Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Five Ways To Find The Time To Read


 When I meet someone new and they learn that I’m an author, their first response is often, “cool!” followed by a lamentation on their lack of reading time. They tell me how much they love books and that reading relaxes them, or they’ll share a fond memory of a favorite book. Occasionally, they’ll say they’ve made a New Year’s Resolution to read more.
 
They’ll ask how much I read, and how I find the time to do it.

In answer to those questions: I read around fifty to sixty books a year. This year the number will be higher. It’s Halloween, and a check of my reading log shows I've completed 76 novels and four novellas. I started book number 77, Gregg Hurwitz's Hellbent, last night. There were also three books that I didn’t—and likely won’t—finish.

So how do I find the time, given my workload and family obligations? Simple: I make it. The investment is well worth it. Not only does reading make me a better writer, it lets my imagination fly and offers a respite when I’ve had a stressful day. 

If you want to make more time for reading, here are five easy tips:

Carry A Book At All Times. It doesn’t have to be bulky. If you have a phone with you, you have books with you. There are several apps available for reading, either via your phone’s app store, such as Apple Books, or by checking out Amazon’s Kindle App page, the Kobo App page, or Barnes & Noble’s Books App page. Have a few minutes of downtime? Instead of playing Minecraft or solitaire while waiting to meet a friend or to catch your bus, open your book and read. Prefer not to read on a phone? A Kindle, iPad, Kobo, or other device works, too. Then there are good old paperbacks. (Those still work!)

Consider Audio. I admit, I wasn’t sure I’d like audiobooks. On the recommendation of a friend, I did a free trial at Audible and was hooked. Now I listen in the car, while walking the dog, and while doing yardwork. If I’m at a particularly good spot in a story, I’ll forgo music while I run to listen. It’s amazing how a great narrator can bring a book to life. Audiobooks are less expensive and more accessible than in the days of tapes and CDs. You can listen on your phone and through many car speakers, either through programs like Apple CarPlay or via Bluetooth or by using an Aux cable. Now lulls in my day can be filled by a good book, even when my hands aren’t free to hold one.

Don’t Like It? Don’t Read It. No matter how many people rave about a book, if you aren’t enjoying it, it’s fine to quit reading. It took me years to allow myself to dump a book without finishing it. Silly, maybe, but there are thousands of wonderful books in the world. Why waste your precious reading time on one that doesn’t fire your imagination or entertain you in some way? Why slog through a horrible-to-you story when you can race through two or three great ones in the same time frame? Apologies to the late Aldous Huxley, but for me, reading Brave New World felt like trudging through ankle-deep mud in a cold headwind. I quit about a third of the way through, then read a fantastic romance novel and a thriller in the same amount of time it had taken me to slog through that third of a book. Lesson learned.

Keep a Log. I started keeping a log in 1999. It’s fascinating to look back on what I’ve read and enjoyed. Seeing the breadth of titles keeps me from getting in a reading rut. It also reminds me of authors I’ve enjoyed in the past so I can search for what they’ve written recently. There are several websites and phone apps that can manage a reading log for you, or you can go the old school route, as I do, with pen and paper. It’s a legit reason to buy a Moleskine or that cool notebook you’ve been eyeing on Etsy.

Share. Book clubs in my neighborhood tend to be more about the wine than the books, but some balance social time with meaty discussion. If you’re interested, ask your friends and neighbors if they belong to a book club, and ask them how it runs to see if it might be a good fit. If you can’t find one, why not start one? If book clubs aren’t your style, consider joining a site like BookBub or Goodreads, where you can discover new books and authors, read or write reviews, and discuss your favorites on message boards. Many authors have profile pages where they answer reader questions and make book recommendations.

The more you read, the more you’ll want to read. You’ll discover your own ways to fit reading into pockets of otherwise wasted time in your day.

Have great ideas of your own? Share them in the comments. In the meantime, go forth, find a great book, and enjoy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Two Reader Treasure Troves: Goodreads and BookBub


Many of you have heard of Goodreads, a site that offers readers a central location to peruse books, leave reviews, read and participate in book discussion groups, and find information on all your favorite authors. It’s a great website, as it encourages readers to make new discoveries. 

Goodreads also allows you to save lists of the books you’ve read or those you want to read, and to add your own commentary. If you take advantage of this feature, it serves as your personal online reading diary. I keep a virtual bookshelf on Goodreads. If you'd like to see the books I've rated as four or five stars, check them out right here. They're also listed in a column on the right hand side of this blog.

If you love reading, but are more interested in finding deals on books and authors that are new to you rather than utilizing the social bells and whistles of Goodreads, give BookBub a try. BookBub focuses on scouting out deals on the books that are most likely to appeal to you. When you sign up, you can choose which categories of books you wish to hear about, whether it’s fiction reads such as contemporary romance (my fave!) or thrillers, or nonfiction subjects from cooking to parenting. If you like, you can also receive notices of new releases or deals from authors who are already your favorites. For instance, those who follow my page receive a notice whenever a Royal Scandals title goes on sale. You can change or update your preferences at any time, allowing you to tailor the information you receive.

Have you used Goodreads and/or BookBub? What are your favorite features? If you’re in a book club, has your group taken advantage of either site? What would you recommend to other readers?


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Staying Healthy With a Desk Job: Seven Tips


Being a writer means my backside is frequently glued to a chair. If I’m not sitting at my computer, actively writing, my job doesn’t get done. It’s not work I can delegate. However, we’ve all read studies (or heard about them) stating that sitting is the new smoking: the more you sit, the more likely you are to struggle with health issues, and the shorter your lifespan.

To that end, over the years, I’ve made a conscious effort to incorporate more movement into my day, and I’ve found ways to accomplish it while still meeting my scheduled writing goals. I’ve also cleaned up my desk habits.

Here, seven easy ways to improve your health, despite your desk job:

A restored rail trail, one of my favorite running routes.
Walk Early. I have a dog, and she needs to be walked first thing in the morning. I wake up about twenty minutes earlier than I otherwise would so we get in a mile. Yes, this takes time away from sleeping/hair/makeup/breakfast. However, it’s time that pays off, and not only for the dog. I use those twenty minutes to listen to podcasts about writing or to think through what I want to write for the day. When I sit down at the computer, I’m ready to roll and my workday is more efficient.

Walk Late. Several years ago, I realized that I feel better if I take a walk or go for a run after dinner instead of returning to the computer or turning on the television right away. If I’m walking alone, I walk a mile in a little under fifteen minutes. With the dog and/or family members along, it’s closer to twenty or twenty-five. That post-dinner walk means I sleep more soundly, my digestion is better, and my overall energy levels are better.

Turns out that science backs up my instinct. Check out this article from Health magazine on why taking a walk after dinner—even a short one—offers a number of mental and physical benefits. Bonus tip: If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s a great way to control your blood sugar.

Kill Two Birds With One Stone. Need to listen to a lecture or interview for work? Have a phone call to return? Take your smartphone, pop on your headphones, and find a quiet place to walk as you accomplish your task, rather than sit at home on the sofa. If you regularly watch the evening news, see if you can find it on your local radio, or consider a subscription to a streaming service. You can catch up as you move. Hopping on an exercise bike, elliptical machine, or treadmill works, too.

Reward Yourself. Diet articles often suggest you give yourself a non-food reward for hitting certain milestones or meeting exercise goals. Why not build rewards into your exercise so that the exercise itself is fun?

Last winter, when it was too cold or icy to head outside for a run, I told myself I could only watch Game of Thrones while on the treadmill. When my feet stopped moving, so did the show. It made me look forward to time on the treadmill, rather than dread it. Now, if there’s a show I know I’ll want to binge watch, I save it for treadmill time. If you exercise outdoors, consider doing the same thing with a much-anticipated audiobook or that comedy podcast you love. Only listen while on the move. You may find yourself getting in an extra block or two as the story carries you along.

Clean Up Your Desk Habits. I’m guilty of eating at my desk, despite dieticians’ common advice not to do so. I’ve talked about this with other writers, and we’ve concluded that we do it not because we’re hungry, but as a procrastination tactic. Stuck on a scene? Sweating a tricky section of dialogue? We want to reach for that handful or crackers or chips while we turn over the problem in our heads. My solution has been to set firm limits on what I eat at my desk. Instead of crackers or chips, I allot myself a small bowl of Cheerios to nibble on while working. When it’s gone, that’s it. If I’m still really craving something, I’ll grab some cut carrots or celery. No sweets, no meals, no salty items.

To ensure healthy food is handy, I spend a few minutes on Sunday nights cutting veggies for the week. That way, they’re as easy to grab as chips or popcorn. Making this change has kept me satisfied on the food front while eliminating mindless eating. I’ve also found that I procrastinate less often—and get back to writing faster when I do hit a challenging scene—if I limit my snacks.

Think About Your Time. It’s easy to look at your busy schedule and decide you can’t squeeze in exercise. But how much time do you spend clicking from the document or spreadsheet you’re working on to a shopping site? Reading Dear Abby? Scrolling through Twitter or Instagram or Facebook? If you consciously limit the amount of time you spend on non-work Internet sites, you’ll find you accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. For one week, take honest stock of the time you spend on the Internet not working. If it’s thirty minutes, for the next week, consciously knock yourself back to fifteen. The following week, knock it back to ten. You’ve just bought yourself twenty minutes of walking time, and in doing so, possibly years on your life. Isn’t that better than staring at shoes online? (The answer: YES.)

Exploring Incan ruins in Peru
Incorporate Exercise Into Your Travel. Whether I'm on the road for work or for pleasure, I plan exercise into my day. Time constraints often mean it isn’t formal, but if I’m stuck in an airport, I’ll walk the concourse rather than sit at my gate. In a new town, I’ll scout out a coffee shop a few blocks away from my hotel, rather than take the option in the lobby. I also plan active vacations. Instead of using a cab or the metro around a major city, I walk everywhere possible. On a trip to Peru last year, I hiked the Inca Trail and had a blast. On the days I wasn’t on the Inca Trail, rather than view sights from a tour bus, I explored on foot. I ate like a queen and spent many hours on airplanes, but still came home a couple pounds lighter and with the kind of adrenaline rush that only comes from exercise.

Another benefit of staying healthy—beyond living longer and feeling better—is that it makes my job easier. When I feel good, my writing improves. I have more energy when I sit down in front of the computer, my brain is clearer, and I’m more efficient. When I’m more efficient, I have more time for exercise and to spend with my family and friends.

It’s a cycle of move-create-move-create that I plan to pursue for the rest of my life.

Have you wrestled with staying healthy while working a desk job? What are your challenges? Do you have a great suggestion for working more movement into your day? Have you seen work benefits from living a healthier lifestyle? Drop a note in the comments!

Monday, October 8, 2018

What's In Your TBR?

Romance writer Patricia McLinn recently went through her TBR pile--you know, those books that are To Be Read that accumulate on our nightstands, bookshelves, and e-readers--to see what gems she bought, but hadn't yet gotten around to reading. She talked about her discoveries with other authors, encouraging them to go on a #TBRDive, and to invite their readers to join in and share their hidden treasures.

It's not quite Jennifer Garner asking, "What's in your wallet?" but my guess is it's far more entertaining.

1440x878bbA quick perusal of my e-reader and the top shelf of my nightstand brought up several titles that have now been flagged with the goal of reading before the end of the year. What about you? What books do you have ready to read? Which most excite you?

My #TBRDive Titles:

The Viper, by Monica McCarty. This is the fourth title in Monica's Highland Guard series. I loved the first three books, and can't believe I didn't read the fourth right when I bought it! Now I'm anxious to crack the spine and continue with the series. The Viper is available on Amazon in every format you could imagine, as well as from Apple Books.

4204x2800bbAn Affair With a Notorious Heiress, by Lorraine Heath. I've enjoyed every historical romance I've ever read from Lorraine Heath, so she's an autobuy for me. This is one I know I'll tear through. The son of a duke and a mother whose reputation is less than impeccable, Alistair Mabry is determined to marry an honorable woman so his children will never have to endure what he did as a child. Then, of course, he falls for a scandalous woman. Just my kind of read! Find it on Amazon in the format of your choice, or grab it from Apple Books.

The Kill Artist, by Daniel Silva. I read a lot of thrillers, but I haven't tried Silva's popular series about assassin Gabriel Allon. I have the first few titles, so it's high time I started reading. The Kill Artist is the first of what's currently an eight-book series. You can find it on both Amazon and Apple Books.

Just One Damned Thing After Another, by Jodi Taylor. When this book came out, author friend Christina Dodd emailed to tell me how much she was enjoying it. Based on her recommendation, I bought a copy, but have yet to read it. It looks wildly entertaining, so I have a feeling this will be a nice end-of-year reward for hitting my writing goals. No surprise: you can pick it up on both Amazon and Apple Books

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Five To Try: Paranormal Romance Series

It’s October, a time when the human mind wanders to thoughts of the supernatural and things that go bump in the night. If your reading tastes follow that path, here are some paranormal romances to fit your mood.

Moon Called, by Patricia Briggs. This is the first book in the Briggs’ much-loved Mercy Thompson series, and I was hooked by the end of the first page. Need a strong female warrior to cheer? Wolves that become human (or is it vice versa?) Vampires who may or may not be friendly to humans? All this with a great romance storyline will have you hooked, too. Currently only $2.99 on Kindle or on

Kiss of Midnight, by Lara Adrian. Lara’s books are some of my favorites, and I can’t recommend her work highly enough. If you’re interested in an early autumn binge read of vampire romance, start here to enjoy her Midnight Breed series. As I post this, the book is available for $2.99 in and on Kindle.

Shadowland, by Meg Cabot. This is the first title in Meg’s Mediator series. Most readers know her for The Princess Diaries, but these stories are my favorite of hers. The main character, Suze, is a mediator, a link between the living and the dead, and a cowboy ghost lives in her bedroom. Adventures and romance ensue, and it’s fabulous.  Get it from or on Kindle.

Dark Lover, by J.R. Ward. This book launched a series that has had romance readers obsessed for years and pre-ordering each new release. J.R. Ward is one of the most talented romance authors writing today. If you haven’t read her work, start here. Currently, this first title in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series is only $2.99 at and for the Kindle.

Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, by Molly Harper. I haven’t read this yet, but I bought it a few weeks ago and it’s nearing the top of my To Be Read pile. I’ve heard raves for its romance and the humor. This is the first book in the popular Jane Jameson series, and is available from and on Kindle. I’ve heard that the audio edition is also fantastic. If you’ve read it, share your thoughts in the comments (but no spoilers, please! I can’t wait to dive in.