Monday, April 30, 2012

It's A Party! Put On Your Dancing Shoes & Collect Your Prizes!

Woohoo!  The party day has finally arrived and it's going to be fun because it's a huge thank you to all my readers who have made this blog something I look forward to every day.  As Ren McCormick said with much wisdom in his voice as the confetti rained down, "Let's dance!"

Oh, wait.  We have some awesome prizes for you. (You can read this and dance at the same time if you want.  I know I am.)   (Also, I was trying to use Rafflecopter for this, but I'm technically inept, so we're going to do this the old-fashioned way) (and use the honor system.)

Today's theme is Mystery and Suspense and all our prizes are very suspenseful.  And whether you win or not is still a mystery!  (I laughed at that.  Sad, I know, but I haven't gotten much sleep lately, so bear with me.)  Get your party hats out (or dancing shoes on) and I will, too.  *throws confetti* *pulls up my collar*

First of all, thank you to all who have already entered the contest for having a character in my new novel named after you!  I'm so excited to put everyone's entries up for a vote.  I will accept entries until Tuesday at 10 p.m. MST and then we'll vote on them Wednesday and Thursday and announce the winner on Friday.  Sound good?  Here's the details in case you missed it.

Write a 300 word piece that starts with the words, "The shadow moved across the window."  It can be any genre, but must start with those words.  Email your entry to with Character Contest in the subject line.  I will be putting the entries on the blog so everyone can vote and the ones with the most votes wins!  It's going to be fun!  This is the first prize and frankly, one I'm very excited about!

The second prize is from the Queen of Mystery herself, Stephanie Black. (Doesn't she look so sweet and innocent in that picture?)  She is a multi-award winning author and has some of the curl your toes creepy kind of mysteries that I almost never read after dark.  She has a blog here and today, you can win one of her books.  She'll even autograph it for you.  (In a creepy way I'm sure.)  I've reviewed some of her books in the past and I can't wait for her new ones.  In that, "I know I shouldn't but I totally do" sort of way.  (Love you, Steph!)

The third prize offered today is Caller ID by Rachelle Christensen.  Another award winning suspense author.  If you haven't read this book, it's one for your keeper shelf.  And if you don't know the author, well, she likes a party---especially the ones I throw.  Right Rachelle?  Here's her blog so you can get to know her better and read some of her stuff!

The fourth prize is Variant by Robison Wells.  I used to blog with Robison and Stephanie over at the SixLDSWriters and a Frog blog and they are the ones that kept up laughing, but they're also the ones who have since written some very . . . well, sort of edgy in a creepy way . . . awesome books.  Rob's book has done very well, and while I haven't read it myself, I have heard a ton of rave reviews about it.  (I'm a bit of a chicken.  I'm going to get up the guts to read it one of these days, I promise!)

So there you have it.  The party has started!!  Woohoo!  *turns the music up loud*  Who's with me?  Who wants some prizes?

If you do, here's the deal.  Each one of these things is worth one entry to win the books offered today.  Tell me in the comment trail which ones you did (or answer the questions correctly) and I will put your entries in.  Simple!

!.  Be a follower of my blog (if you are already, then that doesn't count.  Sorry!)

2.  Be a follower of Stephanie's blog

3.  Like my author page on Facebook

4.  Follow me on Twitter (@juliebellon) and/or Tweet this contest

5.  Tell me whether Stephanie thinks store bought ice cream tastes better or homemade.

6.  Be a follower of Rachelle's blog

7.  Tell me the name of Robison Wells' first published book.

8.  Post this contest on Facebook or Google +

I will announce all the winners on Friday and there will be four more prizes every day this week!  It sounds too good to be true, but I know it's going to be an amazing week.  Thank you to everyone who participates and reads my blog.  This is more a celebration of how wonderful you make my life and I hope you know it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

First Page Friday

Okay, for those of you entering the contest on Monday to have a minor character in a book named after you, here is something to think about over the weekend.

