Throwing two pool parties

School is in its final month. The days are getting warmer. OK, we are in Texas so the days are getting HOT. The temperature is already in the 90s. It is time to think about cooling off in the pool. And pools mean it is party time!

My neighborhood kicks off every summer with a party at our pool. And for the past eight years, I have been in charge of it. Yes, this means I have it down to a science so it takes very little work.

Neighborhood Pool Party

This summer’s party will be June 3, so I have a few more weeks to work on this party. The key to our party is to keep everything simple. We started out with only serving ice cream sundaes but the past few years we added in hot dogs, popcorn and sodas.

The popcorn started as something for our Fall Festival, but since we have the machine, we might as well use it. Hot dogs also started out being served at the Fall Festival. It was a pretty easy meal. We just warmed them in a crock pot.

In addition to food, we do a few games. We have done cannon ball diving contests and the limbo but the kids’ favorite and one we repeat each party involves gummy worms and whipped cream. You place a gummy worm on a plate and top it with tons of whipped cream. The goal is for the kids to eat the gummy worm without using their hands. They love it!

Then at the end we give out water squirters, bubbles, chalk and other summer fun prizes to every kid.

This year in addition to planning the neighborhood party which usually has about 70 people (adults and kids), I am throwing a party for all the fifth-graders at my son’s elementary school.

Fifth-Grade Pool Party

It is a tradition at Jase’s school that the fifth graders get a party at a local pool. They are after all “graduating” from elementary school and moving on to middle school. The party is thrown during the school day on the last Friday of the school year.

Because the lady who was going to run the party backed out, I and two other parents stepped up to take care of it. I am the organized one, so I have taken the lead role. This event is more than just one school day at the pool. There is a lot of decorating and planning that goes into this. Thankfully, most parents enjoy helping out.

In order to build up to the big day, we decorate the fifth-grade halls in some sort of water theme. Rather than spend hours working on this, I am just taking items used in previous years and mixing them together to decorate the walls, doors and bulletin boards.

We also decorate the sidewalk with chalk from the school to the pool – which is a little less than half a mile away. This gives the kids something to look at while they walk! This is done the evening before the party. Again, if we get lots of help, this should go well. I have already bought 240 pieces of chalk and have requested parents to bring some with them.

Now the party is from 10 am to 1:30 p.m. We will serve the kids lunch. They voted for Chick-fila. And of course we will have snacks and snow cones. And we have to plan a few things to keep them busy. But really the pool should provide most the entertainment.

It felt like a big chore, but it is coming together well. (I won’t know how well it goes until this Friday!)

And now that I have done this party, maybe I will decide to be in charge of it in two years when Lexie is in fifth grade. But for now, I am just looking to be done with both these parties!

Today’s Featured Author – Tracee Lydia Garner

Today I welcome author Tracee Lydia Garner to my blog. Her latest book, Deadly Affections, came out in March. You can purchase Deadly Affections on Amazon.

Interview

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in Virginia just outside of our Nations Capital. I love Virginia even though I love warmer temps than we get in the winter but I  love living in a place where we get a glimpse of all four seasons. Right now, I live just 40 minutes from where I was born in a growing suburb, Sterling, VA. Sterling is a mix of people and transient groups from all over and I’m just ten minutes from Dulles Airport.

What or who inspired you to start writing?

I started writing out of depression and the rejection from the opposite sex that EVERYONE who is anyone goes through. I used my writing to deal with my many emotions having a disability and being in college – at that time. It was poetry at first and later longer stories where I would paint the picture of the perfect hero.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

That’s a great question. I really only considered myself a “writer” in the last few years. I wonder if all authors experience this but when you release those first few books, I want to that for many, not all, but many budding artists, and for me, for sure, just more so dabbling in the art, finding your way, finding what you like, don’t like. Only in the last few years have I taken time to really map, write down and plan where I’m going with my career and to do that at some point you have to declare you are Writer – Hear Me Roar, like Katy Perry. LOL 🙂 I just think that unless when you were young you said I’m going to be a writer, which I didn’t, you kind of work your way to that.  I will also say that creative types really struggle with sticking with things for the long term. We have tendencies to dabble here and there so staying long haul is hard.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

