Why my kids don’t spend a lot of time outside

I often hear people on Facebook or elsewhere lamenting about kids today spending so much time watching TV and playing video games. “I remember when I was a child we spent all day outside,” they say. Well, I am 40 and yes I do remember playing outside without a lot of the concerns of the present day. We did wander the neighborhood, returning when it got dark. But I do remember spending time inside – watching TV and playing video games just as my kids do right now.

Now while everyone is saying kids should be spending more time outside, I don’t usually push my kids to go out to play. And there are a few reasons for that.

Sun1.) The Texas Heat – It is hot here for a good 7-8 months of the year. The time period of “nice” weather for spending time outside is relatively short. In the summer, it is unbearably hot if you are out after 10 am. In March, we already were in the 80s and by May, it was the low 90s. We spend a lot of time in the pool in the summer trying to cool off.

2.) Allergies – Lexie unfortunately is allergic to grass and everything from dust to pollen. Any time spent outside will cause her to scratch. We usually do outside play in small doses and only after taking an extra antihistamine.

3.) Ants & Mosquitoes – This is on the lower end of the scale but there are lots of ants outside. You have to watch where you walk. It isn’t like when I was a kid, and we went barefoot outside a lot. Here if you did that, you will be covered in ant bites. We usually treat the yard for them but that just seems to make them move to another area of the yard. And I don’t know what it is about mosquitoes but they seem to love me and Lexie. This makes bug spray important!

Any adventures outside during the summer are left to the early morning hours or late evening hours. Now this is not say that my kids spend all summer sitting inside. We plan trips to the museum, the library and to indoor play locations. We go to water parks and the pool. They play inside with their friends. And yes, they do watch movies in the afternoons or read books and yes – sometimes play video games.

Today’s Featured Author: Norwood Holland

Today I welcome Norwood Holland to my blog. Norwood is on a virtual book tour promoting his latest book, Minus One.

Book Excerpt

Chapter 1 – Caught Red-Handed

HE OFFICERS WERE dispatched on a possible domestic dispute. They didn’t know what to expect when Mrs. Oliphant met the two at the elevator, one Latino the other African- American, both towering over the blue haired dowager. Nervous and animated, she spoke as rapidly as she stepped, guiding them to the apartment door.

“Are you related?” asked the stocky dark haired Latino. “No. I’m Carol’s next door neighbor. There was a fight and I heard the disturbance,” Mrs. Oliphant sighed and shook her head as though shaking off a secret annoyance. “Mind you, I don’t eavesdrop but I couldn’t help hearing—you know thin walls and vents carry conversations. This is her apartment.”

They stopped in front of the corner apartment at the end of the hall. “I have the key,” she said. Mrs. Oliphant’s tiny trembling liver spotted hand offered it up between the thumb and forefinger. With a nod the Latino urged her to open the door. “Hard to make sense of it all,” she continued her prattle fumbling to get the key in the keyhole, “I could only piece things together. She’s so distraught almost hysterical—it had to be something traumatic. I gave her a sedative.” She relaxed with the key finally in.

“Did you go in?” the Latino asked. He reached over her shoulder, turned the knob and pushed the door open. “No, she told me to call the police.” Mrs. Oliphant followed the two in.

Interview

Welcome Norwood, Take us into the main character of Minus One?

My main character is the protagonist Drew Smith.  He’s an urban criminal law attorney and though he is my favorite he is not the most popular among my readers.  Most prefer his sidekick Julio.  I like Drew because he so complex.  Sometimes even though I created him I can’t even explain him.  In my latest release Minus One, readers are often frustrated and confused at why Drew let’s himself be manipulated by his new buddies Medhat and Julio, but Drew wants to accepted.  And Medhat is by nature a manipulator.  Readers expect Drew an alpha male to be in complete control but the book starts out with Julio and Medhat playing him for a fool.  But the situation evolves and reader has to move on and accept Drew’s behavior.  In the end, we see Drew is no fool and allowing himself to being manipulated is all part of his continuing education.

Drew is by far the smartest and as suave and charismatic as his two wingmen, Julio and Medhat.  Truthfully I love them all like a father I can’t favor one son over another.

What Inspired you to write Minus One?

