair and watch me write. The nap time schedule is an ever-evolving one, and some days Xaviana naps more than others. But I’m usually able to write two chapters of my Amish book per day and one to two blog posts per week while she’s asleep.
  3. Meet other moms and babies – As Xaviana becomes interested in other babies, I’ve been attending more and more meetups and one-on-one playdates with my mommy friends. Meetup.com has been amazing, because it’s allowed me to network with other moms at exercise classes, picnics, and coffee dates. Some of us are mompreneurs, and it’s fun to bounce ideas off each other. After these events, both Xaviana and I are energized and happy, and I’m more productive for the rest of the day.
  4. Set daily and weekly goals – I find that the best way to optimize my achievements and efficiency on any given day is by setting goals the night before and writing them down. I put my daily goals in the form of a to-do list, and take pride in checking them off. However, mom-life is variable, so I don’t always meet them right away.  This brings us to #5…
  5. Don’t stress – Any time you’re freaked out about your seemingly-endless to-do list, remember how blessed you are to be able to work from home and spend time with your baby. It’s an incredible privilege and responsibility. If I don’t meet my writing quota for the day, I just remind myself to treasure the gift of work flexibility–and the irreplaceable opportunity to bond with my child–that I’ve been given.

Moms out there, how do you navigate life as a writer-mom? Writer-dads, do you face similar challenges? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Reflections on a Seattle Vacay

Last week, we visited Seattle for the first time. I’d always heard great things about this Pacific Northwest city, and wanted to see it for myself.

It turns out that the so-called “birthplace of grunge” is a lot greener and happier than I’d imagined. Although Seattle is portrayed as a rainy city, we had perfect, sunny weather for most of our trip. The climate was actually pretty similar to San Diego (highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s) during our vacation.

We stayed in a hotel downtown with a spectacular rooftop deck, and spent hours gazing out over the city and water. We could see the Space Needle from our rooftop, as well as the waterfront area and everything in between. In the mornings, the view was obscured by a layer of fog, but once it burned off, the city was clear and shimmering before us.

The view from our hotel room

The view from our hotel room

There are tons of tourist attractions there, but we prefer to stay away from things we deem “too touristy.” As a result, we hung out in fun, trendy neighborhoods like Belltown, loading up on coffee (of course! But no Starbuck’s.) and delicious food. The vibe was chill, people seemed nice and talkative, and the city was incredibly clean. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the EMP museum, with exhibits featuring various pop culture elements. We especially enjoyed the Nirvana exhibit, and the music section upstairs where patrons can play various instruments. I tapped into my inner jazz musician by composing my own piano piece over a rhythmic jazz beat, and Antonio had a field day with the guitars. We even jammed together on guitar and drums, and Xaviana pounded the keyboard. The vacation environment, coupled with the overall free-for-all feel, fueled our creativity for the week ahead, and we’ve both been super productive since our return!

Antonio plays air guitar next to the musical instrument sculpture in the EMP museum.

Antonio plays air guitar next to the musical instrument sculpture in the EMP museum.

Another favorite was Alki Beach, which we hit on our last day (and the only gray day we experienced in Seattle). The thick, low-laying clouds and light mist of rain created the perfect environment for introspection as we looked out over the water. And the fact that we found an awesome Greek-inspired fish-and-chips place, Sunfish, added to the fun. Over lunch, Antonio remarked that it was easy to forget what country we were in, and it’s true. Seattle provides such an eclectic mix of cultures and such a colorful and random environment that you could really be anywhere. During our stay, we enjoyed cuisine from all over the world: a Creole brunch, Japanese sushi, Italian dinner, American gastropub fare, and, of course, the Greek-American fusion fish.

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We left Seattle full of excitement and inspiration… Since then, Antonio has taken his energy and creativity to his brand-new job at a startup, while I’ve directed mine toward writing my upcoming book, Amish Blessings. If you haven’t been to Seattle yet, you must try it!

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