Monthly Archives: March 2013

How Google helps me communicate in the Middle East

So far we love life here in Saudi Arabia. The landscape is gorgeous. We live on the coast next to beautiful beaches. Of course there is sand but we aren’t riding camels around in a desert. We live in a compound where nearly everyone speaks English. Actually, the Saudis I’ve met prefer it. However, communication barriers do pop up and it’s technology that I lean on for assistance.

This past week I spent five nights in the hospital watching over my daughter. She caught a horrible stomach flu that’s going around and it really messed with her hypoglycemia. The doctors and nurse staff are wonderful but the rooms are not private. We shared a room with a Saudi mother and her five-month-old little girl. Due to the culture men are not allowed to stay the night so after visitation hours I spent all my time with this woman. I immediately lGoogle_Translate_iOS_logoiked her. I could tell she was a good mother to her child. One time my daughter woke both of us up in the middle of the night. She was throwing up. There was little I could do to help her so I talked to her and rubbed her back. The Saudi mother came over to our side of the room and sat with me. We couldn’t speak but just having someone there was comforting.

That next night I turned to technology for help. I’ve often used Google Translate to translate quotes or questions from International readers of my columns. It’s efficient and easy and there is a free app! My new friend and I stayed up talking with each other thanks to Google Translate. This truly made a horrible stay in the hospital more tolerable. I made a friend despite communication barriers and learned even more about a culture.

Technology helps us in work, social communication and our daily lives. It is my goal to learn Arabic, which I’ve been warned is really hard but until I have it down I’ll turn to Google Translate for help.

What app or technology have you recently discovered? How does it help you?

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Adventures of the appropriately named Jedi rabbit

I really should notify Disney to request for my bunny Jedi to have a role or even a cameo in the upcoming Star Wars films. We named her sister Diamond after Arkansas, “The Diamond State” where they were rescued. Jedi, however was initially named as a way to get my husband to warm up to the idea of keeping more than one rabbit. Little did I know how well the name would suit her.March 27 Pic

Over a year ago I rescued three two-week-old cottontail bunnies from drowning in our backyard. Really the heroic congratulations should go to our dog, Oscar, who found them. I took them in even when veterinarians cautioned me about the immense challenges of nursing wild rabbits. Most refuse all milk other than their mothers and if they do drink many of the times their digestive track can’t tolerate the milk. This was the case with Artemis, who died after two weeks but her sisters Diamond and Jedi flourished and now are wonderful editions to our family.

Many, even family members, still refer to Jedi as a boy and for good reason. The vet originally told us she was a he. We didn’t know Jedi was a girl until the rabbits went in to be spayed and neutered. Though a little surprised to not have this rambunctious little boy bunny, her name Jedi served her well and remained.

Where Diamond is fearful and shy, Jedi boldly goes where no rabbits have gone before. She plays with our eighty pound dog and even chews Oscar’s nails for him. Yesterday when returning from the hospital I found Jedi waiting for me in the front entrance of our house. The bunnies are always in their habitats unless they are supervised. Just imagine two puppies with a great desire to chew. Sometimes I swear bunnies are more destructive! But true to her name, Jedi found a way out of her securely locked habitat. Fortunately I found no damage around the house. I did find evidence in the form of a single strand of hay laid out on our Italian leather sofa. I think it’s safe to say how she spent her time.

Time after time this little four-pound rabbit shows us her love and adventure for life. It’s hard to tell her no to anything. She somehow always gets her way and is a great example of how well a name fits a furry friend or person.

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Keeping that little blue bird safe- How to prevent a Twitter hacking

Spam, viruses and glitches, oh my! You’ve been hacked on Twitter! Well, hopefully after reading today’s post you can avoid such a horror.

Today I bring you a very special guest. I have gotten to know Jay Donovan through the work he does with WANA International. He’s one of those great guys to have handy when you experience technical difficulties.

I run a popular column, “The Mortal Instruments Examiner.” Earlier this year my Twitter account was hacked. Since nearly all my page views came from Twitter and people relied on me for news about Cassandra Clare’s bestselling series,’ this was very bad. I only wish I knew Jay then!

Take it away Jay!

Thanks for inviting me to guest post Natalie! *straightens shirt collar* I didn’t realize there was a dress code.

Natalie and I were chatting about some of the tech challenges she faces living in Saudi Arabia and she mentioned in passing about her Twitter account being ‘hacked’ and being used to send messages.

I can hear some of you asking, “Why would someone want to hack someone’s Twitter account?”

It’s all for money. The hacker’s goal is to make money selling something. The greater the number of compromised accounts they control, the more traffic they generate and the greater the number of people who will buy the product. (That’s why spam doesn’t go away – it works well enough to justify the effort.)

