The dreaded report cards have come out….

It is a time that many kids – and perhaps some parents – dread. Yes, it is report card time. Both Jase and Lexie received their mid-year report cards last week.

The grades reflected on these report cards are supposed to be a benchmark on how your child is doing in school. And as parents, we want our kids to do well. We want to see our kids reach their potential and show how smart they are (because as parents, we all believe our kids are bright).

Lexie’s report card is more difficult to decipher how she is doing, and if she is learning at a proper rate. In Kindergarten, the report cards don’t have letter grades. It is a list of tasks and whether they have mastered them or are still working on that skill. On both her first two report cards, there are some skills that neither has a + (mastered) nor a / (working on) by them. I assume those are skills that will be addressed later in the year.

Now Jase’s grades this year are lower than those of first grade. Last year, he had mostly As with a few Bs. He excelled in science but struggled more in reading. He started reading tutoring (RAP) last spring and has continued it through this past fall. His reading grade on this report card reflects that extra help. It has gone from a high C to a high B. (Yeah, Jase!)

As I look at the report cards, I am unsure if Jase understands the importance of grades. We have never stressed that he needs to get all As. We have just told him to try his best. The problem is that since he doesn’t see their importance, I sometimes think he doesn’t try his hardest. But I also know that his struggles in reading have led to some of his lower grades in other subjects.

Education 00200

As I listen to other parents brag about their kids’ good grades (thank you Facebook), it makes me wonder if some parents put too much importance on grades. There are many kids who do not test well but this doesn’t mean they are dumb, don’t know the material or are not as wonderful or special as their high-achieving classmates.

Not every kid will be an A student. And parents, in my opinion, shouldn’t pressure their kids. They may try their best and only reach a C.

I am a firm believer in not rewarding good grades with money and not punishing a child for bad grades. Too often parents want to take away a privilege such as video time when grades are bad. Now I guess if the grades were really bad, I would consider dropping extra-curricular activities as academics need to be a priority. But the consequence should fit the crime. If they aren’t doing homework or studying like they need to, then homework should be the first thing they do when they get home.

I guess my advice is to take to the time to explore the reason your child is getting the grades they are getting. Are they trying their best? Will extra studying or tutoring help? Taking the time will help more than yelling or punishing them.

With Jase and Lexie, we are trying to stress the importance of good grades and taking pride in your efforts. It is about looking for ways to positively motivate them and promote a love for learning. And if they try their best, we will be happy with whatever grades they receive.

Today’s Featured Author: Mark Terry

Today I welcome author Mark Terry to my blog.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a full-time freelance writer, editor, author and ghostwriter. I just turned 50, and am married with two sons, and a dog named Frodo. I’ve written about 20 books—I guess I should count them up, huh?—and probably about 700 magazine articles. When I’m not writing I study Sanchin-Ryu karate (I’m a black belt). I also work out at the gym, bike, and play guitar a bit. I live in Michigan.

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

The next book is a Derek Stillwater thriller. Its working title is VENGEANCE. I can tell you it starts in Syria, moves to Baltimore and Washington, DC, then to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is where I am at the moment. It’s like the typical Stillwater novel in that it has a lot of action and suspense, that it deals at least on one level with terrorism—Derek is an expert on biological and chemical terrorism—and Syria’s chemical weapons, but on other levels I’m peeling back Derek’s personal life a bit more, letting him face a possible career change, maybe developing a romantic life. I expect he’ll travel to Russia, Israel, and Egypt, and possibly to Switzerland in this book.

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. I’m usually at my desk by 7:30 or 8:00 each morning. I work until 10:00 or 10:30, then workout and have lunch. Then I’ll typically work until 5:30 or 6:00. Each day is different. Last year (2013) I spent a huge chunk of my time on a ghostwriting project, an historical novel I’m collaborating on, as well as my own novels. I’m the editor of a technical journal and I also write a lot about healthcare, so the rollout of Obamacare kept me busy. I also spent more time last year doing editing work on other novelists’ work.

What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)

Write what you know, is probably the worst advice, although it’s not really bad. I would argue the better version of it is, Write what you’re interested in and research it. A lot of times people know a lot, but they’re not terribly interested in it or the subject itself might be a little boring or drama-free for a typical novel. (Write what you know, on the other hand, is excellent advice for nonfiction short-form writing, which is where most of my income comes from).

Best advice was actually from a former agent, which was: Think more, write less. I think it’s great advice. Because although there’s a lot of good that can come from going with your gut instincts, it can waste a lot of time, too. And sometimes the first thing that pops into your head is not actually the best way to go.

Please tell us about your current release.

The most recent book is CHINA FIRE. It’s a thriller, as most of my novels are, but this one introduced a new character, Monaco Grace. Monaco is a Chinese-American who works for a Special Projects division of the CIA. You could think of her as James Bond with ovaries. She’s not exactly an assassin, but you might say that’s in her job description. In CHINA FIRE a CIA undercover agent in Beijing disappears and she is sent in to find him. Pretty soon she’s on the run with an American college professor, trying to stay ahead of an Chinese organized crime group, Chinese military intelligence, all while trying to figure out what happened to the missing agent. Lots of action, lots of intrigue, plenty of exotic locales and a tiny bit of romance, or at least sex.

What inspired you to write this book?

This book does have a bit of a troubled history. I wanted to write an espionage novel with a female main character. I came up with the character of Monaco and started work on it, but got bogged down on the research. Almost the entire book takes place in Beijing and that’s a big and complicated place. So I gave up on it, although I really liked the character and the idea. At one point I sent it off to a friend of mine, Natasha Fondren, who is really into spy fiction, plus she does all the layout for my books through her company, eBookArtisans. She read it and begged me to finish it. Well, I ignored her for a year or two, although I’d go back and nibble away at it. Finally I just got to a point where I said, You know what? The character’s good. The story’s good. Get over your insecurities and finish the damned thing. And I’m glad I did. I really like it.

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

I’m not sure I have a favorite, although I would say my favorites are Derek Stillwater, Monaco Grace and Austin Davis. Austin Davis, to-date, has only appeared in one book, HOT MONEY, but he’s definitely one of my favorites. Although Derek and Monaco are very smart, they’re also action heroes in a lot of ways. Austin, who has a physical side, is quite the reverse. He is a political consultant in Washington, DC, but his real job is to solve problems for politicians. He’s sort of a private eye whose clients are all politicians. As he says, he knows where the bodies are buried, often because he’s the one who buried them. I’m slowly working on a second book featuring him and enjoying it. Lots of witty dialogue, plenty of action and intrigue, but more about figuring out a complicated political mystery. In some ways he’s the character that’s least like me, and in some ways he’s the most like me. And yes, I do plan on writing another Monaco Grace book.

Did the story turn out the way you planned from the beginning? If not, what change happened that you didn’t expect?

Let’s talk about CHINA FIRE for this one. I would say yes and no. I wanted it to be more straightaway espionage than the typical Derek Stillwater novel, which tends to be more action-adventure-ish. And it is, but what I didn’t really expect with CHINA FIRE was that a big part of the book revolves around determining the reliability of the classified information acquired. That is to say, Monaco Grace, while investigating what happened to Peter Lee, acquires coded information on a flash drive that Peter had. Once she gets hold of it and has the time to look at it, she and everyone else in the CIA and State Department has to decide whether it’s reliable. And Monaco knows she didn’t lie about the information, but she doesn’t know if Peter Lee did, or if the person who gave it to her did, or if someone else in government did. And the CIA people don’t completely trust that Monaco might have planted the information—it’s that explosive. I struggled with this a lot, partly because I had to make up my mind whether the information was accurate and who was behind it, which had a significant impact on the plot. So it was a lot like playing chess, thinking 5 or 6 or 7 moves ahead and seeing the ramifications of each move and where it would take the story.

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

Ha! Well, probably not Derek Stillwater. He gets beat up, blown up, shot, poisoned, tortured and generally put through the wringer every book. Maybe Austin Davis. He makes a lot of money, lives in a penthouse apartment, eats out at fabulous restaurants, and is typically the smartest guy in the room. He also has a perverse sense of humor, which I happen to share. I think Austin has more fun than Derek—Derek’s trying to save the world, but Austin’s more interested in solving people’s problems for a high price. Austin is doing exactly what he wants to be doing and is enjoying the hell out of doing it. Derek in particular, but Monaco as well, often have a lot of issues with what they do for a living. My wife pointed out to me that Derek’s seen too much and as a result is pretty neurotic. He often wishes he weren’t fighting terrorists, but was living the quiet life of an academic with a house in the suburbs and a wife and children.

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

Oh, I think I would fit right into Harry Potter’s world if only I had a little magical ability. Alas, I’m a Muggle.

Book Description

China Fire #3Monaco Grace is the CIA’s top troubleshooter for all matters Asian. When an undercover agent, Peter Lee, goes missing in Beijing, her job is to find him. But almost as soon as she walks off the plane she finds herself on the run with American professor Alan Richter as members of the military, a Chinese organized crime group, and China’s intelligence agencies pursue her and the information Peter Lee left on a flash drive — information that could topple governments and change the balance of power in the world.

About the Author

Mark Terry is the author of the Derek Stillwater thrillers, THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK, THE SERPENT’S KISS, and THE FALLEN, as well as several standalone thrillers, including DIRTY DEEDS, CATFISH GURU, and DANCING IN THE DARK. Born in Flint, Michigan in 1964, he graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in microbiology and public health, which has informed his Derek Stillwater thrillers and other fiction. After spending 18 years working in clinical genetics, he turned to writing full time. When not writing or reading, Mark Terry is a gym rat, lifting weights, biking, running, kayaking, studying Sanchin-Ryu karate, and playing the guitar. Otherwise he spends his time with his wife and two sons in Michigan.

You can find out more about Mark on his website.

You can purchase China Fire on Amazon.

Fiction writing: When you might want to use passive voice

As writers, you may have heard “show, don’t tell” as advice from other writers or instructors. This advice is all about using active voice rather than passive voice. You want to show the action happening rather than telling the reader what happened.

Passive voice is where the subject receives the action rather than doing the action. It is dependent upon the use of “to be” verbs such as is, was, am, were and has been. With passive voice there is no action implied. These verbs merely relay action.

Passive Voice Example:

The window was shut quickly by Elizabeth.

Passive voice isn’t necessarily incorrect; it’s just that it isn’t the best way to phrase your thoughts. Sometimes passive voice is awkward or vague. It also can be wordy and it deflects who is doing the action – “mistakes were made”; “shots were fired.”

Caution: Not all “to be” verbs are always passive – I am holding the pen is still active voice since – the subject – am doing the action of holding the pen. To make this passive it would be – The pen is being held by me.

Active voice uses action verbs. The subject is doing the action.

Active Voice Example:

Elizabeth quickly shut the window.

This example is stronger since the subject – Elizabeth – is now doing the action. Using active voice gives your writing more immediacy and puts the reader into the middle of the action. Once the reader is involved in the action, it is harder for them to put down your book.

But there are times when you may want to use passive voice in your story. Here are some examples:

When you don’t know who was doing the action.

The plate was dropped.

In this case, the emphasis is on the item dropped and not who did it.

When what was done is more important than who did it.

Uncle Bob was killed today.

What is important is that Uncle Bob has died. It doesn’t matter how or who did it. Later characters may question those things but in the beginning, their only focus may be on the fact that Uncle Bob is dead.

 

When you want to speed up the story.

Half an hour later, the tents were stowed and the fire dowsed.

A lot of mundane actions are now contained in that one sentence. It would have taken many more words to write that in active voice and nothing really would have been gained for the reader.

These are just a few examples. I am sure there are other instances where you may want or need to use passive voice – for variety’s sake if nothing else. Just do so sparingly.

#NewRelease – Navigating The World Of E-Book Publishing #EBBB

Today is the official release of Navigating The World Of E-Book Publishing by E-BookBuilder’s Director Deena Rae Schoenfeldt, and to celebrate, the ebook is being offered free on January 13th thru 14th. If you have aspirations of joining the indie publishing ranks, have already published your own manuscript or have 30 e-books already published, there is something for everyone in this book

Book Description

With a no-nonsense, conversational style, Deena Rae of E-BookBuilders gives advice to aspiring authors about indie publishing. Filled with information about social media, pricing, formatting styles, covers, reviews and platforms (to a name a few) there is a wealth of information for the novice author. Even experienced authors and publishers will find this book helpful and informative.

With sections such as ‘Authors – Quit Doing This!’, ‘In Praise of Audio(books)’, ‘Twitter Primer for Authors’, and ‘Should You Use Amazon’s Author Central’, Deena Rae gives detailed information that anyone in the industry of publishing should know and consider.

Whether you are just starting on your publishing journey, considering entering the literary world or have 30 books for sale, there is something for everyone in this book.

If you would like to add the book to your Goodread’s shelf – just click the button!

Who Is Deena Rae?

E-BookBuilders is the online alias of Deena Rae. She was born and raised in Texas – home of bluebonnets, boots, beef and big hair – into a family that was in the printing and publishing industries. Her father was a computer programmer for major newspapers when the equipment took up whole rooms and mother has been a publisher for almost 30 years – trying, unsuccessfully, to bring her into the family business. She is a second-generation genetically perfected super-nerd.

She was happily living her life, having three third-generation genetically perfected super-nerds herself, but then through a series of events (unfortunate and fortunate), she officially joined The Book Connection – her mother’s publishing and packaging company – as the Digital Director, to create the e-publishing division in 2011. Her computer skills, willingness to help authors, love of literature, no-nonsense attitude and quick wit has helped shepherd many authors through the maze of digital publishing.

Through her work with E-BookBuilders, Deena Rae has been able to meet authors and writers from all over the world and in every genre imaginable. She has a biting wit, obscure sense of humor, awareness of the absurd, and a love of literature all which led to the creation of Bluebonnets, Bagpipes and Books, the #NSFW publishing discussion podcast she produces and hosts with Janet Wrenn and Peter Burnett. Her no-nonsense attitude makes for some hilarious discussions and plenty of “Oh my God, did she really just say that?” moments. Sometimes it is as if there is no filter between her brain and her mouth. But if she likes you she tries to be nice – sometimes. Deena also has the safe-for-everyone author interview show, B3’s Bookworm. You can find her most hours of everyday attached to her computer either researching, tweeting on her 6 accounts, posting on her different Facebook timelines and pages, coding e-books for her fabulous friends/clients or with her nose buried in her Kindle reading.

So, if you are serious about publishing your own work, or just kicking the idea around, head over to Amazon and download the ebook Navigating the World of E-Book Publishing, available free January 13th & 14th, exclusively on Amazon. If you want to stalk her she is all over the internet and here some of her online portals (join the MailChimp mailing list for a special announcement and sale opportunites).












Shedding that holiday weight

For those who regularly read my blog, you know that at the end of July, I began counting calories to lose weight. And it worked. I was down to my goal weight by Halloween having lost 13 pounds. So in November I stopped counting calories and began maintaining my new weight. I knew it would be hard during the holidays.

Bread and desserts with Santa cakeIn fact, from Thanksgiving to New Years, I gained about four pounds. It isn’t just going to holiday parties (I only went to one and hosted one), but the fact that we have such tempting things in the house – Texas Gold bars, Pumpkin Crunch, brownies, cupcakes and Christmas cookies.

I knew I would probably gain a few pounds and honestly I didn’t weigh myself until after Christmas. It might have been better if I had been weighing myself weekly as whenever I notice my weight rising, it is an extra incentive to watch what I eat. But it is too late for that now; the damage has already been done.

