Target, Transgender People, and Public Restrooms

There’s a lot of upheaval over which bathroom should allow a transgender person. Some people want to base it on gender at birth while others are okay with basing it on the gender the person best associates with at the present time.

A lot of my Facebook friends who agree with things like North Carolina House Bill 2 (HB2) are of the Christian faith. This bill, as CNN describes:

The law…put in place a statewide policy that bans individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex. It also stopped cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances to protect gay and transgender people.

Here’s what I think.

  1. No transgender person has ever caused harm to myself, my husband, or our children. Does that mean they can’t or they won’t? Nope. It means there’s the same for them as there is for anyone else to cause emotional or physical trauma to another human person.
  2. Jesus said to love everyone. He didn’t say, “Only love the heterosexual people” or “Only love the people who are born comfortable in their own skin”. Part of loving someone is accepting who they are.
  3. Most of my shopping takes place on Amazon. If I have to shop local retail, then I’ll happily drive over to the next town so i can shop at Target. As another blogger mentioned, their Dollar Spot is pretty fabulous. And bonus – they also have a built-in Starbucks with a Pizza Hut.

It’s okay if you disagree with me on this. I just ask that we disagree in a respectful, grown-up manner.

One of the characters in my Treasure Pines cozy mystery series, which coincidentally takes place in North Carolina, reveals his transgender side in the second book. As I finish writing the first book and wrap up final edits on HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, it will be interesting to see how real life pans out.

Naked and Afraid from an Author’s Point of View

Have you seen Naked and Afraid? It’s a reality show on the Discovery Channel where two people (one male, one female) strip down to their birthday suits for a three week adventure in the forest.

If you know me outside of the internet, then you know I’m not the type of person who would take part in this type of show. That’s exactly how I feel, however, every time I put my writing out there for someone else to read. I click the “submit” button and suddenly my ego is fragile as an egg sitting within a nest built high in the treetops.

I feel both naked and afraid.

I’m not sure how better or worse that would be than cavorting about the woods for three weeks wearing nothing but my birthday suit accessorized with a canvas messenger bag. I can’t imagine the awkwardness of that situation.

And yet, I can clearly imagine it for my characters. Here’s an overview of how I think the main four characters of my Treasure Pines series might fare on Naked and Afraid:

  • Sam – He would do fine once he got past the lack of technology. All his Boy Scout training would come right back. Because he’s a single dad to a teenage son, he has a bit more modesty than his childhood friend, Ben. I could see him using the canvas sack like a kilt.
  • Maggie – She has a few pounds to lose and is extremely conscious about her appearance. While she could survive on grubs and plants for three weeks, her self-consciousness would be her downfall.
  • Ben – Maggie’s brother has no inhibitions. He’s a man’s man and has no problem killing animals to survive, cooking them in the wild, or making a salad of edible flowers. His only complaint would be that having to spend three weeks with another person would just slow him down.
  • Nell – Maggie’s best friend, she’s got the body of a personal trainer and the flawless skin of a model. She is very outdoorsy and loves sports. Her downfall would be her taste for fine dining and that bugs make her squeamish.

In the meantime, I won’t apply for Naked and Afraid any time soon. I’ll be in my home office where I’m happily Clothed and Comfortable.

Would you ever try out for the reality show? Or do you prefer to keep your wobbly bits safely hidden from inquiring minds? Let me know in the comments section!

While you think about it, here’s an SNL skit parodying the show which features Peter Dinklage who looks more ‘naked and annoyed’ than naked and afraid.

Chopped – It’s What’s for Dinner!

When my husband retired, we went from two paychecks per month to one retirement check per month. Although it’s about the same amount of money, paying all our bills in one shot really puts in perspective how much we splurged on frivolous things, like fast food, restaurant meals, junk food, and the like.

What were we thinking?

A fast food meal for a family of four costs about $8 per person, or $32 total. For just a couple of dollars more we could have bought enough groceries to last the entire day.

  • Milk – $2
  • Eggs – $1
  • Pancake mix – $2
  • Bacon – $4
  • Lunch meat – $3
  • Cheese – $3
  • Loaf of bread – $2
  • Apples – $3
  • Peanut butter – $3
  • Hamburger – $5
  • Spaghetti noodles – $2
  • Sauce – $2
  • Garlic bread – $2

Wow, right?

The rigid structure of our incoming finances has not only made us more responsible, but it also holds us more accountable for our choices. Sure we can splurge on Bojangles Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and a trip to a restaurant during the first week of the month. We might, however, regret it during those last few days when the finances are scant and the start of the next month seems light years away.

This new budget not only affects how we shop for food, but also how we prepare it. Toward the end of the month every mealtime feels a little like an episode of chopped. I could probably host an episode right now.

  • a can of chicken, animal crackers, and mandarin oranges
  • ham slices, Italian dressing, and puffed rice cereal
  • pizza bagels, microwave popcorn, and two apples that are starting to wither 

So what’s the point?

The point is sometimes life throws us a curve ball. How we decide to handle it determines what happens next. It’s not so different than the plot of a book.

For example, Maggie Sawyer planned to marry a lawyer and spend the rest of her life raising a family in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Before the family was ever started, life threw her a curve ball when her fiance decided to dally with his cougar of a boss.

She high tailed it home to North Carolina to emotionally recuperate for a few months. Life throws her another curve ball when the local postman winds up murdered and she inherits his golden retriever.

How do you handle curve balls?

Do you catch them? Swing and a miss? If you’re an author, how do your characters handle them? Let me know in the comments section!

5 Offbeat News Headlines and How Authors Can Use Them

Some of the most curious headlines are listed in MSN Offbeat News. This is my favorite section because these headlines inspire the most unique characters for my books. Here are seven recent selections and how I might choose to use them in a book.

1. Pranksters Block Road with 25-foot Triceratops
The Treasure Pines senior class prank involved blocking main street with the rival high school’s mascot, a 25-foot fiberglass triceratops. The problem is the next morning when the principal of Treasure Pines High is found impaled on one of the animal’s steel horns.

2. Someone Actually Came Up with a Breakup Cake
When Grandma Opal’s boyfriend dumps her for the newcomer at bingo, she fuels her angst into a new home-based bakery business offering cakes for offbeat life situations.

3. Rescue Dog Raises a Paw, Gets Sworn in as Mayor of Reno
Harvey Wallbanger, the town’s favorite golden retriever, helps find the mayor’s missing toddler granddaughter. To show her thanks, the mayor swears him in as mayor-for-a-day.

4. N.J. Mailman Locks Himself in Truck as Wild Turkeys Attack
A flock of wild turkeys has become a menace in Treasure Pines. When they chase the mailman into his truck, nobody expects to find his corpse there several hours later, with an ace of spades playing card taped to his forehead.

5. Just 2 Protesters Show up for anti-Beyoncé Rally
Two new families move to Treasure Pines and agree the high school students would benefit from a dress code–complete with uniforms! Unfortunately they’re the only two who show up at school to picket on Meet the Teacher night.

Another great source of odd bits of information is Mental Floss. Here are five articles I recently enjoyed reading on the site:

What are some of your favorite offbeat headlines? Do you have any sites like Mental Floss bookmarked that you use as a reference? Let’s chat about it in the comments section!

5 Ways to Add Sports to Fiction for Non-Sports Fans

If you met me in real life, you would not accuse me of being an athlete. And you’d be right! Aside from NFL games featuring Peyton Manning as the quarterback, I’m just not a sports fan. Give the choice, I’ll almost always select Hallmark Mysteries & Movies over ESPN.

The main characters of my books aren’t really into sports, either. If they were, then I’d have to know about the sport, which would mean watching it. No thanks!

Eliminating sports from my books, however means eliminating potential readers. Here are five ways that I have either used or plan to use to introduce sports into my books to add interest.

1. Cheer for the Home Team – Cozy mysteries take place in small towns. Small towns typically have some kind of local sports team or league that requires participation. A local ball field doubles as the perfect venue for looking back at a childhood memory to show more insight into a character. Or finding a dead body.

2. Opportunity to Create New Sports or Teams – My cozy mystery series takes place in the fictional town of Treasure Pines, North Carolina, which was founded by a notorious female pirate. Of course they’d have a pirate for their high school’s mascot. I don’t have to know much about baseball to include lines like:

The town was abuzz with everyone talking about the Pirates’ win over the Martindale Gophers, a victory that put them in the running for a regional title.

This line shows readers that the Treasure Pines Pirates are on a winning streak and the town of Marindale (whose mascot is the gopher) is geographically nearby without blatantly telling them. It’s even better to flesh this out with dialogue.

3. Minor Characters as Sports Fans or Athletes – Just because my main character isn’t a sports fan doesn’t mean she won’t have friends and relatives who are. The less they feature in the book, the less I need to know about sports, right? Perhaps, as long as the ski pole Elmer Jones uses as a walking stick doesn’t wind up wrapped around the neck of his lifelong enemy, Cam Livingston. Or if Tucker

4. Include Non-Traditional Sports – Maybe my main character dislikes professional sports but she participates on a bowling league. Other sports and activities in this category include:

  • fishing
  • archery
  • martial arts
  • auto racing
  • horseback riding
  • kayaking
  • yoga
  • dancing

There are really too many to list in this blog article, but the activities referenced above can help you get started.

5. Create a New Sport – Make up something new. Include rules for playing and other details in the back of your book. You could unknowingly invent the next big pastime.

Do you like reading books that mention sports and athletics? Are you a fan of sports? If you’re a writer, then do you incorporate them in your works? Let’s talk about it in the comments section!

Why I Kissed Blackbeard Goodbye

Here’s a plot twist I never saw coming.

During the 2015 MAFWI conference, I attended a workshop led by Jim Rada, an author who hails from Pennsylvania. He stressed the importance of research when writing historical novels. This is also important, however, when writing any works that mentions a real person, trademark, or other type of brand.

I knew this would mean quite a bit of rewriting for HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, my collection of 13 strange and inspired by true stories, but surely I’d be smart enough not to let it happen again. Right? Absolutely!

It was more like absolutely not. It started when I read How to Use Brand Names in Your Fiction (Just Like TFIOS), a guest blog article written by Kathryn Goldman on the Better Novel Project blog.

Imagine my dismay at realizing the way I displayed Blackbeard in my book could bring up some serious issues. The fictional character based on the real person didn’t show in the best light. There was only one thing to do.

I kissed Blackbeard goodbye.

Then I went in an exploration into the past to find a new pirate. Hours later, when complaining about the dilemma to my husband, he asked, “Why don’t you just make up a pirate?”

Excited, I returned to my research. Because I’m only about 1/3 of the way into my book, I don’t need to rip it out and start over. And because my new pirate is a fictional female with a sweet back story, I won’t feel obligated to force my plot to follow someone else’s facts.

I’m more excited about my book every day, and can’t wait to share the final product with you all.

7 Ways to Improve Your Writing

Every writer I know wants to be a better writer. Who wouldn’t want to write perfectly polished first drafts that go straight from manuscript form to the New York Times bestseller list? It would save a lot of time and heartache.

Unfortunately that is not the case. Whether you’re a seasoned pro with a bookshelf of bestsellers or a budding author struggling to finish your inaugural first draft, there is still room for improvement because, like people, our language is always changing.

You don’t have to go back to college or attend an online class to improve your writing. Achieving this is rather easy, but it takes discipline and a willingness to follow through. Here are some easy ways to improve your writing, regardless of your skill level.

1. Own Your Style – Grammar and spelling are the two things readers nitpick the most when reading your work. Some contemporary literary types will tell you it’s okay to start a sentence with the word “and” or “but” and end a sentence with a preposition such as “for” or “at“.

While the narrator in my Treasure Pines series might state something like “And for the most part, it was true.“, you will never, ever hear, “But she wasn’t sure where she put it at.The only time you should use these things in your novel is in dialogue.

2. Ditch the Passive Voice – Passive voice weakens literary writing. (It also fills it with zombies.) While passive voice is more accepted in conversational writing, like dialogue or blog posts, try to keep it out of your book. A lot of people don’t know when they’re using passive voice, but this video helps you learn how to recognize it. Don’t let the zombies win!

3. Read –  The best writers are also readers. Reading helps you know what you want in your own writing. More importantly, it helps you know what you want to avoid.

4. Join a Writing Group – Look for a group on a site like Meetup or search on your social media network of choice. Put the word out there that you’re looking for other writers. You could even start your own group. Trust me. If you build a writing group, writers will join.

5. Do You Plot or Pants? – During a Facebook conversation with Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of Midwives, I asked him about his outline process. He said he doesn’t use one. He’s a total “pantser”, writing by the seat of his pants from Page 1 until The End. It’s okay to be a pantser and for some, like Chris Bohjalian, it works great.

Other authors prefer to outline. I’m one of these people. While I’ve pants’ed every short story I’ve ever written (and don’t see that changing), I’m a die hard plotter when it comes to writing anything over a couple of thousand words. J. K. Rowling is also a plotter.

If you’re a die-hard plotter, change things up and try pantsing. And if you’re a pantser, then try a loose outline, such as a mind map or a timeline. You don’t have to stick with it, but trying something new can take your writing to the next level.

6. Find an Editor – Finish your first draft and put it through a site like After the Deadline to get initial feedback on your writing. Accept that your first draft is probably 35% total crap that’s never going to make it to the final version that goes to print, and find yourself an editor. HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS would never have reached the beta reading stage without the help of Sheila from Sage Editing.

7. Ditch Your Laptop – Silence your phone. Go somewhere with horrible cell service and no WiFi. Take a notebook and a couple of ink pens, and write. Write whatever pops into your head. Make lists. Write about what you see, hear, and smell. You’ll be surprised at what detail you can add to your writing by doing this. As much as I love my laptop, this is one of my favorite things to do.

What other methods to improve your writing would you add to this list? Is there any you disagree with? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments!