The book list to end all book lists

As I prepare to go away with some friends for our yearly vacation, one thing stands out as the high-point of the trip (outside of all the talking, laughing, and eating of course)– and that is the used bookstore we always visit. Every year, I buy way more than I’ll actually read, finding a strange sense of security in an overflowing bookshelf.

This year I intended to go in with a plan if possible. And then I found this rather exciting list:

While I’ve read a solid number of the books included in the list, there are many I don’t own and others I have yet to read, making this a perfect guide to take to the used bookstore with me.

Feel free to use this list in your own yearly reading plan (if you make one), or even just when you can’t decide what to read next.

Happy reading! Happy writing!


Making it real: Are the stakes high enough?

Something I’ve noticed in my beginning writing students is that often they’ll have a great story idea, a command of character motivation(s), and even a solid grasp on writing dialogue.

Where they fall short is in the stakes. Simply put, many writers fail to recognize that knowing a character’s outer motivation isn’t enough (s/he wants to get a date with that special someone, they want to land the perfect job, win the race, or whatever other outer tangible motivation you can think of).

In order to write a high-quality novel, short story, or screenplay, a writer also needs to understand (and be capable of clearly articulating) why this outer motivation matters. In other words, what will your main character lose if s/he doesn’t get whatever they’re after?

I’ll say it as gently as I can, if your character’s life goes back to basically the same thing win OR lose, well, your stakes aren’t high enough.

I know. You’re ticked I’m adding something else to your writing/ editing checklist. But trust me, you’ll be glad in the end.

Think about it, when Rocky Balboa is ready to fight Apollo Creed, he is a changed man. Don’t get me wrong, the fight itself does matter (sort of), but Rocky’s real victory is in being mentally and physically up to the challenge. He’s done all he can do and guess what? He’s no longer a bum- that means life will never be the same.

Now, consider this information in regard to your own character. How will s/he be different if they get what they want? How will s/he be different if they don’t? If you can’t answer, or if the answer is weak, that means your stakes aren’t high enough.

So, your next line of defense is to ask, how can you up the ante? Some basic ideas are putting your character in physical or emotional danger (will there be a death? A psychological impact?), or personal danger (losing family connections, a sense of well-being, etc.)- these are just some of your options. Think about what is most important to your protagonist and put that in jeopardy as it connects to his/ her motivation.

Seriously. Filter your favorite book or movie through this conversation and you’ll see it works.

Try it out. Ask yourself what is at stake in your WIP? How can you up the ante?

How to write a story

Seems like this might be a redundant topic for a blog aimed at writers, doesn’t it? And yet, IMHO we should always be learning and seeking ways to be better at what we do. A writer isn’t trained and that’s it (and as a person with three writing degrees, I know from whence I speak).

So, read, write, learn.

And check out this video. Let me know what you think in the comments. Did anything specific stand out to you?

Fashion for writers

When writing, I personally have to be comfortable, not tailored. While I may toss out a few great lines while still in my work clothes, I work best in clothing that could actually embarrass my family. As in, I wouldn’t wear those clothes out of the house.

But you don’t have to dress like me to be successful in your writing practice. Writing is a solo effort, so comfort is key. I’ve collected a few thoughts that may be helpful as you sit (stand, walk, float—or however your creative process works) to write.

A few things to keep in mind:

Where are you writing?

Where you write may directly impact what you wear. I can’t assume everyone writes at a desk just because I do most of my work in my home office. This means no one but my poor husband has to look at my ratty sweatpants and stained tee shirts, topped off by a half-hearted ponytail in my maybe-once-early-that-day brushed hair. Writing at home means I don’t have to impress anyone and my characters can pretend what I’m wearing doesn’t matter—even if my hubby struggles with this one.

But your writing may happen as you float in a pool, sit on your deck, at a desk in a local library, or even a table at your favorite coffee shop. Being conscientious of those around you is wise when selecting your best writing wear, but even more importantly, aim for your own comfort, inspiration, and productivity.

When are you writing?

Writing late at night or early in the morning may mean you write in your pajamas. You’ll get no judgment from me. But if you’re stealing away during office hours or in between running the kids to a thousand activities, your writing wear may be influenced beyond your own level of control. If you are stuck at work and hate feeling so professional, kick off the constricting shoes under your desk (guilty), or even loosen the tie a bit. Or, for some of you this work-wear makes you feel more productive- then by all means, keep it up!

All this means is…

Personally, I need to be comfortable, and often write later in the day (after work, but before dinner and after dinner but before bed), I am done with dress clothes for the day. I’d advise writing in whatever is comfortable, makes you happy, and maybe even sparks a little creativity (or perhaps better brings you into the story world? For instance, if you’re writing about professional athletes and want to wear the team jersey, go for it!)

Last but not least, I prefer not to wear shoes when writing. Do you have any fashion quirks when you write? A lucky hat or other article of clothing (I’ve got a great Boston Red Sox hat few but me still love)? Let’s have a little fun and share! Comment below!

Guest Blog: The Top 5 Episode of Love, Death, and Robots You Should Watch

Please enjoy this guest blog post written by Andrew Karp:

Among the plethora of Netflix original series that have come out over the past couple of years, Love, Death, and Robots stands out; bold and unapologetic with its mature, science fiction atmosphere. Being touted as the first adult animated series on the platform, Love, Death, and Robots shows that Netflix is more than willing to step away from the norm and deliver a wild, sensational anthology of unmatched proportion. Directed by Deadpool’s Tim Miller, the 18 episode series covers everything from alternative forms of Hitler’s death to a super-intelligent yogurt taking over America, to archeologists discovering the lost tomb of Dracula. Miller called the show a “love letter to nerds” as it expresses the varied possibilities that the sci-fi genre has to offer. A word of warning, however, as the show pulls no punches in what it is willing to show. Graphical violence and nudity are commonplace among most of the episodes. The show is gleeful in these depictions, brandishing unique visuals in fun and creative ways that hadn’t yet been explored in an animated Netflix original. Above all else, Love, Death, and Robots is an explosion of imaginative animation. If you want to know where to start, look no further than these episodes that present some of the best that the series has to offer.

Sonnie’s Edge

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Episode 1. The introductory episode to the series invites us to an underground fighting ring. Rather than fighting with their own fists, however, combatants pilot alien-like monsters to do the dirty work. Right out of the gate we get a feel for the tone of Love, Death, and Robots. Colorful animation and interesting monster design welcome us into this world alongside a barebones fight that cares little for subtlety. This episode also lets us know that the series won’t shy away from showing some skin, giving us a well-rounded introduction into our sci-fi anthology.


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Episode 4. We find ourselves in the country. Surrounded by loving neighbors and fields of crops, we know this is home. And what better way to protect that home by hopping into your mech and shooting down some interdimensional insect monsters? With animation that teeters on the edge between 2D and 3D, we are welcomed into the world of Hank and Beth as they team up with their neighbors to fend off an impending threat. The clean and polished mecha style found in classic Japanese anime such as Gurren Lagann and Neon Genesis Evangelion is brought to a more rustic feel as these homemade suits shift and clank with each movement. With no gore or sexual themes in sight, Suits stands as its own feet as a purely enjoyable story.

Lucky 13

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Episode 13 (appropriately). Sony Pictures Animation struts its stuff with this installment. The photo-realistic animation welcomes us to a futuristic army base and to Lieutenant Colby, a rookie who must fly drop ship number 13. Two crews were lost under the protection of ‘Unlucky 13’, but Colby gives the old bucket of bolts a chance. Arguably the most impressive in terms of lifelike visuals, Lucky 13 is a welcome tale of loyalty among the other episodes and themes.

Good Hunting

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Episode 8. One of the few episodes with full 2D animation, Good Hunting boasts the most interesting setting among the stories in Love, Death, and Robots. Feudal Japan gets a steampunk makeover, transforming the location itself as well as altering some of the traditional creatures found in Japanese folklore. Fans of myth or history are sure to find something to enjoy from this installment, and it’s sure to leave an impression over other episodes in the series.

