12.11.16 - Sunday Smatterings

Hello, chickens! How was your week? I'm safe and snug by a warm fire, resting after a fun week with my partner in crime, the brilliant Catherine Coulter, in California. We ate lots, went to the Apple campus, signed what felt like a million tip-in sheets for THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE (you can enjoy the fruits of our labor and pre-order a signed copy), had an author Christmas party with some of my favorite people (and boy did we party—Catherine knows how to do Christmas, y'all). Oh, and we might have talked about some upcoming Nick & Mike books.

It was lovely, whirlwind trip... but it's always good to come home to kitties and a kind hubby.


Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

Around the Christmas season, we typically buy things we don't normally need. This is why—and what we can do about it. (this article is utterly fascinating)

2016 was tough for many reasons, and especially when you consider some of the brilliant minds we lost. Book Riot curated this Reading In Memoriam of sorts that can help us learn about and honor the legacy of these fine humans.

Fellow writers: these are four traits of a master writer, and how we can develop them. Good stuff, right here.


And closer to home:

Stumped on what to get your bookish loved ones? I curated a list of my 10 favorite books of 2016, plus a few other gifts for the nerd in your life.

It's almost time for my favorite time of year: Annual Review time! As a numbers geek and productivity nerd, this is one of my favorite exercises. If you're ready to look ahead to 2017, jump on my bandwagon and follow my handy guide that lays out how I do my plan every year.

That's it from me! Wrap those presents, take a few minutes to breathe in the blessings of the season, and we'll talk again soon.


12.08.16 - How to Conduct An Annual Review

Ever the overachiever, I have already started putting together my annual review.

I absolutely love this process. It is so much fun to pull out my trusty notebook, look at my goals for the year, see what was important to me 12 months ago, what I accomplished according to plan, and what went right and wrong. My reviews are elaborate, with spreadsheets and out-year planning and metrics, but remember, I did do a stint as a financial analyst, so these things come naturally to me. 

If you’d like to do an annual review, but don’t know exactly where to start, nor want to delve into metrics, here are some ideas.

I break mine into the following categories:

  • Summary of the Year
  • What Went Right
  • What Went Wrong
  • Nerdology (where I extrapolate on numbers and goals)
  • The Year Ahead
  • Actual spreadsheet 


How to pull it all together

Here’s how I do it. Your mileage may vary.

Every year gets a word, essentially its own theme. In the past years, it’s been things like The Year of Lent, The Year of No, The Year of Making Do, The Year of the Pencil, The Year of Depth, The Year of Evolution. You get the idea. (*Note to self, interesting pattern there, JT)

Once I’ve picked my word of the year, I then write a short summary of what I want from the year ahead. This is not the place for details, it’s simply your mission statement for your upcoming 12 months. 

Then, I go into detail on what went right. I start with my career/business, then move to personal. This can be as top line or as detailed as you’d like. I do mine in bullet points, and leave room at the end because I always find a few things I’ve forgotten. And when I do this, everything positive over the past year goes in. It’s a celebration.

Next, it time for the sad part — what went wrong. I don’t like this section, but it’s a necessary evil. With the good comes the bad, and vice versa. I use it as a tool to make sure I don’t repeat mistakes, so I can learn and grow from my foibles. 

Now it’s time for the fun part.

I break my goal setting into several parts: work, home, personal, health, financial, spiritual, education. Again, pick which categories work for you. I set about five goals per category, though sometimes, if I’m planning a life change, I use this section to map out what I want my life to look like at the end of 12 months. e.g.: One year, I wanted to make sure I had at least one night a week that was quiet, no TV, to read books by the fire. It seems like a silly goal, but when I started including it in my weekly plan, man, did my contentment levels soar.

That’s a word to think about when you’re doing this: contentment.

Goal setting should NOT stress you out. Instead, it should give you confidence, clarity, and contentment. The three Cs.

Once all my goals are set, it times to turn to the numbers. 


How to track your metrics

My word counts are the easiest, because I’ve been using these awesome word trackers for years. In 2016, I wised up and started two spreadsheets, one for fiction, one for non-fiction, which will make life easier in a couple of weeks. 

Once I get those numbers in place, I start the breakdown. Fiction speaks for itself, that’s my novels and short stories. Non-Fiction is trickier, that includes everything else, from blogs and essays to email and social media. Those last few aren’t ever completely accurate, but I’ve found an average that I use based on previous years experience. In the chart below, you can see how I do this. For example, I wrote 14 Tao of JT blogs in 2015, and they were approximately 1000 words each. 

My actual spreadsheets are much messier than this, because I’m pulling metrics from previous years for averages and medians, but you get the idea. Here's my 2015 final chart.

And that’s it. Simple, right?

For more ideas and insight into how and why I got into this, please see Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. I’ve adapted his system, and he’s the genius behind all of this. 

Good luck, and let me know if you end up giving this a try!

12.06.16 - Holiday Gift Guide for Bookworms, Nerds, and Productive People

Welcome to the first annual Tao of J.T. holiday gift guide! It’s a bit unfair to call it a full-blown gift guide, since it’s most books, but there are some other suggestions for your favorite bookworm/nerd, too. So let’s jump right in, shall we?


Bookworm Gifts

These are my hands down favorite of the year. I read more than 70 pleasure books this year, and these are the cream of the crop.

The Black Widow - Daniel Silva

Frighteningly accurate modern thrillers are Silva’s specialty, and this latest installment in his acclaimed Gabriel Allon series doesn’t disappoint. It’s the most topical novel I’ve read in a long time, which Silva addresses in his author’s note. It goes to show that well-researched authors truly do have their finger on the pulse of the world. This is a can’t-miss read and my #1 for the year. In my humble opinion, Silva is the finest thriller writer working today.

Perfect for: Thriller junkies and current events enthusiasts




I Let You Go - Clare Mackintosh

What a brilliant book. A masterful, slow-burn suspense novel, Mackintosh’s debut is clever, misleading, and beautifully written. I found myself wishing for the seclusion of a small Wales beach, and then very happy I didn’t have that. You won’t see the twist coming, I promise. 

Perfect for: Your friend who hated GONE GIRL and GIRL ON THE TRAIN but loves a great psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator, and Gothic lovers





Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

What a fabulous romp this book is. I forced myself not to read it in one sitting because I couldn’t wait to see where Cline’s brain took me. An elegy to the 80s and 90s pop culture, this dystopian reality game inside a reality game is wonderfully visual and entertaining—plus, it will be in theaters under Spielberg’s guidance in 2018. An astounding debut.

Perfect for: Anyone from Generation X, fans of video games, John Hughes, and science fiction fans, plus young writers looking for their path.




A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy) - Deborah Harkness

Every year I reread a favorite series, and this year, when I hit a reading slump, I dove back in to Diana and Matthew’s magical world. It took me several tries to get into A Discover of Witches, but once I did, the book became an obsession, one I heartily recommend to everyone. These books are so different, so unique, that even though there are some wink and nods to the vampire/witch/urban fantasy tropes, it never falls prey to them due to the exceptionally high level of scientific knowledge throughout.

Perfect for: Your fantasy, romance, or science lover



Pretty Girls - Karin Slaughter

This book. This hideously scary, depraved, frightening book. I couldn’t put it down, but I couldn’t handle more than a few chapters at a time. Slaughter lives up to her name, and absolutely turns the genre on its ear with her willingness to “go there.” She never flinches, and as such manages to put together novels that plumb the darkest depths of humanity. This isn’t a light read, nor appropriate for readers who can’t handle gore. But it is a masterpiece of fear, perfectly constructed and ingeniously plotted. 

Perfect for: Your dark thriller lover



The Abandoned Heart - Laura Benedict

A spooky end to the Bliss House trilogy, Benedict’s latest creation is dark, scary, and utterly Gothic. Happily, it’s freaky story is accompanied by gorgeous prose and impeccable research. It’s a must read.     

