Indie Reading List Challenge

Recently I was part of a local library event with several other Indie Authors, to help others interested in publishing their novels. The sense of community at the event was lovely and the other indie authors shared their tips and experiences. It felt to me like meeting up with a kindred book group of authors, who have stories they just want to share with the world.

The event also got me thinking about what else I could do to support fellow Indie Authors, outside of providing tips, advice, and participating in similar events. I decided to create my own Indie Author reading list challenge, where I plan to read at least one indie author per month this year.

I was also inspired to create a separate Indie Author book shelf in my Goodreads reviews, to highlight indie authors and help them with adding a review for their book(s).

Ironically, I think that sometimes we indie authors forget to toot the horn for our fellow authors – mostly probably because we are so busy with our own work, blogs, and day jobs. Fortunately, adding indie books to our reading lists is easier than ever and is probably already supported by your local library.

For those of you interested in participating in your own version of the Indie Author challenge by adding more Indie Authors to your reading list, here are some tips on how to find their work:

  • Discover Indie Authors from contest winners featured in contests that are exclusive for independent publishers like the Forward INDIES, the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, Indie Excellence, or the IPPY Awards to name a few.
  • Participate in an Indie Author Day event to find local indie authors in your community
  • Ask your library about Indie Authors they have books for and if they participate in Self-e which connects libraries with Indie Author Ebooks
  • A lot of Indie Authors publish via CreateSpace, so you can also query “createspace” as the publisher in your library to find some indie authors that way.

Once you do start adding in some Indie Authors into your reading list stack, please consider writing a review for them in Amazon, Goodreads, or another review site. Your reviews help others discover these writers – which is exactly what I’m hoping for with my Indie Authors Goodreads shelf.


The Road Less Traveled

Some of my most favorite vacation spots that I choose to return to, are places that very few have heard of. Stumbling upon a hidden gem known only to locals is a triumph for most travelers, including myself. I took this photo in Scotland on the Isle of Skye where there is a beach frequented by cows. Yes, you read that correctly, cows on the beach.

In the photo you can see a few cows up on the right of the road just in the distance. While many might not travel all the way to Scotland to visit a remote beach known mostly only to the cows, it was a real thrill to me. The peaceful quiet of the water lapping against the rocky beach, along with the occasional ‘moos,’ and no crowds of tourists felt like entering a magical realm.

I often seek out the roads less traveled wherever I go, and they each provide their own rewards. One time such a road brought me to the middle of Kansas, where I went out of my way to stop at the geographic center of the United States and found a stone marker in the middle of the prairie and stopped for a minute to listen to the wind blow across the fields.

Another trip brought me to Cape Disappointment, where the first flicker of the idea for my novel started falling into place. There’s a reason that in the novel, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, the protagonist stands at the edge of the cliff near the lighthouse which lies at the end of a trail – a location which is central to the story for several reasons. The character is there because I ended up there myself on one of my journeys along roads less traveled.

In the novel, I had very much hoped to take readers with me to that remote destination, where they could stand next to the protagonist and look out across the vast Pacific ocean while sea birds swooped and squawked around them. Cape Disappointment is a special place indeed and I do return there as often as I can.

Perhaps my next novel will include cows on the beach or feature the quiet prairies in the middle of America. Either way, my travels will continue to include places less often visited by others, and I’m sure new favorite destinations will emerge. Inspiration is a quirky and often flighty thing. In my case, inspiration doesn’t lurk in my laptop. Instead, she waits for me on the roads less traveled.

I hope this year finds you discovering some new places as well, and if you make it out to Cape D, please be sure to take the time to walk over to the lighthouse and enjoy the view.


Winter is an excellent time to curl up with a good book, and to observe a character’s journey from their ‘before’ to their ‘after.’ As a writer, it’s also a great time to curl up with the laptop and move the work-in-progress along. When it’s cold and blustery outside, staying warm and cozy inside with several projects one might have been putting off during sunnier days seems an easy way to pass the time.

This picture is from a trip I took to Finland in April on year. Yes, April. While many of us might associate April with the green of spring, there are many places in the world where the thaw has yet to arrive. There is beauty in a frozen winter with bright blue skies and a landscape that changes before our eyes.

Of course, snow brings along many inconveniences, yet it can also effortlessly transforms our world overnight. A good novel can provide the same effect, when we immerse ourselves in a world that is much like our own, yet still strikingly different.

In my novel, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, winter is both the starting season and ending season for the novel. The character’s transformation is complete within the bookended seasons of that year.

Of course, winter also brings us with the new year where we plan our own transformational goals for the coming year. Whatever the year has planned for us, I do hope that it includes many easy, sunny days, as well as, reflective winter days where we cozy up to a good book by the fire and make plans for the new year ahead.

Transformation can occur overnight, as with waking up to a snowy scene, or it can be more gradual like plotting out and writing a new novel over the course of several months. Either way, we grow and change through the seasons of our own lives. I hope this year brings everyone great joy and comfort…and, if we’re really lucky, a little magic.

Reading and Writing

I read a lot and my book choices span most genres. Generally speaking, at any one time I’m probably reading two or three books. I might discover them at the library or learn about them from a friend, but either way there’s always a stack of books with bookmarks somewhere in my house. Sometimes my travels inspire me to read about a place. I enjoy reading, learning new things, and talking about books with others.

Generally I finish most of them and I find it pretty easy to pick up where I left off. Library books always get read faster, because of the timeline required to return them. When I’m writing, I often avoid fiction all together to avoid the possibility of another author’s style getting mixed into my writing project.

While some prefer sticking within a favorite specific genre, I enjoy the challenge and diversity of switching it up, based on my mood, what’s interesting to me at the moment, or which library hold gets delivered first. I could hardly say that I have a reading plan or anything that resembles cohesion. On my Goodreads page, I review books that I have enjoyed and you’ll see that they vary from science fiction to mysteries to non-fiction, and everything in between.

I also try to really challenge myself with a book that I wouldn’t typically read or something that’s super long and a big time commitment at least once or twice a year. My reading also inspires me about potential story ideas, characters, and improving my own writing by learning from other writers.

I’m sure that most writers read a lot – mostly because we love books. I do hope that readers enjoyed my book, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, and that it ends up in a lively discussion in their book club one day or with their friends. Keep reading, friends! There are so many wonderful books out there.

Writing with Sound

Waves can roll gently onto a beach while the trees whisper in the wind, or they can roar and crack the driftwood when they crash. Adding sounds to any prose can make a scene feel more real. Sound is an easy element to forget when writing a draft because typically the focus is on setting the scene and dialogue.

Sounds can be subtle scene-setters, however, and often in editing or even in early drafts I now will always make a point to stop and think about what the characters would hear in whatever situation I’ve written for them. Aside from spicing up the narrative and making the scene feel more realistic, sounds can also step in to ‘show’ something to the reader instead of telling them.

For example, imagine a scene in a busy restaurant where two people are having an awkward conversation. Telling the reader that the character paused during an awkward silence at dinner which can work to get the point across, but it might be better to focus the scene on the silence itself with something like: she didn’t respond to the question, and instead focused on the jangle of the spoon hitting the mug like a bell ringing as she stirred the coffee.

Because we often associate sounds with our own memories, the second version of the same scene that includes the spoon jangling in the mug brings the reader into the scene more closely and also help them remember that moment in the scene more because of what was excluded as much as the sound included.

When I’m stuck in a chapter or feeling a sense of writer’s block, refocusing the writing to add in sound often helps improve the scene and help usher me into the next chapter. It’s a little trick that I’ve found to be helpful. I hope that this writing tip ‘clicks’ with you as well!

Scene Setting

Setting the scene in writing projects helps transport the reader to the world they are reading about. I like to think that drafting out long descriptions of what a house looks like or what the characters look like then steals a little bit of the reader’s imagination. A reader brings their own view into the fictional world created by the writer, and it’s important to let the reader fill out some of the details in the scene themselves.

Details, and choosing the right details, shared about characters or locations provide just enough for a reader to transform themselves. For example, one thing that I make a point of doing in my writing is allowing the readers to determine what the characters look like. I trust the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks and to co-create the world that I’ve built for them.

That style grew from my own reading, where after a few details about reading about a character, I develop a picture in my mind about them. When additional details on page three or twelve then change that image in my mind, I personally get annoyed as a reader. I already knew what the enchanted cottage garden looked like with only the description of the beige limestone, slate shingles, and wild green garden that grew without any clear intention yet seemed purposefully designed (picture above, for example). Note all of the other details that I left out of my description on purpose.

When the writer then adds a long description about the type of gravel used in the garden paths and the specific flowers that dot the pathway, then my image is dashed as a reader. How authors describe characters and scenes I think probably has a lot to do with the types of books they enjoy and how much of their imagination they like to provide to the reading experience.

For my characters, I trust the readers to round out their images based on some carefully deliberated details. I don’t expect that the reader will have the exact same image in their heads that I do about one of the lead characters, Sam, for example. I describe Sam as someone who looks like a handsome outdoor clothing catalog model.

While some may say that this approach leaves too much for the reader’s imagination to fill in, I disagree. I think a writer’s job is to bring the reader to the the world and to introduce the characters with just the right details – then allow the reader to make the story their own. Trusting in that ‘team’ approach to writing is just one approach of many for setting the scene. The fun part of reading is being able to experience all the different types of writing styles and to discover which ones appeal to you the most.

Safe Harbor

Character development is a key factor of any writing project, and that includes challenging the characters with struggle.

John Shedd is known to have said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” Character development in a novel relates to that sentiment because a character can be safe in their world, but that’s not what the novel is built for.

Novels are built for longer stories that immerse a writer into a new world where the protagonists must endure some sort of struggle.

In my most recent novel, ‘The Magic of Cape Disappointment,‘ the protagonist’s return to the safe harbor of her childhood is when her real adventure begins. This photo is a picture of the Ilwaco, Washington harbor where the protagonist grew up and returns after completing medical school in order to take care of her grandmother.

One of the concepts I thought was interesting to explore in the novel was the idea of the safe harbor both literally, in the case of Ilwaco, and figuratively with the protagonist’s soul mate. When the protagonist first returns to Ilwaco after many years in New York City, she first views this safe harbor as anything but, and her goal is focused on returning to New York as quickly as possible.

As the novel progresses and her safe harbor hometown is threatened by an unexpected force, she starts to realize the value of home and belonging. Of course, those lessons are learned not from quiet observation of her daily life, but by enduring several tests of strength.

I hope that wherever you are, that you’ve found a safe harbor, but that you also don’t let it stifle your development.

As for my character, by the end of the novel (and a theme in the following) she echoes the famous Louisa May Alcott quote, “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

Novels are built to challenge the characters. As readers, we want to succeed vicariously with the characters as they move through their challenges to live happily ever after in their own safe harbors.

Travel as Inspiration

Several years ago, I stood at this very spot after a short hike up to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse. Standing here and looking out the beautiful view inspired me, and I’m sure many visitors to the area can share that sentiment.

Cape Disappointment (yes, that is the real name) was named in the late 1700s by a British sea captain, and when Lewis and Clark arrived there a few decades later, Cape Disappointment was where they looked out onto the Pacific Ocean after a very long and arduous journey.

Although Cape Disappointment is only a few hours drive from either Seattle or Portland, it still feels like a world away. Small fishing villages dot the map and the roads all follow or lead to the Pacific Ocean beaches. Lewis and Clark historic sites abound from the Dismal Nitch to Fort Clatsop and the Lewis and Clark interpretive center in Cape Disappointment State Park.

The state park has not one, but two, lighthouses to visit including camping spots along the beach where you can fall asleep listening the ocean waves roll along. On my first camping trip to “Cape D,” the idea for my latest novel took hold. Since then, I’ve visited the area several times – each time returning to my favorite coffee shops, museums, and restaurants.

I hope that you get the chance to visit this lovely area and to imagine being able to see the setting for ‘The Magic of Cape Disappointment.’ In the novel, this location of the lookout by the Cape Disappointment lighthouse plays a key role in the novel’s events. Hopefully even from this picture alone you can get a little sense of the location’s magic. 🙂



The Novel Path

Starting a novel can seem overwhelming, especially since there are so many how-to guides and unlimited advice books. Everyone has something that works for them so you hear things about writing every day, plotting tips, structure requirements, genre rules, breaking rules, etc. where it starts to feel like there are an impossible number of different rules that one should be following.

Everyone seems to have a recipe for how to write a novel and all one seemingly needs to do is to follow that path. Of course, the illusion is that there is a clearly marked path in the first place!

W. Somerset Maugham is known to have said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

From my view, that’s probably the most honest bit of advice out there. 🙂 Writing is a creative process and writing a ~250-page story that creates another world is no small feat. At least today we have word processing systems that make life so much easier (regardless of how many authors complain about auto-correct), early authors like Jane Austen wrote everything out by hand with a quill pen.

Over hundreds of years of novels, what we can generally surmise is that there are no steadfast singe group of rules for writing a novel. Rules are created and then broken by a pioneering author. There is no single path with clearly marked borders for you to follow. Even grammar changes over time and sometimes rules are optional (Oxford comma), depending on the writer’s preference.

Novels are creative – so don’t let yourself be limited. Create new worlds. Venture off the beaten path and try something new. Whatever you do, I hope that you keep writing and don’t let yourself get discouraged. And don’t forget – no one really knows what the rules are, so figure out what works for you!

The Writers Group

Joining a writer’s group can feel a little intimidating at first, stepping into a room of strangers and providing them with some pages from a work in progress. Despite the nerves, I think that it is a worthwhile experience.

When my writer’s group meets up, we sit around a big table and discuss a genre or things like how to best use dialogue, then we share and critique any work submitted by anyone in the group for the session, and we end each session with a writing exercise.

Each of us write in different genres with different styles and I really enjoy that element because it challenges me to think about other writing styles like using different points of view or seeing how other writers handle character development.

A writer’s group also provides writers with a safe place to test out new material with several constructive readers who provide valuable feedback. Constructive feedback is very possibly the most valuable gift a writer can receive when working on project. Sure, your family and friends can review something, but they will most likely hold back on more critical comments.

The group also provides inspiration, to see how others are working hard to improve their skills and refine their story ideas. It’s inspiring to see fellow writers struggling with similar challenges yet determined to succeed and share their unique voice with the world via an entertaining story, novel, or screenplay.

Most importantly, a writer’s group provides a sense of community, where you can celebrate success and where you also know that you can share a work in progress that might be a little rough around the edges.

Wherever you are in your artistic endeavors, I hope that you find a community of gentle and honest readers to establish your own supportive writing community. Writing itself is pretty much a solitary venture, so it’s worth the time to find a group and help others while also challenging yourself to advance your skills. Keep going, fellow writers and artists! 🙂

A special thanks to those in my own writing group – after each meeting I always enjoy a burst of inspiration and renewed dedication to my own writing projects.