Saturday, October 31, 2009

Check out my new blog!

Hi Everyone!

thank you so much for following me these past several years, and now I have a new blog! Follow me and comment here at

There'll be book reviews, creativity, networking, and writing articles and much, much more!

See you there!


Friday, October 30, 2009

Flash of Freedom Book Review

Flash of Freedom Flash of Freedom by Dakota Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
An impressive first novel by twelve-year-old Dakota Lee, Flash of Freedom is the story of a lonely, introverted teenager whose life is changed forever when she meets Freedom, a damaged, spirited horse.

Tara Chandler has been on the move most of her young life, her parents are house designers and always relocating the family for their work. Moving so often means that Tara rarely has the opportunity to make friends or, if she does, she has to say goodbye to them all too soon. So Tara has decided that in Green River, Tennessee - her latest new home - she doesn’t need friends, she won't try to belong to one of the groups at school; she will be fine just by herself. Until, that is, Tara meets Nicky.

Nicky, a friendly, horse-loving girl who never stops talking, breaks the mold of the "unfriendly local"; she is interested in Tara and welcoming on Tara's first day at school, introducing her to friends Amber, Casey and Lea, and including Tara in their get-togethers. Tara is confused and initially wary of this interest. Why are Nicky and her friends being so friendly? Is this a trick? It must be a fluke, they can’t really enjoy Tara’s company. But their shared love of horses and Nicky’s sunny, open nature disarms Tara and she starts to relax, enjoying the time she spends with her new friends.

Tara is particularly happy to be involved with Nicky’s latest project - helping Nicky's Aunt Fauna settle three horses into the barn on her parents’ property by clearing the barn and paddock of debris and getting everything clean and tidy. The horses arrive and Tara meets Freedom, the spirited eponymous ‘hero’ of the book. Like Tara, Freedom has moved around a lot and like Tara he is slow to trust people. He has been classed untrainable by Aunt Fauna but she unwillingly allows Tara the opportunity to attempt the training of Freedom herself. With patience and love, Tara teaches Freedom to trust again. And with the confidence this mutual trust brings, Tara finally starts to come out of her shell and show a new happiness to her friends and family.

But then the unthinkable happens. Freedom is stolen. And Tara almost loses faith ... until she finds Freedom again in the most unlikely place, and uses the support of her friends and her newfound inner strength and confidence to face down the thief, take back her horse and regain her happiness.

Dakota Lee’s writing in Flash of Freedom is fresh and engaging, the main character sympathetic not saccharine. Tara isn’t a goody-goody, or a cardboard cut-out; she bickers with her brother, is sometimes flippant to her parents and gets caught not concentrating in class. The opening chapter describing Tara's analysis of the boys and girls on the bus with her, allocating them their place in the school "monarchy"- the school nerd, the jock, the "populars" and the "groupies" - is well-written and amusing and introduces the main theme of the book. The dialogue is realistic; the slang and local dialect are introduced subtly without caricature. For example, Nicky “...[has:] so got it in the bag.” Lee's adult characters in the book are perhaps not as convincingly drawn, and their dialogue does not quite ring true at times, but that is a minor quibble.

A moving portrait of a young girl trying to find her place in life, Flash of Freedom is recommended reading for any young adult, not just for girls who love horses.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You Can be Sustainable This Holiday Season

Being sustainable means that we all do our part to reuse our natural resources such as light, water, wind and trees, by making sure we consider the impact of not turning off the lights when we leave a room, or of not running the water while we brush our teeth. It’s even more important that we remind ourselves and our families to practice sustainability during the holidays, since this is the time more trash is generated, more food is cooked and we’ll host house guests, who will consume more energy than we’re used to.

Steps to Save Energy around the Home

With the holidays, come the holiday guests. You don’t want to inconvenience your guests by setting the thermostat too low or too high, or by telling them to take three-minute showers, but you should have a family conference to make sure everyone knows that you believe in leaving a small carbon footprint.

• Set your thermostat for 68 degrees for the day, but at night, turn it down to 60 degrees. Use a radiator in your bedroom.
• Replace all of your air filters to maximize efficiency.
• Turn off your lights when you’re away from your room and replace your light bulbs with fluorescents.
• Try to flush one less time a day and turn off the water while soaping hands and while brushing teeth.
• Disconnect the phone charger when you’re done charging your cell phone and disconnect the power strip when it’s not in use. If your out-of-town guests use your computer, remind them about turning everything off and unplugging protocols.
• After dinner, fill up the dishwasher and run it using cold water. Also use cold water for your clothes washing as much as possible, too.
• Open and close the refrigerator minimally. Your fridge is your kitchen’s biggest energy hog. Use the right size pan for the stove burner and use the toaster oven instead of turning on the regular oven.
• Encourage your guests to carpool, to take public transportation or to walk or cycle! Convince them that giving up your car for a day is a great way to see your town.
• If you’re leaving on a holiday vacation, be sure to turn all of your appliances off, stop the paper and the mail (you’ll save on the mail carrier or your friend from making an extra trip).
• Commute to work with well-inflated tires and pack a lunch with a reusable lunch and drink container.

