New Releases: Wicked Revenge and Christmas Pets & Kisses 2

Summer has been crazy, but the writing side of things is simmering (as in slowly cooking up some fun stuff!)

Wicked Revenge is finally published! Sorry to all my readers who had to wait FOREVER!

I’ve also got the second book in the Handbook Series coming soon. It will first release as a novella in the Christmas Pets & Kisses 2 box set, then as a full novel this winter.

For more details on both, keep reading!

 Wicked Revenge

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Secrets are unraveling, but they only bring up more questions and not enough answers. While the Roth siblings attempt to recover from the devastating confrontation with the Godlings, each one must overcome their own demons to survive.

In the midst of trying to hold their personal lives together, the captured Richiamos must be rescued from Isolde’s grasp, the Godlings must find a way to battle the traitors intent on tearing them apart, and the truth of the Godlings’ true purpose must be uncovered.

There seems to be no end to the battles they are facing, but if they can just hold onto each other and their sanity long enough to survive, they might just save everyone.

Buy now for only $0.99!

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 Christmas, Pets & Kisses 2

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Warm your hearts this holiday season with twelve all-new sweet romances from best-selling authors. If you enjoyed Christmas Pets and Kisses you’ll love following some old friends and meeting some new ones. This delightful collection of pets, from paws and hooves to wings and fins, deliver another round of Christmas magic and true love.

You can now Pre-Order the CPK2 box set for only $0.99!

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You can only enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win a bunch of awesome prizes!!

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Review Article: Shedd Aquarium

2016-06-20 09.50.21.jpgNow that my kids are getting older, children’s museums offer less and less. Their interest in playing with bubbles or making paperclip helicopters has waned. At almost-ten and thirteen, they want something in between appreciating modern art and crawling through the “pretend you’re a bug” exhibit. They want exciting, yet interesting.

During a recent trip to Chicago, we spent some time exploring Shedd Aquarium, and it was one of my kids’ favorite places. There is a little bit of everything at Shedd Aquarium, which makes it work for a wide variety of ages. The exhibits focus on learning, as well as fun and interaction.

During the summer and early fall, you can visit the outdoor Stingray Touch pool to pet stingrays. The pool contains a good number of stingrays, so everyone has a chance to get up close. After the volunteer explains how to safety touch the stingrays, you’re free to enjoy the experience for as long as you like. My youngest loved this, and also spent time at the indoor touch pool filled with several large species of fish, and the starfish touch pool on the lower level.

 

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After my daughter petted fish to her heart’s content, we went in to check out the 4-D experience. They had a choice of SpongeBob, Coastal Predators, and Prehistoric Sea Monsters. We bypassed SpongeBob and went with the Coastal Predators movie. While we did get jabbed in the back as one of the special effects, the movie itself was entertaining and educational. Paired with the 3-D visuals, water mists, and wind effects, both myself and the kids enjoyed the show.

Special experiences done, we moved on to the rest of the aquarium. The amphibian exhibit was listed as a “special exhibit,” but most of the visitors seemed to have tickets which gave access to it, so no one was watching the entrance. For this being a special exhibit, it didn’t seem any better or more exciting than the regular exhibits. Having said that, all the regular exhibits were well put together and interesting, so this one certainly wasn’t disappointing. I had expected something more “special” than an exhibit of frogs, newts, and salamanders I had seen at other zoos or aquariums, though.

The regular exhibits held a variety of fun and interesting options. The main floor exhibit “Waters of the World”, was divided into corridors which held fish from specific regions. If you were interested in something particular, it was easy to find what you wanted. Centered between these corridors was the Amazon Rising exhibit, a coral reef habitat where you could watch divers feed and interact with the fish at scheduled times throughout the day. In the basement, the “Wild Reef,” is home to a large number of sharks, coral, and tropical fish. You get to view the 400,000 gallon tank from a huge viewing window that makes you feel like you’re in the water with them.

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The “Polar Play Zone” was partially closed when we visited, due to the upper level viewing deck being closed off to allow the recently born baby dolphin and its mother time to bond. However, at the lower level viewing area, you could see both the dolphins and several beluga whales. The last, largest exhibit was “At Home on the Great Lakes,” which featured environments and fish from the area, while teaching visitors about the local ecosystem. This was a full scale experience you walked through, stopping to observe each habitat as you experienced the simulated Great Lakes area.

If you’re interested in visiting Shedd Aquarium, it is part of Museum Campus in Downtown Chicago. It’s within walking distance of many Michigan Avenue hotels. If you’re staying further away, there are CTA bus and trains stops nearby for easy access, and has paid parking available as well. If you want to make a day of museums, it’s also right next door to both the Adler Planetarium and Field Museum.

Ticket prices for the “Total Experience” package range from $40-$55 for adults and $29-$46 for kids ($2 discount for ordering online). This includes access to the regular exhibits, special amphibians exhibit, 4-D movie, and the Stingray touch pool (open seasonally). There are tickets available to only access the regular exhibits in the $20-25 range, as well. If you’re planning to visit multiple top attractions in Chicago, you can get a Chicago CityPASS (tickets for 3-5 local attractions) for $98 and $82 for adults and kids, respectively, which saves you up to 50% when you use all the tickets.

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If you end up at the aquarium for the whole day, which is definitely possible, they have several dining options onsite. The café on the main floor is a sit-down style restaurant. It’s a more expensive option, and the formal set up appeals to adults more than kids, but anyone is welcome. There’s also a small deli right next to the café, as well as cafeteria-style food options on the lower level.

The aquarium is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5/6 p.m. (depending on the season). If you’re planning to do two attractions in one day, get there first thing in the morning, as crowds pick up considerably in the afternoon. When we arrived a little after 9 a.m., we walked right in, but when we came out of the building around 1 p.m., there was a line all the way down the steps and into the courtyard. Plan your second activity for the afternoon to avoid being stuck in a line.

While Shedd Aquarium is one of the pricier downtown Chicago attractions, its large number of exhibits and wide variety of activities makes it appealing to most ages and well worth the price.

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#WickedRevenge: It’s DONE!

Wicked fans have been waiting a while…a long while…for the final installment of the Someone Wicked This Way Comes Series.

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Book 3 (Wicked Glory) was supposed to be the last book. There was too much to fit everything in, wrap up all the questions, and not give readers whiplash.

So, a book 4 was needed. Unfortunately, so was the time to write it. Not only was 2015 super busy, I overloaded my writing schedule and got behind on just about everything. Add it the fact that I always go into panic mode about finishing a series, and there’s a reason this book is coming out more than a year and a half after book 3.

SORRY!

Wicked Revenge is going into editing mode, but I’ll have it up for pre-order while that’s happening…which will be soon. But just in case you’re having Ketchup withdrawals, here’s a peek a what’s coming up in the fourth and FINAL (for real this time) installment of this wicked series.

And in advance, yes I know I’m so mean for sharing this excerpt, but I had to…

~*~

“Van,” he says slowly, “we need to go, now.”

“What?” I ask a split second before the glass of both passenger side windows explodes.

Wicked Revenge GOLD FRONTLunging for Ketchup, I drag him down to the wheel wells and throw my body on top of him. Bullets continue to slam into the car, jerking it back and forth as I bite back a terrified scream. Heat sears across my shoulder, and at least one bullet is lodged in my left thigh. It’s only seconds, maybe five, but it feels like a lifetime before the report of gunfire stops and squealing tires replaces it.

As soon as it does, I lift myself off Ketchup and ask, “Are you okay? Ketchup?”

I’m stuck trying to get out from under the steering wheel when a strange choking noise freezes me. Warm fluid bursts against my forearm and suddenly I can’t breathe. “Ketchup? Ketchup? Answer me!” Panicked scrambling gets me out from under the steering wheel and I reach for his half-turned body. Terror and my own pain kept me from recognizing anything else until I saw the blood seeping from his chest.

Tears blur my vision as I start babbling, “No, no, no, no,” over and over again. His pains overwhelms me and my hunger screams at me to lap it up, but I can’t. This is my fault. My doing. I knew how dangerous it was to leave without protection. I didn’t care when I sped away from the house, didn’t put his safety above my own delusional self-importance.

Find out what happens next in Wicked Revenge!!!

Find the rest of the series HERE

 

Travel Blog 2: What Happened to Spruce Tree House?

DSC_0019.JPGIf you’re planning at trip to Mesa Verde National Park and hoping to explore the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling, one of the largest and most popular cliff dwelling sites at the park, you’ll be limited to viewing it from a distance. Why? While we want all our visitors to experience the cliff dwellings, keeping guests safe is our top priority. Recent rock falls at the Spruce Tree House site prompted the decision to close it to the public for the first time in 50 years.

Because the alcoves containing the cliff dwellings were formed by natural processes that are still at work, dwelling sites undergo change over time. Due to erosion, naturally forming cracks exist on the mesa above the Spruce Tree House, and continue to spread. One very large crack spans the entire length of the Spruce Tree House alcove, and has been the source of rock falls before.

In 1940, cracks and instabilities were discovered, and actions were taken to slow the erosion process. Plants and debris wedged in the cracks that were making them wider were removed. To help protect the cliffs even more, a protective covering was built to waterproof the system of cracks and hold off additional erosion.

DSC_0061That covering worked for two decades, but in 1960, a 10-ton rock fell from the south end of the cliff overhang, hitting the nearby public trail and part of the Spruce Tree House site. Trained climbers pulled down a loose, five-ton rock in danger of falling to prevent it from doing more damage, and cleanup began. The previous covering put over the crack was removed and replaced with an anchoring system that would hopefully prevent the cracks from widening. These 42 anchors, up to 16 feet long, were drilled into the cliff face to anchor the arches in place, then the crack was filled with gravel and cement. This system held for many years, until recently.

In August of 2015, several small rock falls at the south end Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling caused new safety concerns. Hiking to the site was temporarily closed while park officials evaluated the danger of more rock falls. Unfortunately, their evaluation made it clear the site was too dangerous for visitors. In October of 2015, officials decided the site would remain closed to the public until the safety of the area could be studied in detail.

Wasting no time, the evaluation of the area began the following month, and was completed by a specially trained climbing team made up of members from several National Parks. During this project, the system of cracks above the arch was inspected, and a large amount of loose rocks and debris were removed. The cleanup revealed that the inner areas of the cracks were soft due to water leaching away minerals necessary for keeping the rocks strong, and further damage was possible. The risk of continued cracking and falling rocks made it impossible to reopen the site. A full geotechnical assessment will likely be conducted in the future but, for the time being, Spruce Tree House will remain closed to the public.

Even with the closure, this beautiful monument can still be enjoyed by park visitors from a distance. Overlooks near the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum provides views of the Spruce Tree House, and Rangers are available to answer any questions visitors may have.

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Travel Blog 1: Tour Bus, Streetcar, Streetcar (again), Shuttle…Zoo?

2013-06-17 16.16.23While flying does cut down your travel time, it also leaves you without a car. That’s not so bad when visiting New Orleans and staying at a hotel right in the French Quarter…mostly. While my husband was sitting through an EPA conference, my two kids and I walked all over the French Quarter, seeing the aquarium, kids museum, cemeteries, the double decker tour buses, and the butterfly habitat.

No car? No problem.

Except when we wanted to visit the zoo. I love zoos, probably more than my kids, and NOLA was supposed to have a great zoo. It was definitely not within walking distance, though. My previous experience with the area was driving through the French Quarter on the way to Florida, appreciating the architecture from the confines of our weird smelling RV.

2013-06-18 10.51.22For some reason, rather than just having the nice man at the hotel call us a cab, I thought we could make it to the zoo using NOLA’s public transit system. I had several maps which laid out the route to the zoo through various modes of transportation. It would be an adventure, right?

With two kids (7 and 10), and my only other experience using mass transit being riding back and forth on the Metro from campus to Washington DC during a week-long high school trip for a National History Day competition, we set out.

So, we hopped on the tour bus and rode several miles to a historical neighborhood, where we bravely got off the bus and attempted to find our streetcar stop. We cautiously approached a bud shelter where several older African American women were sitting on the bench, and after failing to find some kind of indication of whether this was a stop for the streetcar, bus, or something else, I asked the ladies if we were in the right spot.

We weren’t.

2013-06-18 15.34.34They nicely pointed out where we should be standing. A platform in the middle of the road. The streetcar lines literally ran down the middle of the street, with cars driving on either side. Beginning to regret this adventure, we trekked safely to the streetcar stop, only to be followed by yelling. I looked around, hoping the shrieking isn’t directed at us, and found the nice lady who’d directed us yelling and waving at us. I was so startled, it took me a few minutes to figure out what she was trying to tell me.

We were at the wrong streetcar stop.

2013-06-20 15.08.04Because the streetcars run on rails, they run in one direction. What direction you want to go determines was side of the tracks you should wait on. We were on the wrong side. So, grabbing my kids’ hands again, we hurried across the rails to the other side of the middle of the street, and waited at the right stop.

The streetcar came trundling up the tracks soon after, and we climbed aboard. My kids still thought we were having an adventure while I was cursing myself. I paid our fair and shuffled the kids into the car to find it packed. I held my kids’ hand, keeping them close, while I stood trying not to rub up against a guy whose armpit was dangerously close to my face and a lady whose shopping bags were taking up the aisle. After one more on and off to change streetcars, I eagerly dragged the kids off the streetcar when we reached our stop.

A sign for the zoo awaited us after walking a few blocks from the bus stop, but the zoo itself was nowhere in sight. There was, however, a group of tourists waiting around the sign who told me the zoo was still a mile away, but there was a shuttle coming! In twenty minutes. When the shuttle finally pulled up, its capacity was a whopping nine seats for the nearly twenty people waiting.

2013-06-19 11.29.48Seeing that I had two kids with me, the other tourists were extremely kind and let us get on with the first group. Ten minutes later, we finally made it to the zoo, and it was as fabulous as I’d been told. One of the best zoos I’ve visited. The only thing that wasn’t awesome was the fact that we had still had to get back to the hotel.

Lesson learned: Call a cab.

Time for Some Homework

Recently (this week, in fact) I’ve officially gone back to college!

2016-03-29 18.34.38.jpgOriginally, I intended to get my bachelor’s degree in English, but there were some issues with that plan and now I’m working on a degree in Communication-Media Studies with a minor in English. Getting my degree will allow me to teach more classes at our local community college, so here I go!

This summer I’m taking a Technical Writing class that is way more intense than I was expecting, and a Travel Writing class which is awesome.

Why am I sharing this?

Both classes understandably have homework, and since it’s writing related and I like sharing things I learn about writing with my readers, I’ll be posting some of my homework pieces here on my blog. Some for feedback, some for fun. So when you see posts about how to sew a French seam or why the Spruce Tree House is closed at Mesa Verde National Park, that’s why.

If you feel prompted to offer feedback, please do! There’s always room to learn more, and comments from readers are just as valuable to me as comments from classmates and instructors.

Have a great summer!

The Fear of Imperfection

One of my students this spring was interested in writing for magazines, but felt held back by her fear of putting something out there that wasn’t perfect. She wanted my advice on how to overcome that.

Honestly, that’s a really hard thing to give advice on, because every writer is different.

I’m going to attempt it anyway!

#1: Realize no one’s work is perfect

DeathtoStock_Clementine9.jpgYou’re not the only one who makes mistakes. We all do. While I was on a panel at Denver Comic Con last year, we were all asked what was the biggest mistake we ever made in a book. Jim Butcher was on that panel as well (which was seriously the highlight of that entire weekend!) and he said when writing the early Dresden Files books, he didn’t have the income to visit Chicago, where the books are set, and wrote a scene with characters meeting in the parking lot of the baseball stadium. Problem was, that stadium was built before the majority of people had cars. Hence: it has no parking lot.

If you need more examples…check out THIS LIST of the best/worst plot holes in movies. You could literally spend all day watching or reading similar lists.

#2: Waiting on perfection = Missed opportunities

Perfection is unattainable. In life, and in writing. No matter how many times you read your article, book, or story, there will be something you want to change, tweak, fix, whatever. It will never be done. At some point, you simply have to be DONE. Do your best, and then put it forward. I know authors who refuse to ever read their own books again once they’re published. If they do, they’ll want to go back and change it.

#3: You’re your own Worst Critic

This can be a good thing when working through plot holes or character inconsistencies. When it comes to nitpicking your own writing, you will drive yourself crazy before you’re satisfied. Writers are often too close to their own work by the time they get to that final stage of editing. One word or comma likely won’t make the different between success and failure.

#4: Failing is OKAY

If you put out an article or book and it gets ZERO view or buys, is that the end? No, it’s a hurdle you just jumped over. Whether you breakout from day one or have to slog through mediocrity to achieve something better (like the majority of us) you’re on your way. That typo in your first paid blogpost, or character you forgot existed and was never heard from again, are a right of passage. We’ve all done it, and laugh about it later.

Never putting anything out there DOES mean you’ll never have to face rejection. It also means you’ll never get that message from a reader who loved what you wrote and wanted to thank you for sharing it with them. Those come a lot more often than the obnoxious ones pointing out that one typo.