Taking the A to Z challenge

challengeI have never taken part of the A to Z challenge but saw many bloggers doing it last year. I was intrigued enough to put it on my calendar so that this year I could sign up for it.

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, the A to Z challenge began in 2010 when blogger Arlee Bird decided to write a post every day in April (except Sundays). Since there were 26 open days, he decided to match them to the alphabet like author Sue Grafton does her alphabet mystery series (A is for Alibi, B is Burglar and so on). On the first day, Arlee wrote about something starting with A, the next day B and so on through the letter Z. He challenged other bloggers to do the same, and the event is growing each year with bloggers all around the world participating.

Now the organizers suggest you come up with a theme to help you get through the challenge. I couldn’t think of a theme that I liked that would fit what I already post about on my blog. I typically post 4 out of the 7 days of the week with topics ranging from writing, publishing, parenting, quotes and featured authors.

So except for my Friday featured author spot, I plan to follow the challenge in my weekly writings. As for Friday, I will just add a second post on that day to meet the challenge. I can’t really expect my featured authors to adhere to the challenge rules. On the days that I don’t typically post, well, we will just see what I come up with for those days.

Those of you who want to know more about the challenge or to sign up, click here. And you can look for my A to Z challenge posts beginning April 1st.

My kids are happiest wearing just underwear

My kids think nothing of coming home and stripping down to their underwear. With temps in the 90s and 100s during summer time, it makes sense to wear as little as possible. And it seemed fine when they were toddlers to run around in diapers or just their underwear. But now they are 5 and 8, and they still like to strip down upon entering the house.

Lexie at age 3 - doing crafts in just her underwear.

Lexie at age 3 – doing crafts in just her underwear.

We have always been sticklers for them at least to wear underwear. And they are dressed when going outside (though the backyard doesn’t count) and when we have guests over (though we don’t count family as guests). But my husband would much prefer the kids stayed dressed when they are at home or for Jase to at least wear shorts or pants.

I really see no problem with them running around in their underwear while they are at their own home. But I do wish Lexie would show a little less of her body when they have friends over. It is one thing to change in front of the girls in her room but quite another for Jase’s friends to see her running around with just her underwear on.

I assume as she grows up, she will become more aware of her body and want to cover up. I don’t want her to be ashamed of her body. But some of these little boys are not quite used to seeing a five-year-old running around with only her underwear on. At some point (and I am not sure when that is), her body needs to become private and not just to Jase’s friends but to Jase and everyone else.

I would figure by age 7 or 8, kids would begin to cover up, but Jase has no sense of modesty. He is fine walking around in his underwear. He doesn’t mind peeing with the bathroom door open. He doesn’t mind any of us seeing him in the shower or tub.

Parents in the buff

Of course, this discussion on modesty wouldn’t be complete without looking the other side of the issue – when parents should cover up in front of their kids. It isn’t like my husband and I routinely walk around naked. But the kids do have a habit of coming into our bathroom and sometimes my husband or I might walk into the bedroom (or even another room) in just our underwear. (Yep, any nudity on my husband and my part is in the bedroom or bathroom. We aren’t prancing around the house in the buff or even in our underwear.)

It has never bothered me that Jase sees me this way. But I know the time is coming – and soon I would guess – that he needs to not see me without my clothes on. So far he has not mentioned anything about my body and he and his sister still take baths together.

I just don’t want either of them to think that there is something wrong with the naked body. The kids don’t see us on the toilet (we do lock the door just in case) but there is no lock on the actual bathroom door so it is harder to keep that area off limits if we chose to go that route.

From reading other blogs on this topic, it seems that most adults figure out when to start covering up when they begin to feel awkward about it. But once I step over that line and start covering up (or my husband begins covering up) we can’t go back. It has to be an all-or-nothing type thing.

So I don’t know exactly at what age we will start covering up or insisting that they wear clothes when at home or if we even really need to worry about it. Until then, I will just let them be happy playing video games in their underwear.

Today’s Featured Author: Karen D. Scioscia

Today I welcome author Karen D. Scioscia to my blog to discuss her book, Kidnapped by the Cartel.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.  

It seems like I write all the time! I currently write a weekly column for The Charlotte Observer, contribute to Yahoo.com, have several stories published in magazines, write speeches for corporate executives, and am working on two books. My next book is in the true crime genre, about a serial killer (who is languishing in prison at this moment), and the other is a novel that contains a bit of paranormal. The information and thoughts for both of these books are constantly swirling about in my head. I am able to work on more than one project at a time, which astounds even me at times.

What or who inspired you to start writing? 

My father was a college professor (English and Speech) and wrote plays for children’s theater. My paternal grandmother wrote a weekly column in a Florida newspaper until her death at age 96. I think the love and desire to write is in my genes!

Please tell us about your current release. 

My current release, Kidnapped By the Cartel, was inspired by my niece’s abduction at the hands of the Mexican drug cartel. I was physically involved in the eleven day search for her. We were so devastated as a family with what happened, that I was originally going to write a true crime book. But in all of my research, including interviews with the San Diego Police Department, la Policia de Tijuana, and management and staff at various hospitals and rehab centers, I discovered that what had happened to my niece wasn’t an isolated incident. There were many such events – most often with the most horrific results. I compiled my research information along with some of the situations involving my niece, and, using my imagination, created a character, Amanda Tate. The result is a fast-paced, suspenseful, action-charged thriller about drugs, kidnappings, torture and the inside story of what Mexican drug cartels are all about.

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

The scenes containing torture were the most difficult for me to write. I had to get outside of myself to graphically describe the gruesome, violent and blood-chilling methods of the cartel. I wanted readers to feel like they were right there with Amanda.

What book are you reading right now?  

Reading is a passion, and I always have more than one book going at the same time. I just finished Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? by Mindy Kalin. Both were great. I’m starting David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell and Think: Why You Should Question Everything by Guy P. Harrison. Two of my all time favorite books are The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Both books make you think and say a lot in just a few words.

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

I love to dance and do some of my best dancing in my car while stopped at red lights.

Book Description

Latest BookA beautiful, young American woman was kidnapped and confined against her will in the putrid depths of Tijuana, Mexico. Drugged and tortured, she lived in constant fear for her life. Kidnapped by the Cartel opens the doors into the secret covens of Mexican Organized Crime, a terrifying place where many are lost forever. The slimy backstreets of Tijuana are graphically revealed as the disgusting, gruesome, and violent places they are known to be. The U.S. State Department has warned against non-essential travel along the United States/Mexico border, especially in the violent cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. This novel gives a taste of what goes on behind the fence.

You can purchase Kidnapped by the Cartel on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

You can find out more about Karen on her website.

9 ways to brainstorm story ideas

story ideasMany authors are teeming with story ideas, so they just need to pluck one and develop it into a novel. But newbies and even a few veteran authors sometimes falter when finding a story to write.

Here are nine ways to help you think of an idea for your next story.

1.) Observe other people – Go to the mall or the park and people watch. You can pretend to make up stories for the people you see, or perhaps you will overhear a conversation that would be perfect as part of a story.

2.) Sit down and brainstorm – Often the best ideas come from the act of writing itself. Sit at the computer or even with just a pad of paper and let your creativity flow and remember to not pause to criticize what you have written down.

3.) Let your mind wander – This is a variation of brainstorming where while doing a chore like washing the dishes or driving to the store, you simply let your mind wander. Being away from the computer and the stress of trying to come up with ideas might just help you generate ideas or nurture the story line you are considering.

4.) Start with plot – Decide what you want to write about such as a murder, a romance or even vampires and build from there. Or perhaps you can imagine a great fantasy world. Use those thoughts as your building blocks for your story.

5.) Start with character – Imagine an interesting character and then decide what type of adventure you can thrust them into. What type of challenge would be interesting and provide good conflict?

6.) Write what you know – If you are good at swimming or knitting, start with what you know. The main character may have those same interests or perhaps those activities start the adventure. (A woman is murdered with her own knitting needle perhaps?)