Keep Your Holiday Food Sustainable

• When cooking and baking, measure carefully to avoid food waste and use perishable foods before they spoil.
• For those big holiday meals, buy bread that’s fresh from the bakery and not packaged in double plastic wrapping. Be sure to recycle the paper wrapping that it comes in.
• For grocery shopping, take your own bags instead of using the store’s plastic ones.
• Buy the largest can pumpkin filling you can for your pies; same goes for your cranberries, corn and peas. Buying the larger canned item will not only save you money than buying two smaller cans, but will save energy and resources.
• Buy coffee for your guests that’s organic or Fair Trade. Doing so will help sustainable agriculture and will protect the rain forests. Also, don’t use stirrers for your morning coffee; place your milk and sugar in the mug first and then pour your coffee.
• Buy one gallon jugs of milk instead of three separate milk cartons. Take a poll of what milk variety everyone likes and go with the majority or compromise (two people want skim and two people want whole – so buy 1% milk).

Tips on Holiday Giving and Traditions

• Make it easy on yourself and save the environment by giving gift cards, restaurant/concert/theater certificates, movie passes, services like for spa treatments, or a class. You’ll have your giftee deal with less packaging and you’ll buy just what they want.
• Buy toys that aren’t made with plastic, which are petroleum-based and contain toxins. Instead, buy wooden toys that can be passed down to younger siblings. Also don’t buy toys that have a lot of packaging.
• Use real china or porcelain plates at meal times, along with cloth napkins, instead of paper products.
• Use and/or give soy or beeswax candles instead of paraffin wax candles, which are made from petroleum and damage your indoor air quality.
• Buy a living Christmas tree instead of an artificial one. You can recycle the living instead of having the artificial one emit trace amounts of lead into the environment
• Recycle gift bags, ribbons, bows and wrap when possible. Use the Sunday comics for gift wrapping, or better yet, place your gifts in reusable baskets or bags. If you must wrap, find a brand that uses recycled paper. And instead of using new ribbons or bows, use a scarf, dried flowers or natural-fiber raffia.
• Decorate using reused, borrowed, or vintage-shop items. Keep your d├ęcor natural, so that it doesn’t involve a lot of paper and waste.
• Buy greeting cards made from recycled or tree-free materials.
• When using holiday lights, opt for the LED (light-emitting diode) lights.
• Entertain the family with DVDs that were swapped using DVD Swap ( Membership is free and all members pay for is postage.
• Instead of buying that new holiday album, download it. If you throw away a CD, it will end up in a landfill. Or better yet, you can swap your CD using CD Swap (
• When dining out, choose tap water instead of bottled water.
• Buy rechargeable batteries for toys and personal electronics.
• Buy a GPS so you know where you’re going and you’re not wasting fuel going in the wrong direction.

Any one of these tips can be tweaked into your life and pretty soon you’ll have formed a sustainable habit that will take you successfully into the New Year!

Tell me your energy saving tips that you use with your families!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Seven Steps on the Writers' Path Book Review

Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment by Nancy Pickard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
You know you're going to get inspired with any book having lucky number "seven" in the title (seven days of the week, seven wonders of the world and even seven deadly sins!). An inspiring and candid read, "Seven Steps On the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment" by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott delivers wisdom, tips and support for writers at all levels and at all experiences. This book is detailed, funny and unconventional. Right away Pickard and Lott let us know that, "Writing is a path as full of darkness as it is of light, and so the way ahead is hard to see."

The authors not only interviewed successfully published authors and got their insights into creating and publishing, but the authors themseleves shared a great deal of their writing frustrations, their regrets and their successes. This book is not for the faint-of-heart writer who is not sure she wants to put in the time and energy to make the writing happen and that's what I loved about this book. They tell us often, "We warned you -- writing is hard." Nancy and Lynn spared no punches about what the writing life is like. Their bottom line: write because you love it and you find joy in it, not because you want to get published. They offer up seven steps (listed below) but the authors emphasize that one size doesn't fit all: all writers have different styles and different methods of getting their writing done. Writers also have different meanings for success. Success for one writer could be a three-book deal of a mystery series, while for another it could mean privately journaling every night.

