Guest Post from EJ Hanagan

When I was in my twenties, I remember older women telling me “just wait until you hit 30, that metabolism will slow down so much that you won’t be able to eat a saltine without gaining five pounds.” I feared that statement so much because I valued my body like every other 25 year old IMG_5795-Edit-2-3does. I didn’t want to give up my youthful appearance and those delicious low-rise jeans that were so unbelievably uncomfortable and grotesquely revealing. I didn’t want to be out of shape and not be able to keep up with my future children. I love fitness-I love exercising and eating healthy, but I was so scared that once I hit 30, my body would spiral out of control and leave me lazy and hungry ALL THE TIME. I listened to these women and let their own stories affect who I was.

It wasn’t until I reached about 32 that I realized that I had to stop focusing on other people’s results and start putting the effort into my own personal results. So, I continued with my fitness obsession and because I learned what I am capable of physically, it made me yearn to discover what I was capable of on other levels. Which is why I set out to complete the first novel that I had started. Once I sent my novel out to the world and realized that I could write and possibly make a career out of it, I felt as if I conquered yet another thing that people had been telling me wasn’t possible.

In my twenties, I never gave myself the option of shouting to the world “I AM UNIQUE. I AM ME.” Instead, I hid from being unique and I altered my opinions and likes/dislikes so they were in line with those around me. One thing that is unique about me is that I love exercise-I love it so much that I feel all out of sorts if I don’t get my heart rate up every day. I used to get defensive when these older women would tell me that I’m destined to be sloppy and out of shape, simply because of age-now I smile and walk away.

Being in my 30s has taught me that I may not always be right, but I know who I am and I know what I’m capable of. It has taken me a long time to realize that I need to compete with myself, not with everyone around me. I no longer let anyone tell me how to feel or think-I make those decisions confidently on my own. So bring on the low-rise jeans and pizza in moderation, because I know what I’m capable of.

EJ Hanagan writes women’s fiction with a focus on strong female characters. Her second novel, Underwater Secrets, was recently released.  Alternating between generations and intertwining the stories of Claire and her mother, Underwater Secrets teaches that sometimes the key to loving ourselves involves loving the people around us, quirks and all. Set on a lake in New Hampshire in the sixties, Underwater Secrets, provides a glimpse into the past.

Follow EJ Hanagan on Facebook.

Buy Underwater Secrets on Amazon!


Guest Post: Five Things a Day

Here’s my new friend Michelle Chouinard, a blogger who has thrown herself into the world of writing, and has set for herself some attainable goals. What she says here? Do it!

Today I thought I’d share with you one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever read, and why I think it works. I found it about a year ago in one of Lawrence Block’s books about writing; there are several, all useful, but this one snippet has been the most helpful thing I’ve found in them: Do five things every day to move your writing forward.

Hang out with your writer friends! Women from the “To Live and Write in Alameda” celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo together.

What five things? Well, that’s up to you. But do five things, every day, no matter how big or small.

One of those things should be writing, of course. We all know we should write every day. Another of those things should probably also be reading: how lucky are we that we’re in a profession that forces us to read prolifically! Twist my arm, why don’tcha?

But the others are more flexible. Make a new connection on twitter. Read an article about writing on your favorite blog. Spend half an hour researching agents. Look for relevant pins to add to your character board on Pinterest. Have lunch with a fellow writer, to get those creative juices flowing. And so on, and so on.

They should be different things, of course. Don’t write five pages of your book and declare yourself done. Don’t friend five new people on Twitter and go have a snack. Each of these count as one thing.

The things you do will differ depending on where you are currently–if you already have an agent, researching agents doesn’t make sense. If you’ve just had a book published, several of these things will probably involve book promotion. Just make sure to do five, every day.

Why is this so important?

Speaking for myself, I’m the sort of person who would happily crawl into a little cozy writing cave for six months and have no contact with the human race. My significant other would throw me scraps of food and come in for a cuddle now and then, but that would be it and I’d be happy as dust on a tchotchke.

And when I came out of my cave, I’d have lost half of my social media contacts because everyone would have thought I’d gone all Snake Plissken. I’d have missed a ton of new books and interesting articles, which I’d be too overwhelmed to catch up on after the fact. And any interesting prompts or discussions that might have made my writing better would never have crossed my path. I would have also lost valuable time trying to get my other projects out into the world.

It takes time to get things submitted, find an agent, get a book/article/story published; we all know this. You don’t just finish a piece, say “Woohoo!” and flick the “publish now” switch. While you’re sending out those letters and working through the rejections to get to the acceptances, you should be writing your next book/article/story. These things take far too much time to do in a fully linear, non-overlapping way. At least if you want to be successful and have enough money to pay the rent.

I would have also lost valuable time building my platform, something that’s becoming increasingly important for aspiring writers. Blog readers and Twitter followers don’t develop over night, and they don’t take kindly to being neglected for long. At least the ones that involve actual people that you actually want to connect with. Just like a plant, you can’t water them only once every six months and expect them to grow.

