make a difference by Christmas shopping {gift guide}

Christmas means so many things. Christ's birth, family, friends, cookies, twinkling lights . . . commercialism. With so much greed surrounding us, how do we participate in the joy of gift-giving without causing harm? Although I have, year after year, found myself drawn to the convenience of shopping on Amazon, I'm choosing something better this December. If you'd like to join me, here are some options for making a positive difference this Christmas, simply by doing your holiday shopping.

1. Fair Trade
Make sure the people who made your gift are respected and paid fairly for their hard work by choosing items that are Fair Trade certified. From a bag of coffee to a coffee table, you can find a Fair Trade option for just about anything! Check out this handy gift guide if you're not sure where to begin.

Gift ideas for bookworms, bloggers, and writers:
Fair Trade notebooks, chocolate, tea, coffee, or comfy socks.

2. Local
Instead of joining the crowds at WalMart or scanning page after page on Amazon, take a stroll down Main Street or check out a holiday craft fair and support your neighbors.

Gift ideas for bookworms, bloggers, and writers:
Locally made snacks or candy, a book from the local bookshop, notecards from a local artist . . . the options are endless!

3. Recycled
While you're browsing local shops, craft fairs, and Fair Trade stores, look for items that are made with recycled materials. Like-new used items can make great gifts, too! By choosing recycled gifts, you're helping keep useable materials and products out of the landfill.

Gift ideas for bookworms, bloggers, and writers:
Used books, recycled paper notebooks or stationery, a recycled materials pencil bag, or recycled cotton socks.

4. Homemade
Making something yourself ensures that you know exactly what went in it, plus it can be fun, comes from the heart, and might even save you money! There are countless tutorials and recipes online for creative homemade gifts.

Gift ideas for bookworms, bloggers, and writers:
Hot chocolate mix, homemade candy, bookmarks, or a box made from an old hardcover book.

5. Donate
For the person who has everything, a wonderful option is to donate to a nonprofit organization in their honor. Many organizations offer a printable gift card for the person in whose honor you donate, but you can also write a message in a Christmas card made by a local artist!

Gift ideas for bookworms, bloggers, and writers:
Donate to your local library, New Community Project's Give a Girl a Chance program (girls' education), Mennonite Central Committee (choose "Education"--or any category!), Books for Africa, or Room to Read.


I highly recommend going to brick-and-mortar stores, but if you prefer shopping online, here are a few options that fall under one or more of the above categories:

Amazon Smile -- still Amazon, but a portion of what you pay is donated to an organization of your choice
Better World Books -- online bookstore that donates one book for every book sold
Booksavers -- nonprofit used bookstore
Heifer International -- nonprofit organization focused on ending hunger and poverty
Ten Thousand Villages -- sells only fair trade items (TTV has physical stores too--see if there's one near you!)


now what? {publishing tips}

Perhaps you just won NaNoWriMo, or maybe you've been laboring over your manuscript for months, but the result is the same: a glorious, complete novel that you're ready to share with the world! First, congratulations! Writing a novel is no easy feat! Second, don't publish it yet. There are many steps to publishing a book, and completing the first draft is really just the beginning!

I haven't finished my novel yet, so I'm not writing from the experience of a published author, but rather as a beta reader and professional editor who has done her research. Despite having participated in two NaNoWriMos, I still have not written 50,000 words--though I reached my personal goal of 25,000 last year, I only penned 10,000 this year. I'm still satisfied, though, because that's far more than I wrote all year! But I digress.

Publishing a book is a process--a journey, if you will--that does not end with the triumphant clicks of a keyboard that set "the end" at the bottom of your last page. It's going to take some time. You've been laboring over this beautiful manuscript for countless hours, so it only makes sense to ensure that it's in its best possible form before launching it into the world.

I know you're itching to publish this masterpiece, but please, please, please don't take any shortcuts. I've read too many self-published books that had great potential but weren't great novels, because they lacked proper editing. It breaks my heart to see them, because I know the effort that went into writing those books, only to have them fall flat for want of a little more attention.

So, it takes time. It also takes some financial investment, and I know as well as anyone how hard this is, being on a very tight budget myself. But if you go through the proper steps, you will eventually sell books, which will bring in some money. There are also ways to do this more cheaply, especially if you are self-publishing. If you have the money, though, I highly encourage you to hire professional editors, and not just because I am one myself. I want your novel to shine!

The Chicago Manual of Style is an extremely helpful tool to have around during the editing process (the 16th edition is the most recent), and I also recommend taking a look at Joel Friedlander's 10 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing. Although the former is an investment, the latter is available as a free pdf.

And now, here are five steps to take before publishing your novel. Don't rush, avoid those tempting shortcuts, and make sure you do these in order!

1. Take a break
You've just spent a lot of time with your novel, and it's hard to edit a manuscript with your eyes glazed over. Let it sit for a week--or four-- while you take care of all those things you neglected while writing. Clean the house, spend time with family and friends, or work on a different writing project. Just don't touch this one.

2. Self edit
Before you have others look at your manuscript, edit it yourself. This may involve some extensive rewriting, especially when you're working with a first draft. Get the story where you want it and edit for structure, flow, and mechanics. Take a break between drafts (see above) so that you can tackle each one with fresh eyes. And yes, you should go through several drafts!

3. Developmental edit
If you can, hire a professional developmental editor. This person will help you further polish your story, catching plot holes and other things you may have missed. If money is tight, you can look for editors just getting their foot in the door who are willing to look at your manuscript for very cheap or perhaps even for free.

You can also send your manuscript to beta readers, though I recommend doing this in addition to--and not in lieu of--developmental editing. Have the professional editor look at it first, make the necessary changes, and then hand it off to a team of beta readers.

4. Copyedit
A copyeditor will check your manuscript for proper style, mechanics, and, depending on the level of copyedit, organization and presentation. Again, hire an experienced professional if at all possible, but know that you can find an amateur to do the work more cheaply if you need to.

5. Proofread
This is the absolute final step before your book is published. If you make any changes after the proofread, you risk introducing more errors that will most likely end up in the published version, so please make all changes before sending your final draft to a proofreader!

Also, make sure your book is in the proper format--check spacing, alignment, paragraph formatting, chapter headings, etc. Have all elements of the book laid out exactly how you want them to be published, from front matter to back matter, and then send the whole thing to a professional proofreader.

And then, publish your book.

From the Editor's Desk {Tip of the Week}
editing your novel

After writing a novel comes editing. After typing "the end," start with self-editing, and finish with professional proofreading. For all the steps in-between, read the list in the blog post above. :)

Need an editor? Check out www.serenaedits.com.
I offer copyediting and proofreading services for everything from blogs to books!


I refuse {poetry thursday}

This winter I refuse to be unhappy.
I refuse to sit inside, wrapped in melancholy,
longing desperately to be Somewhere Else
while all around me beauty
waits to be noticed, acknowledged:
snowflakes falling silently,
glorious dust from heaven piling softly
on the ground, clinging to branches,
sliding--zip!--off the roof
as if to carry my human filth away;
boots critch-crunch through quiet woods,
accepting the sap lines' invitation
to solve their tangled maze,
breaking the rules--perhaps there are none, here--
by ducking under and stepping over,
stopping to wonder at a felled tree
whose white-capped, tumble-down pieces
could be cushioned stools or
a long-forgotten ruin,
then turn, look up the hill:
Is it possible I live
in a canvas castle in the woods?


around the world {book haul}

Funny how I plan to read books already on my shelves, and somehow end up with a stack of new ones. . . . Three of these were gifts (one to my husband), and one was an impulse buy. The three that are mine each take place in a different country, so I look forward to adding them to my Reading the World list!

The Hundred Secret Senses
by Amy Tan

I don't know much about this book other than that it's about a Chinese-American family and involves both countries. My mother-in-law gave it to me when I saw her in Texas for a wedding a few weeks ago, having already read and enjoyed it herself. It's perfect shape and well-loved look makes me want to pick it up and start reading immediately!

Island of the World
by Michael D. O'Brien

The sheer size of this massive hardcover, plus an intriguing title and beautiful cover, led me to pick it up in a thrift store and refuse to leave without it. Island of the World centers around the life of a boy who grows up during World War II, and the summary promises a novel just as beautiful and haunting as the cover (which, by the way, was created by the author . . .).

Blessed by Thunder
by Flor Fernandez Barrios

While in Texas, we "happened upon" a used bookshop, and my mother-in-law offered to buy each of us--my husband, his brother, and myself--a two dollar book from the sale racks on the sidewalk. I chose this Cuban memoir, about a woman who grew up under the rule of Fidel Castro.

Rogue Lawyer
by John Grisham

This is obviously my husband's choice from the used bookshop, and I have no idea what it's about, nor any intention of reading it. So why did I include it in the stack? Good question. . . .

From the Editor's Desk {Tip of the Week}
don't dangle participles!

Incorrect: While editing the manuscript, the doorbell rang and interrupted her.

The doorbell certainly wasn't editing the manuscript, so this should be rewritten to make clear that the "her" mentioned at the end of the sentence was doing the editing.

Correct: While she was editing the manuscript, the doorbell rang and interrupted her.
Also correct: While editing the manuscript, she was interrupted by the doorbell ringing.

Need an editor? Check out www.serenaedits.com.
I offer copyediting and proofreading services for everything from blogs to books!




I'm super strict about giving Thanksgiving its place in the spotlight before moving on to Christmas, but I wanted to share this with you all before Advent begins.

I've been searching for that perfect Advent devotional for years--one that chronicles the Christmas story from beginning to end without sappy/boring/unrelated anecdotes stealing the limelight. I've found countless books that include cute little stories that only sort of relate to the daily scripture readings, and scripture readings that only sort of relate to Christmas. Anticipation? Check. Hope? Check. The birth of our Savior? Eh, that shows up on Christmas day. Maybe. That perfect Advent devotional doesn't seem to exist--or, if it does, I haven't found it yet (if you have, let me know, please!).

So, I finally created my own. It's cobbled together with Old Testament prophesies listed in Halley's Bible Handbook for the weekday readings and pieces of the Christmas story for Sunday readings. I struggled to stretch the selections through Epiphany, so the passage for January 6 is Jesus' baptism, which apparently is what some churches celebrate on Epiphany, as opposed to the visit of the magi.

I must also note that I am not a Bible scholar, so this is by no means a "perfect" Advent devotional. I might discover partway through that it's not worth using, or I might decide to tweak a few things and try again next year. In any case, having spent several hours putting this together, I decided to share it.

I recommend reading the notes and cross-references in a study Bible as you read each day's passage(s), or consulting a concordance or handbook like Halley's Bible Handbook (if you have this one, check out the section between the Testaments on prophesies about Christ). If you decide to use this list of readings, please send me comments, questions, and suggestions for improvement!

Click here to view the 2016 Advent devotional!
Please print double-sided to save paper (this is best done from the preview page that loads directly from the link--opening the document in Google Docs will mess up the formatting, unfortunately. . . .)


The Unexpected Dragon {book review}

The Unexpected Dragon
by Mary Brown

Raised in a pleasant one-room cottage a discreet distance from the village, Summer had a secure and industrious childhood. . . . But her cozy, predictable life changed suddenly when, at the age of 17, she was orphaned. Left with a small dowry of foreign coins and a ring said to be made from the horn of a unicorn, she planned to head for the nearest large city where she'd hire a marriage broker and be married straight away.

It wasn't long, though, before her journey began to get strange. The ring she'd slipped on wouldn't come off, and soon she became aware that her perceptions were heightened. Most startling of all was her new ability to speak with animals. The dog Growch was the first, but she hadn't reckoned on the ragtag lot of creatures that followed, all needing her help. -from the inside cover


Before I begin, I should explain that The Unexpected Dragon is a single volume containing books two through four of a series (book one is a prequel, from what I gather): Pigs Don't Fly, Master of Many Treasures, and Dragonne's Eg. As such, it is delightfully massive.

Summer is a wonderfully imperfect, bumbling protagonist. Her thoughts, actions, and appearance are all very realistic. However, I found it hard to like her at times, and Growch quickly became my favorite character . . . until the flying pig came along. I love the dynamics between the main characters—the relationships Summer forms with her menagerie.

This quirky, captivating, unpredictable book consists of one adventure after another, and yet they're all part of one journey.

Although it was odd at first to realize that The Unexpected Dragon is set in Europe, like a fantasy/historical fiction crossover, I soon grew to appreciate it. The narrative accurately portrays Summer's travels as bringing her into contact with many different places, cultures, and religions, and I found this refreshing.

I also love Summer's lack of tolerance for abuse or violence of any kind against any living creature, from pigeon to slave. She recognizes and respects the fact that everyone has their own story and their own motivations.

I noticed quite a few typos in the first two books (Pigs Don't Fly and Master of Many Treasures), and there is a lot of premarital sex, but thankfully nothing graphic.

Although I adored the third book, Dragonne's Eg, I'm hesitant to review it for fear of giving away too much. Suffice it to say this final installment also includes incredible characters and fantastic settings, and it provides a wonderful conclusion to the series.

But what about the dragon?! Well, given that the title is The Unexpected Dragon, to tell you about the dragon would be to ruin the unexpectedness of it all!

4/5 leaves

From the Editor's Desk {Tip of the Week}

Although bemused seems to have taken on the meaning of wry amusement, the primary definition is to be confused or bewildered.

You might be bemused by the definition of bemused.

Need an editor? Check out www.serenaedits.com.
I offer copyediting and proofreading services for everything from blogs to books!



butterfly leaves {poetry thursday}

butterfly leaves try to fly
from the shrub that they cling to
but their wings are not yet dry
so they flap, flap, flutter, and tremble
in the wind
'til the winter snows set them free



Sometimes I read a blog post and just think, wow. And I wish everyone in the world would read it, and feel that warm prick inside to wake them up as it did me. Sometimes it's a poem, others a rambling essay, or maybe photos or a simple list. In any case, here are a few of those posts that have made me feel inspired.

the practice of giving thanks | trembling but roaring {a poem}
if places were people no. 3 | She Laughs {a poem}
The Ultimate Diverse Reading List | Read Diverse Books {a list}
Magic by Any Other Name | Jenelle Schmidt {an essay}
Throw Pillows | The Goodness Revolt {photos & an essay}
You Don't Have To Travel To Find Yourself | A Portrait of Youth {an essay}
Dear Girls | Princess Faith {an essay}
fire | Down by the Willows {a poem}

Where have you found inspiration lately?

From the Editor's Desk {Tip of the Week}
allude/elude/illude--which one?

Ah, homonyms! Whatever shall we do with them? Here are the definitions for allude, elude, and illude, so you won't confuse them again!

Allude: to refer to something indirectly
Elude: to avoid capture
Illude: to deceive

She alluded to her elusion of the man who had illuded her.



may the odds be ever in your favor

The beautiful month of October draws to a close today. In Celtic tradition, if I remember correctly, today also marks the end of the year, which in some ways seems more fitting to me than December 31. The trees, having celebrated the bounty of harvest and the changing seasons with an unbelievable cacophony of colors, now stand nearly bare. Yes, let's begin the year with cleansing snow. God plants in the autumn, after all.

For some of us, tomorrow heralds in something entirely different--a month-long sprint of insanity, you could say. Some of you are eyeing your keyboard or pen with anticipation and something akin to fear, and you know exactly what I'm hinting at. Others of you are wary of the acronym I'm about to type, and may even be ready to unfollow any blog on which you read it, for fear of being overwhelmed by writing updates disguised by incomprehensible flailing in the coming weeks.

NaNoWriMo. I think I knew all year that I would do it, yet the decision to participate in my second National Novel Writing Month still came with some uncertainty. Do I really have the time? No less than I did last year, I suppose! I still plan to trudge forward with my reading challenge--I read before bed to wind down, so writing won't affect that--and I promise that I won't write another NaNo-centered post until the end, when I will probably do a wrap-up post. Before last year, I became very tired of seeing "NaNoWriMo" plastered on blogs every November, so I try to strike a balance with my own blog now that I participate in this madness.

I'm working on the same book again this year, since I haven't hardly touched it since last November, when I wrote about 26,000 words. My working title is The Hippogriff, and after "pantsing" my first NaNo, I scribbled out a skeleton of an outline a few weeks ago in hopes that I can get the story moving forward.

Being a slow writer, and not wanting to greatly affect my normal responsibilities, I'm also keeping my same humble goal of 25,000 words. Some may say that I'm not a true NaNoer if I don't aim for the full 50,000, but I say that while it's good to stretch yourself, it's also important to respect your limitations.

Speaking of limitations, I currently live in a yurt(!), so my access to electricity (not to mention internet) is a bit limited. This means, of course, that unlike last year, I will be writing my novel by hand over the coming weeks. Who knows . . . maybe I'll find that I prefer it this way!

If you're also doing NaNoWriMo this year (or if you're simply interested in more frequent updates), please add me as a friend on the NaNo website or follow me on Twitter! Good luck, and happy writing!

From the Editor's Desk {Tip of the Week}

How many times should you hit "enter" after a paragraph, or the space bar at the end of a sentence? If you're writing a manuscript, the answer to both questions is "once." There should never be two spaces between sentences, and paragraphs should be indented, not separated by a blank line.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? If so, what is your book about? If not, how do you feel about blogs that post constant writing updates throughout the month of November?


I am here

I grew angry last night
screaming, crying,
turning nothing into everything and
defiantly stuffing down countless chocolate cookies

but then, as I lay awake in bed
--having calmed myself in the pages of a book--
my muse landed gently on my soul
and said

I am here
I am here
I am here

and suddenly the world righted itself
and I was me again
the me I had found years ago and
established so firmly at the center of my core
the me who wrote and sang and loved and lived
so passionately that she ached physically

and as the rain drummed its fingertips
softly on the deck
I chanted

I am here
I am here
I am here

I Am is here


Harry Potter and the Unexpected Dragon {bookshelf love}

Last month, I challenged myself to read 10 books by Christmas. In order to keep myself accountable--and because I'm sure you're dying to know my progress (ok, you probably forgot about it entirely. . . .)--I thought I'd post monthly updates. Obviously, since I'm a bookwyrm with a voracious mental appetite, I've already devoured half of the stack.

Nope. Just kidding. At the rate I'm going, I might finish the stack by February. . . .

Airs Beneath the Moon by Toby Bishop
The Unexpected Dragon by Mary Brown*
Falling from Horses by Molly Gloss
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
City of Dragons by Robin Hobb
I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

*in progress

Although I often read two books at once (no, not one with each eye--you know what I mean), I typically pair nonfiction with fiction, not fantasy with fantasy. What I'm doing now is alternating between two different series, since The Unexpected Dragon is actually a trilogy in one volume. Mostly, I'm doing this because I have no self-control when it comes to books, and I checked out The Prisoner of Azkaban before I was ready to read it. I also might have curiously snatched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at the same time.

On a similar note, I'd probably be farther along if I'd stop reading books not on my Bookshelf Love stack.

If you'd like to join in the fun (please do!), or if you're wondering what in the world this Bookshelf Love nonsense is, visit this post for more details and to sign up!

From the Editor's Desk {Tip of the Week}
Fewer vs. Less

Don't they mean the same thing? Not quite. Use "fewer" when referring to a quantity and "less" when mentioning a volume.

She had fewer potatoes in her soup than he did.
He had less soup.

There were fewer people at the market today.
There was less of a crowd today.


harmony of autumn {poetry thursday}

laughter in the forest,
faeries swirling, twirling, dancing to the ground
in joyful golden skirts
--a flutter, a falling, shimmering curtain--
landing breathlessly on the ground
with a whisper to the sunset leaves

and in the contagious excitement the trees--
the trees join in, begin to sway
to the harmony of autumn
their verdant boughs transforming
for the glorious masquerade
in celebration of the sleepy, silent, cozy months to come


horses and city folk {mini reviews}

The God of Animals
by Aryn Kyle

This gritty, character-driven, captivating coming-of-age story is the perfect book to truly lose yourself in—and yet somehow I found myself within it. The people are real, the land is real, the struggles are real. Only on a few occasions did a detail stick out to remind me that I was reading fiction. Alice is a wonderfully observant, likable protagonist, but she also acts like the twelve-year-old that she is, which I find refreshing in the face of the many too-mature youth in novels.

And despite the fact that Alice fears the creatures her father raises, the author's knowledge of horses shines through. She clearly knows how it feels to ride a horse—to compete on a horse—and she's masterfully captured that in words.

There was, unfortunately, quite a bit of crude language, but it fit the personality of the characters who used it, so I tried not to dwell on it as a negative aspect. Otherwise, the book is fairly clean.

4/5 leaves

Mud Season
by Ellen Stimson

Although full of hilarity, this memoir also elicited quite a few incredulous facepalms from me. The beginning is a love story of Ellen (and family) and Vermont—this is what hooked me, as it is beautifully written and I related very well. As the story moved along, I appreciated Ellen's ability to laugh at herself and to recognize that her family was a group of outsiders/city folk/“yuppies” moving into a rural area with deep roots.

I understood and laughed at (often out loud) many of her unfortunate incidents, but a lot of them left me shaking my head and wondering just what in the world they were thinking. Some of the humor even felt a bit forced, with repeated phrases like, “Well, of course I did!”

Though the book over all left me with some mixed feelings, the “After Words”—a collection of mouth-watering recipes—not only made me (very) hungry, but also was fun to read.

3/5 leaves


From the Editor's Desk {Tip of the Week}
Dialogue Tags: Commas and Capitalization
Punctuating dialogue tags can be tricky. As a general rule, separate tags from dialogue with a comma. If the tag follows, begin it with a lowercase letter (even if the quote ends with a question mark or exclamation point). You should almost always begin a quote with a capital letter.

Tricky spots: Action phrases like “he sighed” or “she laughed” should be treated as separate sentences.

“I can't believe it.” She sighed.
“What?” asked James.
Looking up, she replied, “He forgot again.”