There were many memorable quotes along the margins from such greats as Henry David Thoreau, Julia Child, Ophrah, Sophocles and Anne Lamott, as well as from the authors and from John Wesley Powell. Powell successfully navigated the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in 1869. He had to have faith because he couldn't see up ahead -- just like the writer's journey. Here's a good example of a Powell quote: "We know not where we are first this causes us great alarm, but we soon find there is little danger, and that there is a general movement of progression down the river...and it is the merry mood of the river to dance through this deep, dark gorge; and right gaily do we join the sport."

The Seven Steps on the Writers Path compiled by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott:
Step 1 Unhappiness -- we're not happy and know we need to write!
Step 2 Wanting -- we really want to write!
Step 3 Commitment -- we're willing to put other things aside
Step 4 Wavering -- we feel paralysis as well as compulsion
Step 5 Letting Go -- it's all about having faith
Step 6 Immersion -- only the writing matters
Step 7 Fulfillment -- you did it!

The Wavering chapter was hard to read because we've all wavered. Wavering is described as being very compulsive as well as experiencing paralysis. Intermediate writers are most susceptible to wavering because they know they can write but they lack a lot of confidence and experience. The authors described one scenario where a woman got into to debt to pay for this conference and her manuscript was harshly critiqued by a prominent author who's workshop she had signed up for. The woman stopped writing for six months, but then got back on the saddle and found great success. The woman didn't have enough experience at the writing game to tell that egotistical fellow to go *&#@ himself.

This book is wonderful for writers who have been on the writing journey for at least a few years. I feel that novice writers might find it intimidating and may quit their writing careers as soon as they read the first few pages. But if you're not a newbie writer read this book if you want fresh insights into why you write and why you're not crazy to have chosen this career.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, October 01, 2009

How To Have a Fantastic Book Club Discussion

I love reading books and after I finish a good one I love doing my Internet research to find out all I can about the author, his/her creative process and perhaps the historical background of the book. What’s even better is taking this analysis to a book club meeting. Here there are other people who are just as passionate about the book as I am. For the next 90 to 120 minutes, we discuss a single piece of artistic work and really try to drill down the layers of why the author did this and that or why she chose to make her character act like an idiot or a hero. (I also need to mention that I can analyze anything I like to death, which made me a perfect candidate for grad school, and leading book clubs.

In the last decade many people (mostly women) have flocked to book clubs to enjoy camaraderie with other book lovers. I joined a book club soon seven years ago soon after my son was born because I had more time on my hands and I wanted to escape the tedium of diapers, feedings and nightly temper tantrums. This was also the same time that I wanted to get serious about my writing and knew that better readers made better writers.

Now seven years later, I have led two book club groups and have compiled this guide to help you lead a fantastic book club meeting!

• Distribute the reading discussion questions (most books have a reading guide found in the book itself or via Google) a week prior to the book club members so everyone has a chance to prepare
• Offer some kind of food and beverage at every meeting. You can keep it simple and everyone will appreciate the water and cookies. Sugar makes you think better!
• Appoint yourself as the facilitator to keep things moving or appoint the host if you rotate locations every month
• Pick paperback books that are easily found in the library, at used book stores or via friends who let you borrow their books
• Plan out the books for the entire year at a December or January meeting so there everyone knows what the schedule is
• Have everyone introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting for 30 seconds to a minute. Also provide name tags.
• Do everything in your power to finish the book before the meeting. If you finish the book and encourage others that it’s a good idea to finish, then most folks will comply. No one wants to stay up late, finish the darn book and then show up to the meeting to find out that half of the people there didn’t finish. Can we say, ARGHHH! Now, I haven’t finished every book we’ve read this year in Wonderland Book Club, but I did let my members know and I did finish the book soon after the meeting so the momentum was still there.
• Go around the room or table and let everyone have a turn to share their thoughts on the book. As facilitator, you also have to make sure no one interrupts each other and have personal discussions kept to a minimum. (Ex. “This book reminds of the time when my husband and I decided to sell our house back in the 60s….”)
• Keep an open mind and learn from others who have differing opinions. Listen! Also, try not to repeat what someone else has said – offer a new tidbit!

Here are a few book club conversation Starters from Reading Group Choices (www. if you don’t have the reading group guide on hand.

