Category Archives: Education

Top 5 Tools of the Trade

2013 RWA conference picPJ Sharon here. I’ve been taking an online course this month to learn how to use Scrivener. For those of you who don’t know what Scrivener is, it’s a software program developed specifically for writing. Scrivener puts everything you need for structuring, writing and editing long documents at your fingertips. It’s a way to organize your work into chapters, scenes, or sections so that it’s easy to move and manipulate them within your document. There’s even a place to keep all your research together in one easy to find folder. Think of it as one of those cool binders you loved to shop for when you were in high school…or maybe that was just me.scriv pic

Scrivener is available for Windows or Mac users and there are tons of tutorial videos out there. So why am I taking a course? Because I’m one of those non-tech-savvy individuals who needs my hand held whenever I’m faced with learning anything new on the computer. I’m convinced that this is why I married an engineer (aside from his being a sweetheart, a hottie, and a heck of a good kisser).

Scrivener is one of those writing tools that I can see has amazing potential to streamline my writing process. Once I’ve completed my manuscript, the program compiles it all into a professionally formatted document and even allows me to produce a .mobi file and an .epub file for upload to Amazon and B&N, respectively. I’m not there yet, but I’m pretty sure it will generate the appropriate file format for I-Books and Kobo as well. This would save money on hiring a formatter to do this for me, and I would continue to have complete control over making changes as needed.

If I were one of those folks who loves new gadgets, gets excited about the prospect of Windows 10, or one who can’t wait to buy the latest greatest I-Phone, I’d be stoked about learning Scrivener. Alas, I am not one of those people. Although I pride myself on being an intelligent person with a “can do” attitude most days, my brain does not appear to be wired for organization of files or the minutia of the not-so-intuitive Scrivener program. I’m more the absent-minded professor type who lives with piles of notebooks and file drawers full of things I’ll probably never need but can’t get rid of. Frankly, I’d rather be writing my stories than learning ANOTHER new computer program.

I’m hoping to feel differently after the course is complete and will report back as to its usefulness, or more to the point, my ability to adapt to it.

There are however, other tools of the trade that I have found exceedingly helpful. Here’s my top 5 list!

Authorgraph: Nothing to learn and everything to gain! Signing up for Authorgraph is free and easy. It allows me to digitally “autograph” my ebooks for readers who request it, and it sends me weekly updates regarding my books’ Amazon rankings. It also notifies me of new reviews. Great tool!

Canva: I’m new to Canva and will be attending a webinar to learn more about how to use all its features, but it appears to be user friendly and intuitive. It allows me to make my own graphic designs, has templates for Facebook and website headers, and offers a ton of royalty free photos to use for the designs. It’s perfect for creating graphics for Pinterest boards, blog tours, or events. I’m looking forward to letting my creative mind explore this fun new resource.

Drop Box: This is a “cloud based’ storage area for all of your files, photos, and documents. The free version offers enough memory for most of us to never run out of room (unless you’re storing tons of photos or videos which take lots of space). You can buy more storage space if needed, but the standard free 2 GB are plenty for my files. Drop box allows you to store, share, and work together on projects with others and syncs up to all of your devices so your info is always available. I use this as my back up to One Drive (which is also cloud-based storage). I also periodically back up my computer onto an external drive from Seagate.   

Excel: Not long ago, I recall saying the only thing I knew about spread sheets was how they fit onto a mattress. After a few quick tutorials with techno-hubby, I was able to reap the benefits of this most excel-lent tool. I use it for my list of websites and passwords, keep track of bloggers, reviewers, and promo sites, and compile my quarterly/yearly sales reports (when I get around to them), all done with excel spread sheets. I know only the basics of how to use it, but it seems to be doing the job for me just fine. Excel is available through Microsoft Office.

Hoot Suite: This social media powerhouse allows me to schedule tweets ahead of time. The basic program is free and user friendly. Again, I’m certain I’m only using the most basic features, but it does what I need it to. When I have a promotion going on, I can set up my tweets and schedule them to release throughout the day without having to be on Twitter all day long. It also allows me to group certain individuals, much the same way Twitter does. I can have bloggers and reviewers in one group, writers and publishers in another, and readers in yet another, so that I can target tweets to a specific audience. Very handy indeed! And don’t you just love their logo? (Casey Wyatt? I’m talking to you!)hoot suite image        

So these are a few of my favorite tools of the trade. Have you used any of these? Love them or hate them? Any I’ve missed that you’d like to share?   