Zima Blue

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Episode 14. Among the excessive violence and in-your-face sexual themes, Zima Blue stands alone as a story of discontentedness and simplicity. The universe is painted for us in all its grandeur, with colors splashed across the screen leaving us to marvel at its spectacle. From all the larger than life stories that are presented in Love, Death, and Robots, Zima Blue asks us to consider the beauty in the simple, personal aspects of life. If some of the mature content mentioned before turns you off to the series as a whole, I still strongly encourage you to take the time and watch this one episode. I’m sure you’ll see why once you do.

A little bit of Tess…

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For today’s blog, I thought I’d share the first chapter of my latest book, Forgiving Tess. If you like what you read, you can grab a print or digital copy from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Enjoy!



Ephesians 5:8 “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.”

The doors squeaked open and Tess Carson stepped outside where a wave of heat hit hard, making her want to dive back into the air-conditioned safety of the bus. She wondered whether her skin was melting as sweat trickled down her arm and dripped onto the pavement with a sizzle.

Tess was annoyed at everything and yet trying desperately not to be. The trouble was her life, the humidity, the stiff-backed bus seats, and especially Uncle Stu—who’d dragged her along on this mission trip—seemed bent on reminding her of all that continued to war against her. It was the first time she’d been away from her hometown in nearly two years and she wasn’t sure she was ready, even if she wasn’t given a choice; Uncle Stu made sure she was coming along. Otherwise, he wouldn’t bail her out again.

“Come on, let’s get settled.” Tess didn’t need to look to know it was Stu who’d walked by, his backpack shouldered on one side of his body. He wasn’t a tall man, but his presence made up for it. He was kind, firm, and lately- the only person remaining who was willing to give Tess another chance.

Tess drew a deep breath, certain her hair was rapidly turning to thick and unruly frizz in the humidity. As if she cared how she looked.

“I still don’t get why you hate me,” Tess muttered as she tugged her backpack higher on her shoulder. While she didn’t care that she’d left a majority of her minimal wardrobe at home, it did bother her that this pit stop after graduation from nursing school meant she was forced to wait even longer to begin applying for work that would take her away from her hometown and into the rest of her life.

It was a move she needed desperately.

“That’s not how you change, Mouthy,” Uncle Stu said, using his nickname for her- one, he insisted, she deserved.

Humph. Tess never cared much for Uncle Stu’s wisdom, no matter how right he always was.

“I can change without frying to death.”

Stu glanced at the group of people from his church who volunteered to go to the small town near Cocoa Beach to help build a youth center for their sister church there. Tess slowly followed him toward the bunkhouse.

“You aren’t going to fry to death,” he muttered. “These people took time from work-some of them vacation time that they could be spending laying on a beach instead of being taunted by working near one.”

Tess looked into her uncle’s deep brown eyes and nodded. Everyone else danced around the subject instead of getting to it, but not Stu; he told Tess the truth and refused to hold back even when it was hard.

Maybe that was why she trusted him.

“You’re right. I’m working on it. Scouts honor.”

Stu nodded and reached out to give her a big hug. “I love you, kid. Come on.” He started walking toward the large building in front of them. They’d arrived at a church complex that was a neighbor to the Cocoa Beach Alliance church where they were going to be helping rebuild a youth center that was badly damaged by a tropical storm. The neighboring church, St. Luke’s, offered to allow the use of its activities building to feed the missionary workers, who would sleep in bunkhouses behind the church. Since it was only a short walk to the Alliance church, it was a great set up.

Tess started to walk with him but realized she’d left a bag in the cargo hold of the bus. “I’ll catch up,” she said. “I forgot the extra Bibles.”

Stu nodded and kept going as Tess turned and ran back to the bus where several members of the team were divvying up their luggage. Tess hung back, waiting for a chance to grab her bag. She hadn’t yet tried to make friends with many of the people on the trip, which was better anyway. Tess had burned a lot of bridges and making amends was difficult. Besides, if she didn’t have friends, she didn’t have to work to keep them.

“Need a hand?” a deep voice asked behind her. Tess turned and found herself facing a broad chest. She raised her eyes and was stunned to be looking into the familiar blue eyes of her childhood friend Joshua Thorne, a man she hadn’t seen in over twelve years.