• Do one or more characters tell the story? Are these characters believable?
• What are the book’s themes? What the main conflicts in the story?
• How does the setting and the time period affect the story?
• Did the story change your opinion of a place, event, time period, etc?
• What do you think will happen to the characters next?

So what did I leave out? Tell me what has worked in your book club to make members come back again and again?

Monday, September 28, 2009

I Saw Rob Thomas

I went by myself to see Rob Thomas at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre for his September 28 show -- I'd been anticipating the event for 2 months. Right after I bought my ticket in the seated area of the booth (Row M, Seat 19), I did something I don't normally do: I went to Walmart and bought, "Cradlesong," Rob's (I'm going to call him Rob from now on -- we're the same age!) newest album. A few of the songs took me a while to really like, such as "Her Diamonds," "Gasoline," "Someday,""Wonderful," and the title track, "Cradlesong." But "Mockingbird" and "Real World 2009" caught me by the throat immediately. I got to Booth around 7:30 after taking a wrong turn and waited in the rain with other concert goers. There were young teens behind me who later punctuated any silence with "We love you, Rob!"and "I love you!", an eleven-year-old with his mom and dad, a gay couple in front of me and a straight one to my right. I stood up the entire time and so did almost everyone else. Our seats were too wet and the show was too good to sit down for.
Rob's lead song was "Fire on the Mountain" -- not one of my favorites but has a good bridge to it and I love the drums (stay tuned for another blog as I make the case for how similiar in styles Rob Thomas and Phil Collins are). He wore a salmon-colored woven button-down shirt with a T-shirt underneath of the same color with a print on the front. Rob's hair looked really good -- not too short and not too long and he wore jeans. Rob's band consisted of his lead guitarist, drummer, bassist, keyboardist, and two backup singers. They were fabulous, as expected. Rob gave them props and they the keyboardist and lead guitarist had a chance to do a little solo work. "Do you know why tonight's special?" Rob asked the crowd, "Because we get to play music! Our only goal at every show we do is give a great two hours." Rob didn't forget to thank Carolina Liar and One Republic, who were his opening bands.
I admire how Rob emphasizes all of his vowel sounds, both short and long, especially his "i's and his "a"s. All that emphasis takes some jaw work and the man's not lazy at all! So coming into the concert, I knew every single song (OK, except "Sunday Morning New York Blues" that was a wayward release) and even knew what kind of gestures he'd make with each song.
If he was singing about his soul, love, his heart or something along those lines, he would hit his chest three times quickly with his left hand while his right hand held the mic. The only exceptions were when he was playing the keyboards and guitar (both electric and accoustic). He also did tight spinning gestures (all in time with the music) with his finger, waves and flowing moves. At the beginning of the show, Rob twirled his mic stand over his head. You're probably wondering if I have a crazy obsession for Rob Thomas at this point and you're partially right...I'm obsessed with his performance and I want to learn from his techniques when I do my poetry performances.
He told us the back stories on several of the songs. "Little Wonders" from the movie "Meet the Robinsons" was inspired by his dog who was so excited about going on a walk with Rob in Phoenix, while Rob wanted to be somewhere else. Rob said he said "I'm a dick," and decided to look around him and appreciate life "because life was happening all around me." I love that song.
He also mentioned that "It's Getting Late" is a "little ditty about death," and "Sunday Morning New York Blues," is about a married couple that go on a date. "Yes," Rob said, "contrary to popular opinion married people still do it!"
Here's the set list from tonight with the corresponding album:
**Note that the songs do mesh very well together and that Rob played almost every "Cradlesong" song except "Wonderful," "Hard on You" and "Snow Blind"**
Fire on the Mountain (Cradlesong)
Give Me The Melt Down (Cradlesong)
Real World '09 (Cradlesong)
Lonely No More (Something to Be)
Mockingbird (Cradlesong) included long keyboard intro!
Sunday Morning New York Blues - I got into it just hearing it for the first time! it includes strong details and movement
Streetcorner Symphony (Something to Be)
Natural (Cradlesong)
It's Getting Late (Cradlesong) the happy little ditty about death. Included a cool dueling-banjo like performance, too!
When the Heartache Ends (Something to Be)
Ever the Same (Something to Be) -- beautifully done! Rob;s voice shines during the slow songs
Cradlesong (Cradlesong) Rob played the keyboards
Someday (Cradlesong) with a long keyboard intro
Something to Be (Something to Be) lots of audience participation in this one!
Gasoline (Cradlesong) with Bond-like girls on the video in the background who turned into matches
Little Wonders (Disney's Meet the Robinsons soundtrack) Rob on keyboards
Fallin' to Pieces (Something to Be)
Her Diamonds (Cradlesong)
I Am an Illusion (Something to Be)
*** Break for Encore***
Bent (Matchbox Twenty's Mad Season) Beautiful! I wasn't sure what the song was at first, but I knew every word, "Can you help me I'm bent?" Just Rob and his accoustic guitar. Rob wrote the song but I guess he paid Matchbox Twenty for its use during his shows?
Still Ain't Over You (Cradlesong)
Smooth -- the crowd favorite! the guitars had a Santana-like quality. He performed the low-key version
This is How a Heart Breaks (Something to Be) -- the last song! what a way to end the night!
Thanks so much, Rob, for sharing your talents with us! You rocked Cary out!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Open Mic Etiquette

