I can't believe another three months has passed since I updated my Kanban board with my 90-day goals. (Kanban is Japanese for sign board and is used to manage systems and projects--see visual example) I updated it yesterday for June 1-Sept. 1.
(1) Complete Finch's Crossing Book Three, Summer, and publish on all platforms
(2) Write 12,000 words on Finch's Crossing Book Four
(3) Write 12,000 words on my new series (Shh! It's a secret for now) and do cover design research
4) Run three special promos and giveaways,
(5) Continue Facebook ads and audience/demographics research.
There...now it's all out in the open and I have no choice but to meet the goals! :) Please heIp me keep it real people!
I am forever indebted to the amazing Sarra Cannon of Heart Breathings for sharing how she uses a Kanban board to steer her writing career.
I released Spring, the second book in my Finch's Crossing series, in a pandemic. Somehow, it didn't feel right to promote it, so I'm giving away free ebooks on May 2 and 3, 2002. Get your copy today!
Spring Hamilton is a born planner with one foot in the exciting future she’s creating for herself. Gabe Vignarolli lives in the moment. Oh, and he broke her heart two decades earlier. If Spring gives him a second chance, it will also be his last.
On the way to a new life in New York City, Spring detours to Finch’s Crossing for a quick visit with her sister Autumn. But a chance encounter with Gabe changes everything. As Spring and Gabe rekindle their love, one week turns into two and then three. Spring postpones her move to New York to be with Gabe and help with Autumn’s unexpected wedding. The coziness of small-town life begins to take root in Spring’s heart. But when she is unwittingly launched into reckless circumstances she never could have predicted, she packs her bags to get as far away from Gabe as possible.
To further complicate matters, a faceless bully is wreaking havoc on the town with a flurry of poison pen letters, threatening to reveal the residents’ darkest secrets. Is it too coincidental that the letters began as soon as Spring arrived? And Gabe, hiding a stunning secret of his own, hopes no one, especially the cruel letter writer, discovers it.
If you’re inspired by second-chance love stories, then you will love this second book in the Finch’s Crossing small-town fiction series.
Read an Excerpt
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Those Summer NIghts, book five in the Oyster Bay series, is the first Olivia Miles book I’ve read, but it won’t be my last. And I certainly want to go back to the beginning of the series and start with book one. I was immediately drawn in by the quaintness and home-town vibe of Oyster Bay, situated on the coast of Maine, where this story mostly plays out. The town is cozy, with rich and vibrant descriptions of the community and geography. There is also a compelling plot line taking place simultaneously in California, which only serves to strengthen the overall story. Readers will love the main characters in this romance, as they are well developed and likeable. Evie, an advice columnist, and Liam, who Evie thinks is just visiting Oyster Bay, are highly relatable and behave in ways readers will find familiar. Miles explores human relationships—relationships between family members, love interests, and friends—in a delightful way. The author’s ability to incorporate humor adds another pleasing dimension to the book. Even the stodgiest curmudgeon will laugh out loud at some of the scenes.
Olivia Miles also does a great job of placing dramatic elements throughout the book, making it an exceptionally pleasant reading experience. Many chapters have a surprise you never saw coming (at least I didn’t), and there are some mini-cliffhangers in there, too.
The characters are all subject to internal struggles, less than ideal circumstances, tragedy, and suffering. But what makes Miles’ characters special is that readers will get the sense that they can all overcome—that they can rise to any occasion. Which means her characters can also experience great joy and happiness, as they should in a novel of this genre. If you love cozy and clean romances as much as I do, you will love this book. I know I did.
Connect with Olivia and learn more about her and her books!
Discouragement may seem like an odd choice for the first post of a new year and a new decade, but I have found that sometimes looking at a dark time helps me remember the light.
But first, a story.
I recently read the book Chop Wood Carry Water, by Joshua Medcalf. In it the author tells the story of a witch who is retiring and selling her “tools” at a garage sale. Towards the end of the sale a man tries to purchase the last remaining tool. The witch takes it from the man, inspects it, and tells him she had mistakenly put it out to be sold, and because it is the most powerful tool of all, she can never sell it. That tool was discouragement.
There were several months last year when I was so discouraged I didn’t write or tend to any of my writing-related tasks, such as promoting my books, writing blog posts, reading about my craft and encouraging other indie authors by buying and reviewing their books.
Discouragement is indeed an all-powerful force, and for me it was truly paralyzing. As I went through my funk I tried to ascertain the source of my discouragement, and this is what I came up with: Amazon had changed its algorithm for how it places book advertisements, and because I relied so heavily on Amazon ads, my sales took a hit. It was hard to watch other indie writers crank out books and sell them faster than they could write them. With fewer sales and fewer reviews, I felt like I was writing into a black hole. Was anyone listening? Was anyone even reading my books? I felt alone. But I knew had the choice of what I could do with my discouragement. I could either prolong the pity party, or I could do something about it.
It took me two months to get back on the wagon and whip myself into shape. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long, but that sentiment serves no purpose. The important thing is I’m back on track and going full speed ahead. I found other places to advertise and continue to educate myself about book promotion and sales.
And while I was pulling myself up, this happened.
A reader found me on Facebook and sent me this note via messenger:
“I love love Finch’s Crossing Book One: Autumn. I haven’t even finished reading it yet. Meanwhile, I’m hoping to read your Finch’s Crossing Book Two: Spring, soon. When is it coming out?”
We corresponded for a while and she continued to tell me that when she finished reading Autumn, she cried on the train ride home from work, which in turn made me cry.
Someone was reading.
It was wonderful to receive this jolt of appreciation, and the idea that I had touched at least one person with my writing was truly a gift. I thanked my new fan and she responded:
“Just know that there ARE people like me reading your books and find immense joy in your stories. The book Autumn really moved me and I can’t wait for Spring to come out.”
And if some days it feels like I’m only writing for this one, wonderful reader who reached out to me, that’s fine. The important thing is to keep moving forward. I’ll release my second Finch’s Crossing book in a few months. The third in the series will be out in July, and I’ll release the first book in a spin-off series around the same time.
That’s the thing about taking action. The more you do, well, the more you do.
And when I find myself dipping again into discouragement, I remind myself:
And of course, I’ve saved screenshots of the messages from my Number One Fan. They are a powerful reminder of why I started writing in the first place. And no algorithm can take that away from me.
One thing I love about the holidays is that I can share my love of reading and all things book-related through gift giving. In my holiday message to readers I share information about the presents I'm giving this year, plus some tips for gifting ebooks. Click here to read more!
I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays filled with stories that inspire and delight you.
Sara When She Chooses is a book about a young girl, her ties to a mysterious heritage and a choice that has the potential to change her life. The novel is written for readers ages nine to twelve, but I enjoyed it as an adult reader.
Every summer, eleven-year-old Sara is sent to spend a few weeks with her grandmother in the deep, deep bayou where there is no electricity or other links to the outside world. World building is obviously a strength of author Cat Jenkins, who creates a lush, mysterious environment that slowly begins to reveal itself to Sarah in unexpected ways. It is thus that Sara realizes she has special gifts, and that her visits to her grandmother are not mere social visits. She is there to learn and grow her unusual talents. She is there to choose the path she will take for the rest of her life.
The author skillfully leads the reader until we willingly suspend disbelief and enter the main character’s fantastical world, comprised of a crew of imaginative, mythical creatures, each with its own quirks and purpose.
I particularly enjoyed the dialogue, especially that of Sara’s grandmother. It is authentically homespun—not an easy achievement, especially because the author carries the thread very well throughout the entire book.
I really hope there will be a sequel because at the end.... Well. You’ll see what I mean when you get there!
Because I am a reader and a writer, chances are if you’re on my gift list, you’re going to get a book for Christmas! I have some serious readers in my circle of friends and family, and I am very particular about the books I give them. Fortunately, for all the readers in the world, there is always something to choose from, whether it’s an anticipated new release (The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek), or a small, quiet book from my past (The Two Pound Tram) that I know others will also appreciate.
Sometimes, I end up finding one book that I know everyone will love. Last year it was Matka, by Sarah Hanley. The year before that it was The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli. And this year? Well, now, if I tell you, it won’t be a surprise, will it? But if you really want to know, click here.
To help you find the perfect book for everyone on your list, I’ve compiled a list of 101 books I love. There is a little bit of everything: general fiction, historical fiction, science, historical non-fiction, middle-grade and young adult, suspense, cozy mystery, sweet romance, biographies, and of course books about dogs. Enjoy!
Oh, Scottdale, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Your buckled slate sidewalks and back alleys. Your broad avenues. Your charming Pittsburgh Street. The old IGA and McCrory’s Five and Dime. Your post office WPA murals. Your lovely parks. Your stately Greystone Manor.
I'm an American girl—the daughter of two Scottdale natives—but I grew up overseas. I spoke four languages over the course of my childhood because my parents, siblings and I moved frequently for my father’s career. During those years, as we travelled like gypsies, there was one place that anchored us. And that place was Scottdale, Pennsylvania.
To many, Scottdale is a small town of about 5,000, nestled in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania. For me, Scottdale has been a magical place for more than forty years. It is where my parents grew up and where I spent summers as a girl. Although it was typically thousands of miles away from me, except for those brief weeks of summer, Scottdale was always with me.
When my brother and sister and I were kids, our grandmothers still lived in Scottdale. Once school was out, our parents put us on an airplane, sending us on our way across the Atlantic. On the other end, our Aunt Mary Ellen would pick us up at the Pittsburgh airport and drive us to Scottdale. For the next few weeks, we would shuttle our way between our grandmothers’ homes, walking along the alley behind Grandma Martha Rhodes’ house on Loucks Avenue, and down the big hill to Grandma Ruby Ruth’s on Arthur Avenue, and vice versa.
At Ruby’s, we watched the Lawrence Welk Show, played rummy and accompanied her as she called on her friends and neighbors. She zoomed around town in her 1955 black Plymouth Valiant with red leather interior, stopping at the IGA for ingredients to make her dreaded ham loaf. The library, Mennonite bookstore and post office were also regular destinations. She took us to the United Methodist Church on Sundays, the same church my father attended before he left for the Military Academy at West Point. For a treat, we would go to the neighboring town of Mt. Pleasant to visit Brown’s Candy Kitchen, or for ham BBQ sandwiches at Miedels Restaurant in nearby Connellsville.
At our Grandmother Martha’s, bookended by her cats Fluffy and Smokey, we played penny-ante poker, using the spare change she had squirreled away between our visits. We took our poker winnings around the corner to Barry’s Market to buy candy, or down to McCrory’s Five and Dime on Pittsburgh Street. Almost completely bed-ridden with arthritis, Grandma Martha taught us about nature as we studied the outdoors from her bedroom windows. I was mesmerized by her long silver braid and the silky quilted bed jackets she wore all the time.
High above Scottdale on Walnut Street was the Mennonite Publishing House, which produced materials for that religious order beginning in 1908. As a young girl, I fantasied about becoming a Mennonite so that when I grew up I could move to Scottdale and work at the publishing company as a writer. The building is still there, but in 2011 the company merged with another and was absorbed into a media network in Virginia. And now, decades later, my sister Melissa and I joke that when we are widows we will buy a big house on Loucks Avenue and live out our golden years together in Scottdale. Although, I don't think we're joking.
In the Scottdale of my childhood, time seemed to stop, so much in fact that most of the memories of my childhood are rooted in my days there. The Scottdale of our summers was a comfortable bubble where everything was familiar and everyone spoke my native language. All the books at the library were in English! We could gorge ourselves on Cap’t Crunch, Apple Jacks and Fruit Loops cereals, and strawberry-frosted Pop-Tarts because our parents weren’t around and our grandmothers indulged us. I think they knew, as much as we did, that as soon as we got on the plane to fly home, it would be another year until we had those American treats.
By September, we had left our idyllic summer behind and were back home and in school. And so that is why it took me until 2014 to learn that Scottdale has an Annual Fall Festival, dating back to 1974.
And this is when my small-town cozy fiction series, Finch’s Crossing, was born. I had waited for years to find the right way to write about Scottdale, and when I attended that first festival five years ago, I knew I had found it. That September, the festival opened at Gazebo Park in the main commercial district, and vendors and artisan booths dotted the downtown area. The town was alive with music, and the scent of funnel cakes and an unmistakable hint of fall wafted all around. As I walked through the festivities, I knew that I wanted to make the Fall Festival the centerpiece of my first novel about the community. Autumn, Book One in my Finch’s Crossing series, came out the next year. In 2017, I released a Finch’s Crossing holiday novella, and book two in the series will be out in early 2020.
But the Fall Festival has become so much more than a setting and a plot point. It would be three years until I made it back to the festival, this time with my father, sister and cousin in tow. For my father, then eighty-years-old, it was a chance to return to his hometown decades after moving away, and show his daughters the Scottdale of his youth. We learned about and saw things we had not known before: The girls he had walked to school. The place he learned to play Taps on the trumpet. All the houses he and his family lived in. How he unloaded lumber from scorching hot boxcars at his father’s lumber yard during the summers. We even met some of his high school classmates, and members of his high school dance band, The Blue Dots.
We thought the 2017 visit would be our last trip together to Scottdale, but my father is still going strong at eighty-three, so we’re getting the band back together for the 45th Annual Scottdale Fall Festival, September 20-22. The first order of business is my father’s 65th high school reunion luncheon, with the dozen or so remaining classmates, at Carson’s Tavern. We will have lunch in the dining room under a photo of The Blue Dots band on stage when they won the Lions Club Amateur contest in the 1950s. Over the course of the following few days, we will watch the parade and stroll around the vendors and food trucks. We will eat hot ham sandwiches and pie at Miedels Restaurant and have an authentic home-cooked meal at Wise’s. But most of all, we will walk the streets and proclaim, “Oh, do you remember when…,” and let time transport us back to those halcyon days of our childhoods.
I’ll see you soon, Scottdale. Until then, love and kisses!
Amy Ruth Allen
Enjoy the photos below from our trip to Scottdale for the 2017 Fall Festival.
GUEST POST by Ronald Leigh Allen, jr.
I have been a soccer fan my whole life, and at 57 I still get out there on the field and mix it up in pick-up games. I always preferred to spend my time playing soccer rather than watching it. But alas, the older I get the higher percentage of my "soccer time" goes toward watching rather than playing.
Unlike most fans of the game, I never really had a favorite team. I enjoy watching the English Premier League, and a few years back when the wife and I were in London I actually bought a handsome long sleeve Arsenal jersey. But Arsenal wasn't really my favorite. team. Not my "real" favorite. I have some favorite players— like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with loving both of those guys equally). But I never really fell in love with Barcelona, or Real Madrid, or Juventus. I occasionally watch Major League Soccer matches, and am drawn to teams that have star European players like Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who have chosen to finish out their careers in the United States (both of whom join a distinguished list of non-American world soccer standouts that finished their careers in the MLS, and both of whom are still performing at the highest level). But I never had a favorite team, which kinda bothered me. What's wrong with me? I wondered. Everybody I know has a favorite team. Except me. I began to gradually develop a deep longing to be part of the fan base of a team—to be part of a supporters' community.
My wife and I moved from the East Coast to Minneapolis four years ago (2015). After realizing that the winters wouldn't necessarily kill us, we fell in love with the city. About the time we arrived here, I was very excited when it was announced that Minnesota United Football Club (MNUFC) had been named by Major League Soccer as the 22nd team in the league. I started loosely following the team, occasionally catching a game on TV, or at the very least, watching the match highlights on YouTube.
I got very excited again when it was announced that we (I guess I am starting to have a favorite team!) were going to get our very own soccer specific stadium in Saint Paul ( Minneapolis' twin city), called Allianz Field. I drove by the site shortly after the groundbreaking, and periodically throughout the construction process. It was absolutely amazing to watch this architectural masterpiece arise from the ground. And when the first match took place on April 13, 2019, against New York City Football Club, I was in the stands of this ultra-modern, absolutely gorgeous facility!
But I was alone. My wife had previous engagements. My buddies couldn't make it for one reason or another. I was alone. But not really alone, as it was a sell-out crowd. As the 3-3 draw played out before my eyes, I found myself high-fiving perfect strangers in the seats around me, everyone just insanely supportive of their team—and dare I say it? My team! I felt like I finally had a favorite team. Minnesota United Football Club. Go team! Needless to say, I had an absolute blast that night, and couldn't wait until the next match when my wife could come with me and experience this unbridled joy!
So, Amy is not really a sports fan. At all. She agreed to go to a match with me, but I am guessing only to be a good wife, and not as an MNUFC fan. But she went. Knowing that she didn't like surprises, like a good husband I researched the nuances of attending a match from a wife's point of view. I knew Allianz Field had a "clear bag" policy (for security), so on our first foray she left her purse at home. But she did bring her iPhone with earbuds. As we found our seats (which were first row field level near the half field line) she surveyed the crowd. Crowds are not her thing. We found our seats and we waited for the match to start.
Amy informed me that she would be listening to a book on Audible, so if she seemed to be ignoring me, it was because she was ignoring me. And the game. Occasionally I would try to share some of my vast soccer knowledge with her, but she wasn't having any of it. The only thing she came away with that night, was her very own MNUFC clear bag, which she thought was very fashionable, so much so that she did an Instagram post, not about the match, but about her new clear bag.
So when she agreed to accompany me to the next match at Allianz Field I was a little surprised, but very pleased. This match was a little different. Its was part of the CONCACAF Gold Cub and a rare soccer double header, the first match being Panama versus Trinidad and Tobago, and then the match we came to see, Team USA versus Guyana. We arrived in time to catch most of the second half of the first match. The Twin Cities being the diverse international community that it is (and that we love), fans from both countries were all around us. Amy loved them. She watched the fans while I watched the match. But she still put in her earbuds, even through the US versus Guyana match (which we won 4-0).
I was feeling pretty good about my chances to have her accompany me to another match. Our schedules worked out such that we were both available on July 27th, so I got us tickets to see MNUFC play the Vancouver Whitecaps. It was a 7 p.m. kickoff, and I accidentally got tickets on the sunny (hot!) side of the stadium. Amy had her earbuds with her, but never went into her MNUFC clear bag (now a fashion essential) to get them. Before the game began, we were so honored to witness five new citizens participate in the naturalization ceremony to the roaring applause of 20,000 MNUFC fans.
Amy was interested in the game. She was interested in the players. By 7:30 the sun had shifted so we were in the shade (cool!). We both cheered for our Loons (yep, that's what they are called, Loons, and we love them!). The game turned out to be a frustrating draw, but for me it was a huge victory, because Amy said to me, "I think I really like soccer. We should come to these games as much as we can." Between halves, she made her way to the fan store and bought a scarf for me, and a t-shirt for herself. She had been good-naturedly wearing the team colors to the matches (black and light blue), but now she had an official emblem of support.
So I am very lucky to announce to the world that I now have a favorite team, MNUFC! Not only do I have a favorite team, but I have a wife who, in a matter of months, went from totally not interested in soccer, to being indifferent, to being a new fan! I have the MNUFC app on my phone, and we are even on the waiting list to buy season tickets. And Amy is all in. And maybe next time she'll even leave her earbuds at home!
Leigh Allen has been a soccer player and fan since he was six-years-old, and still plays occasionally in recreational league pick-up games throughout the Twin Cities. In fact, at this writing, he's just grabbed his cleats and is on his way out the door.
My father and his wife recently moved into a retirement community in Iowa and are enjoying their active lifestyle in the independent living wing of this very nice facility, called Grand Living at Indian Creek. For years they have walked at least two miles almost daily, and in the early days of the Fitbit craze, Dad (currently 83) was the first in our family to buy this gadget. I got my first Fitbit about a year after he did, and he was quick to send me his weekly Fitbit progress report that showed how far behind him I was in daily steps. (In my defense, I work full time and he is retired. And because he spends October through April in Arizona, he can pretty much walk outside year-round, while I am stuck in a six-month Minnesota winter.)
When I went to visit him a few months ago at Grand Living, the latest thing trending in his life was a stainless steel magnetic wristband that attaches to any Fitbit, is adjustable to any wrist size, and keeps the band securely in place without the awkward buckle function. He enthusiastically demonstrated the magnetic prowess of this band and pointed out that the steel mesh loop construction provided good ventilation, something that serves him well on the Pickleball court and golf course.
I agreed that this band was far superior to the plastic version that comes “factory-standard.” He then had Judy, my stepmother, hold up her wrist to model the pinky bronze version he had purchased for her, and then promptly pulled out his laptop, navigated to eBay (he loves eBay) and ordered one for me.
It was thus I learned Dad had become The Fitbit Guy among his new neighbors, many of whom aren’t as technologically inclined as my father. As of this writing, he has ordered Fitbits on eBay for six residents, downloaded the app onto their devices and shown them how to navigate the dashboard, sync their data, and send and accept friend requests.
While this is a sweet, endearing story, it doesn’t surprise me at all. Dad has always understood the impact of technology, and the value it brings to one’s life. It started in the early 1980s when he bought an Apple IIe computer for our family. Personal computing really took off for the first time around 1977, so Dad wasn’t far behind.
Fast forward to when I was a young career woman, and hand-held personal digital assistants (PDAs) become all the rage. Not only could you keep your calendar and contacts on it, you could take notes, surf the Internet, and a lot of other cool things that in the late 1990s seemed pretty revolutionary. The Palm Pilot was the first of the hand-held computers that paved the way for the smartphone era.
I remember Dad telling me that when he attended business meetings, whether in his company or for various boards he served on, he would take his Palm Pilot from his pocket and put it, and the accompanying stylus, on the table in front of him. He wanted his colleagues and peers (especially those who were younger) to know that, despite his greying and thinning hair and advancing age, he was a Renaissance man who was quite capable, thank you very much, of keeping up with the technologies evolving around him.
So enamored was he of the Palm Pilot, he insisted that I get one. And when I didn’t, he promptly ordered one for me on eBay (I told you he loved eBay).
Dad had a Facebook account before I did, and I’m pretty he sure he was on LinkedIn before me. In a way, this makes me sound behind the times. But I have bested him when it comes to Instagram and Twitter, and I did get an iPad first and showed him how to play backgammon on it. Point for me. Point for Dad: He started using the iPhone’s voice-to-text function before I did.
His final two frontiers on the technology landscape are (1) placing and retrieving his electronic boarding pass via his mobile wallet, and (2) using Apple Pay. However, I’m travelling with him in September and can show him how it’s done. I have no doubt he will easily master both of these processes, just as he has everything else. And who knows, before too long, the residents of Grand Living might be paying their rent with Apple Pay!