Playing Not-So-Innocent Games

Authors love to interact with readers and one of the most common ways is to post a game on our Facebook page, or Fan page, and encourage everyone to play. It’s sometimes silly and we can like or laugh with emojis or sympathize with a heart. We can answer questions and tell thing about ourselves because we’re having fun and interacting with our friends.

What we’re doing is harmless and cute. But what if it’s not?

Few authors create their own games. They borrow or share from others or modify games they’ve seen on other sites. But where did the game originate and who created it? Unfortunately, some are created by phishers looking for information, knowing we like to have fun on the internet. That doesn’t mean we can’t play games. It means we have to be super careful.

The first warning I ever saw came from the Sutton Police Department in the state of Massachusetts: “Please be aware of some of the posts you comment on. The posts that ask what was your first-grade teacher, who was your childhood best friend, your first car, the place you were born, your favorite place, your first pet, where did you go on your first flight … Those are the same questions asked when setting up accounts as security questions. You are giving out the answers to your security questions without realizing it.”

Scammers also try for more direct information. A game I frequently see is name the elf or what’s your dragon name, princess name, etc. Each month has an adjective and each date has a noun. If your birthday is January 1 and January had the word “cute” and the first had the word “helper,” well, you get the idea. Now the originator of the game (with something embedded in it to tell him it’s being played) has part of your birthday. Or he can go to your Facebook page and get your birthday right there if you’ve posted it.

Not all the games are harmful, but we need to be cognizant of what we are saying about ourselves and whether the information could be used inappropriately by someone who is “playing” along with us. As authors we need to think about what we’re asking our readers to share. As creatives, we need to make up our own games “on the spot.”

There are also dangers in the old “cut and paste, don’t share” request which tugs at your heart because most deal with serious topics, and the “do you know what this gadget is” that tries to pin down your age. Finally, do you take those fun internet quizzes? Those have a few pitfalls as well. But you can look up those scams for yourself.

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Piecing it together when you can’t write in a straight line

The book I am now working on is not my first. In fact, it is about my seventh . . . or tenth, if you count the nonfiction titles. So you would think by now I’d have a process established. A rubric, a pattern I followed when beginning a new novel.

Not hardly.

I’m a researcher at heart, so of course I spend lots of time diving into rabbit holes on the Internet and in the library. I’ve given my Kindle anxiety attacks downloading “new sources.” But when it comes time to get down to the actual writing, well . . . the blinking cursor intimidates me. Where do I start? Beginnings are so important!

That thought alone can be absolutely paralyzing.

Part of being a researcher is addiction to logical sequence. Start at the beginning and move forward, right? What other way is there? It’s actually the way I wrote almost all of the other novels I’ve published. This tactic, though, has treacherous pitfalls for me.

Like big old Stop Signs that appear out of nowhere. My imagination screeches to a halt, my characters freeze in place, in mid-sentence, sometimes. Nobody moves and nothing happens. The story stops.

I have about a half-dozen books like this sitting either in my desk drawer or virtually on my computer (healthily backed up, of course). Some of these books are more than halfway written! Some have only gone a few chapters. Most skid to a standstill right about midway.

Will they ever see the light of day again? Maybe, maybe not. But the fact of the matter is, in order to pursue writing as a real career, I had to find a better way.

How many craft books have I bought or borrowed and read? In the triple digits, for sure. Everybody has “the right way.” Every new “way” I tried left me cold.

My imagination is a gift, and I was wasting it. So I tried typing whatever scene happened to come into my head on a given day. Amazingly enough, now that I have a number of “random” scenes written, when I read them over, it’s obvious to me where in the puzzle they fit.

In the meantime, I’m still researching–I like to get all the details right. The Universe sends me little signs telling me I’m headed in the right direction, too. Just today I clicked on a random article on one of my favorite websites,, and discovered a juicy fact I didn’t know before. Turns out, it adds a whole new dimension to one of my scenes, an earlier scene I wrote a week ago.

That’s the beauty of writing on a computer instead of on paper. It’s very easy to move the pieces around, and to insert new material into a scene with just a few clicks. I think if I’d been writing it down on paper, I’d have run out of margins to write in by now…

If you, like me, find yourself “boxed in” by telling a story in a linear fashion, try the puzzle piece method. Write your scenes as they come to you. When the time comes to put the whole thing together, those pieces will tell you where they belong. And remember: you can always go back and add in or take out anything. You can always change where the story begins.

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7 Shopping Ideas for Writers by Susan Hanniford Crowley

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Shopping right now is a challenge. One, I am a tactile person. I love to touch the pen and I always have them tested on paper before I buy. Two, time is not on our side. Due to the pandemic, delivery times have grown longer. You have to take that into account when ordering online. Actually, you will want to shop online within the next few days.

Here are some things that writers love and other people might love too.

  1. Pens. My favorite is the uni-ball deluxe rollerball fine point. I tend to write novels in long hand for a while before switching to laptop. The feel is nice and the ink dependable. There are fancier pens if you want to go in that direction.
  2. Tea. My favorite is Republic of Tea Amond Vanilla. There is a large variety with many companies that will delight your favorite tea drinker. If the person, you are buying for drinks coffee instead, find out their favorite brand.
  3. Laptops. Right now there are a lot of deals. Unlike other purchases, I always buy the warranty for my desktop or laptop, and I always buy directly from the company as I prefer their warranty service. I have an Acer that I love. I bought a Dell for my oldest daughter. There are many good brands. As a writer, I want to know how many ports it has. I prefer a cd/dvd reader and writer. I have a gaming laptop for the graphics. You will want to make a list of what is important to you in a computer before shopping. Calling the company to ask questions can help.
  4. Fleece Blankets. Where I live, the weather gets more than crisp. Throwing a freece blanket over yourself makes for a cozier experience. 
  5. Flash drives/Thumb drives. People call it various things. Use them to save copies of documents, photos, videos. 
  6. Photo Printer. There are deals on photo printers. How nice it would be to copy photos off the computer or flashdrive and buy a photo book at the drug store and just have photos to look at when the power goes out. My power always goes out. That’s why I have pens and journal books.
  7. Books. Find out what kind of books your friend enjoys and buy them in print or online. I know in Kindle you can gift them.

There are seven ideas  to get you started. Happy Shopping! 

Susan Hanniford Crowley, Author of Vampire Princess of New York
Amazon Kindle Bestselling Author of Vampire Romance

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Giving Thanks in a Pandemic by Rebecca Heflin

This year’s Thanksgiving celebrations will be unlike any other most of us have ever experienced. Instead of gathering around the family dinner table with extended family and friends, many of us will gather with only those in our households. In place of the giant feasts, the menu will likely be pared down to the most cherished family favorites.

Thanksgiving 2020 will be one for the record books, like so many other aspects of this crazy year.

While there is much to mourn—the overwhelming number of cases and deaths, the loss this year of treasured family traditions, maybe even the loss of someone close to us—there is also reason to be thankful.  Here are a few things I’m giving thanks for this year.

  1. My health and the health of my family. My family and I have managed to stay healthy during the pandemic. We have followed the public health advice and it has paid off so far. We are still playing it safe—avoiding any large gatherings, masking in public, and only going out for essentials. Doing anything else just isn’t worth our short- or long-term health.  It may be a considerably smaller Thanksgiving, but at least we get to celebrate it.
  2. My economic health. Unlike so many others, my day-job didn’t miss a beat. Though I switched to working remotely back in March, I was able to continue my job, and thus my pay and benefits. My husband and I have a roof over our head and plenty of food on the table. For that I am extremely grateful. I’m back in the office now (with all the necessary precautions).
  3. Sharing Thanksgiving with that special someone. I get to share Thanksgiving with my husband of 25 years. That alone is something to be thankful for.
  4. Technology. Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and other video technology is no substitute for face-to-face gatherings, but thanks to these apps, we can touch base with those we love, see their faces, and give them a virtual air kiss. I’m grateful for this option.
  5. The forthcoming vaccines. With the news of three vaccine options, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Though this won’t be the definitive end to the pandemic, it is at least a start. The beginning of the end of this devastating pandemic. I’m thankful to all the scientists, researchers, and research subjects who dedicated themselves to this cause.
  6. The promise of a better year ahead. We will soon be saying good riddance to 2020. My mother always said never to wish your life away, but this is one year I have been wishing away since March, and I will be so thankful to see it in the rearview mirror.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

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Giving Thanks

If there was ever a year to test one’s resilience 2020 is it. Last winter, my seasonal affective disorder was particularly recalcitrant, compounded by a large number of patients during late January and February with what I termed a “really nasty virus” that was not influenza, but had them sidelined for weeks with coughing, difficulty breathing and exhaustion, with a sprinkling of gastro-intestinal upset.

I was sick enough to go to urgent care twice–and the second time I was signed out of work for seven days. My daughter missed two weeks of her senior year in high school as the illness passed amongst she and her classmates. By the time COVID 19 was identified in a critically ill New York State resident who lived along in an area where commuters would ride the subway right past my place of employment, it was too late to stop the surge.

I don’t recall too much about March through June besides how tired, frustrated, angry and scared I was. It was cold well into late spring, but there was almost no snow and everything felt and looked very much like it does now nine months later: dark and drab with a chill I just can’t shake. I don’t know if I had COVID or not, but it doesn’t matter because, like seasonal influenza, it’s possible to get it again.

At a hospital in New York City, food always seemed to arrive when I was hungry. Someone would tap me on the shoulder relieve me so I could rest and gather strength for the rest of my shift. We pulled off shields and masks, ate facing away from each other, then got back to work.

Nature carried on as if nothing was amiss. The flowers bloomed, birds sang, squirrels scampered, and we even had a frog show up in our pond! Only the humans were sidelined.

It has been gratifying, and comforting, to see so many people looking out for and taking care of neighbors, friends–and often strangers. I burst into tears at 5:30 one cold, rainy morning when the parking lot attendant took my car keys and called to me as I headed to the front door, “Now you stay safe in there.”

Somehow, through it all, I have been able to escape into writing fiction. My latest novel is done, and the second book in the series is well underway.

The news is grim, but there is hope in the form of a vaccine that I’ll be helping to administer. We all look forward to a better spring and summer of 2021.

My son just arrived from California for a one month visit, relieved the wildfires didn’t engulf his neighborhood but desperately in need of company, rest, and relaxation. My daughter, who missed senior prom and graduation, made it through the first half of her socially distanced, hybrid learning freshman year of college, and is back home and in her room. And my middle son will be on the subway home from his COVID hot spot in Brooklyn well before Thanksgiving since he is now teaching high school English Literature and Journalism remotely once again.

We all just took our COVID tests and no matter what the results, we’ll be spending Thanksgiving weekend together at home.

I could not be more hopeful–and thankful–for all of them and for all of you!

Be well, stay safe, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Cape Town, South Africa 2013

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Age is Just a Number

Age is just a number. At least, I always thought so. Am I not supposed to tell you what the number is? What the heck, I will—but remember it is just a number.

Beloved and I haven’t slowed down in our seventies. We flew halfway around the world a year ago on our latest adventure. We walk, hike, dine out, enjoy museums, visit family across three states, fly two to three times a year, volunteer, go to conferences, travel abroad as often as we can, manage our own home maintenance, and, of course, write books. At least we did all those things up until last March. Now our life has narrowed to those last two, although we’ve also found we’re skilled at cruising by each other for quick hugs and even the occasional dance step several times a day, are becoming skilled with Zoom, and have gotten obsessed with doing warfare with the squirrels that exploit our bird-feeders.

The situation with the covid virus is complicated for everyone, but, in our case, we’re forced to consider that “number,” our age, as a factor in our response. Beloved and I have taken a super conservative position as a result. Since the start we have quarantined ourselves almost entirely aside from Mass on Sunday (just me), medical appointments, and family visits outside on the patio. We do this for three reasons. 1. Every time the doctors list  “high risk groups,” we’re on it. 2. Our children ask us to stay isolated—and remind us. They worry. 3. We can’t do much for the country, but we can avoid adding to the pressure on our hospitals and medical systems, because if we get it, we’re likely to end up in care.  We choose not to be part of the problem if we can. We consider staying well a responsibility, and it is the one that weighs on me most.

Age is just a number, but in this difficult time it’s a number we’re taking seriously. It helps to take it with a dose of comedy as well, especially comedy featuring well-seasoned actors. If you haven’t watched The Kominsky Method yet, you’re missing a gem. Or try The Love Punch in which Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson don’t pretend to be younger than they are, and which met my key criteria. It made me laugh out loud. I long for heroines of a certain age…

Stay safe everyone and stay entertained. Dare I suggest it? Read a good book.

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Romantic Cookbooks

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. And so, dear readers, I present one of the most garish cookbooks of my vast collection – Barbara Cartland’s “The Romance of Food”. While her tastes for overblown makeup and a vivid shade of pink colour our memory of her, she wrote over 350 books, and was also an historian and political speaker. She also campaigned for better conditions for nurses, midwives, the aged, and gypsies. So, despite the makeup, and indeed this cookbook, she doesn’t deserve the ditzy image we have of her.

The cookbook is lavishly decorated with some extremely odd ornaments. It boggles the imagination what her house looked like if all these were from a personal collection. Many recipes are embellished with a quote, or some odd bits of information. Ice Cream in a Brandy Basket has the lines:

“Flowers, candlelight and a meringue heart in raspberry puree decorated with arrow pierced hearts. What could go with them better than a diamond and a wedding ring?”

The recipe itself notes that raspberries are good for rheumatism. The recipe for Pink Chicken is lavishly decorated with flowers and surrounded by pink glass ornaments. It is described:

“Chicken in pink sauce, chicken in pink quartz, and the pink flush of your cheeks when he says, I love you.”

A recipe for Chicken with Orange Surprise is decorated with wishbones (surprise! Make a wish for a wedding!). I could go on, but honestly despite the craziness, the recipes sound pretty good.

Special Strawberry Ice Cream

1lb/ 450 gms of strawberries
1/4 cup / 60gms sugar
3/4 cup / 215ml water
2 egg yolks
1&1/4 cups / 315ml cream

Wash and puree the strawberries. Heat the sugar in the water until dissolved. Beat eggs until white, then add the sugar syrup and cream and puree. Combine. Place in freezer, taking out and stirring after an hour.

Serve this with a raspberry sauce made from 6oz raspberries pureed with 1tbsp kirsch, sugar to taste and 1 tsp arrowroot. (or cornflour) Cook this till thickened.

About Cindy

Cindy Tomamichel is a multi genre author, with her SMP series Druid’s Portal a time travel action adventure romance set in Roman Britain. Short stories of fantasy, scifi and romance can be found on her website, where she blogs on aspects of world building. Her latest release -The Organized Author – provides much needed help for authors trying to navigate social media and build an author platform. Doing NaNo this year? Check out her free book NaNoWriMo Ready.

Contact Cindy on






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How to Build a Writing Habit and Have Fun!

Writing can be a lonely pursuit, with much of the work taking place alone with your computer. Sometimes finding the motivation to write can be a struggle. One of the greatest gifts any writing community gives is a nudge to do more and keep at it. I’m so grateful to belong to a virtual accountability group. They help me set goals and keep on task with writing sprints and other motivation. I don’t know what I would do without them!

There are also larger online organizations aimed at helping writers get words on the page. NaNoWriMo (Nation Novel Writing Month) started as an online challenge to write 50k words in November, and has grown into a huge annual event with extra writing challenges in April and June. There are sprint rooms and message boards, and even ways to connect with other writers locally. Years and years ago, I found my first in-person writers group from a NaNoWriMo meet-up. This year, I’m doing a more relaxed NaNo. I don’t aim to get 50k words written, but I am tracking my writing and trying to do just a little more.

To help me write regularly, I’m also playing 4thewords consistently. 4thewords is an amazing online writing game, focused on rewarding authors for output. The game play is pretty standard for an RPG with quests, monsters and awards, including an avatar to dress in wild styles. The trick is that quests are won by writing words, with each monster having a word count and a time limit to defeat it.

I’ve been playing 4thewords since last November, and I’ve come to really appreciate the positive encouraging community, and the tireless work of the developers to add content and keep all the “dust warriors” motivated. Right now I’m on a quest to get a cool sword by defeating 5 Razals–which means that I’ll have written 5000 words by the time I’m done. The story line is cute, and the game play complex and interesting enough to keep me coming back for more.

If you are hoping to build a writing habit, I highly recommend it!

Jaycee Jarvis has been an avid romance reader since devouring all the Sweet Dreams books her middle school library had to offer. Also a fantasy fan from an early age, she often wished those wondrous stories had just a bit more kissing. Now she writes stories with a romantic heart set against a magical backdrop, creating the kind of book she most likes to read.

When not lost in worlds of her own creation, she resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three children and a menagerie of pets.

Jaycee is a Golden Heart® finalist and author of the Hands of Destin series. The award winning first book in that series, Taxing Courtship, released in June 2018.

Learn more about her around the web:

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Frontier Dreams

Last night, my friends and I cozied up on our own sofas, with adult beverages in-hand, and Zoom-watched the latest SpaceX launch carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station. We’d viewed the previous SpaceX launch together before there’d been a scare to our “bubble” which forced us to do more Zoom-ing instead of gathering.

Despite our apartness, we were still giddy kids. We watched the educational, pre-launch commentary in silence—except for the bit about how the space station astronauts get drinking water which caused a flurry of web browsing and data confirmation—but we quickly quieted while the countdown ticked to zero. Although not as dramatic as the previous daytime launch, the liftoff still made the heart beat a little faster. We said nothing, but we knew each of us were willing the rocket to slice through the atmosphere without incident. Only after the first stage booster separated did we start to talk about what we’d witnessed, and we again fell silent to watch that booster successfully land on its floating dock (which, by the way, is so cool).

You see, we were three Air Force veterans, and we knew the significance of these SpaceX launches. Each successful one takes humankind a little further on the path to full space exploration, and deep down, we want to be a part of it. Granted, we’re all science nerds, too, so the complexity of it all fires up those synapses which tend to go dormant with everyday living. But for a couple hours, we get to dream the same way we once did as kids.

Speaking of kids, neither of theirs joined us in our viewing. The same had happened during the previous launch. We’re hoping it’s because the kids think we’re weird and don’t want to hang around with us to get somehow embarrassed (oh, the teen years) by our cheering and fist-bumping and toasting, the last two virtually this time. What would hurt us is if the kids just aren’t interested in space. Never mind how the thought of that twists a knife into our geeky hearts, but their ambivalence could somehow mean a disregard for dreams.

We know the current space projects have some future commercial slant to them; it’s a nascent industry which the majority of people don’t regard as possible or even necessary. Yet like those who first envisioned computers in our pockets and information at our fingertips, people who look to space as not only a new frontier but also as a burgeoning industry are those who could easily shape tomorrow’s world. Our kids should be interested in these launches because they are their future.

Perhaps if my friends and I didn’t make the launches such a big deal, the kids would watch. But doing so would be denying us the chance to dream, the chance to feel young and optimistic again, the chance to know humankind is moving forward. All we can hope for is that the kids keep listening to our conversations—and we know they’re secretly listening—and absorb some of our excitement, become curious about the ideas and “what ifs” we toss around, and consider the science behind space exploration when it comes time for them to fill out college applications. And maybe one day, they’ll surprise us by reminding us of a launch time and joining our little party.

To the astronauts orbiting this beautiful planet, thank you for following your dreams and inspiring us to do the same.

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An Agent Reads the Slush Pile by C. D. Hersh

A while back, before the new COVID normal, we used to go to Writer’s Conferences. At one of the ones we attended literary agent Kristin Nelson, of the Nelson Literacy Agency, read a selection of two-page openings from attendees’ books. We entered but didn’t get chosen. However, we gleaned a lot of good information from her workshop.

  1. Don’t retell what you’ve shown already
  2. Don’t start your opening with a dream sequence.
  3. Watch overdoing descriptions.
  4. Physical descriptions must be organic and important to the scene.
  5. Use the most powerful words you can.
  6. Beginning a story with bodily functions (ei vomiting) is a no no.)
  7. Anchor your opening in physical space and time.
  8. Streams of consciousness are hard to follow, especially when they aren’t anchored in time and space.
  9. Everything in your first two pages has to count.
  10. Start with emotionally resonating stuff.
  11. Immerse the readers in what your character is feeling
  12. Watch the overwriting—less really is more.

While her critiques may have been disheartening to those writers who were read, she left us with this piece of advice: Where you are as a writer is not where you will be as a writer in six months. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the tips Kristen gave.

If you go back and read some of your earlier writings and compare them to today, after you’ve practiced and studied the craft you’ll see just how true her statement is.

Are you guilty of any of these writing mistakes?

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