I think the emotion of my books is all me. I feel things deeply – so I’m told- I think if nothing else, I know I’m good at description which I get complimented on but I think there is a certain emotion to my writing of the relationships. I think because I’ve had a disability, the longing seems to come through. Not to get deeply personal or emotional but for me, as a child and later as an adult and still to this day, not being able to participate in some things can cause me such emotional grief. Most people don’t know this and at the end of the day everyone has something that they must bear,  but it’s that left out or left behind feeling – that happens to me weekly and I think that I channel this longing to participate in love or family, imprinting if you will onto my characters. Too many vampire movies. LOL

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

I have several projects started at any given time. I do work on just one thing at a time but that doesn’t mean years ago, I wasn’t all over the place, starting parts here and there, I have about 5 projects in various stages but my next project is wrapping up the Parker family series. Book two is currently out now with Deadly Affections and the third installment will be finished in just another month (I’m almost done) or so as I hope to release it in October. Next year, I hope to re-release two stories for rights that have reverted back to me after updating covers and editing of course, and I had never finished the conclusion so I’ll release that third installment with the set this time around.

Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?

I do not write full time I have a full-time job in health and human services. My days are mostly working, I may take some time away, about 30 minutes to an hour a day to just write out some notes I’m thinking about or dictate using my phone. If I can dictate about 800 words in an hour, I’m happy. I then write mostly on nights and weekends. When I get home from work, I’m ready to go and I’m a night person so I try to write 2-4 hours a night. While most of my stories are pieces ripped from the headline, I joke that if nothing else, the stories from the people I see daily that don’t listen to  my instructions for their lives and then end up in crisis are enough fodder for my books. I think that my last two books – Anchored Hearts and it’s sequel Deadly Affections should be marketed to social workers as a way from the to release, there is definitely a social worker feel to the professions my heroines experience in these last few books.

Those new ideas fuel writers to write. There is something magical that happens when you get those infant ideas. They are so awesome and the discovery of the characters, writing them, digging into them, writing them, it’s just something you want to do over and over again.

How do you conceive your plot ideas?

Most of my ideas are ripped from the headlines. There are some news stories that I have been so obsessed with like missing person cases – Natalie Holloway, Elizabeth Smart and locally here in the DC area and more recent – Relisha Rudd. When I obsess about these things, I try to create the story around whatever snippet I’m given in the news – building the beginning and the ending of the news pieces that come on. They are in the news for a short time and then we as the viewer are left to wonder whatever happened to them (usually never receiving an update which annoys me to no end). The plot usually comes to fit that news piece and being a pantser I’m just along for the ride and while it’s a mess in the beginning, I keep working at it until it makes perfect sense.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

I’m a pantser, so nope.

Please tell us about your current release.

Deadly Affections explores what happens to two foster children who part ways, grow up and the turns and twists their lives take after a devastating tragedy – the twenty-year-old mystery of her sister’s death in the foster family, brings Leedra Henderson back to Virginia to find out what happened to her sister. Dexter is all grown up, a doctor now, desiring to help Leedra find the answers she seeks but when someone doesn’t want past deeds brought to light, it gets harder and harder, not to mention more dangerous to uncover the truth.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

I looked up a lot of unsolved cases and murders of children -which was quite sad- that had not been solved, even some blogs of foster kids, which is all a theme in Deadly Affections and then I also researched the process you go through when you report that your child is missing – as my character, Dexter Parker has to do when his daughter is snatched on her way to school. The heroine in Deadly Affections used to work on a Mercy Ship and I found a blog of a nurse on a Mercy Ship where she documents her experience abroad and that was so interesting. More often than not, I think I’m a lazy writer – Not really- but I try to write as far as setting goes, what I know. Building a world seems daunting to me thus I’d likely never do it. So I use real locations, real street names all of which are usually in and around my Virginia/DC/Maryland area here. I do use real estate/house hunting websites and I use mapquest to find the distance and if I need I’ll look online to see if I can read the local paper for a state I want to use but haven’t actually been there or know anything about.

Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?

I only have had twice when I disliked my character and it wasn’t really that I disliked them, I disliked their name. I had a character I didn’t intend to revisit, he was a secondary character in another book and I named him Vondell. That annoyed me to revisit with him. I hated that name. LOL Then there is a character I’m exploring now with the same name as one of my horrible bosses. I gave him a nickname real quick. My favorite characters, of course, are the heroines but also surprisingly, the children. The children are an integral part of my stories and it wasn’t even something I had intentionally thought about or knew that I was doing but thinking back, there is a child in all 7 of my stories. They just came and I get to do little funny, quirky things with them that I can’t do with the adults. One of  my first jobs was at a daycare and I loved that time there with the children.

If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?

I think I’d want to be one of the children in my book – probably Anchored Hearts, I’d love to have a chef for a big brother which is what little Hannah has. Her brother owns a restaurant and sadly thinking about her 1. I want to eat and 2. I don’t want to have to do anything except let the adults do all the stuff and I just get to come in every now and then with comedic lines or need of comforting. Hannah has some very big themes in her young little world, she is left at a shelter for abused women by drug-addict mother and she is the product of an illicit affair with a married well-to-do Senator, so her plight isn’t easy throughout the book but of course it’s romance so all will turn out happily. Hannah will get to enjoy the cooking of her brother by the end from then on to years to come.

Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?

I write and do just about everything on my Mac desktop. I love that computer, it’s like my boyfriend. LOL I got it only about 3 years ago, and it was my VERY first Mac. I think Macs are for creative types. I don’t know why I didn’t have one before then. I will say the learning curve was not easy, however, and I learned it in the middle of writing a book and I was SO frustrated (and do not recommend that ever) but I got through and now I feel I am more design conscious because of using a mac as oppose to a PC. I’m sure the Apple people are happy about that even if its’ all in our Mac-user head.

What book are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading some of the Love Inspired: Suspense by Harlequin and also some of the Desire imprints which are really quite short which I get done in about two days. When I’m writing, I don’t want to read something too lengthy but I’ve learned I MUST still read, it’s so important. I also just finished Warning Signs by Katy Lee, it’s about a Deaf principal that’s being targeted by some kids into drugs. It was good and very interesting. I will be on a panel this year that discussed disability in the romance genre so I’ve been reading more novels that feature a character with a disability in preparation for my panel this July in Orlando.

Book Blurb

Displaying TraceeLydiaGarner_DeadlyAffections_HR copy .jpegHow far would you go to uncover the truth?

Psychologist Leedra Henderson has a hidden motive in abandoning everything to accept a new job at the Anchored Empowerment Center. She secretly hopes that the new position will help her to investigate her own past – and to finally uncover the real story behind a string of mysterious deaths at her childhood foster home.

Now a strong, independent woman, Leedra doesn’t need help: she wants to seek justice, and she will. Alone.

Can you really limit your involvement when love is on the ticket?

Dexter Parker needs his own answers about that time in the foster home so long ago. A grown man reeling from the fallout of a broken marriage, Dexter’s rational mind tells him never to try the risks of love again – but he knows he could fill in the blanks for Leedra, if only it doesn’t end up costing him his heart.

More urgently, Dexter needs to save the determined Leedra from the results of her detective work, before it all blows up in her face and costs both of them their lives.

Can the pair set aside their painful histories, avenge the lives that have been lost and – who knows – discover new love?

