Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013

I can't believe it's not summer anymore. But as a major ice storm hit Toronto, I not only realized that it truly is winter, but I was also so grateful to my friends and family who have made 2013 such a wonderful year. It really has been the year of love, connections and community.

I watched my city come together as neighbors lost power and food. We attacked the sheets of ice covering sidewalks and cars, checked on each other to make sure everyone was okay and provided warmth and comfort to those who were forced out of their homes because they had no heat. That is the true holiday spirit.

2013 was such a busy and incredible year for me, and I have my readers to thank for a lot of the joy I have felt. Every email, review, comment and message about Finding Lucas means the world to me, and I appreciate them more than you know. I still giggle with giddiness that I am an author and get to spend my days (well, some of them) writing.

Not only do I love writing, but I have a huge passion for editing. Through my business, Perfect Pen Communications, I have worked with some amazing clients, and I'm honored they have trusted me to edit their manuscripts, academic papers, and reports (and so much more!) and can't wait to begin again in 2014. And a very exciting new venture for me has been to join with Francine LaSala, author and editor extraordinaire, and we now often team edit manuscripts for writers who would like more than two eyes on their work. Francine and I are close friends, and you never quite know how working with a friend will turn out. I am so happy that we are great at bouncing ideas off each other and playing to our strengths.

My friendships have always been important to me, and I never knew I'd become so connected with people all over the world. To find authors who get what I mean when I say sales rank, who also listen in on other people's conversations and hear voices in their heads has enabled me to stop bothering my friends and family who don't really want to hear about story arcs and character motivation. Meredith Schorr, whose books I loved long before I even knew her, is one of these authors. Both she and Francine share my love of life and fun, and together we founded BookBuzz, an author/reader/blogger party that launched in New York City in May, 2013. We wanted to create an event to celebrate our books and the books of other authors because the writing community has got to be the most supportive group I've ever come across. It was my first ever business trip and such a success that we've decided to hold BookBuzz events everywhere we can.

This November, I teamed up with author/blogger Lydia Laceby and blogger Kaley Stewart and we brought BookBuzz to Toronto. BookBuzz NYC had eight authors, BookBuzz TO had ten, and we hope the next event this May in NYC will have even more. I'm quite stunned by the amount of emails I've gotten from authors who would like to participate. Who knew that our little party would turn into such a huge hit?

People often ask me what my days are like. Well, I'm first and foremost a mom, but after the kids are off to school, I boot up my beloved laptop with the missing key and write, edit and connect with my online world. It's a world that sees me through the highs of amazing reviews, the lows of a slow sales week and always, always makes me laugh. Whether it's my Twitter conversations with Eileen Goudge, Julie Valerie, Jen Tucker and Sonja Yoerg, the emails between Tracie Banister, Anna Garner and me, the inspiring, hilarious and heartfelt posts of The Chick Lit Goddesses, the millions of email exchanges with bloggers turned friends, like Melissa Amster and Marlene Engel, and the wonderful conversations with so many other people I've met this year (too numerous to mention, but you know who you are--I hope), 2013 has been beautiful.

And to my incredible friends and family in my "real" world, thank you for keeping me grounded and teaching how to better live in the moment. I worry a lot, usually about the things over which I have no control, and one of my goals in 2014 is to worry less. I know I can do it as long as I'm surrounded by the love I am so lucky to have.

As 2013 comes to a close, I hope you all have a joyous, successful and special 2014, and I wish all of you a very Happy New Year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Welcome Laura Chapman!

Bloggers, as I have mentioned many times, are invaluable to an author's exposure. And when a blogger releases her debut novel, it is such a pleasure for me to feature her (or him!). Today, I am so happy to have Lexi Burke, the leading character in Laura Chapman's Hard Hats and Doormats, here to share a fantastic post with travel tips I will surely use (especially realizing that we have zero control once we get on that airplane so we might as well kick back and relax). Thanks, Laura and Lexi!

  Lexi Burke, the heroine of Hard Hats and Doormats, is a human resources manager at Gulf America. Her job requires her to make field visits to employees working in refineries and oil platforms along the Gulf Coast. Because she spends so much of her time in transit, she's had more than her share of experience driving and flying long distances. Samantha Stroh Bailey was kind enough to invite Lexi and I onto her blog to share some of the lessons she's learned as a professional traveler. I hope you enjoy.

Greetings, fellow travelers. My name is Lexi Burke, and I'm here to share a few of my best practices for making business travel a tolerable - if not enjoyable - experience.

First, when you travel - especially by air - it's important to accept that you are not in control. Flights get delayed. Babies cry. The guy sitting next to you will take the whole armrest. There's not a whole lot you can do about it. Why stress? Between trying to get a promotion at work and wondering if this guy I kind of like was flirting with me, I have enough to worry about.

Second, know where you're going. Review the terminal maps for airports, the location of the rental car facility and how to get from the airport to your first destination. It's always important to know your next step, whether it's getting to a crew room or making sure you have enough copies of the employee policy manual to pass around at new hire training. Plus, I always like to know where I can pick-up a cinnamon roll or margarita during my layover on my return trip home.

Third - and this is the most important step - never check any luggage if you're going on a trip that lasts less than a week. I don't even care about the fees, which are outrageous. I care more about the potential for disaster. The surest way to start your work week or weekend off on the wrong foot is to lose your baggage somewhere in transit. It might seem impossible to pack everything you need in carry-on luggage, but it's totally doable. I'll even show you.

Finding the right suitcase is the most crucial component of successfully carrying on your luggage. The Transportation Safety Administration requires carry-on luggage to fit the the x-ray machine, but every airline has their own rules. You should be fine if your bag's total dimensions (length + width + depth) comes in under 45 inches and weighs fewer than 40 pounds. My suitcase might look a little beat up after our years together, but she passes the test and fits into most overhead compartments.

This suitcase has the ability to expand a little larger, which comes in handy if you decide to do a little souvenir shopping during your travels.

I usually go to the same handful of places over and over, so I don't usually need it, but it's nice to know I have the option.

To be in compliance with TSA guidelines, do not - and I mean DO NOT - try carrying on regular-sized toiletries and beauty products. Instead, have a set of everything you need - from toothpaste and body wash to deodorant and skin care products - in 3-ounce containers or less.

I travel often enough that I always have a set of my liquids, gels and aerosol containers packed and ready to go at all times. Most motels will have these supplies in stock available as a courtesy item, but I like to use the same shampoo no matter where I am. All of your containers have to fit into a quart-sized bag. My plastic bag came with the suitcase, and it's durable, which is super awesome.

If you have room, I suggest investing in an extra nail file and nail clippers. You'd be surprised how often one of these has come in hand on the road. I also suggest having a cap or container for your toothbrush. When you're traveling, you often have to toss your toothbrush in a suitcase before it dries, which is gross.

Now, for a Monday-Friday business trip, here's everything I'm going to pack in my suitcase: Two pairs of pants, two pajama/work-out tops, two pajama/work-out bottoms, five shirts, one thin sweater (that matches my shirts and slacks for easy layering), five pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, an extra bra, a hard hat, a pair of steel-toed boots, a pair of ballet flats, a comb, brush, toiletries and an empty purse.

That looks something like this:

It's tempting to want to take along several clothing options, but it's unnecessary. My dad always told me you should only ever pack an extra pair of underwear in case you fall into a swimming pool. I assume you have that extra pair to wear while your wet clothes dry, so using that logic, I pack an extra shirt and bra for that reason. You can wear a pair of pants more than one day, and when you're working, you really only need one or two pairs of shoes. My best friend, Kara, also works for GA, and she wears her steel-toed boots on the airplane to save room in her suitcase. She may be on to something with that, but I only wear my boots when I'm on a job site, because they're too heavy.

And I pack my purse, because most airlines allow you one carry-on suitcase and a "personal item," which can be a laptop bag or purse. A laptop bag is bigger than most purses, and on a business trip, I'm going to need my laptop, so... There you go. I suppose you could forgo having a purse at all, but I like carrying it around once I'm off the plane.

To save room in your suitcase, roll your clothing:

And use every space available. I find my hard hat is excellent at holding my undergarments.

Here's how my suitcase looks after I get the boots, hard hat and clothing in it:

Then you place the empty purse on top...

And slip your ballet flats into the extra interior pouch...

And you still have plenty of room for a couple of souvenirs, maps and extra paper work. I put my brush, comb and toothbrush in the top exterior pouch...

And my makeup bag and liquids/gels bag in the lower pouch:

This gives you easy access to these items when you have to take the liquids/gels bag out at the security checkpoint, and in case you want to freshen up when you arrive at your final destination.

Now, remember, you're also going to be wearing some of your clothing with you when you get to the airport. I go for easy layers like a light sweater/jacket and scarf to wear over my main clothes, because they're easy to take off at security, and they are useful items to have once you reach your destination. If the weather calls for it, wear a winter coat, hat and gloves, even if its 70 degrees at your origination spot. You don't want to waste valuable luggage space with that.

I also choose to wear tennis shoes when I fly. They're easy enough to take off and put on at security, and they are good to have in case you plan to exercise while you're traveling. I seldom ever make it to a workout facility on the road, because I'm too tired, but it's nice to have the option. I've also heard that it's good to have shoes that won't slip off on your feet in case your plane has to make an emergency landing. I've never had to test that fact - thank goodness - but who am I to question that advice?

In your laptop bag, you'll obviously pack your laptop and paperwork, but this is also a good place to put your wallet, power cord and cell phone charger. Do NOT leave home without your cell phone charger, unless you want to shell out too much money for a replacement while you're on the road.

I also slip a pair of flip-flops into my laptop bag, because I like to wear them on long stretches of driving. Most of my travels keep me on the Gulf Coast, and you can wear flip-flops about 10 months of the year.

I hope these tips help you the next time you make a trip. Thanks for letting me share them with you.

You can follow more of Lexi's adventures on Twitter @theLexiBurke.

About the Book
Lexi Burke has always been a stickler for following rules and procedures. As a human resources manager for a leading Gulf Coast chemical company, it’s her job to make sure everyone else falls in line, too.

But after losing out on a big promotion–-because her boss sees her as too much of a yes-woman––Lexi adopts a new policy of following her heart instead of the fine print. And her heart knows what it wants: Jason Beaumont, a workplace crush who is off limits based on her previous protocol.

While navigating a new romance and interoffice politics, Lexi must find the confidence to stand on her own or face a lifetime of following someone else’s orders.

Buy the Book!
Barnes and Noble
Marching Ink 

About the Author
Laura Chapman mixes her love of romance and humor as a women’s fiction blogger and author. Born and raised in Nebraska – in a city, not on a farm – she is a devoted fan of football, British period drama, writing in bars and her cats, Jane and Bingley. Hard Hats and Doormats is her debut novel.

Connect with Laura!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bloggers on Board!

Today, I want to give some love and attention to two incredible women who have been such a huge support to me and so many other authors. Bloggers Marlene Engel from Book Mama and Melissa Amster from Chick Lit Central have not only helped promote Finding Lucas and are always happy to host me on their wonderful blogs, but they have become dear friends, and I love them. Without bloggers, we authors would not be able to see our dreams come to life, and I am so grateful to them for everything they've done for me.

On a cold, wintry day, I sat down with Marlene and Melissa for a virtual chat (until we can actually do this in person), and it was such a pleasure to hang out with my curly haired compatriots. 

Welcome, Melissa and Marlene!

I live in Maryland (DC Metro area) with my husband, two sons and daughter. When I'm not reading and interviewing authors, I work for a Jewish non-profit. In my spare time (what's that?!?), I like to watch my favorite shows on TV, bake challah and desserts, and host meals and other gatherings.  Check out my personal blog and follow me on Twitter.

I'm a wife and mother.  I have five children ranging in age from 3-21.  Yes, you read that right!  We have three boys in college, a special needs daughter who we sadly lost 7 years ago to Leukemia and our youngest we recently adopted.  I couldn't love her any more if I gave birth to her myself!

My hobbies include reading chick lit/women's literature, vacationing and going to Broadway shows.

I'm a huge advocate for the special needs population.  As I stated previously, we had a special needs daughter.  She was totally blind and had multiple developmental delays.  Sadly, she passed away almost 7 years ago from Leukemia.  I am a better person because of her.  She taught me to live each day to its fullest and to not take things for granted.  I try to do things that would make her proud of  me.  I hope I'm succeeding!

I believe that people are rewarded for their kindness and beauty is measured by the heart.  It only takes a second to say hello or smile at someone.  Simple acts like these go a long way!

I'm an open book.  If there is anything you want to know, just ask.  :)

Sam: So, we're all settled in with our drinks and snacks. I know the two of you have chocolate, and I have my chips. Here we go! Both of your blogs focus on women's fiction and chick lit. What is it about these genres that you love?

Marlene: I love reading stories that women can relate to.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a funny chick lit story or a serious women’s fiction book.  They both have a way of making me forget about what’s going on in the world and just get lost in the story.

 Melissa: It’s so easy to relate to. There are women close to my age, going through similar worries and experiences. It also allows me to live vicariously through some characters, like if they have a really cool career or travel someplace I’ve always wanted to go.

       Sam: Chick Lit Central has been such a popular blog for a long time. It's the go-to site for many readers who want to find their next great read. And Book Mama has quickly become a favorite, as well. When and why did you start your blogs?

            Marlene: I started Book Mama Blog in May with the encouragement of Melissa Amster.  Melissa and I “met” when I messaged her about becoming a reviewer at Chick Lit Central.  After being a guest book reviewer there for several months, she said that I should start my own blog.  Hesitant at first, I reluctantly decided to give it a try.  I give her all of the credit for Book Mama Blog being born!

     Melissa: Thank you, Marlene! I started Chick Lit Central in May, 2010 to connect with other chick lit readers around the world.    

           Sam: You must get so many emails. What’s the funniest review request you’ve ever gotten?
          Marlene: I was recently asked to review a children’s holiday book.  At first I thought, didn’t this publicist look at my blog to see what I typically review? But then I realized that I was asked to do the review because the author donates all of the proceeds from that particular book to organizations that help children battling cancer. They felt that it would be a good match for my blog because they read in my “About Me” page that I had a daughter who passed from cancer.
           Sam: And you also do so much for charity, Marlene. I was really honored to be a part of the giveaway you organized for victims of Typhoon Haiyan. Melissa, what's your funniest review request?

          Melissa: I get many requests for books that have NOTHING to do with chick lit. Like self-help books for building your own house or children’s books or historical books about men I’ve never heard of from the 17th century.     
    Sam (giggling): Maybe someone will write a chick lit book about a woman building her own house. Actually, it's probably already been written. I was so happy to see the two of you join forces. Why did you decide to become sister blogs?

         Marlene: Around the time that I started Book Mama Blog, Melissa and I had a conversation about me becoming a Review Associate at Chick Lit Central. I knew that her policy was that her Review Associates were to review solely at CLC. Under that policy, I wouldn’t be able to review book at my blog. Trying to figure out a way to not only allow me to review at CLC, but also at BMB, Melissa asked me if I would like to have our blogs be “sister blogs.” This way we can help to promote each other’s blogs and I can not only do reviews at her blog, but also at mine as well.  It’s the best of both worlds!

         Sam: It definitely is!

         Melissa: I got Marlene into blogging and then realized that I created a monster. (A good monster though. Like Mike Wazowski.) Since having her own blog no longer freed her up to do much with CLC, I thought we should pair up as sister blogs so we could bring our audiences to each other’s blogs and also do some fun features together.

         Sam: Melissa, I love that you influenced Marlene to start blogging. I remember when I was looking for bloggers to review Finding Lucas, you were so helpful. You're the blog whisperer! With all of the requests you get, I'm sure you have to say no to some of them. What would make you dislike a book and not want to review it?

        Marlene: If a book’s story is poorly written or a story is just too far-fetched, I may have to turn down the book. Typically, if I’m asked to review a book that falls into the Chick Lit or Women’s Fiction genres, I’ll usually opt to review it.  There have, however, been exceptions.

         Sam: I'm sure those are few and far between. I've been so impressed with the authors whose books I've been reading lately. And thanks to you, I have discovered so many wonderful stories. Melissa, what about you?

        Melissa: If it is poorly written, has no storyline by at least the third chapter, doesn’t know its audience, etc. I only came across one book this past year that I couldn’t read too far into because it was just going nowhere fast. I was honest with the author about it and found a different way to share her book with our readers. Marlene and I recently learned that no two readers are alike, based on a certain book that’s making its rounds at the moment.

         Sam: That is such a good point. We connect with books based on our personal experiences, and every reader is looking for something different. There are books that are huge hits that I just can't get into, and others that are panned; yet, I love them. As a mom and business owner as well as an author, I know how hard it is to juggle every aspect of my life.To review books takes such finesse, critical thinking and a lot of time. How do you balance motherhood, work and your blogs?

       Marlene: Thankfully I work from home. That allows me to sneak onto the computer from time to time during the day. I also do a lot of my blog preparation at night when my husband is home to keep my (three year old) daughter busy, or later at night when she’s asleep.
       Melissa: Luckily, my kids go to bed at a reasonable time. My day has a certain predictable routine to it. I also try to get blog stuff done on the weekends.

        Sam: Ooh, don't jinx it, Melissa! I don't want you to be up with the kids tonight. What do you both hope people get from your blogs?

  Marlene: I have always been an avid reader.  For as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a love of books and reading. If I can share my passion for reading with others and potentially get them to read a book that I reviewed or blogged about, then my blog’s a success! I also have a lot of friends who are authors. I know the importance of promoting their work and getting their names out to the public. With more and more book stores closing, what book bloggers do has become even more imperative for the success of authors and the sales of their books. I like to think that my blog is a way to connect the authors and their books to the readers.

 Melissa: Connections with other chick lit readers, leading into possible long-lasting friendships. (Hmm…I wonder if I can come up with an example, or two, of that happening because of my blog. Hmmm… ;) ) Also, that they learn about new books and authors they might not have heard of before.

 Sam: This is definitely a long-lasting friendship. Who else sends me book fairies (thanks, Marlene!) and wonderful books with girly stuff tucked inside (thanks, Melissa!) So many readers have found Finding Lucas because of the two of you. You are both invaluable to my success. You two read so much so this is a hard question. But,  what are your top three favorite books?

        Marlene: Oh boy!  That’s like asking me who my favorite child is! I honestly don’t think I can pick a top three. What I can say is that my all-time favorite genre is chick lit. Any book that has a cast of female friends with a great story and swirled in with laugh out loud humor, will more than likely be a hit in my book!

        Melissa: Why don’t you ask me to choose my favorite child? 

         Sam: Ha! Both of you obviously feel the same way. Okay, who's your favorite child? Just kidding. We love those little monkeys equally.

       Melissa: I just love way too many books that I’ve read. If we’re talking chick lit, I have tons that I could list. So I’m going the non-chick lit route on this one (and it’s still hard to choose!!!)
      1.      She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
      2.      A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
      3.      The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

        Sam: Many bloggers are also authors. Do you write?

        Marlene: No, I don’t write.  What’s funny is that my (21 yr old) son has told me several times that I should write a book.  Although I’m a self-proclaimed book nerd, I don’t think I’d make a good author.

         Sam: Never say never. I can see a memoir.

         Melissa: I have a personal blog. I like writing thought provoking posts and sharing memories. I’ve even written some short fiction pieces there. Merrylandgirl.blogspot.com

         Sam: I've read some of your personal essays and fiction, and they are filled with warmth and humor. Putting yourself out there, be it with a book or a blog is not easy. What has been the biggest challenge and the biggest triumph you’ve had since starting your blog?

        Marlene: The biggest challenge has been having to manage the book reviews. I have recently added more book reviewers to help with the large review requests. The biggest triumphs have been the overall success of the blog and all of the amazing friends I’ve made.  I quickly learned how close-knit the literary community is and I’m extremely proud to be a part of it!

       Sam: I agree. The literary community is the most supportive, kindest and most talented group of people I have ever come across. I am proud to be a part of it.

      Melissa: The biggest challenge has been trying to find a balance within the blog. I used to post a lot each day and then started scaling back to a manageable level. I feel like I have it more under control now. Keeping on top of reviews is also a challenge, but that’s why I brought on reviewers for the blog.

Biggest triumph has been all the positive feedback about the blog. Hearing people tell me it is their favorite blog lets me know that I’m doing something right and reminds me why I stick with it even when I am short on motivation. Also, having some popular authors know who I am is incredibly cool. Having Jennifer Weiner call me by name in a crowded “auditorium” was legendary!

Sam: It is a blog that has become synonymous with women's fiction and chick lit. Oh, if Jennifer Weiner ever called me by name, I might pass out.

Thank you so much for taking time from such busy lives to be here today. I adore both of you and am so lucky to have you in my life. If anyone is looking for great book reviews, incredible giveaways and fantastic recommendations, be sure to follow Chick Lit Central and Book Mama!

For more information about Melissa and Chick Lit Central

For more information on Marlene and Book Mama Blog: