Monday, August 29, 2016

The 30 Day Novel: How I Get It Done

There have been many books written about writing a novel, and even more written about writing a novel in a month. I can tell you from personal experience, you can have all the guidebooks in the world, but the bottom line is this: if you don't sit down and WRITE, you're never going to get a book written in that short amount of time. 

My favorite author of all time: Jack London.
The harsh reality is that most people never finish writing their books, either because they become distracted, they don't possess the self-discipline to finish the manuscript or "life happens." All are valid reasons, but when it comes to writing a book, no excuse is a good excuse. And let me tell you: when it comes to writing a book in an extremely short amount of time, it only gets harder. 

I have written too many books to count, but I've only published 13 of them so far. I've had to write or re-write novels at least 4 times in the last 3.5 years. One of my novels - and I won't say which one - was re-written almost completely from scratch in just 4 weeks, and then went to publication twenty days later. Yikes! 

I am a very fast writer, but even I sometimes struggle to churn out a book in just 30 days. In fact, it often seems downright impossible in light of all of the other things I have going on in my life. But guess what? It CAN be done! Here is how I pull it off. Hopefully my tips can help you do it, too! 

1. I make a plan. If I am writing a book in 30 days, I DO NOT mess around with the plot. I plan the entire thing out ahead of time, hitting all my major plot points right up front. I will "ad-lib" the in-between scenes, but I never go into a 30 day sprint without a plan. Otherwise, if you decide 15 days into the task that you want to change the story...too bad! I speak from experience. I have shed many frustrated tears doing this. I now know better.

2. I set a daily goal. I set word quotas for myself daily for every single book that I write, but if I'm doing a one-month novel, I basically have to write at least 2,000 words a day to hit a basic 60,000 word novel. AT LEAST. When I'm not on a tight deadline, the rule is that I have to write 1,000 words every day. The only excuse I have to escape that quota is if I'm sick or embroiled in some kind of familial or business emergency. Otherwise, SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP.

"I'm just going to write because I cannot help it." - C. Bronte
3. I am firm with myself. Nobody ever gets anywhere by being a pansy. (Such harsh rhetoric, I know.) I set daily, weekly and monthly goals for myself. I reward myself when I have had a good work day - I allow myself to rest or grab dinner outside the house, or read that book that has been calling my name. I deprive myself of such simple pleasures until I have completed my work load. When I am done writing and working in general (I have other duties other than just straight-up manuscript creation), I relax. But until then, there are no excuses. NONE. Do you hear me, private? Only failures make excuses. I know I sound terrible and insensitive, but facts are facts. If you want to get something done, quit making excuses and start setting goals. Be firm with yourself, even if you don't want to be. 

4. I break up the day. Sometimes I'll write 20 pages in a couple of hours. Sometimes I'll write 6 pages in 6 hours. Sometimes I'll be in the office for 13 hours and barely get two chapters done. It depends on my energy level and how creatively spent I am. I find that a good way to break up the monotony and sometimes downright torture of a massive writing workload is to break it up. I make sure to take a break every 2 and a half hours. I walk outside, I grab some tea, I close my eyes, I look at Instagram pictures of dogs (woof!), or I simply sit and do nothing. I am often so drained at the end of a workday that I can barely do anything aside from lay down and sleep. To make life more bearable, I break it up. If you're trying to do a 30-day novel, I'm telling ya: take it in baby steps. 500 words the first hour, 500 the second, and 1000 the third, for example. Find your formula and stick with it. 

5. It's okay to reward yourself. This has been a personal struggle of mine. I used to have a really hard time accepting my achievements. I would briefly acknowledge them and then move onto the next project. There is nothing wrong with taking some time to celebrate your success and hard work. Did you get a thousand words done today? Buy yourself a coffee, dang it! Did you finish your novel? Make a fun dinner, watch a movie, kiss your spouse. IT'S OKAY. Allowing myself to relax and enjoy my successful endeavors is the hardest thing for me to do. I am learning to accept it, and I'm telling you, you're amazing and you deserve to celebrate your work! 

My 13th bestselling novel, #1 bestseller
6. Stay focused. Okay, so this one is a no-brainer, but allow me to elaborate. It's easy to get distracted by things like FACEBOOK or INSTAGRAM or TEXTING. You're never going to get your word-count done if your phone is making crazy noises at you all day. Set it aside, put it on vibrate. Only answer calls that are of the utmost importance. Don't keep the television on when you write. Don't listen to the radio. Don't agree to let people come visit you during work hours. No, no, no. Be firm, stay focused, work your cute butt off and I promise you, it will all be worth it. 

7. Find a routine. Lastly, I always suggest having a writing routine. Whether you're a full-time writer/novelist/publishing house owner/creative writing teacher like me or writing is simply a part-time gig or even a hobby that you hope will someday turn you into the next Gillian Flynn, listen up. A routine is the key to writing greatness. I always write in the morning. Always. The earlier, the better. I get it done first, usually by lunch time, and then if I'm feeling good about it, I'll keep going. (My workday is a typical 8-hour day, sometimes longer) If you have a dependable writing routine, you will produce more. Your brain will actually anticipate the rush of creativity to arrive at a specific time. No, I'm not joking. It's a fact, Jack. 

I hope these tough-love tips helped you. The thing about writing is that I can't sugarcoat it for anyone. It's hard. Gritty. Frustrating. But it's also a joy, a love, an adventure. Jack London said, "You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club." He also is quoted as saying that he wrote at least "A thousand words a day." Emulate success. Do the hard stuff now and reap the benefits later. 

You can do it! 

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Lost Eye of the Serpent: Brand New Young Adult Novel

The Lost Eyes of the Serpent
Jeremy Phillips
(The Rose Delacroix Files, #1)
Published by: Limitless Publishing
Publication date: August 8th 2016
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

It may sound crazy, but Jonathan Delacroix is certain his sister Rose really is Sherlock Holmes…
Girls are not detectives. But in the summer of 1893, in the small western town of Hope Springs, Rose Delacroix is bound and determined to prove them all wrong. When the famous Emerald Serpent Jewels are stolen from the Delacroix family hotel and the blame lands solely on her older brother Bill, Rose recruits Jonathan as her Watson-like counterpart to solve the case.
Proving your brother innocent is difficult when the evidence keeps stacking up against him…
Before Rose and Jonathan can properly start their investigation, another robbery is committed. The rusty revolver purported to have once belonged to Wild Bill Hickok has been stolen from the general store and found hidden amongst her brother’s belongings. With Bill in jail, and the owner of the Serpent Jewels planning to sue the Delacroix hotel, Rose knows she has to find a lead, and soon.
A witness comes forward claiming they saw Bill steal the jewels, but Rose isn’t about to be bullied into ignoring the facts…
Rose and Jonathan must put their sleuthing skills to the test or witness their family fall to ruin due to…
…the lost eye of the serpent.

Bonus Scene (short story):
Rose Delacroix Versus the Box
By Jeremy Phillips
Rose Delacroix sat on a stump in the bare and dusty yard behind the Delacroix Hotel, staring at a metal box sitting on another stump, a few feet away from her. She regarded the box with an ever-increasing intensity, not sure how to proceed. Time was very short, and she wished that she had more of it available to her right now.
“Whatever am I going to do with you?” Rose said to the box.
The box didn’t look like much. It was the size of a shoebox, but constructed of solid steel, with tight, straight corners. Its only visible feature was a place for a key to fit, in the front of the box. Really, it seemed simple enough. But looks, as Rose knew very well, are often deceptive.

In her hand, Rose held a couple of metal clips from out of her hair, clips which she had straightened out to use for this particular purpose. Except, it hadn’t worked yet. Rose approached the box again, the box which had at first glance appeared to be so simple, and yet had thwarted all of her prior attempts at entry.
Rose shook the box, which was deceptively heavy in addition to being deceptively difficult to break. Something solid thunked around inside of it. Whatever it was, Rose meant to have it out of that box, and soon.

Drawing a deep, calming breath, Rose tried once more to pick the lock on this thing. The books she’s been reading, the Sherlock Holmes mysteries in addition to other lesser Detective tales, always make this seem so simple, don’t they?
Using one of the hair pins that she had straightened out, Rose carefully massaged the top of the lock, to where she believed the pins that she needed to trick ought to be. She could feel the pins moving, so that was good. With a second hair pin, she applied a constant pressure on the bottom of the lock in the hopes of popping it open, when the pins were all equally deceived into believing that the proper key had been applied into the keyhole.
After another long effort, she stopped again. What time was it getting to be, now?

Really, she needed to pop this lock open. She needed, rather desperately, to know what was inside of this thing. All of her logic told Rose that whatever was inside of this deceptively secure box, was of vital importance to her investigation. Even as she sat there in this yard, monkeying around with this locked box, her brother Jon was confronting the box’s owner. Jon needed her, and he needed her now, not whenever it was that she managed to finally get this thing open.

Perhaps the problem was too obvious. This box, which she had confiscated, perhaps inappropriately, from its hiding place in a guest room of the Delacroix Hotel, belonged to a man who liked to think of himself as the world’s greatest “cracksman.” This was a term that Rose had only recently learned, but which referred to the man’s impressive ability to break into locked safes. Given the great trouble that this person had managed to cause to Rose and her family in the last few days, he had a point concerning his abilities, after all.
Rose took a moment, and tried to think about the problem logically. She had in her possession the small personal safe of a man who considered himself to be the greatest safe-breaker in the world. It only stood to reason, that the security on the safe of such a person would defy any normal attempts at lock picking.

Really, attempting to pick the thing was ridiculous, given the fact that she was an amateur at this sort of thing in the first place. Rose was self-taught, having only popped a few locks around town during her free time when no one was looking, to see if she could do it. To Rose’s way of thinking, skills such as lock picking were just the sorts of things that a self-styled Detective simply ought to know, after all.

Not that everyone was likely to understand this. She put this into the same category of small-minded thinking as seemed to possess most people that she met, the same type of small-minded thinking which implied that, given her status as a female, she was simply incapable of actual logic thought. Or much else, either. This was in the category of things that she simply refused to agree to wholesale, in other words.

Turning the safe around and looking into the keyhole with the aid of the heavy summer sunlight, Rose suddenly understood the problem more fully. The lock itself seemed to run deeper than most locks did, and what’s more, there appeared to be pins on the right interior side of the lock too. Those extra pins were placed at a different angle than were normally seen, in all of the others locks that Rose had encountered around the town of Hope Springs. This was actually a rather extraordinary lock, which would take a rather extraordinary key. It was a lock the likes of which Rose had never encountered before.

Given enough time, Rose was fairly sure that she could have broken the lock anyway. It would require another hair pin, and perhaps another hand too, to apply pressure to the lock with the tension wire while she worked at the pins from two different angles at once. But, time was something that she simply didn’t have much of. This was going to require a different approach.

Rose placed the box back on the tree stump, then went into a large work shed, which was attached to the barn in the family’s back yard. She returned a minute later with the heaviest wood chopping axe that she could find, and took a mighty swing at the top of the metallic box.

The first blow did nothing but mildly dent the box, causing it to bounce a foot or so up into the air with the force of her assault. A second and third blow did little more. But on her fourth attempt, after getting a reckless running start at the metal box from the other side of the yard, Rose managed to lodge the blade of the axe into the top of the steel box. Rose’s arms were feeling sore already, from the exertions of trying to break this thing.
It was almost comical. The axe was now lodged directly into the lid of the steel box. Feeling her anxiety increase, Rose wondered what time it was now getting to be. She wondered how things were going for Jon, who was even now confronting the burglar…a man who, the night before, had proven that he was not above pulling a gun on her brother. He might not be above murder, even.

With great effort, Rose was able to pry the axe blade back out of the top of the box. This left a large cut along the middle of the lid of the thing, but she could still not get to the contents of the box, or even really see what those contents were, rolling around inside of that damned box.

Rose set the box up on its edge. This time, it would have to work. She stepped back again, hefting the axe up over her head. She stepped back farther, and farther yet. An absurd feeling came over Rose, as though she were a baseball player up at bat, facing the third strike in the last inning of a tight game.

Well, and wasn’t that pretty much what this was, after all? How much time did Jon really have, facing off with that criminal? This was her last inning, and what all was on the line? Only the freedom and future of her other brother, Bill, who had been framed for two robberies and one attempted murder that he didn’t commit. Oh, and the possibility of the entire Delacroix family losing their ownership of the Delacroix Hotel to another criminal, and being kicked out into the streets of Hope Springs in the summer of 1893; there was that minor detail, too. Only those things. And Jon.

Steadying herself, Rose took a deep breath. In her mind’s eye, she imagined the cut that she would have to inflict to make this thing happen. She’s read someplace about the power of the mind, the power to make things happen by carefully visualizing them, first. This was something she believed in wholeheartedly.

The blow would have to be perfect. It would have to land squarely on the edge of the lid, to exactly where the hinge must be. Only that. Or else, perhaps she could go over to the Blacksmith’s shop and see if he couldn’t pop the thing open for her somehow. But there would be a lot of questions asked, then. And a lot of precious time wasted. She thought again of Jon, headed over to the Bromwell Hotel, across the street.

With a cry, Rose ran wholeheartedly up towards the box, to where it sat there on the tree stump. She brought the axe down with all her might, producing a bone-jarring ringing in her hands clear up to the shoulder, an ear-cracking SMACK when the unstoppable force of her axe came down on the immovable object of the steel box’s lid…and then the miracle happened.

The blow was perfect, more perfect than seemed fair. The hinge of the box gave way, and the contents of the box flew everywhere, scattering around to land everyplace on the dusty ground.

Rose quickly rushed around the yard, ignoring the ringing pain in her arms, picking up the box’s former contents and placing them back in the now-broken box.
There was a little leather pouch full of lock picks, proper ones, made of some fine thin steel that Rose had never seen before. These she would keep, if things turned out as she hoped they might. There was also a collection of paper money and coins. And there, sitting separate and apart from the rest of the stuff, was a round object about the size of an apple.
Quickly picking the object up, Rose examined it closely.

After a few moments a large smile came across her face, as she realized what the object in her hand was…and what it meant, for her and her all-consuming Investigation. This was becoming like a Sherlock Holmes story after all, Rose thought, which filled her with excitement and a powerful sense of adventure, although she might not have admitted this to anyone, perhaps not even to her twin brother John.

Holding on to the object and rushing out to Main Street, Rose found herself running as quickly as she could to go help her brother. Yes, this might help fix things. It might help fix things very well.

About the Author
Jeremy Phillips has been interested in Buddhist philosophy for more than twenty years, and attends services at a Shin Buddhist temple in Spokane, Washington. When he isn't writing or keeping busy being a father and husband, he works as a Respiratory Therapist at several different hospitals. He lives in Spokane with his wife, children, dogs, and bonsai trees.


Friday, August 19, 2016

The Mountains Are Calling, and I Must Go: Nature Writing

Time to get real. Writing Belle is a place where I, as a writer, communicate with a large block of my readership by sharing my favorite books, thoughts and tips about writing and providing small peeks into the life of a writer. 

I'm here to talk about evolvement today. Since I was a kid, there has been no place that I have enjoyed being more than the mountains - specifically, the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The lush greenery, wildlife and crystalline blue skies is my idea of perfection, and frankly, my idea of heaven. The older I get, the more I learn about the world of nature and the ancient wisdom of the forest. I have to say, all of my love and adoration for the great outdoors has reached some kind of peak, and it is seeping into my writing. 

As a writer, you tend to write about what you're passionate about. For me, I've always been passionate about taking my characters away from technology and forcing them to survive like the "olden days." In this way, my love for the woods and the natural way of life has worked its way into my books. Yet as a veteran author of 13 bestselling books, I have evolved to have a deeper love of the forest, and of nature. 

I have a deep, unbridled passion to write about nature as I've never done before. Every aspect of it: from the trees to the animals, and from puffy white clouds to the sky-scraping mountain peaks capped with snow. Because of this, I foresee some pretty incredible books in my future, integrating the setting that I love the most: earth. 

God's creation is a magnificent place, and when left untouched by human hands, I believe that we get to see what the world is supposed to be like, free of technological interruption and human encroachment. There is a sense of freedom in the wilderness, the kind of serenity and peace that you simply will never experience entangled in a web of suburban streets or asphalt parking lots. There's something magical and, in my opinion, completely otherworldly about it. 

My love for the mountains and animals and all of the beautiful things on this planet has shaped my writer's heart over the course of my lifetime, and I am currently planning a book that will reflect this passion. In order to write it, I will have to research and travel, possibly thousands of miles, and it will be a supreme adventure. While I can't even begin to tell you what it will be about (top secret, you know) or when it will release (I'm currently working on two other series, so I'm a little busy!), but I can guarantee that the journey will be gloriously fun and educational. Because in my opinion, you can never stop learning from nature or the wilderness. There is always something new being revealed, and being taught. 

I'll leave my thoughts here on this page, now. I am excited about my upcoming writing projects. Inspiration is gripping me - and while it's true that great writers don't "wait" for inspiration to strike to write, it certainly does make the process more fun! 

Until then, I urge you to take the time out of your busy schedules to go and visit something beautiful and natural near you! Mountains, beaches, deserts, hills. Go see them - experience it. It's something you will never regret, I promise! 

"The mountains are calling, and I must go." 
- John Muir 

*all images are my own, photographed on a Nikon d5000*

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Write Life: Tips & Tricks to Cleaner Writing

Do you ever find yourself reading over something you wrote - or maybe something somebody else wrote - and thinking, "Man, this just doesn't work." Sometimes, writers suffer from "over-writing," which is to say, telling the reader what's happening instead of showing them by using emotion. 

Funny story: when I was in high school, I prided myself in being non-emotional. I was tough, and I hated the word "emotion." It was like nails on a chalkboard to me. And yet I was actually working as a writer, channeling every last drop of emotion into my work. 

Let me be clear - I fought that. I didn't like being emotional, but the truth of the matter is simple, like it or not: Writers are harbingers of stories through the medium of written emotion. We are emotional creatures, and my overactive imagination and 500 mile-per-hour thought process has actually been my greatest asset in my career. 

To be a good writer, you have to be honest. To be a great writer, you have to be brutally honest. Not just to yourself, but to your readers. Here are some little tips and tricks that I have picked up over the years (and 13 national bestselling novels), and you might find them helpful to apply to your own writing. 

Don't Pretend to be Someone Else 
One of my biggest mistakes when I was first embarking on my writing career at the tender and oh-so-stubborn age of 13, was looking at writers that I loved, and thinking, "I want to be just like them." Emulation of someone else's style is simply a hollow regurgitation of their prose. Your prose is uniquely yours, so embrace it fully and completely. When I was about 14 or 15, it dawned on me that I had a voice that belonged to me, and me alone. From then on I looked at other writers' work as an educational experience only. I don't want to write like anyone else - I want to write like ME. 

Sadness MUST Mean Something 
I have often likened writing to acting in several respects, because in order to write something emotional, you must have a genuine emotional connection with it. I have written many scenes that were heartbreaking, scenes during which I was crying my eyes out because I was drawing on something emotional in my past. Why? Because if my emotion is going to be REAL, if has to COME FROM SOMETHING REAL. For example, when I write about the death of a protagonist's friend, I draw on my own experience with friends and family passing away. I make myself feel that all over again, and then I pour it into the book. And let me tell you, that's raw stuff. Sometimes, I'll be emotionally exhausted after writing just one chapter. So yeah, I suffer a little for my art. But it's totally worth it. 

Your Protagonist and Antagonist Should be FLAWED 
It's important that your main character not be superman. The best characters are the ones who are totally, utterly human - warts and all. If your protagonist is perfect, your readers will never identify with him or her, because I got news for ya: NOBODY is perfect. By extension, your villain needs a flaw or a weakness, too. It goes both ways. 

Don't Be Too Flowery 
I realize that not everybody agrees with me on this - and that's fine. My personal opinion and style leans toward one of action, movement and character development. I describe things quickly and cleanly, and then I move on. Books where whole pages are devoted to describing the dew on the grass are books that I end up speed-reading. Don't get me wrong, some books like that are gorgeous works of literature, but I find that if something is not moving the story along, the story is then in a state of stagnation (puns based on my own book titles, **obligatory laugh**), and therefore I believe that is a breach of the art of storytelling. 

The Sticky Love Triangle 
I gotta tell you: love triangles can go one of two ways. One, the girl ends up with a good guy who loves her. Two, she ends up with some idiot who she never loved in the first place so her original main man gets left in the dust. In my opinion, love triangles are fun for literature - they're complicated, they're flirty and they're entertaining. But sometimes they get taken a little too far, and the book becomes about the love triangle instead of the plot. Now, if you're writing a romance novel, this is TOTALLY FINE. But if you're not, don't let the love triangle get the best of you. Because it can, trust me. 

Watch Your Run-On Sentences 
I am currently reading a book (and it shall not be named), that is a actually a fantastic story. It's post-apocalyptic, and I'm enjoying how fast the tale moves along. However, there is one little hitch: every sentence is a run-on sentence. In fact, I think I figured out that every sentence has enough words to fit about 5-7 sentences within it. That's a lot of run-on words. This was an artistic choice made by the author, who also chose to toss the usage of quotation marks out the window. Again, that's the author's choice, but my recommendation is that you stick to the clean style of writing and don't try to get weird about it - your readers will appreciate not being confused. 

Ask Yourself This Question 
Ask yourself: Why am I writing this story? Are you writing it because it's currently a popular genre? Are you writing it because you have dreams of becoming the 21st century F. Scott Fitzgerald (Oh, Gatsby!)? What is driving you, personally? Find out. Once you have the answer, you can channel that into your writing, too. Remember, writing is not just about telling a story. It's about going on an emotional journey, entertaining readers, and touching their hearts forever. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Fastpitch: Exclusive Author Interview with Erica Westly

In today's society, you can't deny that female empowerment is a major hot topic. From movies to books, girl power is being heralded from the rooftops like never before. It's a pretty cool trend, but sometimes it's important to remember that this kind of movement didn't just happen. The credit that girls get these days comes because some great gal before her worked to pave the way. Every woman has done her part. For author Erica Westly, this revelation couldn't be any more true. 

In her debut book, Fastpitch, she recounts the strong and talented women who made fastpitch softball a national fever. Among the women she researched for this novel is my great aunt Bertha Ragan Tickey, 5-time softball Hall of Famer and legendary softball pitcher. Bertha was one of 7 children, and the only girl. She was the big sister to my grandfather, Pete Petinak, who - at age 89 - is the only surviving Petinak sibling left. (My grandfather was the baby of the family!) 

Bertha was a strong, fierce and motivated lady who played ball like a champ, and the women who played with her were just as amazing. I wanted to feature this book on Writing Belle today because I think it's important to remember not just where we're going, but where we've come from, and to honor the life of a woman (and her peers) who made this world a better place.  

Interview with Erica Westly

How and when did you become interested in softball? 
I grew up watching baseball with my dad but didn't get into fastpitch until I was an adult. One year, I started watching the Women's College World Series on ESPN, and from then on I was hooked. This book project came about because I was curious about the history of softball and how it evolved into a predominantly women's sport. The more I learned about the history and the athletes involved, the more fascinated I became. I also discovered that there are a lot of misconceptions about fastpitch softball--for example that it's easier to play or less competitive than baseball--and I wanted to help correct those.

Is Fastpitch your first published book?
Yes, Fastpitch is my first book. My background is in journalism. So before this book project, I wrote newspaper and magazine articles about various topics, including science, food, travel, and occasionally sports. I felt that the story of women's softball was too big and complex to fit into a magazine article or even two--it had to be a book.

Recently you have been making some appearances around the country. How has that experience been for you?
I have been able to visit a few different cities to help promote the book, and it has been very fun and rewarding. For the most part, I focused on places that had a connection to softball history and are featured in the book. Top women's softball teams, such as the Florists from Portland, Oregon and the Raybestos Brakettes from Stratford, Connecticut were once extremely well-known, but they're often forgotten today, especially among younger generations. I'd love for local communities to rediscover and appreciate these teams and the pioneering female athletes who helped make softball such a great sport.

Let's talk research! How did you go about digging deep into the historical roots of these fabulous and strong women who defined softball? Where did you begin? 
I started with some pretty basic online searches about the history of softball, and at some point I came across the Brakettes. My curiosity about the team led to more and more digging. I wanted to find out where the team name came from (it turns out they were named after the brake linings their sponsor, Raybestos, manufactured) and the national softball tournament that the Brakettes had won so many times. This led me to learning about other top women's softball teams, such as the Phoenix Ramblers and the Orange Lionettes. Fortunately for me, these teams all received extensive newspaper coverage during the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, so there was a lot to read about them. From there, I tried to get in touch with as many former players as I could because I really wanted to tell the story of women's softball from the athletes' perspectives.

The first chapter recounts the softball background of Bertha Ragan Tickey. How did you get familiar with her career and life? 
I came across Bertha Ragan Tickey fairly early on in my research. She's prominently featured on the Brakettes website, and the Amateur Softball Association's pitching award is named after her. What attracted me most to Bertha's softball career was how long it was: she started playing with the Orange Lionettes when she was in high school and didn't retire from softball until she was in her late forties. For a woman to be able to have that kind of athletic career in the 1950s and '60s was truly remarkable. Another thing that made Bertha notable was that she was recruited from California to play for the Brakettes. In 1956, the Raybestos manager gave Bertha a job at the company and paid for her and her daughter to fly out to Connecticut and put them up for the summer in a nice beach house--all so that she would pitch for the company's softball team. Bertha was also routinely featured in national newspaper articles and appeared on television shows, such as "You Bet Your Life," hosted by Groucho Marx. I knew right away that she had to be a main character in the book.

What is it about Bertha - and the women of softball - that you think made them so driven, so special?
Bertha and the other top women's softball players were incredible athletes at a time when girls weren't generally encouraged to play sports competitively. In fact, Bertha's parents didn't want her playing sports after high school because they felt such behavior was inappropriate for a woman. She probably wouldn't have had the softball career that she had if her parents had lived longer; instead they passed away when she was a teenager, which was tragic but also enabled her to pursue her dreams of playing sports at a high level. Bertha loved softball, as did most of the other women she played with. One of the nice things about a team sport is that it gives you a built-in support network. Women could join softball teams like the Lionettes or the Florists and know that they weren't alone, that there were other female athletes who enjoyed sports and wanted to win as much as they did. They pushed each other to become stronger players, and women's softball became more and more competitive as a result.

How do you think the game has changed from its early beginnings to what it is today? 
Many people assume that women's sports weren't that competitive until after Title IX was passed in the 1970s, but the players on the Lionettes and other top teams were extremely talented. Other than a few technical differences, such as the pitching distance, which has varied over the years, and the advent of slap-hitting, the game of fastpitch hasn't changed that much. I suspect many of the players from the 1940s-1960s era would have no problem keeping pace with today's college players. What I see as the biggest difference is that today's girls have more opportunities to play softball in school, which the players from previous decades didn't have. On the other hand, young women today have fewer opportunities to play fastpitch as adults now that competitive community teams like Lionettes and the Ramblers have mostly disappeared.

For everyone reading, and I think young girls especially, what would you hope they take away from the book? 
I'd really like for young women to know about athletes such as Bertha and to get an understanding of what their lives were like. I think what these women were able to accomplish is so inspiring, and they played an instrumental role in getting women's sports to where it is today.

Where can readers connect with you online? (website, twitter, FB, etc)

My Twitter handle is @westlyer, and my author website is I also have a website for the book with additional info and photos at

About the Author
(From Erica's Website)
I’m a journalist and author currently based in Tucson, Arizona. I have a MS in neuroscience and a MA in journalism. I’ve written articles for Popular Science, Slate, the New York Times, among other publications. My latest project is Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game, published by Touchstone Books in June 2016. I can be reached at

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My Top Summertime Beach Reads: Reading Recommendations 2016

Another year, another plethora of books. I mean, summertime is my favorite time of the year, for multiple reasons. I love the heat, I love to lounge beside cool swimming pools while wearing a dramatic sunhat, and I love to READ. There is nothing better than reading on a hot summer day, and I usually end up reading more books during the summer than during the rest of the entire year. 

This year, I have compiled a list of what is on my immediate bookshelf. Some of the titles are old, some of them are new. Some of them I have read, and some of them I haven't quite gotten to yet. But here are they are, in all of their papery, wondrous storytelling glory! 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This one I HAVE read, and it's one of my favorites this year. Here's my official review:  
Confusing and thrilling. This book reminded me of the pulse-pounding mystery ride that was Gone Girl, with all of the applicable twists and turns that you would come to expect from a novel centered around a murder. 

I liked it enough that it really only took me a few hours to read it. I did peg the surprise twist at the end - I've read so many mystery novels in my time that I guess I'm just a good guesser. 

The interesting thing here is that all of the characters (like in Gone Girl) were morally despicable individuals. The most likable of the lot was of course Rachel, who became more likable as the book progressed and the truth was revealed. (I suspected that Rachel was much more than just a straight-out alcoholic, and thank goodness I was right!) 

Megan herself was completely and totally unlikable, as was Anna. But the fact that they were horrible human beings did not make the story any less interesting - it goes to show, I think, that horrible behavior can cause equally abhorrent ripples in even the most boring, suburbanite life.

I'm curious about the movie - I like reading psychological thrillers, and watching them jump from book to silver screen is sometimes very interesting.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs 
Let me just say that I have fallen completely head over heels in love with Ransom Riggs' debut story. One part fantasy, two parts time-travel, I have found this beautiful adventure story as enchanting as Harry Potter. I love the characters, I adore the story arch and I'm a huge fan of the whimsicality of it all. But most of all, I love the time-travel element. It's so much fun, and frankly, the most brilliant part of the series so far has been the usage of real photographs from history to supplement the plot. Completely awesome. 

It's worth noting, as well, that the sequel, Hollow City, is equally as well-written as the original. I'm excited for Library of Lost Souls. 

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne
A bunch of kids get trapped inside what is essentially a massive Costco while an apocalypse of sorts strikes Colorado. Big problems, right? I read this book fairly quickly. I liked the concept, and the idea of involving small children in the plot was definitely an interesting element. I did, however, have a huge issue with the main character's obsession with putting the underage girls around him on sexual pedestals. It was gross objectification and honestly, I thought some of it was totally unnecessary and completely out of place, considering where the story was headed. That, however, is simply my opinion. In all, a pretty entertaining read, if you can get past the leering, sex-obsessed teenage boys. 

Partials by Dan Wells
A post-apocalyptic science fiction thrill ride with just a hint of Hunger Games and Blade Runner? At least that's what the reviews are saying. I haven't read this one yet, but it's been sitting on my shelf for quite some time, effectively mocking me and begging me to crack open its pages. I am slowly working my way toward it - I think it looks really great. 

Tracker, The Haymeadow, Puppies, Dogs and Haynorthers, and Woodsong all by Gary Paulsen 
In case you haven't come across Gary Paulsen before, he's a bit like the Jack London of children's literature (and young adults). His books center on survival in the great outdoors, usually showcasing some form of Man versus Unfeeling Force (the unfeeling force being Fickle Miss Mother Nature). What is wonderful about Gary's stories is that there is more often than not a dog who plays a supporting role, and I'm ALL about that. (Hatchet is one of Gary Paulsen's most famous works, as well) 

How I Live Now by Meg Rossoff 
15 year-old Daisy is sent to live in the English countryside with her cousins, and wouldn't ya know it: the apocalypse strikes! Goodbye, pop-tarts. Hello, World War Three. Considered a classic in YA fiction, Meg's book won the Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. More recently, the book was made into a movie starring Sairose Ronan, and it was actually quite good. 

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Page
You know the story about the Wizard of Oz, right? Well, there's more to it than just a pair of ruby-red slippers and a yellow-brick road. There's a war, there's a girl, and there's a mission. This fresh new twist on the world of Oz currently is comprised of 3 installments. 

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard 
The world is divided: red or silver. Powers, princesses, betrayals and lies. This novel from Victoria Aveyard has turned many anti-fantasy readers into fantasy fans, so I've heard. I came across it at a second-hand bookstore and picked it up. I can't wait to read it! 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo 
Apparently I am going through a fantasy phase, because a majority of what I'm currently reading (or plan on reading) includes either time-travel, magic powers or some kind of princess-turned-warrior-badass. The story centers on a young soldier named Alina, her discovery of dormant powers, her role in the war of her fantastical kingdom of Ravka and her love triangle with two very good-looking gentlemen who are naturally quite in love with her. 

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland 
Keeping with my theme **cough obsession cough* of apocalyptic fiction, this book centers on two sisters who must survive in their North Carolina cabin in the midst of a crumbling society. Penned during the 90s, the fall of technology is imagined just a bit differently than a modern-day novel. (This is also being made into a movie later this year, starring Ellen Page, I believe) 

What are you reading this summer? Any recommendations? I am particularly interested in anything along the lines of Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. Psychological thrillers are totally my thing right now!