Dan Alatorre’s WORD WEAVER Writing Contest – let the games begin!

This contest is such a great opportunity aspiring writers. The prizes listed here are amazing.

Dan has dedicated his website to help new and established authors and bloggers for years, and this contest is just one more way he’s contributing to the writing community. I’m proud to share the details here.

Be a part of something fantastic. Have your work critiqued by a professional, best-selling author.

Good luck to all who enter!

Blogapolypse: A Scribbles Apocalypse

What would your final blog post be?

It was a question posed over at DanAlatorre.com yesterday morning. His response was short and simple: Was I a great writer? No. But I helped a lot of people and sincerely believe they could be. Which is true, in that his instructional posts have helped a lot of people, and also modest, in that he is an exceptional writer. Bloggerly phenom Allison Maruska posted her response here, which I found quite funny.


Well, let me start by saying the same thing I’d say if I found out I was going to die tomorrow.

I am pissed.

Because, come on. Things are just getting started!

Maybe the old adage is true: you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

Well, except that I know exactly what I have, and it isn’t gone.

Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins started on a whim. My writerly friends had websites. It seemed to be the cool thing to do. Like smoking across the train tracks at fourteen. (See me in high school, where students stood on the far side of the tracks directly outside the front doors to smoke, or risk suspension. Funnily enough, I never realized how much of a small town cliché that  train track marker was until this very moment.)

To be fair, I don’t smoke anymore, and blogging won’t give me outrageous wrinkles and/or a voice like Kathleen Turner. 1l7r2c.jpg

While I began the site by emulating Dan and Allison’s instructional posts, I soon realized I enjoyed writing them about as much as branding my face with a soldering iron. So, I branched out into Scribble Challenges. These friendly competitions gave aspiring and established authors a chance to get their creative juices flowing while working in a limited word count. The winner received an opportunity to guest post here.

I loved hosting the changes, but the number of participants quickly grew beyond my ability to keep up with.

And last summer, I took a blogging hiatus.

Despite those growing pains, Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins seems to have hit its stride in the last three months. Every week, it averages sixty new followers. So, I’ve been thinking about bringing the Scribble Challenge back as a bi-weekly (or monthly) event. I’ve been thinking of posting a short-short story every second Friday. I’ve been thinking about all the great and talented writers who’ll let me interview them next.

And, I’ve been thinking of publishing book and short story reviews. Poggibonsi. Drake and the Flyers. American Gods. The Goldfish Pool. The Bob Watson. Year of the Rooster. Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis.

But now you’re saying I can’t do ANY of that, because THIS bloody post is my last one??!!1l668o

So yes, I’m PISSED.

Except I’m not.

Because this is all hypothetical.

And maybe I’ll just go ahead and continue thinking about doing some of those things.

In all seriousness, and with the threat of blogapolypse behind us, I’d like to send a big thank you to the newest Scribble followers.

What would YOU write about if it was your last chance?


Too Excited to Sleep

I think I might have spent my whole life running away. I was raised as a wild child. There were very few rules in our house until one day my dad remarried, and certain incredibly unrealistic expectations descended like a pox upon our household. Expectations like: notifying my parental units about where I was at night, coming home at a reasonable hour, cleaning up after myself, and not having giant parties while said parental units spent the weekend out of town.

So, I moved out at sixteen.

I didn’t get very far at first. We lived in a small town in Manitoba. I packed a bag between classes and stashed it outside my best friend’s bedroom window up the street, in a house where I ended up staying until graduation.

Then, I moved to an itty-bitty apartment on the second floor of another house, roughly seven blocks away.

A year later I moved to Australia.

When I left Manitoba, I never thought I’d miss it. The first time I came home, I cried in the airport bathroom. I’d commandeered a very dapper Australian boyfriend while away, and would have stayed substantially longer if not for silly things like paperwork and visas. The drive home from the airport was bleak. The prairie sky was heavy and gray, the landscape dead and brown: a stark contrast to the eternal green of the tropics I’d basked in all year.

But, when I obtained a fresh visa and went back to Oz, it simply wasn’t the same. They say you can never go back, and in this case, maybe it was true.

So, I moved to my sister’s house in Calgary, Alberta. I worked in a pub, where I met my husband. We didn’t get together for a while, as I was still hooked on the dapper Australian and my hubby was still sewing a few wild oats. It wasn’t until his niece came to visit from Prince Edward Island that we got together. Being the gracious hosts of Calgary we were, we, okay I, decided to take her to the strippers.

I guess strippers have a way of bringing people together. It wasn’t long after that we summoned three hellions into the world and got married.

And then we moved here, to Charlottetown.

I was very lucky in Calgary. I lived a few blocks from my sister when we had our babies. Our first-born children are five months apart, and the second set of kids are four months apart. We were pregnant together. We raised our babies together. We talked on the phone eleventy-billion times a day. And when I came to PEI, it was like a rip or a tear in the fabric of that life. Talking on the phone with her became too painful overnight.

When my grandfather passed away a couple years ago, I realized just how far from home I was. I missed the giant prairie sky, the wind that sweeps through Portage and Main, and midnight slurpee runs. I missed the possibility of going to the store and running into people I went to school with.

And I missed the family I’d spent all my life running from.

Prince Edward Island is beautiful. It’s safe, and family oriented. It’s the perfect place to raise kids, and it’s close to my to my stepdaughters. But, I think that everyone who’s moved from home understands how heartbreaking it can be to be away when people get sick.  To be unable to drop by your parents’ houses to help shovel snow. To have to FaceTime at Christmas.

And, while I wasn’t exceptionally close with my mom in my childhood, I am now. I’ve been feeling the distance between us a lot.

I was two hours late getting home from work tonight. I had to deal with a woman on the phone who was very, very bad at her job. In the end, the situation we danced around wasn’t even resolved, but I was too tired and frustrated to stay any longer. I came home to cuddle the hellions before bedtime and a pour a giant glass of wine.

My husband was watching for me in the window, which was odd.

There was a scuffle of movement as I came through the door.

I went up to see the boys–and complain about my day to the man who puts up with all my complaints–and my mom was standing in the living room.

She’s been in cahoots with my husband the last few weeks.

Plotting to give me a heart attack.

Well the joke’s on them, because I’m still alive. I have my mom here a full week. My eyes are puffy from crying, and I’m grateful and happy–even though I’m way too excited to sleep.

Becoming a Free Time Ninja

Yesterday morning my friend Dan sent me this message, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6:15am, his time:


Good morning! What are you working on this week? Any new blog posts coming?

(That’s Dan speak for, it’s time for another effing blog post, Jenny.)

Dan is one of my very best writing compadres. Along with being a writer who produces entertaining prose faster than Agatha Christie on speed, he’s a critique partner that gives me grief whenever I take too long to email an edited chapter. He’s always sure to tell me what works, and what needs work. He encourages me to step out of my comfort zone. He’s a republican that calls me a commie. And, to be honest, being called a commie by Dan makes me laugh out loud, Every. Single. Time.

I responded to his message with a pretty standard J. A. Allen reply:

13686538_316709032000883_4678767774587559035_n  I don’t have time.

Because I don’t have time.

These days, I hardly have time for anything. I’ve devoted three days a week while the kids are in school to my writerly endeavors. Of my last six “writing days,” only ONE was actually spent writing. It’s man-cold season in the Allen house, and everyone afflicted needs their mawmmy. The oldest hellion just celebrated his eleventh birthday, resulting in a slew of preparation and general chaos clean-up. And, every second day the teachers seem to be partaking in professional development, resulting in about a bazillion days off school and practically eliminating my designated writing days.

Working as a manager in hospitality, I am often outnumbered by a younger subset of humans, ranging in age between eighteen and, ohhhh, twenty-three. selfiesSome of these people don’t go to school. Some of these people still live with their parents. None have kids. And yet, they still complain about doing laundry. One person’s laundry. Not FIVE people’s laundry, like there is in my house. These are people who spend their free time on Netflix, Snapchat, and Buzzfeed, getting their eyelashes extended, going to the gym, and taking selfies.

Every day, I ask these free-time squanderers, “What did you do today?” Mostly to torture myself. Because I don’t have time to do any of that. Because the last time I had time for ANY of that malarkey was when I was twenty-three, and said eleven-year-old turned my previous affinity for the smell of cooking chicken into a dastardly trigger for morning sickness. Not that I don’t love my life as mother of hellions. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m just very busy. When I’m not at work, my day is spent cleaning the kitchen, breaking up fights, putting away laundry, watching futsal and basketball, helping with homework, and (lovingly) swearing under my breath at little-boy-aim as I wash the floor beside the toilets.

It begs the question: how the hell does any human with offspring AND full-time employment find the time to learn to write well/produce a book/blog/participate in a web show/tackle social media/apply to be a member of the Florida Writers Conference?

And why the hell would they torture themselves by trying?

(Just joking about the writer’s conference. Because, Florida.)

But then, about half an hour after messaging with Dan yesterday–while perusing my Instagram feed–I came across this little image, posted by none other than my favorite republican: Untitled.png

Sweet baby Jesus. Why the hell was I scrolling through Instagram when I could be writing  the blog he just bugged me about?

I was spending what little free-time I had as a squanderer.

Every now and then I need these reminders to get my butt in gear. There is never going to be time if we simply try to find it. There isn’t going to be time to write if we wait for it to fall from the sky like manna from the pearly gates. There isn’t going to be time if we wait for Ryan Gosling to hand it to us on a chocolate platter.

There is only going to be time to write if we MAKE IT. If we put our phones down. If we unplug from Instagram and Facebook and focus on the writerly endeavors in what little time we have.

In truth, operating Scribble on Cocktail Napkins is one of my guilty pleasures. I do it for me more than anyone else, so within reason, I can write whatever I want. Interacting with readers fuels my fire.jhv The people who leave comments give me all the feels that can be missed while writing a book—because novel writing can be a long and solitary endeavor, similar to telling a joke and waiting in a vacuum for two years to find out if anyone laughed.

So, as per my friend’s direct and indirect cajoling, I woke up early for the sake of writing this blog, and that was easy because A: it’s probably going to get Dan off my back for five minutes, and B: it’s going to bring me a little instant gratification.

Finding time to edit Old Souls can be harder. And maybe that has less to do with not having time, and more to do with procrastination than I’d like to admit. Finding time to write is a never ending battle. Sometimes I win. 1jd7whSometimes I’m defeated before I even bother to try. I go through periods of protecting my writing time with the tenacity of a momma bear protecting her cubs, and periods of handing my writing time to any task that wants it.

And that’s not how anyone anywhere completes a book. If you want something, whether it’s to write a book, further your education, pick up a new skill . . . chances are you’re going to have to be uncomfortable. You’re going to have to fight for it, and protect the time to work on it with every fiber of your being.

It’s about focusing on the dream.

My dream is to see my book on a bloody bookshelf in a bloody book store. And then the sequel. One day I want to earn my living writing on a beach in Aruba. Because who doesn’t want to earn a living by writing on a beach in Aruba?

So, I’m going to post this blog for anyone who, like Dan, has been wondering what I’ve been up to lately. Then, I’m going to daydream about Aruba and shovel my driveway, ‘cause last night a pretty layering of fluffy clouds dumped six feet of snow in front of my garage. And THEN, I’m going to cut chapter thirty-six out of my manuscript, paste it into a new document, and make it better, ninja style.

Editing Woes

God help me, editing can be a painful process. Editing a lengthily, complex book (that has been edited several times already) can make you want to stab yourself in face with a soldering iron.chri.png

Characters who were removed on the third round of edits might poke their little heads out to fu@# your day in the eighth. You may come to find the escape route you so meticulously mapped out for your characters eleven months ago is as plausible as Trump getting into the White House. (WAIT A MINUTE–you mean that actually happened??) The groundwork for plotlines you thought of while working in later chapters must now be staged from the BLOODY beginning. Editing a book has become a task of flipping between pages to make sure that everything connects in a cohesive, well written (or even vaguely entertaining) story.

And, sometimes you open the file for Chapter 24 to find that every word is garbage. Did you actually write this, or did a small child with weak wrists hack into your computer and delete your glorious, errorless prose to replace them with this complete and utter trash?

Sometimes it seems like there is no hope.kuyc

Sometimes you might show your work to someone you respect. Sometimes they tell you it’s okay to give up and start something new.

And now you have permission.

Now you may give up.

Let’s face it, kids. This is the hard part.

It’s important to remember that nothing worth doing is ever easy. And, because I am not-so-secretly actually talking about me, today I am reminding MYSELF that the only way a book gets written is word by word. 1f89qlStephen King puts his pants on one leg at a time. The sun always shines after the rain.  A diamond only forms with a lot of pressure. Yahda, yahda, yahda.

If you think you have found the book you truly want to write, the godforsaken TANGLE of yarn you want to weave into a story, be prepared to fight for it. And then, be prepared to find out that the only person you really have to fight for it is yourself: the side of yourself that is scared of a lot of effort . . . and the overwhelming possibility of failure.


Shut up, Batman.

It’s okay to take a break to write a blog (like this one), apply for a grant, read a book, attend a conference, and mess around on Twitter. They’re great ways to give your mind a rest. The human brain is an organ that often works like a muscle . . . right?

It needs rest days.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

So, (maybe) today I’m doing myself a favor. I’m taking a little time to recalibrate. After I come home from work and the kids are in bed, I may even drink.



Not that that’s a solution. But it makes me feel better. And tomorrow I’ll start writing again, one sentence at a time. ‘Cause love it or lump it, THIS is the stupid, complex, lengthily book I want to write.



Something Exciting is Brewing

It’s true–my last post was about attending the Florida Writers Conference, too.

But bear with me: this is going somewhere pretty cool.

12661895_10154013026448083_422715894567006278_nThe Florida Writers Conference is held near the end of October every year in Altamonte Springs, Florida.  Over the course of four days, hundreds of writers swarm to the Hilton to attend 80+ workshops, commune with like-minded keyboard junkies, and receive one to one instruction from successful authors in a wide range of genres, as well as helpful critiques from agents.

Writers Off TASK w Friends NEW SquareThis year, I was encouraged to attend the conference by my good friend and critique partner, Dan Alatorre. And I’m glad I did. Because, as an added benefit to the conference, I could actually meet the other two-thirds of our YouTube runaway sensation (critically acclaimed by our die-hard viewer, Aunt Shirley), Writers Off Task with Friends.

It was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. So, I boarded not one, but THREE germ infested planes (Charlottetown to Montreal, Montreal to Toronto, and Toronto to Orlando) to arrive at my destination. And do you know what happened? I didn’t get sick. I got to hang out with over seven hundred writers and geek out completely. I got to talk about writing from the time I woke up till the time I went to bed.1euzup

And alligators.

We talked a lot about those, too.

They’re everywhere.

Attending the conference was especially fun because, being Canadian, I got to enjoy lounging by the pool in my down time (in OCTOBER), check out various restaurants nestled between palm trees, and  sample food and wine from around the world at the Epcot Food and Wine Show, which–coincidentally–is the EXACT same time as the conference.


No, Oprah, just me. I have a point.

So, what’s my point?   (you may wonder)

Well, something pretty exciting just happened, and if you start planning now, you could be a part of it.

My writerly partners in crime: bestselling authors Dan Alatorre and Allison Maruska, have recently been accepted into the FACULTY of the Florida Writers Association.

And you know what? I got in, too.

That’s right! If you’re looking for the perfect excuse to escape your family soak up the spectacular Floridian sunshine next year, check out the Epcot Food and Wine Show, commune with hundreds of other writers, partake in a plethora of writing workshops, meet agents, and hang out with me, Dan, and Allison–you’ve found it.untitled

The three of us will be returning to the conference to teach. And THAT’S pretty cool.

For more information about the conference, check out these handy-dandy posts:

Three Things to Know About Writers Conferences

The Teacher Has Become the Teachee

10 MORE Things to Know about Writers Conferences

Dan’s Special Announcement

The Florida Writers Association

So, keep this destination in mind when planning your vacations for the year. We would love to see you there!



International Dan Alatorre Day

DANThat’s right, friends, I’m climbing out of my summer slacker status to declare International Dan Day. As a Canadian (he’s American), I feel like I have the right.

You already follow Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, so you probably know Dan. He’s the guy that comments on every single post, because he’s supportive like that. If you’re a longtime follower of the blog, you probably know our story. About a year and a half ago Dan introduced himself to me in a critique group and . . . ripped one of my favorite chapters of Old Souls to smithereens. And then he helped me fix it. Dan is the reason my story isn’t weighed down with a boring beginning, superfluous dialogue tags, and confusing action scenes. Not only that, Dan is the glue behind Writers Off Task with Friends.


How WOTWF usually rolls: Dan cracks a joke while Allison and I try to compose ourselves.

Dan is the reason I started Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins. He’s also the reason I have a social media platform with eleven thousand followers and counting.

He taught me to do it.

But, you know what? He offers pretty much everyone the same tips he’s shared with me over at his websiteANGEL, www.DanAlatorre.com.

Because Dan is . . . awesome.

Along with being a great friend, critique partner, AND mentor, what you may not know is that Dan is also an AMAZING author. I can say that, because I’ve read almost all of his books. If YOU haven’t . . . you should. And you should start with THE NAVIGATORS. This book is fresh off the presses, kids! I am INCREDIBLY proud of my friend. Dan’s writing is packed with unexpected twists and turns. It’s just smart. He’s the kind of writer that keeps your attention from beginning to end.

navA freak landslide at a remote mine site uncovers a strange machine to Barry’s group of paleontology students. Wary of corrupt school officials, his team takes the machine home to study it in secret, reaching only one realistic – and unbelievable – conclusion: It was designed to bridge the time-space continuum. It’s a time machine.

Testing delivers disastrous results, sending one team member to the hospital and nearly killing another. When word leaks about the discovery, the ultimate power struggle ensues: the university wants it for funding, the power company wants its energy regenerating abilities kept under wraps, and a rival group wants to steal it for themselves. No one cares if Barry’s team comes out alive.

Fleeing for their lives, the students must fight the school, the police, and each other if they want to learn the truth about what they’ve discovered – a truth with more severe consequences than any of them can predict.

Recently, Allison and I sat down with Dan on Writers Off Task With Friends to talk about The Navigators.

Dan’s writing is clever, witty, and the story will keep you guessing until the moment you turn the last page. In fact, the book JUST came out, and it’s already scored a slew of FIVE STAR reviews!

Reviewer love for The Navigators:

lov.jpg“The Navigators is the brilliant adventure of a group of students on an archaeology dig at a Florida mining site . . . Well written, with extremely interesting characters, the pace and tension had me quite breathless, as they hurtled from one disaster to the next.”

“This story had me hooked from the start, a well thought out complex storyline that has everything. Mystery, intrigue, betrayal and romance. In addition, enough danger and excitement to sink several ships!”

“I had to read it. It did not disappoint. This book grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let go until the. very. last. line. Dan Alatorre is an exceptional writer, the details, feelings and wit in this story draw you in, and you feel like you are right there with each character.”

“This book by author, Dan Alatorre, is fast-paced, easy to read, and keeps you wanting more. His characters are memorable and his story is unique. It was great reading about a story that takes place in Tampa, Florida, considering I lived there myself for a time. I never managed to find a time machine whilst I was there though. I wonder where I would have gone if I had!”

lo“This time travel book is a real gem! I loved The Navigators. From the very start, the reader is swept into the action, which revolves around finding a time travel machine, and the consequences that follow. I loved the character of Missy, and the plot twists throughout the story. It kept the reader on the edge of their seats. Well done!”

The reviews don’t lie. Buy The Navigators. Leave a review. Then, check his other books out, too. ANGEL

You won’t be disappointed. And you’ll be helping me help one of my friends. That feels good, doesn’t it??

A Summer Break


Yesterday I sat in the backyard with my fam-jam and a few neighbors shooting the breeze. I got a bit sunburned, but I have to say, it was worth every glorious second of blessed UV deliciousness.

To an average citizen of earth, sitting so leisurely in the backyard might not seem like a big deal. BUT I live in Canada. Not just in Canada, but on “Spud Island” where summer lasts all of 10 minutes IF you’re lucky. Falls and springs are cool. Summer is nothing like where I grew up in Manitoba, where daylight seems to last forever and it’s hot enough to make you yearn for winter. Okay, maybe not quite, ’cause winters in Manitoba are designed by the DEVIL to make you wonder why you live where your face HURTS after spending 30 GODFORSAKEN seconds running like a screaming banshee from your car to work.

famjam3.bmpMe and the fam-jam enjoying summer (minus my two brilliant/funny/crazy-cool stepdaughters). And, yes, to answer your question, the older boys ARE making fart noises in this picture. 

So. *coughs*

Back to yesterday.

The hellions were playing with water balloons on my neighbor’s trampoline–because our trampoline is somehow “way less bouncy” than theirs. Soaking wet, they stopped their sky-high belly flops, turned the grown-ups and said, “Do you know there are only FOUR weeks of school left until summer vacation?”

My heart began to thud in my chest. My palms broke out in a cold sweat. Sweet Fat Friday, my self-imposed deadline is almost up.

I turned to my husband. “Wow. I should be working on my book. I only have a month if I want to finish before school’s out.”

“Isn’t that what you said last year?” He rubbed my shoulder, teasing. “Let’s just enjoy the sunshine while we can.”

So . . . I did. I sat in the backyard, watched the hellions play outside and soaked up every goddamned UV ray I could before trotting off to work. EVEN THOUGH my husband was right. I said the exact same thing last year, about the VERY SAME book.

But I am going to do it this time.

The plan is to finish this round of edits in four weeks and then let the manuscripts rest for summer break. While it’s resting, I’m going to rock out the first draft of book two. AND, I am also going to enjoy my family, as per my very smart hubbie’s request. Meaning, we will camp, waterslide, swim, hit the beach, and PLAY until there is simply no summer left.

cropped-cropped-back.jpgPrince Edward Island (in summer) is one of the best places in the world to be.

So today, I’m making some decisions to ensure I actually meet this deadline.

I’m taking a summer vacation from the blog.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of my loyal #SSC participants, blog followers, and general Scribble on Cocktail Napkins cheerleaders. I still plan on checking in every few weeks with general progress reports and musings, because, hey, I’ve grown kind of fond of you and I’m not exactly falling off the planet.


  • You can still find new episodes of our webshow, “Writers Off Task with Friends” on You Tube every week.
  • The Sunday Scribble Challenge will rev up again in September. You will receive your regular notice to participate.
  • Life as we know it WILL carry on.

11002607_10155476904175105_5723951720789064571_nSo, from my family to yours, happy freaking summer!!!

Allison’s Book Sale

Hey, my friend and co-host of Writers Off Task with Friends, Allison Maruska is having a book sale! Check it out! Her writing is incredible, and the books are a fun, fast paced, roller-coaster of a read.

In other news, congratulations to John Aaron for winning the last Sunday Scribble Challenge! I’m excited to extend an invitation to guest blog here, at Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins. Your entry recieved the most votes for any challenge to date!

FYI: The deadline for the next Scribble Challenge has been pushed back till tomorrow. That means there’s still time to enter, and possibly WIN the right to have YOUR work featured on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins. So, what are you waiting for? Unleash your writerly self.

Memorial Day Weekend Sale! – http://wp.me/p47Fmr-1MK

YOU can be a beta reader for Dan Alatorre!

Most followers of Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins already know Dan pretty well. He’s a helpful writing blogger over at Danalatorre.com,  my critique partner, co-webshow host, AND a real pain in my ass when my writing output gets too slow–which is ACTUALLY the best kind of authorley friend a lollygagging writer like me can have. Now, Dan is looking for beta-readers for his new book! (Believe me when I say it’s AWESOME.) You want to do this. It’s simple. It’s painless. It’s priceless.

Good things are happening for my friend, who is planning on turning out FOUR terrific books by the end of the year. I couldn’t be happier for him. Check it out the details here:

Ready? My latest novel The Navigators is ready for beta readers. (Read a sample chapter HERE) What’s a beta reader? Well, it’s kind of a big deal. You get to read the whole book before …

Source: Be A Beta Reader – The Navigators wants YOU