Friday, March 30, 2012

First Page Friday

Aaaaand we're back. It's Friday. And you know what that means. Quality time with some of the best editors in the country!

This one is a little long, but I loved getting Angela's perspective on a myriad of issues that authors can sometimes face in their writing. It's one worth reading twice!

If you would like to have your first page critiqued, just send your double-spaced, 12pt. font entry to

On to today's submission!

The Entry
Out of the Water

by Deniz Bevan

She hurtled down the corridor, the slap of footsteps close behind. Her feet turned and her body followed, her thoughts a waterfall of words. Get away, get away, get away.

One flight, two flights. Gasping for air, she reached a long corridor lined with high windows. A haze of early morning light gave the stone walls a forbidding aspect, as though they might move inward to trap her.

The smell of sizzling garlic led her to the kitchen and a pot bubbling over an open fire. A man in an apron rolled out dough at the table. He was a stranger; not one of the inquisitors who’d removed her from her uncle Aram’s house nor yet de Armas, the officer who’d questioned her last night.

Behind him, a door stood open to the gardens.

She grabbed a poker as she skidded past. The man called out, lunging around the table, and she hooked the poker to the pot’s rim and yanked, jumping back before the hot liquid could splash on her. He yelped as broth splattered across his arms. The rolling pin clattered to the floor.

Out through the door and across the herb garden, a crashing and banging coming from behind as the man followed her. She was halfway to the gate when a second man stood up among the mint, a fistful of green leaves in his hand. She caught one glimpse of his gaping mouth and kept running, the strong scent of trampled dill rising up around her.

Flecks of mud flew up against her legs as she ran on and on, towards the forest at the edge of the field, clutching a stitch in her side, not stopping or looking behind. Bursting into the shelter of the branches, she tramped through the undergrowth, slipping and sliding on pine needles, ears pricked to their utmost, straining for the sound of pursuit above her own thrashing and of a river up ahead.

She sprang out of the tree line and crashed into another man.

“¡Cuidado!” A deep voice cried in her ear. A heavy clasp on her arm pulled her back from a swirl of foamy water.

“Let me go!” she hissed, and wrenched aside, snagging her sleeve on a branch.

He dropped her arm. “Disculpe me, Señorita.” Excuse me.

She could not return, nor cross the river, and this man’s height and broad shoulders blocked the only remaining direction she could take. Had she run so far, only to collapse from hunger at his feet?

Angela's Critique

Before we begin today, I'd like to thank one of my assisting editors, Heidi Brockbank, for helping put these reviews together. She is wonderful.

This one is a little long, but that’s a good thing because it means the author gave us a lot of great stuff to analyze and discuss.


This is a nice opening with something at stake right away. I like the second sentence – it’s nice writing. Maybe I’d clarify the connection between the second and third sentence with an em dash or even ellipses for an emotional effect, but the two lines have a nice auditory effect. The strong writing in the opening of this suspense scene gives it a unique flavor and prevents it from feeling like the cliché opening of someone in danger.

Mystery Characters

One problem is that the POV character isn’t super developed. The potential tension is good, but mere curiosity is all that’s holding me hooked for the first few paragraphs. You want the reader to actually feel an emotional connection to the character pretty fast, so what’s at stake for the character is also vicariously at stake for me as the reader. Is there a reason we don’t get her name? My recommendation would be to give her name in the first sentence. A quick survey of a couple dozen books from my bookshelf had the main character being tagged with a name, generally within the first sentence or paragraph, all within the first page.

When you don’t give a name to a character, it can unintentionally indicate that they aren’t a main character. Perhaps, the reader thinks, they are going to be killed off in the first scene, and someone else is going to be the main character? That’s one reason you occasionally find stories opening with an unnamed character in the action. But even in that situation, a short-lived character with a name carries more emotional impact when they are murdered than an anonymous “he” or “she.”

If you are aiming to increase the mystery and tension, withholding a name isn’t the way to go. If she is a main character, the reader is going to find out shortly, so there is really no long-term benefit of withholding a character’s name, and always the possibility that you lose the reader’s interest. After all, one of the first things we do when we meet a new person is to find out what their name is. Mentally, we tend to relate to characters in a story the way we do to people in real life – one of the reasons that fiction has the capacity to be so powerful and, sometimes, even life-changing. So give “her” a name from the start. An added bonus: if you are trying to establish a certain culture or time period, the character’s name can help with that. So if this is the era of the Spanish Inquisition, and her name is Inez or Catalina, it provides one more detail to the image the reader is compiling in their mind.

In addition to giving her a name, could you give us a little more of her unique POV while she’s running—sort of like the nice writing in the first few lines? It’s helpful that you mention the inquisitors in the third paragraph, but it’s not quite enough to give us a clear picture of the setting. If you can ground the characters in a clear setting and help us make an emotional connection to them right off the bat, you’ll have an even stronger hook—which is important these days given how many people are competing for agents or readers. Fresh voice is key, and voice in this case will need to come from the POV character. For instance, what type of inquisitors are we talking about? Is this THE Spanish inquisition, and if so, can you subtly work in a hint about that – what religion is she or what ideas landed her in this predicament or…who betrayed her to them and why? Give us something to more clearly hint that we’re looking at a particular time period.

Ready, set, action – Helping the reader visualize the action

She grabbed a poker as she skidded past. The man called out, lunging around the table, and she hooked the poker to the pot’s rim and yanked, jumping back before the hot liquid could splash on her. He yelped as broth splattered across his arms. The rolling pin clattered to the floor. The layout of this scene is slightly unclear—is she jumping forward past it on her way out the door? I would maybe just have her hear him yelp as she leaves—seeing the yelp and the rolling pin seems to slow down the scene as if she’s standing there watching rather than running past. Perhaps give her a goal as she does this, so we understand her motive is to slow her pursuer.

Out through the door and across the herb garden, a crashing and banging coming from behind as the man followed her. Once again, having a nameless character creates vagueness. “The man” isn’t very intimidating. Who is following her so we can be afraid with her? Her torturer? The guard who was taking advantage of her and accidentally allowed her to escape? A priest who had never known the love of the God he accused her of blaspheming? Some specifics would help us understand her and the context in a way that makes this opening more compelling and unique.

Bursting into the shelter of the branches, she tramped through the undergrowth, slipping and sliding on pine needles, ears pricked to their utmost, straining for the sound of pursuit above her own thrashing and that of a river up ahead. Replacing “that” with a concrete word makes this flow better: “straining for the sound of pursuit above her own thrashing and the crash of a river up ahead.” Sometimes the smallest things make all the difference in our writing.

She sprang out of the tree line and crashed into another man. So you say she’s running toward a forest and runs into the “shelter” of branches. Now moments later, it seems like she’s running out of the forest—out of the tree line. I’ve never seen a forest that small. Explain or fix the scene? Clarify she was running in it a lot longer, or that it wasn’t a full forest but some copse of trees next to the river that cuts off her escape route.

A heavy clasp on her arm pulled her back from a swirl of foamy water. Is there a cliff or a steep bank she didn’t see? You’ll want to clarify this so the reader doesn’t get lost in the logistics of the flow of action.

She could not return, nor cross the river. Why can’t she cross? Is there a cliff or bluff that she can’t descend? Is the river too wild and rapid? She can’t swim? She seems desperate to escape, even desperate enough to try and cross a dangerous river, so help the reader understand what prevents her from this course of action.

When to Translate

“¡Cuidado!” A deep voice cried in her ear. A heavy clasp on her arm pulled her back from a swirl of foamy water.
“Let me go!” she hissed, and wrenched aside, snagging her sleeve on a branch.
He dropped her arm. “Disculpe me, Señorita.” Excuse me.

Is she speaking in English or Spanish? Because having her speak in English but the man in Spanish automatically sets them up as being different—different cultures or worlds. You don’t want to do that if Spanish is her native tongue. If you just want to give it a little Spanish flair and the rest of the book will be in English for the reader but is supposed to be a Spanish-speaking world, go ahead and have her speak in Spanish first, followed with a context explanation of “she demanded, trying to force him to let go.” Then gently merge the reader into the fact that we’re going to get their world from a translation viewpoint. Although technically, if this is a Spanish-speaking culture and she’s part of it, there is no need to actually have anyone speaking Spanish. There are plenty of other places to establish the setting. Most often, you would use language in this manner to indicate a difference between the languages/cultures of the main characters. If you want to keep a few words for embellishment, try to stick with well-known phrases that a majority of readers would understand.

Sometimes a story makes more extensive use of another language, and providing the translation as you did is a standard way of handling it. (Though I would suggest not using this method, as it is not the most subtle/skilled way of cluing in the reader—see details on why below.) However, if you are only using a limited amount of Spanish to accentuate the setting, you’ll want to subtly disguise explaining to the reader what someone is saying in a foreign language. Does she understand him? If so, then the next line should be her realizing that his tone is polite, conciliatory, apologizing. That will let the reader know what’s going on. They don’t need to know the exact words. In this case, it’s better to have a decent hint from context than to use Spanish and then relay it in English. Better to just say, ‘he apologized in Spanish’ than to use both. Providing an exact translation right after the Spanish can be awkward and defeats the point of having Spanish at all—which is to give the scene the flavor of realism, as if we’re really watching it happen. Throwing in the English pulls us right out of the imaginative place we’re in, which also helps dampen the effect of the suspense since that’s a real-time emotion.

Speaking of emotion, consider this sentence: Had she run so far, only to collapse from hunger at his feet? This emotion or physical sensation (hunger) sort of comes from nowhere. You need to hint at it earlier—that the energy she’s drawing from is hard to get due to the lack of food. Also, immediately precede the line with something like “even as she struggled to pull back, she felt the strength drain from her muscles, her reserves depleted. She could not fight him nor escape…” (Though you definitely don’t want to use the word “nor” more than once within two pages.)

Finally, be frugal about using old-fashioned sounding language (such as “nor”). Even if you are striving for a different time period, you can imagine your story as a translation, and your job as translator is to convey your story in the language that your audience best understands or relates to. An occasional use of an archaic expression (especially in dialogue) does lend flavor and set the scene, but overuse makes it hard for the reader to slip into the story, because each time they are confronted with unusual word usage, it interrupts the flow of the story for just a moment. (Using language from the period is far superior to overly modernizing the language however, like using terms, phrases, or viewpoints that were not in use in the time period.)


You’ve got a good opening with lots of potential; you’ve shown something at stake and have hooked the reader with curiosity, but to continue to keep us hooked, ground us in her identity, why she’s running, and who is after her, so the chase doesn’t get old or fail to keep our attention. Remember, you want initial curiosity to turn into concern pretty quickly, and for that to happen, the reader has to know enough about a character and situation to feel empathy.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Meridian Magazine Published My Book Review!

I am so excited today because Meridian Magazine published my review of Jennie Hansen's new book, Heirs of Southbridge. Woohoo!

Now some of you might say, oh, pshaw, Julie, you're already a published author, why would a magazine article be that big of a deal to you?

And I would say, because this is Meridian Magazine! Meridian! One of the biggest LDS online publications. And honestly, anytime I'm published, whether in a book or a magazine, or wherever, I get that giddy feeling and I want to call all my friends to tell them so we can celebrate together.

So consider yourself called.

I know you all probably want to read this masterpiece yourself, with your very own eyes, so you should go here then come back to the blog and we'll break out the celebratory chocolate. If it's not too early for you of course. (If it is, I'll just sneakily eat mine until you're ready.)

Seriously, though, I'd like to thank Meridian Magazine for publishing my review and Jennie Hansen and Covenant Communications for giving me such a great book to review. It was a wonderful experience!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

So I stumbled in the door from critique group last night (or this morning?) just after midnight. For some reason, whenever I'm together with those ladies, the time just flies by and it never feels like we've been there all that long, and then when I look at the clock I think, boy I'm going to pay for this tomorrow. Yet, even though I have to get up early with the kids and I feel like a walking zombie, critique group is totally worth it in the laughs alone. (Fun fact for you: because of crit group I now know that when I read my book aloud, I laugh a lot in all the wrong places. I know, weird!)

Last night we eviscerated my chapters, my hero, and my plot. However, once the guts were on the table, we picked over them and figured out how we could put it all back together to make one working whole. That's why constructive criticism is so valuable because it helps me see where my plot is twisted and bleeding and helps me fix it. I know that my story will be stronger for it, even if the initial gut-ripping can hurt. (Is that too gory of an analogy? Sorry.)

I was also having difficult in finishing my finale scene. I'd rewritten it so many times that now it didn't have any direction and just seemed sort of lame. But after brainstorming and analyzing with my crit group, I am excited to get to it today. Yay for explosions and gunfights and utter mayhem! (Did I just give it all away? Sorry.)

So, while my word count was only 2400 words this week, I am ever so close to the final read-through of this puppy and then on to the next step.

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Castle, You're Killing Me. KILLING ME!

Last night was a new Castle and it finally FINALLY gave us some movement on the relationship front. It's what I've been waiting for all season.

But let's start from the beginning.

We have a reporter covering a sort of Occupy Wall Street protest when suddenly a bomb goes off behind her. People are killed, dozens injured, it's horrible. (And oddly, they kept showing the bodies. Castle isn't really known for doing that.) The FBI takes over the investigation and our fearless detectives are doing the fringe/support work. They interview a bunch of people and you just know the bomber is one of the "Waldos among Waldos" as Castle puts it.

But as they peel back the layers of the case, both Castle and Beckett are also thinking about how most of the victims were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Castle especially seems to be thinking about how "tomorrow isn't guaranteed." He talks to his mom (I love Martha/Castle scenes. They play them so well) and she tells him that maybe it's time to tell Beckett how he feels. Castle takes her words to heart and goes to tell Beckett, but of course they are interrupted. The case rolls on and we're still trying to figure out who the bomber is---

And then the other shoe drops.

Beckett is interrogating a suspect and unbeknownst to her, Castle is watching on the other side of the glass. She tells that suspect he can't claim a trauma amnesia from the bombing because when she was shot she remembered every moment.

Uh oh.

She'd told Castle she didn't remember anything, including his declaration of I love you. The look on his face is so real. Hurt, anger, disbelief. Nathan Fillion is amazing at facial expressions, I'll tell you that.

Castle goes with his mom to a bomb memorial and I think this is a powerful scene because Castle is mad and hurt and he's trying to figure out how to deal with this. The one line, "I was willing to wait," hurt my heart because he was. He was willing to wait for Beckett to get her act together, but apparently Beckett has known all this time and didn't feel the same way. His mother tells him to move on, that he can't work next to her knowing she doesn't love him back (frankly I don't know how his mother restrains herself from going down to that precinct and ripping Beckett's hair out. Mother bear Martha would have been awesome to watch!) but he thinks he can do it. So he goes back to the station.

The only thing I was hoping for was that Castle would call Kate out on this and give her a chance to explain. Of course he doesn't, he goes the passive-aggressive route throwing out little jabs "silence is cowardly" stuff. Beckett just looks confused. And then Castle's kicked puppy look in the elevator, *sigh* hasn't this poor man put himself and his heart on the line for Beckett just one too many times? I'm sort of starting to hate how she strings him along.

So, while it wasn't exactly great movement in the relationship, at least is was something more than the brother/sister vibe we've gotten since the bank robbery episode. Although since there's only five or six new episodes before the season finale I have a sneaking suspicion the writers aren't going to handle this well and leave their fans more frustrated with this season than they already are. (But I'd be happy to see them prove me wrong.)

(Oh, and the bomber ended up being someone who wasn't even on my radar, so kudos to the writers on that aspect of last night.)

The previews for next week look awesome with Castle going back to his playboy ways and Beckett finally realizing that hey, maybe she shouldn't have strung him along for almost an entire year (sort of like how the fans are feeling? Is that bad to say?) I guess we'll see how it goes since previews are notoriously misleading.

But we've taken a step forward (or a step backward depending on how you look at it). Castle is hurt (again) and Beckett is unaware that she's hurt him (again). It seems like we've been here before. So, please, writers, don't screw this up. You're killing the tension between Beckett and Castle, you're killing the fans with the made up ways to keep them apart, and yet, even with all that said, Nathan Fillion is KILLING ME with his spot-on acting, facial expressions, and the way he just IS Castle. I totally buy him and all the Castle angst he has. Love him. (And we even hail from the same hometown in Canada. So, that's special, right?)

Who's your favorite TV couple? Do you like the angst TV shows seem to always heap upon their popular couples?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review Caller ID

I know I usually do book reviews on Tuesdays, but I'm part of Rachelle Christensen's blog tour for her new book, Caller ID, and somehow I got scheduled for a Monday. So I apologize and hope you will bear with me in the change of plans.

Rachelle Christensen is a fairly new author since her first book, Wrong Number really burst onto the suspense scene two years ago. Rachelle had a way of ratcheting up the tension a little higher with each page in that book and I really enjoyed the sprint to the final scene. I couldn't seem to read Wrong Number fast enough, so I was pretty excited to get my hands on her new book, Caller ID.

In Caller ID we meet Courtney Beckham, a rich girl who is out for a run with her boyfriend. We get hints that she's more than just a pretty face, and she tells herself she's not spoiled, but in the first few chapters I have to admit I had a hard time liking her. She seemed like a player (has a boyfriend while kissing someone else, although there is some hinting that she's suffered some trauma in the past that makes her act this way) and more often than not she acted so childish I couldn't really identify with her. I kept plugging along, however, and I'm definitely glad I did.

After disobeying her father, Courtney stumbles onto something she shouldn't have and ends up kidnapped. Beaten, bruised, and with a kidnapper who seems to enjoy her pain, Courtney is left with only her wits to help her escape. There were times when I questioned her actions and the turn of events, but by mid-book I was hooked and felt the familiar pull of action that Christensen had displayed in her previous book. From the middle to the end was definitely a roller-coaster ride as the reader is right there with Courtney experiencing the myriad emotions of someone who knows a secret she shouldn't while trying to stay alive.

I have to say I enjoyed the quirks of our FBI hero Jason Edwards---the kind of guy who never gives up and never surrenders. (I love you Galaxy Quest for that quote alone.) I liked the interplay between Courtney and Jason and thought the undercurrents between them were subtle and well done. The suspense is definitely the strong suit in this novel, but the dash of romance and the twists the case takes really make the ending worth the wait and earns this book a place on the keeper shelf.

Here is the back copy:

When twenty-three-year-old Courtney Beckham is abducted near her home, the search turns up more than just a kidnapping crime. FBI agent Jason Edwards investigates the ten-million-dollar ransom and stumbles upon something he wasn't meant to find. When Courtney catches a glimpse of the caller ID in her kidnapper's home, what she sees turns her world upside down.

Want a New Camcorder? You Can Win One is Rachelle's Contest!

To celebrate the release of CALLER ID, Rachelle J. Christensen, is hosting a contest for a new Ultra Flip Video Camcorder (4GB memory, Records 120 minutes Value $149.99) and other great prizes. There are multiple ways to enter between now and April 14, 2012. Winners will be announced and notified April 16, 2012.

For additional ways to enter, go here to Rachelle's blog and click on the Contest tab.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Getting to Know A First Page Friday Editor

I thought it might be fun for us all to get to know the editors who help us every week. We'll start with Angela Eschler, our editor extraordinaire from Eschler Editing.

Angela, how did you get into editing? Did it always come naturally to you? 

I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I was very fortunate to discover an Editing for Publication class in college the semester before I graduated or I might be on the street begging even now; I had no plans for a career before that point. I guess I just hoped I could find a job where I got paid to use my reading or writing skills. It sounds crazy, but I honestly had never even thought of what editors do or if I could get a job like that. I just wanted to read or write. All of my jobs in college (once I got out of washing dishes for the dorms) were in the writing lab, or as a TA grading papers, or working as a researcher for novelists. My dad kept warning me that I’d never get a real job as an English major, but there was nothing else I ever wanted to do besides read and analyze books and write about them. Even in high school it was my favorite thing to do. In fact, even before high school that’s all I wanted to do when I grew up—read and tell stories. When I was in fourth grade I wrote a novel about a girl from Wales who got kidnapped and time-traveled into ancient Egypt. I knew nothing about either of those places. I just knew I loved the adventure of finding out things about the unknown world. The Chronicles of Narnia, I think, are what put me on the path to being an English major. My parents read those to my siblings and me over and over and then I read them myself a few times. I just knew I was destined to spend my life with books from that point on. After college it was just a matter of finding editing jobs until I was able to finagle my way into book editing.
Do you have any funny editing/author stories you could share?

Many hilarious and unspeakable things happened to me and my coworkers when I worked in- house for a publisher, but I’m not sure they are for public consumption.  I guess I can tell one of the more mild and nameless ones: Sometimes authors take rejections very personally when it’s just business—their book doesn’t fit the publisher’s needs, even if we agree their book was a worthy project. One day an author sent in a manuscript about the Deseret Alphabet, which (summarizing history very badly here) was a curious thing early Mormon pioneers came up with for several reasons: so all those foreign converts living together in the valley could learn to speak/write English more easily, to hide secrets from the enemies of the Church, to keep the enclave of Mormonism exclusive from the world, etc. (It had thirty-eight characters that matched the basic number of sounds in the English language.) Anyway, an author sent in a little book on the topic, and while it is a very interesting subject, it’s an extremely niche topic and the publisher didn’t think we could sell enough copies of the book to make up for production costs. The author received a rejection to this effect, and I guess was either really mad about it, or was playing a prank on us, but they replied to the rejection with a threat—written in the Deseret Alphabet. Though we were all working insane hours and had deadlines coming out our ears, we couldn’t let the thing go. So we went to the effort to find an expert in the Deseret Alphabet and had the letter interpreted and everything. I don’t even remember what the threat said—something about ruing the day we’d rejected the manuscript probably (that’s usually what authors said when we got responses to rejections). But it was a pretty funny way to get revenge, as I’m sure the budget hours we didn’t spend producing the book went into trying to translate the threat! (If the publisher is reading this, I’m sure we followed up on this during our lunch breaks…)

You also write books. Can you tell us about your projects and what you're currently working on now?

So far I’ve written nonfiction gift books, mostly for the women’s inspirational category for the LDS market. I did write a nonfiction book on building a “green” home several years ago (sort of a group project), but it was being typeset right when the economy crashed and many publishers stopped all production or went out of business at that time. So it never made it to production. My current books on the market are Love Letters of Joseph and Emma, and Christ’s Gifts to Women. Both are coffee table art books with inspirational prose. The talented Heather Moore is my co-author on Christ’s Gifts to Women, and you can listen to us talking about the project on various sites. Click here to watch the video. In it we look at the women who were friends and associates of Christ during the Meridian of time, and what He taught them personally about their worth and potential and of His love and mercy for them; and then it compares those experiences to the same personalized messages Christ is trying to give us today if we will slow down enough to listen. It’s a very meaningful book for me personally, as the study that went into the project really helped me work through some difficult and ever ongoing trials and helped me come to terms with some damaging lies I believed about myself and my mistakes and potential.

After this project I want to do a book about money as a spiritual principle, and then a book I’ve half finished on how women can relax, laugh more, and find peace through daily mini vacations. Then maybe I’ll tackle weight loss (I’ll leave you hanging as to whether I mean literally or literarily).
What would your top three pieces of advice be for a writer?

--Research and understand the publishing business and the market you are writing for well before finishing your book (if your goal is to be traditionally published or sell your work).

--Be ready to put in some serious hours learning how to write and studying the craft of writing and how to appeal to particular markets with your writing—I’m talking hundreds and hundreds of hours, sort of like getting a degree in a topic when you go to college (and you better love writing and not just be in it to make money, because it usually takes years to be a good enough writer that you make sufficient money to justify your time investment).

--Be patient. Writing and being published are definitely things God put on the earth to force us to learn patience and appreciate the process of time, and through which to learn that you can’t run faster than you have strength or means. You have to get through this career the same way you have to get through everything in life that doesn’t just fall prettily into your lap ready to make you a millionaire.

It’s like I said—you have to love it. If you can do those things above, and just love the growing process and the field, you’ll eventually be published and have a part-time career or hobby that’s lots of fun and that brings in new friends and adventures (and tax writeoffs).

Is there something you think writers should always avoid in their work?

Lots of exclamation points. A couple per chapter might be the max. It has the unfortunate effect of making characters (or the author) seem like they are yelling at each other and at the reader.

Other than that, you can easily Google articles editors and agents have written on this topic—many will agree never to start your story with a dream, an alarm going off, etc. (Writer’s Digest magazine has several of these articles available.) I don’t personally believe in rules, I just believe in principles of good writing and understanding good writing and your market—understanding why these gatekeepers don’t want to read another story that starts with those things.

You can break any rule if you know what you’re doing and why. The key is to knowing those two things. The problem with many writers that can’t seem to get a break is that they don’t know things they should—information on their genre or the agent they’ve submitted to (or whatnot) that is readily available via a simple Internet search or by reading a few good books on their topic and/or going to writing conferences and reading blogs, etc.

Mistakes relating to the craft of writing can be avoided only by doing LOTS of writing within the context of studying good writing and WHY it is good writing. Please get involved in the writing community via conferences, the blogosphere, writing groups, classes, etc., and read books on good writing by authors/editors who have been in the business for a long time. If you don’t know where to start, there are a ton of good resources for all of those areas on my website—available for free and at the click of your mouse. (

If you weren't a writer or an editor, what would you be?

Personality profiling says I could be a psychologist/therapist. But I have a lot of friends who are therapists, and I think that would burn me out after a while. I don’t know—over the years it gets harder and harder to hear all the sad, tough things in life. I want to move to Disneyland or something. Maybe that’s why I like escaping into books. 

Other jobs might have come from other passions, some of which are body/brain science, exercise and the outdoors, holistic health, interior/exterior design, art history, psychology/behavioral economics, and adventures in child-rearing—though this last one might do me in before I make it to that great Disneyland in the sky.

What book is on your nightstand right now? Are you an avid reader? What's your favorite genre?

I never go anywhere without a book. I walked my dog, and now my dog and baby, with a book in hand (I tie the dog’s leash to my waist and try not to run into trees). When I can convince my husband to put something on the iPod for me (I’m technologically challenged), I’m less likely to come home with injuries.

On my nightstand/kitchen table/pantry/bathtub/office/car right now are: Night Circus (great fantastical/fantasy/speculative fiction), South of Superior (lovely literary fiction), How to Debt Proof Your Marriage (practical nonfiction), Nourishing Traditions (a cookbook on the health benefits of ancient food preparations), several raw food “cook”books, several books on the history or doctrine of the LDS church or the gospel of Christ, some books on yoga/meditation/the chakras, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (epic-battle Romeo and Juliet speculative fiction with scrumptious writing), several books on behavioral economics, some on brain or body science, Tuesdays at the Castle (great middle grade fiction by our talented and local Jessica Day George), The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (a delightful historical mystery from the viewpoint of an 11-yr-old chemistry genius/sleuth), multiple offerings from the talented LDS authors in our area, and several fantastic manuscripts I’m editing for clients whose names will someday be up in lights!

Lastly, the genre question is REALLY hard for me. I love zillions of topics and writing styles. I really do love speculative fiction though—that visiting-other-worlds thing. I’d be reading my own published novel if only agents were looking for a book on Wales and ancient Egypt by a fourth-grade debut novelist….

Thanks so much, Angela! It's fun to see another side of you. We'll see you all next week when we wade back into the critiques.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Would Your Three Writer Wishes Be?

I wrote three blogs today but I deleted them all because they sucked. And now I'm sitting here eating semi-crunchy raisins (that are somehow molded into a giant raisin ball) with my son, singing "M-I-C, see ya real soon, K-E-Y Why? because I like you, M-O-U-S-E." That's the glamorous life of a writer, my friends. Crunchy raisins and Mickey Mouse Club.

But that got me thinking. If I could have a glamorous writer's life, what would it look like?

For me, the first thing would be to have at least two hours of uninterrupted writing time per day, not counting Saturday and Sunday. That would be awesome.

The second thing would be a personal chef to whip up tasty, yet nutritional meals and snacks for me and my family. And this chef would be happy all the time and never scold me about having snacks at my desk when I'm working.

The third thing would be to have a way to share my stories with every romantic suspense reader out there. I think it would be wonderful to have my book covers and info appear in the mind's eye of every man or woman who has ever leaned toward reading romantic suspense.

(A close third would be to have typing actually burn a lot of calories so I could say I exercised two hours a day and you know, would look like I did.)

What would your three writer wishes be?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

Well, I was going to have to post some dismal numbers again this week until my baby started throwing up at 4 a.m. After we'd gotten everything cleaned up the second time, I just couldn't go back to sleep. So guess what I did?

I got up and got some word count in!

So hooray for baby vomit! It has saved my word count. I officially wrote just under 3000 words since "the incident." Yay me!

How did you do this week? And do you ever get up in the middle of the night to write?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Monday Night TV and a Book Review: Banana Split

Monday nights are crammed with all sorts of awesome for me. Not only do we have my two favorite shows---Castle and Hawaii Five-O, but now we have Dancing with the Stars added to the mix. There were some pretty awesome dances last night, but I think I liked Gladys Knight's the best. Not because it was the best technically, but she had a lot of grace both on and off the dance floor. And dang, poor Melissa Gilbert got some harsh criticism. Yeah, she was a little stiff, but it's the first week. Makes me wonder if they aren't punishing Maks a bit for his outburst from last season. I guess we'll see.

Then there was Castle and I loved the mystery this week. For once, I didn't have the murderer called in the first twenty minutes. It was an awesome twist. Still no movement on the relationship front, but the mystery made up for it, and the previews for next week look pretty intense. Poor Castle. I hate it when he has the whipped puppy look in the elevator. Gets me every time.

Hawaii Five-O was ho-hum for me this week. I don't particularly like Steve's sister. She's selfish and silly and acts so childish it's unreal. Steve doesn't seem to know how to take her either, and I think, at least for me, that's about how the audience feels. How do we take this? The tension just wasn't there this week. Although I did like the surfing scenes and ate up the scenery. Dear Hawaii, I love you. Someday I will visit you. *le sigh*

I also read two books over the weekend. Both were equally awesome and I might review the other one on Thursday because I know you're going to want to read it, too. Today, though, I'd like to tell you about Banana Split by Josi Kilpack.

I think you all know that I am a big fan of Josi's culinary mysteries. Sadie Hoffmiller gets herself into more scrapes than any respectable busybody should (she's just helping!) but this time things are different. After her experience in the last book, this book opens with Sadie experiencing PTSD and unsure who she is anymore.

Banana Split was so different than any of the other books. At first I wasn't sure if I liked the new Sadie. Where she was previously strong, she was now weak. The relationships she'd relied on in the past weren't there anymore, and Sadie was so un-Sadie-like. But then I realized that this was author genius. Kilpack had taken our beloved character to the edge and pushed her over. It was up to the reader whether they would come along for the ride to see if Sadie could claw her way back or just let it all go.

Besides the sheer genius of remaking our heroine over and letting the readers see and experience all the warts and weaknesses, Kilpack sets the story in Hawaii. Yes, the very same vacation spot that I am dying to go to someday. Of course, that may have influenced my enjoyment of the book somewhat because the setting is so authentic AND the author includes recipes that are incredible. I'm especially interested in the Kalua pork. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Which leads me to the third stroke of genius---the cover. Here's a look at it:

How could you not look at that and be hungry with every glance? Genius I tell you.

So, with an un-Sadie, an incredible setting, and a dead body (the discovery of the body in the first chapter seriously creeped me out it was that well-written) what's a reader to do? Read on, my friends. This mystery has several twists and turns that keep you guessing to the very last chapter. (A part of me even wondered if the death wasn't really a death if you know what I mean.) I think Josi's mysteries are some of the best in the business and this one does not disappoint.

Here is the back copy:

Sadie Hoffmiller has survived eighteen months of nonstop adventures filled with murder, deceit, and danger. She could really use some rest—and maybe even some time to heal—relaxing in the tropical paradise of Kaua'i. However, palm trees and sunshine are not as effective a medication as Sadie had hoped. And when she finds herself entangled—literally—with a dead body, she is forced to face the compounding fears and anxieties that are making her life so difficult to live.

Her determination to stay out of danger and to focus on overcoming her anxieties soon takes a backseat when she meets eleven-year-old Charlie, the son of the woman whose body she discovered near Anahola Beach. Charlies has some questions of his own about what happened to his mother, and he is convinced that only Sadie can help him. If only Sadie were as confident in her abilities as Charlie is.

With the help of her best friend and a local social worker, Sadie dives into another mystery with the hope that, at the end, she'll be able to find the peace and closure that has eluded her.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Princess Within You---Is It Harmful?

I recently read an opinion article that little girls shouldn't be encouraged with so much princess stuff. If you've been to a little girl department of any store you can see what they're talking about---there are princess dress-up items, princess radios, phones, books, you name it. All you have to do is slap a Disney princess face on it and it's headed for the popular little girl toy lists.

The opinion in the article was that princess toys encourage princess "thinking" which hurts little girls because real-life doesn't work that way and it can be harmful to have privileged and entitled thinking nurtured at such a young age.

While I agreed with part of the opinion I thought it was too generalized, and frankly, since most little girls outgrow the princess thing by age five or so, it really was a moot point. I think that it is harmful to have entitled and privileged sorts of thinking that leads to selfish and spoiled behavior, but can you really pinpoint that on a little girl having a lot of princess toys? Personally, I like encouraging my daughter's imagination as we have princess tea parties while we wear tiaras and I have some wonderful memories of Spiderman (aka little brother) crashing the party.

It all comes down to parenting, in my opinion. Princess toys may or may not be a symptom of selfish behavior, but I don't think letting your daughter indulge in princess play is harmful unless it's taken too far. Limits are always needed. However, imagination in an era of mindless video games has it's merits, in my book.

What do you think? Can the inner princess be taken too far? Are princess toys harmful for a girl's emotional health?

Friday, March 16, 2012

First Page Friday

I am so grateful for all the submissions we've received in the past week. As you all know, they are critiqued in a first-come, first-served fashion, so be watching for yours!

I also want to thank everyone on this blog who has tried to cheer me up and wished me well over this past week of misery while I've been sick. I even had a blog reader send over a McDonald's chocolate shake! I have the best blog readers in the world. Thank you.

On to this week's submission!

The Entry

by Carol Ayer

I craned my neck to look up into the giant's face. “I'm really tired of this. I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna sell.”

The giant had no counter-argument. Neither did the beanstalk nor Jack himself.

I sighed. It was way past time to go home, and the late September sun was already setting in a picturesque manner behind Rapunzel's Castle, with brilliant reds and oranges blazing across the sky. If I'd been in a better mood, I might have stayed to enjoy the show.

On the drive home, I reviewed my circumstances. My storybook park was twenty thousand dollars in the red. If I didn't turn things around, I'd have to file for bankruptcy. The answer seemed clear. I should sell StoryWorld to the ThrillsLand conglomerate. Then I could go home, lock my door, and never come out. At the moment, an idea had never seemed so appealing. I knew it would be an unpopular decision for everyone but me, but I had no clue what else to do.

As often happened when I was feeling low, I began thinking about Jamie. Which led to missing him. Which led to crying. The tears came easily, the grief as familiar to me as the park I would soon sell. I finally had to pull over when I couldn't see through my tears.

I finally arrived home, too tired to even eat. I went directly to bed, still wearing my work clothes. I only removed my shoes.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

There are a lot of compelling elements on this first page. We meet a character facing imminent business failure and grieving over the loss of someone named Jamie. But we don't know who Jamie was, nor do we learn any identifying details about the narrator. Is this person male or female?

Most confusing to me was the opening. After rereading several times and giving it some thought, I concluded that the giant must be some kind of park attraction or statue. At first read, I wondered if the giant were a literal, living giant or perhaps a business executive. The first sentence needs to clarify somehow that the giant is inanimate. This minor tweak will solidify an opening that I find to be otherwise effective.

This first page does an excellent job of establishing what is at stake: The narrator must think fast or sell StoryWorld to an amusement park chain. I imagine this book will zero in on his/her effort's to save the park from ThrillsLand ownership. Especially in this day and age, when chains reign supreme and mom-and-pops struggle to keep the lights on, David v. Goliath stories encourage a lot of readers.

The writing conveys despair in the narrator's sigh, his/her desire to withdraw from the world, the grief over Jamie, and the sleeping in work clothes. Be careful not to let the narrator wallow too much in this despair; otherwise, he/she may give off a helpless vibe. To avoid this, consider introducing the Jamie element a bit later. While his death may have been a defining juncture in the narrator's life, we don't learn enough about it to feel like it's a pressing concern.

Some of the above suggestions would tighten up this opening and make for a more compelling hook. The text itself is pretty clean, with no glaring errors. I'd be interested to learn more about this narrator, who is somewhat of a blank slate to me right now. Overall, the author is on the right track; the intro just needs some tweaks here and there to make everything gel.

Thank you so much to Ms. Shreditor and to Carol for their time and effort. See you next week!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Has the Writing Process Changed You?

I've been in the writing business a long time. Before I was a published author, I was an editor at a publishing company, and before that I was writing papers and building lesson plans for my English teaching degree. I feel like I've taken part in a lot of aspects of the business of writing. I also feel like I've changed dramatically from when I first started.

As all of you know, I've been purging my paper piles this year and last week I came across the first full-length fiction novel I'd ever written. I skimmed through it and chuckled a bit, realizing how dramatic I sounded and how many mistakes I'd made (like starting out the first chapter with weather. It had a sort of dark and stormy night feel to it.) It was so fun and a bit cringe-worthy to read through that manuscript.

I also came across letters from students I'd been student-teaching, thanking me for motivating them to be better writers. I am so glad I kept those letters because they are worth their weight in gold to me. Not because I was being thanked, but because it made me feel like I'd helped someone and made a difference. Those things are crucial to have on hand when you feel like you suck as a writer, believe me.

But after looking at my humble beginnings, I realized how much my priorities in the writing process have changed. I used to be more of a pantser, writing whatever struck me, letting my characters take me wherever they cared to, but this book I've been working on has been completely different for me. I think it would have been done about four months ago if I'd been my previous self. This time around, I've plotted, I've outlined, I've done the character bible, and I've gotten myself three critique types---an in-person critique group, an online critique partner, and my trusty alpha, beta and sigma readers. I honestly feel like this is my strongest novel yet because I've learned so much from the previous seven books I've written and I've taken so much time to revise my current one and make it stronger. And I'm not saying my previous books are bad, I'm just saying I've learned. A lot.

Brandon Sanderson once said that he'd written thirteen novels before his first one was accepted. When I heard this I thought to myself, boy, if I'd written thirteen novels before one was accepted I probably would have given up. But I'd missed his point. He was learning the craft, honing his art, and climbing a curve in his quest to be a good writer with the first thirteen. I think I finally get it now.

I'm interested to see how my readers respond to my new novel. I wonder if they'll see the subtle difference in tone and writing, in my characters and plot. Will they see the sub-plots and shades of gray throughout? Or will it just be another Bellon suspense with a dash of romance to cuddle up with on a cold winter night?

I know I've heard other writers say that with every novel they learn something new. Have you found that? If so, what things have you learned? Have you changed your writing process over it or do you feel like your writer's formula is working for you? I'm really interested to know how it is for other writers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

Well, it's pretty much been a horrible week for me. I've spent most of it lying in bed with a fever and chills, more miserable than I could ever remember being. I thought about my manuscript, but most of the things I thought of were sort of hallucinatory and now that I'm on the mend, I don't think they would make sense to the plot. But at the time, I thought they were brilliant. Ah, the feverish mind tricks.

While I was miserable in bed, I watched the BYU vs. Iona game last night. The BYU Cougars were getting spanked, down by twenty-five and well, it wasn't looking good. They went into half-time down by fifteen and I settled in, hoping for my team, but tempered by reality. It just didn't look like they were going to be "dancing" very long this time around.

But in the second half, BYU came alive. They chipped away at the lead and played some of the best defense I've ever seen. They cut that lead to five, then two, then pulled ahead by one. Then, in one of the most amazing finishes I've ever seen, the BYU Cougars won by six. It was incredible.

I think that it can be that way with writing. Sometimes we're down and out and it's not looking good. We have hope, but you know, reality or what we think is reality, can sometimes weigh us down. But then we make our move, we chip away at our word count, we up our page count, we do those revisions again and again, we get rejections and make ourselves better for them. And then the comeback manuscript is complete and published and our victory is all that more amazing because of the struggle it took to get it.

So, while my word count was zero this week, I know I'm going to make a comeback. And it is going to be SWEET!

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Review: Not My Type: A Single Girl's Guide to Doing It All Wrong

I'm still sick and mostly lying in my bed feeling grateful for medicine. I would have made a horrible pioneer because I couldn't go to the store and pick up medicine back in pioneer days. (Or make my husband.) So, if nothing I post today makes sense, I blame the meds. And thank you all for your get well wishes.

I read two books over the weekend, Show No Fear by Marliss Melton which was a romantic suspense that takes place in Colombia. Lucy is a CIA agent who has to go undercover with her old college flame (that she dumped) to try to save two other CIA agents who were kidnapped by a terrorist group. James is now a Navy Seal and tries to protect Lucy throughout the mission even though he realizes she is dealing with PTSD from her last mission that ended badly (and survivor's guilt for what happened to two of her friends eight years ago). The story is so fast-paced it took my breath away. The perilous situations seemed so real and the emotions were raw. Unfortunately, there were three brief sex scenes and some language, easy to skip over, but for my clean-reading friends, I can't recommend this one to you.

But then I read Not My Type: A Single Girl's Guide to Doing It All Wrong by Melanie Jacobson and I can heartily recommend this book to everyone. It is a romantic comedy that reminded me of How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days movie, but with a twist. In Not My Type, she loses the guy on the first day. Haha. Pepper Spicer is nursing a broken heart after a broken engagement. She has to move back home because of all the wedding debt she accrued for a wedding that didn't happen and she's sharing a room with her seven year old sister. She has a dead-end job at a sandwich shop and she pretty much hates her life. Her parents challenge her to get out of her comfort zone and follow some of her dreams---like being a journalist. She lands a deal to be "Indie girl" a columnist who goes out on blind dates and then writes about them. There were definitely some funny and uncomfortable results. Okay, I laughed out loud at several spots and I really liked Pepper's character. This was a fun afternoon read.

Here's the back copy:

Twenty-three-year-old Pepper Spicer is not living the dream. She ended her engagement at the last minute because her fiancé -- a musician and soon-to-be reality TV star -- wanted her to sacrifice her own career ambitions for his.

Now she's stuck at home sharing a room with her little sister, trying to pay off massive debt for a wedding that didn't happen, and spending Friday nights Facebook-stalking everyone who has a better life. Her therapist father urges her to choose her career dreams and count her blessings by writing weekly thank you notes, but gratitude is a tall order when she botches an important job interview and has to settle for writing an undercover dating web-zine column -- the last thing in the world she wants to do. Still, as Pepper (byline: Indie Girl) chronicles her bizarre and hilarious blind dates, she gives her father's challenge a try and slowly finds herself leaving self-pity behind. Life takes a major upswing as Pepper's column hits the big time and she tastes the exhilarating thrill of success. But there's one tiny problem: the intensely hot man she's falling for is having issues with her job (again). Will Pepper trade her personal ambition for another chance at love?

What are you guys reading these days?

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Really Want My Mom

I'm sick today. I felt fine until about 5:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon and then I just felt really cold. And then feverish. And every part of my body aches, from my tiny toe to my teeth. And my throat hurts. (Is that TMI?)

I tossed and turned all night and around 3 a.m. I thought about my mom. Even though I'm probably well past the age to want my mom when I'm sick I came to the conclusion that I still want my mom to come and take care of me. And bring me a chocolate shake from McDonald's because that would make my throat feel better and that's what she did when I was little. (Yeah, that was all said in a little bit of a whiny voice).

The problem is, of course, that my mom lives in Canada and definitely can't come and take care of me. But it still doesn't stop me from wishing.

Did your mom ever do special stuff for you when you were sick?

Friday, March 9, 2012

First Page Friday

I saw this quote today and thought I would share. It's so beautiful!

"Alas for those who never sing but die with all their music still in them." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

So, so true about writing or any art where you are expressing yourself.

Today is First Page Friday. Yay! Just to let you know we still have an opening in March if you or anyone you know would like to have their first page critiqued by a national editor. Just submit it to with First Page Friday in the subject heading.

Here's this week's submission!

The Entry
Fingers Crossed

by Bridget Straub

I am sitting at the top of the bleachers in a cold high school gymnasium, freezing my ass off. My eleven year old daughter Nicole is down on the floor with her best friend Danielle shooting hoops, missing shot after shot. She’s a better defensive player than she is on offense.

Next to me, sighing on her cell phone, is Lana, my best friend, and she is about to leave her husband, Jeff. I always knew this day would come, if for no other reason than the fact that his name is Jeff. Jeffs don’t stay married. They are too invested in having fun. I love Jeff, but I wish they would just get on with it now.

Lana hangs up and looks at me. She wants me to run away with her next weekend so that she can figure this all out, and my husband Luc has told me I can’t go.

“He’s not the boss of you, you know,” she tells me.

I can’t help but laugh at her.

“I need you,” she whines, adding, “a lot more than stupid old Luc.”

A whistle is blown, and the kids are told to clear the floor because the game is about to start. Corey yells up to Lana that Garrett won’t move. Corey is Lana’s eleven year old son and Garrett is her four year old, and a brat. Like Jeff, he has the most irresistible smile I’ve ever seen. Garrett won’t be able to stay married either.

Lana climbs down to grab him, and as she does so, Luc comes in with our other three kids and the box of donuts they have picked for the team snack. Like Lana, we, too, have a bratty four year old with a devilish smile, and as Luc stops to say hi to Nicole, Garrett breaks free to run over to Gatién and have a grand old reunion. You’d think they haven’t seen each other for weeks, when in fact they attend the same preschool and were together just yesterday.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

In this story, we have a narrator sitting on the sidelines during her daughter's basketball game. The problem is that she's also sitting on the sidelines of her own story. On this first page, we learn plenty about Nicole, Lana, Jeff, Luc, Corey, and Garrett. While we know that Lana is about to leave her husband and that Nicole is no basketball virtuoso, we don't even learn the narrator's name.

All we know about her, in fact, is that she's married to a man named Luc and has several children. It's a bit hard to keep count because the first page introduces two sets of kids. I mentioned this in last week's critique and will repeat it here: Avoid cluttering up the first page with too many names, and introduce characters more gradually. Bringing in too many characters right off the bat accomplishes two things: overwhelming the reader and stealing spotlight from the character driving the story.

Consider carefully what kind of character you want this narrator to be. My impression of her after one page is that she's very judgmental. She's downright self-congratulatory about having called the demise of her best friend's marriage, and she offers up the puzzling "Jeffs don't stay married" theory. I'd avoid stereotypes based on names altogether, but I've never heard one like this about the name Jeff. I suspect that the intention here was to establish the narrator as snarky and witty, but I think it backfired a bit. The narrator goes on to call four-year-old Garrett a brat who will end up just like his father. It's honest, but it's also a pretty harsh sentence for a kid who isn't even in kindergarten yet.

Random question: Would parents serve up doughnuts as the team snack at a basketball game? I remember healthier snacks (e.g., orange slices) from my youth.

As for the narrator's "bratty four-year-old," is the child male or female? Specify in the second sentence of the last paragraph. The story also needs to make it clearer that Gatién is the aforementioned "bratty four-year-old." In one sentence, we have a mention of this unnamed four-year-old, and in the next we have Garrett running toward the previously unmentioned Gatién. (Note: I looked up spellings of this name in both Québécois and standard French and found that it was almost always spelled without the accent mark. In fact, Google turned up only 578 search results with the accent mark versus three million without.)

I've gotten wrapped up in some of the finer details, only because this first page presents us with so many of them. A reader will have to do the same sort of sifting, and the last thing you want is for someone to have to draw up a chart to keep all the names straight after only one page. These things can kill a book proposal, whether you're pitching to an agent or directly to an acquiring editor.

So I'll end by asking the questions this sample hasn't answered: Who is this narrator? What is the story here? What is at stake for this character? Why do we learn so much about everyone but her?

[Finally, in brackets because it's more an aside than anything else: I suspect that the somewhat salty word in the first sentence will draw some comments. I have no problem with it, and it sounds far more natural to me than any euphemism would. I may end up dodging tomatoes on this one, but I find most euphemisms to be cheesy. However, if you are pitching this to a market that promotes clean language, profanity in the first sentence will be an immediate deal-breaker.]

I'd like to thank Ms. Shreditor and Bridget for their time and effort. See you next week!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Writing Tip Thursday---Using Experts

Since I write suspense books about terrorists, spies, law enforcement agencies and the people who love them, I have to do research. (Of course if I was a terrorist or secret agent or someone who loved them, I'd probably say that just to throw you off my trail.) But let's just say for argument's sake that I'm just a regular writer person and I have to do research. It's nice to have some real people who can help you make the plot and your characters more, well, realistic.

I have met people who have helped me enormously with my work in various ways. I met a fairly high profile prosecutor on a discussion board I frequented. I met a man who formerly worked with the CIA at parent/teacher conference and I have a detective in my neighborhood. Several of my books are related to the military and I had access to a unit that was serving in Iraq through a friend of mine. This unit spent countless hours answering my questions after they'd come back from finding and defusing IEDs all day. I can't even begin to tell you how helpful all of these people have been in making my books as realistic as possible. But not only that, they've changed my life and outlook on the world with the way they view themselves and their jobs.

But how do you meet experts who are willing to help?

1. Be able to talk about your book. Once people find out I'm an author they automatically ask what my books are about. I have my standard ten second answer (international romantic suspense, you know, terrorists, spies, and a little romance thrown in.) I also have my thirty second response to go a little deeper. That's when people have said, "oh, I'm a detective let me know if you need any help." Or, "I've prosecuted terrorists before, I'd love to tell you about it," things like that. All because I was willing to tell them I was a writer.

2. Be willing to make cold calls. There have been times where I've called a doctor or a lawyer just to ask a research question. Some are more willing to help than others, but be specific in what you need and don't waste their time. I always thank them in the acknowledgements of my book as well.

3. Make sure you follow up on leads. I can't tell you how many times I've heard things like, oh my sister went to Indonesia, she'd probably love to tell you about her trip since your book is set there. I don't know the sister, but am I going to follow up? You bet. And connections like that can lead to other connections as well. Don't be afraid to say, I would LOVE your sister's number and then call her.

Of course in fiction you are expected to suspend reality a bit---that's why it's called fiction. But you have to have that kernel of realism in there or you will lose your reader. So don't lose, but use---connections and experts that is. You won't be sorry when your book is on the shelf and you know it's one of your very best efforts because of the perspective you gained in writing it and the people who helped you make it that way.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

Can I say how grateful I am for all of you who read and comment on my blog? It is so amazing to me how many people I've met since I started blogging with the Frog blog and then over here at my own blog. I am so glad to have you all for bloggy friends.

I don't have much of a word count this week at all. I finished my chapters for my critique group and then I started on the paper boxes (I have seven left to go! Woohoo!) so I'm afraid my word count fell by the wayside. I know I'll go back to it after my critique group meets (they're so motivating!) but I'm thinking that my brain needed a break this week. That's what I'm telling myself anyway.

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Two for One Book Review: Final Call & Friends and Foes

I read two amazing books this week that I have to tell you about. (And yes, I only purged one box yesterday because the book just kept calling to me, "come find out how I end," so I gave in and read.)

Final Call by Rachel Nunes is the third in her Autumn Rain series. It's sort of paranormal in the fact that Autumn can read "imprints" that people leave on objects and she is a consultant for the police department because of it (mostly helping to find missing people.) That was the part that originally drew me into the series, but I quickly became attached to the characters.

Autumn was raised in a "hippie-like" environment with her adoptive parents who raised herbs and ran an herb shop. They believed that if someone stole from them, then that person probably needed it more, and offered whatever they had. They ate organic food and Autumn doesn't wear shoes. At all. (Well, in this book she does have foot coverings because it's winter.) Then we have Jake, Autumn's best friend who is her rock, her best friend, and who has been there for her through a lot of loss and discovery. And let's not forget Detective Shannon Martin who was so skeptical of Autumn's "imprint" reading and was fairly adversarial toward her until the last book, Shades of Gray. In Shades of Gray, we knew there was something between them that they both knew was there and I was anxiously awaiting Final Call. Let's just say it did NOT disappoint. The ending left me breathless and wanting more. And guess what? Apparently there's going to be another book. All I can say is, it better come out FAST! I want to know what happens.

Of course the characters aren't the only feature of the series. The mysteries put forward are first rate and when I settled on a villain in Final Call, I was still questioning my choice until the last few pages. It's set in the theater district and has some pretty awesome twists and turns as Autumn tries to solve the disappearance of her friend's sister and comes across an eight year old case that could be murder. A little dark and twisty in places, (literally!) and very enjoyable in a creepy mysterious mystery fashion.

(And just an aside, I love that Autumn isn't any wilting violet waiting to be rescued. She's taken martial arts classes and learned to defend herself. I loved that about her!)

All of that made me want to go back and read the first two in the series---like re-visiting old friends. It was just that good.

Then there was Friends and Foes by Sarah Eden. Completely opposite of Final Call in the fact that Friends and Foes is a regency. Set in England, we have our hero (whom we met in a previous book) Phillip Jonquil, and we find out that he is really a secret spy trying to catch a traitor to the Crown, all the while pretending to be a fop and entertaining houseguests at his home.

Sorrel Kendrick is a woman who has been disfigured in a horrible accident and has a limp that makes her life miserable. She hates feeling dependent and as such, she puts out a fairly defensive position to everyone she meets and most especially to Phillip Jonquil.

They become sworn enemies while she is staying at Phillip's home and both are intent to win the war between them, but there comes a time when they start to wonder if they've crossed that fine line between hate and love. Before they can figure that out, however, Sorrel overhears a conversation from the very traitor that Phillip is tracking and it puts her in danger. From there on out we are racing toward the conclusion, flipping pages as fast as we can to see one or both of them will survive.

The banter in this book was superb and made me laugh out loud several times. Phillip and Sorrel are characters that have depth sometimes hard to find in this genre. They both are fighting demons within their families and both feel a lot of responsibility for the predicament of themselves and those around them. I definitely saw the growth in them as the story progressed which made the reading even more gratifying. Sarah Eden is one of my favorite authors and I can honestly say her knack for touching on the emotions combined with the intrigue and time period make her books extraordinary.

I can heartily recommend both of these books and I know they will go on my keeper shelf so I can read my favorite parts over and over again.

Here is the back copy:

Final Call

Sometimes what you can't see means everything. Autumn Rain is accustomed to using her ability to read imprints to solve seemingly unsolvable cases. Yet when she goes searching for the sister of a friend, she is embroiled in the make-believe world of live theater, where it's difficult to tell reality from playacting and where everyone appears to have something to hide. Autumn must team up again with Detective Shannon Martin to learn the truth about an eight-year-old mystery that involves a new murder and more missing actors. Working so closely with the compelling detective further complicates their uncertain relationship and tests her loyalty to her once-boyfriend Jake Ryan. When her sister, Tawnia, becomes involved in the case, Autumn finds herself in a deadly struggle to save them both from facing their own final call.

Friends and Foes

After five years of tracking and capturing spies on English soil, Philip Jonquil, Earl of Lampton, is in pursuit of his last quarry. But at a traveler's inn, he encounters an unexpected and far more maddening foe: Sorrel Kendrick, a young lady who is strikingly pretty, shockingly outspoken, and entirely unimpressed with him. Indeed, Sorrel cannot believe the nerve of this gentleman, who rudely accuses her of theft and insults her feminine dignity. Doubly annoyed when they both end up at a party hosted by mutual friends, Philip and Sorrel privately declare war on one another. But Philip's tactics, which range from flirting to indifference, soon backfire as he finds himself reluctantly enjoying Sorrel's company; and, much to her dismay, Sorrel finds Philip's odd manner to be increasingly endearing. In the midst of this waning war and growing attraction, Philip catches wind of the French spy he's been tracking, and Sorrel inadvertently stumbles upon a crucial piece of the puzzle, making her indispensable to the mission. But can two proud hearts negotiate a ceasefire when cooperation matters most?

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Weekend of Purging and Reading

Do you remember how I purged my bedroom of mountains of paper in the month of January? It felt so good and my room is so much bigger, I decided to tackle my basement of paper. It's not really totally filled with paper, but it did have thirteen bankers boxes of paper, which, yeah, is a lot. (I can't seem to throw away any piece of paper that my children colored or wrote on. It's so hard!)

But I'm being brutal now. I can't possibly scrapbook or keep all the paper from my children's school years. So, *gasp* I'm throwing it away.

Of course I'm going over with each child which papers they would like to go in their keepsake binders, but pretty much, we're throwing it all away. (And now Phil Collins is going through my head--throwing it alllll awaaaay . . .)

I think the thing that gratifies me the most, (besides the fact that so far within the piles of paper I've found a total of $70 and out of the thirteen boxes I cleared three boxes over the weekend), is how much better and bigger our downstairs family room looks. I had those boxes stacked and without them there, it really does look more welcoming. I know, I know, I have ten boxes to go, but if I do two a day this week, I'll be done by Friday. Woot!

Although I don't know if I can get up the gumption today. I stayed up until 1 a.m. reading Rachel Nunes' new book, Final Call. I LOVE the detective in this book---Shannon Martin. Rachel currently has us in a triangle with our heroine, Autumn Rain, Detective Yummy Shannon Martin, and Autumn's best friend the dark-eyed, dread-lock wearing tough guy with a heart of gold Jake. Yeah, I'm totally loving this triangle (but I'm on TeamShannon for sure) and hence the reason why I stayed up waaaaay too late. I'm dragging a little today.

So, the boxes are calling to me to clear them, but my book is calling to me to finish so I can see who ends up with Autumn! Decisions, decisions . . .

What would you rather do, sort papers or read? How do you motivate yourself? Maybe I should try, clear one box and read four chapters or something. That might work. Wish me luck!

Friday, March 2, 2012

First Page Friday

Time already for another installment of First Page Friday. The purpose of First Page Friday is to help authors write a first page that will get them noticed because last year I was at a conference where agents and editors agreed---if you haven't caught them by the first page they simply reject you.

If you would like your first page critiqued by a national editor, please submit it to with First Page Friday in the subject line. We have one March spot still open!

The Entry
Shaking the Sand

by Joshua Berry

Rotor blades spun the arid desert sand into a violent frenzy. The Huey hovered precariously a scant hundred feet over the LZ. The area appeared deserted, but Special Forces Navy Seals inside the Huey knew to take nothing for granted. Taliban insurgents armed with deadly weapons lurked nearby intent on killing unwanted trespassers. Colonel Patrick Wall, piloting the Huey, motioned for the Seals to disembark when they reached ten feet off the ground. He could not chance touchdown. Major Dallin O’Rourke, of Irish descent and the Seals team leader, motioned to his team. Each acknowledged preparedness. When the Huey lowered to ten feet above the swirling sand visibility was near zero. Quickly twenty men, highly qualified for the assigned task ahead of them, disembarked and watched Colonel Wall and the Huey rapidly ascend and bank to the south. In seventy-two hours Colonel Wall would return and their mission, to assassinate Osama Bin Laden, would be complete – or they would all be dead.

Lieutenant Bradley Hamilton jumped from the hovering Huey. He landed softly, the eighteenth Seal out. He was well trained and perfectly qualified for the mission. He held one distinction which separated him from the other Seals in his squad. His spiritual leader was a prophet, a true prophet of God. He was an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. His fellow Seals called him “Mormon Seal” and they all respected his faith. As quickly as they could they secured a line of communication as Major O’Rourke ordered. Lieutenant Hamilton made contact with Colonel Wall who was now several miles away.

Little time was needed to set up a small mini-camp. Wasted motions were not an option. Months and months of training demanded the utmost in professionalism. Each Seal had an assigned duty. All individual tasks benefitted the team. Bradley Hamilton had the responsibility for communications. He had to make sure each Seal was able to communicate with all the other Seals. Also, he was tasked with making sure communication with Colonel Wall and HQ were in order. Major O’Rourke made it clear to Lieutenant Hamilton communication was of paramount importance.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

I like that this story begins with movement (i.e., sand stirred up by a helicopter). It's gripping imagery that helps root the reader in the scene. The story wastes no time setting up what is at stake: These Seals are on the hunt for Osama bin [note the lowercase here] Laden, and their lives hang in the balance. It doesn’t get much more suspenseful than this.

What weighs down this page: It reminds us too often how well trained these Seals are. The first paragraph tells us that the men are "highly qualified for the assigned task." The second paragraph tells us that Hamilton is "well trained and perfectly qualified." The third paragraph tells us that "months and months of training demanded the utmost in professionalism. Each Seal had an assigned duty. All individual tasks benefitted [sic] the team." I think that, when writing, it’s important to lead readers to water without forcing them to drink. Because the first paragraph establishes that the men are well trained, I think it would be better to tone down or eliminate some of these subsequent mentions.

This first page also introduces a lot of characters at once. We encounter Dallin O’Rourke, Lieutenant Bradley Hamilton, and Colonel Patrick Wall. We get some basic demographic information about two of the three (O’Rourke is of Irish descent and Hamilton is Mormon), but there isn’t much to go on yet. Perhaps introduce main characters more gradually so that the first page doesn’t feel quite so cluttered. There’s a lot of information to convey here, and you don’t want to overwhelm the reader. I would focus first on the main character and gradually weave in the supporting characters. You want the reader to connect immediately with your protagonist; otherwise, even the most compelling plot will fall flat.

I’m a bit concerned about the LDS element as introduced. Granted, I don’t work in the LDS market, but I have read some LDS fiction. I find that the best stories incorporate religious elements with a light touch. In this case, the first thing we learn about Bradley is that he’s Mormon, and the story insinuates that this makes him better than his fellow Seals. It feels heavy-handed and a bit preachy, which I’m sure wasn’t the intention. On a more structural level, the paragraph segues abruptly from Bradley’s religious background to the present action (i.e., securing a line of communication). This needs stronger transition.

Watch use of abbreviations. In the second sentence, there’s a reference to the “LZ.” Readers not familiar with military jargon might not know what this means at first glance, so it might be helpful to define it at first mention. “HQ” is more recognizable, but I would use abbreviations with care in this story so as not to distract the reader.

The overall concept here is sound. The hunt for Osama bin Laden is always going to resonate with readers. We just need a clearer idea of whose story this is and what is at stake for him personally. Think about what is crucial on the first page and what can wait until the second or tenth page.

I'd like to thank Joshua and Ms. Shreditor for this week's submission and critique. I know I learned something today. See you next week!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Free Writing Guides--If You Are a Writer, This is a MUST READ

If you are not a follower of Jordan McCollum, you definitely should be. Seriously. I am so impressed with her free writing guides and how she is always looking for ways to share her writing knowledge with others. Having her as a crit partner has really improved my own writing because of the way she makes me dig deeper into my plot/characters/whatever else needs it. She has such a clear critique style I know I'm lucky to have her. Beyond her teaching skills, she's an amazing writer in her own right and has an incredible book due out next year. You won't want to miss that one, but I'll let her tell you more about it.

Yesterday I was reading her newest writing guide about emotions in our characters and I knew I wanted to share her with all my writer friends. (I don't know why I haven't sooner. Just being selfish in wanting her all to myself I guess.) Her writing guides are a must read for any writer out there who wants to improve their craft. So here's me, being unselfish and giving you one of my own secret writing weapons---Jordan McCollum.

Hello! I'm Jordan McCollum, a soon-to-be published author—my first novel is due out next year from Covenant Communications. I write romantic suspense—my novel is about an LDS FBI agent who has to go undercover as a Catholic priest to root out a mob, and then he falls for the parish secretary. (In addition to being crit partners, Julie & I are editor buddies, too!) On my blog at, I usually post about author marketing and writing craft.

Whenever I focus on a particular issue in my revisions, I learn so much that I can't wait to share it, usually in a blog series. (This is often a lot more effective than my second favorite method, critique notes in hieroglyphics.) If I'm really feeling motivated, I even assemble the blog series into a free PDF writing guide.

Emotion: it's tough, my latest PDF writing guide, just came out yesterday. It's hard to portray emotion well—but readers read to connect with the character for an emotional experience. Creating that emotional connection can be a key to writing powerful fiction.

Do you want to take your fiction to the next level? Check out my free writing guides: Deep POV, creating character sympathy, and plotting, as well as a guide to websites for aspiring authors! (Click the words "free writing guides" above and you'll be linked to them.)

And did I mention they're free?