Thursday, April 2, 2015

Trying to Use Time To My Own Benefit

I've mentioned before how I have about an hour's drive in the car every day. Thirty minutes to work, and thirty minutes home. Sometimes longer depending on traffic, and traffic has been insane lately. I'm blaming the suddenly nice weather. People are getting really confident in their driving.

Scary, right?

Anyway, you might recall at the start of the year I wanted to read 26 books this year. That's nothing for people like my mom and my sister, who devour books with abandon. I tend to read blogs, magazine articles, and a lot of nonfiction, with some classic literature thrown in for good measure. My dad's kind of the same way.

Enter Audible

Sometime back in January, Chelsey talked about how she's taken to listening to books in her car on her way to and from work, or whenever she's running errands in town, via Audible. 

I tried to do this in college with Books on CD from my local library, but what I discovered was that unless I was driving long distances, I really didn't pay much attention to the books I'd taken out. It was great when I was driving home from school during college, but driving to work when I lived ten minutes away just wasn't feasible for me. 

Since Audible offers two free books to start, and a month free, I decided to give it a whirl. 

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Source
The first book I got was The Time Traveler's Wife, which was a book I'd been wanting to read for a long time. I'd seen the movie, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, and was less than impressed by it. That was the general consensus of the movie. After listening to the book, I honestly think they need to remake the movie, but do it as a miniseries. 

Anyway, the book, itself, had two different narrators, a man and a woman, Fred Berman and Phoebe Strole, as the book is split into his story and hers, where they're both going along their own chronology, and always seem to meet in the middle. Having the two different narrators helped keep the story lines clear. At first, I didn't get it, but it made a lot of sense as the story went on. 

The story, itself, was actually really good. On the one hand, you know what's going to come, because it's already happened to one character, but you don't know how it came to be, which kept everything mysterious. The story chronicles the romance between Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire. Clare met Henry was she was 6, and he 36, but Henry met Clare when he was 31, and she was 23. As the title suggests, he's a Time Traveler, which means he disappears at the most inopportune times, and ends up naked and disoriented at places that have special meaning to him. Since Clare had met him when she was six, after he'd met her older self, he kept gravitating back to her. 

Back to Audible


It's definitely a story of star-crossed lovers trying to keep a shred of normalcy in their lives. I really liked it, and I really liked that it made my commute seem like less of a chore in the car. I just downloaded the Audible app to my phone, and was able to play the book directly. I also downloaded the book Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, and while also a good book, it's got some aspects which I don't like, which I'll get into more once I finish it. 

Once your Free Trial is up, you get to keep your two books that you downloaded during the trial, but then they charge you $14.95 per month, which also includes a credit for a book. This is a great deal, if you ask me. Most of the books are more expensive than that, but since I don't listen to more than one a month, it works out for me.

Source
Because it's so convenient, I've also taken to listening to them at the gym, when I'm on a treadmill, lifting weights, on the massage table, or even in Red Light Therapy. If you've got your phone and headphones, you can listen to a book, and it helps for me if I'm not trying to do something else. 

After looking through the App last week, I realized that it's got a sleep timer, so you can set it before bed, listen to your story, and potentially fall asleep without losing your place (which, admittedly, I did, and had to rewind to the previous chapter, but it could've been a lot worse!). 

After I finish Orphan Train, I plan to start the Game of Thrones series. Lord, help me.

I'm definitely a fan, and if you're interested, you can get a free trial to test it out, too! It's actually fantastic, and I can't believe I wasted so much time hemming and hawing over whether or not I'd actually use it. I might actually hit my goal of 26 books this year!

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks. I can't overstate what a good deal this is. I honestly can't. I'm a big fan, and hope you will be, too.
  • Have you tried Audible? What do you think?
  • Got any recommendations for me?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Love Your Pets

If you've been reading or following me on Instagram for any length of time, you know I've got pets, and I absolutely adore them. My dog is like my little brother (He's my dad's dog), and I've got two cats of my own (though Henry prefers my dad to me), plus my mom's cat, who used to be my sister's. We love our pets in this house.

Sometime last year, Jane started developing a skin condition (which I think was also a nervous tic), which made her groom excessively, and she would even bleed from her abrasions. I was at my wit's end, worrying about her. We later discovered that switching her to a grain free food helped a lot. Since then, I've been interested in learning about pet health to really make them as healthy as I possibly can. I lost a dog to gastric torsion about five years ago, and I've read that diet is a leading cause.

That's what makes treats like Evanger's Beef Hearts pretty great. They're just sliced, dried beef hearts, no additives or preservatives. They break apart really easily, which makes them great for training treats (I've started giving them to Frisket when he "asks" to go outside, instead of doing something naughty, like peeing my my tennis shoes. *sigh*).


I'm pretty psyched to have gotten a chance to try these treats on my pets. They're for cats and dog, but none of my cats seem to like them. Maybe if I reconstituted them in water, softening them, they'd be more palatable. But for Frisket, he absolutely loves them. I love that what you see is what you get, and there isn't anything I can't pronounce added.

I was contacted via Instagram by a rep from Chewy.com, an online pet store with lots of treat options for sale, as well as 24/7 customer service and pet advice, which is pretty awesome. They not only sent us treats to try, they sent a MASSIVE toy for Frisket. It's bigger than he is! Didn't stop him from going for it, though.


But, they sent something for the cats, too.


Free Cat toy with every purchase, because what cat doesn't love a box?


Jane was in it, too, but she's skittish, so she jumped out before I could get a picture for her.

There's a lot to choose from, and I was very touched that they included a toy on top of the treats. So sweet. I'm looking forward to trying other products. Maybe I'll even find something my cats will love!

Disclosure: Products provided to me to try by Chewy.com. I paid nothing for them, but all opinions are my own. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Jane Austen Book Club: Sense and Sensibility

Most people's first foray into the world of Jane Austen is Pride & Prejudice. I suppose mine was too, in the form of the PBS show, Wishbone, in their episode "Furst Impressions."

Source
Considering it was as bare bones as could be, for a twenty-minute children's show, I didn't get much out of it, except that Wishbone can pull off any look.

Around the same time, the film version of Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet came out. I'd seen previews for it on the super old school TV Guide channel (previously known as the Preview channel), and thought it looked interesting. I bought it on tape at Best Buy, and watched it. I didn't really understand it, but something resonated with me in this story.

I felt connected to both sisters. To Marianne's thirst for a dramatic, romantic life, but Elinor's more guarded nature. It took many viewings of this film for me to truly understand everything that was happening, to peel back all the layers of the characters' behaviors.

Reading the book is a completely different experience. Along with the basic story, you learn more about what happened with Edward and Lucy, how conniving Lucy Steele really was, just how much Fanny hated everyone who didn't have money, how much Willoughby intentionally, but unintentially, hurt Marianne. We especially learned how much weight Elinor had on her shoulders.

2008 (Source)

Elinor was the one who handled her family's finances, who made sure her mother didn't overspend their budget, who looked after them all. She thought she'd found love in her sister-in-law's brother, only to learn from a vindictive Lucy Steele that he was taken.

One thing I love about Jane Austen is that she writes characters so well that you can find them in your own life. I've met some Lucy Steeles in my day, the ones who want to be your best friend, but at the same time, it's to watch you, and make sure you don't get too close to the object of their affection. If she asks you if you think a certain boy is cute, if you say yes, she'll tell you he's taken, and if you say no, she'll ask what's wrong with him. She's similar to Isabella Thorpe in her vindictiveness.

1995 (Source)
It's impressive how quickly Marianne falls in love. I'm a bit pragmatic, much like Elinor, but when I was eleven, I totally understood how she fell for Willoughby. He was handsome and charming, funny, and I would've loved to have fallen in love with someone like him, even if he did break her heart. As I read through the book, I had to wonder if the story was told in this day in age, would Willoughby and Marianne have been able to make it work?


If she had any self-respect, I would hope not. A man like Willoughby, while he is able to love, he never learned any self-control, and I think he would've broken her heart time and time again.

I think that Elinor and Marianne eventually married men who their sister sort of represented. Calm, collected Elinor was deemed a suitable match for Col. Brandon, by her older brother, John. He was so obviously ignoring Col. Brandon's preference to Marianne, and it was pretty comical. I think Elinor and Brandon would've been fine together, but only because they're both so agreeable.

Edward and Marianne, while polar opposite, hear me out. Edward was secretive, passionate in his own way (and obviously moreso in the past), and believes in the power of his word, much like Marianne.

Marianne and Edward wouldn't have been a good couple, but Elinor and Brandon would've been fine. Just goes to show that just because two people make good friends, and almost siblings (Marianne long considered Edward to be her brother before he became so) doesn't mean they'll make a good match.

Elinor+Brandon=Too much practicality
Marianne+Edward=Sibling-type Love
Marianne+Willoughby=All passion, and no practicality
Elinor+Edward=Practicality and a genuine affection
Marianne+Brandon=Practicality, Romance, Friendship

Which of these do you think will last?

Honestly, people have complained in reviews that this novel is the most boring of Austen's work. That might be true, but because of Emma Thompson's lovely script, for which, she won a Golden Globe. By the way, best acceptance speech EVER.



  • Have you read Sense and Sensibility
  • What's your favorite Austen?
  • Should I read Pride & Prejudice or Mansfield Park next?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Blog Analytics

Sorry I disappeared after talking about Jamberry last month. It's been nothing, if not a whirlwind. It's been great, actually. I had the highest sales for my team, I earned my first Fast Start with a lot of sales, a finished party, as well as my first recruit, and I'm well on my way to succeeding. I couldn't be more excited about it!

Unfortunately, with a new adventure, my blogs suffered. I haven't written anything here, or on B3 since I announced Jamberry, and for that, I am VERY sorry. Believe it or not, I did NOT forget The Jane Austen Book Club. I finished Sense & Sensibility this last weekend, so my thoughts will be there later this week, and I've also written more on my story on Wattpad, so if you're curious, feel free to check that out!


Now, the title says today's long overdue post is about Blog Analytics. I started keeping track of what my blogs and social media accounts were doing over the course of the months. Being as it's March now, I've got a bit more data to go off of. I tracked it in a simple Google Sheets file, similar to an Excel Spreadsheet.

2015Facebook - MJAFacebook - 3BPinterestTwitterGoogle PlusBlogLovin-MJABlogLovin-3bInstagramMJA Pageviews3B Pageviews
January277112862831942485
February2811230227421499881691665
March28614316262225711931203372

As you can see, everything has gone up between February and March, except for Twitter, and my Blog page views. I know exactly what's been happening. I don't get Twitter (though THANKS to those who've tagged me in #FF! That was so sweet! I'll try to start participating in that. :-) ), though I'm constantly told that splitting my following up into groups makes it a lot more manageable, and easy to build relationships, so I should really try that.

As for the blog views, well, why should anyone come when there isn't new content to be seen? Bad blogger! I hope to provide consistent content starting this month, and I'd love to connect with you on Twitter! Follow me @martinbeks. I'd be glad to hear from you!

I'm back. I'm hoping to continue to learn from these numbers. If you're looking for a way to grow your blog, I highly recommend jotting down your numbers from month to month, and ask yourself what's changed. It's very eye-opening.

My goal for this month is to learn as much as I can about Twitter. To continue to provide content for you, and remember, this is a place for authors to share their thoughts.


  • What are your blogging goals for the month?
  • How do you like to use Twitter?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A New Adventure

Is everyone staying warm in all the blizzard? I am absolutely freezing, and am so ready for my next Cruise to the Caribbean in October! Warm weather and fruity drinks can't come fast enough! Thankfully, it's all starting to melt.

I am excited to announce, however, that I am now currently a Jamberry Nails Consultant. I've been considering this since my sister's party back in November. I was a bit hesitant on my original first Jamicure, because I don't think I did the best job (I was in a rush to meet my sister to get pedicures, irony of ironies).

A Thanksgiving Jamicure
You can kind of tell that my middle finger is kind of up over the cuticle.

Rumor has it that it takes three tries to get really good at applying Jams. My next Jamicure was much better. And extremely Wintery.

Winters Edge and Reindeer Games
I really liked the Reindeer Games (Ring Finger), which I'd taken as an accent nail from my mom. She filled her fingers with Rudolph, but wasn't sure she liked it. I honestly couldn't blame her. All those reindeer staring up, judging you...

My Jamicures have been lasting me about two weeks before I get tired and wants a change. I've haven't really left my nails bare since I got interested in them. I like having pretty nails.

Icy Boysenberry Polka Dot, Navy Quatrefoil, Sheet Music, Bird on Fire
This was my Christmas Day Jamicure, and it lasted me until New Year's. It could've lasted longer, but I got bored. There are that many designs, and they're all really fun.

I got my cousin the Bird on Fire jams for Christmas, because she loves Phoenixes. I invited her and her mom, and our aunt and cousin over for an application instruction party, which was fun, and we all got to ooh and ah over what everyone else had.

I'm currently in the middle of my launch party, where I'm throwing everyone's name who orders into a hat for a special prize! To check out Jamberry's offerings, including styles that won't be coming back (Like Navy Quatrefoil and Icy Boysenberry Polka Dot, shown above), check out my website, martinbeks.jamberrynails.net. You can also hit the button up top that says Jamberry. If you're interested in checking out my Online Party, go here.

I'm really excited about my launch party. I'm getting to know other consultants who are extremely passionate, and their excitement is contagious. If you're interested in hosting a party, I can do either live (local) parties in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area, or online parties, which are even cooler, because I can do a party for anyone anywhere online, via Facebook.

Welcome to my journey!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Reading Plan: January 2015


So, as you may remember, I have a goal of reading 26 books this year. I've got about two weeks left in January to finish two of the books I'm currently reading. I've finished one, but I know that I have it in me to finish two more.

I actually started a lot of books last year, but got sidetracked when I was trying to be part of Blog Tours. Sadly, I'm not that great at reading two things at once, especially if I'm not overly fond of what I'm reading (I like to finish books that I read). Another plan I have this year is to finish many of the books I started LAST year.

Without further ado, here is my current reading plan:

January

I've Never Been to Vegas...But My Luggage Has! By Mandy Hale 

Source
I finished this book a couple weeks ago, and read it really quickly. Mandy Hale is funny, fashionable, and has a lot of great advice for single chicks, with a strong, Biblical foundation. I've been reading her blog, The Single Woman for a few months now, and absolutely love it. 

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I started the Jane Austen Book Club a few months ago, but then things got super nuts. I love this story, and can't wait to share my thoughts in Book Club format, and I hope you'll join me in the discussion when I share my thoughts in February. 

Once Upon a Winter's Night by Dennis L. McKiernan


The Polar Bear King is one of my favorite fairy tales, and here it's reimagined in an epic tale of curses and true love. I borrowed this book from my sister because I'm working on a fairy tale myself. I don't read many fantasy novels, which I don't know why. I love the genre. I'm 99.9% sure I'm a Disney Princess. Jane (my Cat) doesn't directly talk TO me, but I totally get it. We chat. I can totally read animals' minds. 

This is my January Plan for reading.
  • What's on your reading list this month?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Wattpad: A Platform for Everyone

A few years ago, when I was trying to find an audience for my first book, Sugar & Spies, I was turned on to the web-based platform, Wattpad.

What is Wattpad?

From what I'd heard, it was a place for teenagers to write for other teenagers, but it had grown that people truly wanting to find their audience put their stories up in serial form to find an audience. The audience votes on your chapters, and the more votes it gets, the more exposure it gets from the site. Wattpad's whole aim is to make the solitary art of writing into a social art.

Don't you want to publish to make money?

Wattpad doesn't hold the rights to your work, so you can publish it anywhere you want. Wattpad's aim is to find you an audience. I'm sorely lacking an audience, and to be completely honest, I'd really love to find my love of writing, and make it less of a chore. If I'm writing and getting immediate feedback, then it might reignite my passion.

Do people really do well on Wattpad?

Some really do. They have great success stories, and it'd be so cool to be one of them. 

How do you promote your work on Wattpad?

Since they're a social platform, it's encouraged that you get really involved, read stories, comment, and take part in the social group they've got on the site, as well. 

What are you going to do on Wattpad?

I've had these short stories swimming around in my head that take place in the same universe as a bigger mystery series, and I'd like to advertise for my series by writing these smaller stories about people you'll meet in the main stories. I'm hoping it fleshes out my universe into something great. 

Have you written anything on Wattpad yet?

Yes, I have! It was something I'd written awhile back, but I uploaded it this afternoon, and even used Canva, as well as a some royalty-free photos to create a book cover.

Click Here to Read!

How can I publish on Wattpad?

Easy Peasy. Here are instructions taken from The Writer's Circle.

  1. Setup a Wattpad account. You can either sign up with an email address and create a password, or have it go through your Facebook account. If you use Facebook, you can also see which Facebook friends are using Wattpad and follow them if you like.
  2. Check out the copyright agreement/rules. Though Wattpad is pretty lax about publishing, there are still some guidelines about copyright infringement and posting content that is obscene or hateful. Read those guidelines carefully before creating content.
  3. Click “Create.” In the toolbar at the top of the page, you’ll see a few options – you can search for stories based on genre, recommended reads, featured stories, or what has recently won awards; view your own library of saved stories to read; or create a story of your own. Click “Create.”
  4. Start writing. The template here is simple: There’s a spot for your story’s title, a word count tracker in the top-right corner, and simple HTML tools for bolding and italicizing words. There’s also a helpful spell checker that can spell-check in eight different languages, which is another cool feature.

    You can either write directly in the text box, or upload a .txt file from your computer by clicking “Upload a File” in the bottom-left corner of the text box (it’s easy enough to convert files to .txt, since it won’t accept .doc or other file types).  You can save drafts along the way by just hitting “Save,” and you can hit “Save & Publish” when it’s finished and ready for the world to see.
  5. Pick categories, tags, rating, and language. Along the right side of the text box, you’ll see a series of dropdown menus. These selections make your content more searchable, describe your story, and also will help bring in readers looking for your kind of story. You can pick up to two categories (e.g. “Short Story” and “Science Fiction”) and also can free-form tags. 

    Tags are more specific descriptors to help readers find your story – maybe your Science Fiction story would be tagged with “vampires” and “werewolves.” Think of things you might type when searching for that kind of story, and use those as tags. You’ll also want to give your story a rating – G through R, much like the movies – so it’s clear what kind of content is in there.
  6. Copyright. If you publish using "advanced options," you can also add copyright language to the story like "All rights reserved" or a "Creative Commons" license.
  7. Add a description. If you're using a computer, you can click "My Works" and then "Manage" to add a short description of the story and to mark whether it is an ongoing series or completed story. (It's a little different on the apps, but you still go through the "My Works" page.) 
  8. Publish! Once you’re ready, you can hit “Save & Publish” to share with the masses. Readers can send messages and comment on the story, and you can see that all in your inbox. That direct interaction and feedback can be really helpful in growing your readership and perfecting your writing skills.
  9. Add dedications or photos. After you publish, you can also add a dedication or photograph to the story. You'll see those options along the right side of the screen, next to the text.
  10. Check out the stats. Wattpad keeps track of how many reads, votes, and comments that each story gets, so you can see in real time how many people are reading it.
  11. Add chapters. If you want to add chapters, then go to “My Works” and simply click “Add Part” for the story you want to add something to.

See? It's really pretty simple. Plus, there's a free app you can download to your device to read stories, or write stories anywhere! 

If you're wanting to give writing a try, and want to check out some free stories, Wattpad is a great resource! If you want to follow me, my username is martinbeks

Have a great weekend!