Book Review – Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

Why I read this book:  I got this when my first daughter was born about four years ago and read it then.  It was important to me then, but as I now have two and they’re aging faster than I can track, I wanted to revisit.  Side note:  You probably can’t tell from the books I’ve posted to date, but I try to rotate my non-fiction between a few categories:  Parenting/Spouse, Investing/Money, Personal Success, Writing….  So if you want any books on any of those subjects, I’m happy to point you to some.  (;

Did I enjoy this book:  Yes, but as I review it below, you can see that it essentially hammers the same point pretty ad nauseam.  It’s a great point, but you get the picture pretty quickly.

What I learned from this book:  On the parenting front, there are a few tips/tricks that are worthwhile, but since this is a blog on writing, here’s what I take on the writing front:  Don’t get so buried in your writing you forget that there’s something a lot more important growing up right in front of you… and you don’t want to miss that.

Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should KnowStrong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know by Meg Meeker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dr Meg Meeker takes you through multiple pieces of advice on raising your daughter to grow healthy, both physically and emotionally. The book is punctuated with a series of real examples from her own experiences as a doctor… the things she has run into, and the stories her patients have told her. She backs up her statements and advice with statistics, citing them all so that you can understand she’s not just spouting pure opinion.

The book can generally be summarized by: Be present in your kid’s life, and it will make all the difference.

That said, she does pull some heartstrings as she relates emotions that fathers will know are very real as we watch our princesses grow into young women. She focuses especially on areas that I know scare the dickens out of me: Body Image (and Eating Disorders) and Sex. That said, the advice she gives on all of these items always comes back to the line mentioned above: Make sure you are present and paying attention… Don’t check out and let your child go.

Overall, it was a good read, and even if it only reiterates many things I know (in my rational mind), it’s a book I will likely read again and again to remind myself how important it is to be a part of my daughter’s world… and how fast that world can slip by if you aren’t present for it.

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8 Differences between US and India

I’ve been here almost a week, and wanted to take a minute to talk about some big differences I’ve already noticed.

0) The Temperature.

This one’s obvious, so it warranted a 0 instead of a 1… But ugg. The heat! It’s really hot here.

1) Transportation.

Lots of things here. Multiple languages on the road signs. Additionally, I knew people drove on the left here, but I didn’t realize that philosophy extends to walking as well. In the US, we naturally (or maybe unnaturally) walk on the right side of the road.

The traffic is unbelievable. It feels like we’re constantly a moment from death as the cars ignore all lines drawn on the street as well as all traffic signs. A week of being here, and I haven’t seen a single accident, so I’m left with the feeling that Indian drivers must be the best in the world because the way they drive is intimidating and incredible at the same time. The awareness is profound.


Another interesting thing: The maintenance vehicles have interesting colors of sparkling lights on them. Greens, and blues, and purples.

In the rare times you are stopped at a light (most lights seem to be ignored), there are children or other people who come to your car looking for change. Occasionally, someone will bear a rag to wipe your hood, but they aren’t shy about pounding on the window for a good solid 30 seconds.

2) Drinks

All restaurants I’ve eaten at you pay for each drink rather than have “unlimited” refills. Maybe it’s just my choice of restaurants since I’ve been here. Also interesting, when ordering water, you often get the option of “sparkling or still.” And you always get the choice of ice. Very different. In the US, still water and ice are a given.

3) Power Outlets

The power outlets initially freaked me out. They are very different than the ones we have in the US. Turns out the US adapters will work in them, but I was very intimidated (since they look nothing alike).

4) Email

This is a work specific one, and also is obvious when I think about it. During the work day here, I had very few emails. I typically get 200-300 emails per day for my job. I had maybe 20. The problem is, as I get ready for bed tonight, I’m suddenly inundated with hundreds of email. It is night here, and feels like night… Yet the reality is that on the other side of the world everybody is waking up and getting to work. Makes it hard to get to bed.

5) Security

Everywhere required the car be checked for bombs, and I had to walk through a metal detector to enter. I heard this is a more or less recently development as the new government is trying to build a lot of security. I’ve also heard he’s done a lot to reduce corruption among the police force, so that’s very inspiring!

6) Housekeeping.

In every hotel I’ve stay in within the US, toiletries (shampoo, soap, etc) are over-provided. IE: If I unwrap the bar soap and leave it in the dish, there will be a newly wrapped version nearby when I return to the hotel. No regard for whether I should finish using the existing or not. Here, no new toiletries were provided. Which is actually fine. I didn’t need more and wouldn’t have used them anyways. Hopefully I’ll see new ones when I run out.

