Category Archives: Chocolate

How to Choose a Writer’s Conference

PJ here, happy to be on the East coast and back in my own bed…ahhhh. After doing this writing thing for a while, I’ve been to quite a few writer’s conferences, and I wanted to share my experience on how to choose the “right” conference for you. If you belong to RWA or a similar writer’s organization, you probably get inundated with lots of options. Here are a few things to think about.

Location/Accommodations: Check out the hotel venue and make sure the location is some place you’d like to stay for a few days. A bad night’s sleep, disappointing food, or poor quality hospitality can really put a damper on your stay. It’s worth visiting the hotel’s website and checking out their reviews. Make plans for car rental and recreational activities ahead of time so you don’t get there with hopes of visiting a locale on your “down time” only to find that you can’t get a car rental on short notice or the place you want to visit is closed. Although you are going for business, one of the perks of traveling is enjoying the sights along the way. Also, check to see what is around your hotel. Are there local restaurants and shopping within walking distance? Is there a gym? An indoor pool? Are you next to a train yard, airport, or in a bad section of the city? Some of these things may not be important to you, but if they are, make sure you know what you are paying for ahead of time. Scope out your hotel and surrounding area on Google maps.

Price: Is it affordable and worth the money for what you are getting? Are meals included? Are the speakers well known and knowledgeable? Is it worth your time, money, and effort? Remember to consider your loss of income while you’re away from your day job, and factor in any accrued costs such as wardrobe, entertainment, and additional travel fees (taxis, trains, buses etc.). Remember to save all receipts for tax purposes.

Focus of conference: Does the conference offer workshops that will help you further your career goals? If you are a newer writer, make sure there are craft workshops geared to what you’d like to learn. If you are seeking publication, are there opportunities to meet with agents and editors to pitch your story? Agent and editor panels offer a great opportunity to ask questions, find out what they are looking for, and hear the latest about the industry from publishing professionals. If you are a published author, do they offer promotion, marketing, and business oriented workshops? Interested in self-pubbing? Do they offer the most updated information available in this rapidly growing and changing aspect of the industry? If you are participating in a book signing, how successful have previous years been and how many readers can you expect to see? Shipping books is expensive, so ask for clear answers about realistic expectations. My experience is that print books don’t sell all that well at conferences and I rarely recoup the cost of shipping. I can see e-books being the way to go for future signings.

Networking: Conferences are a wonderful place to meet like-minded individuals and make professional contacts that you might never have the chance to meet otherwise. Don’t stalk the agents and editors but research them and know who you’d like to make a connection with. Make the effort to sit next to them at lunch or dinner (or in the bar). Be ready to talk intelligently about your work. Be prepared with a SHORT pitch of your WIP. Create a one or two sentence summary (log line) of what your story is about. The most common question asked at conferences is “What do you write?” The second most common question is “What is your story about?” Have an answer memorized and ready, and confidently smile as you give them your brief spiel. Don’t monopolize their time, but use the time wisely. If you get tongue tied and start rambling or their eyes begin to glaze over, stop talking and ask them a question about something unrelated. Where are you from? Are you a writer, too? Do you love baseball, zumba, pole dancing? Something that will put you at ease and take the heat off of you until you can collect yourself and get comfortable enough not to sound like an idiot. These are just people, but they are professionals and are there to FIND YOU! Respect their time, but don’t let your fear stop you from putting yourself out there.

Quality Speakers: I cannot stress this enough. Do some research on the speakers. What are their publishing/professional credentials? Just because they are there, doesn’t mean they are interesting, entertaining, or an expert in their field. Have they done this workshop before? How many times? Ask around to other writers and check out the websites of your presenters. If they don’t have a professional website that is engaging and informative, it might be an indicator that they aren’t all that well organized.

Organization: If you’ve ever participated in organizing a conference, you know about the gazillion moving parts and the army of people it takes to put on a seamless production. Of course there are always things that go wrong or details that get missed, but overall, organizers want it to be a good experience for everyone and they want attendees to return year after year to support the effort. If they don’t return e-mails, or answer your questions clearly up front, chances are the conference won’t be much better organized than the individuals running it. Conferences are generally a way for organizations to make money to support writers and their endeavors, so organizers (who are all volunteers, so be patient and kind to these people) are invested in making your conference experience successful. If there are suggestions you have for improvements, be sure to share them with conference organizers.

