10 Mistakes All College Students Can Avoid

I’m thrilled to welcome English professor and author B.K. Stevens to the Power of 10 series. Today, B.K. provides valuable advice for all college students and introduces her latest release, Fighting Chance.

Here’s BK!

Picture BKS (2)If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re not starting college this fall. If you know someone who is, please pass on this list. I was a college English professor for over thirty years. Every fall, I greeted many bright, likable new students. By the end of the semester, some of them had failed my class; by the end of the year, some had flunked out of college. At least ninety percent failed not because they couldn’t do the work but because they made one or more of the mistakes on this list. Others passed but didn’t get the grades they could have gotten, didn’t learn as much as they could have learned. It’s a heartbreaking waste of money, time, and opportunity. And it doesn’t have to happen, not if students avoid a few basic mistakes.

1. Don’t cut class.
Many students come to college thinking attendance is optional now: As long as they do the work, they don’t have to come to class. Not true. Many professors have firm attendance policies. If you miss X number of classes, your semester grade starts plummeting. If you miss Y number of classes, you fail. Even if there’s no explicit policy, few students are knowledgeable and self-disciplined enough to learn all they need to learn independently. Besides, college classes can be interesting, even fun. You’ll meet new people, encounter new ideas, develop new interests. Valuable things happen in class. Go.

2. Don’t try to multi-task in class.
Some students show up for class but don’t give it their full attention. They hold their phones in their laps and send text messages; they pretend to take notes on their laptops while really shopping for shoes. But the verdict is still out on multi-tasking: If you try to do many things at once, can you really do anything well? Probably not. Probably, if you do other things during class, you won’t learn much. And especially in smaller classes, your professors can see the phone in your lap, can tell you aren’t actually taking notes. They’ll feel insulted, and they won’t like you much. That has consequences.

3. Don’t slack off in “easy” classes.
I taught many composition classes, many advanced literature classes. I almost never failed students in advanced classes, even though we studied difficult texts. I failed many composition students. Most of these students saw composition as “easy” and didn’t take it seriously. They didn’t pay attention in class, figuring they already knew enough to get by; they didn’t do assignments, figuring they’d catch up later. But in college, you really can reach a point of no return. Many professors don’t give make-up tests, and most don’t accept extra-credit assignments. Too often, I had to tell a student who could have gotten an A that there’s no point in coming to class anymore, that an F is now inevitable. It’s a shame.

4. Don’t use your computer as an excuse.
When I started teaching, the joke was that students who hadn’t done assignments would say, “The dog ate my homework.” Today, the standard excuse is some version of “The computer ate my homework”—I lost my flashdrive, the library printer was out of paper, and so on. If you blame a missing assignment on a computer, your professor probably won’t believe you, even if you’re telling the truth. We’ve heard that excuse too often. Besides, if you plan ahead, you won’t find yourself at the mercy of a computer. If your essay is due Tuesday morning, don’t go to bed Monday until it’s printed. Then it won’t matter if the library’s out of paper, and your professor won’t think you’re a liar.

5. Don’t be too proud to use academic support services.
Almost all colleges offer academic support—writing centers, tutoring centers, counselors who help students develop stronger study skills. People often describe such services as “free.” In fact, you’ve already paid for them, when you paid your tuition. Why not take advantage of something you’ve paid good money for? Sometimes, students worry their professors will think less of them if they get help. Just the opposite. Whenever I got a notice saying a student had gone to the writing center, my opinion of that student shot up. Here’s someone with initiative, I thought, someone who’s willing to put in extra effort. That put me in a positive frame of mind when I graded the student’s essay. That doesn’t hurt.

6. Don’t blame your problems on your professor—especially when you’re talking to your professor.
Sometimes, when students messed up, they tried to convince me it was my fault. “You never said the essay was due Wednesday!” they said, or “I didn’t do the assignment because your directions weren’t clear.” Such complaints are seldom valid. Usually, the professor provided all necessary information—usually, it’s printed on the assignment sheet. And professors expect college students to take responsibility for their own success. If they don’t understand something, it’s up to them to raise their hands and ask for clarification.