And maybe most important of all, while I was in that cave writing, the part of my brain that thinks about all this stuff gently in the background while I work would have had no input. Yep, it’s true, the brain works on problems and processes information even when we’re not thinking about it. Things we’ve read, seen, and done recently prime concepts and knowledge in our minds, keeping it all activated and ready for use when it’s needed. So when we do a variety of tasks over time, we keep our minds efficiently processing whatever particular task we’re focusing on at the moment.

So try it out. Sometimes I’m not as good as other times at remembering to do all five — sometimes I only do a few, and sometimes I crap out altogether. So I’ve created a simple spreadsheet to jot down which things I did each day–this lets me know if I’m slacking off too much for too long, and reminds me to revisit things that I haven’t touched for a while. You know how it is — “Gee, it seems like only a week since I compiled that list of prospective agents, but it’s been a month! I better follow up on that.”

Thank you, Lawrence Block, for the amazing advice. So far, it has served me well, and I have every confidence it will continue to do so. Now where’s my next installment of Matthew Scudder??

Happy writing,


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Guest Post: Kay Ellington, Author of Paragraph Ranch

Happy Groundhog’s Day!

Groundhog’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. I know, it’s not really what you consider a holiday. You don’t even get the day off from work or school. As a gardener, I find winters to be challenging, living on the plains of West Texas. The short days. The lack of warmth and sunshine. The demise of the perennials. Perusing seed catalogs only goes But Groundhog’s Day—whether the little furry fellow (are they always male?) sees his shadow or not– kicks off the beginning of the end of the dormant season for people and plants. After November and December rife with holidays and festivities, in January, we sit and wait—inside.

With Groundhog’s Day comes Valentine’s Day, the Day the Time Changes (my personal favorite), St. Patrick’s Day, and then we’re off and running again in the spring and the sunshine. As an author, Groundhog’s Day provides the perfect metaphor for assessing the work. In January I sit and wait and plan and write. By February 2, I are able to assess what I have done. When I come out of hibernation and observe the work I have written, sometimes I am comfortable with the craftsmanship and sometimes I see the glare of a lack of clarity and run inside the warren to revise.

I hope this Groundhog’s Day –and all of the ones going forward—provide you with a day to assess the new year, and to see if you’re happy with the direction you’ve taken, or if you decide to change course, it’s still so early in the year that your changes have plenty of time to take effect and be meaningful.

Cotton fields, pumpjacks, and Friday Night Lights defined the world KAY ELLINGTON grew up in West Texas. A gypsy of newspapering for three decades, her career took her from New York to California to the Carolinas–and finally, back home again to Texas to stay–and write. 

Cover Reveal for Tess Thompson!

Duet for Three HandsDuet for Three Hands
Author: Tess Thompson
Release Date: February 13th, 2015
Publisher: Booktrope

A story of forbidden love, lost dreams, and family turmoil.

The first book in a new historical series from bestselling author Tess Thompson, Duet for Three Hands is equal parts epic love story, sweeping family saga, and portrait of days gone by. Set against the backdrop of the American South between 1928 and 1934, four voices blend to tell a tale of prejudice, fear, and love. The Bellmonts are the epitome of the rich and elite in Atlanta society, but behind the picture-perfect façade are hidden moments of violence and betrayal.

After marrying into the Bellmont family, Nathaniel, a former concert pianist who is nearly ruined by his wife’s unrelenting ambition and unstable mind, finds hope in the promise of his most recent protégé. His brother-in-law, artistic Whitmore Bellmont, and the maid’s daughter, Jeselle, have a secret relationship despite their drastically different circumstances and shades of skin. Unfortunately, most of the world disagrees with their color blindness.

All four lives intertwine on a collision course, threatening to destroy, or liberate, them all.

tessthompsonAbout the Author

Tess Thompson is a mother and writer. She’s also a Zumba dancing queen, though the wearing of the crown is reserved for invitation-only appearances. Her creative life began as an actress, director and playwright but found her true calling in narrative fiction, specifically Women’s Fiction.

Hope and A Full-length Mirror | Guest Post by Tess Thompson

I have a guest blogger today, the lovely and talented author Tess Thompson, whose voice is remarkably like mine — honest, quirky, funny, and smart. I like her a lot. I hope you will, too. — jpt


“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all -“  — Emily Dickinson

Tuesday afternoon I dress for a coffee date with a man. It’s a first date, if you can call it that, as I’ve never met him in person, only exchanged emails. His email was sweet and well-written – I won’t go into the details but he went to a lot of trouble to get my attention. We appear to have a lot in common. His pictures show a handsome, age-appropriate man. Also, it was obvious he actually read my profile as opposed to just looking at my photographs and sending a note like, “hey baby, your sexy” (yes, your, not you’re) like the 77 others I’d received since putting my profile up the week before.