Since I’ve MC’d a monthly Open Mic night for the North Carolina Writers’ Network since the beginning of this year, I feel I know a thing or two about how to run an open mic. But before I get into the etiquette of one, I need to define what my Open Mics are because there are a lot of you who may think that Open Mic Nights only apply to musicians. They do, but the ones I host bring out writers of all genres: fiction, memoir, poetry, spoken word and more. We’ve had crossover artists, but for the most part we stick to the written word. At these events, we have about 20 readers and about 40 folks in the audience, which is fantastic! Imagine, 40 people decided to get off their couch and listen to other people read their own poetry!

I have some great readers who come out to our Open Mics – they come on time, they read within the 5 minute time limit and they make sure they don’t say or do anything inappropriate. They also RSVP to say they’re coming so I can get them booked on the schedule. At every Open Mic I MC I give participants a program with all of the readers listed. That way, everyone can know each other’s name and the readers know when they are up next. Having the names also provides a talking point for networking and for getting to know fellow writers. All of my Open Mics end up booked because we fill out our max of 20 readers.

Open Mic Do’s
*Let the MC know you are coming at least 3 days in advance of event (especially mine since they are so popular!)
*Practice reading your work beforehand so you know it’s 5 minutes or less
*Remind the MC if you have any specific requests for your introduction
*Keep it PG or PG-13 – sometimes there are children in the audience. And, yes, maybe they watch HBO, but don’t assume that it’s cool to throw F-bombs every which way
*Do try to stay till the end of the open mic and if you can’t, please tell the MC you have to leave
*Tip generously and patronize the bar, coffee shop, or bookstore

Open Mic Don’ts
*This is not the time or place to get on your political or religious soap box
*If the MC has motioned you to stop, don’t take another 3 minutes to finish!
*Don’t shuffle papers or chit chat while folks are reading
*Turn off your cell phone and don't text during the performance (yes, I'm talking to you!)

Most of all, have fun! Open Mics are meant to support writers and give artists a forum to present and practice their words before a live audience. There’s always a special energy in the room during an Open Mic and it’s because people are there because they want to be with other like-minded creatives who don’t think they’re funny because they scribble or mumble in odd places. See you at the next Open Mic!

Oct/Nov Open Mics

OPEN MIC AT FALLS RIVER BOOKS, Cosponsored by NC Writers' Network (NCWN)
Where: Sunday, October 25th
5:30-7:30pm Falls River Books at Falls River Town Center, N. Raleigh

Contact: If you're interested in reading, please e-mail Megan Cutter at or call her at 919-389-6423.

Join us for a Sunday evening of local literary talent following the Authors Showcase. The first fifteen people to sign up with Megan Cutter in advance will be able to read their poetry, short fiction, or memoir. Each person will read for five minutes. Or come out and listen! Enjoy refreshments: wine, cheese, and other assorted goodies along with fellowship with your fellow readers and listeners!

OPEN MIC: Bring your Five Senses To Life!, Cosponsored by NC Writers' Network (NCWN)
A Wellness-for-Warriors Workshop: Bringing Your Five Senses to Life!
Friday November 13th, 20097:30 pm - 9:30 pm
COST: $10 Donation. FREE for military families
Calm and Sense 2603-111 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh NC
Contact: Alice Osborn at

Join us for a relaxing, Open Mic Night and treat your five senses to simply feel, hear, see, taste and touch the very essence of our peaceful beings. The first fifteen people to sign up with Alice Osborn at in advance will have five minutes each to read their poetry, short fiction, or memoirs, play a guitar and/or sing a song. Let’s just sit back, listen, laugh, lust, linger and love. Enjoy light hors d'oeuvres along with fellowship with your friends and a variety of players, writers, readers and listeners. There will be time allotted for networking; refreshments and raffle drawings. Standing applause for those who attend!