7. Don’t get so caught up in sports that you neglect your classes.
College sports can create intense pressure. Your coach expects you to devote many hours to practice, you want to excel, and you don’t want to let your teammates down. And sports are fun and offer more immediate rewards than classes do—that’s why we talk about “playing” sports and “working” in class. Also, many students cherish dreams of winning fame and fortune in professional sports. The odds against that are staggering, even for athletes at Division 1 schools. Enjoy sports, but focus on academic work. In the long run, things you learn in class will mean more to your future than points you score in games.

8. If you fall behind in a class, don’t go dark.
Too often, when students start messing up in a class, they disappear. They stop coming to class, stop handing in assignments. When I tried to get in touch with such students, some wouldn’t take my phone calls, didn’t respond to voice-mail or e-mail messages. If I finally tracked them down, they often admitted they’d been too embarrassed to face me. They didn’t want me to lecture them, so they decided to wait until they’d finished all missing assignments. But once you fall behind in college classes, catching up on your own is hard. As soon as you realize you’re in trouble, go to your professor and endure the lecture. Your professor will almost certainly try to help. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

9. Don’t plagiarize.
The Internet makes plagiarism seem easy–students figure they can copy and paste something, neaten it up, and turn it in. Sometimes, they get away with it. But many professors use software that detects plagiarism, and others get good at spotting it. When students who plagiarize get caught, consequences can be severe—failure, suspension, expulsion. The academic community regards plagiarism as a serious sin. It’s a betrayal of trust, a perversion of everything education should be. Even if they never get caught, plagiarists damage their intellectual and moral character. If it’s 3:00 in the morning and you’re too exhausted to go on, you still have options. You can ask for an extension—you may not get one, but you can ask. Or you can hand the essay in late and take the reduction in grade. Those are honest, respectable choices. They won’t keep you from passing the class, and they’ll leave your soul intact. Just don’t plagiarize.

10. If you don’t really want to be in college, don’t stay in college.
After a semester or so, some students feel frustrated and restless. The whole thing seems pointless, and their motivation is sagging. If you find yourself in this situation, you could force down your doubts and push ahead. Or you could leave. College isn’t right for everyone. It definitely isn’t right for everyone at eighteen. Lots of people drop out and do fine. Others leave, work for two years or ten or twenty, and go back when they’re ready. Think carefully about what you really want. Don’t stay in college just for parties, for sports, or because of social pressure. Don’t stay and make a half-hearted effort. Stay only if you’re truly committed to succeeding in college, and you’re willing to give it everything you’ve got.


Fighting Chance Cover (2)When seventeen-year-old Matt Foley’s coach and mentor is killed in a sparring match at a tae kwon do tournament, the police decide it was a tragic accident. Matt’s not so sure. With help from a few friends, including the attractive but puzzling Graciana Cortez, Matt learns the coach’s opponent, Bobby Davis, is a brutal, highly skilled martial artist, the central attraction at an illegal fight club. Now, Matt’s convinced someone hired Davis to murder the coach. But who would want to harm the coach, and why do it at a tournament? Matt’s efforts to find the truth pull him into some dangerous conflicts. To improve his self-defense skills, he joins a krav maga class taught by a man who becomes his new mentor. Matt suspects that he’s going to need those skills, that some day he’ll have to face Bobby Davis himself. (Poisoned Pen Press)

Read the first chapter here.

Awards and Reviews

Anthony and Agatha Award Finalist

Best Young Adult Mystery

“A smartly crafted mystery filled with suspense and intrigue.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Stevens’ portrait of Matt, Graciana, and their town is a compelling one, full of convincingly real dangers.”–Booklist

Buy Links

Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble


B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens has published over fifty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Her stories have won a Derringer and have been nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards. She is also the author of Interpretation of Murder, a traditional whodunit that offers readers insights into Deaf culture, and Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime, a short story collection. An English professor for many years, B.K. lives in a central Virginia town similar to the one in Fighting Chance. Her husband, a fifth-degree black belt, choreographed all the martial arts scenes in the novel.

Where to find B.K.

Website | Amazon | Facebook

Achieving F.O.C.U.S


While journaling (and complaining) about my lack of focus, I received an email inviting me to a webinar featuring best-selling author and educator D’Vorah Lansky. Intrigued by the title—“5 Time-Generating Secrets to Get More Done and Have More Fun!”—I signed up and took notes as I watched and listened.

I paid special attention to D’Vorah’s acronym for F.O.C.U.S.