Starting New Year’s Day, I began watching my portion sizes and trying to stop munching on something when I wasn’t hungry. Yes, that ugly old habit reared its head again. But holiday food is just so tempting it is hard to remember that because a frosted Christmas cookie sounds good doesn’t mean I need to eat it.

Of course, it is easier not to eat junk food when it isn’t in the house. Now that the kids are back in school, and we have returned to familiar patterns, I think it will be easy to keep less snacks in the house and shed that holiday weight.

For the first week, I didn’t count calories. I just watched my portion sizes and tried to make better eating choices. No longer was I going to McDonald’s because I was out with kids during lunchtime. As soon as school started, it was back to having a Healthy Choice Frozen meals or my favorite – egg rolls from the grocery store deli (just 200 calories for 2, and they fill me up easily) for lunch.

Last Monday I started using the Livingstrong app on my phone again. It is hard to go back to counting calories, but at least I know that this will work. I figure to lose four pounds, I will be doing this until around Valentine’s Day. Hopefully, before I know it, I can move back to maintaining my weight as we head into Spring and shorts-wearing weather. And in Texas that comes early. It will be here before I know it.

Today’s Featured Author: Phyllis J. Burton

Today I welcome author Phyllis Burton to my blog to discuss her latest book, Fifteen Brushes with Love.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hello, and thank you for giving me this opportunity to tell you about my writing.  I lead an extremely busy life.  I love water-colour painting, and singing (I am a trained soprano) and sing regularly with a local Choral Society.  I have three grown-up children who have given my husband Jim and me seven wonderful grandchildren, ranging from 2 years to 14 years of age.  I love working in our formal garden and walking in our bluebell woodland.

After attending creative writing classes many years ago, I started writing small articles and short stories that would appeal to my children.  From there I progressed towards more grown-up stories.  To date, I have published two full-length romantic novels PAPER DREAMS and A PASSING STORM (print and ebook versions) and one Kindle ebook of fifteen short stories also within the romance genre.  I am currently mid-way through writing a third novel.  I have also written three one-act plays, two of which were staged and produced by me.

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in the town of Beckenham, Kent in the south-east of England.  The town is situated about eleven miles from the centre of London.  After our marriage, Jim and I moved to the county of Surrey. We now live on the outskirts of the lovely village of Churt among the beautiful Surrey Hills and the view from my study window gives me the inspiration to write.Hi

What or who inspired you to start writing?

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to put my thoughts down on paper.  I loved the sounds and meanings of words.  Even at school, I was always more interested in reading and writing than studying arithmetic, which is important, but the ability to read and write is a basic requirement for gaining knowledge of any kind.

Writing stories yourself is a natural progression of being able to read well.  I soon found out how enjoyable it was to be able to create characters, put them into perspective and test them in times of conflict.  Indeed conflict makes a story, because without conflict, there is no story.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I suppose I considered myself to be a writer the moment I held my first published book in my hand.  Until then, writing was a hobby, or something that I could read to my family.  The sheer pleasure of seeing all your hard work there in front of you on the printed page, gave me such a thrill and a feeling of great pride.

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

As a writer, you are always being told to write about what you know.  I believe that a person cannot write without giving something of themselves away, because life’s experiences make you the person you are.  Having said that, I try my utmost to write about my characters’ experiences and not my own, which can be a challenge. My stories have been described as being quintessentially English, although I try to bring my experience in travelling to the United States and my visit to Australia into my stories.

Have you started your next project?

Apart from constantly looking for new short story ideas, I have two current writing projects underway.  I am mid-way through writing my third novel – a romantic thriller with the title of ‘THE ICE MELTS’.  The main character, Solicitor/Lawyer, Sarah Wenham has to give permission for the machine that is keeping her husband Tom alive, to be switched off.  Tom had been in a coma ever since the small aircraft in which he was travelling, crashed into the side of a Swiss mountain.  Sarah cannot forget what she has done and spurns the romantic advances of her husband’s replacement in her law company.  Eventually the ice melts…

My other project is a future book with the title of LITTLE PIDDLEWICK.  Earlier this year I wrote a short story set in a village called Little Piddlewick.  The village is peppered with interesting characters and, as an author friend pointed out, their stories could be great fun to write about, and hopefully to read about in the future.

