Monday, June 29, 2015

Embracing challenges from A to Z: Notes from a 4-time challenge winner by Laura Roberts

Embracing challenges from A to Z:
Notes from a 4-time challenge winner by Laura Roberts 


           The annual Blogging from A to Z April Challenge has become a rite of passage for me. I can't remember how I first discovered its existence, but I do remember how intrigued I was by the notion of blogging on a daily basis, focusing on every letter of the alphabet – one at a time – as a special challenge.

         The first year I joined the challenge was 2012. Upon discovering that the organizers suggested choosing a theme to help keep your blogging on track, I decided to write about Awesome Lady Authors. The goal was to combat an irritating trend I'd noticed in the media, which seems to focus predominantly on male authors, despite the fact that far more women are reading – and writing – than men. I wanted to play up the female writers I knew and loved, and to discover more of them throughout the month. Writing about female authors based on the first letters of their last names, I discovered the excellent works of Xue Xinran (a double X, as I've always been a bit of an overachiever), and got a chance to promote the works of several authors I'm friends with, like poet Gillian Sze and spoken word performance artist Catherine Kidd. I also highlighted some of my childhood favorites, like Beverly Cleary (author of the Ramona books) and Louise Fitzhugh (author of my all-time fave Harriet the Spy). The whole exercise made me feel a lot more connected to my own writing, on a personal level that I had previously abandoned in my blogging, and seemed to resonate with fellow A to Z participants as well. But that was just the beginning.

         In 2013 I joined the challenge again. Having published the first book in my erotica series, Naked Montreal, the month before, I wanted to give my readers a less sexually-charged point of entry. I realized that many of my American readers knew little or nothing about the Canadian city of Montreal, and I wanted to help them get to know this alluring, French-speaking "Paris of America," through personal anecdotes about the time I'd spent there. So I wrote chose the theme "Montreal from A to Z," and went for it. Again, I felt inspired by the challenge, excited to share my thoughts, and wanted to keep going! After the 2013 challenge was over, I decided to turn my Montreal posts into a book. In November of that year, I finally published them as Montreal from A to Z.

          In 2014, I went a little more risqué. Drawing on my past as a sex columnist, I wrote nonfictional posts on the subject of Sex Toys from A to Z. And, as per my 2013 challenge, I published the results as Play With Me: Sex Toys from A to Z.

            Which brings us to 2015! This year I decided to double-down on my challenge themes. At my newly minted blog, Laura Roberts Books, I would write about my new hometown, San Diego, highlighting some of its most interesting hotspots, as well as the unusual bits and pieces that might not make the typical guidebook under the banner of "San Diego from A to Z."

           Meanwhile, at my erotica blog over at Buttontapper Press, I would also write about Sexy San Diego – focusing on more X-rated sights and performances you can find in the city. That way I'd have not one but two books completed at the end of April. I'm happy to report that I finished both of my blogging challenges successfully this year, despite the fact that it was twice as much work. The A to Z Challenge has given me plenty of material for my new books, one of which is launching today! Born from my April blog posts, along with plenty of bonus material, San Diego from A to Z hits shelves today at Amazon. I hope you'll give it a read, and that it will help inspire you to turn your own A to Z Challenge posts into a book.

       Visit Laura Roberts Books for her blog and past A to Z posts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Who Are You?

I visit a lot of blogs during the week and over time, most of those bloggers become my friends. Good friends as in on a first name basis. During A to Z and other blog hops, I have the chance to meet new-to-me bloggers. Some are so interesting and I'm happy to have found new friends. But sometimes I can't find their names.

Perhaps their blog has a name relating to their area of interests, something like Bug Eaters of Pennsylvania. After I read through a fantastic post with delicious recipe for fried crickets and comment on it, I decide I want to follow this unique blog. Or I want to make my comment more personal by using the blogger's name. Or perhaps I want to tell everyone about this fun site by linking to it on my own blog. But no matter where I search on that blog, I can't find the name of the person or persons behind it. Who are they?

Sometimes people want to keep their exact identity from general knowledge and that is understandable. But even then, coming up with a name for your online presence is better than no name at all. For instance, one of the blogs I've discovered recently is SpacerGuy. It's a fun blog about Star Trek and SciFi stuff. I have no problem with the name SpacerGuy. It's a name I can call my friend.

I don't want to point out any of the blogs that I've found without a name but I'm sure you've run into a few of them. Check your blog title, your blog sidebar. Is it easy for a new visitor to figure out who you are? Do you have something in your blog header or the sidebar that lets visitors know what your blog is about? Is there a name they can call you if not your given name?

