New Year, New Look

Fyi, y’all.

My website is undergoing an overhaul – this time not by me, but by professionals.

Amen to that!

As much as I like plunking around and figuring out themes for a new look on occasion, the end result never quite meets my expectations when I’m done.  And then there’s the HTML code, of which I know just enough to be dangerous, but is needed to make some of the “buttons” work, or to add in giveaway information, etc.  I usually figure it out, but it can consume a lot of time.

I don’t know the exact timeframe for when the web design team will be done, I’m thinking sometime towards the third week or so of this month.

I can’t wait for you to see the new design!


Yep, that’s me running a power tool with my Rosie the Riveter do rag on my head.  *Taken in Bucha Ukraine, Mission Trip 2006



Did You Know…

…how you can help out authors?  It’s not just buying the book, which is certainly a big deal in of itself.  There are a couple (well okay, five here) more steps that can take the simple, yet powerful act of buying a book go that extra bit towards helping an author gain traction.

Here’s a list of what I’ve heard/learned.

  • A while back, our lovely Shark (a.k.a. Janet Reid, literary agent extraordinaire) posted about this.  Wherever you go to purchase books…if you don’t see the one you want?  Ask for it.  Find someone and ask if they can check their database to see if it’s been ordered, or if they’ve put it on their list of books to order.  (or to be re-ordered if their inventory is depleted.)  One point she made – which, as a newbie I thought was very interesting – don’t go to the author and tell them their book isn’t in a store because the author can’t do anything about it.  The reason?  Authors aren’t part of the process to distribute their book.  Hence, the “ask a person in the store” advice.  Now, if the author is self-published?  That’s a whole other topic outside of my wheelhouse.
  • If possible, rate the books you read, or even provide a short review.  An astute observation made by a commenter here  on this blog (Heidi Kneale) stated even bad reviews are a good thing, in that if all an author has are good reviews, that can start to look fishy.  500 five star reviews = things that make you go hmmm.  Of course, a book’s success is based on being well received, but all reviews are helpful and show people cared enough about the story to leave one.
  • If you are on Goodreads,”shelf a book” you want to read.  (pssst!  even if it’s not out yet)  The more people who shelf a book, the better the chances for the good folks at Goodreads to showcase it.
  • If you are a member of a book club, pick a book as your book club’s “pick of the month,” and then…
  • …talk about it!  This is typically The Way I find out about books I want to read next.  Interesting, it’s still a fact today, despite the social media interactions of authors online, this is the very best thing to help a book – good old word of mouth.



Courtesy Village Booksellers

It’s Just Not Christmas Without White Trash

On another blog a writer friend said she wished she could send all of us a big bag of Texas Trash – which made me realize it was time for me to share my own version – White Trash.  Don’t I share this every year?  I can’t remember, but if I don’t, it ought to be a tradition out here on the blog.

I mean, just like what the title says…it’s not Christmas without it.

Admittedly, this is probably not considered being politically correct, but, hey, how ’bout we go with the idea this isn’t about someone’s lifestyle, but a treat.  And a darn good one if I say so myself.

And while I’m at the name thing, let’s list all the ones it goes by, the one I’m most familiar with being first on the list:

  1. White Trash
  2. Puppy Chow
  3. Muddy Buddies
  4. Monkey Munch (from Kate Plus 8)
  5. And the ever popular – Christmas Crack

I think that about covers most of the ones I’ve heard.

Don’t have time to bake and bake and bake like I’ve done this past week?  (Six pound cakes and counting…)  This is your answer!

It’s GREAT for sharing, and anyone who’s ever tried it will swoon at your feet.  All you have to do is get some of those decorative plastic bags, or pop-up boxes, ribbon, make this (takes minutes) and you’ve got yourself a homemade, tasty treat to share with friends, family and neighbors.  They will begin to stalk you once you introduce them to it.  Which may not be what you want.  You could just drop it off in the middle of the night on their doorstep signed, “Secret Santa.”

IDK.  Share at your own risk. (?)

Anyway!  Like I said, it’s easy!  There are many versions of the recipe to boot, but here’s a favorite.

White Trash Recipe:

  • 1 large box Rice Chex cereal
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 box confectioner’s sugar

Melt peanut butter and butter.  Let cool.  Pour over over cereal and mix carefully until well coated.  Pour confectioner’s sugar into a bag (an old fashioned brown paper bag is perfect for this, but if you don’t have one, use a trash bag.  Seems sort of apropos doesn’t it?)  Dump coated cereal into the bag and shake vigorously.  Voila!  White Trash.

Here’s another version (this is the one I prefer personally.  Must have chocolate!)

  • 1 large box Rice Chex cereal
  • 1 large box raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups peanuts
  • 6 oz chocolate chips
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 box powdered sugar

Combine first three ingredients in large bowl or pan.  Melt chocolate chips, butter and peanut butter.  Let cool a bit, then drizzle over cereal mixture to coat, then mix carefully to coated.  Next, dump box of confectioners sugar into…?  You got it, a trash bag or paper bag.  Then in goes the cereal mixture and shake until all is well coated.

White Trash (2)




Every day my inbox fills with information I’ve requested.  Writing blogs I’ve subscribed to, online writing or publishing magazines, and a variety of other writing how to material.  I’ll stare at some of it for days, all good intentions of reading the material, only to get tired of seeing it stack up.  Eventually, I just hit delete, delete, delete.  Lately, I’ve started to classify much of it as clutter as in I’m beginning to feel a bit overloaded with the need to keep my inbox somewhat organized while “feeling” like I’m not wasting time by doing so

I realize there are some deliveries into my inbox very worthy of reading.  I ran across a post yesterday I felt was extremely helpful, but, mostly, staring at a full inbox just makes me feel like I’m always behind somehow.  I’m sure I’m going about it all wrong, as in I don’t have a defined process for how I work.  I don’t say I’m going to read the inbox from 8:00 – 9:00, then work on writing from 9:00 to 1:00, and then finish up with more reading to end the day.

Pffft!  If only I were THAT disciplined.

In addition to the email influx, I’m not counting the two magazines I get, Poets & Writers and Writer’s Digest.  I’m a year behind in those – at least.  I have them chronologically stacked on my night stand along with the ever growing stack of books I’m reading, because I paid for them and I can’t bring myself to de-clutter by throwing them out.  What if I miss THE article that makes ALL the difference in my writing???

And then, there’s the notorious TBR pile.  What I can’t seem to stop doing is buying books.  Right now, I think I have 75+ books to read.  I just bought three MORE this week. But, let’s be real.  I won’t ever stop buying books.  I won’t ever stop reading them.  As I’ve said before, I only read at night and by the time I get to bed I’m usually so tired I only get a few pages in. One thing I do think I could do less with is the influx into my inbox, and that general feeling of guilt I have when I don’t read everything sent.  I don’t know why I feel that way, but I do.  And, in thinking about it, if I’m simply going to delete them, then why bother having them delivered?

Therefore, I’ve been thinking about reducing the load. I’ve been thinking about unsubscribing to some of the sites I’ve been receiving emails from for years.  I’ve been thinking about trying to follow that “sensible” daily plan for when I’ll read, and when I’ll write.  My hope would be to have a feeling like I’ve actually accomplished something – mainly towards my writing goals – and have enough time to sit down and read that ever growing stack of magazines and books in the afternoon.

Books in the middle - only part of that huge TBR pile.

Books in the middle – only part of that huge TBR pile.

Sure, I’ll miss seeing some of those articles, but I can always visit sites at will.  I’ll have them bookmarked, I just won’t get the daily automatic dump into my inbox.

Wow, I feel better already!

An Interview With BookHive’s Jennifer Bowen

Back in late September I shared some good news and a bit of information about BookHive, an online service for authors which allows them to test their manuscript across a broad demographic of “Test Readers.”  The experience was so worthwhile, I thought it would be a good idea to share even more details via an interview with the “QueenBee” herself, Jennifer Bowen.  She generously agreed to provide answers to my questions.  First, a little bit about Jennifer’s background, which is also detailed on the BookHive website.

Jennifer Bowen has spent much of her professional career in advertising, but considers herself first and foremost a creative.  Her plays include the solo show Burning Down to Heaven about the poet Anne Sexton (The Marsh Theater and Venue 9 in San Francisco;  Women’s Center Stage/Culture Project in NYC),  full length plays Happiest Place on Earth (The Lark, Workshop/Reading In Violet Theater Company 2012, Trustus Playwrights Festival Finalist 2012) and in development The Little Prince$$ (Workshop Production InViolet Theater Company 2014) and Ruin (Kitchen Dog Theater Finalist 2014.) Her films include the independently produced full length Sad Sack Sally and the short films The Silent Treatment (48 Hour Philadelphia Film Festival 2012 winner), I (Eggs) You (Designer Vision/48 Hour Film Project Invitational) and the upcoming Lost and Found. Jennifer is a proud member of the InViolet Theater Company.
She is pitching her first YA novel in the trilogy The June Awakening Series about a young girl’s quest to find out the truth behind her parents deaths through her burgeoning psychic ability. Her greatest creative influences have been her home town of Half Moon Bay, CA, the television show Twin Peaks and the writing  of Jack Kerouac,  Jane Austen and Alice Munro. Jennifer graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Garrett who’s her faithful first reader.
  1. You’ve written a YA novel, and from that experience, it seems the concept of BookHive was born. Tell us more about that.

I’d been working on my first Young Adult novel. After a year of writing and getting feedback from my writers group in NYC, I was curious what a fifteen-year-old girl would think. While the people in my group dug it, they were all in their 30’s and 40’s, and I wondered if I had my finger on the pulse for my target audience. I strongly believe in the usefulness of writers groups, workshops, etc. in developing a book. But when people have read multiple drafts, they lose perspective. While my writers group continues to shape and strengthen my work, I got feedback from the teenagers that I just wasn’t getting from my writers group. I took that feedback and it truly informed my edits that next year. When I retested it a year later, it tested much stronger. That’s when I knew I might have something that could help other authors.

  1. How do you find Test Readers?

We recruit Test Readers through Book Fairs (we were at the 2014 Boston Book Fair), online ads, social media, Trade Shows, and word of mouth. Test Readers fill out a detailed form when they come to our website. Along with capturing basic demographics (gender, age, region), Test Readers give us detailed info on what kinds of books they read, how many they read a year, and a writing sample.

  1. What can an author expect when allowing BookHive to test their manuscript?

They can expect eight to ten targeted Test Readers to read the manuscript which will result in a 30+ page report full of quantitative and qualitative feedback. About 1/3rd of the survey is quantitative – questions on a 1 – 5 numerical scale (example – How hooked were you after the first ten pages?). The rest of the survey is qualitative where the Test Readers can really speak their minds (example – Who are your three favorite characters and why?; What parts were confusing?; What did you think of the ending?). We offer the author the opportunity to add three personalized questions as well.

  1. What is the process for analyzing a book’s “data” from Test Readers?

I pull out multiple mentions, both positive and critical, and look for trends in the 30+ pages of feedback. In my two to three page analysis, that I give along with the raw data, I point these things out as guideposts to the author. They can take these key points into consideration when editing, or when looking to position the book marketing wise.

  1. What have authors said about the report they receive?
  1. From Donna: One of the best parts of the BookHive report came from the summary analysis provided by Jennifer Bowen. Because the report I received was well over 25+ pages BookHive anticipates each author will receive, the summary allowed me to focus on the collective opinions of all the Test Readers, versus sifting through each individual Test Reader’s comments. (which was still a lot of fun because they did a great job at taking the time to discuss their likes/dislikes in a very professional, succinct manner) I appreciated how Jennifer keyed in on those common trends and offered helpful suggestions to make the book even better.
  2. Add any other comments you want here… J

That pretty much covers it!!!

  1. What sort of manuscripts is BookHive looking for?

Right now we are testing Adult Fiction, Middle Grade/YA and Memoir.

  1. What are your expectations for BookHive, overall?

My hope is that we are cost-effective check-in for Authors about whether their book is working or not. If they receive more of a critique, it can inform their edits. If they receive a lot of key points about what’s working, they can feel confidant to move to the next step – working with an editor, sending out to agents, or jumping to self-publishing.  

  1. What’s up next for BookHive?

We were just at the Self-Publishing Expo in NYC where I was a panelist. We will be at the 2015 San Francisco Writers Conference February 13th – 15th!

  1. Writer to writer, what is the best advice you’ve received in regards a writing career?

I like Stephen King’s basic MO: read and write if you want to become a better writer. It really is true! And that probably leads me to the value of getting rid of editor brain. Julia Cameron’s emphasis on morning pages I think is a way to overcome this. You wouldn’t just run a marathon without training, right? I think writing is the same way. You have to practice. Even if you’re writing personally in morning pages, it gets you in the flow. Also, Hemingway’s famous quote, “The first draft of anything is shit.” That says to me that writing takes time. I always picture the early drafts as a symphony out of tune. With each draft I deepen, until hopefully, we’re creating a melody!

  1. If an author is hesitant about testing their book with BookHive, what would you say to encourage them?

As writers, I think we all want people to read our stories and be affected by them. In order to do that, and in such a competitive market, each writer has to do their part to write the best and most compelling story they can. The BookHive report helps with that process. Even with books that test fabulously (like yours, Donna!) – there were still some smaller things to consider. Whether it’s a major overhaul or minor tweaks, the BookHive report can help with the next step. Most of us have the fear – what if they don’t like my book? But better to be brave, hear the truth, and do what you can so the dream can come true – people truly being engrossed and riveted by the story you’re telling.

And there you have it.  One other bit of information I would add, and Jennifer would clarify this if you decided to test your manuscript; you can expect to have your report in about six weeks.

Jennifer also wanted me to pass this along.  If you think your work is ready to be tested (solid first drafts are accepted), go to their website, and click on the “Authors” link and follow the instructions to submit your work. They are currently offering a 50% discount to test manuscripts, cost $250.00, using the code “Beesknees.” (normally $499).

If you have other questions, share in the Comments below and I will pass them along to Jennifer and provide her answers back to you in the reply section.

Happy holidays! 


%d bloggers like this: