#MLKDAY – A Day of Service

Today, Jan. 20, 2020, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day – a federal holiday that celebrates the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. The holiday was signed into federal law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. MLK Day was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

But did you know…this is meant to be a day of service? 

The holiday is meant to be “a day on, not a day off,” MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.

“The time is always right to do what is right.”  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

FOR THOSE STILL WORKING

While this is a federal/state holiday, it is not one mandated to be a day off work for all privately owned companies. Only 33% of non-state and federal employers give this time off. So if you have to be at work, we get it. 

However, you can still make it a day of service. Consider taking a moment to reach out to your HR or your department head. Make the request that even if it’s not a day off, that it be a day of service starting next year where employees can go out in groups, with company t-shirts even, to do a day of service together. (Trust me, most companies love to be represented by community minded employees this way.)

Also, there is still time after work that you can do something small. Check out the list below.

FOR THOSE WITH THE DAY OFF

For those with the day off, what are you going to do to make this a “day on.” Some great ideas are listed below.

*This list is a shortened version of the one found at https://blog.fundly.com/community-service-ideas/ to be things doable in the short term for 1 day of service. Check out the bigger list for more fantastic ideas!

GENERAL

  • Volunteer at a local nonprofit
  • Participate in a national giving or remembrance day
  • Clean up your local park or playground
  • Plant trees, flowers, or other plants
  • Repair broken household items or appliances for neighbors
  • Write and send letters to soldiers and veterans

HELP KIDS / SCHOOLS

  • Volunteer at a youth shelter
  • Donate used books to a children’s library
  • Donate your used electronics to a school
  • Donate baby clothes and supplies
  • Join a group like Big Brothers, Big Sisters
  • Donate stuffed animals to kids in hospitals

HELP SENIOR CITIZENS

  • Take flowers to nursing home residents
  • Cook a meal for a senior
  • Decorate doors at a nursing home for the holidays
  • Host agame night at a nursing home
  • Teach an elderly person a card game or trick
  • Teach an elderly neighbor computer skills
  • Adopt a grandparent
  • Write letters for a senior
  • Deliver cookies or snacks to elderly neighbors

HELP ANIMALS / ENVIRONMENT

  • Volunteer at an animal shelter
  • Sponsor an animal in your city’s zoo
  • Build birdhouses for your neighborhood
  • Donate to a local animal shelter
  • Collect pet food and supplies for a shelter
  • Plant trees in a local park
  • Clean up a stretch of highway/local park/common areas in your neighborhood
  • Spruce up a park trail or hiking area
  • Bike to work or school

HELP HOMELESS / HUNGRY

  • Collect household items for a homeless family
  • Give grocery coupons to a local food bank
  • Create care packages with essential items
  • Donate toys and school supplies to a homeless shelter
  • Donate blankets to a homeless shelter
  • Volunteer at and donate to your local food bank
  • Create portable first aid kits for the homeless
  • Donate gently used clothing and shoes
  • Spend time at a soup kitchen

CRIME REDUCTION & SAFETY

  • Become part of your neighborhood watch group
  • Join an organization like DARE
  • Paint over graffiti in your neighborhood
  • Start a violence protection group in your community

SPECIAL NEEDS FOCUS

  • Hold a crayon and marker drive
  • Collect school supplies for special needs classrooms
  • Help make sure your neighborhood is handicap accessible
  • Donate to a care center in your community

NEIGHBORHOOD & COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT

  • Campaign for more bike lanes and sidewalks
  • Pick up trash around the neighborhood
  • Rake leaves for neighbors
  • Join your neighborhood watch group
  • Help people clean their gutters

My Parents' Happiest Place

This past Thanksgiving week, my family took a fantastical vacation to Disney World and Universal Studios to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary!

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Disney is definitely my happiest place on earth. Between Disney fairy tales and Star Wars, my childhood imagination was formed. If you look closely enough, you can probably see that in my books.

In addition, I’m a ride junkie. Especially roller coasters. And Orlando has plenty of those. Between the 2 multi-parks, my favorite rides include… Everest, Rockin’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Kong. And, despite it not being one of my favorite movies, my all-time favorite ride is Peter Pan.

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I also LOVE the immersive worlds these theme parks have started creating. Getting lost in the worlds of Harry Potter, Avatar, and now Star Wars is incredible. I could spend days just looking at all the details.

But this trip, what I loved most above all was watching my parents!

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They hadn’t been to Disney since they took me when I was 8 (so a decade or 2…or 3). At that time, Epcot was still fairly new and Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios didn’t yet exist (at least as part of Disney). Seeing them enjoy the rides and, in particular, enjoy the time with family, was fantastic. Watching them light up when we all sang them “happy anniversary” to the tune of “happy birthday” was even better.

My parents met in high school in Venezuela. Their parents were ex-pats working in country. Mom & Dad were the prom king and queen. When they went off to college, their parents happened to move relatively close together in the US, near where Mom went to school, and Dad decided then and there, when visiting for Christmas, that she was meant to be his. He proposed in Central Park.

50 years together.

Amazing isn’t it? I only hope that my husband and I can be as lucky. It’s practically a miracle that we both grew up with parents who made it to 50 years. Both sets of my grandparents also celebrated 50 years together. What an example to follow!

Here’s to celebrating true love, soul mates. 

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Halloween Decorating Obsession

So, after maxing out the way I decorate for Christmas, I’ve moved on to my other favorite holiday, Halloween. I’m a paranormal romance author as one of my other pen names, y’all. Are you really that surprised?

 

I LOVE the colors, and the themes, and the funny signs, and all the different things you can do to decorate for Halloween. I don’t tend to go for spooky. More colorful. But I thought I’d share some of my best Halloween interior decorating tips.

 

Biggest Bang for the Buck

 

Glittery cheap boas from grocery stores. I have ones with pumpkins, one with ghosts, and one with witches. They take up a space so nicely. You can see parts of this one behind other decorations on the mantle. They’re also good for long tables, entertainment hutches, and wrapping around banisters.

 

 

Wall Signs

 

The biggest impact to holiday decorations I’ve found (for every holiday) are wall signs. Something about taking down the usual stuff to put up something seasonal and unique really stands out.

 

 

Combine Smaller Items on a Larger Item

 

I love to put some of my smaller items together on a runner or tablecloth.

 

 

Trees Aren’t Just for Christmas

 

Hey, they were a pagan hold over for the jolly holiday to begin with (sorry! I know that’s a hard truth). I find that a Halloween version adds some sparkle. Thinking of doing a life sized kind.

 

 

Table Clothes Are My Jam

 

Tablecloths decorate a very large/long space quickly and easily. I love this tablecloth (and finding fun ones for each holiday actually. I also loved finding the pieces to make the centerpiece!

 

 

Things That Light Up

 

A must at Halloween. After all, the actual celebration is held in the dark.

 

 

What about you? Are you a Halloween decorating nut like me? What are some of your favorite holiday decorating tricks?

Heart of ATX Romance Reading Salon

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Y’all, I had the best dang time last night!

Granted, I always have a good time when I get to hang with fellow authors and with readers and friends, and that’s exactly what I got to do Friday night in Buda, TX.

Cathy Maxwell (not enough raves can I give this woman) organizes these fantastic reading salons, and I was lucky enough to be one of the authors invited this year. Located at the beautiful Assmemblage, this fantastic gallery in Buda, 50+ folks who preordered tickets came out to enjoy wine, cookies, and hear readings from the authors!

Donations and all book sales went to benefit the local YMCA and, in particular, Camp Goody, a new 85 acre location for YMCA camps, local swim meets, and more.

I joined authors Kharma Kelley, Teri Wilson, and Tessa Dare (oh what fabulous, aspirational company to keep) in reading short excerpts from our most recent books, and then spent time signing copies for folks and getting to say hello.

I apologize now for attendees about my ultra-fast, nervous reading style, and hoped you enjoyed the excerpt from The Rogue King. I was definitely the straight man in the group of ladies who had the room rolling with laughs (in a good way).

And if you’ve interacted on social media with me and I didn’t recognize you, I am sending you extra hugs. I’ve realized that most of us post book covers and memes and not images of ourselves. Lol. Mental note to go look at the tiny personal photo on Instagram before these events. 🙂

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After the readings, I now have 3 more books (and a whole backlist) that I have to read, because I have to know what happens next. I also now know what I want to be when I grow up in romancelandia–any one of the authors part of this event.

What a night!

Thank you so much to Cathy and the ladies who own the Assemblage for such a fantastic event!

xoxo

Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions

I find that between interviews, podcasts, and conversations with people who find out I’m a romance writer, that there are several common questions that invariably pop up in every one of these moments. Here are my top 10 most frequently asked questions (and answers). 

What do you like to read?

First and foremost I’m a romance junky. I can read books without romance, but usually, I need a good love story to really lock me in. My favorites, of course, are the ones I write–contemporary romance, romantic comedy, and paranormal romance. However, I also get lost in just about every other genre of romance–historical, new adult, young adult, scifi, even erotic if done well. I also love books with history to them. I love learning about other cultures and/or other times. In the non-romance space, I also love science fiction, action/adventure, biographies, women’s fiction, mysteries, and some classics.

What is your typical day like?  

All over the map. Hah! I work from home as a full-time author and mom, as well as running my own business, Authors On A Dime, to help other self-pub’d authors.

After I get the kids up, ready, and out the door, it’s walk the dog and then time to pick up the house, start laundry, etc. Then I spend several hours working on the latest book(s). I spend some time on social media for marketing purposes. Most days have Authors On A Dime stuff to do (run the business or work on projects–mostly book covers). I’m a VPA for Alyssa Day, so if she has anything for me, I also work on that. Kids get home and it’s activities for them (depending on the day) and homework. Then the night time stuff (dinner, downtime, bet time, etc.). My evenings are usually spent with my hubby in front of the TV binge watching shows, usually with my computer in my lap. While watching I work more on whatever didn’t get done that day, be it books, social media, or work. Phew!

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Who or what inspired you to become an author?

I’m not sure there was any one point of inspiration. I’ve always been a writer. In 4th grade, I place second in a school essay contest. Maybe that gave me the bug to keep going. But there have always been stories in my head that wanted to come out.

When did you consider yourself to be a writer?

blue_violet_v5I’ve always considered myself a writer. I feel like I became an author the day a total stranger purchased a copy of Blue Violet, my first self-published novel.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I was 90% pantser / 10% plotter. These days it’s more a 50/50 split. I’m a plantser.

Its an evolving process for me. My first completed book, Blue Violet, was 100% pantser. In fact, I didn’t even write the scenes in order, but skipped around. I do a lot more preparing ahead of time these days, using bits and pieces from various workshops and theories I’ve tried over time. After some amount of preparation, I write the first draft, and my characters take that opportunity to tell me how to get from A to B (and sometimes B becomes C). The end book never looks exactly like what I plotted to start with.

How long does it take you to write a book?

I write a very fast first draft in 4-6 weeks depending on the length of the book.  The first draft for me is my least favorite part of the process so I try to get it over with as quickly as possible. The first draft lays out the bare bones of the book and is usually about 80% of the story. Depending on deadlines and how I feel about the quality of the first draft, I spend another 2-6 weeks on subsequent drafts where I fill the blanks, adjust any issues, and add the spit and polish. I LOVE the drafting and editing phases where I really get to tweak and then perfect.

How do you come up with your ideas?

All over the place. Sometimes its dreams. I have very vivid dreams. Sometimes it’s being inspired by one particular aspect of a book or movie and taking that detail and making it into my own world. Mostly I think in scenes. I’ll picture a moment between two characters, or a situation my heroine might be stuck in, and I build from there. I find the more I write, the more ideas pop into my head. I keep a list now for when I’m between books (though that’s rare since I write series).

Is there anything based on real-life experiences? Or is it all imagination?

Most of it is pure imagination. There are little things I take from real life. Funny moments from one of my kids or my husband. Quirks of my own. Most often it’s my personal goofiness that ends up in stories. Ellie, my heroine in Blue Violet, especially. I’m told by friends that reading her is like reading me on the page.

What genre have you never written that you’d like to write?

I would LOVE to write historical romance, but I have very little patience for all the research involved (despite the fact that I minored in history in college). And I like multiple eras – Regency England, Ancient Rome, Middle Ages, Vikings, Wild West, WWII.

What is your favorite book(s) that you’ve written so far?

Depositphotos_50510159_xl-2015Lol. It’s always the one I just finished or just released. This is partly because I learn more with each book written, and so feel like each new one is better than the last. It’s not always true, because some books are harder and some easier than the others to write. At the moment, I’m writing my first book under this pen name, and having a blast with it, so Snowball’s Christmas is my favorite.

By the way, my answer on this is a little different for my other pen names. Check out the answers for Abigail Owen and Kadie Scott

Top 5 On My Bucket List

We all have one (or we should). A bucket list. That list of things we want to do/experience/accomplish before we kick the bucket.

I love the idea of a bucket list because it means that, right up to the end, you never stop trying new things or looking for new experiences. I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who loved to travel, to experience other cultures, to try new things, and encouraged us to do so as well. I’ve continued that practice into my adult life. As you can imagine, my bucket list is a long one.

I don’t number them or have them in any particular order though. And I should mention that travel is a huge part of my list. I’ve mentioned one below, but there’s also Australia/New Zealand, Austria, Holland, Iceland, Brazil, Egypt, Greece, the Galapagos, more time in Japan, Russia, and many many other places. Still, for fun, I tried to figure out my top 5.

TOP 5 BUCKET LIST

5. Photo Safari in Kenya

I’ve wanted to go to Africa and see those amazing animals and the beautiful (and varied) topography for ages. I’d love to experience some of the (safer) cultures and try the food and be out in the quiet of the plains or see the jungles. But especially those animals. I’ve seen them in zoos, but no way is that the same.

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4. Find the Best Dessert Ever

Okay, so this is a weird one. But I LOVE dessert. I find the best one at every restaurant I visit. I figure, with all the traveling, I have many more to try, right? So far, the one to beat is the Triple Pot de Crème at Back Bistro in Folsom, CA. I’m actually not a creme brulee person, but this isn’t exactly creme brulee. It’s the creme part of vanilla custard then covered by a layer of caramel, and then dark chocolate ganache and sea salt. It is incredible.

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3. Support Myself as an Author

I love my dream of being an author, I’ve crossed so many accomplishments and goals off my bucket list over the last 10 years. More than that, I am so, so lucky that I get to pursue it full time. For now. But I won’t be able to keep this up if I can’t make it contribute to my family. It doesn’t have to be huge. I’m not looking to be the next Nora Roberts or multi-million earning writer. But an income that contributes… it’s the only way I get to keep doing this. To me, this means continuing to work on my craft and keep publishing the best works I can, and pray that the luck side of this business comes my way.

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2. Live in Estes Park, CO

I’ve wanted this as long as I can remember. Convincing my husband to retire there might take some work. Leaving friends to move would also be hard. It would be awesome if the lottery could strike and, boom, vacation home where we can stay a lot!

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1. Meet My Great Grandkids

I want to live long enough to see my kids live through major life moments–prom, high school graduation, going to college, getting married, and having children. But I’m selfish. I want to see this for my grandkids too. And to meet my great grandkids. I got to know my great grandmother until I was 12. Hearing about and imagining her life, and knowing she touched mine, is one of my favorite life experiences. I’d love to have it again, on the other side.

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Those are my top 5 (for now). What about you? What’s one your bucket list?