Friday, September 30, 2011

First Page Friday

Welcome back to First Page Friday! We have an international entry this week that includes leprechauns and the lush land of Ireland. Let's get right to it.

The Entry

Irish Aria

by Anonymous

Lightning crashed overhead as I look into the dark and dreary night. My eyes reflected back at me through the window and I clutched my stomach tightly. I had eaten too much macaroni and cheese that Grandma made with a special blend of cheddar and american and now I regretted it, for soon this jet plane would take me to Ireland where my birth mother lived.

“Git ’way frum tha’ winda’” Gramma snapped as she walked into the room.

“Grandma you scare me, did you tell Uncle Joey about the flight schedule so that he can pick us up for a ride to the airport?”

“Don’cha be questionin’ me girl. You jus’ mind yesself.” She walked over and shut the curtains. “Now git yer hiney to bed. Brush yer hair in tha’ morning, its all snarlaroo.”

So I got in bed and Grandma read me from my favorite book Goodnight Moon, then I thought about how fun it would be to take college classes at the University of Northern Ireland. I couldn’t wait to see all the green there. Maybe I would even find a leprechaun! I’d always loved leprechauns.

The plane took off and my stomach rumbled. I wonder if they make macaroni and cheese in Ireland or if they use some weird Irish goat cheese.



Ms. Shreditor's Comments

Embedded in this excerpt is an interesting story—the story, I assume, of a girl who leaves the life she knows to seek out her biological mother. I wondered why she lived with her grandmother, where her father was, and whether this was her maternal or paternal grandmother. Make sure to clarify this somehow without digressing into an information dump.

What troubled me most about the text was the chronology. The first paragraph suggests that the narrator, whose name we never learn, is already on the plane (“for soon this jet plane would take me to Ireland…”). Then, the inconsistently named Gramma/Grandma tucks her in and reads her a story. Then, there’s an abrupt jump to the plane taking off. Reading this page, I experienced a sort of literary vertigo. The story seems to flit between the past and present at random. This is confusing to readers.

The author should consider characterization carefully. Gramma’s dialect makes her seem downright cartoonish. I assume that she raised the narrator and is important to her; however, the dialect makes her seem short-tempered and domineering. Is she always this way, or does the dialogue cast her in a worse light than intended? And why is she reading a children’s book to a young woman who appears to be of college age?

I’d also like to address the Ireland factor in this story. The title is Irish Aria, and we know that the narrator is planning to take college courses at the [fictional] University of Northern Ireland. Does the story actually take place in the autonomous Northern Ireland or in Ireland proper? It’s important to make this clear. Northern Ireland, with its history of political unrest, would make an interesting choice. Writing a rich multicultural story, however, requires much more research than this. The narrator talks about green landscapes and leprechauns, which doesn’t reflect even a cursory skim of Wikipedia’s Northern Ireland page. This dismissive characterization of Ireland/Northern Ireland would likely insult Irish readers, as cultural stereotypes are wont to do. It would be like someone writing a book with a Greek protagonist who eats baklava all day. It has to feel more authentic than that.

This also needs some copyediting work to eliminate tense inconsistency, verb choice issues (lightning doesn’t crash), cluttered sentences, and extraneous details. Do we really need to know about Gramma’s digestive tract–disrupting mac and cheese at this juncture?

Make every word of your first page count. You’ll have the time and space later to divulge more mundane details, but you don’t have that luxury on a first page. You have ten seconds, give or take, to catch an editor’s attention. So trim the fat—or the macaroni and cheese, as the case may be.



Thank you to anonymous and to Ms. Shreditor for their participation and time. As always I appreciate everyone who contributes to First Page Friday. See you next week!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Self-Publishing Journey

As most of you know, my first six books were traditionally published. I have loved my publishing experiences and feel like I have learned so much. Yet, when I submitted my last manuscript, Ribbon of Darkness, to my publisher, after many months of waiting to hear back, and a requested rewrite, the manuscript was ultimately rejected.

It was devastating to me because I loved this story. I knew it was my best work to date and I was stunned that my publisher had passed on it. It was a hard pill to swallow.

As I grieved a bit over the rejection, I started making some decisions for myself. Another publishing company had offered to take it, but the more I thought about it and the more I talked to other authors, the more I leaned toward indie publishing.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Self-publishing Ribbon of Darkness has been a scary and exhilarating experience. I have learned so much about cover design, typesetting, and marketing. It has been a crash course for me on the publishing side of the business and while it has been hard, it has been so worth it.

It’s also been interesting to me to see the reaction to others when I tell them that Ribbon of Darkness was self-published. Most people have been very supportive and want to hear the story of my journey. Many authors want tips and tricks on how best to do certain things. But some people have sort of drawn back, and I’ve heard comments that since it was rejected it must not have been as good as my others that were traditionally published. I don’t believe that to be true. My publishing company explained to me about market trends and felt that it wasn’t something they could get behind at the present time. I can understand that, even though it hurt at the time. It wasn’t a matter of good vs. bad. But with the advent of CreateSpace, Kindle, Nook, and other marketing venues, I knew this was a title that I could get behind.

And that’s exactly what I did.

It’s been a long journey, with a lot of ups and downs, but I can honestly look back and smile now at how fortunate I am. I got a wonderful distributor that was able to get me into stores I’d been in before with my other novels, as well as new stores my books had never been in before. When I did my booksignings I heard from fans who had been waiting breathlessly for this book, because they knew it was Ethan’s story (Ethan was introduced in Dangerous Connections.) I have met so many wonderful people with my marketing efforts and I’ve gotten reviews from people I never would have met any other way. I couldn’t have asked for a better self-publishing debut novel.

Of course I know self-publishing isn’t for everyone and there are risks to a career when you self-publish if your numbers aren't great and publishing companies might not want to take another chance on you. But, ultimately, I know this was the right thing for Ribbon of Darkness. I have two more manuscripts that I plan to submit to my publisher, because they have been good to me and they have clout that I don’t have, and I hope they are accepted. But with the experience I’ve had with Ribbon of Darkness, I know now that I have a lot of options open to me and I’m grateful for that. It is a brave new world for authors in both the traditional and self-publishing markets and I think it’s exciting to see where it’s going to go.

So, I want to thank all of you who have supported me through this journey, who have taken a chance on Ribbon of Darkness, and who come to read my blog to buoy me up and be my friend. I couldn’t do it without you.

Do you feel differently about self-published books? Is there still a stigma attached or do you feel attitudes are changing? If you’ve read Ribbon of Darkness, how did it compare with my previous books?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Word Count Wednesday

Well, my word count this week was once again, zero, but I'm okay with it. I had a ton of family obligations that made it impossible to write, but I was there to watch one son get his Life Scout Award, another his Bear Scout award, I went to parent/teacher conferences, took children to dental appointments, and helped a sick friend as well as doing two book signings. So, all in all, I feel okay with taking a little writing break. This week, however, I definitely want to nail it and I have a new way to make myself accountable.

You see, I got myself a critique partner. We plan to exchange chapters weekly on our work in progress and critique for each other. This will give me a deadline and some accountability which I need. She's also a mother and a writer and knows how difficult it can be sometimes to mesh those two worlds, so it seems like a perfect arrangement. Of course, I will also keep my beta readers and other things in place, but I think a critique partner is just what I need right now. I'll let you know how it goes.

How did you do this week? And what do you think of critique partners? Do you give yourself your own deadlines to keep yourself accountable?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Castle vs. Hawaii Five-O

I’m feeling a little torn today. Most of you know I’m a fan of the TV show Castle, and it premiered last week. I look forward to every episode because I like that the main character is a writer. I find him funny and I like when he spins his theories because as far-fetched as they seem, I can identify with that because I think about “what ifs” when dealing with real-life situations as well. But the other thing I like about Castle is the chemistry with the cast. Esposito, Ryan, Castle, and Beckett are just pure fun.

Unfortunately, the first two episodes of this season haven’t exactly showcased what I’ve loved about the show. Beckett is lying to Castle now (about remembering his words to her after she was shot), and Castle is holding a secret from Beckett (about investigating her mother’s murder), the new captain is sort of stiff and odd, and it just seems less fun and more dark. I feel a little traitorous saying it, but the fact is, last night I switched over and watched Hawaii Five-O. I know, I know, I can’t believe it. (I did watch Castle though and it’s still on my DVR. I still want to be a fan, and I hope it gets some sparkle back really soon.)

But Hawaii Five-O is sort of an enigma to me. I like it because it’s fluffy entertainment and there’s a lot of Hawaiian eye candy. Every time they show the landscape I think to myself, I want to go there. The premise of the show is sort of right up the alley of my books, with the main character trying to solve a mystery around his father (that seems to involve terrorists and conspiracies), as well as solve local crimes and make tough decisions. Each case is solved at the end of the hour, (except for the over-arching mystery with his dad) and it’s not necessarily realistic, but the banter between the two leads (Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan) is really funny and makes me laugh. Seriously some of the best banter between leads I’ve seen in a long time.

So, I’m feeling a little traitorous today in that I’m not enjoying Castle as much as I did in past seasons and I am definitely enjoying Hawaii Five-O. They just added a kick-butt sort of girl to the team last night that, from the looks of things, will be giving Steve McGarrett a run for his money. I know I’ll be tuning in.

I guess the question is, which show will be DVR’d and which show will I watch live. Navy SEAL Steve McGarrett vs. best-selling author Richard Castle? Tough choice. But one I’m glad I get to make every week.

Do you have a TV show you like to watch? Have you been looking forward to a season premiere?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tips on Book Signings--What a Great Weekend!

If you want a chance to win my new book, Ribbon of Darkness, the I'm a Reader, Not a Writer blog has an interview and giveaway up today. You can go here to read it!

I had a couple of book signings over the weekend and I have to say, I had a wonderful time. I met up with a few friends I hadn’t seen in a while and I also met a few new friends!

I had a sweet little man come up to my table and just stand there for a moment, as if he was too shy to speak. When I smiled up at him, he leaned over and said, “I just wanted you to know, I listened to Dangerous Connections book on CD six times.” Then he turned and walked away. I have to say, that was one of the highlights of the book signings for me. He loved it enough to listen to it SIX TIMES!

I also met up with a friend who is secretly writing a manuscript. He’s been working on it for a long time and I want to shout it to the world for him because I think it’s a wonderful thing, but I also understand a writer’s insecurity because I feel it myself all the time.

So there I was, signing my books, chatting with customers, recommending other books that I enjoy and just all around having a good time. I know there are authors who don’t enjoy book signings, but I love them. I have met so many wonderful people, heard their reading stories, and a lot of times I’ve heard about their hopes and dreams and got to know them a little bit.

For me, book signings are a perk of being a published author and one that I completely enjoy. So if I saw you on Saturday, and talked with you, thank you for coming over to my table to chat. It was something wonderful, that I won’t soon forget!

If you are a new author who is about to have their first book signings, here are my best tips:

Bring a bowl of candy. For some reason, having a candy there relaxes people, keeps things casual, and draws customers to your table.

Be friendly. Don't be shy. You don't have to talk about your books necessarily, but you can ask them who their favorite authors are, or if you can help them find something. If you just sit behind your table all night without saying anything, well, it's just awkward for everyone. Also, you will be asked about a hundred times what your book is about. Practice that beforehand a bit, so you don't stumble and sound tongue-tied.

Always ask how to spell someone's name. There are a lot of variations out there on every name imaginable. You don't want to spell it wrong when you are signing their book. Some authors have them write it down on a piece of paper.

Get to know the staff. The staff is your greatest ally. They can help introduce you to customers and they can help sell your books after you are long gone. Making a good impression on them is vital.

Have fun. Don't take yourself too seriously. Getting your name out there is a process and it doesn't happen overnight. Having fun with it all makes things a lot easier.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sample Sunday Chapter Two Excerpt From Ribbon of Darkness

CHAPTER TWO
copyrighted material 2011


Ethan Barak stood at the edge of the grave, the gaping hole in the earth waiting for its spoils. Ethan stared at the dirt, not lifting his head as the rain started to fall, as if even heaven itself wanted to hurry the process of burial. The rain coursed down his head and face, making the paths of tears where there were none. He felt nothing. No grief. No anger. Just an empty void¾as empty as the grave in front of him.

He could hear stirrings from the church and knew the funeral was probably over and the procession bearing the coffin would soon be here. The family his father had made after he’d abandoned Ethan and his mother would be in this very spot momentarily. Ethan knew his presence wouldn’t be welcome, but he still lingered a little longer. For just a moment he wondered if his father ever thought about him, ever regretted leaving him behind, or if Ethan was just a faraway memory that he didn’t like to think about. With a deep sigh, he pushed those thoughts away. None of those questions mattered now, and it was no use even thinking them.

He ran his hand through his dark rain-slicked hair, his normal mask of composure feeling vulnerable. Even if it had been his mother’s dying wish that he reconcile with this father, the opportunity to do so was gone. His father was dead and the reality was, he’d barely known the man and hadn’t cared to. He’d decided that, in the future, there might be a need to remedy that fact, but there always seemed plenty of time to come around to the idea of making amends. But the chance had been taken from him now. The grave would be satisfied once the coffin bearing his father’s body was here, the gaping mouth of earth covered over and closed once it was full. Ethan wouldn’t stay for that, even to watch from afar. He probably shouldn’t have come in the first place. He heard the heavy church doors creak open and he knew it was time to go. Shoving the piece of paper deeper into his pocket, he started to move away from the gravesite, his shoes making muddy squishing sounds as he tried to get to the edge of the small cemetery without being seen.

Once in his car, he brought out the piece of paper and stared at it again. The message was clear. There was no doubt that his father had been murdered and that it was because of Ethan. His jaw clenched as he read the words one more time. “On your head.” Whatever that meant, whatever they were trying to make Ethan pay for in his father’s blood, Ethan had received the message and was about to send one of his own. He was going to find the person who’d done it and make them feel the overwhelming pain he couldn’t.

He pulled out his cell phone and texted three words of his own. “Meet me. Now.”

***

Ethan slid into the booth, his eyes taking in the tired appearance of the man before him. His suit was rumpled, and he had a day’s worth of stubble on his face, as if he hadn’t showered or shaved in a while. “Harry,” he said, fingering the folder he had in his hand as he sat down.

Harry watched him carefully, folding his arms across his chest. “It’s dangerous to meet this way, Ethan. You know that. What’s this about?”

Anger tingled through his body at Harry’s words. “I think you know what this is about,” he said, struggling to control the tone of his voice. His fingers tapped on the table. “You made me a promise that my family would be safe. I just came from my father’s grave!”

Harry sighed. “Ethan, there was no way to predict that they’d go after your father, and really, we don’t even know for sure if his death had anything to do with your work for us.”

Ethan shoved the folder in his hands toward Harry. Harry raised an eyebrow, but slowly opened it. Upon seeing the first crime photo, he moved to shut it, but Ethan slammed his hand down, making it impossible for Harry to turn away from what Ethan had memorized. His father’s body had practically been gutted. Like a pig. And the note next to his head was framed in his father’s lifeblood as it had flowed from him. “What else would it be about?” he asked Harry, his tone low, the anger seeping through. “The note said, on your head. That’s a direct message.”

Harry glanced down at the photo, before looking away. “I’m sorry, Ethan.”

“Sorry? When I came to you, I wanted out. I wanted to give you all the names of the people I’d dealt with on the black market, and I wanted to give you the men who were about to sell enough nuclear materials to al-Qaeda that they could build their own dirty bomb. And what did you say to me? Stay in. Go undercover. Help us catch the big fish, not just the grunts. We’ll protect your family, you said.”

“You hadn’t spoken to your father since you were ten years old,” Harry interrupted, his voice rising for the first time.

Ethan slapped his hand on the table, the force of it knocking the crime scene photos to the floor. “That doesn’t have anything to do with it! You convinced me to stay in a little longer to help MI6 bring down the arms dealers running with al-Qaeda. And less than six months later, my father is dead.” He looked at Harry, gritting his teeth as he tried to control his emotions. “This is payback.”

Harry ran his hands through his hair. “Ethan, we had no idea that they were even looking at your father. I’ve spent the last two days trying to sort this out, to see if it had anything to do with our agreement. I just need a little more time.”

“I’m done.” Ethan bent to retrieve the photos, and pushed the file folder shut. “I’m going to find the men who murdered my father, and then I’m going to disappear. Please thank your bosses for me. They just made things a lot more clear.”

“Ethan, we can help you, just like we planned. Don’t throw away months of work. We know the deal we have been waiting for is going down in the next two weeks or so. We need your connections to find out the particulars. That’s all. Then we can do the rest.”

“Forget it.” Ethan stood up and leaned over the table. “You guys couldn’t keep up your end of the deal. I’m out.”

“What if this doesn’t have anything to do with MI6? What if this is something else entirely?”

“I know exactly what this is about, and I’m going to take care of it.” He took a step away from the table when Harry grabbed his wrist.

“Ethan, I know you’re angry, but please, think of the good you can do. We can seriously cripple al-Qaeda. We need your help to do that.” He dropped Ethan’s arm. “I’m going to call you, because I hope once you’ve calmed down, you’ll change your mind. But, regardless, you have my number. If you need my help, with anything, just call. I’m there for you.”

Ethan’s steps faltered a bit. He turned. “Thanks, Harry. I know you tried.” And with that, he was gone.

Friday, September 23, 2011

First Page Friday

Did you all see the review for Ribbon of Darkness from LDS Women's Book Review? I'm so thrilled! If you're interested in what they had to say about it, you can go here


Now, on to the business at hand. I'd like to welcome back editor Angela Eschler. I'm so excited to have her as a permanent person to team critique with Ms. Shreditor. Angela will be critiquing the last Friday of every month.

As always, if you would like to submit the first page of your manuscript to First Page Friday, please follow the guidelines on my sidebar.

The Entry

The Messenger

by Brooke

Her mother’s voice fell silent as the song ended. The final notes of Haltion’s oldest legend drifted through the small cabin and mixed with the crackling of the fire until they were no more than a faint echo. Ascha opened her eyes and looked at her mother. Rosemary’s hands, always so busy, were finally still in her lap. No one could sing the stories of the Eastern Mountains like her mother.

"Sing it again, Mama,” Natan pleaded from where he sat on Ascha’s lap. “It is Ascha’s coming of age tomorrow, so we should be allowed to stay up just a little later.”

Rosemary laughed. “It is not your coming of age, Natan, and little eight year old boys should not stay up –“

“But Chillen gets to stay up!” Natan persisted.

“Chillen is a man now, Natan, and you are still a boy.”

A scratching sounded on the door and Rosemary’s voice choked into silence. They were not expecting visitors.

“Ascha, take Natan to the bedroom,” her father whispered.

Natan tumbled out of Ascha’s lap as their father slipped his shearing knife through his belt, and then she and Natan ran for their parent’s bedroom. Ascha pushed Natan to the far side of the bed, and then crept back to the door and pulled it open just a crack.

The front door creaked as her father undid the latch and pulled it open. Rain pounded against the floorboards, and a cold gust of wind stole underneath the bedroom door and clung to Ascha’s ankles. A man filled the doorway and then collapsed at her father’s feet.

“Joshi, it must be the messenger,” Rosemary said, reaching down to check his breathing.

Ascha pushed the bedroom door open a little further so that she could see her father and Chillen helping the man to the fire. Her mother looked worriedly out into the storm for anyone who might be lurking in the shadows and then shut the door softly. Her father pushed the wooden chairs out of the way and lay the messenger down on the ground. He was in a bad way. His chest lifted and fell heavily and his face was paler than moonlight on the snow.

Natan’s tousled hair butted against Ascha’s side.

“Is it all right now, Ascha?” he whispered, a little too loudly.

“Not yet,” Ascha whispered back. She put her arm around her younger brother and pulled him away from the door. She did not want Natan to see the man: not in the state he was in, but once he was sitting on the bed, Ascha crept back to the door.

“What’s happening, Ascha?” Natan insisted.

“It is a man who was lost in the woods, Natan. Be quiet now.”

“They saw me on the road outside of Dubasa,” the messenger gasped, his voice dry and faint. “I lost them in the woods and then sent my horse away to distract them, but they are searching. We do not have long. I am…”

The man began coughing, hard.

“I am so sorry to have led them here.” Rain dripped from the messenger’s dark hair and made silvery puddles on the floor below his head. He pulled a crumpled paper from inside of his coat.

Ascha’s father took the paper, read it quickly, and then tossed it into the fire.

Angela Eschler’s Critique

I’m very excited to review again this week. Let’s jump in with some strengths and then some suggestions:

Strengths:

--I admit that I am wanting to read more, so clearly you have a great hook! I have lots of questions as a reader and I can tell things are at stake here. I am concerned for our family, and wondering who the bad guys are, and how much time the family has to escape and where they can run to and if they are prepared and….Bravo!

--I like the names and am interested in the world. I would actually like to know a little more about the name owners and the world itself (see comments below).

--Starting off with a message, along with danger, is great, because it tells us there is a larger society or group somewhere that our little family is aligned with; and it speaks of opposing sides, which adds to the complexity; and it introduces an opposing side that cares enough to visit violence on the other, which means power is at stake somewhere in the story—and the desire for power can make for interesting bad guys. I’m very intrigued by all the things at which you’ve hinted.

--The first paragraph is a good grounding paragraph, revealing a bit about their geography/culture and the mother. I’d like to see more of that as the scene moves on.



Questions/Things to Fine Tune:

--I think the opening would be even stronger with just a little more detail and slower pacing in the first couple of paragraphs. Jumping right into the inciting incident that puts everyone in danger and on the path to adventure/danger/discovery is great, but without losing any of that impact you can slow the approach by just a few more sentences so the reader feels a tad more grounded in the scene overall.

First off, I think you could clear up a little reader confusion in that it’s a little disconcerting to suddenly have people show up on the scene one after another. We start thinking it’s just a mother and daughter, and then someone else shows up, and then someone else (in the form of introductions). We start to wonder how big the family is and when the characters will stop drifting on stage. My suggestion would be to think of the opening image as you would a movie reel. We would see everyone at once in the first shot, not as they each opened their mouths. So maybe start with the mom’s song, but have the daughter look around the cabin at her family, each member entranced or doing whatever would build their identities. Is there is love in her father’s eyes as well as ever-fresh awe at her talent, or is there something else? And do her two siblings seem entranced, older and younger (clarify the general population dynamics)? You don’t want to go around and name them all right then, but give us a sense of who’s on the scene so we’re ready for all the intros.

--Along with that comment, it would be good to know the father’s name before the children leave the scene, just to diminish that sense of too many people on stage. We know him as “father” but then later he is “Joshi.” It just makes it seem like endless people popping up. A reader tends to feel overwhelmed when introduced to so many people at once—particularly if the names are foreign in style, and thus we don’t have our gender markers in the back of our minds to help us keep everyone straight (if the names were Harry, John, and Catherine, we wouldn’t need to be told which gender they are, and we don’t need to be reminded several times which gender each kid is either; obviously those names won’t work, and I like yours, but the point is that you need to go easy on the reader when you’ve thrown them into a group of people—especially if we have no prior associations with the names to help us keep everyone organized). Here’s a quick example of what I’d maybe slip in if I were your editor: “Joshi,” their mother whispered, her eyes meeting their father’s, and her melodic voice now scratched with tension. Then dad commands the younger kids to leave the room.

--This comment is sort of along the same lines as those above, but gets at the meat of what I think would strengthen your intro most. I think you did a pretty good job with the setup and creating tension and providing something at stake. However, since you’re obviously a skilled writer, I’m going to suggest you bump it up a notch. Give us some more unique/concrete things about the family, clothes, cabin, relations (world-building basically) so that we have a sense of them as individuals and not just stereotypes of the fantasy genre. (I’m assuming this is your genre based on the names, but if not, it would be great to get an idea of what genre/sub-genre/melded-genre you’re giving us. Obviously marketing will determine what genre assumptions the reader will have when they pick up the book, but it’s always great to give your opening page an interesting flair and hint at what’s to come in order to interest the reader on many levels.) Are their clothes homespun or made of baskets or colorful and flowing, or is the family in poverty (what we assume with a cabin, but maybe cabins are standard fare for everyone in this world)? Is the messenger old or young or…?

We get a sense of the family, and see that they have innocent young children, so we know they are vulnerable and we are empathetic to their plight right off. However, I do think this is a bit of a short-cut on an author’s part, because it doesn’t require deep characterization to make us care about the characters and what’s at stake for them. It just requires us not to be heathens at heart—it’s like throwing a puppy dog on the scene. Of course we’re going to bite our nails if the puppy (or children) are in danger. Other than the first paragraph with Mom singing—which is still in line with fantasy tropes generally, but I think you have personalized it for your story—the family seems a little generic. I felt like I was looking at one of those museum windows with the ancient something-or-other-era-family wax figures going about their daily tasks. It is nicely disguised by the tension in the scene and the approach of the messenger, but you could certainly bring on the mighty pen to carve out a more unique niche for them. To develop the metaphor, we barely pass by their window before the messenger comes on, and don’t get the time to really examine—and thus appreciate—what’s behind the glass.

So what else can you tell me about any of the individuals? Looks? Is the older brother looking out the window with concern on his face, not paying attention to his little brother’s comment or his mother’s singing? Are the mother and father holding hands, or across the circle in some sort of hierarchy seating? What is the sister’s response to having her coming-of-age day mentioned? Is she excited, nervous, dreading it… ? Give us an idea of what that’s all about in this culture based on character behavioral nuance. Does the sister pinch her little brother for talking back to his mother, or is it all hair-ruffling and harmony? Right now we get the picture of family harmony, so adding to it with more harmony images doesn’t really enhance what we know about these people. Your first paragraph is great for giving some of this information, but then it sort of drifts into more generic interactions.

--And lastly, is our main POV character going to be the young, coming-of-age daughter? Usually the story is mostly about someone even if the other players have a lot of screen time. I wasn’t totally clear on who I was supposed to be aligning myself with most. That’s ok on a first page, but it would be better if it were clear.

Conclusion:

In short, if you are hoping to snag an agent, the more distinct and rich you can make your opening without veering into word economy and back story issues (basically, making use of subtle/short hints in basically the same opening you have now), the more likely you are to set yourself apart for an agent or editor. What they always want is a new voice, not necessarily just a new story—though that’s a great foot in the door. If you are self-publishing, have the same professionalism on hand for the reader. If you want to set yourself apart and get great word-of-mouth reviews (the best marketing in the world), then take care to really set your story apart with the little details that show you know what writing is all about.

Other than that last piece of advice, I think you are well on your way to something exciting. You’ve got a great sense of how to pace tension and what is important information to convey in dialogue (from this example anyway). Your characters have a lot of interesting potential, as well as the world in which they are functioning. So challenge yourself to tackle the next artistry level with characterization, and I think you’ll have a winner!


Thanks so much to Angela and Brooke. We'll see you next week!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Misty Moncur Author Interview--Do You Shave or Write?


I am so excited to introduce you to LDS author Misty Moncur. This is probably the most fun I've had with an interview for a long time because she's so witty and her answer to the last question totally made me laugh. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Welcome Misty!

If you could have any superpower what would you choose?

Invisibility. Not so I could walk in on anyone showering or anything, but just so I could go about my business without people pestering me. I’m really selfish with my me-time like that. But if I had to use the superpower in a superhero capacity, I guess I’d pick super strength because that would probably be useful if I needed to lift rubble off of people.

If you could meet one person who has died who would you choose?

This is going to sound like I’m trying too hard, but while I was doing research for Daughter of Helaman, I developed kind of a crush on Captain Moroni from the Book of Alma. He was innovative, clever, opinionated, a man who evoked (still evokes) loyalty, and a powerful writer. But I think I would be so intimidated we wouldn’t have much of a conversation.Me: “Hey, Moroni.”Him: “Hello.”Me: (after 43 seconds of awkward silence) “So…those kingmen, huh?”

Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book.

I don’t know about should, but people who read my book will be both entertained and uplifted; if those things interest you, you would like reading it.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.

I really love to hear from people who have read my book. I don’t need them to say they loved it—I get enough of that from the folks—but I do like to hear that it made them cry. Because who doesn’t like to make people cry?

If you could jump in to a book, and live in that world, which would it be?

When I was young I really loved the idea of The Secret Garden. A place all your own with beautiful things growing in it? Sign me up! I grew up with six brothers and sisters, so I guess that’s why a place all my own sounded so great to me. I still like the idea of a place no one knows about and no one accompanies you to (like I said, I’m pretty selfish with my me-time). But then of course there were the manor house with its unexplored rooms and the moor with its wild beauty and Dickon and his animals. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

What's one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?

Don’t stare at the blank screen for too long. Pretending to be a starving writer is only fun for a little while. So what if your words aren’t perfect in the first draft or the second or even the third? You can’t edit, sculpt, and hone something you have not written. Just write. Get the ideas down even if the writing doesn’t sound perfect. (Editing is the fun part anyway).

Who are your favorite authors of all time?

I really love the way LuAnne Rice writes families and the complexities within them. Her beautiful prose evokes emotions in her readers that make her stories memorable.

Can you see yourself in any of your characters?

I can see pieces of myself in all my characters, but even if I attempted to pattern one after me, I think I’d get it wrong.

What's the best advice anyone has ever given you?

Don’t shave your legs above your knees
OR
Keep writing and you’ll be happy.
It’s a toss up.

You can visit Misty's blog here

Learn more about her books here

Or buy her book here

Thanks so much for the interview Misty!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Word Count Wednesday

I am so happy this week. My favorite TV show Castle did a stellar season premiere on Monday night and I’m totally looking forward to the rest of the season.

And in other good news, I did just over 2400 words this week and I’m feeling back in the groove. Then, when I was driving my son’s lunch down to him this afternoon I figured out how to fix a plot hole. I totally love it when that happens, and I’ve been feverishly trying to write it all down before I forget it. (That happens a lot. I think it’s like the saying says, the more kids you have, the more forgetful you are. Haha. I’m lucky I remember anything at all!) So, it's been a good week for me.

How did you do this week? And did you see Castle?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book Review: The Traitor's Wife

The Traitor’s Wife by Kathleen Kent, was a historical romance that I quite enjoyed. The writing was lyrical, yet crisp, and the characters were compelling enough that it made me want to refresh my memory of the history surrounding Oliver Cromwell and his rise to power. The author has an uncanny ability to breathe life into the early American colonies with an incredible sense of realism. I was also surprised to find out at the end that this was a prequel to her earlier work, “The Heretic’s Daughter,” and that it is based on the author’s own ancestors.

We are introduced to Martha, a “spinster” who is forced to work for her cousins until she can be suitably married. Unfortunately, Martha is quite outspoken, and her prospects for marriage are very slim. While working for her pregnant cousin in helping to take care of the farm and her other children, Martha meets Thomas Carrier, a mysterious man who also works for the family. As she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding him, she only aeems to put herself in more danger.

A stolen look at a trunk in Thomas’ room brings more questions, but life is hard in the colonies, and Martha tries to put it behind her in favor of propriety. Everyday life gives her a glimpse of the man Thomas truly is as the family deals with wolf attacks and the death of family members and they come to rely on each other. But all of her questions about his past are brought back to the surface when she hears of rumors by townsfolk about the true identity of Thomas Carrier. Could he be the man who executed King Charles I and is now hiding in the colonies?

The subtle romance that is building is written in such a way that had me turning pages, not because of the action, but because I wanted to see how the romantic tension would play out. Would Thomas ever tell her his secret? Was he the man the assassins were looking for? Will Martha put Thomas and her family in danger with her outspoken ways?

As assassins sent by King Charles II to avenge his father’s murder draw closer and closer, the tension is ratcheted up, both emotionally and physically. I liked how the book was a slow build and it definitely had a satisfying ending. Martha and Thomas were captivating characters and it was easy to empathize with them and the positions they find themselves in. Because of the nature of the assassins, there is quite a bit of language, as well as several descriptions of violent death (like beheading), and some sexual scenes, but they were few and brief. It is more a story that makes us want to remember our history and the sacrifices for freedom that have been given in many countries as well as our own. I definitely want to read “The Heretic’s Daughter,” now, so I can find out what happens to the characters I came to know.

Book Stats
The Traitor’s Wife
Published by Little, Brown, and Company
420 pgs in paperback

You can purchase it on Amazon here

Monday, September 19, 2011

High School Memories

My son had his Homecoming date last Saturday night and they were doing a progressive dinner before the dance. We were in charge of making the main course, so I chose to do a lasagna with homemade breadsticks and vegetables. We set the table with our china and best crystal with the candles lit and I must say, that was a pretty table. With a Dean Martin CD in the background, the mood was set for a wonderful Italian dinner.

As the four couples came in and sat down, we served them their dinner, then went into the family room to watch our favorite football team. We could hear the rumble of laughter coming from the dining room and I thought about what a wonderful memory my son would have of this night with his friends. High school is such a time of turmoil--wonderful and horrible all at the same time. I thought back to my own high school years and while I enjoyed them, I don’t think I’d want to relive them. All of my best memories though, were things I did with my friends, and I’m so glad my children will have the same opportunities to share wonderful dates, dances, and activities with their friends.

What is your best high school memory?

(If you are interested, this is a family favorite of ours, and so easy!)

Easy and Yummy Lasagna

1lb. extra lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped (optional)
1 1/2 ounces package spaghetti sauce mix
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
8 lasagna noodles
1 egg
1 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
2 c. cottage cheese

Brown beef and onion. Drain well. Stir in seasonings and tomato sauce. Stir occasionally while you mix in a bowl egg, parsley flakes, parmesan cheese and cottage cheese.

In a 9x13 baking dish, layer 1 cup sauce, 4 dry noodles and half the cottage cheese mixture, spreading it evenly over the noodles. Repeat the sauce, noodles, and cottage cheese mixture, then top with remaining sauce. Cover with tin foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 55 minutes or until noodles are tender. Let stand 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sample Sunday--First Chapter of Time Will Tell

Time Will Tell--LDS Romantic Suspense
Prologue
Copyright 2011

The wheels of the overturned car had barely stopped spinning when the paramedics were finally able to pull the two young men from the wreckage. The stretcher was quickly brought from the ambulance, but the paramedics on the scene knew it was too late.

As they maneuvered the stretcher through the crowd that had gathered, the ambulance driver got out to open the wide double doors. He caught a glimpse of the young man who lay limply on the stretcher and caught his breath. He recognized the familiar name tag and the young man who wore it. He was Elder Carlson.

Closing his eyes momentarily the driver remembered the first time he’d seen Elder Carlson when he’d spoken in his ward and marveled at his enthusiasm for missionary work. As the body of the young man was lifted up into the ambulance, the driver brushed away the unbidden tears and closed the doors. Why would the Lord allow one of his chosen sons who was serving him in the mission field to be taken? It didn’t make any sense. His heart turned to his home as he thought of his own children and it ached for the phone call he knew would have to be made to Elder Carlson’s home in the United States.

~~~~~~~~

Doug and Ashton Carlson arrived early at their hotel in Yellowstone and Ashton started to unpack her things. “Let’s start with Old Faithful and some of the paint pots and geysers right around there,” she suggested. Doug’s reaction was less than enthusiastic and she sighed. It had taken a herculean effort to finally coax her husband Doug to even take this weekend vacation to Yellowstone with her. She had hoped that if they could just get away for a few days, they would be able to start working on their marital problems. Yellowstone seemed the logical choice since they’d honeymooned there and it had special meaning for them.

Doug was still unpacking and grimaced. “I’d rather read my book,” he told her as he finished hanging up his clothes and flopped on the bed with a paperback.

Taking a deep breath Ashton counted to ten. “Let’s do something together. Then we’ll have a nice lunch at the Lodge.”

He gave a low groan, but got off the bed and did as she asked. As they drove to the southern end of Yellowstone, Ashton wondered if she was doing the right thing. Their marriage had never been particularly passionate, but she knew Doug loved her in his own way. Since Michael had been gone on his mission however, it was painfully obvious that they’d grown apart as a couple.

They had become more like roommates than a married couple— stuck in a routine that never seemed to end. Doug was always pleasant and courteous, but their conversations rarely went beyond the surface. Ashton longed to feel close to her husband, to know what he was thinking. She hoped to at least make a start at remedying that situation before Michael came home from his mission–-thinking that maybe if they just spent more time together, without work and other outside influences getting in the way, they could rekindle the romance.

So far, it didn’t seem as if Doug was interested in changing their marital situation at all and Ashton couldn’t understand his attitude. He only seemed to be tolerating this little trip and it was totally opposite for her. She loved nature and seeing the wonder and beauty of the National Park was refreshing. Yet, it took all of her powers of convincing to get Doug out of the car and walking on the boardwalk with her. After practically dragging him around to a few geysers, she finally suggested they go to lunch at the Old Faithful Lodge. That was the best part of the day because Doug finally seemed interested in something—the food.

They ate in silence and Ashton decided to just enjoy the scenery and not let his mood ruin the trip. There didn’t seem to be anything she could do about it. She wanted to work on the marriage, but it had to be a team effort, and she hadn’t realized how difficult it had become for them to be alone together with no outside distractions.

As soon as he finished his lunch, he wiped his mouth on his napkin and stood up. “I’m ready to go back to the hotel room and relax. Okay?”

She agreed, giving in before she pushed him too far and they went back home. When they got back to the hotel room, she took a long bath, while Doug read his book. After flipping through the channels on the television, Ashton found a travel brochure and started planning the next day. “Do you want to drive up and see some wildlife on the north side?” she asked.

He muttered his agreement, but she wondered if he’d even heard her. Ashton tried to write it off as being tired, knowing inside it was more than that, but unwilling to face what she knew was true.

She was just deciding where they should go for dinner when she heard the phone ring. Doug was closest to it, so he picked it up and she was surprised to hear him say hello to Bishop Tolson. She went to join Doug in the small sitting room, listening intently to Doug’s side of the conversation, wondering why the bishop would call them on their vacation.

“Okay,” Doug said. “Is he all right?”

Knowing it could only be about Michael, her heart began to pound. Something was wrong. Her mind began to race with possibilities, but when Doug asked how Michael would get home, Ashton’s mouth fell open. Had her son done something wrong? Was he being sent home? She discarded that thought immediately. He was so thrilled with the work and was anxiously engaged in preaching the gospel. His every letter showed his commitment. Doug said goodbye and hung up the phone slowly. Turning to face her, his familiar brown eyes were shining with tears.

“Tell me,” she demanded.

Doug was silent as if he was rooted to the floor, staring at the wall behind her.

“Tell me,” she said again, her voice dropping to a whisper.

“Michael was traveling as a passenger in a car to his new area in Wales. His companion tried to pass a large truck using the center passing lane. An oncoming car was also in the passing lane and in order to avoid a head on collision, they swerved into traffic and were broadsided. Both boys were killed instantly.” His voice was monotone, as if he was reciting a news headline.

Ashton’s gut wrenched, her blood running cold at his words. Darkness was swirling at the edge of her consciousness as if her brain wanted to spare her the comprehension of what she’d just been told. Her world felt like it was closing in. She could feel the hysteria rising within her, but managed to say, “He’s dead?”

Her tongue could barely form the words and her voice sounded strange to her ears. It just didn’t seem to register. She tried to reach for Doug’s hand, but he pulled it back. Ashton wanted to scream hysterically, but stood rigid. She heard someone moaning and realized it was her. “When did he die? What time?”

Doug looked at her strangely. “Why would that matter?”

She wanted to shake him. Her child that she had carried within her body for nine months, nourished, nurtured and loved for twenty years was gone and she had been on vacation and not known it. What had she been doing when he died? “Do you know what time?”

Doug looked at his watch. “About four hours ago, our time.”

Ashton’s mind raced back through the day’s activities. They would have been having lunch at the lodge near Old Faithful. Her child had died and she had been having lunch and not felt a thing. Shouldn’t she have felt something? A tremor in her body, a chill, something? She sank down on the hotel sofa, her knees no longer able to hold her up. “Did he suffer?” she could hardly get the words past the lump in her throat, sobs welling up inside her.

“They said he died instantly,” Doug said. He took Ashton by the arm and pulled her up beside him. For a moment she thought he would take her in his arms, but he held her away from him. “The bishop told me he knew that Michael was continuing his mission on the other side of the veil,” Doug said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I never thought he should go on this mission and now I know why.” His eyes finally focused on her and they were accusing.

“Michael wanted to go,” Ashton protested. “He loved his mission.”

“He only joined that church because of you,” Doug said, his angry tone magnified by the tears coursing down his cheeks. “I never believed in it.”

“You did once, before you left for Vietnam. I know you felt the Spirit then, but after you came back you never spoke of religion again. Doug, the Church is everything to me. You knew that when you married me. I thought you understood.” Her voice trailed off, the twenty years of prayers and hope that he would be touched by the Spirit dying as she looked at his face.

She threw her arms around him, but he stood stiff. Her own tears were overwhelming, but she felt she had to try to make Doug understand. “Michael’s gone and my faith is all I have left. I know Michael lives on. Truly, I do.” She slipped her hand into his and reached up on tiptoe to hold her own tear-stained cheek against his face. “We just lost our child. We need to be together.”

Doug jerked back and went into the other room. “We’ve lost the only thing holding us together,” he said, his voice cold. “I’ve felt it for a long time. We’ve grown apart. I just didn’t want to say anything until Michael got back, but now . . .” His voice trailed off. He avoided Ashton’s eyes and took his suitcase out and began throwing in his things.

Her first instinct was to go to him, and she moved toward the bed. She watched him for a moment, the face she’d loved since she was seventeen. He was three years older, but had a sister her age. He’d come to pick his sister up at the high school on a spring day and she had been coming out the large double doors when she lost her balance and tumbled down the concrete stairs.

At first, she was stunned, but the pain in her ankle quickly set in and she began to cry. Doug had waded through the crowd that had gathered and picked her up effortlessly in his arms. His sister, Debra had walked out just then and he motioned for her to follow. Within minutes Ashton had been deposited in his car and driven home. He carried her to her living room couch, explaining to her mother what had happened. Before she knew it, Doug had charmed both her and her mother.

When he came to check on her a few days later, he asked her out on a date. He’d seemed surprised when she turned him down because she didn’t date boys who weren’t LDS. He wanted to learn more and soon began taking the missionary discussions and becoming part of their family. He was strong and steady, his quick laugh attracting him to her. Soon they were drawn together and began a romance. She waited for him to fully commit to the gospel but before he could he was drafted to Vietnam.

Everything changed after that. She lived for his letters, praying every day that he would be protected and watched over. When he returned from his tour of duty he was wounded and spent months recovering. Yet, even after his recovery was complete, outwardly he looked the same, but inwardly he was different. He seemed distant and tense. He flinched and ducked at loud noises, refusing to share his experiences in Vietnam and seeming angry when she asked. Any talk of God or the church was cut off immediately. Ashton longed for the closeness they’d shared before he left, wanting to hear him laugh, and feel his strength and compassion again. She had thought that continuing with their marriage plans would return everything to how it had been before Vietnam. It didn’t.

Even after Michael had been born, the happiness and joy that had attracted her to Doug, that had once seemed like his second nature, was gone—as though he’d left it in Vietnam. He just didn’t seem capable of trusting himself to be happy and had built an invisible wall around his emotions. He was always considerate, but aloof. She would wake in the middle of the night to find his side of the bed empty, knowing he’d had another nightmare. It was like whatever he’d experienced in the war haunted him and couldn’t leave him alone. She’d urged him to get counseling, but he had insisted he could handle it. Yet, no matter what the night had brought, during the daylight hours their household was filled with love because Michael was in it.

As she watched her husband pack and saw the steely anger in his eyes, she knew that now with Michael gone, their marriage was over and had been for a long time, just as he had said. She’d known it, but couldn’t admit it to herself. The time had obviously come. Opening her mouth to say something, she closed it again, not having anything to say. Doug didn’t even look at her and she folded her arms and went back to the other room.

Sinking to her knees, she raised her face to the ceiling. She wanted to feel something, but only felt numbness, the shock shielding her from overwhelming grief. She clenched the bed blankets in her fist, squeezing until it hurt. Bowing her head, she asked her Father in Heaven, “Why?” The wetness of her still damp hair, mixed with her tears as they flowed down her cheeks. It was unthinkable that she’d never see Michael again in this lifetime.

Opening her eyes she stared down at the hotel quilt, her head still bowed. The blue and yellow design swam before her eyes, making her dizzy. Blue is Michael’s favorite color, she thought. She’d bought him a deep blue tie right before he left on his mission. He’d smiled and told her that every time he wore it he’d think of her. She wondered if he’d been wearing it when he died. Her fists began to relax, but the tears started to fall. She bowed her head in submission, her thoughts turning heavenward and the answer came so clearly. He’d been called to serve beyond the veil. At the same moment Doug brushed past her and the hotel door clicked behind him, leaving a stillness hanging in the room he’d left behind. He was gone. Her son was gone and her husband had left her and she was alone.

She leaned over the blue and yellow bedspread, praying more intensely to feel the glimpse of comfort she’d just experienced. “Father,” she started, but the tears overcame her. “Father,” she sobbed, her voice cracking as she pleaded for the love and comfort that only her Father in Heaven could give her. She stayed there on her knees until her legs were numb, but she was oblivious to the prickling sensations, both her soul and her body grief-stricken and anguished.

At that moment, when Ashton thought she would be consumed with the pain, she felt the most comforting feeling come over her. It was like the spirit enveloped her body and spoke to her soul, testifying to her until she knew without a doubt that Michael had been called to a greater mission and she still had a mission to fulfill on this earth. She leaned forward and thanked her Father in Heaven for the comfort and knowledge that infused her. She got up slowly and laid on the bed, her head pounding from the tears, feeling drained but serene somehow. She wanted to share that comfort with Doug, but he was so angry, she knew he wouldn’t accept it. Ashton was alone in her knowledge of where Michael was, and having the comfort of knowing that while she couldn’t see him, his soul lived on.

The next few days and weeks were overwhelming. The missionaries in England had held a memorial service for her son and his companion, newspapers from around the world had been calling, and they were trying to prepare for the return of Michael’s body. Doug was quiet, his anger and bitterness apparent when he did speak. The only words he’d spoken to her had been curt, blaming her, God, and the Church for the loss of their son.

Ashton turned inside of herself and to her God, praying often throughout the day. She got through the viewing surrounded by friends and family, but it didn’t seem real. The one thing that struck her, looking at her son’s body, was that he looked so peaceful. Yet, it was after the family prayer, when they were about to close the coffin that it hit her. She would never see him again in this life. The smile and mischievous eyes that she had watched grow from a baby to a handsome young man were gone.

Her shoulders slumped and when she thought the grief would overwhelm her once again, she felt a touch on her elbow. She looked up into the kindest eyes she had ever seen, with love emanating from them. A counselor in the First Presidency of the Church held her arm. When he looked into her tear-filled eyes, he said, “The Lord knows your suffering. Lean on Him and He will heal you.” He gave her a gentle squeeze. “Be still and know that He is there.”

She barely made it through the service and when she came home, she was exhausted both physically and emotionally. Standing in her living room, the silence overwhelmed her and she closed her eyes to once again beg for the love and comfort she knew Heavenly Father could send her to relieve the loneliness and suffering she now felt. The life she’d imagined for herself and her family were all gone and she needed God more than ever now that her marriage was over, her son was dead, and she was totally and completely alone.

Friday, September 16, 2011

First Page Friday

Welcome back to First Page Friday! We have another wonderful entry today. As always, if you are interested in submitting your first page to First Page Friday, make sure you follow the guidelines on my sidebar. Once I have received your entry, you will be put in the queue.

Ms. Shreditor critiques every Friday and I'm excited to announce that Angela Eschler, who has guest-critiqued for us before, will now be critiquing the last Friday of every month. We are so incredibly lucky to have two such well-respected editors in the industry critiquing our work. Thank you so much to everyone who participates!

Let's get to today's critique.


The Entry
A Birthday To Remember

by Zach Knell

Regi always enjoyed the slight breeze pressed against the fire-like heat that Newport, California brings in the middle of the summer. Today, June 15, 2031, was his twelfth birthday. Though Regi was happy to finally be a dozen years, he joked with himself that his height hadn’t quite figured out how tall it should be by this point. He was just too short.

Though he hadn’t been told that he would be going to the beach today, he decided he would dress for it anyway, judging by the beautiful weather Regi felt on his face as he walked onto the deck. He liked the deck. It gave him a chance to be alone and think clearly.

Twelve years, and still he hadn’t seen his parents. Regi had had countless times when he tried to decide whether or not he was angry with his parents for leaving him as a child. This morning, a new thought had entered his mind. If they would have kept me, I would not have had the opportunity to live with the Roses.

As long as he could remember, Regi had lived with the Rose family. It was the closest thing to a family that he had. Carter Rose, was almost exactly Regi’s age. He was his friend. His brother.

Regi realized that he had been out on the deck for quite a while and he then decided to head downstairs for breakfast.

As he sauntered into the kitchen, Regi realized that Mrs. Rose had tried her best to decorate the room with green crepe paper streamers, which she knew was his favorite color. Though it was not an extravagant setup, Regi appreciated the effort.

Mrs. Rose noticed Regi and immediately put on a smile, “Regi! Happy birthday.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Regi said as he shuffled forward to give her a half-hug as she struggled to put candles in the cake.

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

There are some compelling elements in this story. For reasons not yet clear, it takes place in the year 2031. Why twenty years in the future? Is this a futuristic sci-fi/dystopian? If so, the first page needs to convey this somehow. If not, make sure that the future date is vital to the story and not just an add-on.

It is a convention of the superhero myth that the hero’s biological parents are out of the picture. Spider-man and Harry Potter were raised by aunts and uncles, and Spiderman was adopted. So my first instinct is that this, too, is some kind of hero’s trial. The problem is that it’s difficult to tell from this page what kind of story this is. The year 2031 suggests sci-fi, and the absence of parents is reminiscent of other superhero tales, but we just don’t know. At this point, we don’t even know why they left or how the Roses became his adoptive family.

Voice is a key concern here. The narrative doesn’t read like it’s coming from a twelve-year-old. Is this a third-person omniscient narrator? The story opens the door for some character-establishing introspection, but then shuts it just as quickly. Regi steps outside to think, offers up a quick information dump about his parents leaving him and the Roses taking him in, and then goes back inside because he’s been outside too long. While we learn something crucial about him in this moment, we don’t necessarily connect with him because we’re responding to information instead of emotion. There also needs to be a smoother transition between exposition and introspection here—for example, someone calling out to Regi and interrupting his thoughts.

The writing itself is quite choppy in parts and could benefit from a strong content edit. There are some rocky transitions, awkward turns of phrase (e.g., a breeze pressing against heat and height not figuring out how tall it should be), and too many instances of the name “Regi.”

The ingredients for a good story are here. The question remains: What kind of story is it? We have clues, but not enough anchors yet to make an educated guess.



A big thank you to Zach and Ms. Shreditor! Lots of potential for everyone to take away something here. See you next week!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Three Pet Peeves & An Interview

Today’s post is going to be a little ranty and mostly just a list of a few things that annoy me. Because I've been reading a lot and these things came up. A lot.

(But at the end, I share some good news, so if you don't want to read the first part, skip down. You don't want to miss the best part.)

Pet Peeve #1

If you are reviewing a book on your blog or on Goodreads and plan to tell the end WITHOUT putting the word *spoilers* anywhere on your review, then I hope you know you’ve ruined it for me and I sort of secretly hate you for at least a day. For the love of all that is good, type the word SPOILER if you reveal the end. Please. I beg of you.

(I have recently stopped going to Goodreads pages for books I am reading anyway, because of this problem, but I went to a blog, and was not expecting the end to be revealed at all, and now it’s ruined for me. What’s the point of reading if I already know the end?) (And if you are a person who reads the end first, well, I don’t even know what to say to people like you. That's just weird.) (But, I probably can still be friends with you. As long as you don’t tell me the end and put the word SPOILER in your review. Ha!)

Pet Peeve #2

If you are an author of a book and know you have a problem with homonyms, please get an editor that is really good at sniffing out those pesky homonym mistakes. (Although I have to say it does make me laugh out loud.) There is no way for someone to “peel with laughter,” “need a drink after being in the hot dessert for so long,” (although I suppose technically you could sit in a hot dessert. But that would be messy) “loose your mind,” or “walk up an isle at the grocery store.”

Pet Peeve #3

If you are going to use dialect in your dialogue, please try to make the person sound less dumb. People with accents are not dumb. Generally speaking. And it makes your character feel stereotypical and unrealistic when you do that.

*deep breath*

The Good News!

Well, I just got an email that makes me feel much better. Misty Moncur interviewed me for her blog, and she surprised me and posted it today! Hooray! There’s some pretty funny stuff on there. She likes me better than Dave! She wants to come over and eat ice cream and hang out with me! I have a new best friend who doesn’t mind my Return of the Jedi secret writing story.

Click here if you want to read it. (Come on, you know you want to.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Word Count Wednesday

Well, dear friends, the day I have dreaded all week is here. Word Count Wednesday. I come before you feeling chagrined. Conscience-stricken. Contrite.

You see, I didn’t write at all this week. Even though I know I should have. I gave myself the excuse that the funeral threw everything off. And the kids seemed extra needy this week. I told myself that since I was off my routine, I couldn't squeeze in the writing.

But the reality is, I procrastinated. I read. A lot. And I indulged myself in watching way more TV than I normally do. Not only did I watch America’s Got Talent (I love Landau and iLuminate!) but I also watched this show called Downsized, where this family who has seven children between them have lost their home and had to declare bankruptcy because of the economy so they’re trying to learn to live frugally. It’s like a train wreck you can’t turn away from! And then I found Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman on a cable channel yesterday and I watched that. I sort of miss that show. There’s just not a lot of good wholesome TV on these days. Maybe they’ll make a reality show like that, Livin’ in the 1800s--Can You Do It?

But the point is, I chose to do other activities when I could have worked on my novel. I sort of regret it, but I’m telling myself my muse was resting. Recharging. And now we’re ready for this week and to totally knock out some great chapters.

How did you do in your word count this week?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book Review: Bloodborne


Bloodborne by Gregg Luke is a book full of twists and turns that will make you raise your eyebrows and turn the page quickly to see what happens.

Dr. Erin Cross goes to a neighborhood deli for lunch and her life changes in the blink of an eye. She starts receiving text messages that she is going to die in sixty seconds, sees a man in the corner texting, and angrily goes over to confront him. Just as she does, a gunman enters the deli, spraying gunfire and killing several people before a former Special Ops Marine (who happens to be the man she accused of texting her) is able to stop him.

As Dr. Cross tries to put the incident behind her, she finds herself caught in a web of lies, unsure of who she can trust. With nowhere to turn, she puts her life in the hands of that Special Ops Marine, but after a series of strange events, wonders if he is involved with the men who are trying to kill her. It’s a thrilling ride that makes you take a deep breath when you turn the last page, mostly because you’ve been holding it throughout the book.

I loved the author’s depth of knowledge about viruses, bacteria, and medical conditions and it was easy enough for me to read and understand. I enjoyed the mystery behind our main characters and the life issues they were dealing with because they were real and many people can identify with them. My only complaint about the book was that the chapters were so short (generally 2-4 pages) and there were so many point of views (the bad guy, the scientist, Erin, Sean, etc.) it made it feel a bit choppy to me. There were definitely places were I wanted to skip ahead and see what was happening with Erin and Sean’s story. But it was a book that I will heartily recommend to all my friends who love suspense. And if I were going to give a star rating for the cover I would definitely give it a five star. It was creepy, caught my attention right away, and totally went with the book’s subject matter.

Here is the back copy:

One ordinary afternoon, research specialist Dr. Erin Cross steps into a local deli to get some lunch, and nearly takes a bullet instead. Thanks to the timely intervention of a former Marine, she walks away from the seemingly freak incident. But when she returns to find her lab under security lockdown and her apartment ransacked, she realized the attack was anything but random. Erin can’t make sense of the threat, given her low profile after a disastrous H1N1 vaccine trial. She doesn’t know her former colleague has used the virus to develop a potent bioweapon or that her recent research hold a key to his success. And she doesn’t know that his collaborators want her dead before she blows the whistle.

Fleeing for safety with her research in hand, Erin unravels the threats with the help of the timely Marine, former Special Ops agent Sean Flannery. But the closer they come to finding answers, the more questionable Sean’s behavior becomes. His erratic moods and suspicious communications are more fitting for an enemy than a friend. And as the crisis comes to a head, Erin can’t be sure who harbors more secrets—the bioterrorists pursuing her or the one man who can give her protection

Bloodborne Stats:

Published by Covenant Communications
325 pgs.
Can be purchased at Amazon here

Monday, September 12, 2011

What Does Your Funeral Look Like?

Today we will be attending the funeral of my husband’s Uncle Bill. He was a man who was beloved by many because of his simple way of drawing people to him and making them feel important. He served his country, his community, and his family, and loved doing it. We are sad at his passing, however, I know we will be celebrating a wonderful life today.

I hope my funeral is like that. I know, it sounds so macabre, but I’ve often thought about what I want my funeral to be. I have a very talented friend who is an opera singer, that I hope will come and sing my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount. I hope that there will be some good things said about me, and I hope there are a few people in the audience. But most of all, I hope that when I’m gone people will look back at my life and say, she lived a good life, she served those around her, and she made me feel loved. To me, that would be the best sort of funeral, to have those who loved you and knew you loved them back, gathered with you one more time.

Obviously I’m not a perfect person. I have a lot of quirks---I’m actually quite shy until I get to know someone. I’m opinionated, but I’m learning when to keep quiet. I always try to stick up for the underdog, even when it’s a losing battle. I heard a motto once, that I really liked, and it was, “Stand alone if you must, but stand.” I want to live by that, and stand up for my ideals and for those that I love, even if I have to stand alone.

I know I’m not perfect, but I really do want to be like Uncle Bill---I want the people who know me to know I loved them.

Have you ever imagined your funeral? Do you have a motto you live by?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Day That Changed Us All

With the tenth anniversary of Sept.11th, a lot of us have been reflecting on where we were that day and where we’re going now. The horror of September 11th, 2001, will forever live in the minds of this generation. It touched us all. My son’s teacher had her aunt and her grandmother on the plane that hit the north tower that terrible day and each year, when she talks about it with her students, she cries. How can you ever explain the loss our country felt that day and still feels today? Loss of not only loved ones, but the loss of our sense of security, our loss of innocence?

The tragedy of September 11th brought out the best in people. I was very proud of my home country of Canada who was the first to offer their help to the New York emergency personnel, and was the country that took all the diverted flights from the U.S., at some risk to themselves. But Canada stood with their brother-country, solid in its support for them. I was also proud of those people in my adopted country, ordinary men and women who became the heroes of 9/11. So many people, both known and unknown, gave everything they had to lift the suffering of others, and many more who took up arms to once again fight for freedom.

Ten years ago this country was irrevocably changed. Some will argue whether it changed for the better or for the worse. But for me, the images of 9/11 changed my heart. That was a day I will remember that courage won out in the face of terror. This country was not broken and those who wanted to see the U.S. suffer were disappointed in the fact that the suffering was tempered by dignity and we were able to rise above the heinous attack with nobility and honor. Our country’s true character was shown and it wasn’t afraid.

Tonight I will hug my children close, and we will talk about what happened ten years ago, and then, no matter our politics, we will pray for the leaders of this country to be guided in keeping our country safe. I know we will also include in that prayer a request for comfort to be given to those who lost their loved ones that day. And lastly, I know we will pray for peace--in the world, in our country, and in our lives. At the very least, I think that’s something worth hoping for.

Friday, September 9, 2011

First Page Friday

What a week this has been with hops and prizes and campaign challenges! I’m ready to sit down and enjoy a First Page Friday.

(For my new followers, it is a well-known fact that sometimes editors and agents don't get beyond your first page if it isn't stellar. My blog has a national editor we affectionately call Ms. Shreditor, who tries to help us polish our work by offering first page critiques every Friday. It's been very helpful for me as well, because when I read her comments to other writers, I can usually apply her thoughts to my own writing. If you want to submit, guidelines are in my sidebar.)

Here it this week's entry!



The Entry

Untitled
by Charlie Moore

Murky water lapped against the hull of the Ellen Maria, docked at Liverpool harbor. A seasonably warm January rain shower off the coast moistened the faces of Henry Brown, his wife Catherine Maria and their children with a silky satin sheen. Light shone through breaks in the darkened sky promising partial sunshine for the first part of their voyage. Hundreds of Saints milled around the dock waiting to board the ship. Many had heard the missionaries from a new church not long before and accepted their message. Now they waited for new promises of opportunity in the land called Zion. In January, on the 22nd day, in the year of our Lord 1852, Henry Brown, a bricklayer by trade, along with his wife, Catherine Maria (called Maria) and their children, Henry, William, Samuel, Cyrus, James and Julia boarded the ship with other Saints hoping for the same dream. They were called the “poor company” because they were the first group of Saints to sail on monies from the Perpetual Immigration Fund. The church, through the inspiration of the prophet, set up an account to help people get to Zion who didn’t have sufficient means. They were expected to find work when they arrived in Zion and repay the debt thereby allowing the church to help others who’d come later.

“When will we be in Zion?” seven year old Samuel asked his father.

“The journey is long, Samuel,” Henry Brown said to his inquisitive son. “We must cross the ocean followed by a long trek on land in America before we reach the Prophet and the land of Zion.”

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

Historical narratives can be tricky. The author has to establish historical context in short order while simultaneously hooking the reader. And, as is true for any first page, the reader must connect somehow with the main character.

This first page needs some work on those fronts. It bombards us with a lot of historical information and characters at once. Rather than speaking to us, it talks at us. At a time when the narrative should be a page-turner, it is flooded with historical factoids and extraneous details that distance us from the main characters. Much of the second paragraph reads like an encyclopedia entry about the “poor country” Saints. Right now, the readers are swimming in the very “murky water” we encounter in the first sentence. They need direction.

They also need a clearer sense of what’s at stake here. We know that the Brown family is about to embark on a journey to Zion. I sense that this is an oft-told tale in LDS historical fiction. So what makes this story different? What makes these characters unique? At this juncture, the reader needs something eye-catching to propel him/her to page two. Right now, it’s somewhat nondescript.

So what can you do to beef up the first page? Think about the story you want to tell. Is it about the pressures Henry faces as the head of the family? Is it the tale of a tough journey or the adjustments a family has to make in a new community? Will the story involve primarily the journey or the family’s new life in Zion—or something else entirely? In other words, what central conflict will drive the narrative?

Once you have a sense of these things, you can craft a first page with all the meat and none of the fat. You can get right down to the business at hand, which is not a rote recitation of a story from a safe distance, but a vivid exploration of both external and internal conflicts.

Also, as always, I advise all authors to copyedit their submissions thoroughly—or, ideally, have someone else do it. A polished first page reflects effort, professionalism, and sophistication.




I’d like to thank Charlie and Ms. Shreditor for their time and participation. I hope it was helpful.

See you next week!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Winner of My Back to the Books Giveaway Hop!

The winner of my Back to the Books Giveaway Hop prize "Book Night in a Box"---which includes a handmade book blanket that is so soft and snuggly I really want to keep it myself, my new novel, Ribbon of Darkness, and a yummy dessert in a box to eat while reading---is. . .

*drum roll*


*one more drum roll because I love drums*



JESSICA B.



WOOHOOOO!! Congratulations! I will be emailing you to get your snail mail address so I can send that right out to you! I hope you like it.

THANK YOU to everyone who entered and to the hosts I Am a Reader, Not a Writer blog and Buried in Books blog.

Making the Cut

Hey, another blog reviewed my book today. You can go read what Rebecca Talley thought of Ribbon of Darkness here Thanks, Rebecca!


As most of you know, I’ve been attempting to go through my basement and organize it for a while now. It’s a process, that’s for sure. Last Saturday, my husband and I unearthed the “treasures” that had been stored underneath the stairs. We hadn’t looked at any of that stuff for about ten years and it was sort of like opening a time capsule. A time capsule of mostly junk.

But as we sat and went through everything, deciding what to keep, what to give away, and what to throw away, I realized I keep a lot of junk thinking that I might need it. (Maybe our future grandkids would use these toys. Or my second cousin twice removed gave that to us for our wedding twenty-three years ago, we couldn’t get rid of it.) (Cousin, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry and you should probably stop reading this now.) Never mind that we hadn’t used it in ten years. We had to keep it.

I know, it’s a strange way to think for a person like me who enjoys organization, but I realize that I’m like that with my writing, too. Cutting scenes and words that I love is hard. I want to keep it all! If I have to cut scenes and words, I put them all in a “cut file” that I save, in case I need it later or want to add it back in. (I have cut files for every one of my seven published novels, and I’ve never needed them or even looked at them again. Sadly, it’s like the boxes under my stairs.)

The thing that I realized, sitting in my basement with boxes of mostly junk, was that I didn’t need it. All that stuff was taking up valuable real estate in my home that was preventing me from having the organized basement that I want. It wasn't the treasure it purported to be.

And that’s how it is with the words that I have to cut. Those extra scenes that I loved, or jokes that I thought were funny but weren’t, or writing that moved me---in the wrong direction, were things in my manuscript taking away from having a tight suspenseful story that readers will rave about. It's not the treasured word that I think I need. ( I blogged here not too long ago with a list of specific words and phrases you can cut.) (And no, this isn't really a repeat blog. It's more, hey look at my writing personality quirk. And I'm thinking a lot about clutter and writing lately. So there.)

We ended up taking a huge load of "treasures" to our local secondhand store that accepts donations, and we threw away a lot of stuff, too. And you know what? At first I was anxious about it, but by the end, it felt good. We freed up the space we needed and we’re one step closer to having the basement of our dreams! (Well, at least an organized one.) Just like with my novel, when I can cut away the extras, I know it’s going to be painful to think about, but the end result will be a tightly written novel that I can be proud to call mine.

Do you have a cut file? How do you deal with the process of cutting the extra “stuff” from your manuscript? Do you just delete it and move on? What's your process?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Word Count Wednesday & First Campaign Challenge

Just a reminder that my blog hop contest for the Book Night in a Box is only open until midnight tonight. Hurry and enter!

Most of you know that I'm doing the Platform Campaign and the first challenge came through. Here it is:

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: "the door swung shut." (also included in the word count)

For those who want an even greater challenge, make your story 200 words EXACTLY!

So, here is my offering:

Partners

The door swung open. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” the man said, walking toward me.

My wrists physically twitched underneath the straps. “I could say the same thing,” I gritted out. “Why don’t you take these restraints off and we’ll fight this out like men.”

He gave a soft laugh. “I think not. My way is much more effective.” He pulled out a small array of instruments that I knew would torture my body for hours. Adrenaline raced through my system. “Is there anything you’d like to say before we begin?”

“Where is Kate?” My fists clenched even saying her name out loud in this man’s presence.

“She’s next door, asking the same thing about you,” he said, leaning over my cot.

Knowing Kate was so near was just the incentive I needed. Kicking my legs forward, I twisted his shoulders between my knees until I had him in a makeshift headlock. Squeezing as hard as I could I waited until I felt his body go slack. I finished working on the wrist straps with my teeth, strapped the man down, then I went to get Kate, leaving without a backward glance as the door swung shut.

And it's exactly 200 words. Woohoo!

So, in addition to the 200 words I wrote above, I wrote 2878 words on my work in progress. Not great numbers, but it's still progress and slow and steady gets the job done, right?

How did you do this week?

Oh, if you want to go and "like" my 200 word piece, you can go here. I'm #244. :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review: My Girlfriend's Boyfriend


I’ve been doing some heavy reading lately, so when the opportunity came along to review Elodia Strain’s new book, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, I jumped at the chance.

This book made me smile from the get-go. We meet Jesse who is looking for the right guy and has a well-meaning boss at the coffee shop where she waitresses trying to help her do it. Jesse’s quirky personality, yet real emotional issues, instantly made me like her. She lives with her brother, loves musicals to the nth degree, and blurts out too much information whenever she gets in trouble. Which gets her into more trouble. Some of the scenes, including her “Yogainting” class made me laugh out loud. And as a generally conservative reader, belly laughing while reading was a new experience. Elodia Strain is a quick and witty writer and I loved her style.

The premise of the story is that Jesse meets two guys at the coffee shop. One is a regular guy, an aspiring writer, and she impulsively gives him her phone number. The other guy is a totally fabulous ad exec who has everything going for him--money, looks and a caring personality. As she dates both of them and really sees the good in each, I found myself totally drawn into the romantic triangle, wondering who she would pick because she really seemed to like both men, albeit for different reasons.

Just to illustrate, one of the funniest scenes in the book is when Jesse's cousin blackmails her for expensive toiletries and “mud” from a luxuriouus spa that the ad exec, Troy, is taking her to on a date. It is also a sweet scene because Troy remembers her quirk of celebrating obscure holidays and plays a board game with her in a romantic tucked away spot at the spa. But then, on the other hand, you have the regular guy, Ethan, who gives her a plant, and takes her to meet his sister and her two kids, and he shows her how normal his life is, while showing us what a sweetheart he is to her. So, she’s sort of stuck between incredible and wonderful, you know? Both are great and I couldn’t wait to find out who she chose and how it would end.

I read this book in one day, and when I got to the end, I was shocked. There was a twist I wasn’t expecting at all, and while it was definitely an original ending, I felt a little cheated. There was closure, but the ending left me a bit confused. Without giving anything away, I just felt like I needed to go back and read it again so I could truly understand the ending.

Anyway, if you are looking for a fun romance with a great heroine, this is the book for you. (It’s also based on the movie, starring Alyssa Milano.) I think Elodia Strain has a fresh, original storytelling style,especially with her hilarious internal dialogue and I enjoyed her sense of humor immensely.

Here is the back copy for it:

Jesse is looking for the "right guy." When she bumps into Ethan, a despairing writer who she inspires, she thinks she's found him. But only moments later she meets Troy, a successful advertising executive who makes almost every moment romantic. Both seem perfect, but things are not always what they seem. My Girlfriend's Boyfriend is a fun romance that blends warm sincerity with fresh storytelling

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mr. Gompers' Labor Day Quote

· I was looking up the history of Labor day and why we celebrate it, and I came across this quote by the head of the American Federation of Labor named Samuel Gompers. (Isn't that a great name?)

In 1898, he said that Labor Day is "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."

Isn’t that beautiful? I thought it was quite poetic actually. For me, Labor Day means a wonderful day spent with my family and one last hurrah for the summer season. So, in other words, a family party! Woohoo!

(I don't know if that's what Mr. Gompers had in mind exactly, but I think maybe I'll fit our celebration in with how he saw it by laying down my tools of labor and touching shoulders with my loved ones and feeling stronger for it. Or maybe we could discuss our rights and wrongs. I'm sure the kids wouldn't mind that since we've had a lot of discussion about bedtimes lately and how old you have to be to stay up. Not to mention how horrible it is to have assigned chores when NO ONE ELSE does anywhere in the entire world. Yep, the meanest parents in the world live at our house apparently.)

(Actually, come to think of it, maybe I won't mention Mr. Gomper's quote.)

Anyway, I am very grateful to have a job that I love, a family I adore, and to live in a country where innovation is still rewarded, and where we can still feel protected because of the inalienable rights that we have been given. And no matter what you are doing today, I hope you are spending it just how you want to.

Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sample Sunday--First Chapter of Through Love's Trials

Prologue
Copyright 2011

Prologue

“Paul, would you come into my office, please?” Edward Carrington said loudly as he motioned to the junior partner walking down the hall.

Paul stopped, a little dance of nerves going up his spine. Why would the senior partner in the law firm want to talk to him? “Uh, sure Mr. Carrington,” Paul replied. He shifted the files under his arm and followed Mr. Carrington into his spacious office.

Waving Paul toward a seat, Edward sat down in his expensively upholstered leather chair behind a beautiful mahogany desk shined to perfection. “I bet you’re wondering what this is about?” he asked Paul. Paul nodded wordlessly at the question. “How long have you been at our firm now?”

“Just over a year, sir,” Paul replied, trying to sit comfortably and still keep hold of the files he was carrying.

“Have you enjoyed working here?” Carrington asked, leaning forward and steepling his fingers before peering over them at Paul.

“Yes, sir, the firm of Carrington, Stone and Wells was my first choice out of law school.”

“You did very well in law school,” Mr. Carrington stated with a smile. “I looked over your file. And you’ve done very well here making a reputation for yourself as a defense attorney that we can count on to win.” Carrington leveled his gaze at Paul. “Do you like to win, Paul?”

Paul smiled. “Yes, sir.”

“What do you know about Vicente DiChesney?” he asked, watching Paul carefully from over the top of his glasses.

Paul swallowed. Was this a test? “Well, Mr. DiChesney is being charged with embezzlement and fraud, I believe. There are some rumors that he’s tied to the mob.”

“Do you believe those rumors?” Mr. Carrington asked pointedly.

Paul shifted the files on his lap. He sensed that this answer was very important. “Mr. Carrington, I am a criminal defense attorney. My client’s innocence or guilt will be determined by a jury of his peers and my job is to present the facts as my client instructs me--not to judge him.” He leaned back in his chair, meeting the senior partner’s eyes head on.

Those eyes stared back at him from behind the small glasses he wore. “Well done, son.” He pulled a file out from the top drawer of his desk, with a small white envelope on top. “I want to you take over the DiChesney file. I’ll second chair you for this trial, but I’m looking forward to a long and happy arrangement with Vicente DiChesney and I think you are the man to help this firm achieve the uh, closeness we want with this client.” He fingered the white envelope on top of the file. “It comes with a substantial raise and shot at being a full partner.”

Paul took a deep breath. He opened the envelope and the six figure number made his eyes swim. “Yes, sir,” was all he could manage.

Edward stood and Paul stood with him. “You’d best get started with this right away. Preliminary hearing is in two days.” Paul took the slim file and put it on top of the files he had brought in with him. “Give those other cases to another junior partner,” he said, putting his arm around Paul. “You won’t have time for them now with your new position.”

Paul nodded as said goodbye to Mr. Carrington and turned down the hall toward his own small office. His mind was racing. He couldn’t wait to tell Emma. She would be so proud of him! He sat down at his desk and reached for the phone, then realized she wouldn’t be home from work yet. He tapped the phone, really wishing he could talk to her, but instead of picking up the receiver he picked up the DiChesney folder. He had to start prepping right away, but since tonight was an important night he didn’t want to spend it all at work. It was their first wedding anniversary and they had plans for the evening. I’ll do what I can and go home. I’ll tell Emma my news then as an anniversary gift, he thought happily. She’ll be so excited. We can buy all the things we’ve ever dreamed of.

~~~~~~~~~~


Emma rubbed her abdomen, looking disbelievingly at the pregnancy test that was a very bright blue. Shaking her head, a smile slowly spread across her face. A baby! Paul would be so surprised. She looked down at the little stick again, a frown replacing her smile. Surprise might not be the best way to describe Paul’s reaction.

She had thought Paul had wanted children as much as she, but after their marriage it became clear his focus was his career, and that he thought hers should be as well. Whenever she’d brought up having children, he’d always change the subject, or nuzzle her neck and tell her they were so good together, why would they want to ruin a good thing? It bothered her and had for a long time. She’d just never found the courage to take a stand. Looking at the positive pregnancy test, she knew the time had come. We’ll just have to deal with it, she thought, shrugging. Once he got used to the idea, he’d be as happy as she was.

Emma looked at the clock, wondering how she would deliver the news. Luckily, she had an hour before he got home to think of something. She changed out of her skirt and put on jeans, determined to make his favorite dinner—chicken cordon bleu. After a wonderful dinner she’d just tell him he was going to be a father.

As she walked toward the hall she passed the full-length mirror on their closet door. Unable to resist, she stopped and pulled her shirt tight over her still flat belly. Not for long, she thought, the happiness coursing through her. All her fantasies of being a mother bubbled to the surface. Paul will be happy, she told herself. How could he not be?

Thinking of his mischievous smile before he left this morning, Emma knew he had something wonderful planned for their anniversary, but she doubted he could top the gift of a child. Emma laughed nervously to herself. It will be okay. We love each other and we’ll share that love with a child. But just in case, she hurried to her cupboards to get started on the chicken cordon bleu.

~~~~~~~~~


Paul James glanced at his watch, then ran his hands through his hair. He’d been going over the DiChesney file for the last two hours, and he was beginning to get a headache. The state had some airtight evidence on DiChesney that was going to be hard to rebut. It’ll be a difficult case, but I will win it, Paul thought fiercely. Even Carrington sees my talent. He tapped his pencil on his cheek, making a mental checklist for himself of everything to be done before the hearing in two days. Hopefully we get a sympathetic judge. He jotted down a note to himself to check on that tomorrow bright and early. For now, though, he needed to go home. Today had turned out to be an incredible day both personally and professionally and he felt like celebrating with his wife.

As he shut down his computer, he went over his preliminary game plan one more time, knowing this case could make his career. With everything seemingly in place, he put the file folder in his locked drawer, and stood to put on his suit jacket. He slid his arms in, enjoying the feel of the Italian cut and expensive fabric. He loved this suit. Feeling for the jeweler’s case in the jacket pocket, he smiled to himself. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell Emma about his raise and to give her the diamond necklace nestled there in the pocket. It felt good that he was able to give her nice things, but now the sky would be the limit. With this raise they’d soon be able to take that trip to France she’d been dreaming about.

Paul grabbed his briefcase and locked his office door behind him. His steps quickened as he strode toward the exit. Suddenly he couldn’t wait another moment to be with Emma. He jangled his car keys.

“’Night, Steven,” he called as he walked by the man behind the security desk.

“’Night, Paul,” he returned. “Going home for dinner today? That’s a first for you I think.”

“Yeah.” He smiled, feeling sheepish. “It’s our first anniversary. And I got a big raise today.”

“Congratulations,” Steven called to Paul’s retreating back.

“Thanks.”

Paul waved as he walked through the parking lot of the law firm, whistling as he went. Tonight he would take Emma to her favorite Italian restaurant and give her the necklace. He tapped his suit jacket pocket one more time to reassure himself it was still there. He’d just been able to pick it up this morning from the jeweler’s. The string of diamonds had caught his eye and when he’d looked closer he could see it made the shape of a delicate heart and hung on a thin gold chain. It was beautiful, and he could imagine it nestled at Emma’s throat, catching the eye of everyone in the room.

He fished his keys out of his pocket and climbed into his car, starting the engine quickly to get the heater going. Arizona may be known for its warmth, he thought, but it can get chilly. He waited a few moments for his little car to warm up before easing out of the parking stall. That was another thing they would be able to afford now, a new car for both of them, he thought. Paul turned on the radio and a love song crooned from the speakers. Smiling, he thought of Emma. Her long brown hair, her bright smile, her thin waist and long legs. She was the perfect package.

Traffic was light and before long he pulled up in front of their home in Mesa. He walked through the front door and dropped his keys on the hall table. “Em, I’m home,” he called.

She came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “Hi, honey,” she said, offering her face to him for a kiss.

“You don’t look like you’re ready to go. I have reservations at Cucci’s tonight.” He followed her back into the kitchen. “Is that chicken cordon bleu I smell?”

She smiled. “Yes, I thought we’d eat in tonight.”

He turned her around and swept her into his arms. “What’s going on? Am I missing something here?”

Emma just smiled, running her free hand up his neck and curling her fingers into his hair. “I have a surprise for you.”

Paul bent his head and softly brushed her lips with his. “Me, too.” He kissed her again. “You’re going to be so happy.”

She broke away from the embrace, pointing toward the table. “Everything’s ready, so let’s sit down.”

Just then the phone rang and Emma went into the kitchen to get it. Paul sat down at the oak table they’d recently bought, now laden with food and candles. He poured himself a glass of wine, anxious to see the smile on Emma’s face when he gave her the necklace. He sipped his wine as he watched her pace back and forth. After a few minutes she came into the dining room and set down the last dish. The candlelight fairly danced in Emma’s eyes. “You are positively glowing tonight, sweetheart.”

A shadow passed Emma’s face before she smiled. “Thank you.”

“Who was on the phone?”

“It was my dad,” she said. “He was in Africa and finally got a connection to check in with me. It’s been so hard for him ever since Mom died. He’s thrown himself into his job and barely comes up for air.” Her voice got really soft and Paul leaned forward to catch her words. “It only makes it worse since his job is so dangerous.”

Paul put down his wine glass and came around the table to put his arm around her. “Well, at least he checks in with you regularly.” He smiled down at her. “Maybe this will help get that beautiful smile back on your face. I was going to wait, but I’ve wanted to give this to you all day.” He pulled the velvet box from his pocket, flipping open the lid.

Emma gasped, the diamonds giving off a prism of color in the candlelight. “Paul, it’s so beautiful,” she breathed. “How can we ever afford something like this?”

“I got a raise today,” he announced proudly. “A big one. Mr. Carrington gave me control of a very important case and he said I have a shot at being a full partner. We can afford a lot more things . . . such as Paris.” He grinned like a little boy on Christmas morning as he placed the box on the table and grabbed both her hands. “Let’s go to France. Let’s make our plans for a trip around the world.” He laughed. “Hey, let’s buy a yacht and cruise the seas, let’s celebrate!”

Emma’s face fell, her grip tightening on his hands. “I’m so proud of you, honey. But I’ve got an anniversary gift for you myself.” She pulled his hands toward her stomach, her eyes starting to glisten with tears. “I’m going to have a baby,” she said, softly, her voice trembling. “You’re going to be a father.”

The smile on Paul’s face died and his jaw seemed to go slack as if he couldn’t quite understand what she’d just said. Paul pulled his hands away from her body as though he’d been burned by the mere touch of it. “You’re kidding, right?” He sat down heavily in his chair. “You can’t be serious. We’re always careful.” Unable to sit still, he began to pace, then stopped to look at her. “You can’t possibly be happy about this.”

Emma stared at her toes, her expression wary. “Yes, I am very happy about this.”

He sighed, watching Emma as she reflexively covered her middle and sat down. Furrowing his brow, he kneeled in front of her, carefully choosing his next words. “Em, how can we achieve all our goals and dreams if we’re tied down to a kid? Do you really want to be waking up all night to a screaming kid? Kids are messy, dirty, and very needy. You’re responsible for another person. Just like your dad. He feels responsible to let you know he’s okay instead of just doing his job.” He stroked her hand. “What would we do with it while you’re working? Childcare is expensive.”

Emma extricated her hand and stroked his cheek, seeing a positive ray of hope that he was thinking about childcare. “You just said you got a raise.”

Paul stood again. “But not to use on some ungrateful kid who will do nothing but cause us heartache, then turn around and say what horrible parents we were!”

“Not all children are like that,” Emma said firmly. “And you will be a great father.”

Paul looked up at her, his eyes hard. “I don’t want to be a father, Emma. I thought that once you got settled in your career you would give up this ridiculous idea of being parents. We have a great thing going, just the two of us.” He stood and pulled her up beside him. “Why would I want to share your attention?” He tried to nuzzle her neck, his hands caressing her waist. “Besides once you have a baby your body will never be the same. And it’s perfect.” She stilled his wandering hand and pulled away.

“Try to understand, Paul. Please. I want this child. It was created in love, it’s a miracle it even happened. I want to be a mother,” she said, desperate to make him understand. “I’m sure once you get over the shock, you’ll see. This is a good thing.”

Paul stood before her, his back stiff, his eyes boring into hers. “If you insist on keeping this kid, then you’ll be a single parent.”

Emma swayed and for a moment, he thought she might faint. No sympathy, he told himself. Make her see reason.

“You can’t mean that,” she whispered. “You’d throw away our marriage?”

“I mean every word. I do not want a child. Em, you know what growing up was like for me. I always took second place to my parents’ careers. I swore to myself I wouldn’t put any kid through that kind of hell, wondering if they’re important, having to compete with clients and meetings,” his look was hard, unyielding. “I have everything I could ever want–a beautiful wife, a great career, and that’s all I want. I don’t want children. I can’t make that any more clear.” He strode toward the hall, picking up his jacket.

Emma trailed behind him, her expression one of shock at the turn this had taken. Opening the front door he turned back to her. “I love you Emma. I promise you that I will be a faithful, good husband that will provide for your every need. I know I can make you happy. But I don’t want any kids slowing us down, it’s your choice.”

Emma sank to the floor, the tears stinging her eyes. “Don’t go,” she begged, reaching out for him, then clutching her abdomen. “What am I going to do?”

Paul’s jaw hardened. “Choose me, Emma.”

“I can’t,” she whispered, huddled on the floor.

“Just remember, you chose this for yourself,” Paul said, looking at her, wishing she would see that he wanted what was best for them. When she didn’t move, he shook his head, slamming the door as he walked away.