Because of all this, I sacrifice writing time and agree to meet him for coffee. All I can think is, please don’t be a liar.

I do not have a full-length mirror so I stand on a footstool in my bathroom, perched precariously on the top step, surveying my outfit. On the bed behind me are the discards: a dress that gapped at the chest, jeans I decided made my butt look big, a blouse that felt scratchy. I’ve ended up with a short black skirt with tights and boots, and a soft sweater I found on the clearance rack last winter. A $14 sweater no one else wanted and boots from three seasons ago. Kind of like me, I think.

As I turn on the footstool, I almost fall. God, I hate this, I think. It’s a perpetual audition or job interview, this dating experience in my forties. I never thought I’d be here again, having paid my dues all through my twenties with liars and cheats and Peter Pans who refused to grow up. Then, at thirty-one, came my happy ending. Or, so I thought. But my dreams were false. The marriage didn’t work and our subsequent divorce robbed me of several layers of skin, leaving me with flesh and bone exposed to the elements. I’m vulnerable and frightened and tender-hearted.

And I’m forty-five, going on another first date.

I started dating about eight months after the split from my ex-husband. Encouraged by family and friends, I try online dating. This is how it’s done now, they all assured me. Since then, in my ever-hopeful and trusting way I’ve dated liars and cheats and players and crazies. I’ve genuinely cared for several men that I actually thought genuinely cared for me. Unfortunately, they were damaged in ways not at first evident. But, as the truth always does, their dysfunction and lies surfaced eventually. As my friend Jesse said each time. “You dodged a bullet with that one.”

Despite the dodged bullets, each experience changed me. I hate that this is true, but the trusting and warm woman I once was is now chipped and cracked like the china I inherited from my grandmother. It’s the lies, mostly, that did it. This high tech world we live in makes it easy to lie, easy to charm, easy to run double lives, or triple lives. So now I’m left skittish and untrusting, looking for untruths and dysfunction – trying to discern the cruelty that will come if I let my guard down before I let my guard down. Nice girls like me? Not made for this world filled with players and cheaters. It turns us into bitter, suspicious cat ladies. I hate it. I really do.

I’ve given up many, many times. No more dating, I tell my friends. I’m happy with my work and my kids and my family and friends. Life is good.

I’ve been on hiatus, concentrating on my work, friends, and my beautiful children. These last months I’ve reflected upon my choices and examined how my own behavior played a part. I see clearly when and how I overlooked red flags, made excuses for behavior and believed their stories when I shouldn’t have. But there’s also this – the men I’ve dated behaved badly. That’s just the truth.

I’ve vowed to myself and friends and my mother that I will never again compromise or lower my standards. In these past months, I’ve become really comfortable with the idea of being alone for the rest of my life. I know you all know this, but it’s better to be alone than with a man with so much baggage he can’t possibly lift a hammer to hang a full-length mirror in your bedroom.

But then, I look around me. I see happy marriages. I see true partnerships of couples who are both lovers and best friends. I see marriage proposals and anniversaries. I attend weddings of soul mates. And I think, why can’t I have that, too? I’m an interesting, successful and loving woman. I have so much to give to the right person. Why not me?

So hope begins again. I muster the courage to admit to myself the truth. I want love in my life. I want a man to grow old with. I want a sweetheart who will hang a full-length mirror in my bedroom so I don’t have to stand on a footstool. So I try. I go back online. I put myself out there for possible judgement, rejection, hurt. Ultimately, my desire for love outweighs my fear.

So now on a rainy day in late October, I stand on a footstool in my bathroom looking at my reflection and cringe. I’ve had two children, my face is thin and etched with fine lines. I don’t have long, flowing hair or long legs. My breasts are real. And yeah, I’ve nursed two babies. I’m flawed inside and out. This is as good as I can look, as good as I can be. Probably it will not be good enough. But I have to try.

I get in my car to drive to Starbucks and think, maybe, just perhaps, this man will be kind, generous, sensitive and honest. Maybe something about me will move him, shift his heart a little to make room for love, despite what has come before. Perhaps something about him will move me, will shift my heart to forget the pain of the last five years and fill in those cracks made from mendacity. Maybe our collective baggage will fit together. Maybe he’ll be able to love and accept an absentminded, overly sensitive writer who loves movies that make her cry, soft jeans, red wine, and spooning on the couch while binge-watching BBC shows on Netflix. Maybe he’ll see that my vulnerability, my soft heart, my bravery are a gift, not a fault. Maybe…just maybe.

I open the door to Starbucks one more time. The smell of coffee and hope greet me.

Hope, perched in my soul.

Tess Thompson is a mother and writer. She’s also a Zumba dancing queen, though the wearing of the crown is reserved for invitation-only appearances. Her creative life began as an actress, director and playwright but she found her true calling in narrative fiction, specifically women’s fiction. See more at She’s also on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon.