Please help me welcome author Melanie Atkins. Melanie a multi-published author of romantic suspense, an editor for an online publishing company, and an avid reader. Writing is more than an escape for her—it’s a way of life. She grew up in the Deep South listening to tall tales and penning stories about her cats. Now she writes gripping stories of love, suspense, and mystery with the help of her furry little feline muses.

Here's Melanie: I've always been shy and a bit unsure of myself—probably because I've always been overweight. And as a result, I've suffered from low self esteem. I love meeting new people, but it takes me a long time to open up and get to know them. And I'm terrified of speaking in front of a crowd. That panicked feeling is probably why I love the Internet so much. It's anonymous, and I don't have to talk to people face to face.

Part of my fear comes from seventh grade, I'm sure, when I signed up for speech without realizing what kind of class it was. Talk about being traumatized! Once I realized I would actually have to stand up in front of the other students and talk, I freaked out. My mom asked me to stay in the class and give it a try, so I did—until the day of my first speech, when I stood in front of the class on shaky legs listening to the boys make fun of me. My cheeks burned. I felt nauseated, and I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. The teacher wasn't any help at all. Somehow, though, I made it through my speech, but I never ever went back to that class. I went to the office the next day instead and convinced my counselor to let me drop it and add another elective. I don't even remember what it was now, but it was better than speech.

All these years later, I still don't like to speak in public. I do okay in discussions around a table, with everyone seated and many people participating, even though my face still gets warm and my cheeks flame—but I refuse to stand up in front of a group. I'm supposed to speak next month at a writers' group about three hours away, discussing my publishing history, how long it took me to get published, and where I want to go from here, and I plan to sit and deliver my talk. I've been practicing this with other people, and so far, so good. I just hope I don't panic.

Books have always been a great escape for me, and I know plenty of other introverts who read a lot, too. Be sure and check out my titles on my website at and on my blog at

BOOK-SIGNING: Not nearly as scary as I'd expected

As an introvert, I don’t know if there are any two scarier words than “book signing.”

Up until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t planned on doing any because being in the spotlight isn’t really my cup of tea. But then a fellow writer invited me to a group signing. Even though my insides were a quivering mess at the mere thought of this, I heard myself saying, “Sure, I’d love to.”

The next day, she emailed me the particulars, including the yikes-inducing information that I’d have to introduce myself, read a scene from my book, and answer questions from the audience. Oh. My. God. Anything off the cuff (like answering questions from an audience) is enough to make me sick to my stomach.

 In the days leading up to the signing, people kept saying, “You must be so excited for Saturday.” I’d smile and nod my head, while inside I was kind of hoping I was coming down with the sickness that was making its way around my place of work.

 In order for me to be the most comfortable, I needed to be well prepared. I tried on the clothes I planned to wear well in advance, making sure they were clean and free of dog hair and dog slime. I wrote down a brief statement what my book was about, because my biggest fear was if someone asked me that, I’d go brain dead and say something like, “Uh, well…um, it’s about a guy and a girl, and um…duh.” I highlighted and bookmarked the scene I would read, and tried to figure out what questions I might be asked and what my answers would be.

 The day of the signing, I got all my stuff together early in the day: my books, my bookmarks, the bags of chocolates and the pretty little bowl to hold the candy. I left early enough to stop at the store to buy flowers for the bookstore owner (I don’t know if that’s customary, but I figured it was the least I could do and it certainly wouldn’t hurt anything). I allowed myself enough time to get lost. Just in case. And I had the bookstore’s phone number handy, too…just in case.

 Once I got there and introduced myself to the owner, my nerves disappeared. The store had set up some tables with hot cider and cake, and tables for the five authors who would be signing. I immediately saw that my space was empty. The owner said my books hadn’t arrived yet. But I was prepared and had brought 10 copies of my own. Just in case. The other authors arrived and they couldn’t have been more welcoming and sweet (Shelli Stevens, Anthea Lawson, Deborah Schneider and Megan Chance).

One of my friends was the first to arrive and she bought four of my books. Cool! It turned out we didn’t do a Q&A and I didn’t have to talk at all, except to the people who approached my table. One on one I can do. No problemo.

Turnout was pretty good and I sold all my books. The best part was all the support I received from family and friends, and getting to know my fellow authors a little better.

This was stepping out of my comfort zone big time, but I did it. And I actually had a good time. I might even plan another signing…without a Q&A, of course.

Funny how things are rarely as bad as we imagine them to be. What about you? When was the last time your reality trumped your fears?

HEALTHY MONDAYS: Your pushups plan

Pushups. Yuck.

Everyone hates them. But everyone needs them. They're the best exercise you can do for your upper body. They tone the arms, chest, shoulders and core. And you can do them anywhere.

Unfortunately, they're really hard. But there are ways to modify the move so that anyone can do them.

Your goal: 3 sets of 10-15 pushups, 2-3x/week for a fabulous upper body! Once you can perform 2 sets of 15 pushups with relative ease, it's time to move to the next level.

Against the wall
This is the easiest level. Stand about a foot or so away from a wall. Place your hands at chest level on the wall. Keeping your body straight and abs tight and engaged, bend your arms until your nose is just a few inches from the wall. Straighten arms. Repeat. The closer your feet are to the wall, the easier it is.

On the stairs or counter
Place your hands on the edge of the counter or the stairs (start 4 steps up from ground). Hands are slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Body is in a straight line, abs are engaged. Lower your body until chest almost touches step or counter. Straighten arms. Repeat. If you're using the stairs, once you can do your 2-3 sets of 10-15 on that step, move down a step. You'll be on the floor, doing regular pushups in no time.

Over the ball
If you have a big exercise ball (Fitball, Swiss ball, etc), you can use that for "easy" pushups. Lie face down over the ball, walk your hands forward until the ball is beneath your pelvis. Hands are on the floor, slightly wider than the shoulders. Lower chest toward the floor, straighten arms. Repeat. As this gets easy, walk the hands out until ball is under thighs, then under knees, then shins, then feet. If you can do these with just your feet on the ball, you're a stud. Just sayin'.

On the floor
Of course, you can always do your pushups on the floor. Easiest level would be on all fours, with your hands beneath your shoulders and knees right under the hips. Bend the arms to lower chest toward floor. Straighten arms. Repeat. Keep the hips lifted. Next level is on the knees. From all fours, walk hands forward until your body makes a straight line from shoulders to knees. Abs tight. Bend arms and lower and lift. Once your can do 2-3 sets of 10-15 pushups on your knees, you're ready to move to "guy pushups" or "military pushups" on your toes.

Sore/bad wrists?
This is a problem for a lot of people, especially women. I used to have this issue myself. But in the 8 years I've been a personal trainer, I've found that the problem isn't "bad" wrists so much as "weak" wrists. You just need to strengthen them. Start by standing in front of the wall as in the wall pushups. Just keep your arms straight and support your body like that. Build up to 30 seconds. If you must start with just 5 seconds, that's okay. Once you can do that, go to all fours on the floor. Just hold that upward position. Build up to 30 seconds. Once you can do that without pain, try the easiest level of pushups, even if you can only do 1-2 at a time.

To inspire you and possibly motivate you, last fall I decided to start a pushups plan myself because I'm notoriously weak in the upper body, despite all my working out. I wanted to be able to do a bunch of guy pushups without looking like I was going to die. I started off being able to do just one set of seven or so. Now, I'm up to 85 (not all at once, but in about 4-5 sets). My goal is 100.

Good luck and tell me how you're doing.

The New Kid in Town

Please help me welcome this week's guest blogger, Robin Kaye. Robin is a multi-published author with Sourcebooks Casablanca.  Her first book, Romeo, Romeo was a 2007 Golden Heart® Winner. Her most recent book, Breakfast in Bed, came out in December 2009, and earned a 4-Star Review from Romantic Times. You can learn more about Robin on her website.

I have a confession to make. I’m not shy. I don’t think I’ve ever been shy. I was the three-year-old who would walk up to strangers in the grocery store, tug on their coats to get their attention and say, “You know what, my mom give me and my dog the same medicine.” My mother would cringe, because, well, she did give my dog and me the same pills (cod-liver oil) and God only knew what else would come out of my mouth. I understand that feeling well. I have a daughter just like me only worse, and I say that with the utmost love and respect.

When I was a kid, my family moved so frequently, I made army brats look stable. Teachers would look at my transcripts and ask if my family was in the service. I’d say “No, my mother is part gypsy.” Their responses were always strange looks as if they wondered if my mother was a dark-haired beauty who wore brightly colored flowing skirts, large, gold earrings, and told fortunes. My mom’s Italian, she had the dark-haired beauty and large gold earrings part down, but beyond that, the similarities fall apart. Regardless of the reason, I went to at least ten different grade schools. I counted six before 4th grade.

Always being the new kid was difficult, especially since my mother always insisted that I wear undershirts. She might as well have tattooed the word “Loser” on my forehead. It was not pretty. By 4th grade, I’d given up on the notion of staying in one place for more than 9 months, making friends, and having any semblance of a social life. I withdrew into the world of fiction. I would find the local library, and if it were within walking distance, I would hang out there. I’d lose myself in books and try to forget the daily humiliation that was school.

If you didn’t know the real me, I’d bet you would have thought I was shy. I remember being afraid to approach people I didn’t know, and the thought of having to speak in public was enough to make me sick. I even started stuttering.

Every time I’d move, I’d think things would change, but somehow the kids at the new school would treat me the same way. It wasn’t until sophomore year in high school I’d gotten tired of constantly being picked on. I gave myself an attitude adjustment because really, I was so over trying to impress anyone and long past caring about what others thought. I had a full life outside of school with wonderful adult friends, and a job. When I moved and started at yet another school, I had low expectations—school was something you survived. Imagine my surprise when I went from the girl who was barked at (it’s true, I was actually barked at from 8th-10th grades) to the girl who got asked out. The first time it happened, I thought the guy was trying to put me down. You know, ask the introvert out, and then laugh when she says yes. Instead, I was the one laughing. When the poor boy shook his head and said he was serious, I thanked him for asking and turned him down. It wasn’t until I didn’t care about what people thought that I lost the stigma I carried with me since early childhood. If I hadn’t been so past the point of caring about popularity, I may very well have become popular.

The more things change the more they stay the same. I still don’t feel comfortable going out and meeting new people. I do it all the time because I force myself. If you ever saw me at RWA conferences, you’d never know how uncomfortable and exhausting it is for me. I talk to everyone. I walk up to complete strangers and start conversations; I make it a point not to sit with my friends at lunch or dinner but to sit at tables with 9 people I’ve never met because it’s my job. I put on my game face and I work it. It’s work, it’s the business we’re in, and it’s important to every one of us to network.

I like to think of what I do as taking on a role. I learned a long time ago to fake it ‘till you make it. It works. I take a deep breath and jump into the deep end of the pool. I figure I survived five years with kids barking at me, meeting with fellow writers, editors, and agents is child’s play compared to that.

I’m much more comfortable now in a social setting. If I could have my agent/editor appointments at the bar, I’d be happy. Unfortunately, RWA hasn’t embraced my position on that yet. My last editor appointment was a waking nightmare. I finally blew my hair out of my eyes, looked at the editor who had written me off 10 seconds after I opened my mouth, and apologized for the world’s worst pitch. She patted my hand and said “It wasn’t that bad.” She was a horrible liar.

Editor appointments are something I still have to work on and I will because I’ll force myself to do just that. The world’s worst editor appointment didn’t kill me, it didn’t keep me from getting published, it just embarrassed me. I’ve lived through much worse. At least that editor didn’t bark at me.

Robin will be giving away two copies of her book, Breakfast in Bed, to two people who post here today. Good luck!

HEALTHY MONDAYS: The Winter Doldrums

This time of year is always hard for me. I live in the Pacific Northwest, where most of the days from October to April are gray, drizzly and dark. Although I grew up around here, I never realized how much the weather affected my moods until I moved to sunny Boise for 9 years. The winters there might be cold, but the skies were usually blue and sunny.

But here…ick. There’s nothing worse than getting out of bed in the morning, opening up the blinds, and not being able to tell you just opened up the blinds because it’s so dark and dreary outside.

About a year ago, I went to my doctor for what I thought was depression: I was always tired, grumpy, quick-tempered, hungry, grumpy, sad. Did I mention grumpy? She suspected my Vitamin D levels were low. And boy were they. Bottom side of “normal” is 25 whatevers. My number was 11. She said it was one of the lowest levels she’d seen. “No wonder you’ve been bitchy,” she said. She diagnosed me with SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to Wikepedia, “It has been estimated that 1.5-9% of adults in the US experience SAD.”
Symptoms of SAD (according to

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating and processing information

After my diagnosis, my doctor put me on a mega dose of Vitamin D, told me to get outside for 20 minutes on non-rainy days, and suggested I order a light box. It couldn’t be one of those cheapy ones you can get at any retail store, but it must be 10,000 lux in intensity. She told me to sit in front of it for 30 minutes every morning.