If your name is the title of your blog, then it's easy for people to know who you are. If it's not, do your visitors know what they can call you? Or should we just call you, Bug Eater?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

June, the Love and Marriage Month

We're nearly halfway through 2015, time flying by as it tends to do. Have you written more than half the posts you'll produce for the year. Probably yes if you survived April.

June if a favorite month of mine. As a teacher, of course, it meant the start of summer break. But it's so much more than that. It's the month my oldest son was born, the month of my anniversary, the birthdays of two my sisters and generally considered a time for romance and marriage.

There will be weddings galore and many of us will be invited to at least one. The name June comes
from the Roman Goddess Juno, Juno was the goddess of marriage, pregnancy and childbirth. So which came first, the name of the month or all the weddings during the month? I think the name.

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind." William Shakespeare

But June isn't know just for marriage. June 6th was D-Day, marking the day when 160,000 Allied troops landed on be beaches of Normandy. A day to be marked forever.

June 14th is Flag Day in the USA representing the date when in 1777 when the Continental Congress accepted the design made by Betsy Ross for the fledgling US Navy as our national flag. My oldest son was born on June 14th but we didn't name him 'Old Glory.'

June's birthstone is the pearl, which was once thought to be a cure for insanity. So wear those pearl earrings just to be on the safe side.

Today, June 17th, is Bunker Hill Day in Suffolk County in Massachusetts, marking the battle at said hill during the siege of Boston in 1775. Not a widely noticed holiday but it was an important day.

Tomorrow, June 18th, marks the start of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting where followers do not eat from sunrise to sunset each day.

June 21st is Father's Day and the Summer Solstice. My husband is always thrilled on that day when our five boys come over to play all day. Maybe even a golf outing. I love that longest day of the year but I don't like how our hours of sun start to shorten again after ward. And for those long summer nights, here's some wisdom from The Old Farmer's Almanac. The warmer the temperature, the faster a cricket chirps.

"The summer night is like a perfection of  thought."  Wallace Stevens, American poet

Is there a June highlight I missed? Do you wear pearls and if so, are they keeping you sane? Why are there so many weddings in June? Are you number of posts for 2015 well past the halfway number for this year?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Themes That Rocked – Traveling the Globe with Photographer and Explorer, Yusuf Hashim

Hank Kaykuala is an accomplished poet and author.
During the Challenge, he highlighted some of his amazing poetry.
But part of his theme included highlighting the travels and explorations of his friend, Hank Kaykuala.
It was fascinating!

Part of your theme for the Challenge was This is the Modern Day Explorer – why did you choose to highlight Yusuf Hashim?

Yusuf is unique for two reasons:

Firstly, Yusuf Hashim is a Gypsetter, and an accomplished photographer. His photos are not only technically and visually fantastic, but the stuff that he shoots are mainly from locations that many of us usually only dream about. Often-times, Yusuf accesses these locations usually by directly driving his 4x4 go-anywhere Toyota Land Cruiser. Yusuf drives his vehicle across continents for photography as regularly as we fly from continent to continent. He’s driven overland from London to Malaysia not once but several times. He’s driven from Malaysia through China and over the Himalayas to India. He’s driven from Cape Town to Cairo, and from Cairo across the Sahara Desert to Casablanca. He’s driven right around South America from from Buenos Aires going north to Uruguay, Brazil,Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru , Chile, Argentina and round Ushuaia in Terry del Fuego and finished by reentering Buenos Aires from the Sourh. His idea of fun is to sail in a schooner in the Scoresby Sound of Greenland. And when he wants a photo of an active Volcano, for example, Mt Erta Ale’ which is Africa’s most active volcano, he actually climbed it and camped overnight on its crater rim above the boiling lava below. He jumped the bungee over Victoria Falls on his 65th Birthday. And last week, (May 18, 2015) he’s just celebrated his 70th birthday in the Todra Gorge of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

And secondly, not many people are aware that Yusuf retired 15 years ago, as Retail Marketing Director of Shell in Malaysia. After a sterling Jet-setting Corporate career in one of the world’s largest Oil Company, he metamorphosed into a Gyp-setting accomplished Photographer after retirement.

What is the Vacation of a Lifetime?

Yusuf’s idea of a vacation is ….getting hot by climbing 4 active Volcanoes in two weeks - 2 in Java in the first week (Mt Ijen and Mt Bromo) and another 2 in Africa (Mt Erta Ale’ and Mt Dalol in the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia) in the second week. The night time temperatures in the Danakil Depression is a searing 48°C. And to wind down and cool down in the third week …. flying to Iceland to shoot the Aurora Borealis in the -15°C Lake Myvatn Volcanic Region in Central Iceland. And perhaps sailing in the Scoresby Sound of Greenland after that.

Have you gone exploring with Yusuf in the past?

No, perhaps one day.

You posted some of Yusuf’s incredible photos. Which ones were your favorite?

All of them are great as they were snapped not only with the heart but ably accomplished with his technical skills. I will choose those which are rarely possible and difficult to come by (like the boy with the AK47, the passenger peering out the train window) and opportunistic ones (like the family going for the shared community bath where the elder girl had a toothbrush in her hands) A few are included here including the boy with the AK47. These are of a high resolution format.

Yusuf has taken people all over the world on photo safaris. What countries seem to be his favorite?

The flavor of 2014 was AFRICA – specifically Ethiopia. Last year Yusuf did 3 photo safaris covering the entire length and breadth of Ethiopia, which Yusuf says is the unpolished jewel of Africa. After decades of civil strife and political instability following the removal of Emperor Haile Selassie, Ethiopia has recently become safe to visit . Ethiopia has more than 50 Ethnic tribes who are living much like their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.. Yusuf’s photos chronicling the little known tribes of Africa, are like pages out of a National Geographic Magazine.

Yusuf Hashim says:
This is a Mursi boy, who couldn't be more than 12 years old, with an AK47 Kalashnikov on his shoulder. He demanded money when I shot this photo of him. I didn't want to argue with that globally acclaimed widow-maker, so I gave him 20 Birrs for this photo. That's equivalent to about 50 cents.

The flavor for this year seems to be Cuba, Iceland and Greenland. Yusuf took three groups of people to Cuba earlier this year. He says you must visit Cuba before Cuba warms up to the American tourists, and everything is spoiled by modernization. Cuba is like a state frozen in time, with delightful Spanish period buildings around every corner. Cubans are still very warm to tourists.The foreseen influx of American tourists in the near future, will probably transform Cuba into the usual tourist traps like in Egypt and China and Morocco. Then he took two groups to the freezing permanent Icecaps, glaciers and waterfalls of South Iceland, followed by North and Central Volcanic Region of the Island. In September this year (2015) he’s returning to Iceland which will be the appetizer for a Sailing Expedition in Greenland.

Yusuf Hashim says:
Their streets are still full of beautifully preserved huge gas-guzzling 5 liter, 50 year old American Automobiles

Tell us about the loneliest road Yusuf has ever traveled.

Yusuf told me the loneliest road in the world has to be the Routa 40 about 3000 kilometers from Patagonia to Ushuaia alongside the foothills of the Andes, across the Glacial Wilderness of the Glacial parks of Southern Chile and Argentina, with the Tres Torres and Mt Fitzroy on one side and Mt Aconcagua on the other, and leading to Ushuaia, the southern-most point of South America. When he drove around South America along this route, for days he saw only 5 or 10 vehicles apart from his convoy of 15 vehicles. Yusuf says, Patagonia is one of the places you must go to before you go to meet your maker. Here’s a sample of the photo opportunities in Patagonia…

Yusuf Hashim says:
Ruta 40, or Route 40 in Argentina, reputedly the loneliest road in the world. For nearly 2000 km, I counted less than 50 other vehicles on this god-forsaken track running alongside the Andes from la Puna until reaching the Glaciers of Patagonia

Where can we find out more about Yusuf?

Yusuf is presently rebuilding a new personal web page, so for more current information, check out his Facebook page or his Photo Safari Website.

Thanks, Hank! And I hope you get to join Yusuf on an adventure soon.

Co-host Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh is the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, CassaStorm, and Dragon of the Stars, and his blog can be found HERE

Friday, June 5, 2015

Attention: Give Us Your Best Excerpt! Paranormal Romance Blog Hop

Give Us Your Best Excerpt! Paranormal Romance Blog Hop


Happy June! Have you recovered from the A to Z Challenge, yet? It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun too, right?

This year was my fourth year participating in the hop, and every year I get a bit more organized. I wrote most of my posts in advance, which helped significantly. Maybe for 2016's A to Z Challenge I'll have all of my posts written in advance. We shall see.

In any case, there's rules, of course, but there is no ONE way to take part in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. So don't get too frustrated with yourself if your performance wasn't as fantabulous as some of the other bloggers.

One of the things I'm never able to do is visit ALL of the blogs during the actual challenge. So I appreciate the Post A-to-Z Road Trip. It gives me the opportunity to visit every blog that I was unable to visit during the hop. My goal is to hit at least five blogs a day. So by April of next year, I'll be all caught up for the 2016 event!

In the meantime, I have a blog fest to announce for all you fellow paranormal romance authors out there. I'm sure there's an excerpt that you've written that you just absolutely love. Don't be shy! Show it off to paranormal romance readers and the world.

Give Us Your Best Excerpt! Paranormal Romance Blog Hop is happening on July 14, 2015. For the day of the hop post your favorite excerpt from either a paranormal book that you've published, OR, a work-in-progress.

Readers love to read excerpts. So give them your best! Use this hop as a way to promote your book or to drum up interest in your work-in-progress. (I'll be posting an excerpt from my upcoming paranormal romance novel The Layneworth Monsters. It's available for preorder at Amazon for 99 cents until July 10, 2015.)

Visit the Give Us Your Best Excerpt page to sign-up! I look forward to reading your excerpts!

* * *

Jolie du Pre is a full-time author, article writer, blogger, and monster lover.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Latest and Greatest on Pluto

NASA's $700 million New Horizons spacecraft will arrive in the Pluto system in mid-July after a nine-year 3 billion mile flight that started before Pluto was demoted to dwarf-planet status. 

But thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, we already some fascinating stuff about Pluto and its five known moons. The Pluto system consists of four tiny satellites —Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx — orbiting a "binary planet" comprised of Pluto and its largest moon Charon. They’re locked in odd rhythmic gyrations in a dance unlike anything in our solar system. 

What makes it so odd is that there's a double set of dances going on. First, Pluto and Charon are locked together in their own waltz "as if they are a dumbbell" with a rod connecting them. It's the solar system's only binary planet system, even though Pluto and Charon aren’t technically planets. 

But Pluto and Charon aren't alone, and that's where it gets more complicated. The four little moons circle the Pluto-Charon combo, wobbling a bit when they go closer to either Pluto or Charon, being pushed and pulled by the two bigger objects. 

Those four moons orbit Pluto-Charon in a precise rhythmic way, but with a twist: They also interact when they near each other. So it seems like they all dance to one overarching beat but not quite in the same way, just doing their own thing. 

Nix and Hydra exhibit chaotic rather than synchronous rotation, meaning they don't always keep the same side facing Pluto-Charon — and that it's very tough to predict their rotational movement. (Nearly every other moon in the solar system, including Earth's, is a synchronous rotator.) 

If you lived on Nix, you would not know if the sun is coming up tomorrow; it is that extreme. You'd have days where the sun rises in the east and sets in the north. 

Thanks for stopping by. I post here every first and third Thursday of the month. Don’t miss my June 17th blog as I’ll be posting on the James Webb Space Telescope. 

Stephen Tremp is a Speculative Writer and blogs at Breakthrough Blogs. His latest work, Salem’s Daughters, is due for release October 1, 2015. 

References: Associated Press and

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

My A to Z Road Trip Plan

If you read my May 27th post, you know I have a plan to visit 2-3 Road Trippers each day, and I'm doing it alphabetically. 

Wink. Wink. 

I doubt that I'll ever do anything again that doesn't involved organizing things from AtoZ.

So, I've visited A through G so far. Now I see that I have to adjust my plan, so if a keyword starts with the letter of the day, I'll visit that. I've already got my Z staked out. June will see a major slow down in my visits because I'm taking a vacation break, but I'll be back in July. Keep your engines running!

One thing Mario, my dashboard buddy/Muse, and I promised during this year's journey is a Road Side Rest Stop once in a while. This is where you can sit back, relax, breathe and rejuvenate. So here's our first Road Stop.

Unfortunately, there's often a very un-relaxing ad that pops up first, click it away and go for the relaxation. Even a few minutes puts you back on the road ready to roll.

Does planning help you save time and reach your goals? Are you good at planning and adjusting plans when you need to? What's been the best plan you've ever devised? Do you take a break to rejuvenate during the day?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Blog Blues and Brings Back Characters Who Blog

The first few months after the A to Z Challenge are always the hardest for me. I'm never sure what I'm supposed to do with myself. I sometimes find myself planning out posts that begin alphabetically, only to remember that A to Z is over. Sigh. What's a blogger to do? 

As a way to deal with my blog blues, I decided to come up with a few blogging challenges for myself, you know, to keep things interesting. On Mondays I'll focus on movies. Tuesdays are for reviews. On Wednesdays we wear pink . . . no wait, that's Mean Girls. 

Now as for my posts here on the Blogging from A to Z website, I'm thinking of bringing back my Characters Who Blog series (if you're new to this site, check out a few here and here). I had a lot of fun coming up with all the different literary and film characters and what they might write about if they had blogs of their own. 

Which prompts me to ask, what are some of your favorite characters from movies, TV and books? Are there any that stick out as particularly influential? Are they well known or tragically unheard of? And perhaps the bigger question, any Characters Who Blog requests? 

Happy Monday everyone, and as always, happy blogging! 

S. L. Hennessy can be found blogging at Pensuasion