What inspired the story was a fierce argument I witnessed between the real life Medhat and Julio.  Even back then I knew their relationship had the makings of good story.  So I would say the characters of Julio and Medhat were inspired by a real life buddies Medhat and Julio, but that’s as far as the comparison goes.  I can’t emphasize enough that this is a work of fiction.  The novel has some unrestrained and indulgent sexual scenes all of which are a figment of my imagination.  I don’t want readers to get the wrong idea.  All the romantic relationships are mixed, racially and culturally, but the only one, Drew’s relationship with Nina is affected by racism.  The Latina’s father objects to her dating a black man.  The multicultural setting provides the book’s background yet at the dawn of 21st century race remains a major obstacle only for the Black man.  In addition to the suspense of solving the murder I think the reader will find interest in Drew’s reaction to and coping with the situation.

Tell us about your next release.

Snakehead is a story that deals with human trafficing and a corrupt F.B.I. agent.  The story was inspired by the headlines of two actual events (1) the sinking of Golden Venture, a ship loaded with human cargo that ran aground near New York City in 1993. Passengers had paid at least $30,000 each to be brought to the U.S. from China’s Fujian Province, expecting to arrive indebted but unnoticed.  The second event was the murder of Eric Robert Wone.  A young American attorney of Chinese descent who was mysterious murdered in DC.  The two real life events are unrelated but both involve the Chinese immigrant community.  I got creative in linking the two with a corrupt F.B.I. agent who has his own agenda.  When Drew Smith’s law school pal the Chinese-American is mysteriously kill his efforts to track down the killer are thwarted by the F.B.I. agent manipulating the legal system.

Book Description

Minus OneMinus One, the Drew Smith Series prequel, takes us back when the attorney launches his legal career.  Before the ink is dry on his license to practice law Drew Smith finds himself at the center of a murder mystery.  The recent law school graduate works as a hotel concierge and befriends two bellmen an Arab and a Latino, Medhat and Julio.  Like the three musketeers they bond in a fraternal friendship put to the test when Medhat is kidnapped after running up a drug tab he can’t pay.  Rescued by Drew and Julio, Medhat then becomes the prime suspect in a string of murders.  Driven by their romantic entanglements the attorney is captivated with a pretty Latina whose father objects to her dating a Black man. Julio and his Filipina love find themselves expecting, and Medhat’s passion for blondes gets him snared in a femme fatale’s net. Minus One captures Drew Smith’s evolution from youthful indiscretion to a professional burdened with seriousness of purpose.

Author Bio 

Norwood HollandNorwood Holland is a freelance writer, lawyer, and author of the Drew Smith legal thriller series based on the capers of an urban trial attorney.  He is a graduate of Howard University School of Law with a bachelor’s degree in English from Fisk University where he studied under the renowned Harlem Renaissance author Arna Bontemps.  Holland favors D.C.’s local color in his fiction and currently writes the blog editorialindependence.com devoted to promoting independent authors among other things.

He has served in several government agencies including the National Labor Relations Board and a number of Washington’s top national law firms.  In the mid 90s Holland began freelancing for the local media.  Some of his credits include The Writer Magazine, the Examiner, and Black Literature Magazine.  Minus One follows up on the success of Sleepless Nights, the first in the Drew Smith Series.

You can find out more about Norwood on his website or choose to follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

You can purchase Minus One on Amazon.

The importance of character flaws

No one wants to read about perfect characters that always smile, act polite and eat their vegetables. No one is perfect and readers don’t expect your characters to be perfect. In other words, everyone has flaws and so should your characters.

As humans, we are short tempered. We overeat when we are nervous. We leave our dirty clothes on the floor. We envy others. We are afraid of heights or the dark. There is no limit to the negative aspects of human behavior. People are greedy, selfish, arrogant, pessimistic, uneducated, abusive…the list can go on and on.

Simply put a character flaw is an imperfection, phobia or deficiency in your character. These flaws can affect your character’s actions and abilities. But this goes beyond just bad habits such as leaving dirty clothes on the floor or chewing with your mouth open. I am talking about the flaws in our character that are ingrained in our very being. These are the flaws that stay with us for our whole lives such a violent temper.

Since these flaws are deeply ingrained, don’t expect your character to overcome them. It is better to have them stay true to themselves. Does this mean they can’t overcome their flaws? No, it means you need a compelling reason for the change, just as there was a compelling reason for the original trait.