What fuels you as an author to continue to write?

I just love putting my thoughts on to paper.  Once I’ve started writing something, my characters feel very real to me, so I can’t leave them in limbo.  For instance in the book I am writing now, my main character Sarah is imprisoned in a farmhouse by a STALKER.  Well, I couldn’t leave her there, could I…?

Do you outline your books, or just start writing?

Yes, I do make an outline first.  If you don’t give yourself an idea where the story is actually going, you can find yourself going off at a tangent or a dead-end and you can soon lose your readers that way.

Please tell us about your current release?

My current release (May 2013) is FIFTEEN BRUSHES WITH LOVE!   The book contains fifteen very different short stories, ranging from a lovelorn concert pianist, a woman who dreams about a beautiful man with long golden hair and then sees him in a portrait…, an elderly woman who sits and waits for her husband to return from the war, and a Christmas Feud between two Christmas dolls on the tree:  an old Santa doll and the beautiful Fairy Belle battle for supremacy on the Christmas Tree with disastrous results.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

I try not to write about people I know.  My characters are an amalgam of the very different people I’ve known or perhaps met or seen, in the past.

Which of your characters is your favourite?  Do you lislike any of them?

Agnes is my favourite character in THE VILLAGE FETE.  Just before the war she fell in love whilst walking around the Village Green.  After they married, her fiancé was killed during the II World war.  Agnes always expected him to return to her during the annual village Fete.  Now elderly and frail, she is still waiting for him and as she dies, she smiles as he walks towards her…

My least favourite character is the old Santa Doll in Christmas Feud, but I really love all my characters.

If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?

Finally, I am a great lover of Jane Austen’s books and would love to meet her.  At the same time, I would like to meet Catherine Cookson, a wonderful writer of novels covering the period between the late Victorian era and into the First World War.  What wonderful conversations we could have about these times and to see their surprise at the writing and publishing of books and ebooks now in 2014.

Book Description

fifteen brushesFifteen Brushes with LOVE is a collection of short stories to delight, and gently remind you, of the day you first fell in love. What is love and what does it mean? Love is life itself. Yes, but what does it really mean, because there are so many different kinds of love? We all start (so they say) from the love between Adam and Eve and their forbidden love. People meet, fall in love, get married and have children in the belief that love lasts forever. But does it?

These stories explore the way people fall in love thinking that they will live happily ever after, and that there will be no outside influences to mar their lives together. But is life always as idyllic as this, and what happens when Fate intervenes?

These snippets are just a few insights into the variety of the stories in this book of love, lost love, remembered love and temptation.

Brush with Love” is set in the year 1801 and young and beautiful, Conchita Gonzales is having her portrait painted by Francisco Gonzales. When her brother Carlos hears a rumour that the artist wishes to start using nude models, he forbids her to go anywhere near him in future. How does Conchita eventually get her own way?

The Village Fete” delves into the emotions of an old woman who has spent a lifetime mourning the loss of her first and only love. She promised her husband before the Second World war started, that she would wait for him forever…and she does.

In the story “Portrait of a Dream”, Sue has always been fascinated by the ‘man of her dreams’, with some unusual results. An invisible thread seems to be pulling her to an art gallery.

The pianos in Henry Bawdson’s life, are instrumental in breaking his heart, but once he meets Anna, and falls in love again, everything changes, in “All for the Love of Anna”.

There are strange happenings during the night in “The Christmas Feud”! A Santa-doll and the beautiful Fairy Belle fight for supremacy on the Branham family’s Christmas tree, with some unexpected and disastrous results.

You can purchase Fifteen Brushes with Love on AmazonAmazon UK, and Smashwords.

You can learn more about Phyllis on her website or her blog.