About the Author

Tracee Lydia Garner is a bestselling, award-winning author who writes stories full of complex heroes and heroines, relationships and families that experience tough but realistic life challenges in their quest for love. She also has penned her sixth book but first nonfiction project about life’s universal challenges and the take-aways we should learn from each one. A Virginia native, Tracee works in health and human service at a Virginia-based nonprofit organization by day.

You can find out more about Tracee by visiting her website, or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

You can purchase Deadly Affections on Amazon.

How important are book reviews?

As an independent author, I often hear about how important book reviews are. But is this the real make-it-or-break-it item for authors?

Years ago before the Internet, many readers bought their books from brick-and-mortar book stores. They would find a book with an interesting cover, read the back blurb, and if it sounded intriguing, they would buy it. Unless the story was already a best-seller, reviews were probably not even considered but a friend’s recommendation might have been. When deciding between two books, readers are probably far more likely to pick the one recommended by a friend.

But nowadays we have the Internet and a mass of independently published books. Whether right or wrong, some readers have a poor perception of those books. Perhaps they think because they were not traditionally published, they are not as good. Of course, that is not true. There are many reasons people decide to self-publish.

This is where reviews can come in handy. A good, well-written review can do wonders for your sales. But so can word of mouth recommendations. In 2011, Smashwords creator Mark Coker did a survey asking readers to select the biggest deciding factor in choosing a book to read.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they selected books based on recommendations from readers on forums, message boards and blogs. This implies that it isn’t so much reviews on a book-buying website but the reviews of peers elsewhere that influence the purchase of a book.

This makes sense as the trustworthiness of online book reviews have been called into question. Some authors pay for top reviews (though paying for a review is not always bad) or the reviews obviously sound like a friend or family member posted them. Sometimes online reviews on places like Amazon are thoroughly unhelpful to other readers as all you get is an “I liked it.” quote.

That is the problem with reviews found at online book retailers. They can be written by anyone, including someone who doesn’t read or like your genre or someone who has a beef about something totally unrelated to your book. But when these point-of-sale reviews are detailed and positive, they can reap rewards in the additional sales.

Whether the reviews are on a blog/forum or at the point of sale, these reviews are a form of social proof that readers liked your book. How much other readers value these reviews depends on their trust of that reviewer. Perhaps they will believe a fellow reader on a forum or book-viewing website more than someone on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It is hard to predict.

And while I believe reviews do matter and help sell books, you need to remember that book reviews are only one small piece of the book marketing puzzle.

Not sure how to get book reviews? I’ll address that next week.

Birthdays as the kids get older

As kids get older, many things change. No longer do they need you to get them a snack or pick out their clothes. As you would expect, their tastes in TV shows and books change as do their friends as they grow up and experience more.

So it is no wonder that birthdays also change. Many parents throw birthday parties for their kids when they turn one. The party of course is more for the parents as the baby has no idea what all the fuss is about. They are all about playing with the boxes and smashing cake with their fingers.

We never did big parties when our kids turned one or two. In fact, they only had parties with us and the grandparents until they turned 5. Then it became parties where you invited their whole class. I use to like doing them at party places as they seemed to be less of a hassle, and I got to enjoy the party rather than run it. (I even wrote a post about that. Click here to read it.)

The inviting the whole class worked for a few years. And then we would just invite the boys or girls – depending on if it was Jase’s or Lexie’s party. And three years ago, we moved to having the parties at home. It gave us more creativity with their themes.

Jase did an awesome Army turned Lego party followed by a How to Train Your Dragon party. Last year, he just invited a couple of friends over for science experiments, video games and a water balloon fight. His birthday is tomorrow. We celebrated with family yesterday, but he is going with some friends to a bowling/laser tag place this coming weekend to celebrate.

For Lexie’s home parties, we first did a Minecraft themed party and this year it was Pokemon. Next year, we will probably try to scale her party back to maybe just a few friends. Or perhaps she will have a sleep over.

Jase next year will be in middle school. And with that, I imagine parties will end. Of course, Lexie is quick to point out that teenagers can have parties too. I just don’t think we will be making that a yearly thing.

I know college students and adults who still throw parties for their birthday. And if the kids want to do that, I am not stopping them. It just isn’t something I have every done. My last birthday party was when I turned 21. It was also my only surprise party. (And the day I got engaged.) I’m perfectly happy celebrating with a dinner out with the family. But we will see as the kids get older what they want to do.

Today’s Featured Author – Aryan Dhiman

Today I welcome author Aryan Dhiman to my blog. Aryan’s book, Story of a Lonely Lady, came out in December of 2016.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Actually I am a techie by professional but from the very beginning I found myself connected to the world of books, reading and finally writing. A small family whom I am always grateful for whatever I am today or would be any other day and also my best friend who is like my brother Ravinder who always criticizes me getting the best out of the newbie author. My stories deal with the real life scenarios which I have seen or felt happening in the news or anywhere in the world

 When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I loved reading novels and one evening I could not help but read a hell lot for a day till the end of the story was captured by my eyes, the moment I closed the book I decided to become an author, so in the nutshell that day or the moment which made me realize my potential inspired me.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

My words are collected from experiences I have gained in my life, once you start reading my text, you would naturally feel my personality being expressed and as I told earlier, the real life experiences are captured in my books as per my latest book “Story Of a Lonely Lady” in which a journalist’s life has been manifested as fiction which I collected from a real lady I met during my project.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

I received appreciation mails from my readers for my book “I Need You(The Sacrifice Book 1) whose theme was about women empowerment where a man is bewildered between lust and love. The plot made my audience connected so I decided to begin I Need You-Part 2 where the theme is again sacrifice but the lust factor has been increased to a level where love may or may not survive, the leading lady is back in the story with the bang and where does the sacrifice happens is a surprise for the readers to await.

Please tell us about your current release.

“Story of a Lonely Lady” is my latest release where a journalist covers the lives of people whom she encounters for her video coverage for the TV show, whereby destiny forces her to capture her own life one day.

Have a read at this:

 I work hard for my company, I believe in people to record my documentaries but my life, my husband, my baby, everyone left me without recording mine, without asking what I wanted, without any love or care.
Have I done anything wrong with them, will anyone love me as I need it?
Why did you Sameer come in my life, to make it hell?
I need answers, someone please help me…I need love, someone please love me….I need…

What was the most difficult thing/scene to write in this story?

There is a part in the storyline where Suhana the lead character uncovers story of  a boy who is killed by her own mother. This was the most devastating scene ever felt by me when the mother herself narrates the reason of being merciless to her own child.

Expressing the love and hatred of a mother is most difficult task in this world and it took me 3 days to write this single part of the story.

If you could jump in to any book, and live in that world, which would it be?

“A Mystic Saint” is one of my favourite written books in which Meerabai a saint longs for her lover and the lover just vanishes again and again, although a devotee story I would love to live the life of Krishna(God in the book) who is loved by almost every girl of this universe, no offences to God.

Tell us a random fact about you that we never would have guessed.

I am in love with …………….. you can never guess 😉

Book Blurb

Hello Everyone, This is Suhana Karim Khan signing off with cameraman Sunil, CSS Coorporation Private Limited, See you next time with another life capture by our eyes, till then please miss Suhana!! I work hard for my company, I believe in people to record my documentaries but my life, my husband, my baby, everyone left me without recording mine, without asking what I wanted, without any love or care. Have I done anything wrong with them, will anyone love me as I need it? Why did you Sameer come in my life, to make it hell? I need answers, someone please help me…I need love, someone please love me….I need…

About the Author

A techie enginner by profession who loves to play with words to express the reality in the world of books and affecting other’s lives.

Just wanna feel connected to others and grasp their lives to portray with a new ink filled in a stunning vessel made up of huge smiling words.

You can find out more about Aryan on Amazon, Facebook or Twitter.

You can purchase Story of a Lonely Lady on Amazon.