Little Free Libraries

Little Free Libraries

by Barbara Renner

Take a book. Leave a book. That’s the basic concept of the Little Free Library (LFL), a free book exchange housed in a small wooden box where anyone may take a book to originalLFL-faqsread or leave a book to share. There are more than 50,000 Little Free Libraries all over the world, making it easy for readers of all backgrounds and ages to access books.

Todd Bol is the founder of the Little Free Library concept. In Hudson, Wisconsin, Todd built a small box and filled it with books free-for-the-taking as a memorial to his mother, a former teacher who loved books. Little Free Library has since become a registered nonprofit organization supported by the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, the American Library Association, Habitat for Humanity, and Penguin Random House, to name a few. Even Whoopi Goldberg named the LFLs in November 2016 as one of her favorite things.

So why should authors be excited about Little Free Libraries? For one thing, by placing their books in a little neighborhood box, they are inviting people to read their books. It’s great advertising and puts their books in the hands of someone who could become a regular customer. If their website is listed on the book covers, there are possibilities for future sales. For another, their names are exposed to many men, women, and children as they thumb through the box looking for a good book to read. Finally, offering books for free in communities that may not have libraries or bookstores nearby fosters literacy and a love of reading by providing 24/7 access to books.

I first learned about Little Free Libraries when I read an article in a neighborhood newspaper describing two new LFL boxes within a mile of my home. After placing three of my picture books in one, I received an email from the mother of a little girl who loved my books. We met for tea, and I discovered she was a strategic communicator in marketing and advertising for a large Phoenix company. She provided me with a lot of resources for marketing and selling my books.

A map is available on the LFL’s website listing locations of registered boxes. Anyone can build an LFL, but it’s important to register it to receive an official charter sign and number, be added to the map, and become an official Steward of the LFL box. There is a one-time payment of $40 to register a Little Free Library.

There are eleven LFL boxes in the Coronado Neighborhood in downtown Phoenix.


Founder, Todd Bol, will be speaking at The Coronado restaurant, 2201 North 7th Street, on Wednesday, April 26 from 5 – 7 p.m. To hear Todd describe his experience creating the Little Free Library and share what’s new with the Little Free Library organization, you can RSVP at or email Todd is traveling across the United States to spread the word about his free book exchange housed in a small wooden box. He’s headed to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books April 22-23 and will be in booth 138.

Barbara Renner and her husband have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years. As “Sun Barbara RennerBirds,” they fly away to Minnesota to escape the summer heat – and to fish. While in Minnesota, Barbara became fascinated with its state bird, the Common Loon, and was prompted to write four picture books about Lonnie the Loon, because everyone should know about loons. However, books about loons don’t sell very well in the desert, so she is writing a new series of picture books about Quincy the Quail. Barbara visits elementary schools as a guest author to read her books and share interesting facts about loons and quails. She’s working on other children’s books and a special book about her yellow lab, Larry: Larry’s Words of Wisdom. Learn more about Barbara at, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.

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AP Stumbles on Gender-Neutral Pronouns and Possessives

AP Stumbles on Gender-Neutral Pronouns and Possessives

by Kathleen Watson

I had barely written my last post, in part about pronoun agreement, when the Associated Press announced it was changing its guidelines for noun/pronoun agreement when gender is an issue.

My longtime and preferred source, The Associated Press Stylebook (revised version due out May 31, 2017) will give the green light to using the plural pronoun “they” with a singular noun. To say this has rocked the writing world puts it mildly.

AP explains:

they, them, their … In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person …


After hearing from a number of aghast blog subscribers and other grammar enthusiasts, I decided to see how the news was being received on a broader scale. When I found 12-plus pages of links on Google related to the AP singular noun/plural pronoun brouhaha, I decided to weigh in.

Gender neither determines nor affects my regard or respect for a person. If someone I’m writing about prefers that I not use the gender-specific she/her or he/him, I am happy to comply. But I don’t believe I ever need to explain to readers that the subject of an article prefers not to be identified by or associated with gender-specific terms. Nor do I have to break with conventional grammar guidelines to comply with that request.