And last but not least, Food: You might have to contact the conference organizers for this information, but it’s worth asking about the menu ahead of time. If you have dietary restrictions or just want to make sure that some healthy selections are available, it’s worth the added effort to ensure that your needs are known ahead of time. You also have the option of doing a bit of shopping when you get settled in and stocking your hotel room refrigerator (make sure one is available in your room when you book your reservation) with fruit, yogurt, water, etc. so you can avoid the breakfast buffets that offer all those yummy bagels, pastries, muffins, and such. Will there be adequate chocolate selection at breaks? Just sayin’.

Unlocked Secret: Do your research, guys. There are enough choices for quality conferences around the country and your educational dollars are valuable, so make them count and get the most of your experience.

I hope to see you all at the RWA National convention in Atlanta this summer. It’s shaping up to be a fabulous time!

Any other tips for our readers to help them find a quality conference? What has been your favorite conference experience? Any funny experiences you’d like to share from the “trenches”?

All You Need to Know About Valentine’s Day — With a Giveaway!

Happy Valentine’s Day, my lovelies! I hope this day, no matter how you celebrate or who you celebrate with, is wonderful. Read through to the end, because there will be a special gift for one lucky commenter.

TRUE-LOVE-Sweethearts[1]I’m going to let you in on a little secret (we just love those things around here!). Everything you need to know about Valentine’s Day — or love in general — can be learned from a box of Sweethearts (f/k/a Tiny Conversation Hearts). As far as candy goes, these are pretty bland, even a bit chalky. And they have a sad and conspicuous lack of chocolate.

But they come in pretty pastel colors, and each has a pithy little motto: Be Mine. Hot Stuff. True Love. Hug Me. Kiss Me. Even Boogie. Now that you mention it, I do feel like dancing.Thanks! The Necco candy people clearly understand romance and the art of keeping it simple. What more do we really need?

IMG_20130214_060434Leave me a comment about Valentine’s Day, love, conversation hearts, keeping it simple, the new Bridget Jones book coming out in the fall, Joe Manganiello, or anything else that strikes your fancy, and you’ll be entered in a random drawing for a fabulous prize package: a hardcover copy of Pride and Prejudice, a lovely Celtic Heart bookmark, a box of Sweethearts, and a dark chocolate raspberry Godiva chocolate bar. Contest ends at midnight Sunday, February 17th, and I’ll announce the winner next Thursday. Good luck, and Game On!

PJ’s Top 10 Health Tips for 2013

Welcome! Tuesday’s Scribe here. This is an extra long post, but worth the read if you’ll bear with me. Being a Massage Therapist and personal trainer in the “real world” doesn’t exempt me from the laws of nature. That means that I am as susceptible as you are to the effects of gravity. As the image in my mirror reveals (it refuses to lie no matter how many spells I cast upon it), I can’t hide the addition of several pounds of holiday related “rolls”(ew). Yes, I too suffer from the intense attachment to chocolate that plagues even the strictest of gym rats. I’m PJ Sharon, and I, like many of you, am determined to do serious battle with my new found “writer’s bulge,” courtesy of my first year in publishing.

I know, I know…another diet, another fitness plan. Every January  the gyms are flooded with well-meaning but “weak-willed” souls who last about a month and then fall back into their old rut of unhealthy living. The truth is, living healthy is not rocket science. A healthy lifestyle is not a “diet” or an “exercise routine.” It requires a long term commitment to change. I wish I had the secret to turning on the “self-control” and “self-discipline” switches in the brain that some have and others struggle to find. There are many factors that influence us to take care of ourselves, but none is greater than healthy self-esteem. If you’ve tried and failed on your own and repeatedly lost and gained a significant amount of weight, I highly recommend you seek counseling to address the underlying issues that are keeping you stuck.

