It’s beginning to look a lot like–

Poop. Christmas? Already?

Yes! Before Halloween, even. Dis-gusting, I know. But, it could be worse.

Shortly before Christmas last year, I was contracted by Entangled Press to write a book for them.  It wasn’t a book of my own creation, but one they’d outlined. It was up to me to flesh it out.

It was–rather, I should say is–a Christmas-themed book.

When I first started writing Santa Maybe, carols played, lights twinkled, and everyone was merry and bright. But, as usual, the holiday passed. The air grew warm. The Easter Bunny came and left. Flowers bloomed. And I was still writing that &#@!*$ Christmas book.

Baseball season began; my son played first base while I sat in the car with my laptop, melting and cursing Christmas. By this point, I was channeling my hero, Justin. Justin loathes Christmas, mostly because his dad was killed during the holiday. It’s not his happiest time of year. (Understandably.) That little character “thing” made the book that much harder to write. Depressed heroes are not fun–or funny. (Did I mention this was supposed to be a romantic comedy?)

Finally, I finished the first draft and in May I sent the book to my editor. (If I could have flung it at her, I would have. By this point, I did not love this book. I mean, seriously. Santa in the Springtime is just plain wrong.) Worse, she sent the wretched thing back. For revisions. In August! I had to wonder how they can stand Christmas in Australia; it was hard to write (or think) sentimentally about snow, sugar cookies and the scent of balsams when you’re gulping iced tea and slathering on sunscreen. (I considered sticking my head in the freezer a few times to get in the right mood…)

You know, I even had dreams that it was Christmas, and it was muggy and there were leaves on the trees (and shrimp on the barbi? Which was really weird because I live in Rhode Island, USA), and everyone looked at me like I’d gone insane. Because I kept asking, “Where’s Santa?” And–of course–because it was the Fourth of July. Insanity! Holiday chaos!

Finally, after a summer full of Christmas, the book was completed, the final version was approved, and a release date was scheduled: November 13th.  Hurray! And you know–I’m kind of looking forward to Christmas this year. At least it won’t be beach weather. 🙂

Here’s a little video that gives you an idea of poor Justin’s story. I can promise you that in the end, he loves Christmas at every time of the year.

About Marnie Blue

Cyn D. Blackburn is addicted to love. And caffeine. She lives with her husband (of 20+) years, three children, two dogs, two guinea pigs and one terribly outnumbered cat. She knows that nothing eases the difficulties of life--and falling into love--more than a little humor.

When Writers Literally Take You Away

Today, I wanted to share with you the results of research I did completely online. When you’re a writer, especially just starting out (or not raking in the big dough, like most of us), you can’t afford to visit every place you write about. I did go to Lousiville to research it for Exactly Like You, the first Cupid’s Cafe book. And when I arrived I saw a sign directing drivers to Taylorsville State Park.

A big chunk of my book takes place there (a site I’ve never actually been to). I could use my imagination for some of it–I live in West Virginia, also part of Appalachia–and I have been camping before. Other parts, I did extensive research on Kentucky’s state park system web site. Can you tell which is which? Not if I did my job well. Most importantly, after reading the excerpt, do you feel like you know what it’s like to visit the lake in Taylorsville?

Excerpt from Exactly Like You

They drove the forty-minute trip to Taylorsville Lake State Park in silence. The sun began to peek over the horizon as they pulled into the campground. Roxie had never been much of an outdoors type of person, but this view. She could just make out mist, nearly dissipated, as it blanketed the marine blue lake. Dotted throughout the water, covered in trees bursting with green leaves, were small islands. Aidan checked them

Aidan checked them in, because of course he’d had the foresight to book them what the clerk called a “primitive” site. That didn’t sound in any way appealing. As they walked back out to the truck, Roxie cleared her throat. “What does ‘primitive’ mean? Couldn’t we upgrade to like cave-dwelling?”

As they walked back out to the truck, Roxie cleared her throat. “What does ‘primitive’ mean? Couldn’t we upgrade to like cave-dwelling?”“It means we’re using a tent, not an RV. We’ll be fine, Rox. Sit back and enjoy yourself.”

“It means we’re using a tent, not an RV. We’ll be fine, Rox. Sit back and enjoy yourself.”That seemed unlikely. Besides her burning crush on Aidan, she didn’t do primitive. She liked all the conveniences of home. She wasn’t sure what they would do with themselves for the next four days and didn’t want to think about what she’d like to do.

That seemed unlikely. Besides her burning crush on Aidan, she didn’t do primitive. She liked all the conveniences of home. She wasn’t sure what they would do with themselves for the next four days and didn’t want to think about what she’d like to do.They drove to the camp and Aidan began to set up the tent. Roxie sat on the back of

They drove to the camp and Aidan began to set up the tent. Roxie sat on the back of truck bed and broke into her snack stash. She was popping M&Ms into her mouth when he stood up and put his hands at the small of his back, like it was hurting. “I could use a little help here.”“Oh, sure. I’m sort of useless outside, but I’ll do my best.” She hopped down and headed over to where he stood.

“Oh, sure. I’m sort of useless outside, but I’ll do my best.” She hopped down and headed over to where he stood. He went back to the truck, pulled out a Ziploc gallon bag and put the M&Ms inside. “You have to store every bit of food or you’ll attract wildlife.”

He went back to the truck, pulled out a Ziploc gallon bag and put the M&Ms inside. “You have to store every bit of food or you’ll attract wildlife.”“What, do they have super-noses? They’re going to sneak up on us while we put up the tent?”

“What, do they have super-noses? They’re going to sneak up on us while we put up the tent?”“Trust me—get into the habit of always doing it and you won’t forget and wake up to a raccoon in your sleeping bag with you.”

“Trust me—get into the habit of always doing it and you won’t forget and wake up to a raccoon in your sleeping bag with you.”After a frustrating hour, they got the tent put up. Roxie stepped back to take it in. “It’s a little…small. Are you sure that’s a two-person tent?”

After a frustrating hour, they got the tent put up. Roxie stepped back to take it in. “It’s a little…small. Are you sure that’s a two-person tent?”“I’m sure. They only give you enough room to sleep. It’s not for hanging out and ignoring the nature you drove all this way to see.”

“I’m sure. They only give you enough room to sleep. It’s not for hanging out and ignoring the nature you drove all this way to see.”“I get it, I get it. We’re going to be outdoors.” She unzipped her M&Ms, offered him one, then continued to eat them when he shook his head. “So what do we do next?”

“I get it, I get it. We’re going to be outdoors.” She unzipped her M&Ms, offered him one, then continued to eat them when he shook his head.“So what do we do next?”

“So what do we do next?”“We eat. I’m going to the campground store to buy some firewood.”

“We eat. I’m going to the campground store to buy some firewood.”“You didn’t bring that, too?”

“You didn’t bring that, too?”He scowled at her and shook his head. “It’s illegal to bring it with you. This really is your first time camping at a state park, huh?”

He scowled at her and shook his head. “It’s illegal to bring it with you. This really is your first time camping at a state park, huh?”“It’s my first time camping, period. So, what do I do while you run to the store?”

“It’s my first time camping, period. So, what do I do while you run to the store?”“I’d tell you to unpack, but you’re a total newb, so I’ll do it when I get back. Just…

“I’d tell you to unpack, but you’re a total newb, so I’ll do it when I get back. Just… sit there and watch the wild animals.”She found an old, weathered tree stump log and plopped down. “Wild animals like squirrels and birds, right? No bears?”

She found an old, weathered tree stump log and plopped down. “Wild animals like squirrels and birds, right? No bears?”“Not as long as you keep the M&Ms put away.” He hopped into his truck and drove off.

“Not as long as you keep the M&Ms put away.” He hopped into his truck and drove off.Roxie rolled her eyes and glanced around. Birds chirped and chattered at one another, a cacophony of sound she’d never noticed before. Every so often, one would swoop from one branch to another and begin a song. It actually was kind of relaxing. Like one of those nature

Roxie rolled her eyes and glanced around. Birds chirped and chattered at one another, a cacophony of sound she’d never noticed before. Every so often, one would swoop from one branch to another and begin a song. It actually was kind of relaxing. Like one of those nature CDs she’d given her clients to help them de-stress back when she worked.When Aidan came back, he had a ton of firewood. Over the next hour, he unpacked everything, occasionally giving Roxie small chores to help.

When Aidan came back, he had a ton of firewood. Over the next hour, he unpacked everything, occasionally giving Roxie small chores to help.“Time to eat an early dinner,” he declared.

“Time to eat an early dinner,” he declared. “We missed lunch.”

“We missed lunch.”“I missed lunch. You had half a bag of M&Ms,” he teased, his voice indulgent.

“I missed lunch. You had half a bag of M&Ms,” he teased, his voice indulgent.He pulled out a package of hot dogs, all sealed up like everything else, some buns, and mustard and ketchup. For a few minutes, he searched around on the ground and Roxie watched, puzzled. Finally, he selected a couple of sticks, pulled out his knife, and sharped the ends.

He pulled out a package of hot dogs, all sealed up like everything else, some buns, and mustard and ketchup. For a few minutes, he searched around on the ground and Roxie watched, puzzled. Finally, he selected a couple of sticks, pulled out his knife, and sharped the ends. He handed her one. “Put your wiener on that. Through the middle, like this.” He demonstrated, then they sat around the fire and cooked them. He got busy handing out the buns, mustard, and a bag of potato chips.

He handed her one. “Put your wiener on that. Through the middle, like this.” He demonstrated, then they sat around the fire and cooked them. He got busy handing out the buns, mustard, and a bag of potato chips. They ate until they were stuffed. Roxie had to admit, it was pretty good. Fire-roasted wieners… who knew?

They ate until they were stuffed. Roxie had to admit, it was pretty good. Fire-roasted wieners… who knew?Night had fallen and the noises began to change. There was neighing from neighboring equine campsites and hoots from owls and rustling sounds from other night animals. She helped Aidan secure all the food in baggies, in a gigantic cooler, which they placed a big rock on top of.

Night had fallen and the noises began to change. There was neighing from neighboring equine campsites and hoots from owls and rustling sounds from other night animals. She helped Aidan secure all the food in baggies, in a gigantic cooler, which they placed a big rock on top of.“Now what?” she asked.

“Now what?” she asked.He shrugged. “Now, we talk until we’re sleepy.”

He shrugged. “Now, we talk until we’re sleepy.”“Oh.” Great, because she was so awesome at peopling.

“Oh.” Great, because she was so awesome at peopling.


We writers have pretty strong internet-research game. We also ask each other questions: what’s life like in a small town, a coastal neighborhood, a big city? We can be extremely resourceful in finding those perfect details that set the scene for a story. If we do it well, the reader is grounded there and they can become immersed in the story itself.

Q: What book has taken you away to another place or nailed a locale so well, you felt like you’d been there?

About Lori Sizemore

Lover of nail polish, pens, her Kindle, and fresh coffee. She likes romance filled with messy, real characters and lots of snarky banter. Reading was (and still is!) her BFF; when she discovered writing she fell in love. Come for the snark. Stay for the story.

Four MORE Great Apps for Creating Interesting Pictures

Hi, all! Jennifer here again.

I’m back again sharing some great apps I’ve been using in order to create more visually appealing pictures to post online. I particularly like using them for Instagram since I find the filter choices a bit limiting there.

And away we go!

  1. Snapseed  I used this gem when my picture came out too dark. I was able to “brush” it up and was able to see faces. Love! Plus, you can also add text to your pictures.
  2. Instasize  Oh my gosh. SO many more filter choices! Great for creating collages and videos too
  3. Touch Color  When you want to create B&W pictures with just a pop of color.
  4. Boomerang  Well, not really for pictures. More for videos. You can create short videos that loop back and forth (hence the name). But such fun!

Try them out on your phone for yourself and have fun playing around with them!

Hope you find this helpful!

Until next time!

Jennifer

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About Jennifer Shirk

Jennifer Shirk is a USA Today bestselling sweet romance author for Montlake and Entangled Publishing who also happens to be a mom, pharmacist, Red Sox fan, P90x grad, and overall nice person. Check out her latest sweet romance: CATCH HIM IF YOU CAN

Four Great Apps to Create More Interesting Social Media Posts

Hi, all! Jennifer here!

You can tell that people take their social media posts pretty seriously nowadays.

Even my own daughter bought herself a $600 camera and a $800 lens for…

Instagram? Now, she’ll probably deny that until her dying day, but she’s in high school, she’s not taking a photography class and she’s not in any photo clubs. And she does post some really nice pictures online.

What would you presume?

Now, me? I’m way too cheap and go right for the simple (and FREE) phone apps.  I’ve been having fun playing around with my photos using these apps so I thought I’d share my four personal favs.

  1. Over  Over is great because it has a lot of nice choices for templates. But of course, if you want to spend a little more, you can really have a great selection.
  2. Color Pop  This is one of my favs because I love B&W and I love color. Now I can do both at the same time.
  3. Let’s Draw   Pretty much what the name suggests. You can draw or write directly on any photo.
  4. Pic Collage  Really fun site where I can create colorful ads with stickers and words and pictures or just do a collage of pictures.

That’s all I’ve really had to time to experiment with, but my daughter has some more she said she’d show to me.

Can’t wait!

So…until next time, have a great week!

Jennifer

XOXO

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About Jennifer Shirk

Jennifer Shirk is a USA Today bestselling sweet romance author for Montlake and Entangled Publishing who also happens to be a mom, pharmacist, Red Sox fan, P90x grad, and overall nice person. Check out her latest sweet romance: CATCH HIM IF YOU CAN

Think like a Reader to Market like an Author

Hey, all!

Jennifer here.

One thing I’ve noticed around the Twitterverse and Social Media realm is what other authors are doing there. I can’t help it. I’m social. I don’t just post and leave. I linger a bit. It helps me learn as a marketer.

Let’s face it, we’re writers. We don’t have marketing degrees. (Well, most of us don’t) As a result, I see a bit of a hodgepodge of marketing tactics. Some are REALLY good. But most, I have to say, are not.

I’m still learning, myself, but I recently hit the USA Today bestseller list and have been growing my Instagram following nicely and so far, have had much better engagement with my Facebook and Twitter pages. So I’d like to share some of my observations in order to help with marketing our books as well.

  • One key factor is to THINK like a reader.  All writers are readers.  Readers/writers buy books. I’ve bought books because of Twitter. I’ve also bought or maybe checked out books I’ve seen advertised on Facebook.  Stop and PAY ATTENTION  as to WHY you buy a book and think about it. Where did you see it advertised? Who told you about it? What was so smart about the way the author told you about their book? Then mimic it.
  • Stalk your favorite author. Huh? Well, don’t technically stalk them, but pay very close attention to HOW they market. Do they post fun things on social media or is it ALL about their books? Do they do collaborations with other authors? Do they have an engaging newsletter? If so, what do you like about it? Can you do something similar? Are their social media graphics eye-catching and do they make you want to buy their books? Then do what they do, but add your own twist to make it unique and personalize it toward your brand.
  • Test your graphics and play around with them. Some authors have a knack with marketing and create sharp graphics for their books. It’s very impressive–or maybe someone else creates it for them. Whatever. In my humble opinion, simple usually works best. Think of it like picking out paint color.  One time I had picked out a beautiful rose tan that I thought would be perfect for my dining room. The painters had painted 1/4 of the wall when I walked in and yelled, “Stop!” The little sample paint color I had picked out looked pink once it was up on the wall, not the lovely tan rose I thought. (PS. I changed it to a plain tan and was very happy) Sometimes that happens with book graphics. You create something beautiful and different–and what you think will be eye-catching. But once it pops up on a feed, it ends up being hard to read and therefore missed by readers. If your post isn’t being “liked” or “seen”, it might be time to try something else.
  • Giveaway what your readers really want. If you plan on organizing a giveaway, make it worthwhile to your readers. I find most readers want paperback/hardcover books. But maybe YOUR readers want something different. Ask them in your newsletter or take a poll on your Facebook page.

Hope this gives you some things to THINK about the next time you’re scrolling through your social media feeds. Really look at what makes you ignore posts and what makes you pay attention to posts. Start thinking like a reader and market accordingly.

Good luck and happy marketing!

Jennifer

Praise for Wrong Brother, Right Match

“Wrong Brother, Right Match is basically a Hallmark Christmas Movie in book form and I love it!” – Stephanie’s Book Reviews

If you want to be swept away into a sweet read that will keep you glued to the page then this is the book for you. There was just something about this storyline that was the right amount of sweet, romance and fun that made it unputdownable.”- The Sub Club Book

Amazon:  B&N: KoboIBooks:

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About Jennifer Shirk

Jennifer Shirk is a USA Today bestselling sweet romance author for Montlake and Entangled Publishing who also happens to be a mom, pharmacist, Red Sox fan, P90x grad, and overall nice person. Check out her latest sweet romance: CATCH HIM IF YOU CAN

Summertime Blues

Greetings HSG Readers!

As I type this we’re still in June. Of course the post will be live the end of July, maybe by then I’ll be a bit perkier.

In childhood, summertime is filled with the month’s each kid dreams about. From lounging around the house, sleeping in, library reading programs, vacation bible school, summer camp, and also those outdoor activities I can’t remember a summer I wasn’t ready to dive in to.

At least until adulthood came. I don’t get three months off work any more. In retrospect, this makes me wonder if I should have been a teacher.

Now the summers are filled with being stuck indoors, slaving in front of the computer, and I’ll admit the whole thing has turned me a little blue.

To perk things up, I’m creating the ultimate summer playlist. This is a list of the oldies, the newbies, and those unforgettable songs you grew up jamming out to during the summer.

So far, I’ve come up with a few that get me excited. Like, John Fogerty’s Centerfield, it’s the perfect summer anthem to the All-American sport, baseball.

Bryan Adam’s has his own summer ballad, Summer of ’69, that reminds me of youthful exploits.

And of course, the musical lover that I am, can never ever leave out Grease. Summer Lovin’ is the epitome of the high school experience. Those meet ups with someone new over the summer only to cut things short and return to regular life come the fall.

What am I missing? I know there’s some new stuff, like Will Smith’s Miami or LFO’s Summer Girls. Tell me your favorite summer-themed music and help me cure these blues. 

 

About Landra Graf

Landra Graf consumes at least one book a day and has always been a sucker for stories where true love conquers all. She believes in the power of the written word, and the joy such words can bring. In between spending time with her family and having book adventures, she writes romance with the goal of giving everyone, fictional or not, their own happily ever after.

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