Kindred Spirits

Greetings Scriblings! PJ Sharon here.

I had the good fortune of attending a few days of the 2014 IWWG Summer Conference this week. If you aren’t familiar with this acronym, it stands for International Women’s Writing Guild. Despite the fact that I’ve been heavily involved in the romance writing community for several years, I’d never even heard of this organization.  Here’s why.

Romance writers and literary writers tend not to associate or travel in the same conference circles. Whether this is due to some misconception that one is better than the other or that the two are diametrically opposed, I can’t say, because my experience with this incredible group of amazingly talented women was nothing but educational, inclusive, and uplifting–not to mention well organized and fun. These ladies write everything from poetry to memoir, creative nonfiction to essays. A few write fiction as well, and many are published, either traditionally or Indie.

Workshops included a study in Metaphor with the fabulous Susan Tiberghien,  a chance to make “mischief” with Kelly Dumar, where we explored our childhood prankster selves and acted out stories of our misspent youth.  I learned some new plotting strategies from the excellent Chris Eboch in the workshop, What I Learned from Nancy Drew,  and Dr. Dixie King’s extremely helpful Nourishing the Writer Within was an eye opener! Dr. King took us through a step by step guide of smart goal setting and challenged us to pinpoint the barriers and limiting beliefs that hold us back from achieving our goals. I was only able to attend two days of the five day conference, but I felt so welcomed and appreciated by the group that I felt as if I’d met some kindred spirits.

IWWG conf. 2In addition to the wonderful workshops and new friends I met, the food was outstanding and the venue at the Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT was absolutely lovely. I even walked the labyrinth at sunset and spent some time in meditation, which is an area of my life I’ve been neglecting and was sorely needed.

IWWG Conf. 6There was an opportunity to showcase my books at the book fair and take center stage to share from one of my stories.  I was completely floored by the quality of each and every writer’s work that was shared. Poignant stories of family,  deep inner journeys, and prose that gave me chills and had me laughing and crying within the same three minute reading. These women are powerful and brilliant, I tell you!

Regardless of genre, we were all writers and all women–sisters of the pen–there to support each other. I feel so blessed to have been a part of this group if only for a couple of days. It gave me just the shot in the writer’s arm that I needed. I learned some important things about myself in the process and hope to meet these lovely women again in the future. My eyes are open a little wider and my heart has been touched by the gift of their words. Thank you IWWG!

Here’s a little about the organization:

The IWWG, founded in 1976, is a network for the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing and open to all regardless of portfolio. As such, it has established a remarkable record of achievement in the publishing world, as well as in circles where lifelong learning and personal transformation are valued for their own sake. The Guild nurtures and supports holistic thinking by recognizing the logic of the heart–the ability to perceive the subtle interconnections between people, events and emotions- alongside conventional logic.

Have you stretched your wings and made some new friends lately? When was the last time you just wrote for fun? Because if you aren’t having fun, what’s the point, right?

Vacation Inspiration

A common question asked of writers is where we get our ideas for our stories. Some will say it’s the ‘Muse”. Others might say ideas are born from snapshots of characters who speak to us or a seed of inspiration that drops in from the aethers. Both are probably true, but as for me, I believe ideas are born from life experiences.

PJ Sharon here, coming to you fresh (or a little less than fresh) off a twelve day road trip up the West Coast. Call it a much needed and long overdue vacation, a visit to celebrate with my eldest son who just turned 33 (Holy cow! How did that happen? I turned 33 only yesterday!), or call it what it was…research. Since my last big vacation–a Mediterranean cruise with my mother-in-law back in 2011 that led me to write PIECES of LOVE, hubby and I were happy to splurge on some time away from our daily rat race.

Despite suffering the usual vacation mishaps, such as a missed flight, the dreaded airplane flu three days in with a side trip to the ER in San Rafael, and a questionable hotel stay or two, we had loads of fun and saw some amazing sights! And yes, I took copious notes and tons of pictures. I’d like to share some of my experiences and how they might serve to inspire me and my books.

The trip started in San Francisco with a lovely four day visit with my son who lives in wine country out there–the perfect backdrop for a romance novel. We did the usual touristy things like wine tasting in Napa Valley and a ride out to Bodega Bay to cruise the coast. In the city, we took a  trolley up to the cable car museum, then ate at Neptune’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, and watched street performers on the Embarcadero. GhirardelliAnd I couldn’t visit San Francisco without stopping by Ghirardelli’s.doing time in alcatraz

When a tour of Alcatraz landed me behind bars, I imagined the desperate souls who were once imprisoned behind those walls, looking out at the world beyond, the distant voices from the city by the bay a  constant reminder of an untouchable freedom.

After a sad farewell to my boy, we headed up the coast, through the rolling green and gold hills of wine country, and beyond to the Redwood Forests. I hugged some magnificent trees, connecting to their ancient life energy. Trees that have stood since the time of Christ and seen generations pass their way. I imagined a native hugging this same tree some five hundred years ago and felt the spirits deep in my soul. Massive creatures 300 feet tall and 30 feet around, whose roots interconnect with one another in a web of underground life. It sounds crazy to people who aren’t sensitive to such things (or creative enough to imagine), but in my minds eye, I see limbs that come alive and faces in every knot and outgrowth. Elementals perhaps? I can totally see this being the setting for a paranormal series, fey romance or historical Native American romance…oooh…maybe a time travel story.Hugging the grandfather treecrater lake oregon

We said goodbye to the giant Redwoods and continued our journey. Next came a detour inland to Crater Lake, Oregon–a sight not to be missed! Formed from a volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, the collapse created a crater almost 2,000 feet deep. Over time, the bed filled with crystal clear rain water and centuries of ice cold snow melt. Through checks and balances of seepage and evaporation, the lake has found its way. The story possibilities boggle the mind!

Winding our way back to the coast led us to the quaint town of Florence, up through the seal caves, and along the twists and turns of route 101 until we reached Cannon Beach in norther Oregon. This was on my darling husband’s bucket list, so we splurged on a beautiful hotel room right on the Pacific coastline with Haystack Rock outside our door. Every romance includes long walks on a beach and golden sunsets, a glass of good wine, and two people who would lay down their lives for one another. I’m not sure if I could write romance if i didn’t have that in my life.

Not to be underestimated, the power of alone time is also necessary. haystack rock cannon beach. oregonWaking to the mammoth rock, a cool, dry breeze, and the sound of the Puffins nesting high up on the “haystack” shaped stone, I enjoyed my morning meditation and a much needed yoga practice before we walked around the touristy little town, admiring the glass blown art and lovely beachfront properties.

Then it was up through the small fishing village of Astoria, site of fun and famous movies such as Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies. We ate yummy seafood and visited the Maritime Museum–another of hubby’s “must do’s”.

Our final stay was in my new favorite city, Seattle! An entertaining duck boat tour gave us great views of the sky line and a city tour that helped orient us for the short stay so we could decide what we wanted to see most.seattle skyline Pike Street Market Place and the famous Space Needle were highlights as was the people watching in Westlake Center.Pike street market

space needle 2

Mount St. Helens made for a fabulous day trip despite the deep bowl being shrouded in clouds the day we visited. We didn’t have to imagine what the 1981 eruption might have looked like since there were dozens of pictures taken that fateful day in May over thirty years ago. The twenty minute movie that takes you up close and personal with the destructive force of the event was surreal. Nearly every sign of life in over 200 square miles was destroyed that day, leaving a path of destruction and magma that turned the surface of the Earth to a moonlike St. helens lava flow Acres of trees were flattened or swept away, the nearby Spirit Lake filling with lumber and wiping out much of the water life below. But as with all stories, there came a happy ending when life began to emerge from beneath the ground and under the snow covered mountainside. The current state of new life, growth, and natural beauty give hope for a bright future, made possible by the conservationists committed to preserving the land–a labor of true love if I’ve ever seen it.

Our final adventure occurred on our return trip home. It seemed silly to spend a three hour lay-over in the Las Vegas airport when we could take a shuttle over to the Vegas strip and have breakfast while checking out the scene.mgm 2 I’ve never been to Vegas before but did a ton of research for WESTERN DESERT, book two  in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I wished I’d been able to take this trip BEFORE I wrote the second book. It was fun to see the MGM Grand,  but somehow, I imagined the whole strip to be bigger. All the same, Google didn’t do it justice.

Sometimes, the best way to get inspired is to take a road trip.

Have you ever written about a place you’ve traveled to? Where do you find your inspiration?

RWA 2013 Wrap Up

I’m back from my first RWA conference and I’m EXHAUSTED! But I’m feeling invigorated too. I’m excited to write again. I’ve been so busy with life that writing began to feel like a chore. But five days in a hotel with 2500 romance writers and I feel like I’m ready to charge ahead and push myself to write the best damn book possible.

Here’s a recap of my week. (WARNING: Some serious name dropping is about to happen.)

I arrive on Tuesday. Not much is going on. Most of the writers are just arriving. The place to hang out is the bar. Alcohol and romance writers. Yes, please. Of course I’m there with my lovely CTRWA chaptermates. Suddenly I look up and see Nora. NORA. Do I even have to give a last name? Nora Roberts. J.D Robb. Holy shit. I’m star struck. I stare at her. STARE. Because I can’t take my eyes off of her. Romance writers are my rock stars. And there Nora was sitting with a group of friends and her publicist that never leaves her side. She looks rich and fabulous and  famous. Like she’s the queen of romance. And to me that’s pretty damn cool.

Wednesday there are no workshops. Many of the writers and still filtering in through out the day. Registering. Getting the big bag of books and goodies that come with registration. There’s a mall connected to the hotel. Of course I go shopping with my chaptermates. We grab a cheap dinner in the food court. There is a Jill Shalvis sighting. I have to stop myself from yelling out to her. “Where’s Higgins?” Or “Do you have any extra cookies?” (You have to follow her on Facebook to understand what I’m talking about.) Later that night there was the HUGE literacy signing. Sixty thousand dollars was raised Wednesday. Our own Katy Lee was signing. I was so proud to see her. I then went to see Brenda Jackson. She just turned in her 100th book. 100 books! I look at her and I’m amazed. I totally embarrass myself. “I want to be you when I grow up,” I gush at her. “I think you are amazing!” Luckily she doesn’t call security on me and lets me take a picture with her. She’s so gracious and lovely. I wish I could be like her, but she has more poise in her little finger than I have in my whole body.

Me and Ms. Jackson

Katy Lee

Thursday was a big day for me. I went to some interesting workshops. My first was on avoiding cliche and then I went to Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson’s workshop on writing family saga’s. Me and sister scribe Viv really enjoyed the talk. and Beverly Jenkins is probably one of the most funny writers I have ever seen. “Keep your shit together,” is what I took away from that workshop. I needed to hear that from Ms. Jenkins. As writers we all need to hear that. I met with my editor Holly for the first time. I started working with her over a year ago and we have worked on three books so far, so it was great to see her in person and just chat. Later that day was the Keynote luncheon where Cathy Maxwell gave one hell of a rousing speech. She simultaneously made two thousand of us want to pick up our pens and jump back into our writing. Later that day I’m in the elevator with a couple of ladies, one of them was wearing an orange first timer ribbon like I was. The other woman, a sweet looking petite redhead, asked us how we were enjoying our conference. We had a nice chat on the way down to the lobby. Even after the elevator stopped the redhead and I kept talking as we walked out. And then she introduced herself. “I’m Jayne Krentz,” she says. Jayne Krentz. Jayne Ann Krentz. Also known as Sabrina Quick, author of so many amazing novels. I have read a half dozen of her New York Times bestselling novels. I stupidly say, “You’re Jayne Ann Krentz?” She kind of makes a vague gesture towards herself, as if to say, “Yeah, dummy. I’m just a normal person.”  She is a normal person and a very nice person. Later I go to her signing and she signed at book to me, “Thanks for the elevator ride that I’ll never forget.” I LOVE her.

Jamie and Viv

Friday was an amazing day. Kristan Higgins gave the awards luncheon speech. I don’t know how to put into words how freaking fantastic she was. I laughed and cried and got goose bumps. If you ever get the chance to listen to it please do. She showed us a side of herself that we don’t normally see. She spoke about bullying and loss and poverty and grief. And how reading romance helped her through the tough times in life. As a member of her chapter I was so proud to see her up there. And for the rest of the conference I was proudly telling the world that I was in The Kristan Higgins chapter. I also met with my Harlequin editor, Tara, that day. What I write for Harlequin is vastly different from what I write for St. Martins Press and we talked a little about how I was going market and build a new brand. Later that night I met up with Amelia Grey and Mary Jo Putney to head to SMP cocktail party. Amelia is a historical romance writer who wrote one of my favs, A Duke to Die For. And Mary Jo Putney… When I met her she was just introduced to me as Mary Jo. I didn’t realize she was the Mary Jo Putney. She’s a legend and she was the recipient of the 2013 lifetime achievement award for RWA. She’s also super quirky and funny. If you don’t know her, read her books. We walked the six or so blocks to the party together. I was wearing stupid high, strappy shoes that were not made for walking. By the time I got to the party my feet were hurting so bad I could barely stand. So I left that party early, went back to my room, put on flat shoes and headed out to the Harlequin party. They throw an awesome event and I was honored to be apart of it. Romance writers and the best dancers. And those inspirational romance writers really know how to party. It was great seeing everybody have so much fun.

Best Speech Ever

Saturday the exhaustion starts to kick in. I’m too tired to make it downstairs for any workshops. But I do manage to get my act together enough to mail the dozen or so books home that WILL NOT fit in my suitcase. Later that day I have my first on camera interview with Fresh Fiction TV. I was nervous as hell, but the people at Fresh Fiction are so nice they put me at ease and when I spoke about my book, DANGEROUS CURVES AHEAD, I was actually coherent. After that I went to my very first book signing. St. Martins Press was kind enough to order fifty ARCs for me to sign. I didn’t think anybody was going to come to my line. I’m such a newbie and Cherry Adair was there! But all my books went and they went quickly and strangers were asking to take their picture with me. It was surreal and awesome and so much fun to meet and talk to all those people. I finally felt like an author. After countless rejections and years crippling doubt I finally felt like I had made it. It was a great feeling. And I want to thank all the CTRWAers who came out to the signing to encourage me! Your presence there really helped put a girl at ease.


Saturday night was the RITAs, the Oscars of the romance writing world. The event was fun we had great seats and I got to see some of my favorite authors take home that beautiful golden statue. It was a great way to end the conference. Being there that night gave me new goals. To win a RITA. I don’t care how long it takes. I’m going to keep writing the best damn possible books that I can until I get there. And my other goal is to publish 100 books whether it be through  the traditional model or self publishing. Buy the end of 2014 I’ll have 5 books and one novella in print. I’m on my way. And I’m going to keep writing until I can’t do it anymore.

You can probably tell by this long and rambling post that my brain is fried, but it’s a good kind of fried. How was your week? And what goals do you have for yourself.

Are you repeating yourself?

PJ here. I love the editing process. Well…love might be too strong a word. What I do love, though, is learning my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and layering my story with the fine brush strokes that hopefully make the characters leap off the page and the plot keep readers riveted.

As I’m reading through a printed copy of WESTERN DESERT, my editor’s voice rings in my ear.

Coming June 24, 2013!
Coming June 24, 2013!
She has pointed out a specific weakness many times, but I couldn’t see it for myself until I read it on a printed page. There are just some things my eyes don’t pick up on the computer screen. In my case, it’s the glaringly repetitious -ing sentence structure that results in lots of “telling”. It seems I have a habit of structuring my sentences as follows:

We stopped only when necessary and took turns driving, making good time and closing in on our destination.

All in all, it’s not a horrible sentence, but repeating this pattern frequently can really bog down the writing. This is clearly a case of “telling”–beginning with a subject/verb construction, using –ing words, and making it a weak sentence that is unnecessarily long. Ooops! I did it again! Did you catch it? I’ve used two phrases connected by a comma, requiring me to use the gerund form of the verb in the second phrase. Darn it! I did it yet again! I can’t seem to help myself, LOL. Believe me, it was an eye opener when I finally saw it. Hopefully, I’ve taken care of the problem through most of the manuscript. If not, I’m certain my second round with an editor will catch it.

As for strengths, I’ve been told I have a knack for description. Here’s an example of using description to ground the reader in place and to paint a picture of the scene.

In the distance the Western mountain ranges turned a deep purple under clouds of smoke from wild-fires gone unmanaged. The coastal winds from the ocean beyond carried the wayward flames toward the desert, but with nothing but sand and cactus, they would die of starvation long before they reached us or the city of Las Vegas.

Although this could be considered telling, in just a few sentences you get a clear picture of the environment and lots of information about what’s happening. Like most writers, I struggle with brevity—the art of saying more with fewer words—but I’m definitely improving.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Do you have any particularly stubborn habits that bog down your writing?