The Twitter hack works like this: A victim clicks a malicious link or runs a malicious Twitter application (I’ll explain this later) which gives the hacker access to their account. Now the hacker posts spammy links on the victim’s tweet stream. The hacker also starts sending DMs with a malicious link to all the victim’s followers so the hacker can take over their accounts too.

The best way to avoid getting your account hacked is to be cautious of any links you click on. If you get a DM from a friend saying “I can’t believe this is you” with a link, don’t click it – especially if the message is grammatically different than normal. DM them back to verify that the link is real or to let them know that their account has been hacked.

Oh no! My account was hacked!

So, you clicked that link DM’d by a friend who said a site had compromising pictures of you? Or you ran a program you thought would just tell you who wasPost 1n’t following you back? (Speaking of that Natalie… *coughs* ☺) Unfortunately, the app came with a bonus(!) — the programmer added a “back door” to get access to your account. Crud!

Don’t panic. Don’t even change your password right away. Odds are much higher that your account was compromised because you gave access to a malicious program than them guessing your password. The first thing you need to do is to go through the list of applications that can access to your Twitter account. It’s a very good idea to do this once in a while anyhow.

Here’s how to do it.

1) Open your Twitter account in a web browser.
2) Click the little gear in the top right corner.
3) Click Settings
4) Click Apps
5) Go through the list of Applications and “Revoke Access” on every application you don’t trust. If in doubt, revoke it and then grant it access again later. (FYI, Storify is a great app, I’m just using it as an example.)Post 3
6) Now you can change your password. Since apps can’t get your password, I’m not sure it’s needed, but it can’t hurt.
7) Delete any tweets and DMs sent by the hacker. If you know what app caused your account to be hacked, tweet a warning so others can avoid it.

Now that your Twitter account is safe, if you have any questions about Twitter hacks or other Internet Security / Privacy questions, ask them in the comments.

I’m teaching a class on March 28th at 4PM EST covering a wide range of Internet security & privacy topics – including how to best hide behind a pen/stage name. There will be at least an hour of open Q/A time where you can ask me any questions you have. If you’re wondering about some tech thing being plausible in your novel, we can brainstorm it out there. ☺

My class is titled Who Wants to Know? Internet Privacy and Security and you can register at:
The class is normally $40. You can save $5 by using coupon code ‘hacking’

Jay has been a geek since before geeks were cool. He’s done it all, from remotely debugging the Internet connection for a US aircraft carrier deployed to *REDACTED*, to being responsible for the servers and networks for one of the largest Internet sites in the world, and the most challenging job of them all – parenthood. He’s trained as a Certified Ethical Hacker (yes, really!) and always uses his geeky powers for good. When he’s not neck deep in wires and computer parts, you’ll find him hanging out on Twitter as @jaytechdad.

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The power of books

“One must always be careful of books,” said Tessa, “and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.”- Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. This is perhaps one of my favorite quotes from any modern book. Words do have the profound power to change us and I know that they hold a strong affect on writers.

Writers are readers first. The two joys go hand in hand for one cannot exist without the other. Sometimes I find it easy to get caught up in writing that I forget to read. I know, the horror! However, each time I grab a new book I fall in love again. I love discovering new worlds and friends. After reading a really great story I feel reborn and attack my pages with a new sense of purpose and desire.

It’s true that yestJediReaderday when I was buried in Cassandra Clare’s latest book, “Clockwork Princess” I didn’t meet my daily word count. Dishes piled up in the sink and my family was lucky to have leftovers. However, today I woke early and wrote two thousand words before my two and a half year old daughter got up. I admire great books, which Clare’s latest book certainly is. It encourages me to work even harder towards my writing goal so that one day readers will feel inspired by my stories.

Words have great power. Great books inspire and they don’t need to be a fantastic non-fiction, fiction is just as powerful if not more because it is pure creation.

What was the last book you read? How did it inspire you as a writer?

We encourage reading at our house. Jedi is a fan of my iPad ☺


This week I was a guest at author Jami Gold’s blog. In preparation of her WANA International website class, I spoke about making the switch from Blogger to WordPress.

Check out Jami’s class and other great classes at WANA International.

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Confessions of a dieting writer

Dieting is hard, especially for a writer who has never had to diet before. I’ve always been thin, a consistent size 2 or 4. However, since my emergency gall bladder surgery I have not had a flat stomach and my cute rhinestone Black Market and White House jeans only fit if I forfeit breathing. I already exercise an hour a day. So I’m afraid, the time has come to tackle an actual diet…..(enters dramatic music.)

Now that I’m thinking about it, dieting is not conducive to professional writer’s schedule.

  1. Writers sit for long periods of time.
  2. A bowl or bag of junk food is often easier to grab for lunch than something healthy.
  3. Late night snacks and caffeine are our friends.

After some thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that dieting may pose greater challenges for writers than other professions. These three points alone are terrible for dieting and healthy living in general. However, I’ve always preached that staying fit helps writing. Even when I’m up against deadlines (like I am now) I never miss time on my elliptical machine or morning yoga. Staying fit helps me keep a clear head and just feel overall healthier. So, if exercise can help us feel/write better I know it only makes sense that adding a diet can only increase productivity.

Still dieting is hard stuff! I’ve NEVER done this before. So my strategy? I’m going to begin with cutting back on my portions and ensuring that I’m eating the right things and no more popcorn snacks! Our house is already a soda-free zone, which I’ve read is a good and important thing.

I know dieting is always a popular topic of discussion. What has worked for you? How do you curtail those late night snack cravings?

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To making it count

“To making it count,” are the words that Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) said in “Titanic” as he offered a toast to the first class table he played guest to. Though just a fictional character, Jack had the right idea in life. We never know what the next day, week, month or even second may bring. All the more reason to look at your dream and make it happen.

This week marked the debut release of author Bridget Zinn. She didn’t live to see the release of her book, “PoisonPoison.” Zinn passed away of cancer but even in death I’m sure she’s smiling in heaven at the realization of her dream. Bridget’s story is a sad one and I can’t help but look at where I am in realizing my own dream, to see my fiction published and get to share my stories with the world. I’m not where I want to be.

This past year has been a challenge; first our move to Saudi Arabia and then my emergency surgery for a ruptured gall bladder. I’ve fallen behind and some days it seems like I can never catch up. I read Bridget’s story and I’m both thankful and terrified.

I’m thankful to be happy and have a wonderful family. I’m thankful to have published a book on a topic that I’m passionate about, “Caring For Your Special Needs Dog.” Yet, I’m terrified at what I haven’t done. I have unfinished manuscripts, which I want to pitch this summer of conferences. I am still editing my second dog book when I planned for it to be out months ago. The truth is I’m not where I want to be and no matter what the excuse or situation is, that’s the truth.

So I’m powering through goal-lists, making it count and working hard towards my dreams while loving the life I have. I know I’ll get there because as my husband says, “I’m way too stubborn not too!” Until then, I’m thankful to be well and writing and will never stop fighting to get my own characters on bookshelves.

I haven’t read “Poison” by Bridget Zinn but it is loaded on my iPad and will be read soon. I look forward to reading the story she wanted us to know and push hard to get my own stories before readers eyes.

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Wake up and live your dream

We all have dreams. Whether you want to be a bestselling author, platinum selling musician or the best mom, everyone strives for something in life. My dreams in life are to be the best author and mom I can be. Often times these goals butt heads. That’s why I love teaching my popular “Writing Moms (and Dads) workshops so I can share what works for me with others. As I tell my students, being a writing parent is hard but there are some easy steps you can take so you can have it all without losing your head. One of my favorite things I do each morning helps me to achieve both my goals and it can be applied to help you too, whatever your dream is.

Even though we all have dreams, very few of us are able to work towards those goals every minute of the day. However, I have found that if I do something in the early morning towards accomplishing my dreams it makes me a happier and more productive person throughout the day. Each day I start my morning early with some stretches and then I write five hundred words on my current fiction project. Five hundred words is not a lot and they don’t need to be five hundred great words. By doing this, no matter how busy or off-track my day may become I know that I did something for my dream of becoming a great author.

For me, my five hundred words in the early morning also helps me to be a great mom. In truth, my daughter runs my schedule and some days are crazier than others. If I hadn’t written my five hundred words in the morning it would be easy to become frustrated and short with my little active toddler. But when my precious little girl wakes up sick or just wants mommy to play all day I can give her my full attention feeling proud that I accomplished something for my dream.

Everyone who knows me knows I can’t seem to do anything without music playing. So, today enjoy “Wake Up” by Colton Dixon. I just love the line, “the story begins when we open our eyes.” So perfect for writers and anyone who needs to wake up and take control of their dreams.

Are you waking up to your dream each morning? What small task can you do each morning that will continually take you closer to accomplishing your dreams?


Registration for my “Writing Moms (and Dads!)” workshop is now closed until the next session. However, there are so many wonderful courses offered over at WANA International.

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How to create writing magic the healthy way

OK, being a full time writer is not always the healthiest of professions. Think about it; writers sit for long periods of time oGym 1ften hunched over their computer screens, we often miss meals or resort to fast snacks (in my case, this is popcorn,) we cut ourselves off from the “normal” world, talk to voices in our heads, consume large amounts of caffeine and should we discuss chocolate and wine? Basically, being a writer isn’t great for your health. Thanks to so many hours in front of my Mac, I was in reading glasses before I turned 30. But sometimes the best thing you can do for your manuscript is to take a break and when you take that break hit the gym! Check out these simple steps to creating writing magic while working out.

1. Be sure to review your most recent scenes or outlines. Have your story be at the front of your mind. When you are on that treadmill or whatever machine, think of your story. I often find that the combination of thinking of my story while getting my blood flowing creates story magic. Scenes are fixed and come together beautifully in my mind.
2. Listen to music. I always workout to theatrical musical scores. If I’m hearing words then I’ll focus on them rather than my own story, which needs my focus.
3. Allow yourself enough time to workout. I’ve found that the “story magic” I refer to is unlikely to occur if you feel rushed.
4. After your workout cool down by writing down anything and everything that came to mind about your story. Just like recording dreams, if you skip this step, you’ll probably forget the very element that can help you achieve story magic.

Just yesterday I was on my elliptical when the climatic scene of my middle grade novel played out in my mind. I think it’s a combination of blood flow and just getting away from the computer that makes a workout break the most productive thing a writer can do. It works for me!

How do you set the stage for “story magic?”

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Forget that box of chocolate, life is like a hard to open Barbie package

Being a parent is hard work. Being a mom who works from home is even harder but opening a Barbie box; you apparently need to actually be a rocket scientist or the toughest Navy Seal there ever was. Seriously, who designs the packaging for Barbie and other troublesomBarbiee toys? Do they hate humanity or just find amusement in making parents suffer to their child’s screams of, “open it now!” Yes, can’t you tell, Baby Markey is now into Barbie and I recently suffered the horrors of that packaging. However, as I struggled to open that “I Can Be Dance Champion Doll” it hit me (and yes, at one point the packaging actually did hit me,) So many things in life are like those difficult, infuriating toy packages.

Life is hard. There are days where I question my writing but then I go back and read something that I wrote a while ago and remind myself that I can do this. I’m not the best mom everyday. Sometimes dinner is late or I let naptime run longer because I’m enjoying the quiet and the thought of hosting a playgroup is nauseating. But then there are those moments that make it all worth it. For me, it’s always the small things like when my daughter believed she was taking hopping lessons from our pet bunny or our nightly reading routines where each book read concludes with, “one more book please.” I’m blessed to work from home because there is no better writing break than having my daughter come to show me her latest art masterpieces.

Life is full of layers, just like the plastic, tape, and those odd twisty-ties from hard to open packages. You have to work hard to get to the good stuff! But oh, it’s so worth it.

Forrest was right with that box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. However, when you set goals and dreams you have something attainable and real in your mind. It’s up to you to break through the packaging and get your prize.


My popular Writing Moms (and Dads!) Workshop and Personal Consultations start March 4. If you’re a parent and a writer struggling to have it all then this workshop is for you!

Writing Moms (and Dads!) Online Workshop
Date: March 4th, 2013 – April 4, 2013
Description: Plot, character arc, transitions, climax, revise, rewrite, make that deadline, blog, check social media sites, continued education, volunteer for local writing group, read critique partners manuscript, research agents/publishers, read books within your genre, read a craft book and network. These are ALL things that go through writers’ minds on any given day. But what if you had to add: Make bottles, keep up with diaper/Gerber/ formula supplies, feed baby, play dates, bathe baby, wipe up thrown sweet potatoes, shower to get sweet potatoes out of your hair, more playtime, hope for a naptime (for baby, you must write,) read to baby, and hope baby actually goes to bed at the designated time.
For many writers, this is reality. In fact, many full-time writers are made because of a child being born. Some amazing mothers write late at night, around their day job. However you do it, being a writing parent is a challenge but very doable and rewarding. Learn easy self study tactics, time management tips and suggestions from a ten-year freelance journalist, published author and speaker who also has a two-year-old daughter and a high maintenance dog. You can have it all without losing your mind.
Register HERE

Writing Moms (and Dads!) Personal Consultation
Dates: March 4, 2013 – April 4, 2013
Length: Two 45 min. phone consultations. The first consultation will be within the first week of the four-week Writing Moms (and Dads!) workshop. The second will be scheduled prior to completing the workshop.
Description: Take what you learn from the Writing Moms (and Dads!) workshop and get one-on-one guidance on developing the best plan for making you a smarter writer. The first consultation will be a detailed interview followed by a discussion of time constraints. The second will be about developing the best plan for you based off your first consultation discussions. You will also get personalized methods for implementing, testing and carrying out your plan.
Register HERE

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