A New Year, A New Planner: It’s All About the Book!


Admission: I’m not just a romance writer. I’m also a librarian with OCD tendencies when it comes to keeping things organized. But since I’m not in an active library at the moment, my poor family is on the receiving end of my need to clean and catalog things in the house. Including the dog!

And one of my favorite ways to keep track of all things kid, house, and family-related is with the perfect daily planner. Through the years, I’ve used them all. Franklin Covey. Day-timer. At-A-Glance. Then I moved into digital planners. All went well until I had my twins and decided to stay home. Since I now spend most of my time in the car, on the sidelines of cross country meets, and waiting in Kiss and Ride lines and doctors’ offices, old-fashioned pen and paper works better for me.


I’m also very visual and like to play with markers, colored pens, and washi tape. Can’t do that on my cell phone. :)

Luckily, as my kids grew up, so did an entire industry of new companies that took planners to another level of usefulness and attractiveness.

I’m not going to go through all the lovely new planners out there. Honestly, there are so many now that I can’t keep up. Today, I’m going to talk about my favorite three brands that suit this stage of my life. As a wife, a mom of teenagers, and a writer determined to have a publishing career, I need a planner that can handle my career aspirations, my creative life, my home’s organization and budget, and my family’s schedule. I need a book that will keep my family and career goals front and center. And, like the shoes in my closet and photos on my camera, it has to be beautiful.

First up is the Erin Condren Life Planner.


So what makes this planner such a remarkable bestseller, besides the totally awesome removable/changeable custom covers that can be switched out during the year? It’s a weekly planner with a thick coil that won’t separate or snag. It has laminated montly tabs, pages to keep track of your goals, motivational quotes, and thick paper that won’t bleed through with your favorite markers. There is also a two-sided durable pocket folder, a plastic side-zip envelope to hold important things like pens, stickers, and invitations. (And the occasional parking ticket!?!) It also has notebook pages, a perpetual calendar, and two-page monthly layouts.


New this year, the weekly planner can be ordered in horizontal or vertical format.

Photo courtesy of Erin Condren.

Photo courtesy of Erin Condren. http://www.erincondren.com


I love this planner because it keeps everything in place. There is tons of room to take notes, and you can even order special coils that pop into the planner and hold things like Golden Heart Reception invitations and special photos. :)

Embedded below is one of the many videos which gives a good overall description of the planner, and I encourage you to check out the website. The company offers a ton of add-on products as well as wedding planners and teacher planners.

As much as I love this planner, this year I decided to move on to a more “adult” planner. My kids are older and there are more demands on my time than ever. So I needed a daily planner that allowed me to mark out my time in individual hours. Also, as cute as the Erin Condren planner is with the stickers and washi tape, it wasn’t the most professional planner to open up when meeting with my agent. So for 2016, I decided to make a change to . . .


To read more, please join me today at the Sisters of Suspense blog or click here to read more.  Continue reading

The TBR: A Source of Dread or Joy?

Today’s Writer Wednesday series continues with a discussion of one of the most personal things in a writer’s life. Their To Be Read (TBR) pile.


The TBR is something that’s rarely shared and mentioned even less. Why? Because writers tend to have other writers as friends. So if your CP’s debut novel is on your Nook or Kindle (which it is), you must also have all the books of all of your Golden Heart Sisters and brother. Then there are the books written by relatives, friends from your GIAM loop, and authors from your local writing chapters. Basically, as a writer, you are committed to reading every book published by every writer you’ve ever met. That’s a lot of books!







While all those books sound wonderful, there aren’t enough hours in the day to read them (and review them) all promptly. Since I am an emotional over-reader (yes, it’s a thing!), the order of the books to be read can change depending on my mood. So at any given hour during the day, my pile either makes me extremely happy or overly stressed. My pile is truly a source of dread and joy.

Therefore I keep the reading order a secret and rarely promise to read a book within a certain time. The reading order is never personal–it’s always based on emotion and what kind of book mood, or story trope, I need at that moment.
IMG_4733 (1)



Since ninety percent of my TBR is on my first-generation Nook, I’m willing to share the teetering pile of books on my nightstand, as well as the bookshelf stocked with only a portion of the YA books my teens have collected. (I have other piles, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m a book hoarder!)




As a librarian, I mentally separate my books between between fiction and non-fiction. The non-fiction pile includes books on paying for college, books on creativity such as The Artist’s Way and Big Magic, my women’s bible and devotional, books on organizing and housekeeping, writing craft books, and a few biographies.




The second separation is within the fiction genre between Young Adult and Adult fiction. I love both genres, but most of the YA books live with the teens where they are shelved by book cover color. (Is there any other way to shelve books?)




After that, the adult fiction books are separated between Literary and Mass Market fiction. Then the Mass Market books are divided by genre: horror, romance, mystery, sci-fi, etc.

Finally, I divide my romance novels into sub-genres: paranormal, romantic suspense, historical, contemporary, etc.

Between hard copy books and e-books, I have over 500 books on my TBR list right now. Which is why I’m not mentioning names or titles. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings!



But my most important book is my Emily Ley Simplified Planner. (Not technically a book, but it keeps my life in order so I can read more books.) My planner, along with the teenagers’ self-serve hot chocolate bar, helps start my early, early mornings in the best way possible!

So what’s on your TBR pile? I’d love to know!

Thank your for spending the day with us. Below is a link of my Golden Heart sisters who are participating in today’s blog party. Hope to see you next month!

Paranormal writers – Kay Hudson | Contemporary Romance –Tamra Baumann – Priscilla Oliveras | Novels with Romantic Elements – Jean Willett

_Writer Wednesday Date List

All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2016.

YA’LL Fest: Not Just for Teens!



A few weeks ago my mom, my daughter, and I flew to Charleston, SC.

Charleston is one of my all-time favorite cities and it’s also where my husband grew up with his six siblings. But this time, instead of traveling to see our extended family, we were there for the annual YA’LL Fest.

For those of you without young readers in your life, YA’LL fest is one of the largest Young Adult book festivals on the east coast and is sponsored by Epic Reads, a huge online YA reading community. This year, 60 of the most beloved (and bestselling) authors were there to sign books and meet with young readers in conference sessions.


My daughter with Leigh Bardugo.

And the most amazing thing about this trip? It was a 16th birthday gift to my daughter from her grandmother. They wanted to spend the day together making memories and this is what they came up with. In fact, the two of them planned the entire trip, including picking the hotel where my husband and I got engaged. The Mills House Wyndham Hotel in the center of the historic district.

IMG_4116 (1)

After checking into our hotel on Friday afternoon, we headed to Upper King Street for the first of the book signings with Richelle Mead, Keira Cass, and Leigh Bardugo (among others). Then the festival officially opened up with its annual Red Carpet walk at the Charleston Public Library. This was a ticketed event that my daughter somehow got us into.

Authors walked down a red carpet through the middle of the YA section of the library and sat at a long panel table. They then proceeded to entertain us with stories of woe and mayhem about how they got published, their failures and triumphs, and hilarious stories of meeting the needs of their editors and voracious young readers. Afterwards, those lucky enough to have tickets, like my daughter, were able to stand in line for more booksignings.

To read more, please join me today at the Sisters of Suspense or click more to keep reading.  Continue reading

Advent: A Light in the Darkness


Today’s Writer Wednesday post is all about holiday decor. Although I love Christmas, and go all out in decorating (I even put up two trees!), I come from a tradition where Advent–those four weeks before Christmas–were treated as a mini-Lent. My grandparents never decorated their trees until Christmas Eve, and the actual Twelve Days of Christmas started on December 25 and were celebrated until the Epiphany on January 6th.


Growing up, my parents slowly let the Christmas creep in and we started decorating earlier and earlier. But never before the first week in December. And we certainly didn’t decorate before Thanksgiving.  Now, with a family of my own, I like to take the holiday season slowly and appreciate what Advent has to offer.

So, what is Advent? In Latin, Advent means “coming towards” (“ad” = towards, vent = coming) and around the middle of the fifth century, it became a 40-day period of fasting and spiritual preparation, starting on St. Martin’s day (November 12) and ending on December 25. Advent traditions became popular during the middle ages when candles were lit to show that despite the growing darkness, God would always provide a light for our spiritual journey, especially in the winter season.


Advent is about waiting with faith for God’s promise, while Christmas is about the promise fulfilled. The former is a time of contemplation and prayer, the latter is about joy and celebration. And once upon a time my grandparents (and their grandparents) understood this.


Although the tradition of fasting during Advent has waned, there a number of devotions that support both prayer and contemplation during this time. The most popular are the Advent wreath, the Advent calendar, and setting up Nativity scenes.

But others have regained their popularity, such as the Jesse Tree, Stir-it-up Sunday, and celebrating St. Lucia’s Day. So in the spirit of today’s Writer Wednesday topic, and since my trees aren’t up yet, here are a few of my Advent decorations.



Advent wreath: I have two Advent wreaths. The first sits on my kitchen table. It’s a simple wreath of greenery with four candles, three purple and one pink. We light the first candle on the first Sunday of Advent, then each week add another candle, allowing the candlelight and the day’s lections to guide us towards Christmas day. Purple is a penitential color, reminding us that the celebrations are yet to come–but not yet. And the pink candle, lit three weeks into Advent, is for Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete, which means Rejoice in Latin, reminds us that in spite of the darkness, joy is coming soon.


My second Advent wreath is much simpler. It is a wooden spiral wreath with 25 candle holes. A small wooden cut-out of a pregnant Mary on a Donkey follows the lighted candles, reminding us of our own spiritual journey during this time.


Jesse Tree: The Jesse Tree, which also dates back to medieval times, tells the story of Christ’s lineage. The Jesse Tree, named after King David’s father, represents a direct ancestral line from creation, up to King David, then straight through to the Nativity. Every night during advent, the kids place Jesse ornaments, representing Jesus’ ancestors, on the tree and read the corresponding bible story. The interesting thing about our tree is that I thought the kids would lose interest the older they got. Instead, now that they’re teenagers, they’re the ones who want to keep up the devotion.



St. Lucia’s Day Celebrations: This is the festival of lights celebrated on December 13 in honor of St. Lucia of Sweden, a young girl who was martyred around the year 303 AD, during the reign of Diocletian. When I was a kid, we used to process around school (a public school!) holding real candles (how did we ever survive the 70’s and  80’s?!?) which represented St. Lucia’s triumph over darkness. Then we’d get hot chocolate and St. Lucia buns in the cafeteria. Now, on this is the day, I plug in the lights on my Christmas Dickens Village and my Christmas trees. Once the tree lights are lit, we start decorating them. And while I don’t bake the buns, I bake way too many Christmas cookies to eat while I decorate the trees.


Nativity or Manger Scene: This one is easy and the kids love helping me. I bought this set not long after we were married and we even took it overseas when my husband was stationed in Korea. Now my kids put this up every year and hide the baby Jesus until Christmas morning. They also take turns moving the Wise Men around until the Epiphany on January 6th. (Did I mention they’re teenagers and they still play with the manger scene?)


Oops! How did this photo of a dark chocolate peppermint cheesecake get in here?

Finally, the music. I love Christmas music but can get sick of it quickly. So instead of jumping into the all-Christmas music all-the-time model, I start with some of my favorite Advent Hymns. Yes, some of the oldest Christmas Carols are actually Advent hymns. Maybe you’ve heard of “Lo! He Comes”, “O Come O Come Emmanuel”, “Come thou long expected Jesus”, and” People Look East”. Here is my favorite from youtube.

Now I’d love to learn about your holiday decorations and traditions. Do you deck the halls early? Or closer to Christmas?

Please join my 2012 Golden Heart sisters today for our Writer Wednesdays blog party. Here’s who’s participating today:

Novels with Romantic Elements – Jean Willett | Paranormal writers – Kay Hudson | Contemporary romance writers – Priscilla Oliveras – Tammy Baumann | HistoricalWendy LaCapra

Writer Wednesday List

All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2015.