So, I started doing what my doctor told me to do. I took my vitamins, I went outside more often, and I bought a light box. Every morning, I sat in front of the “happy light” for 30-45 minutes while I drank my coffee and wrote in my journal.

Holy cow. Within the week, I was noticeably less grouchy, had more energy, and no longer required an afternoon nap. This year, I started feeling those tell tale signs again. I didn’t recognize them for what they were at first, until my husband asked, “When was the last time you used your light box?” Well, duh.

Anyway, I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on TV or write about them in my books. I just wanted to share with you my experience. If you have any of the symptoms of SAD –and even if you don’t—you might want to talk to your doctor about testing your Vitamin D levels. My doc said 80% of the women she tests come back deficient in this crucial vitamin.

Benefits of Vitamin D (from the website):

• Maintenance of healthy bones

• Regulates the immune system

• May reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis

• Linked to maintaining a healthy body weight

• Can reduce severity and frequency of asthma symptoms

• May reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women.

• Lower risk of developing cancer, compared to people with lower levels of Vit D

Have a healthy week!

Tongue-Tied? Try Toastmasters

Allow me to introduce this week's guest blogger: Keli Gwyn

Scared of Speaking?

Knocking Knees. Hammering Heart. Perspiring Palms. What do they have in common?

All three are symptoms of the #1 fear

And what is that?

Public speaking tops the list of things that terrify us. According to numerous sources, not even the fear of death surpasses it. The mere thought of standing behind a podium with people peering at us can turn even the most outgoing person into a stammering, cotton-mouthed scaredy-cat.

Writers and Speaking
Why do we, as novelists, need concern ourselves with public speaking? Especially those of us, like me, who freely admit we’re shy writers? After all, don’t we spend most of our time alone in front of our computers with only our characters (and perhaps a pet or two) for company? Aren’t non-fiction writers the ones who have to build a platform and speak to promote their books?

I’ll answer those questions with one word: readers.
We want our books to be read and enjoyed by many, right? One way for that to happen is for us to interact with our readers, potential readers, and writer friends who serve as reviewers and influencers.

And how do we reach them? Sure, we use email. But we also speak—in our writer groups, at meetings, at conferences, in the classroom, in those all important pitch sessions. Sometimes we’re even given (or can actually be brave and seek) opportunities to speak, which enable us to reach a number of people at one time.

Speak? Shudder. Who is she kidding? I’m no speaker. The thought terrifies me.

If thoughts like those run through your head at the idea of addressing an audience, you’re not alone. But help is available.

A Proven Solution
One of the best programs for improving as a speaker is Toastmasters. Founded in 1924, Toastmasters International (TMI) has over 250,000 members in 106 countries and has helped countless people improve their speaking skills and develop in other ways too. How do I know? I’ve been a member for two years and have benefited personally. If you’ve considering joining Toastmasters but don’t know what it’s about, I’ll give you an inside look.

How do I find a club?
Many communities have a Toastmasters club—often more than one. To locate a club near you, check your local phone book or newspaper’s club section. You can also visit the TWI website,, and click the “find” link on the home page. Club locations and meeting day/times are listed.

Can I check out a TM club before I join?
Most clubs are open to the public and are eager to have you visit—more than once if you’d like. If more than one club in your area meets at a time that would fit into your schedule, I suggest visiting both. Although clubs follow the same format, each has its own style or atmosphere.

What is the format?
Most club meetings, which are generally an hour long and take place once a week, follow a similar format with five major components.

1) Business meeting – After the Sergeant at Arms calls the meeting to order, s/he will introduce the Toastmaster (TM) for the week. This position, along with the others, is filled by a different member each week. The TM introduces the members who are serving in various roles and invites them to explain their duties. Some of these roles are Timer, Joke Master, and Grammarian, who will announce the Word of the Day.

2) Prepared Speeches – The TM introduces the members scheduled to speak that day. These members prepare their speeches in advance, using guidelines outlined in a manual. New members work through the first manual, the Competent Communicator, which contains ten speeches aimed at teaching the basics, such as organizing a speech, using vocal variety, and incorporating body language. Once a member has completed the ten speeches in this first manual, he or she has a choice of many manuals from which to choose, such as The Entertaining Speaker, Storytelling, and Humorously Speaking. Each speaker must stay within the time constraints of his/her speech to qualify for the awards given at the conclusion of the meeting.

3) Table Topics – The Table Topicsmaster leads the extemporaneous speeches portion of the meeting. S/he chooses a topic for the week, which is often related to the theme for that week’s meeting. The members who volunteer or are chosen to speak address the given topic in a one-two minute impromptu speech. To qualify for the awards, the speakers have to meet the minimum time requirement and incorporate the Word of the Day into their speeches. This portion of the meeting tends to be a great deal of fun. Visitors are welcome to participate.

4) Evaluation – The General Evaluator (GE) leads this portion of the meeting. S/he introduces the members serving as Evaluators, who provide two-three minute oral evaluations of the prepared speakers. The GE then asks for the Grammarian’s report. The member serving in that position reports on good use of language. In some clubs, s/he will also mention the use of crutch/filler words used by members, such as “um,” “ah,” or “you know.” The GE concludes this portion of the meeting with an overall evaluation of the meeting.

5) Conclusion – The awards/ribbons for Best Prepared Speaker, Best Table Topics, and Best Evaluator are presented. The TM turns the meeting over to the presiding officer, who deals with any club business and concludes the meeting.

How much does it cost to join?
A new member pays a one-time $20 membership fee, which covers the cost of the first two manuals: Competent Communicator and Competent Leader. A monthly fee, currently $4.50, is paid to TMI. Collected every six months, this fee entitles a member to receive the monthly Toastmaster magazine. In addition, each club assesses a monthly fee to offset operating expenses. Mine charges just one dollar a month.

What are the benefits of Toastmasters?
1. Improved Presentation Skills -- A member learns to prepare an organized, engaging speech. In addition, s/he practices the skills needed to present a polished performance and maintain the audience’s interest. Among these are good use of voice, body language, timing, props, and humor.

 2. Thinking on Your Feet -- TM members get practice speaking without a script as they fill the various roles and participate in Table Topics. Learning to be more comfortable speaking extemporaneously would help a writer in many ways: interacting with readers, other writers, friends, and family members. Table Topics practice could help when we’re put on the spot, such as when we get that unexpected opportunity to pitch our projects in an “elevator speech.”

3. Listening Skills -- When serving as an Evaluator, one learns to listen better, which would help a writer in communications with his/her agent and editor(s).

4. Business Skills -- A member learns leadership and time management skills, both of which would benefit a writer in handling the business side of writing.

5. Dealing with Criticism -- Learning from the Evaluations of one’s speeches helps a member improve his/her speaking skills. In addition, this experience could help a writer learn how to accept constructive criticism such as s/he receives from agents, editors, mentors, and writing partners.

6. Increased Confidence -- One of the greatest benefits of TM, especially for shy writers, is the growth in self-confidence. Facing a fear takes courage. Doing something to minimize that fear is empowering.

7. Fun and Friendships -- TM meetings can be a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing my TM buddies every Wednesday at noon, knowing we’ll have a great time together. We learn in a mutually supportive environment. And we laugh—a lot. Facing a fear with friends who become allies in the battle builds special relationships.

8. Financial Rewards -- Once you’ve joined TM and have grown more comfortable as a speaker, you may find it easier to interest groups in having you as their guest. The fact that you are a trained TM will add credibility, and you may find that you can charge a fee and get paid to speak. Plus, once you’ve sold a book, speaking endears you to an audience, and you’re apt to gain new readers from those who listened to your presentation.

From Cotton-mouthed to Confident
After two-years in TM, I no longer get quite as nervous before a speech as I used to. That doesn’t mean I’ve overcome my inherent shyness. I still deal with dry-mouth during a speech on occasion, but most of the time, my audience doesn’t know I’m scared, which I count as progress.

Fear of public speaking is real, but we can do something about it. If you want to face yours, I encourage you to explore TM as an option. I have a hunch you’ll be glad you did.

If you have questions about Toastmasters that I haven’t covered, please leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Keli writes inspirational historical romance and was a double Golden Heart® finalist in 2008. Her Christmas present this past year was an offer of representation from Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Keli and her extremely supportive hubby, who serves as her plotting partner, live in the heart of California’s Gold Country. In addition to writing and participating in her local Toastmasters club, Keli enjoys taking walks down the narrow streets of her small town while admiring the Victorian homes gracing them. She has a fondness for Coach handbags and is a long-time Taco Bell addict.

To learn more about Keli, visit her website or her popular blog, Romance Writers on the Journey