Now when creating your character, don’t just concentrate on developing a whole bunch of quirks – those minor flaws that don’t impact your story. Quirks, such as cracking your knuckles, a scar or a thick accent, can be good for differentiating your characters from other characters, but they won’t affect how the story is played out.

You want to focus on flaws that will affect how the character meets his needs. The opponent should “attack” the hero’s weakness, bringing out character flaws in the hero. That is the kind of tension you want for your character. You want your readers to wonder whether his flaws will outshine his virtues this time. You want the reader to wonder if this is the day your character’s flaws actually destroy him.

You don’t need to give your character a tortured past or give him a physical problem. You just need to make him human. Remember the best obstacles are those that are created by the character themselves and these start with character flaws.

Planning activities for a busy summer

School officially ended here in San Antonio last Thursday. Now we have eleven weeks of summer vacation to fill with fun activities. I am quite the planner so our days – at least for June and July – are going to be packed. I like to keep the kids busy as it allows me to keep my sanity. If I let them stay home all the time, the bickering would soon start when the novelty of no school wore off.

Free activities

Let’s start with my favorite thing – free activities. There are many free activities you and your kids can do this summer. alexa snorkelingIn our case, we have our neighborhood pool. Though while nothing exciting, we love to go in the morning and have the whole place to ourselves. Of course going in the evening with friends is a blast too.

The library is another great place for free activities. Even though my kids have grown out of story time, they have activities for the older kids that include crafts, and they have a summer reading program where the kids can earn a free book. Our library also usually shows a few movies, brings in a magician and has at least one play from our local children’s theater each summer – all for free.

Several of our local movie theaters offer either free or discounted movies in the summer. While the movies are never new releases, it does offer a chance to get out of the heat. My kids love going to the theater, even if they have already seen the movie. Unfortunately, most of this year’s selections aren’t appealing to the kids, so we may only make it once or twice this summer.

bowling 2I know we have received many flyers from Jase’s school about summer activities and while some of them do cost, we received one for our local AMF bowling alley where registered children receive two free games per day as long as you pay for shoe rentals. All I had to do was sign them up online.

Another activity that is often free is vacation bible school. I know the church where Lexie attended preschool has one that is free, though they do expect you to volunteer at least one day. We have a neighbor who hosts a Backyard Bible Club for kids (Kinder through 5th).  Jase went last year and loved it. We have already signed him up for this summer.

Summer Camps

There is a summer camp out there to cover all interests. Every gymnastics and dance place seems to offer a camp as does other places – the Lego center, Sea World, the Cooking Academy, the Zoo, and the list goes on and on. So whether your child likes science, magic, basketball, playing an instrument or whatever – there is a camp out there for them. Most range from three to six hours a day and run anywhere from one day to all week.

This is the first year Jase and Lexie will attend any camps. Together they are going to camp at The Little Gym.  I bought a 10-day camp pass, and they are going to pop-in to various camps. This will allow them to try out five different themes, including superheros, karate/hip hop and extreme sports. And the best thing is since this camp is for 3-8 year olds is they can go to this camp together.

We are also sending Jase to Mad Science camp for a week in July. He really enjoys science, so we signed him up for a camp called “Moving with Science” where he will build bridges, make his own chalk and more.

Other activities

McKenna Children's Museum

McKenna Children’s Museum

We will also be busy with discounted admissions to local attractions. Over the past two months, I have been buying deals off Groupon – the daily deal website. I have discounted admission to Kiddie Park, McKenna Children’s museum, Monster Golf, Amazing Jump and Pump It Up. All bought with at least a 50% discount.

We also have memberships to the zoo, Sea World and Six Flag so I figure we will hit these – especially the water parks at the latter two.  As you can see, all these activities along with our two quick trips – one to South Padre that we just completed and another to Corpus Christi – we will certainly be active this summer.  And hopefully I will keep the kids so busy that bickering won’t even enter the picture.

Today’s Featured Author: Crystal Crichlow

Today, I have young adult, fantasy author Crystal Crichlow on my blog with an excerpt of her novel, Winter Rose.

Excerpt

Blue Rays of Light BackgroundI stood in the cold, dark forest, watching and waiting for any hint that I wasn’t dreaming. I had to be dreaming. The ground was green, the trees, the moss covered rocks; this was an alien planet. Everything was so peaceful and quiet. I had forgotten what it was like to not have a sea of white all around me. Standing ahead of me were two intertwined oak trees covered with moss and roses. It was beautiful, mystical. It felt like love and magic.

“Winter,” cold air carried the voice through the trees in a rainbow colored pattern. They swirled in the air in circular waves, caressing my face. I shivered as the wind picked up ferociously, tousling my hair and rustling the leaves all around. I looked frantically through the blackness of the dense forest, trying to locate the direction this mysterious voice was coming from. There was something beautiful about the way my name was whispered. It made me feel all fuzzy inside. The voice whispered my name again and again until the intertwined oak trees opened up with a loud crackling sound, a bright light shone through the darkness and an angel stepped out. He was tall, dark and very beautiful. His face was perfectly symmetrical, with two dimples the size of quarters, but his eyes…his eyes were a fiery black color that pierced through my body and burned the very pit of my stomach. I should have been frightened, every limb and bone in my body told me to run away, but I felt a pull that was more than emotional. It was physical; like something tugged on my heart with such intensity that it impelled…no, dragged me towards it. I felt like I knew him, like I wanted him and as I got closer my breath caught in my throat. My body jerked as he shoved his ghost-like hand in my chest. There was no pain, no fear as he pulled his hand out with a triumphant smile. He held something in his hand, at first I couldn’t see what it was. I looked closely through the mist that had suddenly clouded my vision. The angel had taken my heart. He smiled at me lovingly and walked away, back into the dark trees.

About the Author

Crystal Crichlow is a young adult, fantasy writer. When she isn’t writing, Crystal enjoys watching reality T.V, and reading books about zombies. She has one published novel with Solstice Publishing called, Winter Rose and two other books in the works. She lives in Ontario, Canada with her family and two cats; Cee Cee and Socks. Visit her website for more information.

Winter Rose can be purchased from Solstice Publishing and Amazon.

 

Setting Realistic Writing Goals

I have written on several different occasions about finding time to write. I am the mother of two young kids (ages 5 and 8) and am active in both their schools (soon to be just one school in August.) I find it hard sometimes to dedicate my time to writing, which is why setting a writing goal can be an effective way to ensure that I don’t just find time to write – I make time to write.

Setting aside time to write

Dictionary definition of focus on white page uid 1172467As hard as I have tried in the past two months to consistently set aside time to write, it just hasn’t happened for me. April and May were busy months with lots of extra activities as the school year came to a close. Unfortunately, I had only one or two days a week to work on my latest writing project. Even cutting down the amount of posting on my blog did not helped. And with summer break starting next week, I worry I won’t have a consistent amount of time to write.

What I and many other writers need to do is to set aside a block of uninterrupted writing time on a regular basis and stick to it. Of course having children, I don’t think the uninterrupted time will work while they are awake. Last summer, I did most of my writing early in the morning while everyone was still in bed. It helped to get my writing done first and then be able to focus on spending quality time with the kids. This will be my plan this summer too.

You may find evenings after everyone is in bed or lunch time at your office are times that work best for you. Don’t just find a few spare minutes here and there. Look for a set block of time that you can dedicate to nothing but writing. (See my post on avoiding time wasters.) 

Establishing your goals

Sometimes it isn’t enough to just set aside time to write and hope you are productive. To keep you on track with finishing (and ultimately publishing) your novel, you may want to set a writing goal.

If you are still in the planning stage, your goal may be to develop one characters a day or to create back story/history for your main character. If you are already writing, you may want to set a goal of a certain number of pages or words to write. Since you probably will not write the same amount each day, if you are setting a number of pages or words to have completed, consider setting your goal as a weekly goal rather than a daily one.

The main key to setting your goal is that it needs to be attainable, yet challenging. You want it to be something that you can actually reach. You don’t want to set a 25,000 word weekly goal if you can barely get 1000 written each day.

One of the other keys to establish a good goal is to be specific. You can’t just say I want to write each week. Give yourself something that is measurable whether it is how many hours you will dedicate to writing or a word or page count.

It helps to write down your goals and post them near your writing area. This can increase your motivation and remind you of your intentions. Or perhaps a reward system will keep you motivated. When you meet your goals, reward yourself by watching a movie, reading a book, eating ice cream or whatever you choose.

Hmmm….now it is time for me to set my own goals for this summer. I already have my dedicated writing time set. Now I just need a realistic word count to hit each week. As one who usually never watches my word count, this is harder than you think. But the good thing is – goals always can be changed.