7.) Develop an action scene – If you are having trouble coming up with characters or even a story line, try developing an action scene. One good scene to kick off your book can get the rest flowing. Develop the characters and story line around that scene.

8.) Come up with a problem to solve. Is your main character the class clown or the brainiest kid in school? What type of problem would your character face in his or her normal life? Write your story around the problem and a unique way of solving it.

9.) Random drawing of ideas – Pull ideas for setting, plot, and characters from the newspaper, a magazine or even other books. Write each one down on a separate card. Pick one card from each pile at random and then try to create a story from them. While this may not be the story to publish, it is a great exercise to get you thinking.

Hopefully, these suggestions can help you think of your next storyline. The key is to be ready when inspiration strikes. Ideas for stories, dialogue, characters, and plot development can hit anytime, and it’s amazing how quickly they can be forgotten. The easiest solution is to carry a pad and pen with you. Don’t forget to put one on the bedside table in case you wake from a dream with some great ideas.

Remember that the creation of a solid story idea is not an event but rather a process. It takes a lot to take a simple story idea like the one generated with these ideas and turn it into a full, rich story. But every story must start somewhere.

This is the first in a three-part series. Next week: making sure your story idea is solid enough to become a novel.

Writing a romance in 125 characters or less

romanceOur newspaper ran a promotion for Valentine’s Day asking readers to tweet a romance story. You had 140 characters (less when you figure you had to use 15 characters for their hashtag – #mysatweetheart) to write you story.

Now back in October 2011, the newspaper had done the same thing with horror stories for Halloween. I entered five into that contest and had three published in the newspaper. This past October I took one of those tweets and turned it into a short story.

I love this type of challenge. For the Valentine’s Day assignment, I did three romance tweets.

Longingly, he gazed into her eyes. Leaning forward, their lips met. Her heart skipped a beat and she knew he was the one.

Gazing at his photo she recalled the day they met, their first kiss, their wedding and the day he died. Always her true love

Kids arguing, baby crying, dog barking, washing machine overflowing. He comes home with flowers and an “I love you, honey”

On February 12th, the newspaper will print the tweets they selected as the best. Check out the other tweets submitted on Twitter.

UPDATE 2-12-14: Only one of mine (the bottom one about kids) was picked. It was listed first on the page! Check out the other “winners” here.

Why the Otterbox Commuter is so worth it

When I got my iPhone 4 back in December of 2011, one of the first things I did was look for a cover that would protect the phone if I (or more likely, one of my kids) dropped it. I had heard Otterbox phone cases were very popular and after reading reviews decided I needed one.

Otterbox Commuter Series Hybrid Case for iPhone 4 & 4SThese cases are constructed of a high-impact polycarbonate exoskeleton with an impact-absorbing silicone layer. I went with the Commuter series because it was less bulky than the higher rated Defender series.

I must say that I am so glad that I bought this. It has done a tremendous job of protecting my phone. Yes, the phone has been dropped numerous times with no damage. Well, at least no damage to the phone. But the Otterbox outer shell has cracked several times. But it is better that a $30 cover breaks than a $200 phone, right?

And the best news is that Otterbox offers a warranty for the first year of purchase. IMG_1775You just send them the date of purchase and a few photos of the problem and within days, they ship you a new product. I replaced my first Otterbox through the warranty but by the time the new one cracked, the warranty was up.

No problem, I simply went on Amazon and bought a new one. This was April of 2013. In July, my phone fell off my lap at the Circus, cracking the case. (Again, no damage to the phone.) I got my warranty replacement and not less than two weeks later I again found a crack in the case. Otterbox was great and sent me yet another replacement at no charge.

That one lasted me until right after Christmas when I noticed another crack in the case. I don’t even recall dropping the phone, but I quickly sent in my photo of the damage. One day later, I received an email that my new case was being shipped to me.

So this is one $30 purchase that has resulted in three replacement cases. Now I guess someone could think that this means there is something wrong with the Otterbox cases. But I don’t think so. Just think about the damage that could have happened to my phone without the case. I would much rather keep replacing the cover than have to replace my $200 phone. In my book, the Otterbox Commuter is definitely worth it.