Fine Tune Your Projects List

Optimize Your Email

Concentrate on What’s Essential

Unplug and Take Time to Recharge

Streamline Your Social Media Systems

Here are D’Vorah’s suggestions:

1. Gather all To-Do lists and create a Master Projects List. Set deadlines for completion and organize the items chronologically.

2. Schedule specific email-checking times during the time. Use a timer if you are easily distracted.

3. Create folders—Receipts, Writing Ideas, Publishers—and tag each incoming email accordingly. Only emails that require immediate attention should remain in the In-Box.

4. Identify your most productive times during the day. Do not check your emails during these times.

5. Clean your desk or work area at the end of each day and make a list of the six most important things that must be completed the following day. Leave the list on your desk and discipline yourself to attend to each item.

6. Factor in “fun time” each day. It could be as simple as taking a fifteen-minute dance break, playing with your cats, or having coffee at your favorite café. Setting aside time each week for a longer activity such as a movie, lunch with a friend, or “Blow with the wind” time is also important. When we recharge regularly, we can stay energized even during the toughest of times.

7. Schedule fifteen-minute blocks of daily social networking time. On the weekends, set aside a one-hour block to roam online.

Any other tips?

Movie Review – Florence Foster Jenkins

A long-time fan of Meryl Streep, I looked forward to seeing the award-winning actress take on the role of society matron Florence Foster Jenkins. Having heard Ms. Streep sing beautifully in previous films—Postcards from the Edge, The Deer Hunter, Ricki and the Flash—I wondered if she could actually sound horrible.

I needn’t have worried.

Ms. Streep delivers the shrill trills and toneless howls with great joy and abandon, much to the chagrin of her accompanist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), who had hoped to use his new (well-paid) position to make a name in the New York music scene. While his initial reactions to Florence’s performances are comical, he gradually becomes one of her most loyal supporters.

And thanks to the persistent efforts of Florence’s second husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), an ever-growing circle of admirers and supporters flock to the aging chanteuse’s concerts. Grant delivers a stellar performance as the “kept” man who manages to support and shield Florence from mockery while having an affair with his bohemian girlfriend (Rebecca Ferguson). I particularly enjoyed his dance scene.

Director Stephen Frears wisely decided to keep the historical facts to a minimum. Through a series of short dialogues, we learn that young Miss Foster had been a childhood piano prodigy who once performed at the White House. A falling out with her wealthy father led to an elopement with a philandering first husband who gave her syphilis.

In spite of her health challenges and limited musical ability, Florence maintains a cheerful demeanor and displays remarkable self-confidence. An inspiration for all of us!

10 Fun Facts About the Hero and Heroine of Sleeping With Elvis

I’m thrilled to welcome Soul Mate author Beth Carter to the Power of 10 series. Today, Beth shares ten fun facts about the protagonists of her latest release, Sleeping With Elvis.

Here’s Beth!

Five fun Facts about my hero, Elvis impersonator Ty Townsend:

male sign1. Every year, Ty retreats to his favorite island, Key Lime Island, between his Elvis gigs in Branson and Vegas.

2. He rethinks his unique profession after trolls on social media berate him after twice forgetting the legend’s lyrics. But he’ll never stop performing. Besides, Ty enjoys paying homage to Elvis Presley and honors him during performances.

3. Ty has a hilarious African Grey parrot, Saylor, who curses like a, well, sailor. Saylor is a hoot and always knows the exact curse word for every situation.

4. When he performs, Ty practically morphs into a young version of the King with jet black hair, gyrating hips, and a lock of hair that constantly falls over his forehead like a sign from the King himself.

5. Ty never expected to meet a special woman during his beach downtime—especially one from Nowhere—but the stranded woman needs his help, and what’s a gorgeous guy with key lime pie all over his face to do?

Five Fun Facts about my heroine, Pepper Langley:

femalesign1. Pepper is from a tiny town in Nowhere, Arkansas, where she lives with her rogue boyfriend, Derek, in a shabby trailer. She hates her life and what her once-nice boyfriend has become.

2. Her confidence has taken a hit due to his nastiness and she decides she’ll end their relationship—right after their dream vacation to Key Lime Island. She scrimped all year to go on this trip and isn’t backing out now, even if that means having a cheating boyfriend in tow.

3. Pepper is afraid of boating and flying but most conquer both fears since the charming, lime-green themed tropical isle is only accessible by boat or the occasional helicopter.

4. Pepper and Derek board Reel Time, an excursion boat, with several other couples. There’s a horrific tropical storm and… You’ll just have to read it.

5. Once her feet hit the sand, Pepper is thrilled by the birds, shells, key lime everything—and is especially taken by the handsome stranger who looks oh-so-familiar. She knows she is meant to be on this island and never wants to return to her life with Derek in Nowhere but will this be the best—or worst—vacation of her life?

Sleeping With Elvis 10_Final_505 x 825 (2)


Pepper Langley, an unemployed pre-school teacher with a fear of flying and boating, hopes a vacation to remote Key Lime Island will bolster her confidence and salvage her relationship with her rogue boyfriend. From tiny Nowhere, Arkansas, she scrimped all year to afford the lavish trip, but a deadly storm changes everything.

Gorgeous Elvis impersonator Ty Townsend flees to Key Lime Island between gigs. During this hiatus, he reevaluates his profession after twice forgetting the King’s lyrics. He craves the isle’s solitude—far away from social media haters—where he shares beach life with a cursing parrot. The last thing on his mind is a woman, especially one who isn’t supposed to be there.

Will their secrets tear them apart or will they find happiness on the sand and stage?



bethcarterAward-winning novelist Beth Carter pens novels and children’s picture books. Her latest release is SLEEPING WITH ELVIS, a contemporary romance, with elements of suspense and humor. Her debut novel, THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS, won the 2015 RONE award for best “Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit Novel,” as well as “Best Debut Author” by BTS Books. Her novelette, SANTA BABY, appears in the 2015 Christmas anthology, SIZZLE IN THE SNOW, alongside eight romance authors’ stories.

Carter’s three picture books include: SANTA’S SECRET, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE? and THE MISSING KEY. Additionally, the author’s short stories and poems are published in four anthologies and four six-word memoir collections alongside famous authors and celebrities. A former bank vice president, Carter worked in marketing for 20 years in healthcare and banking. The author happily divides her time between her home state of Missouri and her adopted state of sunny Florida.

Where to find Beth…

Website | Facebook (Women’s Fiction) | Facebook (Children’s Books) | Twitter | Amazon

My 10 Favorite Things About Louisiana

I’m thrilled to welcome award-winning author Ellen Byron to the Power of 10 series. Today, Ellen shares her love for Louisiana and her upcoming release, Body on the Bayou.

Here’s Ellen!

Ellen Byron (fnl) (2)Jambalaya. Of all the fabulous Louisiana dishes, jambalaya is by far my favorite. It’s almost impossible to get it wrong. FYI, there are two basic kinds of jambalaya, brown and red. Red, which has a tomato base, is considered Creole jambalaya and dominates in New Orleans. Brown is prevalent in Cajun Country. I heart them both.

Swamp tours. I’ve done about a half dozen of these and never tire of them. During a recent tour of Lake Martin outside Breaux Bridge, we saw two gators fighting! No matter what tour I take, I’m fascinated by the otherworldly flora and fauna. Swamp tours make for a great day trip from New Orleans, as do…

Plantation tours. I’m a history and architecture buff, so I find these fascinating, especially since many tours now incorporate the dark role slavery played in plantation life. (For years, they ignored it.) My Cajun Country Mystery series was inspired by several of the plantations on the River Road.


Bayou Teche. The definition of a bayou is “a slow-moving body of water,” and South Louisiana is full of them. But my favorite is Bayou Teche, which meanders for a hundred and twenty-five miles through charming towns like New Iberia, Breaux Bridge, and St. Martinville, offering lovely vistas all along the way.

The St. Charles Avenue streetcar. As a college student at Tulane University, one of my favorite off-campus activities was a ride on the legendary St. Charles Avenue streetcar. North of the campus, it took me to the Riverbend neighborhood and Camellia Grill, a NOLA favorite. South, it traveled through the lovely Garden District to the French Quarter. Don’t miss it.

The cocktails. At home, I rarely drink anything but wine and the occasional margarita or mojito. But oh, the drinks of New Orleans. Pimm’s Cup, Ramos Gin Fizz, Brandy Milk Punch, Hurricanes. And of course, the Sazerac, which the Louisiana State Legislature proclaimed as New Orlean’s official cocktail. You’ve gotta love a state that takes such pride in its mixed drinks.

ellenbyronbuidingwithflagsHotels Mazarin and Le Marais. I’ve had some great hotel experiences in New Orleans, and some dreadful ones. But the hands-down lodging winners are these two beautiful and historic hostelries. The rooms are wonderful, the service impeccable, and the full breakfasts – especially at Mazarin – are excellent. They’re part of the New Orleans Hotel Collection, which rescues derelict properties and turns them into elegant lodging. Bravo, NOHC!

Moon Walk. Moon Walk sits across Decatur Street from Jackson Square in the French Quarter. I love to walk down the steps to the edge of the Mississippi, listen to the river lap at my feet, and watch the boats drift by. It offers a nice break from the Quarter’s cacophony. Fun fact: the Walk is named after one of New Orleans’ most famous mayors, Moon Landrieu, who shepherded the project in the mid-1970s.

ellenbyronutTulane University. Yes, I’m biased because this happens to be my alma mater. But it’s a charming campus, so if you’ve opted for a ride on the St. Charles streetcar, why not take visit the home of the Green Wave? It’s next to Loyola University and across the street from Audubon Park, so you can wander through both of those locations. Or explore some of the turn-of-the-century mansions in the Silk Stocking Ward, which is the nickname for the Uptown area where the universities and park are located.

The people. I just love Louisiana natives. They’re warm, quirky, and engaging. New Orleans is a city, so you will run into the occasional prickly personality. But for the most part, the locals live by the state’s upbeat motto: laissez les bon temps rouler. Let the good times roll!



The Crozats feared that past murders at Crozat Plantation B&B might spell the death of their beloved estate, but they’ve managed to survive the scandal. Now there’s a très bigger story in Pelican, Louisiana: the upcoming nuptials between Maggie Crozat’s nemesis, Police Chief Rufus Durand, and her co-worker, Vanessa Fleer.

Maggie, inexplicably tasked with being Vanessa’s Maid of Honor, quickly discovers why everyone else refused the assignment when the Bridezilla hands her a long list of duties–the most important of which is entertaining Vanessa’s cousin, Ginger Fleer-Starke, a mysterious woman with dangerous secrets. But just days before the wedding, Ginger’s lifeless body is found on the bayou behind Crozat Plantation and the Pelican PD, as well as the Crozats, have another murder mystery on their hands.

There’s a gumbo-potful of suspects, including an ex-Marine with PTSD, an annoying local newspaper reporter, and Vanessa’s own sparkplug of a mother. But when it looks like the investigation is zeroing in on Vanessa as the prime suspect, Maggie reluctantly adds keeping the bride-to-be out of jail to her list of Maid of Honor responsibilities in Body on the Bayou, the second in Ellen Byron’s charming and witty series.



Ellen Byron’s debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, has been nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards, and was chosen by the Library Journal as Debut Mystery of the Month. The second book in the series, Body on the Bayou, which offers “everything cozy readers could want,” according to Publishers Weekly, launches September 13, 2016. Her TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots. She’s the recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant.

Where to find Ellen…

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Happy Serendipity Day!


Today is Serendipity Day, an officially recognized annual event and special day to celebrate unexpected and much appreciated grace.

Here of ten of my favorite quotations about serendipitous events…

The universe is always speaking to us…sending us little messages, causing coincidences and serendipities, reminding us to stop, to look around, to believe in something else, something more. Nancy Thayer

There’ll always be serendipity involved in discovery. Jeff Bezos

Life is full of surprises and serendipity. Being open to unexpected turns on the road is an important part of success. If you try to plan every step, you may miss those wonderful twists and turns. Just find your next adventure—do it well, enjoy it—and then, not now, think about what comes next. Dr. Condoleezza Rice

Sometimes serendipity is just intention unmasked. Elizabeth Berg

Unless you leave room for Serendipity…How can the Divine enter? Joseph Campbell

History is an intricate web of timing, people, circumstances and serendipity. Don Rittner

In reality, serendipity accounts for one percent of the blessings we receive in life, work and love. The other 99 percent is due to our efforts. Peter McWilliams

Serendipity: Look for something, find something else and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for.
Lawrence Block

What people call serendipity is just having your eyes open. Jose Manuel Barroso

If you use it intelligently, Twitter can be a form of engineered serendipity. Jason Silva