Best Books for Writers (and a Giveaway!)

 

I just returned from having coffee with fellow authorette, Bonnie Hardy. She’s got a great mystery series going, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s to talk shop. Although I’m sure I babbled like an excited second-grader at Disneyland, the bigger mystery for her was why I couldn’t speak coherently about books I’ve read and loved.

There are too many. They are one big sparkly blur. This is why I make lists.

When I first began my list of favorite books, I wrote this post. The Bottomless Bookshelf debuted in 2016, was updated in 2020, and now resides as a loooong list of “books I’ve read” on Goodreads, here.

That list is ordered by date, so I thought I’d pull together some titles by theme for better reference. If you’re a writer, these “sweet sixteen” books are for you. You might already have a few on your shelf or in your Kindle, but there’s always room for more, amiright?

These are books that were recommended to me in writing classes, in seminars, during webinars, by friends. They’ve encouraged, inspired, and generally kicked my butt into gear. I hope they do the same for you. Some are general, some are specific, and I’ve spread out the selection over a gamut of professional authory names. If you like what you see when you click and maybe *buy* one, I will get a nickel. Not that it changes anything on your end. You will still get a super fun reading experience or maybe end up writing your pages at two in the morning, but neither of those is my fault.

I just work here.

If you’ve recommended any of the above books, or discovered one that needs to be on this list, drop your comment below and have your name entered in a drawing to win my personal much-loved hardcover copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Thunder and Lightning. Must have a USA mailing address to qualify. Drawing ends next week at midnight, March 16th. Winner announced in the March 17th newsletter.

Thanks for the highly caffeinated inspiration, Bonnie!

Practice Makes Possible

As a recovering perfectionist, I remind myself on a regular basis that nothing is perfect. But practice does make possible.

I’ve written a lot of words over the years, and as it turns out, none of them were wasted. Even the glorified grocery list was practice for bigger things. I always assumed that perfection was the standard by which these words had to be measured, so naturally, my words never measured up. I cast a cold eye over my blogs, my lists, my little side stories, and banished them into a drawer. It was years before I dared let them creep onto the internet.

The real breakthrough for me was trying National Novel Writing Month. I know you went on that journey with me and were as surprised as I was at what was possible. And let me rephrase that one with Yoda’s help. There was no try. There was only “Do or Do Not”. I discovered that self-discipline was also a possibility. As absolutely weak as it was (is), there was just enough willpower (stubborn keyboard smashing) behind my focus that a book came out on the other side.

Once my perspective shifted away from perfectionism (a fancy word for control), my words flowed faster, easier, and buzzed with the joy of creation.

It’s been said that you can’t rush genius. I took genius by the ear and hurled it through walls.

Editors are the janitors of the writing world. They’ll clean up that mess later.

The results continue to be both astonishing and addicting. Below are the books I wrote before turning to Loveda Brown. Every book I will ever write is a “practice book”. This perspective is what makes it possible for me. Possible enough that the last one won awards without even being published.

If you find fun and freedom in some form that continues to shadow you, I challenge you to turn around and stare it down. See what happens when you commit to it for a month. Is it music? Watercolors? Karate? Gardening? Dance? Baking? Quilting? Yoga?

What do you think might be suddenly possible if you practiced?

Rom-Com. Completed Nov 2019 at 62,200 words. Practice manuscript.

Regina’s new job in a catering company lands her in the middle of a fantastic Hotel Del Coronado wedding where her fast thinking saves the day and gets the attention of both the wedding planner and the hottest man at the party. Between her fiesty grandfather, a dachshund named Dufus, her bestie, her neighbors, and offers she can’t refuse, can Gina find her place at last?

Historical Fiction. Completed March 2020 at 80,300 words. Practice manuscript.

In 1888, three families leave Texas and head west, seeking a homestead and a haven for their faith. Young hot-headed Joe Campbell and his sweetheart, Lidy, elope in the night and race to join them. Deep in the secluded mountaintops of New Mexico, hard work and strong ideals are no surety against the internal demons of pride, passion, disillusion, and politics. As a new century arrives, and Joe and Lidy must watch helplessly as the next generation questions the price of isolation and exclusivity and whether they will live the Truth…or a lie.

Historical Faith Fiction. Completed Sept 2021 at 100,500 words. Currently in edits, seeking traditional publication. (Maybe!)

In Roman conquered Israel, two sisters break tradition to raise their baby brother and keep their home intact. Jesus’ rising ministry begins challenging the status quo, both personal and global. When their brother dies and Jesus resurrects him, the women must decide whether to risk violence, rejection, and losing everything they spent their lives fighting for, to protect Jesus.

The Historical Fiction Company Review

When it comes to things that spark joy for a writer, nothing is quite sparklier than someone who reads their book and enjoys it enough to share it.

To everyone who’s left a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or Bookbub, posted a pic of the book on social media, lent their paperback to a friend, or made so many compulsive noises while reading that the guy next to you said, “Oh good grief, what’s so crazy in the chapter now?”, THANK YOU.

This is why we’re here.

You are my people.

As my genre is historical mystery, it would make sense that folks who like my books also enjoy historical fiction, mysteries in several flavors, westerns, and poppycock.

Speaking of poppycock, I have to wonder if you grew up watching reruns of “I Love Lucy” and devoured all of Janet Evanovich…at least until she started bringing in ghost writers to help her with that outrageous work schedule of pounding out books like a crazy person that no single human could ever accomplish and you can totally tell because her books got diluted somehow and you end them scratching your head in disappointment.

I would hire a ghost writer, too, but all the little voices in my head would go on strike. They are very territorial critters.

Meanwhile, I’ve been collecting reviews and putting them in the Amazon pages (scroll down). You should take a look, especially if you want to leave a review yourself and are short on words of rhapsody. Fun stuff, this.

The latest review for Loveda Brown Comes Home is from the Historical Fiction Company, and I think you’ll enjoy their fun opinions on it! This lovely website is worth sticking around for a browse if you like historical fiction in all of its exciting eras.

What are your favorite genres? If you could only choose one, which genre would you place the Loveda Brown books in? Is there a particular author that they most remind you of?

You Need This Joy Yesterday

Welcome to 2022. I got you. In the excitement of entering yet another year full of woes and wherewithals, I’m here to say there’s a better way.

Now, I’m not immune to the gloom, but raising five kids taught me to make lemonade out of those lemons. I made a million meals in my kitchen. No matter how fancy, there was always one kid who turned up a nose and refused to bite it. Bought thousands of outfits and half those little stinkers preferred running through the backyard in the buff. What I’m saying is that the bar can be quite low and almost everyone will feel better about it.

After months of hand-wringing deliberation and prognostication, I’ve come to the conclusion that once again, I’ve been overthinking the blog.

I know.

Do I attempt a big voice in the writing industry, expertise in my niche, research white papers? How about mom advice and resources, or more wildly humorous parenting stories? Along with most of the planet, I’m pooped. My creative energies are tied up in making books and there’s almost nothing left in my tank when I finish for the day. As much as I desperately love a good plan, these pandemic years are saying the same thing the toddler years did: “Girl, let it go.”

I find myself scrolling social media looking for the laugh. The color. Some tiny bit of joy. If Loveda Brown must be full of rules (so many rules!), then my blog is going to be play time.

I intend to abandon all the “shoulds” for 2022 and run around with the kids streaking through the backyard in their birthday suits.

Not literally. **eye roll**

But if this doesn’t make you smile, nothing will:

When I remind you it’s the little things, well, I mean it. When I was in second grade, the librarian gave my class a pile of book jackets divested from newly purchased hardcovers. Our task was to choose one and write a story to go inside the cover. I remember running my hands over the glossy beauties and the overwhelming magical thought that this was going to be my book. That this fancy package was going to hold my words. Mine.

Terrie Relf brought this tiny bookstore to my attention, and it just floats my boat. I love knowing it exists and that people love it. I love the pops of color and the teensy little paper details, but I hate crafting.

Maybe I will blow some bubbles on a random Wednesday afternoon. Maybe I will skip the chicken cordon bleu and make a bowl of Cheerios. And I play dress-up every day for work.

Doesn’t everyone?

Wear what brings you joy, not what you “should”. Or maybe, what you can get away with. ;~)

I’m going to keep scrolling. If I lean into Amazon shopping, well, who hasn’t? Yes, I’m an affiliate now. It’s the closest thing I’ve come to monetizing my website and blog and I won’t ever get closer. I don’t know about you, but ads make me bonkers when I’m trying to read. Save that nonsense for TV. So if you click on stuff around here, it will likely take you to an Amazon page and if you buy something, it will likely make me a sparkly little dime.

Ima buy a teensy little book with it! 📚

What sparks your joy? What little things have been your lemonade? Send in your favorites. Let’s make another blog.

Best Gifts for Book Lovers #2

Is it time to go shopping? Need the perfect gift for someone who loves to read but already has all the books? I’ve gone shopping for you!

Honor their need for words with this baker’s dozen list of best gifts for book lovers and get them some literary loot. They’re all from Amazon because that’s where I’ve been hanging out for the last year. If you make a purchase from one of the links below, I’ll get an affiliate commission. It doesn’t change the price for you. But it lets the Zon show me a little love. Smiles guaranteed.

    1. Very punny mixology books, Tequila Mockingbird or Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita
    2. The ultimate Literary Insult Chart
    3. Message-flipping pillow cover when you are so close to “The End”
    4. Comfy T “Bookmarks are for Quitters
    5. Noise cancelling bluetooth earbuds so you can READ already
    6. Adjustable reading support pillow wedge
    7. LED clip reading light
    8. A bamboo bookstand for your lap with page holders
    9. Or this nifty little walnut thumb-brace book page holder
    10. A cozy quilted blanket of books
    11. A custom library stamp and your lending kit
    12. Calendar with quotes or beautiful books
    13. The bucketlist Top 100 scratch-off Book Chart

Best Gifts for Book Lovers #1

 

Every year, my family wants to know what I want for Christmas and every year I react like a deer in the headlights. Gifts are tricky little things and I am notoriously hard to shop for because, frankly, I don’t need much. I like the simple things. Think hygge, peppermint mocha, and twinkle lights.

I like wide, open space. Secretly empty closets. Peace on earth.

And reading. In that empty closet, if peace on earth is scarce.

If you love books, then you’ll love this themed gift list. They’re all from Amazon because that’s where I’ve been hanging out for the last year. If you make a purchase from one of the links below, I’ll get an affiliate commission. It doesn’t change the price for you. But it lets the Zon show me a little love. Everybody wins.

Throw on your jammies and get ready for a shopping spree!

  1. Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
    1. A Literary Tea Party Cookbook gives a nod to several books, but I’ve always wanted to throw a Mystery Tea Party. Maybe I will some day!
    2. A party-worthy murdery game
    3. Brain teasers for you sleuths out there
    4. The key to 221B Baker St.
    5. Socks, Italian wool deerstalker hat, pipe, and some ‘staches
  2. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
    1. The puzzle, “Run Away to Pemberley” the coloring book, and the book bag (other books to choose from!)
    2. Novel Tea. Get it?
    3. “Obstinate, Headstrong Girl” bracelet
    4. “Marrying Mr. Darcy” board game
    5. The scarf, the magnetic poetry, and the lip balm.
  3. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
    1. Gold Sorting Hat jewelry tray
    2. Socks because Dobby is Free
    3. “I Solemnly Swear I am Up to No Good” magical coffee mug
    4. The cozy Hogwarts scarf & beanie set, choose your house
    5. Or maybe knit or crochet your own!
  4. The Hobbit by J. R. Tolkien
    1. Candles from Middle Earth or the Shire
    2. Doormats: “Speak Friend and Enter” or “You Shall Not Pass
    3. “Not All Who Wander are Lost” moon pendant necklace
    4. Charcuterie board (never miss a Hobbit meal)
    5. One ring to rule them all, my Precious
  5. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
    1. The paperback Box Set and
    2. A spot of raspberry cordial
    3. “Tomorrow is a New Day, with No Mistakes in It” Charm Necklace
    4. “Kindred Spirit” V-neck women’s T (I love it in green!)
    5. The tea, the mug, the tea towel, and the cookbook!
  6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    1. Typewriter pencil cup, engraved pen, and finger puppet
    2. Flavor adventures with BBQ spice, marinade, and rub
    3. Scroll bookmark “We Are All Broken, That’s How the Light Gets In”
    4. His books on Hunting or Fishing

About These Book Dedications

Something snaps in the marketing mind of an Indie author as she careens through the social media maze and the website, uh, web. She sits at her desk one fine morning and realizes that her efforts at anonymity have been crushed. Personal information is blowing on the wind like leftover party confetti and could land any-ol’-where and how am I going to protect the children?

For heaven’s sake, I only refer to my husband as “Hubby” so that some crazed Jolie Tunnell fan won’t find out his true identity and try to kidnap him on his way to Costco and hold him for ransom.

You didn’t read that here.

Hand frozen half-way to my mouth with a crispy piece of bacon just out of reach, my brain declares that all these years of blogging, referring to “Kid 1” or “Kid 4” were absolutely wasted the minute my books came out with their names right in the front dedication page.

Oh, girl.

It’s not my fault.

The first book was Kid 2’s idea, hands down. The pandemic was ruining our lives and she and I sat in the park by the lake and came up with the time, the place, and the first villain in a casual conversation.

She likely would’ve come after me with a sharp stick if I hadn’t acknowledged her efforts up front.

It was all downhill from there, and in no logical numbered order. What I could never have foreseen was the serendipitous way that each book, as it was birthed, seemed to be a perfect match to another child.

Book 2 matched Kid 3, right down to her button-top boots.

Book 3 was such an obvious fit to Kid 5 that we laughed. Poor kid.

The dedications, for me, are a last minute thought after the book is already edited and I realize the front matter has to be thrown together. And the fact that I was running out of kids had nothing to do with the subject matter and characters I chose as I went along.

They just happened.

So, Book 4, about a storm and train robbers and mountain legends, became the perfect match for my Kid 1 when I realized in afterthought how much it spoke about his heart.

Kid 1 has not—and likely will never—read this book. (My family treats my books the way they treat my blogs. They know I’m talking about them, but they just don’t care enough to look up the details.)

Book 5, as you know, is about a summer wedding in Idyllwild. The last kid standing, the one without a book dedication so far, Kid 4, went and got himself engaged this summer.

This makes my heart happy on many levels, but two amazing things transpired: a Kid 6 stepped up to share his dedication.

And they want to be married in Idyllwild. No. True to form, they knew nothing about my book at the time. And…maybe they still don’t.

*shrug*

But how perfect is that?

Who will get the dedication for Book 6? Now there’s a puzzler. I’m out of Kids.

But the Books are only beginning.

Author Giveaway, The Gold in These Hills

 

If you climb a mountain to talk to God, you’d best be prepared for Him to talk back.

“Sit and stay a while,” He’ll say. “Get comfortable.”

With a backward glance over my shoulder, I can see that my writing career has been anything but a straight line. One year in, it most resembles mountain climbing. Lots of crashing through the underbrush and scaling boulders. The occasional rattlesnake scare.

It’s been an adventure and so much fun that I forget to stop every little while and check my compass.

Today, I want you to meet a new author friend, Joanne Bischof. I discovered her in the usual way: crashing through the internet looking for authors who write historical fiction. Her name flew by, and after a couple of curious clicks, I became a fan. One of her books was in my hands, muy pronto.

We had some things in common.

She writes female protagonist, historical fiction, pioneer American, turn of the century, tiny mountaintop…inspirational romance.

Well, now.

And then I discovered she lives…in actual Idyllwild. Hm. I was going to live in Idyllwild for an entire week at the end of July for our yearly family Bible camp. Coincidence? I think not.

I did something I never do. I emailed a complete stranger and asked if she wanted to meet for coffee and talk writing.

And she said yes.

It percolated in the back of my mind all week during camp, this Friday afternoon coffee meet up. How should I present myself? Could I ask all my questions without taking notes? What if I was too intimidated to ask anything at all? What if she asked me something I didn’t know? Like my name?

Joanne met me at the coffee shop, and we introduced ourselves while we waited for our order. Outside, the sky grew dark and began to spit. Rejoicing in the possibility of rain, we took seats on the veranda at the rail and started talking.

You, gentle reader, already understand the lovely idea of a summer storm in Idyllwild. And its implications.

The wind gusted a bit as we discovered almost immediately that she worked at the very camp I’d been staying at all week. That we’d been together all along, incognito.

The rain began as Joanne told me about a new book she was releasing in August.

Lightning streaked overhead and thunder boomed as I admitted to a new book I had released in July.

“Mine is set in Idyllwild,” she said as the hail began. We dragged our chairs away from the rail.

“Mine, too,” I said. “It has, um, it’s called Summer Storm.” The heavens opened. The streets began to flood.

“I had to do a lot of research for it during Covid,” Joanne said. “On this area, on 1902, on the Cahuilla, on the first settlers. Hard to do when you’re trapped at your desk.”

“Oh, boy.” I took a long sip of latte. Gutters overflowed.

“Did you know there are a couple of abandoned gold mines up here?” she asked.

This is when we moved our chairs up against the building and the wind blew so hard we were getting wet, anyway. Our coffee date had passed its polite expiration, but we were trapped at the coffee shop by a storm that raged for two hours solid before easing up. Plenty of time to ask all the questions, exchange all the stories, and for the shocking amount of coincidences to soak in.

Because, of course, I’d just had a week of classes to remind me that there are no coincidences. I took the opportunity to reset my writing compass to true North. Reminded myself to see the forest instead of constantly running into trees in my haste. She showed me a gentler way to author.

When it was finally safe to swim to our cars, Joanne promised me an advance copy of her new release, The Gold in These Hills. It arrived today and I’m passing the excitement forward and giving it away to a lucky blog subscriber!

Visit Joanne on her website anytime, enjoy one of her videos here, and follow her on all the things.

To enter a drawing for this copy of her new book, drop a random fun fact from one of my books in the comment box below. You know, like the name of the mine where Red lives. Or something. Ahem.

Entries accepted through September 9th at midnight and I will announce the winner in the newsletter on September 23rd. (You do get my newsletter, do you not?) Winners must provide a continental USA mailing address to claim the prize.

 

Idyllwild Incidentals, Part Three

 

Continuing our tour of the Idyllwild Area Historical Society’s cabin, we move into my favorite thing to stare at: old photos! If you already have a firmly established idea of what the characters in my Loveda Brown series look like, you may or may not want to continue reading.

But I think you’ll find they aren’t too far off! It’s fun to find the facts behind the fiction.

 The photos of photos in this blog were taken from the book, “The San Jacintos” by John Robinson. If you love to research, too, the Idyllwild Public Library has even more shelves dedicated to local history.

Where are these folks headed? Why, to Lindley’s sanatorium if you had tuberculosis (before the fire) and to Lindley’s hotel if you didn’t want to contract tuberculosis (after the fire). It seems no one wanted a combination of both. Go figure.

For my Loveda Brown series, I removed Dr. Lindley’s specs and made him just a bit more animated than his portrait might suggest. Ahem.

I’ll bet you didn’t know California had “alps”. Atta boy, Lindley.

Here, we have a sample of the gorgeous old family photos I perused. I could hardly choose which ones to show you. The 1901 shot is so well done. I want you to soak up the hats, the fabrics, the shoes, the mustaches…the attitudes (oh, Ella!). The way Louie has a warning hand (or two?) on Ernest’s chin. Some things never change. Mrs. A’s doing the same with baby Henry, but she is sporting a mixed media outfit, so…extra credit.

The photo of the Domenigoni family is the one hanging in Ms. Nelson’s lobby. Remember where I mention the Swiss lace? This photo of Guanache is the inspiration behind Carlos. And I could not resist a shout out to films made in the mountains and the movie stars that eventually rolled up the hill, including Katherine Hepburn and Elvis Presley. Although I drew a pretty picture of Penelope, the first film shot in Idyllwild was made in 1914 by Cecil DeMille: “The Squaw Man”.

The grand finale: Mr. and Mrs. George B. Hannahs. Here he stands with, I guess, the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota? I got the suspenders right. The couple is portrayed as elderly in my series, and from the look of it, Sarah Hannahs is not having it. Sorry, Mrs. H. Doesn’t their little boy, Ray, have the sweetest cheeks? To note: Sign on far left says, “Burros for Rent”. Sign on right, “Rayneta Post Office”. A handsaw lies over a log on the ground to the right.
My books are entirely fiction, as you can see, but the full flavor of Idyllwild’s rich history is something I try to capture on every page.

 

Idyllwild Incidentals, Part Two

 

Today, we explore the Idyllwild Area Historical Society’s museum. Last weekend, I spent some time there, soaking up community history and clearing up a couple of mysteries with the lovely and helpful docent on duty, Jayne.

The Historical Society’s been closed up tight ever since Covid hit town, but they held their grand re-opening over the Memorial Day weekend. A yard sale and an Ice Cream Social marked the event. If you missed it, their next Ice Cream Social will be held over the Labor Day weekend on Saturday, September 4th from noon to 2:30pm. Board members will be standing by to scoop up sundaes until the ice cream runs out. Toppings, treats, and root-beer floats! Ya’all come!

Meanwhile, let’s take a quick look at the physical artifacts in the room. These items take you back to the days of pioneers, loggers, miners, and homesteaders in the San Jacinto mountains.

The heart of a home is the kitchen, and a cook required multiple skills to pull off a meal for a family or a work crew. You raised or bought your meat and produce, harvested or butchered on the regular, canned or preserved extra for winter, swapped with your neighbors in a pinch, and hoped that weather or pests or cattle rustlers didn’t ruin all your hard work. In addition, your animals required provisions, horseshoes, housing, breeding, birthing, and veterinary care.

You didn’t take your vittles for granted, and just having a cup of tea was a big deal, as Loveda will tell you.

We have a lot of items relating to the logging and sawmills that ran at various creeks around Idyllwild. In the 1880s and 90s, timber was plentiful and the market keen. Incoming railways needed lumber and a lot of lumber went, of all things, to a local box company that made orange crates for farms off the hill. Teams of oxen (11) pulled the rough timber down from the high country, and after the lumber was milled, teams of horses or mules pulled wagons (3) down the treacherous road to Hemet.