Books of 2014

Ah, the new year. Time to refresh my Goodreads read­ing chal­lenge!

Even though my blog­ging efforts are focused pri­mar­ily on The ADHD Home­stead, I plan to use this space for news, announce­ments, and fun stuff — like a review of the books I read last year.

While I fell short of my 30-book goal for 2014, I still feel good about com­plet­ing 19 books, includ­ing some meaty non-fiction reads. As any nurs­ing mother of a new­born can attest, I had lots of built-in read­ing time in 2013, so I sailed through 28 books. I had to learn how to make (and pro­tect!) time for books in the year that followed.

For 2015, I’m chal­leng­ing myself to a very man­age­able 20 books. Hope­fully I exceed that goal. In the mean­time, here’s a ranked list of my 2014 read­ing. I can’t claim too much pre­ci­sion, but I can promise that the top four or five books in each cat­e­gory are well worth your time.

What should I read this year? What were your favorites from last year?


  1. The Book Thief - Mar­cus Zusak
  2. Etched on Me - Jenn Crow­ell
  3. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands — Chris Bohjalian
  4. Land­line - Rain­bow Rowell
  5. For­give Me, Leonard Pea­cock - Matthew Quick
  6. Sud­den Flash Youth: 65 Short-Short Stories
  7. The Painted Girls — Cathy Marie Buchanan
  8. The Kitchen House - Kath­leen Grissom
  9. The Hundred-Foot Jour­ney - Richard C. Morais
  10. Boys Like You - Juliana Stone
  11. Veron­ica Mars — The Thou­sand Dol­lar Tan Line - Rob Thomas
  12. The New­ly­weds - Nell Freuden­berger
  13. The Sig­na­ture of All Things - Eliz­a­beth Gilbert


  1. The End of Night - Paul Bog­ard
  2. Lawrence in Ara­bia: War, Deceit, Impe­r­ial Folly and the Mak­ing of the Mod­ern Mid­dle East - Scott Ander­son
  3. Dif­fi­cult Con­ver­sa­tions — Dou­glas Stone, Bruce Pat­ton,  & Sheila Heen
  4. Choice: True Sto­ries of Birth, Con­tra­cep­tion, Infer­til­ity, Adop­tion, Sin­gle Par­ent­hood, and Abortion
  5. Cre­ate Your Writer Plat­form - Chuck Sam­buchino
  6. Jo Frost’s Tod­dler Rules — Jo Frost

Excerpt of the Week #3

This week’s excerpt is from a newly res­ur­rected novella. I’ve always been par­tial to it, but novel­las can be tough to pub­lish. I finally found a pub­li­ca­tion accept­ing longer sto­ries with a June 30 deadline. I’m strug­gling with the flow and tone in sev­eral spots, but I like how my main character’s voice shines through here.

On my way out I heard it. Some­body was play­ing a high and mourn­ful gui­tar solo, drag­ging a note out to just the right length before tum­bling onward. I felt like I was walk­ing through his open heart. I had to stop and lis­ten, strain my ears through all the sound­proof­ing in the walls. God, I loved lis­ten­ing to some­one who could impro­vise like that. There are vocal­ists who can do it, too, but I never could. It was the one place where my voice still felt inhib­ited, like I had some­thing stuck in my throat.

I heard another door open down the hall and shook it off, smooth­ing my arm hair down where it had been stand­ing on end. When I walked past the room with the gui­tarist, I took a look out of the cor­ner of my eye. The arm hair stood back up again and a chill went right down to my ankles.

– from Nightswim­ming (YA short fiction)

For pre­vi­ous Excerpts of the Week, click here.

Excerpt of the Week #2

Fish­ing through the pile of guest posts and cre­ative non-fiction I’ve been work­ing on this week, I felt inspired to share an excerpt from my young adult novel man­u­script. I recently decided to switch the per­spec­tive from third per­son to first per­son, which had the some­what unex­pected effect of tak­ing me way back in the edit­ing process — if it’s not a first draft all over again, it’s nowhere close to a final draft, either.

I love intense, well-written fight scenes — think the Nate-Brenda breakup scene from the HBO series Six Feet Under (dis­claimer: con­tains exces­sive pro­fan­ity and, of course, spoil­ers) – and I worked for a long time on this one. Of course, switch­ing the per­spec­tive forced me to tear much of it down and rebuild. Here’s a piece of the new scene:

John rubbed his eyes with his palms, let­ting out a long breath that puffed his cheeks out around his lips. Just a few min­utes ear­lier I’d wanted to stand my ground in that room until I’d saved our love some­how, but now all I could think about was get­ting out of there. My heart was grow­ing lit­tle ten­drils, reach­ing out through space for some­where warm and safe and, most impor­tantly, nowhere near John or his house. I needed to find Claudia.

Look, I have to go. I have plans with Clau­dia later.” I set­tled my mes­sen­ger bag across my shoul­der and turned to walk out the door.

Mar­i­ana, hold on.” I turned around, tried to keep my eyes cold, felt my body tense as he stood and walked toward me.

Can I have a hug?”

Why?” We stood fac­ing each other in the door­way for a moment, wait­ing to see who would blink first.

– from Stand­ing on the Precipice (YA fic­tion)

For pre­vi­ous Excerpts of the Week, click here.

Interview: Chrissy Hennessey of The New Me

Christine Hennessey - informal photo

A lot of writ­ers strug­gle with the pres­sure to cre­ate an online plat­form — includ­ing a blog, which can steal pre­cious writ­ing time from other projects. You don’t need to be a writer or a blog­ger, though. You can be … Con­tinue read­ing

Attract more visitors to your website with a polished site description

This post is part of a series of easy tech tips for writ­ers. To see past tech tips, click here.

A friend recently asked me a great ques­tion: how can I help peo­ple find my website?

This task — referred to as search engine opti­miza­tion, or SEO — is a big one. You can make a career out of it.

Of course, you’re a writer, not an SEO expert. We want to keep it that way, so I’m giv­ing you just one piece of home­work to make your site look pro­fes­sional and click-worthy in a list of Google results. Any­one can do it — I promise.

I’m fea­tur­ing self-hosted Word­Press sites today because I see a lot of writ­ers using them. If you want to request a tech tip for your non-WordPress site, please drop me a line in the comments.

First of all, let’s look at how your site appears in a Google search for your name.

site description in Google search results

click the image to see a larger version

[Tip: tell Google to hide pri­vate results (vis­i­ble only to you) by click­ing the option cir­cled in red in the upper right.]

My search result includes bio text from my site’s front page, plus some unfor­tu­nate alter­nate text from my head­shot. That just won’t do. I want to edit that lit­tle blurb under my site title. The word count is tiny, but its posi­tion is powerful.

You can take con­trol of that text by edit­ing your site’s meta­data: descrip­tive con­tent that vis­i­tors can’t see, but search engines can. Sound too tech­ni­cal? Don’t fret. Word­Press has some handy plu­g­ins to help you out.

To get started, log into your website’s admin por­tal and nav­i­gate to Add New under the Plu­g­ins menu on the left-hand side­bar. Using a plu­gin to edit your site’s meta­data elim­i­nates the need for you to inter­act with the code directly. I rec­om­mend Yoast’s Word­Press SEO plu­gin*, and I’m going to use it in my exam­ple here.

Search for Word­Press SEO and install Word­Press SEO by Yoast. The plu­gin has great fea­tures in its set­tings page, but I’ll let you explore those on your own. For now, we’re just going to nav­i­gate to the edit win­dow for our site’s main page — the one peo­ple see when they visit

Yoast plugin in WordPress search results

click the image to see a larger version

You’ll see Word­Press SEO has added a new box to the edit page. This box allows you to spec­ify a cus­tom title and descrip­tion for your page. It also pro­vides a handy pre­view of your new and improved search result.

yoast plugin inline settings

click the image to see a larger version

When you’re fin­ished, save your changes by click­ing Update.

The Word­Press SEO plu­gin will auto­mat­i­cally notify Google that some­thing has changed on your page, but you won’t see a change instan­ta­neously. Google doesn’t pull infor­ma­tion from your site in real time — that would take too long, and most peo­ple expect search results to start show­ing up before they’ve even fin­ished typ­ing. Instead, Google peri­od­i­cally scans the web — includ­ing your site — and stores up-to-date infor­ma­tion on their servers. The Google­Bot gets around rel­a­tively quickly, though, so your infor­ma­tion should update within a week.

It really is that easy! Any ques­tions? Let me know in the comments!

* I have no affil­i­a­tion with Yoast, nor have I received com­pen­sa­tion of any kind in exchange for rec­om­mend­ing this plu­gin. I just hap­pen to like it!

Addi­tional References:

Google’s Web­mas­ter Guide­lines
Yoast’s Defin­i­tive Guide To Higher Rank­ings For Word­Press Sites

Excerpt of the Week #1

This week I’m intro­duc­ing a reg­u­lar fea­ture I’ve had on my mind for quite a while. With Excerpt of the Week, I’ll share around 100 words from one of my active projects every other Fri­day. You’ll be able to find them all by click­ing here or fol­low­ing #ExOTW on Twit­ter. Feel free to share your own excerpts in the comments!

I thought of my apart­ment, the stairs creak­ing and flex­ing as I hauled my feet up the two flights to my door with its three locks and its crooked let­ter­ing bear­ing the char­ac­ters “3F.” Soon, I told myself. Soon. You’re almost there. Out­side, an ambu­lance shoved its way through a line of cars. I tried to steal a look into the yellow-illuminated inte­rior, where I could see a para­medic mov­ing to and fro, head down. An ex-boyfriend had called this habit sick, voyeuris­tic, but in truth I was feed­ing my anx­i­ety, try­ing in vain to see if every­one was okay.

– from The Test (flash fic­tion)

Novel progress: one step forward, two steps back, and right where I should be

…stop­ping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emo­tion­ally or imag­i­na­tively, is a bad idea. Some­times you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and some­times you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re man­ag­ing is to shovel shit from a sit­ting position.”

– Stephen King, On Writ­ing

It came to me in the shower: how many suc­cess­ful YA nov­els are writ­ten in third person?

novel manuscript ready to mail off to agentsThe man­u­script wasn’t fin­ished. I had to stop query­ing agents and rewrite it in first person.

I’m thank­ful for these bit­ter­sweet dis­cov­er­ies because they help me take my man­u­script to the next level, but oh, how part of me wished I’d never had this one.

Hav­ing writ­ten so many drafts over so many years, I’d assumed Stand­ing on the Precipice was done.

Before the birth of my first child, I quit my job and took a month to fin­ish this novel once and for all. When I returned from the hos­pi­tal with tiny R. in tow, my first rejec­tion let­ter awaited me in the mailbox.

I con­tin­ued to receive rejec­tions, most of them encour­ag­ing. Agents wrote notes about how my pro­tag­o­nist seemed inter­est­ing, but my novel wasn’t a project they could take on at the moment. They apol­o­gized for slow responses, praised my work, and wished me well.

Fel­low writ­ers con­grat­u­lated me and said, “you’re get­ting so close! Keep revising!”

I smiled and thought, nah, Stand­ing on the Precipice is done. I just need to find the right agent.

Then came my lit­tle rev­e­la­tion in the shower, and you know what? I owed it to the story to make it happen.

manuscript with a note from an agentAs I dipped my toes back into the man­u­script, I saw the gap­ing dis­tance third-person per­spec­tive cre­ated between my main char­ac­ter and the reader. This rewrite was the oppor­tu­nity she’d been hop­ing for all along.

In short, I saw the book Stand­ing on the Precipice had to be, even if it meant comb­ing through the entire man­u­script sen­tence by sen­tence to uncover the story that needed to be told.

Some days, this work feels mar­velous. After all, if I was get­ting friendly rejec­tions before, surely Stand­ing on the Precipice will see an agent’s desk after such vast improvements.

Other days, it’s painfully clear I’m dump­ing more hours into a project that won’t see the light of day for a long time. I’m tempted to use this time for a new piece that could put my name in print sooner.

Novel writ­ing is like the world’s longest game of Chutes and Lad­ders. Just when you’ve read­ied your vic­tory dance, you hit that long chute that starts the whole game over.

Then you have a choice. Some writ­ers would shove that project away in a dark drawer and call it a fail­ure. Oth­ers would keep query­ing any­way. Oth­ers would sim­ply get back to work.

If I’ve learned any­thing in the nearly five years since my first draft, it’s that if writ­ing a novel feels easy, you’re far from the fin­ish line. If you keep an open mind, your book will lead you there — how­ever cir­cuitously. As you lis­ten for its direc­tion, your only task is to remem­ber that no request, no revi­sion, is too great.