What was he doing here?

Tess was certain her heart stopped beating and her knees definitely were weak. She drew a breath in an effort to bring strength.

Inwardly she groaned. Those sweet dimples were even sweeter now.

Josh lived next door to Tess and her family for seven years of their childhood, and he’d been best friends with Tess’s brother, Brody. The boys played on the softball and basketball teams together- and of course a little football too, while Tess, who was five years younger, trailed after them trying to keep up. But the friendship was so much more. They’d hung out together. And if there’s anything to be said about kids, the real learning and bonding takes place in those moments when you’re doing nothing. That’s when you’re doing everything.

In a flash, Tess remembered that his birthday was August tenth, he loved her grandmother’s blueberry muffins, and he hated when Tess taunted him about his terrible pitching record from his sophomore year. All in all, not bad for not having dreamed of him in so long.

And he’d once entered her dreams every single night.

Tess’s mouth opened but she was unable to form any words. Instead she stared up at him stupidly, thinking that he’d gotten even more handsome since she’d seen him last- when he was eighteen and heading to college and she was mourning the loss of the boy she was certain would one day be her husband. Back then he’d been cocky, followed by a gaggle of giggling girls who were certain he was in love with them all. It made Tess so jealous that she’d gotten into more trouble than she wanted to remember ruining his dates as only smitten teenaged girl could.

Tess worked to say something, cursing herself that the words still refused to emerge. Surely Uncle Stu knew about this. Why hadn’t he warned her?

“Um, hi…” she said weakly.

Josh smiled. “I’m guessing Stu didn’t tell you this is my church?” he asked. Tess shook her head. Why did he insist on looking like he’d walked straight off a movie set? She swallowed hard, now wishing her hair didn’t look like she’d taken a bath with her toaster.

“He… didn’t mention it,” she said softly. Josh nodded as Tess turned to grab her bag, glad for the distraction. Her childish love for him was the stuff embarrassment was made of- complete with foolish homemade gifts and ridiculous gestures. She was certain he could remember it all as well as she could. Her stomach tied itself in knots as image after image of her pranks played in her mind. It was foolish to hope he’d forgotten.

Reluctantly, Tess turned back and looked up again to find he was still smiling. “You look great,” he said.

So, he was a liar. At least he wasn’t completely perfect. There was some solace in that.

But looking up at him was giving Tess a neck cramp. Had he grown after he left for college?

“Your dimples look great too,” she said, cursing herself when Josh laughed. She blew a stray piece of hair from her eyes and continued, hoping he would quickly be distracted by something –or maybe a flash hurricane would allow the ground to swallow her. “What…? I mean, you go to church here?”

“I’m the youth pastor.”

Tess’s stomach sank. Another score for him, another strike for her. “Youth pastor? Wow. Congratulations, that’s… impressive,” she said awkwardly.  “Um… yeah. So, I better go. I’m sure I’ll see you later.”

Tess started to walk away but Josh grabbed her arm and swung her back around, causing her to nearly drop the Bibles. He grabbed them to steady her.

“Hey! We have a lot of catching up to do!” he exclaimed.

Josh kept hold of her elbow as Tess prayed he’d let go and she could melt into the pavement. Instead, he steered her past a group of young girls who were wearing matching green tee shirts- probably members of his youth group. They watched Josh territorially before turning back to each other with whispers and giggles. They’d made themselves comfortable at a nearby picnic table and seemed uninterested in moving.

“You girls could help the team with the luggage!” Josh called over his shoulder. “Clarissa… Lydia… Taylor…Lila… get a move on.” The girls scrambled off the picnic table and went to the remaining ministry members who were struggling with packages, materials, and luggage.

“You sure do have a way with them,” Tess said as he led her into a tiny office and closed the door.

Where did Uncle Stu go?

Tess gulped as she drank in the walls, covered in sports memorabilia and pictures of Josh and his family, as well as a few that included Tess, her brother Brody and even their parents. She looked up at Josh and smiled, aware that there wasn’t one picture of him with anyone who could have been mistaken for a wife, fiancée, or girlfriend.

Interesting. None of her business. But, interesting.

“Um… what’s up?” Tess asked, reminding herself that she was a grown woman, not a kid sick with puppy-love.

Josh pulled her into a hug. “I can’t believe you’re here! Stu said you were coming but I asked him not to say anything so it would be a surprise!” He stepped back, his hands still on her shoulders. “So, surprise!”

He smelled amazing. Tess wondered if it was possible for her entire body to be on fire. Or maybe she was getting a glimpse of what hell was actually like. Although she was certain of her salvation, it never hurt to be reminded of how far she’d come.

“Yeah…” Tess tried to sound cheerful as she watched Josh go behind the desk and flop into his chair as if exhausted and relieved all at the same time.

And he was still grinning. Would it kill him to put the dimples away?

“Please sit. I’ve been so excited you were coming that I hardly slept.”

“Really? You were that excited about seeing ME?” Now Tess smiled as she lowered herself into a worn chair and tried to wrap her mind around what he’d just said. She’d spent years pining for him- granted, back then things couldn’t possibly have worked out- but the words he’d spoken were ones she once longed for, but likely ones that were based on his idealized view of a childhood that had long since passed them both.

Surely she could hold him at a distance and run away before he discovered all the ways she was no longer a child.

Tess squirmed as Josh continued staring at her, his dimples popping as he grinned goofily. She drew a deep breath and tried to assess the situation.

There were a few options. She could run and hide, hitch her way back home and be gone to who-knows-where before Uncle Stu even got back. But of course that meant when Stu did find her- and Tess was sure he would eventually- he’d wring her neck and disown her.

Since he was the only family left who still had any faith in her, that plan wouldn’t work.

Of course Tess could simply tell Josh everything and get on with it. He’d be embarrassed for how he was acting, but better that over the final alternative which was the one the new Tess was certain she was going to take.

With a smile that could win her an Oscar, Tess met Josh’s eyes and decided to ignore the problem entirely. She was going back home when her work on the youth center was complete and Josh would be staying in Florida; they’d never see each other again- or at least not for a long time- preferably after Tess moved as far away as possible and Josh had no way of finding her.

“It’s great to see you, Jed. But it sure is a…surprise.” Her childhood nickname for him slipped out so easily Tess hoped he didn’t catch it.

Josh laughed. “No one’s called me that in a long time, Tornado,” he said with a wink.

Tess blushed. Josh often called her a ‘pig-tailed tornado’ when she’d made yet another mess he and Brody were forced to clean up. It was one more reason she’d fallen hard for him.

Well, that’s what her childish brain concluded anyway.

“And no one calls me Tornado either.” Even if they still think of me that way. She glanced around his office. “Listen, this is great and I do want to catch up but shouldn’t we… get back? Isn’t there a barbeque?”

“Oh!” Josh stood quickly. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking… you must be hungry.”

“It’s not that…” Tess said. “I figured you’d need to… work?” She had no clue what went into being a youth pastor, but she was certain it didn’t include reminiscing with your old friends while the team that came to help you re-build a youth center waited for dinner.

Josh smiled and Tess instantly warmed. She smiled back.

“You’re right. How ‘bout we eat, and once things quiet down you and I can slip away for a cherry ice cream cone? There’s a great place not far from here.”

Against her better judgment, Tess found herself nodding. She never could turn down cherry ice cream. “Sure. And then I can harass you in private.” Where had that come from? Already she was flirting with him? Tess mentally kicked herself while Josh chuckled.

“Great. I can’t wait to hear about what you’ve been up to- and Brody…your grandma!” Josh stood and Tess did too. “Let’s go get you some food so you don’t faint. I’ll bug you for information later.”

Tess smiled and nodded as he held the door and followed her out of his office.


Want to read more? Check out the link for Amazon (also available through 


Are the bad guys in your current WIP bad enough?

Sometimes writers get lazy when crafting their villains. It’s possible that working on the protagonist(s), their backstories, motivations, obstacles, and so on is such demanding and time-consuming work that a new or beginning writer (and if I’m honest here, sometimes a seasoned veteran) just gets lazy.

Let’s stop that right here.

Your villain needs a deep investment of time and energy to ensure he or she is a formidable opponent for the main character. The villain might even be better, stronger, or more dynamic than the protagonist- imagine that!

In developing a strong, motivated villain, the reader/ viewer gets a bonus emotional experience that bolts them to the edge of their seat, turning pages, watching without blinking while the protagonist has to exhibit as-yet unseen courage to WIN in the end. (Remember, winning can be learning, growing, getting what they want or not- but it ultimately means that the protagonist has an arc, and can’t be the same person at the end of the story that they were at the beginning)

So, writers, spend time developing that villain.

Consider, what does he/ she want and why. What makes the villain a bad guy?

A valuable resource to consider is Jessica Page Morrell’s book Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction.

Happy, wicked, evil villain writing to you!!

A little advice from a master: William Goldman

I was looking for a little something to add into my screenwriting course near the end of a semester, and I fortunately stumbled on this gem featuring screenwriting master William Goldman. I hope his words of advice move (and entertain) you as much as they did me.

Enjoy. And keep writing.

Guest Blog: Avengers Hype

Please enjoy this guest blog post written by Payton Durbin!

Hype is defined as extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion, and Avengers: Endgame has had some of the most extravagant buildup of this that I have ever seen. We will finally see the conclusion to a conflict that began with the first Avengers film in 2012. Seven years of hype for this moment, but how did Marvel do this and will it pay off.

The post-credit scene of the first Avengers film was one of the best teasers that I have seen in theaters. We are in space with a servant talking to a shaded figure and when he is done speaking, he turns around and it is revealed as Thanos. With the success of the first Avengers film, it was not a surprise to see the internet blow up with theories about what Marvel was going to do with the franchise with this simple 5-second reveal of a character. It is here the hype begins for Endgame.

After this Marvel had many solo movies, most of them being involved with the infinity stones. These are the most powerful things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and for the people that did their research after seeing the Thanos reveal they would have discovered that Thanos’ plan is to gather all of these infinity stones and use them to achieve his goal. These small little story beats were actually a great way of explaining what each of the stones are, while also being little pieces of hype for when Thanos shows up for his fight against the Avengers.

Finally, after three years of waiting the audience got Avengers two, only to be teased with a different villain. People were still happy with the film but were at the end there was another teaser for Thanos, but this one almost guaranteed that the next Avengers film would have Thanos be the main villain. The shot shows a glove known as the infinity gauntlet; this glove has the ability to control all the infinity stones. Thanos puts on the glove and says, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”

Proceeding this we got new solo films about new characters that would be involved in Avengers three to help buildup the hype for Thanos. Added more characters showed that the Avengers needed all the help they could get in order to stand a chance against Thanos. Some people questioned, do they really need all these heroes with the comic book fans answering they need more, to be honest. All these movies and character to build up to Avengers: Infinity War.

After three more years of waiting Avengers: Infinity War came out. With this much time going by with a total of eighteen movies in the MCU people were beginning to be burnt out of the MCU, but Infinity War was fantastic and had one of the most stunning endings I have seen in theaters. I remember hearing a kid say as I walked out the theater, “Am I going to disappear too?” A film with that impact is incredible, but that is just it. The villain won in the end, meaning it was not over yet. There was still one more Avengers film to end it all.

There would be one more year of build to the conclusion of this saga: Avengers: Endgame. Seven whole years of waiting for the conclusion, will this build up pay off? I believe it will, currently all three Avengers films are in the top ten of the top grossing films of all time, with Avengers: Infinity War being number four. Tickets have been sold out for the early premiere weeks before Endgame’s release and with the power of social media, people do not want to be spoiled so they have the urge to see it opening weekend if possible. I have no doubt this film will be the top grossing film of all time. With all the hype around it, I would be surprised if it did not become the top-grossing film.

Websites for writers

Like so many of you, I’m always interested in great resources for writers. I found a link from 2017 (a little dated, but still worth the effort to check out) and thought I’d share it on today’s blog. You may want to take the list in chunks since there is so much here, or perhaps look for sites and blogs specific to your interests and needs. I hope this is helpful to you!

Happy writing!