The second thing is a little more unnerving. Housekeeping feels obligated to touch my stuff. I’m curious how much of me being bothered is an American thing versus a me thing versus just a personal space thing. Clothes that I had left stacked (more or less) neatly on the couch had all been picked up and folded. My shoes (which weren’t in the way) were moved to a cozy position near the bed. My papers, spread about on my desk had all been pulled together and stacked in a neat pile. Even my dirty socks had been pulled from my planned pile and stacked. I would have been fine with no service at all, and at most, making the bed. This bothered me because I felt there was no need to touch my stuff. Housekeeping being nosy, or is this a way to illustrate that service is being provided? I don’t know… But it’s my stuff, and I’m not sure how I feel about it being bothered.

Additionally, turn-down service comes in the evening as well as morning. That’s different.

7) Intermissions

Went to go see the Jungle Book in the theater. Great movie. Right at one of the intense moments, the screen froze and went dark. I thought something had gone wrong… But nope. Intermission. I’m familiar with this in stage plays, but never had that experience in cinema.

8) The People

The people are incredible. I’m from the southern United States, and in the South, we take pride in our hospitality. We’ve got nothing on India. Everybody I’ve met is warm and friendly, good-natured, and open. Initially, I held this to just my co-workers, but even at the movies, the people sitting next to me were genuinely interested in me, what I was here for (and strangely wanted to take a picture with me). At lunch, people offer up their food to each other. “Want to try this?” It wasn’t just a thing done for me to let the American taste… They frequently offered to each other. I’ve been overwhelmed by the hospitality.

Recapping a Year of Blogging

I’ve officially had this blog for a year.  It seems almost shocking that I “Started My Fiction” a year ago (technically 3 years ago, but I’m measuring in terms of when I started the blog).

To be fair, I only did the blog for a month and a half before I let it go, and didn’t pick it up again until six months later, but I’m still feeling sentimental and wanted to post on it.

I’ve compiled some lists, and thought I would share.  Before I do, I would like to thank each and every one of you that has been part of this blog for however long you’ve been part of it.  It wouldn’t be where it is today without all of you!

Top 3 Non-Fiction Posts

Scrivener vs yWriter5: Edging out just ahead of the competition, this post discusses pros and cons of Scrivener vs yWriter.  I still have them both, but I’m currently using Scrivener.

5 Tips for Writing Flash Fiction: I love flash fiction.  This is a list of a few things I think can be used to make it great.

Outlining your Story – Plot:  Pretty self-explanatory.  Part of my Outlining your story series, focusing in on Plot.

Top 5 Liked Fiction

What I Always Wanted: This one still comes in head and shoulders above the rest.  Probably in my top 3 favorite stories to write.  It was my second attempt at a photo prompt, and when I read it, I still have to smile.  I was pretty mean to this poor kid.

Runner: Also in my personal favorites.  Wanted to get into the head of this kid and do convey enough meaning to show why he’s running.

Harriett:  First stab at a horror story.  How to build emotion and dread in so few words?

Fifth Period: I really loved this one.  I wanted to write something with strong descriptive language, and I enjoyed the humorous twist at the end.

Condemned: A little surprised on this one.  I had no idea what to do with the prompt, and let myself go.

Top Interview

This interview with Matt Kilby.  He wrote a great piece of horror, and had lots of good tips for new writers.

Top Book Review

Magic Bites.  Ironically, of the books I’ve reviewed, this was both my first and my least favorite.  Maybe it has a closer cult following, maybe other people reading it just felt the same as I did.  Maybe the timing was great or the tagging clever.


Our Table

This week’s Flash Fiction for the Aspiring Writer.


Our Table


Claire’s heart fluttered as she read it again. She had been seeing George pretty regularly for almost a year… He was perfect. Sweet. Caring. He brought her tulips (her favorite). He read to her. They took a trip to Europe together last fall. He talked to her cats… And no guy had done that before. Perfect.

Would he ask her tonight?

She didn’t really have to consider what her answer would be. Just how she would say it.

She sat at their table in her best evening gown and waited, a place they had only been once before… their first date. She couldn’t believe he still remembered it.

“I told you I’d be here,” she heard George’s voice from behind her. She smiled and rose to her feet, spinning around.

And her heart collapsed back into the chair… to the ground… Six feet under.

George was settling into a table a few feet away with a petite blond with unnaturally large eyes, a pout set on her lips.

“I’m at our table, babe.  Didn’t you get my text?”

Welcome to India

I’ve now been in India a day. I really would like to share a bit of this journey. Skyline

Skyline from view from 25th floor lounge

I promise some of the later blogs will have more pictures of things, but I wanted to get this post out. Today’s post will focus on my trip.  First things first:

Business Class Rocks.

My company is paying for my trip so they sent me Business class, and I’m not going to lie… It’s awesome. Lots of leg space. Roomy seat. Personal movies programmed into the TV in front of me, fully reclining seats (turn into beds). Table-cloth treatment at meal times. Lots of overhead bin space. A care package. Real white glove treatment.

That was one of the only two highlights of the trip. Everything else about the trip ranks in the bottom 10 experiences of my life.

Back to the trip. It begins where life got complicated because of a friend of mine in India wanted me to bring a toy for his boy’s birthday. It was purchasable on Amazon in the US, but he couldn’t get it in India. I agreed to transport. I didn’t realize the luggage allowance for an international flight was lower. US Standard linear size is 62 inches… International flights (at least Emirates) cuts that to 59. That means my large luggage is oversized, and work isn’t going to pay the $175 (each way) for the oversize. So I had to take two smaller suitcases, one of which contained only the toy for my friend.

Next problem came with my luggage locks. Something weird happened and the combinations changed after I locked them (I promise I didn’t just forget them!). I had to get two cut off at the airport, in a miserable wait at security because I couldn’t get my laptop out of the bag.  Even after getting here, I had to go through one combination at a time until I found the right one (Only took 185 tries… Literally). Annoying, but bearable.

Got on the flight, and it had all the amazing-ness above. That was a 16 hour flight from Chicago to Dubai, which brings me to the second highlight. Dubai has an amazing airport. I think it’s the largest airport in the world, and it really is incredible. It’s like a mall… more than a mall inside an airport. Amazing.

Everything went downhill from there.

I wanted to eat in Dubai, but my work was covering via American Express, and none of the shops accepted it. So I’m stuck eating a bag of snacks I bought in Chicago. Miserable dinner. And things got worse.

I think I must have gotten food poisoning from the airplane food… I was worried about food/water problems (brought Pepto bismul tablets and immodium), but I expected that to start after I got to Hyderabad. This hit me right after Dubai… So about 16 hours into my journey. Nausea overwhelmed me, cold sweat, dizziness. Horrible Diarrhea. I won’t disgust you with the details, but if you can imagine it, I probably dealt with it. Terrible.

Got into Hyderabad at 2:45 in the morning. After some quality time in the bathroom, the trip through security had turned into enormous lines. Got through those, and found out I need to fill out a form. Filled that out, and then had to go through again.

Oi. Got out of the airport, reclaimed my bags, and then went to find my driver. After ignoring the throngs of people trying to sell trinkets or services, I made it to the exit, where a dude with a piece of paper with (I think) my name on it was waiting. I wave him, he wadded up the paper and shook my hand. Then he grabbed my bag and ran. Not in a thieving way… Just set a wicked pace. With each step, I worried whether or not I had the right guy.

Even worse, as he begins to drive, we take some of the seediest, darkest roads in India (I extrapolate this; I don’t have those facts… But man it looked pretty scary). Got to the hotel. Next post: I’ll share my first five impressions of the differences I’m seeing.

What’s the worst trip you’ve taken?

Book Review – Digital Fortress

Why I read this book:  It was 10 cents at the used book store, and I was curious about the books that famous authors wrote before they became truly famous.

Did I enjoy this book:  “No”?  Maybe.  I dunno.  It was fine, I guess, but it didn’t do much for me emotionally.  I finished it, so I didn’t hate it.

What I learned from this book:  The author did an interesting job of making each scene its own chapter, even when those scenes followed one another directly (rather than bouncing between characters).  This could often result in chapters that were only a page long.  This is a style that might work better for me (I hate my transitions between scenes), but I’m curious if we can still get away with it.

I also learned I want to really watch out for cliches and stereotypes… I hadn’t read a book with a really painful one in a long time, and this one had several.  Definitely don’t want my readers to go through that.


Digital FortressDigital Fortress by Dan Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Digital Fortress came out in 1998, back when the “NSA” wasn’t as widely known as it is now. The book follows parallel stories: First, that of an NSA codebreaker trying to crack an unbreakable code that is counting down to undermining a significant portion of the NSA intelligence network, and Second, the story of a “regular guy” university professor trying to track down a vital piece of evidence that may hold the secret to the terrible code that threatens them.
The primary characters are Susan Fletcher (the codebreaker) and David Becker (the professor). Susan is a best-of-everything super-smart beauty and David is a laid-back super linguist that are coincidentally (or is it?) bound into working towards this same goal. David’s journey is interesting as he constantly facing challenges hunting down his quarry that each happens to tap into a different language, making him a great fit for the job despite his utter lack of military/secret agent training. Despite the “neatness” of this, it’s a fun journey watching how he gets himself in over his head and struggles to figure out what to do next.
Unfortunately, Susan’s story is less interesting as she is beset with cliche and stereotype co-workers. Her plot gives us some technical views into the “high-tech computer world” but the reality is that the entire situation feels out of her control as one event after another catapults her helplessly to the next stage with little or no influence on those events.
Despite this, the story is a quick and easy read, and you can definitely see how this experience sets the author to write his far more successful Davinci Code. There are a few fun plot twists, some of which are painfully obvious; others may catch the unwary by surprise. I don’t regret reading this book, and didn’t struggle to finish it… But I’d probably never crack it open again.

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Books on Writing

Should we read books on writing? Is it worth the time? Here’s a few quotes on the subject:

“Writer’s write so reader’s can read.” – Finding Forrester
“I think books on writing are just a writer’s way to avoid writing while still feeling like they are improving their craft.” – Comment on an Amazon book review

To a degree, this is true. I’m certainly guilty. I’d even go so far as saying my first year trying to become an author was spent reading books on writing and not actually finishing anything. Experts agree, and every book I’ve read makes a big point of it. If you want to improve at writing, you should WRITE.

Go figure.

It seems obvious when put that way. If I were planning on becoming an Olympic swimmer… I need to spend some time in the pool. Yet, with writing we theorize and chatter about whether or not to use adverbs, or how to properly show instead of tell. Stephen King even said that he considered all books on writing to be “shit” except Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Over and over again, it gets reinforced that if you want to be a better writer… You should write.

Does this mean that reading is a waste of time?

Certainly not! Reading is a core component of writing. I can’t imagine a successful writer who isn’t also constantly reading… devouring every piece of written text she can find in pursuit of discovering more. If you want to be a fiction writer, you need to read fiction. If you want to be a cooking blogger, read cooking blogs. Look at what works and doesn’t work. See the styles used by others in your craft, and take from that what you like, leave what you don’t.

Do we draw the line there, or is there some value in reading books specifically targeting the subject of writing? I will diverge a bit from Mr. King on this one. (That said, he’s winning the unspoken war between us on who has more books out, so his word probably carries a bit more weight than mine).  I find books (or blogs) on writing useful for a few reasons:

1) Gives you tools
You need to write. Books won’t replace that. But they can give you techniques to try, exercises you wouldn’t think to do on your own that might help you improve. They take you out of your comfort zone so you don’t rehash the same thing over and over.

2) Gives you insight
It lets you see how the author thinks. When you read a book on writing, check out what the author has also written. This tells you what their style lends itself towards. If your market overlaps, maybe there’s something to take away.
I especially like books on “the writing life” for this reason. On Writing, Bird By Bird, The Writing Life… All great books that tell you the struggles and lives of successful authors. It lets you know they didn’t magic their way into success. And a lot of their successes came from a LOT of writing.

3) Misery loves Company
I love writing blogs for this reason. Different blogs are in different stages of “making it” from me (a few short story rejections) to widely successful authors. However, through all of this, you see their journey of how they got to where they are… And it’s somebody to relate to, learn from, and co-miserate with.

Here’s a few of my favorite books on writing (and why).

Stephen King – On Writing: The crown jewel of the bunch. I’ve read this multiple times, and take something away every time. I feel inspired after each time I read this to go on to great writing endeavors.

Strunk and White – Elements of Style: No nonsense, right to the point. Short. This is a key piece of work if you want nuts and bolts of writing.

Anne Lammott – Bird by Bird: This book is a lot like On Writing. It does basically the same thing, but it’s a different perspective. No less valuable in the lessons it teaches.

John Truby – The Anatomy of Story:
Blake Snyder – Save the Cat: I group these together because they have a lot in common. They discuss the things that make up the pieces of the stories we read and watch. Both of these are written focused on film, but I think the lessons conveyed are still outstanding even for fiction writers.  Truby has a lot more detail, Snyder is more “quick and dirty” but both are exceptional.

What do you think about books on writing? Worth it? Waste of time? What are your favorites?

Tilting at Windmills

I couldn’t resist this photo-prompt from Flash Fiction for the Aspiring Writer.  Hope you enjoy it!  Thanks to TJ Paris!


Tilting at Windmills

Donald took a deep breath. This would be the biggest moment of his life, a life which until today had been sentenced to menial chores around the farm. Well, he wouldn’t stand for it any more. Let somebody else carry grain to the mill! He was already nine, and life was passing him by. Well, no more.

He’d need to prepare. He grabbed his lance, an old post that he’d spent most of last summer filing the end down to a point. He strapped on his armor, the pots and pans that he had scavenged from Mom’s kitchen. The family dog watched him at this with some interest, thumping his tail dutifully on the floor.

Don leaned down and pet the dog, who got up to follow him as he strode from the house.

“Come on, Sancho. Today, we set things right.”

Today, he escaped monotony! Today, he freed himself of the giants that loomed over him.
Today, he’d be tilting.

Book Review – The Lincoln Lawyer

Why I read this book:  It was turned into a movie and it was 10 cents at the used book store.   I figured it was worth reading a crime/legal drama/thriller, so I’ve done so.  Ironically, I’m a fantasy/sci-fi primary reader, and I haven’t reviewed any yet.

Did I enjoy this book:  Surprisingly, yes.  I won’t lie, I wasn’t expecting much from it, but it was probably one of the most productive (and entertaining) reads I’ve had this month.

What did I learn from this book:  Once again (Like gone-girl the week before), I get a book where the narrator is keeping some secrets from me.  I’ve watched the style now from two different authors, and have spotted some techniques I’d like to leverage that builds suspense and keeps the reader guessing what I have up my sleeve.  The biggest thing I walk away from with this book:  My typical genre (fantasy/sci-fi) books don’t do much for plot twists and suspense building, and I realize that now.  I’ll probably put out a separate post on this, but this book taught me a lot about building suspense and tension.

The Lincoln Lawyer (Mickey Haller, #1)The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lincoln Lawyer was my first Legal Suspense Thriller, and it was a great book to start on. The general synopsis (spoiler free) is that a slick defense attorney for hire (Mickey Haller) gets pulled into a big money case that promises him riches beyond anything he’s ever gotten before with a client who (like them all) professes to be innocent of the heinous crime to which he’s accused. Is Haller works and investigates the case, the stakes continue to raise and connections are made to prior cases that make him question everything as he is faced with (as the book summary says) a truly innocent man and pure evil.

The characters are interesting, but not terribly original. However, the situations and cases that Mickey is working while we follow the main plot are colorful and fun, making even backstory seem pretty interesting. Where this book really shines is its plot. The Lincoln Lawyer is full of twists and turns that will keep you on your toes and have you second-guessing yourself the whole way.

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India and the Life I’ve Missed

I’ll be leaving for India in about a week, and I must say that I’m a bit nervous. I’ll be there for three weeks. I’ve done almost no travel domestically (forget internationally). The idea of 20+ hours on a plane is not cool, and I’m definitely not looking forward to 110+ degree (F) heat.

And yet… I’m excited about it.

Two years ago if you had asked me where I wanted to go, I’d have given you a funny look. This is primarily because I’ve never had any interest in going places. With the arrival of the internet, everything I want or need can be accessible in a few clicks. I don’t need to go to Europe… I can read about it. There’s great pictures. I don’t even need to leave the road between my work and my house. I’m not interested in being surrounded by people, I like my comfortable leisures.

For every camping trip you take, you get bugs. For every theme park you visit, you have lines. I just don’t care enough to be so horribly inconvenienced. At least, that would have been my answer two years ago.

So what’s changed?

As I dig deeper into my writing journey, I’ve learned that reading about these things online is like reading the cliff notes of a book. You ever read a book, and then read the digest version of it? How much gets left out? How much of the emotion, the color, etc? Even if you are reading the best plot synopsis, you still miss out on an expression. A glance. A chance remark. A tone. So much is lost. Sure you can pass the test on the subject later…

But you can’t say what it felt like.

That’s why I want to go now. As I write, I realize how much of life I’ve missed by being content to live in my bubble. It’s a writer’s obligation to keep open eyes and open ears. While we aren’t trying to recreate life on page, the details are what help us make what we do create authentic as well as interesting, and provide those little slivers that people will see and relate to… Because it’s what really happens. And those slivers aren’t things you see on wikipedia.

So I challenge you as an author: Keep your eyes and ears open. Listen to the conversations at the airport or in the restaurant. Go places and experience things… And then revel in the feelings you get… so you can put them down on paper for the next great story you write. I know I will.

And in the meantime, anybody have any suggestions for things to do while I’m in India?