The AP is saying that when there is sensitivity around identifying gender following a singular antecedent (a singular noun that precedes a pronoun), the plural pronoun they or the possessive their can be substituted for him/his or her/hers.

I consider that remedy for gender neutrality not only ungrammatical; it’s inelegant and unnecessary.

In fact, I’ve been wracking my brain, and I cannot think of a single example where they or their would be necessary — or appropriate — to neutralize gender.

The following examples demonstrate AP’s new guidelines in action, and they include ways to avoid the awkward, incompatible they/their.

Take for example:

Dr. Smith has a stethoscope draped around her neck all day.

AP apparently suggests:

Dr. Smith has a stethoscope draped around their neck all day.

Or: Dr. Smith has a stethoscope draped around Dr. Smith’s neck all day. 

Consider these rewrites:

A stethoscope is draped around Dr. Smith’s neck all day.

As is the case with most physicians, Doctor Smith sports a stethoscope all day.

From opening the office in the morning until the last patient notes are recorded for the day, Dr. Smith’s stethoscope is a constant companion.

Professor Miller teaches his freshman students proper English grammar.

AP apparently suggests:

Professor Miller teaches their freshman students proper English grammar.

Or: Professor Miller teaches Professor Miller’s freshman students proper English grammar.

Again, rewrites adequately avoid the issue of gender:

Professor Miller teaches freshmen proper English grammar.

Professor Miller instructs freshmen in proper English grammar.

Professor Miller delights in teaching proper grammar to students enrolled in freshman English.

As has been the case for the last 30 years, Professor Miller continues to teach English grammar classes to hundreds of freshmen.

Easy peasy, right? Her and his have been eliminated, and the ungrammatical their has been avoided.

AP has made clear that this change should not be interpreted as an across-the-board reversal of attempting to match nouns that appear first in a sentence with the pronouns that follow. I’m grateful for that clarification.

Consider these examples of noun/pronoun disagreement and easy ways to fix them:

Unmatched noun/pronoun:

We’re waiting for the Senate to do their job.

Easy fixes:

We’re waiting for the Senate to do its job.

We’re waiting for Senators to do their jobs.

Unmatched noun/pronoun:

That way, your reader doesn’t get lost wandering through the YouTube maze and forget where they found you.

Easy fixes:

That way, your readers don’t get lost wandering through the YouTube maze and forget where they found you.

To some, this new AP guideline might appear to be a step forward. That’s not how I view it.

Let’s not be lazy. Let’s not take shortcuts. Let’s not draw undue attention to gender. Instead, let’s be creative.

If a subject of a story wants to avoid gender identifiers, the writer can comply with that request without flouting longstanding grammar conventions.

I hope you’ll join me in seeking grammatical solutions that respect a person’s privacy regarding gender, yet avoid making the writer appear either uninformed or simply careless.

kathleen-watsonKathleen Watson has nearly three decades of experience as an independent business writer, serving clients in both corporate and academic settings. Her weekly blog, Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor, offers practical word and punctuation tips, as does her recently published book Grammar For People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor. Contact her at:

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Those Rare, Poopy but Somehow Wonderful Moments

Those Rare, Poopy but Somehow Wonderful Moments

by Eva Flowerday

Pause for just a moment, sit back, and give yourself a dose of the best medicine known to mankind: laughter.

I have quite the entertaining – yet completely true – story to share with you. Some crazy things go on in a cop’s workday. Let me elaborate. The events that happen when you are wearing a cop’s shoes can be sad, happy, exhilarating, or even terrible. The stories I like to hear the most are the hilarious ones. That’s what I am going to share with you.

My son, the cop in this story, comes home from work in the wee hours of the morning after a long shift. I see his boots dragging on the kitchen tile as he walks over and sits down at the table beside me. His eyes have bags, and he looks like he’s truly beat. My heart aches for him, until I see the giant smile he is sporting.

He starts to laugh as he begins to tell me tonight’s story. Then, before I even know what it is about, I start laughing too. My insides turn all warm and happy, because I know this is going to be one of those unforgettable moments I love to share with him.

It was a regular night on the beat. All seemed as usual, until Officer Beck got “that” call. cop picOver his shoulder he and his partner heard the news no cop in the valley wants to receive. The moment they got the call, it became obvious who they would soon be facing.

It was a summoning to go and face Chief Poopy Pants, as he was nicknamed by the entire squad. Many others had already experienced the undesirable but unavoidable moment. Chief Poopy Pants earned his nickname because he was a local Native American who also happened to be the local drunk. Another personality trait of his was the fact that he could not control his bowels when he indulged in alcohol. And let me tell you, he loved his alcohol!

Officer Beck and his partner shuddered as they headed out to answer the call. They arrived to find Chief Poopy Pants in his regular position, sitting in his wheelchair. What you need to know to fully understand the situation is that Chief can walk perfectly. He does not need a wheelchair. You see, Chief plans ahead. He knows he is going to indulge in his favorite liquid libation so happily that soon he will not be able to walk reliably.

The two police officers fully know what they are about to discover next. As soon as they are roughly ten feet away, the unmistakable aroma hits their nostrils. It’s so pungent they can’t believe it isn’t visible! They miserably look down to the semi-liquid brown substance Chief Poopy Pants is sitting in.

The officers dutifully approach him with extreme caution as they don’t want to find themselves downwind or too close to him. Their eyes take in the scene. Chief has clearly been sitting in his wheelchair drinking for way too long. He can half-talk. The drool draining from his mouth is dry as it hits his shirt. The brown cow pie substance sticks to the bottom of the wheelchair as it slumps, drying as it hits the ground. There is a moment of sympathy that rips through both of the cops. Then, boom – it’s gone!

Chief opens his spit-stained mouth and out flow the hate-filled obscenities. At that same moment, the wind changes! Officer Beck’s partner, who is in her first trimester of pregnancy, accidentally breathes in the horrid aroma. She can’t control herself. Her heightened sense of smell causes her to double over and throw up.

Officer Beck tries to step in. He realizes he has to hold his composure and execute his job. Chief continues with the obscenities, “You @#&! white man!”

Officer Beck’s partner shouts, “I can’t take that putrid smell!”

Chief picks up his slumped head and smugly declares, “It’s your panties.”

Officer Beck does some good, quick thinking. He calls the fire department. He knows they fire-hose-nozzlehave a very handy water hose, and not just any hose. Firefighters can actually arm those things not only with water, but they can add soap! The firefighters show up, and right there on the side of the road, they literally start hosing down Chief with their wonderful handy hose.

As my son finished the story, I was laughing hysterically. I asked, “Did you have to put him in the back of your car? Did you take him to jail?”

My son smiled even bigger as he told me he had given the firefighters a “thumbs up” as he thanked them for being his heroes. Before they realized just who was left to deal with Chief Poopy Pants, he quickly drove away.

___________________________Eva Flowerday
Eva Flowerday recently published her memoir, 
Magic Headband. She delights in writing about nonfiction topics. Since her first book, she has been approached by others to tell their stories, which she is very excited to do. You can read about her unbelievable life story at

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Wait for it… Wait for it…

Wait for it… Wait for it…

by Lara Garcia

Later Now Buttons Show Wasting Time Or Procastination

We all catch ourselves procrastinating at one time or another. I never used to be a person who put things off. I would always have my list and check it off as I completed my tasks. I’m not sure what changed, but I have become a procrastinator over the last two years.

Why would this creep up on me now that I am in my forties? Until recently, I always lived by the motto: “Get it done today so you don’t have to worry it about tomorrow.”

I was reading up on the psychology of people who always say, “Tomorrow, tomorrow.” Perfectionists are often put in this group. Could it be I am trying too hard to be perfect, or perhaps I’m afraid of succeeding? My mind is an organized chaotic mess. So many possibilities to accomplish.

A group of studies shows that people tend to procrastinate unpleasant projects. What helps the most is to break down a larger job into smaller, more manageable steps. With my recent projects, I get excited, scared, and think about it way too much. I think I do fall into the category of perfectionist, even though I know there is no such thing as perfect.

What makes you procrastinate or what makes you dive right in?

Einstein quote - mind open


Lara Garcia is a Phoenix- based writer and traditional mixed medialara-garcia artist. In her poetry, Lara creates word pictures that make readers wonder where she found the courage to reveal such raw emotions. She received her credentials from Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. Lara will be featuring her newest book Change in Time, along with Writers for Summer Anthology in June 2017. Contact her on Facebook or at

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What I Learned My First Year as an Author

What I Learned My First Year as an Author

by Janine R. Pestel

I began writing in February 2016 and have been writing for a little over a year. In the past 14 months, I have self-published one novella, one short story compilation, one novel, and four short stories. People have told me that for only writing a year, I have published a lot. Honestly, I don’t know if that is a lot or not.

Pestel books

One thing I have learned is how to write better. My very first work was the novella. When I initially released it, it was titled Mission to Olympus Mons. I was pretty proud of it. I sold a few copies. Finally, one day, I received my first review. It was a one-star The Mons Connectionreview. I was devastated. I actually took it personally for a day or so; then I realized everything the reviewer had said was correct.

He said it had a lot of grammar errors – it did. He said some of it was sketchy – it was. He said it came off as though I knew nothing of Mars – it did. I had learned my first lesson: Pay attention to what you are writing and for heaven’s sake, EDIT your work!

I have since rewritten the story and republished it. Now it is titled The Mons Connection and it is getting much better reviews! I almost wish I could find out who gave me the one-star review so I could thank him. If he hadn’t done that, I would not have rewritten the book.

After unpublishing the book from Amazon, I rewrote it and sent it to a professional editor who told me there were too many errors for him to correct and still charge a fee that was reasonable. He gave me a clue as to what the errors were, so I set about trying to find them all.

I finally stumbled upon the first piece of software I would use for editing: Autocrit. I love this tool! It has helped me become a better writer by finding all of my overused words. Seeing all the overused words makes me think of other ways to say the same thing, which keeps my writing “fresh,” for lack of a better word.

I was already using Scrivner to write and compile, so now I had Scrivner and Autocrit in my arsenal. But I still needed to correct grammar errors.

Some fellow authors told me about two things they use for editing grammar: Ginger and Grammarly.

Now when I am working on my book, I use Autocrit, Ginger, Grammarly, and a thesaurus from WordWeb. I am now receiving reviews that no longer mention grammar errors.

I’ve also learned that Amazon is not the only place to self-publish. There are plenty of places. I have self-published on Draft2Digital, Smashwords, and Pronoun. Currently, I am only using Amazon and Pronoun. Even though Pronoun, like Draft2Digital and Smashwords, will distribute my work to Amazon if I want it to, I prefer to publish to Amazon myself.

Additionally, I learned about the importance of using beta readers. These are people to whom I send the book before it is published. They read it and tell me not only what they think, but if they notice any errors. Very important people to me. So important that they are mentioned by name in all my books on a special “Thank You” page. I am currently looking for more beta readers for my new book. If you are interested, you can apply at this link:

The last things that I have learned in the past 14 months are how to publish my work in paperback and audiobook. For my audiobooks, I use the ACX platform – which is owned by Amazon – and I go with their exclusive distribution. I go with that mainly because the royalty paid is higher, at 40%

For paperbacks, I am using Createspace – another Amazon-owned company – because they distribute my books to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and myriad other locations. But, when I need books for events like book signings and such, I use a company called Author2Market. These guys do great work and are extremely friendly and easy to work with. Also, since they are located in Phoenix, and I live in Mesa, Arizona, I just have to make a 20-minute drive to pick up my order when it is ready. (Send an email before you sign up to see if you qualify for a discount on printing services.)

Well, that’s it for this post. See you all again next month.

Author of The Mons Connection and Infected and Other Short Stories as well as short Janine Pestelstories in the scifi / occult / horror genre(s) and an upcoming paranormal / occult series. Always interested in science fiction, action adventure, and comedy, Janine tried her hand at writing a book back in the 1970s but did not have the direction she needed to complete it. Now, many years later, she has the drive and direction to write a complete book. Her only regret is that it took her this long to get going. Find her on Facebook.

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Don’t Know Much About History*

Don’t Know Much About History*

by Vaughn Treude

To be successful, works of historical fiction – or those of a quasi-historical genre – need to have an air of authenticity. Thousands of readers would love to catch an author in an embarrassing error. Even steampunk, which bends history in fanciful Vaughn granddadways, doesn’t work if the setting doesn’t do a good job representing the Victorian era. The author may introduce all sorts of wrinkles, as long as the characters talk and act as if they belong in that period. So unless the writer is already an expert, he or she needs to do historical research. This can be a chore, a delight, or a trap.

Even for those who love history, the task can be tedious and frustrating at times. Thanks to the Internet, obtaining basic information is easy. The more obscure details can be difficult, however. As one searches, it becomes obvious that most of these plentiful articles are based on the same sources, with little or no fresh information. This can be a pitfall, as research can become very time-consuming, even serving as an excuse for not writing.

Wikipedia (or its alt-technology descendant, InfoGalactic) is a good starting point because it contains the basic information on a host of subjects. The downside is that the astute reader can easily determine when an author puts forth a minimal effort. The researcher needs to have persistence and ingenuity when looking for the obscure details that can be important to the story. The public library (yes, they still exist) can be a great help, especially since one no longer needs to search through paper index cards. In the past, I have also utilized local university libraries, though as a nonstudent I could not check out any materials.

If the writer’s budget allows it, there’s the option of purchasing historical background works online. Amazon allows you to sample many of its ebooks, which helps to determine whether something will be useful. Museums are another great source of information and inspiration. If the historical period is recent enough, family letters, documents, and heirlooms can provide color and immediacy.

While searching, I often run across information that is unrelated to the work at hand but still interesting. In particular, I like anything related to steam technology or the Victorian era. For these, I save notes, excerpts, or links, because they may come in handy for future works. They may also be useful for promotional blog posts which I and my coauthor Arlys and I have done regarding cultural and technological aspects of the era. My greatest interests are inventions, politics, and transportation. Arlys focuses on cultural issues of that time, such as fashion, cuisine, marriage customs, and women’s rights.

Then there’s the fact that research has the potential to become a distraction from the writing process. For that reason, we limit our preliminary research to a feasibility study to determine whether our basic story points are plausible. While I’m writing the story draft, I don’t interrupt my creative flow to do research. If there’s something I really need to know, I’ll make a note of it in the text. I can always fill in that information later. Arlys’ focus is on dialogue, so she keeps an eye out for dialect and historical slang.

We both find the subject matter to be fascinating.

Research is an obvious necessity for anyone writing historical or semi-historical fiction. It can be hard work, but also fascinating. The most important thing is to be persistent without getting carried away.

Check out our steampunk (and other science fiction) works on Search for “Vaughn Treude” under Books. We keep news and information about our titles on and make frequent blog posts at

* A tip of the hat to the great Sam Cooke.

vaughntreudeVaughn Treude and Arlys Holloway are a (soon-to-be) husband-and-wife writing team who specialize in the steampunk genre. Their first collaboration was One Good Man, a musical comedy about online dating, which is appropriate, since that is where they met. Check out Vaughn’s works at

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GOOOOAAAAAAAAAAL!!!! (Said like a soccer announcer)

GOOOOAAAAAAAAAAL!!!! (Said like a soccer announcer)

by Cody Wagner

For this post, I’m going to go back to basics. But don’t skip over it! For serious! I think this topic is so absolutely crucial. It’s one of the most prevalent things I talk about at writers’ groups and while editing. I’m talking, of course, about goals.


OK, how many people right now are like, “Huh?” Well if you did, you failed!!

Kidding. Let me explain.

Let’s think about real life for a second. In our daily experiences, there isn’t a second that goes by where we don’t want something. That something could be a boyfriend/girlfriend, a new car, or even something more basic like a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Let’s do a quick example. I’m asking myself what I want this very second. The answer? Well, my contacts are dry so I could use some drops. Also, I’d love a snack right now (chips and salsa sounds amazing). And I want to sleep soon, as it’s been a long day.

What’s the point of this? Well, the characters in our novels are meant to reflect real people, right? Therefore, they should always have goals, too. Always. At any given point in any story, you should be able to tell me exactly what your protagonist wants right then and there.

That’s the character’s goal. And he/she must always have one. Again: always, always, always.

Now comes the fun part. While goals exist, we have to decide if they’re easily attainable (or attainable at all). I just mentioned I want to sleep soon. That’s actually not super attainable, as I did laundry and it’s all piled up on my bed. So now I have to fold it before I can go to sleep. Sadly, something stands between me and my goal.

Ta-daaaaa! I just introduced conflict.

Conflict, at its core, is the thing that prevents you or your characters from achieving their goals. Now, we have a lovely dance that begins, a dance where you and your characters work against that conflict to achieve the goal. That dance has a name: it’s called tension. And tension is what makes people turn pages and get invested in our stories (and our lives).

While novels can be extremely complicated, they’re all, at their very core, comprised of scenarios where characters are trying to achieve something while an obstacle gets in the way. Or at least they should. If you ever feel your novel becoming stagnant, the best way to fix it is to make sure you know EXACTLY what goal your characters are trying to achieve. Then make sure something stands in the way.


Now, does the character overcome that obstacle? Maybe – or maybe not. That’s your call. But the goal->conflict->tension element must always be present. Why? Because that’s real life.

With all that said, I want to point out a misconception about tension. I’ve had people at writers’ groups say, “You can’t have tension everywhere! I mean, bombs can’t be exploding and bullets can’t fly in every scene.” And this is completely wrong. Well, not about bullets and bombs; novels can’t be 100% action. But tension can come in so many forms, and it must always be present.

As an example, let’s create a really boring scenario: A woman in bed wants a glass of elusive glass of waterwater. This sounds pretty bad. And if she could just get up and get the water without issue, that would make a terrible scene. I mean, who would want to read it? But now let’s introduce a conflict.

Let’s say the woman’s colicky child is sleeping next to her. She’s just gotten him to bed and she’s utterly exhausted. If she wakes the child up, no one will sleep tonight. So she first has to decide if it’s even worth it to get the water. Consequently, she lays there awhile, debating over her thirst. But that creates a psychological effect where, because the water is hard to get to, she wants it more than ever. So she decides to go for it. Naturally, she has to rise as quietly as possible; any noise could set her child off. She tries sitting up but realizes the blanket is tucked under her son’s arm. Leaning over, she gently lifts the child’s arm and slides the blanket out. Suddenly, her son rolls over and sighs. The woman freezes, holding her breath…

OK, I’m not going to continue. But as you can see, any scene in existence can be tense if written with goals and conflict in mind. Also note that the woman in this scene had multiple, ever-changing goals, including wanting to talk herself out of the water, needing to simply move her son’s arm, etc.

With all this in mind, I recommend that you identify your goals throughout the day today and see what, if anything, gets in the way. It’s actually really fun. And you might learn something about yourself along the way.

cody-wagnerCody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and write. His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at, or find him on Twitter (@cfjwagner), Goodreads, and Amazon.

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