Perfect for: Those who love haunted houses and spooky stories, history, and southern Gothic tales





Flight of Dreams - Ariel Lawhon

A heartbreaking and gorgeous novel about the last doomed flight of the Hindenburg, Lawhon creates the never-before-seen interior life of the airship as it crosses the Atlantic. Seeing the people who were on the ship, and knowing that they might not all survive, gives this book a verisimilitude lacking in others of the Hindenburg canon.

Perfect for: Your literary history lover




Sweetbitter - Stephanie Danler

Another incredible debut, this Bright Lights, Big City for millennials is a behind-the-doors peek into the restaurant industry. Funny and irreverent, with evocative prose and an accessible style. If Danler can write books at this level consistently, she’s a serious name to watch. A true talent. 

Perfect for: Your young culinary friends who love restaurants, food, and wine





Luckiest Girl Alive - Jessica Knoll

Gosh, I am debut central, it seems. Knoll’s creepy, haunting mystery is wonderful, and, like Macintosh, you won’t see the twist coming. Knoll’s personal life informs a lot of the character, and makes the story that much grittier. I couldn’t put it down.

Perfect for: Fans of psychological thrillers and well-constructed mysteries with unreliable narrators




American Housewife - Helen Ellis

Ellis is the author of one of my all-time favorite books, Eating the Cheshire Cat, so when I heard she was putting out a short story collection, I leaped on board. As The Kerr says, these are some of the creepiest bedtime stories ever, all masquerading in the homely skin of the American housewife. With this truly subversive collection, Ellis cements herself as one of my favorites.

Perfect for: A short story lover, a Gothic fan, or that friend who's just a little bit off




Hero of France – Alan Furst

I’ve never been a huge WWII fan, but this book changed all that for me. Furst’s multi-novel oeuvre is set in the war era, with an incredible eye for detail and truly human characters. This installment is about a leader of the French Resistance, and it’s stunning how well the conceit of “history as plot” works. This is a series, but loosely so, which means you can start anywhere.

Perfect for: History buffs, World War II fanatics, and francophiles




Deep Work – Cal Newport

Probably the most impactful book I read this year, Newport has single-handedly saved many of us from the demonic lure of social media. Deep Work talks at length about how important it is to turn off the internet and truly create — whether painting, writing, computer coding, whatever. I credit this book with helping me find a real, sustainable balance between my creative work and online world. As important to the creative life as On Writing, Bird by Bird, and The War of Art, so don’t miss it.

Perfect for: Your friend who bemoans their time on Facebook and Twitter, plus people who are interested in neuroscience, social media’s impact on society, productivity, and all creatives


Nerd Gifts

Blackwing Pencils - To help you go full-nerd (I guarantee other people will take awe in your nerdiness)

Blackwing Long Point Pencil Sharpener  - A necessity for your new Blackwing Pencils.

"I do what I want" Mug - A visual way to inform your loved ones and colleagues of your badassery

Clairefontaine Notebooks - The loveliest paper in all the land will make your note-taking joyful

Midori Travelers Notebook - A gorgeous, rustic idea notebook. People will stop and ask where you got this every time you pull it out.

Gryffindor Pajama Pants - Remember, this is the Nerd Gifts category.


Productivity Gifts

Freedom - Say goodbye to online distractions and hello to quality, uninterrupted work time.

Zen and the Art of Work - This online course helps you find calm and productivity in your work and play. A new favorite of mine!

Scrivener - My go-to writing program, and hands down the world's best writing software. Only $45!

Vellum - Transform a Word doc into a beautiful ebook in ten minutes. Perfect for indie authors.

Shipt - Grocery delivery is such a HUGE time (and headache) saver!

Svenja Gosen word trackers - A free but awesome gift for the writer/CPA in your life


And, finally, a free gift! 🙌🏻

Why not give the gift of my newsletter, perfect for your favorite reader or chef.

A - It costs nothing  

B - It’s a free ebook for your friends

C - There’s a treasure trove of delicious, healthy recipes

D - More book recommendations!

Just sayin’ — it’s the best free gift ever! 


Do y'all have any gift suggestions? Let me know if you find something cool!

12.04.16 - Sunday Smatterings

Sunday Smatterings 12.04.16

Hello, darlings, welcome to December! Did you have a good week? The holiday season has definitely arrived: front doors are bedecked with wreaths, spruces peek out of living room windows, neighborhoods twinkle after dark. It's a magical time of year, for sure. I try to savor the season as much as I can, try not to get caught in the checklists and party planning and tying the perfect ribbons. Because when you get caught up in the little things, you tend to lose sight of the big ones—like spending time with the people you love. That's what holidays are made of, right?

Remember: you can do anything, but you can't do everything.

At any rate...

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:


This is the stuff Internet dreams are made of: an adorable cat video. If you're having a bad day, GO WATCH THIS.

Speaking of heartwarming things, a bookstore in Michigan helps children who are timid readers by hosting a Reading with Zoey the Therapy Dog day in their shop. Be still, my heart.

In Illinois, a repo man paid off an elderly couple's car... and gave it back to them. More of this, please, and not just during the holiday season.

November is always National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short), and some writers adopt fun habits or locales to soldier through those 50,000 words they agreed to write. But these writers won... because they spent NaNoWriMo in a French castle.

Hey, fellow Potterheads, check out this amazing HP Christmas tree!


And closer to home:


The FIELD OF GRAVES paperback came out this week! 🎉 Grab a copy for you and a friend (because stocking stuffers, am I right?).

Big news from The Wine Vixen: the Netflix of wine has arrived. You're welcome.

My December News comes out this week! Are you signed up to get it? If not, click here (and snag your free ebook).


That it from me! Go sit by a fire, grab a book and a hot beverage, and we'll talk again soon.


12.01.16 - What I'm Into This Month

What I'm Into (November 2016)

So my friends at She Reads do a great “What We’re Into” monthly blog topic that I thought I’d co-opt, because it’s very clever and very fun, and I’m restructuring everything here, so why not, right? Here goes.

What I'm Into This Month

My porch

It’s been a perfect Fall so far — cool but not cold, blue skies, and very little rain, so the cats and I have been out on the porch writing and ruminating. I am going to miss it once things turn cold (like today). There's really nothing I like better than being outside and sheltered, especially during a rainstorm.

Harney and Sons Teas

I don’t drink coffee, so tea is my mainstay. I discovered Harney and Sons a few months ago and now have a full compliment in my cabinet. I do loose leaf, not bags, and they brew up consistently yummy every time. My favorite blend is two teaspoons of Earl Grey Supreme and one teaspoon Formosa Oolong.  I also dig their Jasmine tea and add it to the Earl Grey for an afternoon treat.


Outlook for iOS

I have been a Gmail aficionado for years, but I discovered they are sending all the email from my website to trash (sorry if you wrote and didn’t receive a reply — please write again!). Since they aren’t playing nice with my website, I'm going to have to use Outlook for Mac for the foreseeable future. To prepare, I downloaded the Outlook app to my iPhone and iPad, and fell in love. It is clean, simple, beautiful, reliable, with some of the best customer service I’ve ever had. Plus, my calendar, contacts, and files are all in one place. I’m not in love with the Mac version, but it’s growing on me. 


100% Pure Makeup

I have horrible allergies to chemicals, and have been having a terrible time lately with makeup, shampoo, and the like. I found this brand by accident, and I am absolutely in love. I bought the blush, eyeshadow and lip stain and was so impressed I’ve gone back for their coconut shampoo, too. 100% Pure means just that — literally no chemicals, all plant based. It’s certified vegan, and not terribly expensive, either. Win-win for us all.


Amazon Echo

Did you know that I’m a classical music junkie? I’ve tied my I Heart Radio to my Amazon Echo, and now beautiful music is only an “Alexa? Play a classic station” away. I know, I know, it’s super lazy of me, but it’s so convenient, and the sound on the Echo is wonderful. There’s something very fun and futuristic about having all of the news and music and shopping at my (voice) command.


What are you into this month?