It may sound mean, but we all know when we put something in our mouth if it’s good for us or not. If you don’t know this, join Weight-Watchers and learn how to make healthier choices. Usually, we know when we are over-eating, and we definitely know when we aren’t getting enough rest (one of the leading contributors to weight gain). The trick is in catching the problems early. It’s infinitely easier to get back on track when we’ve gained only a few pounds instead of waiting until it’s ten or twenty…or fifty. It’s not hard to imagine why our clothes are fitting tighter than we like, or why we feel like crap from the sugar hangover we inflicted the night before by eating pizza, drinking that “extra” glass of wine, and then scarfing down chocolate ice cream for dessert. I’m not saying you can’t eat a piece of pizza or enjoy a glass of wine occasionally, but learn about portion sizes and find alternatives to these “fun” foods, saving the real deal for special occasions. And no…Friday night is not a special occasion. There are tons of creative ways to prepare foods that are healthy and delicious. Explore…get out of your rut!

I don’t know about you, but this being a grown up thing is a mixed blessing. Being an adult means that I can do what I want…eat what I want, right? Sure…if I want to live with the consequences. On the down side, there’s no one else to blame for my declining health or weight gain but me.  The bottom line is that I’m responsible for making good choices…about food, about my activity level, about cultivating healthy relationships, and about my work habits.

The first change I’ve made in the past few months is creating time to take care of myself by designing a work schedule that I can live with. That means regular office hours set aside to run my author business, and regularly scheduled work out sessions. Whatever I don’t get done in my office on any given day/night, I choose to let go and trust that I’ve done enough for that day. I will no longer sacrifice my “Healthy Me” time for social media or other tasks that will still be there the next day calling out to me. I know we’re all struggling to find balance these days, but honestly, none of it is worth dying over.

I’ve often told my clients that a healthy lifestyle is your best tool for success. I still believe that. I’d like to share some tips that I’ll be using to get back on track. I hope you’ll join me.

1)      HYDRATE- I’m not talking about ten cups of coffee or a liter of Diet Coke. I mean good old fashioned water. A good rule is to take your weight, divide by three, and that’s how many ounces per day of water you need to drink to stay properly hydrated. (Ie: A 150 pound person should consume 50 ounces of water per day). ** Fill a large water bottle first thing in the morning and drink it throughout the day, refilling as necessary to meet your daily ounce count. Feel free to add a slice of lemon. You’ll find you have more energy, you’re less hungry, and you’ll suffer fewer headaches, leg cramps, and muscle aches if you are hydrated. Trust me; your body will thank you!

2)      BANISH THE BREAD!-No not that!!!-White breads in particular break down into simple sugars very quickly. If you are sedentary, all that sugar gets stored as fat for later. But in this line of work, later never seems to come. Avoid white, starchy foods altogether. Switch from white potatoes to sweet potatoes, white rice to brown rice, and stock up on quinoa, cous cous, beans/legumes, and taboule, adding these complex whole grains and protein/fiber rich foods to salads or serving them as side dishes. Now most of us have already switched to “whole grain” breads, but if you read the label on your bread, you’ll likely find high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and a host of other additives and preservatives. **Try Ezekiel 4:9 Bread. You can find it in the refrigerator section of your grocer or local health food store. It has no flour! Instead it’s made from sprouted live grains like wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans and spelt. It packs a whopping 4grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and is sugar free and fat free, and only 80 calories per slice. It tastes great, too!

3)      WALKING MEDITATION-Meditating is one of the healthiest and most difficult practices to cultivate. Most of us can’t sit still and empty our minds for ten seconds, let alone twenty minutes. But just twenty minutes a day of meditation can be life changing. It reduces your stress level, improves your immune system, and has so many health benefits I couldn’t possibly list them all here. Ironically, twenty minutes of walking daily does much the same thing. Imagine if you combine them! I’m all for multi-tasking, even when it comes to taking time to BE PRESENT! **Take a twenty minute walk daily. It doesn’t matter what time of day or even if you break it up into two ten minute walks, but do it—every day. While you’re walking think about your breathing. Feel each heel strike. Notice your arms swinging at your sides. Be aware of your posture, tuning in your abdomen and keeping your shoulders back. This conscious awareness of your body is as much a meditation as sitting cross-legged on a mat.

4)      STRETCH-I suggest frequent stretch breaks throughout the day. If you join a yoga class and go 2-3 times a week, maybe this isn’t as important, but if you are sitting at your computer for several hours a day, it’s beneficial and takes no time at all to stop for a few minutes every hour and stretch. If you don’t know what stretches to do or have some physical limitations that prevent you from exercising, seek advice from a physical therapist or qualified trainer.IMAG0098

5)      START WITH PROTEIN and FIBER-Starting your day with carbohydrates sets you up for blood sugar spikes and dips that will have you craving a candy bar before noon. Skip the bagel or the cold cereal and opt instead for an egg white omelet with veggies or a bowl of oatmeal or multigrain hot cereal with nuts, cinnamon, and fruit. (Cinnamon is a natural anti-inflammatory). Loading your breakfast with high protein, high fiber and nutrient packed foods will keep your blood sugar levels balanced and help curb cravings. A handful of nuts or a high protein yogurt (Greek yogurt is yummy and packs about 15 grams of protein) for your mid-morning or late afternoon snack will keep you from binging at meal times.

6)      VITAMINS-Due to soil depletion, over processing of foods, and our generally poor diets, most of us are vitamin deficient and don’t know it. Fatigue, weight gain, inability to concentrate, skin conditions, joint pains, neurological symptoms…you name it, vitamin deficiencies could be the cause. A daily multi-vitamin is a must and some people could benefit from other supplements depending on your individual needs. You may have to see a nutritionist or Naturopath to address this issue. Ask your doctor if he/she can perform a blood panel to screen for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Many women in particular are lacking in Vitamin D, which can lead to a whole host of ailments including porous bones and hair loss…eeek! It’s worth a blood test.

7)      STRENGTHEN YOUR MIND AND BODY-Lifting light weights, swimming, yoga, cycling, or even dancing around your house with the vacuum cleaner are all ways to burn calories and strengthen your core (the muscles of your trunk that offer a stable center for your extremities to work from.) In addition to strengthening muscles and improving your posture and balance, regular exercise strengthens your heart, releases endorphins that ease pain, and improves your mental attitude/mood. When you feel strong, you are more confident. If you need another convincing tid-bit, lean muscle mass burns calories more efficiently and your clothes fit better.IMAG0091

8)      AFFIRMATIONS-I’m a consummate goal setter. Not that I achieve all of my goals, mind you, but I make them, check in on them now and then, and adjust the plan accordingly. What I do know about goal setting is that I have to be able to imagine the desired outcome before I can make it a reality. I have to believe I can achieve it, and then I have to speak it into existence by making choices that lead me in the direction of achieving my goal. Affirmations are those positive messages that I speak to make my goals come to fruition. **Start every writing session with an affirmation. Ie: “I am an excellent writer. I am a bestselling author,” etc. Start every workout with an affirmation. Ie: “I am lean, healthy, and strong. I look awesome in size eight jeans”…you get the picture. See it, believe it is possible, and speak it into existence as if it is already the reality. Over time, your brain has no choice but to comply by making it so, and eventually your body will catch on.

9)      RELATIONSHIPS-“No man (or woman) is an Island.” Or so the saying goes. I don’t know about you, but I would be nowhere without the help and friendship of other writers, friends, family, and especially my dear husband. It’s easy to become isolated when so many of our hours are spent behind a computer screen. Connecting with and showing appreciation for the people in my life is something I don’t ever want to put off until tomorrow. There comes a time in every life when tomorrow won’t come for us or a loved one. **Don’t let a day go by without showing the people in your life how much they mean to you.

10)  GRATITUDE THROUGH KINDNESS-I’m a big believer in random acts of kindness. Nothing gets you out of your own head and gives you a lift as much as showing your gratitude for all that you have in your life by paying it forward. It’s much easier to see the good in your life when you recognize a need and fill it in someone else’s life. Volunteer, reach out to help someone in need, donate your time or money to a worthy cause. Get involved. We are all intricately connected in this world and there is no reason why any of us should feel alone.

Any other tips you want to share?

Blessings in the New Year,

PJ

When Work Doesn’t Feel Like Work by Katy Lee

Happy New Year! I have just returned from a writing retreat in the mountains, but technically I didn’t step outside, except to buy chocolate, that is. I spent my days glued to my laptop, and honestly, I have never had so much fun working.

Because Suze already told you about the benefits of a writing retreat, I will just second everything she said. See Suze’s post here. BUT I will add one more thing to her list that I came away with this week.

Find a way to do what you love.

Now I’m not saying that means work will be easy for you. It’s called work for a reason and anything worth doing will be hard. It’s going to need a strong will and a strong desire in your heart to complete it. But that’s where the love comes in. If you love it, you’ll do it, and you’ll do it well, and you won’t mind the work. In fact, the harder it is, the sweeter the victory will be when you accomplish what you set out to do.

This week as I sat for long hours from sun up to sun down behind my computer, typing out difficult scenes and plot twists and pulling on my hair when the story and characters took over, I did it all with a smile. I could literally feel my cheeks hurting because I was loving my job so much.

Now if you honestly can’t find that desire in your heart for your work, then perhaps a little search for it will help. Holding onto tasks that you have always done just because you’ve always done them isn’t always a good thing–for anyone. You’re not happy, and the people you’re working for know something is lacking. And perhaps there is someone out there who does have a heart for the work you drudge through. By stepping back to find the work you love, you allow them to step up and find what they love to do, too.

And then everyone’s cheeks will be hurting.

The Unlocked Secret: The secret here is not to find what you love to do. That’s no secret. We all know that. The secret is to learn a way to make a living from doing what you love. Like I said before. It’s going to be work. Hard work right from the beginning. But it all starts with your willingness and openess to learn. And the chocolate does help.

Question: Tell me…what do you love to do??? Have you found a way to make a living doing it? What’s stopping you?

 

 

We’re Beautiful, It’s True!

Hey, all, it’s Thursday again. Hope you all had a lovely July 4th, complete with barbeques, fireworks, friends and family, and perhaps a Matthew McConaughey-like big sparkly Uncle Sam Hat. Everyone should have one of those for the patriotic holidays.

Anyhoo, our own Casey Wyatt has bestowed upon the Scribes the Beautiful Blogger Award. Yeah, yeah, it smacks of nepotism, or egotism, or some other -ism, but I’ll take it! I’m thrilled to accept on behalf of the Scribes. So, here are 7 facts about moi:

1.  My real name isn’t Suze. I chose a pen name to hide from the authorities–what’s that, Casey? We’re supposed to be honest and not make stuff up? Fine. My pen name is actually the name of my great-great-great grandmother, Susannah Pickert Hardy, the daughter of Revolutionary War vet Adolphus Pickert, who was wounded at the Battle of Oriskany with General Herkimer. (Genealogy buffs, I’d love to hear from you if we’re related!)

2. My candy of choice is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I also like Starbursts, especially the orange ones. Starbursts are like temporary gum: you can chew them for a while, but eventually they’re just candy.

3. Mr. Suze proposed to me at the top of the Klein Matterhorn in Switzerland, almost 13,000 feet up. It was the “high” point of our courtship. (Let me know when you’re done groaning, and we’ll  move on to number 4)

4. I like to clean the house while listening to–and loudly singing–Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell album or Queen’s Greatest Hits. I have been known to play (and sing) Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad six times in a row while mopping/vacuuming. “She kept on tellin’ me, she kept on tellin’ me, she KEPT ON TELLIN’ ME I want you …” Uh, where was I? Right. Fact #5.

5. A couple of years ago I visited The Cat, The Crow and The Crown, Laurie Cabot’s shop in Salem, Massachusetts and asked the witch on duty to help me construct a magic bag to influence a particular person to buy one of my novels. I carried it around for a couple of months and it seemed to be working, but then I accidentally left it in my pocket and it went through the wash.  I think it short circuited.

6. The first romance novel I ever read was Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I was 14 or so, and it was, um, revelatory.

7. I played the oboe in my high school concert band and orchestra.

Now for the second part of the Beautiful Blogger Award — passing it on to some more deserving writers! Here goes:

To the recipients of the Beautiful Blogger Award – go forth and share the beauty! Readers, what are your favorite blogs?