B2B Cycon, 2018

Hey, guys. Bonus post time!

I just wanted to let you all know that the Brains 2 Book Cycon is scheduled and ready to roll! You know what I love? Conventions. You know what I love more? Conventions I don’t have to leave my house for.

I’ll be participating in the con in a few different ways. Here’s where you can find me.

Just Read- The first chapter of Broken Patterns will be available, as will the first episode of Seeming. If you’ve been curious about either one of my series but not yet ready to shell out the cash for the book, this is the place to start.

Cover Wars- I submitted the cover for You Can’t Trust The AI in the cover wars! Please go vote for it.

Book Expo- I have two booths in the book expo. One for Station 86 and one for Woven.

My e-books will all have special discount prices. I’ll probably have some other fancy stuff and events going on, so stay tuned.

Here’s a link to get signed up.


Don’t turn off the news

Have you ever read V for Vendetta? I don’t mean, have you seen the movie. The movie was awful. Have you read the graphic novel?

You should. And if you can, you should get ahold of the collection that has a forward by the author. Because there’s a story there that once upon a time changed how I see the world. I’ll paraphrase it for you.

Alan Moore was sitting in a pub having a meal and some drinks. The news was on, and he was sort of watching it peripherally. The owner of the pub was there, doing pub owner things. Eventually, the owner’s wife came in for the dinner rush. She turned changed the news station over to some game show or another. She explained that the news was too depressing. He goes on to say that V for Vendetta is dedicated to the people who don’t turn off the news.

I get that, you know. There are days that it’s hard to watch the news. There is so much horror in the world, so much pain. Tragedies and human cruelty. Monsters and liars, and terrible things that are just out of our control.

I read the news online, I don’t watch it. And there are days that it’s just sickening. I don’t want to know what’s happening sometimes because it makes me feel so damn helpless! Sometimes I feel like I just can’t ever do enough.

But I can do some. I can donate to worthy causes, not just my money but my time. I can use this platform to inform people about things we all need to know about. I can share things on social media.

And I can vote. I can make damn sure that I vote.

At very least, I can make sure that I know what’s going on. I can look into situations, check multiple sources. I can educate myself. And so can you.

Look, I know that it’s hard. But it’s not going to get easier, it’s not going to get better until we are all educated enough to do something about it. We should take breaks, we have to. We should understand that we can’t do something about everything. But we should do what is in our power to do.

Don’t turn off the news. Don’t shut out what’s happening, please. Do whatever you can.

Use the simple

I love The Simpsons, at least the first 20 seasons. Honestly, I’m not prepared to say that the show’s out of ideas, but I do think that the older the episode is, the better. That could be because the new ones aren’t as good, but it’s more likely that it’s because I view older episodes through the crappy lenses of nostalgia that makes everything look better.

Are you familiar with the Mr. Plow episode? It was Season 4, episode 9. The storyline was simple, Homer wanted to start a plow company because he bought a truck that he couldn’t afford. He makes up a little jingle to advertise his new business.

Mr. Plow, that’s my name. That name again is Mr. Plow.”

It’s simple, it’s short, and it gets stuck in my head like nothing else. If you’ve heard the song, I bet it’s stuck in your head too. Sorry, not sorry.

Now, I’m not telling you all of this just because I’m a Simpson’s fan and I want you to be too. I’m telling you because I think this is one of the main reasons why The Simpsons is successful. It’s simple. The storylines are straightforward, on the surface. They’re simple.

I think that sometimes we, as writers, want to write complex things. We want to write great, deep things that mean something. We don’t want to talk about making toast and coffee for breakfast, or going to the store.

We want to talk about war, and hate, and the deep wonders of life. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I write speculative fiction because I want to write about dragons, space stations, and creatures that infest the darkest corners of the world!

To do that, we often use the biggest words, the wildest settings. We try to go all out, and make things bigger and bigger and bigger!

But sometimes the best and most lasting way to talk about the big things is to write them in the simple ways.

A husband doing the shopping, because his wife was killed by a suicide bomber. He’s shifting through the avocados, and can’t remember how to tell if they’re ripe.

A woman is washing the dishes, and she’s thinking about her mother. How her mother was so damned critical of her, of everything she did. How nothing had ever been right, especially not the dishes. Her mind is filled with hatred as she scrubs at her sink.

A girl sits in her car, waiting for a traffic light to turn green. The car, how had she managed to get it? How had that money found its way under her door?

The best way to write a big thing is to start small, start simple. The shoes sitting next to the door that means someone is at your home that shouldn’t be. How your mother always left lipstick stains on her coffee cups and cigarettes. The lingering smell of bleach that could mean routine cleaning and could mean the cleanup of a murder scene.

Use the simple, like the Mr. Plow song. That’s what gets stuck in our heads, in our hearts, and in our nightmares.

Stake your space

I have a desk at my day job. It’s a nice, wraparound desk with lots of space to stick things up on the walls. I have all sorts of lovely things to decorate the desk. Pictures of my kids, Snoopy cartoons, inspirational postcards from Erin Condron and Van Goh prints. On my desk are toys. Stuffed animals, a little plastic grim reaper cat and a jar of colored pencils.

Recently, I had to take everything down because we were going to move to a different part of the building. I packed all my unnecessary crap and left just my calendar up on the wall. Then, I had to wait for a day before my new workspace was ready for me.

It felt as though I was sitting in a box. A highly boring box. Even though nothing I needed was packed away, I felt like I couldn’t work. Slowly, my toys started coming back out of the box, just because I was lonely without them. Once I could get everything set up on my new desk, I felt at home almost at once.

I think this is why I could never be a minimalist. I take great stock in the comfort of physical things. Which isn’t to say I’m materialistic. Each thing on my desk means something to me.

The toys were all gifts, from beloved friends or my children. Pictures of my family remind me why I need a job in tough moments. The Van Goh pictures make me feel peaceful. And Snoopy at the typewriter never fails to remind me that I am a writer.

At home, I have a desk. It’s a hand-painted little piece of crap, to be honest. It’s falling apart.

But it’s also covered with little toys that make me happy. It’s got enough room for my computer and an open notebook. It was my grandmother’s before it was mine, and it became mine when I was fourteen.

I’ve talked before about writing everywhere. I write in doctors waiting rooms, on public transportation, at the library, in diners. Wherever I am, I can and do write.

But there is something about my desk, my space, that makes the writing easier. Maybe it’s the physical things that represent the love of the people around me. Maybe it’s the habit, this is where I go to write. Maybe it’s that I have this room, my office, set up just to my liking. I guess it could be all three of these things.

I know that you might not have the room to have a whole office. Maybe you don’t even have a desk. But I would encourage you to find some space to write in that is your own. Maybe it’s just a lap desk at a certain time of the day. Maybe it’s your kitchen table or counters for half an hour before the kids get up. But make that space your own. Put up something inspirational or beautiful. Stake your claim, stake your space.

Sit up straight!

A long time ago, when I was in fifth grade, I had a terrific teacher. I mentioned her in a recent blog post about things I learned in school that had nothing to do with what I was supposed to be learning. She was an elderly lady with an honest to God beehive hairdo. I don’t think she’d ever married. Sadly, I can’t remember her name.

She was an old school teacher, who believed that students needed discipline and rules, not friends. She wasn’t wrong, I think. She taught us all to speak up when talking and would bring a trash basket back to you if you were chewing gum.

She also didn’t believe in slouching. She made every single student in her class sit up straight and never let us prop our chins up in our hands. If a student was caught in such a state, perhaps after lunch when the afternoon sleepies tend to attack, she would tell us, “I’m an old lady, and I can hold my head up just fine. You young things shouldn’t have any problems.”

As a student, I was a people pleaser, and so I did my best to sit up straight through her class. It was a habit that I lost, sadly, when I didn’t have her to remind me.

These days, I have back problems. My back hurts almost every day. Some days, the muscles in my hands and wrists hurt as well. These are all pretty simple pains, caused by spending too much time slouched over a keyboard both at home and at the day job. Eye fatigue is another issue, but I have solved that for the most party by switching to a blue light on my tablet and getting some non-glare lenses in my glasses.

And so I find myself doing something that I often do as an adult; relearn a lesson someone tried to teach me as a kid.

Sit up straight and pull your shoulders away from your ears. Don’t prop your chin up in your hand. It leads to chin acne anyway.

This dumb thing that I should have been doing anyway has helped my back issues. It’s also helped my energy level after lunch when the sleepies still come for me. Even the pain in my wrists has gone away.

This is a short post because it’s a short piece of advice. But it can mean a world of difference for back weary writers. Sit up, and pull your shoulders away from your ears!

Don’t wish away the bad times.

I don’t often talk about my day job, for a lot of reasons. I like my job and I have a lot of respect for the company that I work for. But I try to keep a wall between my writing life and my day job life. I’m only going to touch on it a little bit today.

I’ll be working an extra half day for the next two months. That means that I’ll be working six days a week for the next two months.

I volunteered for this because it’s needed. I also like money.

But I also know that working six days a week for two months is going to suck!

I found myself wishing it was already April so that this time of extra work would be behind me. But then I realized something.

That’s a crazy amount of time to wish away!

Think about this. I was wishing away two months of my life. Think about what’s going to happen in those months.

Evenings with my family, full of dinner and watching X-Files.

Crocheting time.

Helping my girls make their blankets for their hope chests.

Writing time.

Reading time.

Waking up in the morning early and making a good cup of coffee.

Going on walks with the family as the weather gets better.

Gossiping and joking with my coworkers.

Lunch breaks full of reading funny things on Instagram.

Celebrating Chinese New Year with my family.

Celebrating the start of Spring.

I think we forget sometimes how much life we live, even on work days. There are so many happy moments, no matter what obligations you have.

So take my advice. Don’t wish away your days, any of your days. Because there is so much good in life that you’ll miss out by waiting for better times.

Using Flylady tips to help your writing

Hi, my name is Nicole, and I am a Fly Baby.

If you don’t know what that means, you haven’t been introduced to the Flylady. And I want to introduce you to her today if you’ve never met her.

I’m sure that you’ve read about me using the Flylady’s habits to keep my home in order. I have a lot on my schedule, and her techniques have helped me learn to keep better care of my home, my family and myself.

Like with everything else that comes into my life, I have used the Flylady techniques to make me a better writer. I’ve taken the loving lessons she’s taught and incorporated them into my writing life.

Here’s how.

You are not behind

This is the first, best, and most often repeated lesson from the Flylady. Because she helps the flybabies work through zones in our house so that everything gets cleaned up eventually.

I took this another way. As writers, we have to do so much more than just write! We have to have a social media presence, keep a blog, do outreach for other authors. It can be hard not to feel like we need to hit the ground running with all of this. And to a new writer, who’s struggling to find the time just to write every day, let alone all of these other things. It’s like we’re starting out way behind!

You are not behind. Begin where you are, do what you can. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not where other authors are. I’ll say it again, you are not behind.

Shine your desk

The first daily task that the Flylady teaches is to shine your sink. I scoffed at this at first, but I did it. Before I went to bed, I made sure that my kitchen and bathroom sink were both clean and shiny.

I was amazed at how this impacted my morning. I didn’t worry about putting my precious makeup down in anything gross in my bathroom, and I could make my coffee without fighting with the dirty dishes in the kitchen.

When I saw how good this made me feel, I thought about how I could use this in my writing. And so I took this as cleaning off or shining, my desk at the end of my work each day. No more leaving coffee mugs or notebooks out. When I left my desk, it was tidy.

This allowed me to come to my desk the next time and begin right away. I didn’t have to clean the desk off first, and it wasn’t unappealing to look at.

15 minutes

The Flylady doesn’t ask you to spend all of your time cleaning. She doesn’t even ask for an hour. She asks for 15 minutes. Spend 15 minutes getting your place in order, and see what an improvement it can make.

If you tell yourself that you must write a whole chapter or a whole short story, you might never start. Instead, try saying, “I must write for 15 minutes. It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be ready for my English teacher to see. I must simply work for 15 minutes on whatever project I’m working on right now.”

I bet you can make good on that.

Get dressed to the shoes

This one took me some time. I work a full-time job and I really don’t want to get up and get dressed on my day off. That’s part of why we’re writers, right? So we can make our millions dressed in our fluffy Winnie the Pooh pajamas.

Well, what do you know, I’m more likely to be productive when I’m dressed like I’m going to work. It’s a mental thing. Being dressed tells me it’s time to get working. It also helps my cyber schooled kids. Even though no one’s seeing them, they have to get dressed as though they’re going to a brick and mortar school.

Have a schedule

The Flylady encourages you to have certain chores assigned to certain days of the week. There’s anti-procrastination day, family fun day, pampering day, home blessing day. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about home blessing day before. It helps a ton!

I’ve added another day to that list. Writing work day. This is the day I submit work, write blog posts, design images, work on projects, create my newsletter. Basically, anything writing-related that isn’t working on my current draft goes on this day.

Control journal additions

Finally, when you go through the Flylady Baby Steps you’ll create a control journal. I, having writing things to control just as much as household things, have added several pages.

  • Agent submission pages- I keep track of every time I submit to an agent. I track the agent and the agency, in case someone switches to a different agency.
  • How long did this take chart- I track how long each draft took me of each book. This gives me an idea of how long these same drafts will take me for each new book. That way I’m able to plan my year out better.
  • Series outlines- I keep my series outlines in my control journal because I refer to them frequently. I need to make sure, through each draft, that the book is in line with where the series needs to be.

Do you follow the Flylady? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Making specialty coffees at home

Coffee is awesome. It’s delicious, gives you a boost of energy and is good for you in moderate doses. An excessive amount is bad, but an excessive amount of anything is bad. Did you know you could poison yourself with water? True story.

I really love a good cup of coffee. While I will drink a standard cup with great joy, I also love a specialty coffee or fancy coffee. I make a hobby, actually, of making specialty coffees at home.

The problem is that specialty coffees are expensive! Even if you make them at home, it costs money. And most indie writers are not rolling in cash. I sure as hell don’t have the money or time to have a whole coffee shop set up on my kitchen counter. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that education can compensate for a lack of money any day. So today I’m going to share with you what I know about making a good cup of specialty coffee at home.


Here is a list of tools I use to make coffees at home.

  • A Mr. Coffee Kurig
  • A Mr. Coffee standard coffee pot. Super boring, there’s not even a timer on it.
  • A french press. Don’t be scared, these are hella cheap.
  • A glass mason jar

The Keurig is for when I don’t want to or don’t have the time to make a specialty coffee. So don’t feel like you need to have one. To make specialty coffees, you just need the last three things. I spent $15 on my coffee pot and $7 on my french press. Mason jars can be had for a dollar, or if you buy a glass jar of jelly.


When we’re talking about coffee, we talk about roasts. Blond, light, medium and dark roasts are the basic ones you’ll see. The lighter the roast, the lighter the flavor.

Here’s something a barista at Starbucks taught me. The lighter the roast, the higher the caffeine content. So if you want something to wake up in the morning, a dark roast might not do it for you. This is why a breakfast blend will almost always be a light roast. (I hate breakfast blends.) Most specialty coffees can be made from any, depending on your preference.

The lingo

Now, this can be useful to know just if you’re ordering a specialty coffee at a shop. Honestly, do you really know the difference between a cappuccino and a macchiato? Well, now you will

Espresso- This is just a shot of concentrated coffee. We’ll discuss how to make this without an espresso maker later.

Black Eye- Another name for this is called a Shot in The Dark. It’s a shot of espresso at the bottom of a cup of coffee. My favorite morning drink. It’s a cup of coffee, with a cup of coffee inside.

Americano- This is a shot of espresso in a cup of hot water. I don’t love these.

Cafe late- One part espresso, two parts steamed milk and topped with froth or foam.

Cappuccino- One part steamed milk, one part foamed milk and one part espresso.

Macchiato- 4 parts espresso, one part steamed milk. My personal favorite.

Now that you understand the basic recipes, making specialty coffees is as simple as understanding how to make four things and knowing what combination to put them in.

Making coffee- Coffee pot, Keurig, french press. Take your pick. I assume I don’t need to tell you how to use a coffee pot or a Keurig, and we’ll be discussing a french press below. But I do have some all around tips for coffee making.

  1. Clean your coffee pot out. I clean mine once a month, using vinegar. I run a pot of half water, half vinegar through. Then I do a whole pot of straight water to rinse.
  2. Follow the instructions on the container in relation to how much to put in the machine. At least, the first time. You might find that your tastes call for more or fewer grounds. But the first time you try a new blend, follow the directions!

Making espresso- I use a french press to make espresso, and here’s how. I put in the number of coffee grounds I would use for one cup of coffee, usually about a tablespoon. Then, I put a two shot glasses worth of almost boiling water into the french press. I stir it all up and let it sit for three to five minutes. And there you have some fresh espresso.

Making frothed milk- Pour your desired amount of milk into a glass jar. Put the lid on and shake it like hell. Now you have frothed milk.

Making steamed milk- Take your frothed milk, and take the lid off of the jar. Pop it in your microwave for thirty seconds. Now, you have steamed milk, and it’s wonderful.

Sometimes it’s just all about the mug.

I kind of collect coffee mugs, and it’s part of why I like having coffee at home. A good mug, instead of a chipped old mug that your kids stained while painting even though they swore they were going to clean it out, can make the experience for you. My husband and I just got our first matching dish set of our married lives. A cup of homemade macchiato in my new blue and gray mugs is now my favorite thing.

No coffee shop required.

What are your thoughts on coffee? Do you have any special tips for making it at home? Let us know in the comments below!

What I learned from school that had nothing to do with my lessons.

I recently talked about how much I hated school as a child and teenager. I stand by that. In fact, I cyber school my kids because I didn’t think they needed to go through that shit.

Looking back though, I realized that I learned a ton of things that had nothing to do with the classes I was taking. Some of these lessons came from bad teachers giving bad examples. Some of the lessons were from exceptional men and women who the world is blessed to have as teachers. And some of the lessons came to me just from experiencing a tough situation and living through it.

Watch your volume, other people can hear you.

I had a teacher who I’m not going to name who was twenty-four when she was my teacher. (Shit, can you imagine that? She was seven years younger than I am now, and she was in charge of a bunch of teenagers!) It was her first year of teaching, and she was dealing with life! I mean, who isn’t dealing with life at that age? But she was going through a breakup, and she would talk quietly about this with the librarian.

Not so much quietly, actually. Loudly enough that the students in her class knew way too much about her personal life. I loved the teacher, but she needed to stay classy. Talking about your love life where your students can hear you, not classy. From this, I learned to watch my volume, because other people can hear me.

Life doesn’t slow down just because you’re having a baby.

I was pregnant during my junior year of high school. My math teacher that year was also pregnant. I was in her first class of the day. From her, I learned by example how a woman handles herself while pregnant. The woman missed few classes because she knew that she had a job to do. She did sit down through more and more classes as her pregnancy progressed, though. She always had a snack, usually ginger snaps. In this way, she taught me to take good care of myself. Without telling me a thing, she taught me a lot. She was a damn good math teacher too.

Speak up!

In fifth grade, I was quite shy and quiet. I was attending a country grade school and my teacher was an old school teacher. She had a beehive hairdo and a ruler that she wasn’t allowed to hit us with anymore. And when we talked in class, she taught us to speak up. “I like the way Nicole just read,” she might say. “They could hear her over at Freidmans across the street.” (Freidmans is a grocery store in Western PA.) Everyone in her class learned to project!

Stand up for yourself.

While many of my teachers were awesome about the whole pregnancy thing, I had one teacher who was especially nasty about it. He made several snide comments at me and constantly mocked my other friends in the class. One friend, who was rather goth and liked wearing chokers, was often barked at in class. It came to a crescendo one day when he accused me of not returning my book at the end of the year. I had returned my book, but he claimed that he’d issued me two. (Some backstory; many of my teachers had issued me two books, one to keep at home and one to keep in class so that I wouldn’t have to carry a book bag while pregnant. Let’s think about that for a moment. A student is expected to carry a book bag that is an unhealthy weight for a pregnant woman. Let that sink in.)

This accusation of theft, after his refusal to help me when the other teachers had, was the end of my patience. I informed my friend, the one with the collar, that I was going to go speak to the principal about the issue. She agreed to go with me.

He doesn’t work a the school anymore.

You really are a capable person and you can do things that you didn’t know you could do.

My Jr. ROTC instructor was always pushing me to do what I didn’t think I could do. Run more, run harder. Lead PT. Climb that wall, try out for volleyball. Whatever it was, he pushed me to try.

There’s nothing wrong with not getting what you were going for.

I applied to be the editorials editor of my school paper for two years. The first year I got it, the second year I didn’t. I couldn’t have been more okay with that, though. I learned to be okay with trying my best and not succeeding.

There’s a lot of camaraderies that comes from stressing out with other people.

The year I was the Editorial’s editor was a tough year. Being an editor is hard. We all had to work together to make the paper happen. Each editor had to lay their page out, approve stories, edit them, come up with titles and enforce deadlines. That’s right, it was my job to make sure my classmates were doing their damn work. Oh, and did I mention that we all had to sell add space?

The other editors and I were often found standing up on desks so that we could take full advantage of the whiteboard to map out pages. We were all pretty close, after spending hours upon hours making the damn paper happen.

Alternative animals are the shit.

One of the science teachers in my school had cockroaches as pets. They were awesome. They were Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and they were so cute when they hissed! I loved them.

History is as fascinating or as boring as you make it.

History is either a great class or a boring as hell class because there are two ways to look at history. One way is to memorize names and dates. The other way is to tell the stories, our shared heritage. Guess which one we learn more from?

Don’t let other people tell you what to do with your own damn life.

When I found out I was pregnant, my school decided that I had to take a parenting class. I didn’t need it, I didn’t want it, and it took time out of my schedule. I had to drop Japanese class to make room for it. Looking back, I realized that I should have said no. I let other people tell me what to do, and was barred from learning something that I wanted to know. I should never have done that.

Sometimes you have to throw the rules out the window.

That same teacher who couldn’t keep her personal life out of the classroom was my first journalism teacher. And she did something that I will never get to thank her for. She was my teacher in the school year of 2001 and 2002. That meant that she was my teacher on September 11th, 2001.

The teachers weren’t supposed to talk to us about it. We were locked down in the school, and we weren’t supposed to be told what was going on outside. When we walked into her class, she closed the door after us and locked the door.

“You need to know what’s going on,” she said and turned on the news. And we watched what was happening. We talked about it and understood together that this was the moment that would shape our generation. She treated us like young adults and gave us the emotional tools to deal with what we were seeing.

Listen when someone tells you that you can do what you want.

I don’t have many regrets in my life. But this is one of them.

A representative from Penn State came to my journalism class to talk to us about attending college. She made a point to talk to me. I told her that I didn’t think I would be able to go to college because I was pregnant.

She told me about grants.

She told me about child care that was available for students.

She told me everything I needed, and she told me that I could do it.

I wish that I had listened to her.

What did you learn from your time in high school? Is there a lesson you wish you’d have learned earlier? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

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