Friday, July 29, 2016

What I Learned in July

How is it possibly already the end of July? How? 

Anyway - it's been a C-R-A-Z-Y month, but here are a few things I learned in July.

Dollywood has an amazing guest assistance program. If you travel with a child with any sort of disability, you know how difficult it can be to face long lines, loud crowds, and staring patrons. We spent two days at Dollywood this month and we were very impressed by their attention and care for their guests with disabilities. A quick stop at the ride accessibility office provided us with a card that gave us easy (and fast) access to all the rides, as well as a phone number we could call if we needed anything, or wanted access to Dollywood's new calming room. The Calming Room was fabulous. Thirty minutes of peace, quiet, books, comfy places to sit, and a break from the crowds. It was just what our girl needed to get through the rest of the day. Who am I kidding…it didn't hurt me, either!

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Cacao Nibs are amazing. They are my new favorite writing snack. They are tiny, it doesn't take much for me to feel like I've had enough (unlike milk chocolate which I can eat in large quanities and still want more), and they have the crunch from the cacao nib that makes them simply delightful. I'm a fan!

Lavender Oil is the BEST thing for burns. I promise I'm not going to turn into an essential oil evangelist, but despite my original skepticism toward them I have been blown away by how well Lavender Oil works on sunburns and kitchen burns (which I have a LOT of experience with). Our youngest managed to get a pretty bad burn after a day at the lake. I slathered him in some coconut oil that I mixed with the lavender. No complaints, no drama, and next morning, no redness. Even my husband was amazed. I keep Lavender in my kitchen for when I splatter myself with grease or attempt to reach into the oven and burn myself on the rack (don't ask). It works every time. 

Chocolate Avocado Smoothie - I can't call this health food because people have checked the calorie/sugar counts and shared them in the comments (just look), but this is way better for me than a milkshake, and it satisfies my sweet tooth. Even better, my kids hate it. :) Probably because of the flax seed, or maybe it's because I don't use as much honey as called for so it's not super sweet. Regardless, I don't have to share! 

Buy the big pot. I have several recipes that are part of our regular meal rotation. I make them often, and I usually double the recipe and freeze whatever is left to save myself some time and trouble later. The problem has been that I haven't had a big enough pot to double the recipe without having to divvy it up into multiple pots or deal with lots of spillovers. I finally broke down and bought a BIG pot. WHY did I wait to do this? It made meal prep so much more enjoyable and cleanup so much easier. Take my advice…by the big pot. 


Friday, July 15, 2016

ACFW Pre-Conference Mix and Mingle

In late August, I’m headed to my very first ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference. I am so excited! 

Laurie Tomlinson is hosting a super fun “mix and mingle” link up on her website for conference attendees to get to know each other prior to the big event. The rules are simple…you answer the questions she has listed and then link your post on her blog. 

So here goes…

Name: Lynn Blackburn (I write as Lynn Huggins Blackburn, but that is a mouthful).

Location: Simpsonville, SC

What you write/tagline/trademark: Romantic Suspense

Place in the book world: My debut novel, Covert Justice, is a Carol finalist in the Short Novel category! I'm represented by the fabulous Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. 

On a scale of hugger to 10-foot-pole, please rate your personal space: Did you see my maiden name? I’m all for the hugs. :) 

Something VERY serious: How do you take your Starbucks? During the summer, I’ll take it iced. Cream only. I love the Flat White anytime, but at Christmas I’m all about the Chestnut Praline Latte. Decaf. 

The unique talking points that will get you going for hours: Clemson Tigers football, Bullet Journals, Homeschooling, Special Needs parenting, Hamilton, NCIS.

Loved ones at home you’ll be missing: My husband, 13-year-old daughter, almost 8-year-old son, and 5(and a half!)-year-old son. 

Conference goals we can pray for? I’m mostly coming to learn and network, but I will also be pitching a new romantic suspense series. 

Anything we can celebrate with you? My debut novel won the Selah Award (Mystery/Suspense category) at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and I’m still hyperventilating!

One or two ways we can help you build your platform? You can follow me on Twitter and sign up for my newsletter here!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My Rules for the Rest of my Summer Vacation

As a kid the main advantage I could see to summer vacation was the virtually unlimited reading time it provided. But by July, I was ready for routines, new textbooks, and bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m still not the biggest fan of summer vacation. I appreciate the break from the routine, while simultaneously craving the return of it. I love the potential of a slower pace to our days, but find myself fighting the tendency to fill them to the brim with activity. I enjoy hanging out at the pool or the lake with friends, but dread the laundry that follows. 

I want my kids to look back on their summers with delight. Lightning bugs. Popsicles. Staying up late. Sleeping in (although one of mine may NEVER sleep past 6:15…sigh). But I also want to reclaim some of the joy of summers for myself. I want to read more. Write more. Play more. Stress less.
How does a 42-year-old wife, mom of three, author, homeschooling kind of mom actually do this?  

Honestly, I have no idea. But I know that it's the middle of July and while I do have a few truly good things to show for the past few weeks, I can see a disturbing trend. One that involves me spending too much time on my phone and not enough time with my nose in a book. Too much time performing tasks and not nearly enough time playing games. 

I do have things I need to accomplish over the next 6 weeks, but I’m thinking there has to be a way to cross off some big to-do list items AND roll into September (it’s really mid-August but I’m in denial) feeling refreshed and ready to tackle a new school year.

I know for myself that a BIG part of my problem is screen time. This is tricky for me, because the whole “writing thing” kind of requires screen time. But you know what it doesn’t require? Facebook. 
I love Facebook, but I’ve come to realize that my social media time has gotten out of hand.

So I’ve decided to run a little experiment and I’m telling you about it in order to keep myself accountable. You may have seen this handy little sheet that has made the rounds on Pinterest and Facebook where the kids in the house have a list of things they have to do every day before they get any screen time. (Yes, I do appreciate the irony here). Anyway, I’ve made a few modifications for myself and my life and I’m going to give it a shot for a few weeks and see if I can tell a difference.

Here are my Rules for the rest of my Summer Vacation (Rules apply when I'm at home. There are NO rules when I'm at the lake or in the mountains!) --  

Before you start surfing Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram for non-work related matters you must:

** Spend some time in the Word.
** Make your bed.
** Hydrate—this means WATER not coffee—not that I won’t also have coffee!
** CrossFit (unless it’s an intentional rest day - I can’t hit the box 7 days a week).
** Read for thirty minutes - for fun, not heavy reading.
** Write for thirty minutes.
** Clean a room (ha - like this even needs to be on the list).
** Tackle one “project” for thirty minutes.
** Do one load of laundry (sigh).
** Play with the kids—go to the pool, throw the football, shoot some hoops, read a book, draw with chalk pastels (I’m terrible at it but the kids like it), color.
** Make contact with a friend—write a letter (imagine!), text, call.

If the whole day happens and I never open my Facebook page and don’t find any cool pins on Pinterest? I think I’d be okay with that. 

I’m curious how you handle screen time - not for your kids, but for yourself? If you have any awesome tips or tricks, a funny story or an inspiring one, please share!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

When You Want to be Somewhere Else with your Writing

Not my son, but an accurate representation of his gloominess!
I felt so sorry for him.

My youngest son was surveying the scene on his first morning of day camp—and he was not impressed. Kids were running around playing with hula hoops, bouncy balls, Legos, Crayons, and board games. It was a kids’ paradise in there, but the mutinous expression on his face refused to budge.

He’d been okay an hour earlier. He was excited about this new opportunity, until we dropped his older brother off at a different day camp. One for kids a bit older. One with cheering counselors, multiple inflatables, and a climbing tower.

From the minute we climbed out of the van, my little guy was in full revolt. He dragged his feet, he pouted, he glared at everyone we encountered. He wanted to go home and not go to his camp at all.

As I stood at the back of the room and watched him try to come to terms with his reality, my heart broke. There was so much awesomeness in front of him, but he couldn’t see it because He Wanted to be Somewhere Else.

Maybe you can relate?

Your blog is getting great attention, but you don’t want to be a blogger. You want to be a speaker.
  • An editor is interested in your devotional, but no one will take an interest in your historical.
  • You’ve found success with freelance work, but now you don’t have time for your epic fantasy.
  • Your poetry has won awards, but no one will look at the Bible study you’ve poured your heart into.
  • Or maybe you’ve been published with a small press, but you yearn to be affiliated with one of the big houses.

You Want to be Somewhere Else.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

What I Learned in June

I really enjoy taking a few minutes to think back over my month and share a few of the things I’ve learned. (This idea is from both Emily P. Freeman and Modern Mrs. Darcy). 

Here goes:

1. I am incapable of being calm when surprised with good news. (Or . . . I *will* make a goober out of myself when something awesome happens). 

On June 17th, my phone rang and even though I didn’t recognize the number, I answered it. When the voice on the other end of the line said, “This is Casey Herringshaw . . . ” Well, honestly, I don’t exactly know what she said after that because there was only one reason for her to be calling me and I couldn’t quite let myself believe that it was possible until she confirmed she was calling to tell me that Covert Justice was a finalist in the Short Novel category of the Carol Awards. I don’t actually know what I said after that, but there was a lot of laughing (I’m calling it laughing…Casey might call it maniacal giggling). Other that that, it’s pretty much a blur—although that might have been because of my tears of joy. I generally try to act like a professional, but I must say, it was way more fun to enjoy the good news. Which leads me to the next thing I learned…

2. It is REALLY hard to keep good news a secret! I had to wait 10 days before I could tell anyone about the Carol final. It was *killing* me! I wanted to ask my friends if they had finaled (and quite a few of them did!) and I wanted to share it with the world. But I kept my mouth zipped up tight (no small feat for me) and waited not-so-patiently for the announcement on the 27th

3. Good news in one area will not fix the rest of your life—or even fix that part of your life. I had one of my most challenging writing weeks - ever -  in the space between finding out about the Carol final and being able to talk about the Carol final. Awards are awesome and fun, but they don’t actually make it any easier to write your stories, and I don’t know of a single one that will do your laundry. (If there is an award that comes with a laundry service, please someone let me know because I want to win that one bad). Life goes on. The plot line that was kicking your rear an hour before you get a “call” will still be making you crazy an hour later. The dishes still need to be done. The bills still have to be paid. People will still cut you off in traffic. It’s a very bizarre thing to be simultaneously joyful and despondent, but it is possible. 

4. I love to read the Psalms in the summer. I run to the Psalms when I am frustrated and frazzled, and summers are challenging for our family. Children who thrive on routine can struggle mightily in the free-wheeling, carefree days of summer, and that makes it hard on this mama. Without being consciously aware of what I was doing, I just turned to Psalm 1 and started reading . . . and realized I’ve done this before. My Bible is marked up in pens, pencils, and all sort of random notations, but there is nowhere that I can remember what I was feeling when I highlighted a particular passage as when I re-read the Psalms. 

5. The best way to wean yourself off caffeine is S-L-O-W-L-Y. I’ve gone cold turkey before and paid the price. In June, I took a slower approach and cut way back on my caffeine. I still had a few migraines, but it wasn’t anything like before. Now, I’m avoiding caffeine in most things except my morning coffee, and even there, I’m drinking less and going with a half-caff approach.  I’ve even skipped it entirely several times with no drama. I sleep better and don’t crash so much in the afternoon, and more importantly, don’t get the jittery feeling I had been experiencing far too often before I made the switch. And speaking of coffee…

6. Some things are worth the calories. I drank my coffee black for a while, but I just didn’t love it the way I had before. And yes, I could give it up entirely I suppose—maybe try to switch to tea—but I’ve decided that some things are worth the calories. I drink my coffee with a splash (or two) of half & half. I enjoy every sip. I sit on my deck with the Psalms and I get my head on straight before I dive into the morning. Life is too short to say “no” to everything under the sun just because it might be a tiny bit better for you. Some things are worth saying “yes” to for the simple reason that they bring delight to your day. Cream in my coffee is one of those things. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Interview on Blog Talk Radio with Christian Communicators Live!

I hope you are all enjoying your summer! I am up to my eye balls in summer camps and a new romantic suspense story.

To be honest, it's been a challenging writing week. I had hit a wall - hard - when a friend of mine shot me an encouraging word about an interview I did on the Christian Communicators Live Blog Talk Radio back in November and it was such a blessing to me. Her timing was perfect and I know God used her to help me keep my eyes on Him and stay focused on what He has me doing.

Later on - same day - I had a chance to sit down with another friend who I consider to be one of the most uplifting people on the planet, and I came away with a renewed sense of purpose and hopefulness about the work God has ordained for me.

It's easy to get caught up in the daily grind and forget the miraculous ways God has intervened in our lives. When that happens, we need to remember what God has done. We need to review His faithfulness and His goodness to us and when we do, we find new strength for a new day.

Last night, I realized that I never shared the interview with you here. So I'm taking care of that today. :) Who knows? Maybe there's something that God can use to inspire you to press on and run your race well.

I had a blast talking with Carolyn Knefely and Vonda Skelton about Covert Justice, my family, stories, my writing process, writing with children in the home, NCIS, and why I love writing romance. It might be fun for those of you who don't know me personally to hear my Southern drawl as I share about God's faithfulness in my publication journey.

And if you're a writer--especially a writer mom--I hope this will be an encouragement to you.

You can click to here to listen to the interview. I'd love to hear what you think.

Click to Tweet
Talking #writing, #publication and why I love romance. Encouragement for the #writermom. #amwriting #romanticsuspense 

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Few Thoughts....The Selah Awards - Part 2 edition

A month ago I shared a few thoughts on being a finalist for the Selah Awards in the Mystery and Suspense category. (You can read that post here).

In that post, I made the following statement…“I am not going to win."

I was wrong.

To my absolute and complete shock, Covert Justice won the 2016 Selah Award for Mystery/Suspense! 

I’ve had almost a month to think about it, to let it settle in my mind, to stop looking at the plaque on my mantle in stunned disbelief, and I still don’t have the right words to describe how I feel.

I’m a writer. I really should be able to handle this.

All I know is that when my name was called, I temporarily lost all sense of time and space. It was truly like having an out of body experience. I remember fighting back tears. I remember walking up to the stage. I remember smiling at the camera. I remember stumbling back to my seat and people smiling and congratulating me as I passed. I remember sitting down and realizing that I was trembling from head to toe.

Note the glasses and
goofy grin!
I forgot to take off my glasses (which I hate but am currently wearing all the time because of a tenacious eye infection). If I had been required to give a speech it would have been a disaster because in that moment I wasn’t entirely sure what my own name was. I’m pretty sure I looked like some bizarre version of the Joker because there was this weird grin plastered on my face that I couldn’t get control of.

But beyond that, I’m still processing the whys and hows of it all. 

I am so humbled. So stunned. And still wondering if there might have been a judging mistake. :) 

Me with my awesome agent,
Tamela Hancock Murray!
Covert Justice is my first book. I love it. It will always be special and dear, but in the year since it was released I have had so many days when I wondered if this writing thing was just too much to deal with right now. If maybe everyone would be better off if I walked away. (Can you say "Mom guilt"?) 

I have prayed so many times for clarity. Not for a sign, really. Just for peace and confidence that this journey was one I should be on.

Being a finalist and then actually winning an award like the Selah makes it hard not to believe that I’m at least moving in the right direction. 

So fun to have Shana Asaro, a Love
Inspired editor there! 
I know God is up to something with my writing. I have no idea what, but I’m thrilled to be following His lead and I’m excited to see where He takes me next. I'm also terrified! It's quite daunting to be faced with a very clear directive from the Almighty!

I want God to receive all the glory and praise. I want my readers not only to enjoy the stories I write, but to love Him more and to see Him more clearly than they did before. 

This summer, I am waiting to hear about my next book, writing a third, and brainstorming ideas for a new series. I would so appreciate your prayers as I lean hard into the Ultimate Storyteller and seek to craft new stories that will honor Him!