Category Archives: Writing

The Power of Storytelling

Do you sometimes think your stories don’t make a difference? Think again.

Storytelling has power. As teachers and writers, we can harness that power and use our storytelling for the good of all our listeners.

In an engaging TED talk, Princeton neuroscientist Uri  Hasson shows us what actually happens inside our brains when we are engaged in a story. That story might be a video, a book, or a memory your grandmother is sharing with you. It’s amazing to see how, across a wide spectrum, people’s brain patterns synced when presented with the same story. Even more amazing to me was how one small sentence could change the entire message and brain patterns of the listeners.


This has two implications for me:

  1. As a writer, I want to convey meaning to my readers/listeners that will improve their lives in some way. Perhaps it will help them to reach understanding of something in themselves, or open up a window into a new facet of their lives. Or perhaps they just need some downtime to relax. Words and communication have the power to connect us.
  2. As a teacher, one tiny sentence can change the entire meaning of a lesson I am giving. I’m always aware that what I say can have a deep impact on my little learners. This TED talk reemphasized that for me, and reminded me to always be careful of what I say to my students. I want them to love learning. I want them to be happy in my classroom. I want them to think they are geniuses.

This TED talk has been viewed over 1.5 million times in just under a year. It’s a message for our times, especially in our current political climate. Uri Hasson calls this neural entrainment. You can click the link and read the research, if you’re so inclined.

I hope you enjoy the presentation and hopefully take something away from it. I know I did.



Take a Trip to Hotel Safari

I have some good news and bad news for you. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard that line before. But in this case, there’s no other way to state it. I’m going to get you psyched up and then I’m going to let you down. But gently, friends. Gently.

First the good news:

Hotel Safari is a brand new, absolutely original new series from my good friend Tori Knightwood. It’s so well written that I am now hooked on a series in a genre I never thought I’d like to read. Seriously, I would have never picked up a book in this genre. I’m more of a contemporary, historical fiction kind of reader. But when a writer is super talented, (and Tori Knightwood is,) she can suck you into a story and keep you there right up to the end. Think of Barbara Kingsolver and The Poisonwood Bible. Didn’t you imagine you were there in Africa with the Price family when you read it? When I read Tori’s book, I felt like I was standing in the lobby at the Hotel Safari.

Tori has lived in Africa and has written oodles of stories about that magnificent land and its people. I love being one of the lucky ones who get to beta read for her. So when she decided to write a book about something, let me just say unusual, I said to myself, “That’s not my cup of tea, but I’ll read it anyway.” I’m so glad I did! I’m hooked on this series. More good news is that she already has two more stories in this series lined up. The best good news is that Hotel Safari has branches all over the world, so the stories can keep coming as long as you want to read them. Boo-yah!

Now the bad news:

You have to pre-order the book and wait until June 1st to read it. I know, June 1rst is so far away! It’s like booking a room at the Hotel Safari for your next vacation, and you’re counting the days until you get there! But there is a way to visit the Hotel Safari before the series goes live on Amazon. Read on to find out how, and to get a peek at the fabulous cover and a glimpse of the story.

Cover Reveal: Pride of Africa

I’m happy to announce that Pride of Africa, the first book in the Hotel Safari series, will launch on June 1st, 2016.

Serena Fitzgerald, southern belle and student of animal behavior, comes to Kenya to study under a world-renowned biologist-turned-safari lodge owner. She expects to work hard. She expects to learn a lot. She expects a multitude of new experiences. But she didn’t expect to fall for her mentor’s son.

Colin Kemboi is a bored and rich playboy. Half British and half Kenyan, he fits everywhere and nowhere. But as a lion shifter, he yearns for the Kenyan bush. And he yearns for a woman who can love all of him, not just the jet-setting lifestyle he can provide.

Will Serena accept Colin’s lion half? Is Colin willing to settle down with a woman who isn’t among London’s elite? Can they find passion and happiness…together?

And here’s the beautiful cover, thanks to South Mountain Studio:

Hotel Safari _Pride of Africa_V_4

The pre-order is now live on Amazon.

Thanks to my critique partners, launch team, friends, and family. I couldn’t have done this without you!


PS If you’d like to join my launch team and receive a free digital ARC in exchange for your honest review, please join my mailing list and then email me at tori at toriknightwood dot com to request to join the team.

About Tori Knightwood

Tori 5 black and whiteTori Knightwood has been lucky enough to live and work in some fabulous exotic places around the world. She faced down angry forest elephants in Tanzania, got a henna tattoo in Kenya, and fell in love in Rwanda. She writes stories to bring a little spice into your life.

You can find Tori online at the following links:

Amazon author page

Facebook author page

Goodreads author page

Tori’s website

Twitter: @PocketRomance



Gabe’s Secret Release Day & Party

Grace and Asher are back as secondary characters in a new novel by Amy Durham called Gabe’s Secret. Amy is a talented writer who knows how to touch the heart of a subject in a sensitive way that keeps you turning the pages.

GabeAZPreOrderIt’s been two years since Grace and Asher figured out their relationship in the novel Asher’s Mark. (You can read my post about it here.) Now a young woman named Rachelle is working for the same tattoo shop where Asher works as an artist. She’s falling for Gabe, who runs a local coffee shop, and who also has some ink. But it wouldn’t be a story without complications, right?

Rachelle and Gabe jump off the pages of this book from the very beginning. I couldn’t help but want to see them get together. Hopefully, you’ll feel the same way. Amy Durham’s writing gets better with every book. You can order and enjoy this newest book in the Resolution Series, Gabe’s Secret from Amazon.

April 11, 2016 is the release day, and the author is having a Facebook release party from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. Eastern time. It should be fun, so please consider popping in and chatting with Amy and some readers of her books.

About Amy Durham

After spending every work day with classrooms full of tweens and teens, then going home to three boys of hAmy Durham Authorer own, two of whom fall into the tween/teen category, you’d think that Amy Durham might like to leave the world of teenagers and young adults behind. Not so!

Instead, she spends her spare moments – which sometimes consist of waiting twenty minutes for her oldest kiddo to get out of band practice – with her laptop and a multitude of teenage characters trying to navigate their way through the twisted, difficult road of adolescence.

You might ask… “Why Young/New Adult Fiction”? Well, because it’s what she knows. As a teacher and a parent, Amy is around teens on an almost constant basis. And while it’s true they can be – ahem – challenging, they are also full of life, vision, and dreams. And that’s a really cool place to be.

Young Adult and New Adult Fiction allows young readers the opportunity to find hope for the situations they find themselves in, find determination to keep on going, and courage to pursue their dreams. It also allows adult readers the chance to revisit the exuberance of youth, remember the joy and poignancy of first love, and recall how it felt to dream with abandon.

Amy Durham is a wife and mother, an author, a teacher, an avid reader, and a musician. If she weren’t writing books, she’d be a celebrity chef!

Books by Amy Durham

Asher’s Mark – “Can love that begins so young stand the test of time?”

Dusk – “The road to forgiveness is filled with heartache… and love.”

Once Again (Sky Cove #1)

Once and For All (Sky Cove #2)

For Once: A Sky Cove Short Story (Sky Cove #1.5)


Gold Rush Barons Release Day


Gold Rush Barons, the last book in The California Argonauts series is here. Sure, the release day is on April 1, commonly known as April Fool’s Day, but this is no joke. Lucinda Martin York and George Arnold have left their pasts behind and reached their goals. Lucinda is now a medical doctor and George is the owner of a thriving hard rock gold mine. But the couple soon realizes that even when a goal is reached, there are still bigger hurdles to climb over. I hope you enjoy this last episode in their story.

I began writing Lucinda’s and George’s stories about ten years ago, and they’ve become such a part of my writing, that it’s hard to let them go. I have a feeling they’ll be showing up in my next novel, set in Sacramento in 1862. They might not be the main characters, but they’ll be sure to put in an appearance in the town they’ve grown to love.

Here’s a teaser excerpt from Gold Rush Barons.

The sun rose high in the sky as the horse pulled the carriage up the road into the low-lying hills outside of Sacramento. Lucinda could hear the stamper pounding the ore before they even cleared the crest of the hill bordering their land. As they rounded the edge of the hill, George guided the carriage to the left, where a field of blossoms spattered the land with purple.

“Lavender!” Lucinda cried out. “Is it wild?”

“Not a bit.” George pulled the carriage to a stop. “I planted all of this for you.”

“I remember the day you came home from working on the levees; I was so worried about you. You brought me lavender.”

“And I kissed you for the first time.”

Lucinda leaned in. “Kiss me again.”

George looked into her eyes. He placed his hands on her cheeks, featherlight, and kissed her lips. She returned his kiss with the passion of a starving woman. She reached up and pulled him closer, tangling her fingers in the curls of his hair. A moan escaped him as he wrapped his arms around the small of her back and lifted her feet off the floorboards, drinking in her kiss like sweet wine.

She opened her eyes. “I’ll never tire of that, George Arnold.”

“Nor I, Dr. Arnold.”

“How quickly can you drive me home?”

“After two years, not quickly enough.”

He reached into a picnic basket and brought out a large napkin. He shook it out and folded it on the diagonal. “Let me blindfold you.”

Lucinda sputtered and scooted back. “Do what?”

George smiled. “You’ll only have the blindfold on for a short while. I want to surprise you with something.”

“You’ve already surprised me, George. I’ll not be blindfolded while riding in a carriage.”

“But then you’ll spoil the surprise. You trust me, don’t you?”

Lucinda scanned his eyes for artifice. She did trust him. However, a blindfold seemed insane to her. She hadn’t worn one since playing blindman’s bluff with her cousins when she was twelve, back in Missouri.

George smiled at her in that heart-melting way he had, the dimple deepening his grin.

She sighed. “Yes, I do trust you. I trust you with my life, to eternity and back. Why I must wear a blindfold to prove it, I don’t know.” She took the blindfold from him and tied it behind her bonnet. She stretched out her hands in front of her.

“You’re safe with me,” George whispered, so close she could feel his breath lift a wisp of her hair. “You’re going to love this surprise.”


You can read more by downloading a sample or purchasing Gold Rush Barons.

The introductory price is $0.99 through April 4th. After that, the price goes to $2.99.

Thank you for reading this far!

Write Away, by Elizabeth George

Write Away coverSometimes when you take a writing course, the syllabus includes reading books that are phenomenal. Write Away, One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, by Elizabeth George is just that. Phenomenal.

This is one of the writing books that will have a special place on my writer’s craft bookshelf, shoulder to shoulder with other great books that I refer to time and again.

Elizabeth George, if you don’t know, is a bestselling author of crime novels. She lives in California, but her books are all set in England. Her chapters on setting and landscape are the best I’ve ever read. She explains her entire process of creating her English settings from beginning to end.

She maintains a chatty, friendly tone throughout. Her book makes you feel as if you’re sitting down to tea and a private lesson with a master of the craft. She doesn’t nag, she doesn’t berate. She’s encouraging, helpful, and aware that your process may be different from hers. But she gifts you with jewels of advice to take away from her table.

My favorite part of the book was her detailed description of her writing process. This topic covered several chapters, and left me wanting to know more. Her books are well-developed with intricate plots and subplots. Learning how she pulls all the threads together without dropping a stitch was enlightening and empowering.

The book is broken into sections, and each section has several chapters.

Part 1 An Overview of the Craft

What makes a great story idea? How do you make a setting seem real? How do you transform your characters from flat cardboard to flesh and blood? Here she goes into great detail about story, character, and setting.

Part 2 The Basics

do you wonder what people mean when they talk about an author’s voice? How can you make your dialogue true to life? The author writes about how to choose your story viewpoint, how to find your unique voice, and tricks to master dialogue.

Part 3 Technique

George gives advice on how to master the finer points of writing.

Part 4 Process

From baby steps to bum glue, this is the nitty-gritty of getting it done.

Part 5 Examples and Guides

This part ties everything together into an easy to access guide with references and notes.

All in all, this book is one I recommend as a worthwhile investment for writers.

If you found this post helpful, you might enjoy these other Writing Tips posts on my blog.

Happy reading and writing!


Want to Be a “Success”? Learn to Be an Outlaster

Kristen Lamb always has meaningful posts, and this is no exception. This New Year’s post will help you set priorities. Been there, experienced that, kept on writing! You can do it too!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

Happy New Year! 2015 is now here and it is up to us what we will do with the time each of us is allotted. We all have heard the saying, “DaVinci had the same 7 days and 24 hours.” I would actually make a different point. Folks like DaVinci, Mozart, Shakespeare actually had LESS time.

There was no electric lighting and pulling all-nighters was a good way to go blind by candlelight. Thus, I’d say the difference is that these artists lived intentionally.

We all want to know the secret to “success.” First of all, I am going to add a caveat. “Success” is a very personal thing. What is “success” for you isn’t “success” for me. Yet, study after study shows that people who write down their goals are far more likely to reach them.


We have forced our…

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The Ambivalent Memoirist by Sandra Hurtes

Today I’m featuring Sandra Hurtes, author of The Ambivalent Memoirist. She’s a talented wordsmith with an interesting life story to tell. She’s mesmerized me with her words, and I’m happy to share a bit of her story with you. She’s both a knitter and an author, so I asked her to compare the two processes. Read on, and you’ll fall in love with her writing, too.

Ambivalent Memoirist Cover

TeacherWriter: It is said that knitting is a healing art. It’s also said that writing can be part of a healing process. Can you compare and contrast the effects of knitting and writing in your own personal life journey?

Sandra Hurtes:      In the mid 1980s, I worked at three yarn stores around Manhattan simultaneously.  On the Upper East Side I wrote patterns; on the Upper West Side I sold the yarns that would reproduce the newest Calvin Klein; in Midtown I catered to the customers who ran in for a few minutes during lunch or between business meetings, briefcase in one hand, knitting bag in the other.  Late at night, finally having a chance to pick up my own needles, I sat on the edge of my bed unable to stop the mantra of “just one more row” from going round in my brain. I fell asleep to patterns imprinted into my eyelids.

In the hours between my jobs and bedtime—6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.—I went to college. At 30, I was an older student, desperate to be a college grad. I wanted to be like my friends; they were educated and professional, worked as teachers, speech therapists, social workers. A few were out in the business world as film producers, editors, writers. But I’d been raised to work as a secretary after high school, and that was the path I took. That is, until I passed a trendy, in a 1980s-fringed-poncho sort of way, yarn store with a “Help Wanted” sign in the window.

I was looking for a job; but using the skill my mother had passed on to me when I was a child wasn’t what I had in mind. If I took such a job, would that mean I was moving backward not forward? Would I be able to pay my bills? I went in the store, gazed at the cubbies filled with yarns in every shade of red, blue, green, brown I could imagine. I walked through a film of angora and cashmere hairs floating through the air. My concerns faded. I found the store owner and talked up my knitting prowess. I got the job. That night I wrote in my journal. “I’m no longer a secretary.”

For the three-and-a-half hours I attended classes, I studied psychology, philosophy, and social science. I read Freud, Nietzsche, Marx.  They were creative thinkers with complex theories about the mind and social ideals.  All the while, I observed my knitting process. I liked turning out sweaters on thick needles with bulky yarns. I didn’t undo mistakes telling myself dropped stitches gave my work personality. But I knew that I was lying to myself. I needed the immediate gratification of products, as if each filled a hole inside of me.

One day, while working on a difficult pattern, my mistakes took me too far astray; I had to start over. The first row I ripped out was painful, as I thought of the lost hours of work. I began anew, carefully paying attention to yarn-overs and cables. My sweater took several weeks to finish. I was proud of the hard work I’d put in to making that sweater; I can still see the delicate silver-grey lattice pattern.

Through that sweater, I learned the value of quality versus quantity. I learned that no work is wasted and mistakes are needed in order to move to the next level. I wrote in my journal, “Knitting helps me to grow.” I was intellectually gratified by my school texts; but they didn’t teach me as much as knitting did about how to live.

I graduated from college. I found an entry level editorial job in publishing and quit my knitting gigs. I accomplished what I had set out to do. I had my college degree. I had a “real” job. I still knit (of course) and that gratified my creative yearnings. Working with words as an editor gratified me as school had; I was intellectually fulfilled.

I discovered at my publishing job that I had a way with words. I wrote an article for an in-house magazine and took a writing class. Eventually I became as passionate about writing as I had been about knitting. My essays were getting published in national newspapers. When I wrote, I shook as if something foreign had entered me. I was scared of the power words had over me. I was joyously happy. Even when I cried in front of the keyboard. Especially when I cried.

Knitting took on a very different place in my life. When I had a long subway ride or an appointment where I’d be kept waiting, I took my tools. But when I had serious business to do, meaning dig into my feelings or confusions about the world, I needed a pen, a keyboard, something that would give me access to thoughts I didn’t yet understand. Knitting gave me a way to make beautiful things. Writing gave me a way to look beneath the beauty and see what I was covering up.

There are many people who find hope and healing in knitting. It’s easy to see why. There’s the repetitive motion, the nostalgia for a simpler time, the sensory overload of sumptuous yarns. For me knitting was less about healing then about growing. By using my childhood skill, I became more of an adult.

But writing. Well, that’s been a lot about healing. Not just myself but my relationships. Words are my energy source, my bounty, and my way to affect change. All I have to do is begin.

Ambivalent Memoirist Cover

“. . .[an] honest memoir full of compassion and wit that infuses ordinary events with intimacy and intensity. . .Teaching college English courses and preparing her first essay collection, she must address her own pain. . .as well as her parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. . . Writing as art and psychological salvation is at the heart of this book, taking “readers deep below the surface” of words toward personal vindication.”

~~Publishers Weekly

The Ambivalent Memoirist has received fourteen reviews on Amazon with a 4.9 star rating. Here is a beautiful excerpt of descriptive narrative from the book.

Brooklyn soil. Rife with thick, gnarly accents and high-pitched emotions that peaked into the air then fell heavy upon the earth. Those sounds and feelings had reverberated within me from the moment I was born in 1950, three years after my brother, Lenny. The woman who shared my mother’s room at Brooklyn Women’s Hospital and gave birth on the same day was an Auschwitz survivor, like my mother. Their delirium over their second babies fell upon my tender ears, slid into my pores. Brooklyn was an emotional patchwork, and I was sewn into its seams.

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AUTHOR Bio and Links

Ambivalent Memoirist Author PicSandra Hurtes is the author of The Ambivalent Memoirist and the essay collection On My Way to Someplace Else. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and this legacy is examined in her work. She is an adjunct assistant professor in the English Department at John Jay College and teaches creative nonfiction in private workshops.

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