The contest for that prize will be a Writing Challenge.  Here are the parameters, so you can put your thinking caps on:

Write in 300 words or less, excluding the title, a post that begins with the words, "The shadow moved across the window."  It can be any genre you choose, suspense, humorous, historical, romance, whatever.  Just as long as those six words appear in the beginning.  Then I'm going to have you submit it to with Character Contest in the subject line and I will post each entry on my blog so people can vote for the winner.  It's going to be fun!  So start your writing engines.  :)  

And pass the word along to any of your friends.  The contest is open to anyone.

Okay, on to First Page Friday!

The Entry
by Dennis Bergendorf

1137 College Ave., Elyria, Ohio.
A Tuesday in mid-May in the near future.
5:55 AM EDT, 0955 Zulu.

For nearly as long as he could remember, Antwan Ware had wanted nothing other than to be an air traffic controller, and for the past 14½ years, he had been just that, a professional pusher of tin, a choreographer of ballets danced in the stratosphere. But for Antwan, air traffic control long ago ceased to be ballet, and has become Dance Macabre. Some call ATC the world’s greatest video game—and perhaps its second-greatest profession. To Antwan Ware, it is slow death.  

14-and-one- half- years. 166 months of dealing with (by his own reckoning) everything aviation could throw at him—though he does allow that he’s never been involved with, nor seen, a mid-air collision. The truth is (and perhaps this is the crux of the problem), aviation had started throwing things when he’d been on the job a mere six weeks, a developmental, a newbie, a pup so green he had to think about how to get to the tower elevator.
Just in from the FAA Academy, having settled into on-the-job training at his first certified position (ground controller at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport), Antwan Ware was on duty the night an airplane crashed and burned. And two pilots died.

That incident, that deal, came about like so many others—in a perfect storm of circumstance. CHI was in the grip of a major meteorological event on a wretched early evening shortly after New Year’s. The air at ground level was 31°, but warmer aloft. And it was raining. Not particularly hard, but a steady drizzle that flash froze and stuck to everything. Light poles, hangar buildings, fuel trucks, even a few parked airplanes reflected light with a sparkling luminosity, as though they’d been turned upside down and dipped
in silver.

Angela Eschler's (and her assistant Heidi's) Comments

Kids, Dogs, Airplanes

The old saying is that any story/film with a kid or a dog in it is bound to be a success. A lot of people would add airplanes to that list. Whether it’s humorous and spoofy (Airplane!) or deadly serious (Michael Crichton’s Airframe), the field of aviation provides endless opportunities for great storytelling. This story promises to be a gripping adventure with solid research and a unique protagonist.  You’ve clued the readers in with little details like using Zulu time (in reference to aviation’s term for Greenwich Mean Time/Universal Coordinated Time) and other aviation terminology, as well as your main character’s interesting name and unusual choice of career (not the first thing that pops into most kid’s minds when asked what they want to be when they grow up.)  So let’s look at some additional ways you can strengthen your first page to make sure that your readers can’t put the story down once they’ve started.

Right off the Bat

The opening sentence is bound to confuse the reader. “As long as he could remember” tends to include the present. The 2nd sentence and later info tells us that he hates his job. Perhaps instead, try something more specific like, “Antwan’s dream since childhood/grade school/college had been to be an air traffic controller.” Given your skill with words elsewhere, obviously you want the opening line to be more interesting than that anyway. Perhaps something more like “For over fourteen years, Antwan Ware had been living his childhood dream—daily clocking in as a professional pusher of tin, a choreographer of ballets danced in the stratosphere. But for Antwan, air traffic control had long ago ceased to be …” Starting right out with the interesting language and imagery of your second sentence—which will make the reader curious to find out what you mean—might be a better choice all around. 

I ran this paragraph by another reader/writer, because I thought it could possibly be even more succinct in creating a question for the audience (the set-up for the tension is a little too slow), and he agreed that an even briefer version would be more gripping. Something along the lines of: “Antwan Ware had once thought being in air traffic control was akin to choreographing ballets danced in the stratosphere. But that romanticized view had ceased long ago, and the job was more Dance Macabre than anything.” This immediately introduces a tension and a question for the reader.  They want to know what happened to change his viewpoint.

From Fuzzy to Focused
Also, I think it might be overkill to share both metaphors in the opening paragraph—the video-game one and the dance one. Pick one and introduce it right away.  If you choose the video-game option, you might want to clarify a bit. Why is it the 2nd greatest profession? And what is the implication regarding the greatest profession?  What is it, and why is ATC 2nd? This is unclear and draws attention to the language/rhetoric problem rather than the tension of the story.

Another area that sends mixed messages is this passage: “The truth is (and perhaps this is the crux of the problem), aviation had started throwing things when he had been on the job a mere six weeks.” The crux is that problems had started early on? Not the type of problems? So if problems had started later in his career he’d think totally differently? Do you mean having a traumatizing experience right off soured him too fast? This needs a little clarity.

Finally, if there’s an important connection between the crash Antwan witnessed early in his career and the troubles that you plan to throw at him, this is the place you want to bring that up. Let the reader in on what role that plays in the main plot problem. Otherwise, if it is just to show things that contributed to his personal development and his current frame of mind, consider pushing it back at least a few pages, so you can save the vital first page for setting up the story-worthy problem,  something currently at stake, and the hook.

Too Many Words

Mozart was once told by Emperor Joseph that one of his pieces had “too many notes.” Although Mozart didn’t need to cut anything from his compositions, just about every writer could actually benefit from this advice. You do have some nice, complex, interesting writing, but due to your style, I think you also tend to overwrite. For instance, “Newbie, developmental, pup”—just pick one. The tendency to bring in metaphor, imagery, or interesting syntax (sentence structure) can also result in confusion for the reader, or the writer being redundant and thus boring the reader. Focus on information—are you sharing the same information with the reader in multiple ways/multiple times?  More literary writing is interesting and most powerful if it complements the story—not overpowers it. It should not draw more attention to itself than it contributes to immersing the reader in the story.  For instance, right after the "pup, newbie" line, we're told Antwan was just in from the academy, first job, etc. That information is superfluous to the line above, though more specific. If you'd just used one adjective to describe him—the bit about the tower elevator is nice—then the details on his first-time job won't feel so repetitive.

Sidelined by Details

Details can add interest and make a story come to life, but the first focus needs to be on the character, not the setting. Do keep some setting details. They give the reader important information to help them navigate the new world they are entering (in this case, the profession of air traffic controller), but in the opening, be judicious in assigning them. Place them for maximum impact. You want to get the most mileage from the fewest words, because your goal is to hook your reader, agent, or editor within the first page (the first paragraph is even better). Some of that real estate has to be used for painting a brief, fascinating picture of your main character and laying the groundwork for trouble.  After you’ve captured your audience, then you can be more generous with details relating to the industry. After all, you have other pages to fill, so don’t use all your eggs on the first page and leave nothing for later on. (Also, you note Zulu time in the opening, but some readers won’t understand that and won’t want to put your book down to go look it up—and you don’t want them to put your book down—so find a subtle and short way to sneak in the layman’s definition of Zulu time somewhere on the first page if you want to use it as the key setting signifier.)

Nothing but Trouble

As Les Edgerton says in his writing book Hooked, “It’s imperative that you understood what stories always have to be about. One thing and one thing only. Trouble.” While the first page won’t be enough space to dive into the story-worthy problem, you want to at least clue the reader in on the inciting incident—the (often) little trouble that’s going to lead the protagonist to the big trouble at the heart of the story. Right now, we have past troubles in the form of Antwan’s growing disillusionment with his career choice, based in part on traumatic experiences in the past. But that isn’t the problem that gets the ball rolling. It provides motivation for why Antwan reacts to circumstances that come his way. But without an inciting incident, there’s no reason for Antwan to act at all. So whatever spark you choose to fire the plot’s engine, let it take center stage.

Summing it Up

This beginning is interesting overall in terms of delving into the mysteries of a romanticized profession, and the writing style is unique and the voice is fresh. But get to the tension a little sooner and cut out any redundancy. Also, if you can hint at something currently at stake for the character, such would be good, as that would keep the reader’s attention through descriptions they might not be immediately interested in.  You hint at a tension for the character, but if you can develop that into something at stake, the opening would be even more compelling.

Thank you so much to everyone who participates each week.  It is much appreciated!  See you next week.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I'm So Excited For Next Week's Birthday Party!

I'm so excited (now I have that song running through my head) to tell you about the blog's birthday party next week.  It is going to be so fun and I've decided to run it all week long.  I mean, who doesn't want to party all week long, right?

Here is a preview of some of the incredible prizes.  We have autographed books from Stephanie Black, Josi Kilpack, Rachelle Christensen, Fay Klingler, Monique Bucheger, Susan Denny, Shirley Bahlmann, and Jason Morgan.  We also have Robison Wells' book, Variant, some of my books, and ebooks by Joyce DiPastena, Cami Checketts, Angie Lofthouse, and Trina Boice.  But there's more!  We have a book lovers' basket, two critiques by great editors AND naming of a minor character in an awesome author's new book. 

Can you believe it?  There are some amazing prizes there (I want to enter myself!) and I am thrilled for all my readers (and appreciative of all my author friends.)

So, this is how it's going to work.  Each day will have four prizes offered and some fun ways to win.  We're also going to do some writing on Monday for everyone who wants the prize of having a minor character named after you.  I really can't wait.

I hope you'll come to my party and tell your friends to come as well.  I think it's going to be incredibly fun! 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

Well, I had critique group last night, so you know what that means.  I rolled into bed at 1 a.m. because we didn't end until after midnight.  But I have to say it was totally worth it.  We laughed so hard, ate yummy frozen yogurt, and then we got down to business.  And, even though it was tempting to just go over our comments and reviews for time's sake, we went ahead and read the chapters out loud.  Honestly, I think that is the best way to critique because we find more errors in grammar and syntax by reading aloud than any other way.  And plus, it's sort of fun to hear our interpretation of accents and teenage sarcasm.  What do you think about reading your manuscripts aloud?  I'd never really done it consistently until I got into this critique group and I have to say I'm sold on it. 

I think another reason I love this critique group (besides the company) is that I feel so motivated to write the next day (or later in the same day as the case may be).  So I'm writing up a storm today and it feels good. 

I finished some major revisions last week and I'm feeling really good about where this manuscript is.  My word count was just under 2000, but considering I was revising and not really writing, I'm pretty proud of that.

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Review: Life Lessons From Mothers of Faith

As most of you know, I was privileged to have a story about my mother included in Gary Toyn's new compilation, Life Lessons From Mothers of Faith.  Of course, that makes my review a bit biased, so I'm telling you up front so you'll be aware.  Honestly, though, even though I am part of the book, I would have loved it even if I wasn't.

There are so many wonderful stories of mothers from a lot of easily recognizable names.  There's a great story from Josh Romney about his mother Ann.  There's stories from Steve Young, Jimmer Fredette, and Peter Vidmar.  But more than the names are the the mothers behind these names.  None of them are presented as a perfect woman but all of them influenced a child in a way that left a lasting impression.  There were some women who overcame incredibly difficult circumstances like being left in an orphanage and told she would never be adopted because she was a bad girl and others who just did the best they could with what they had.  That's what I loved best about this book---it's about real women who have become mothers and are doing their best at it no matter what their own upbringing was.  There's no guilt feelings when you read this book---only mostly warm fuzzy feelings and respect for the women we read about.

I love the fact that we can celebrate ordinary women who aren't exactly doing out-of-the-ordinary things during their motherhood, but who touch the people around them in extraordinary ways.  I like that we can talk about the fact that there are times when we aren't close to our children but we still want the best for them.  I like that we can talk about how hard it is to be a mother and how badly most of us want to do a good job at being a mother.  I like hearing stories about women who are like me, and women who aren't, because there are just some things about motherhood that are universal.

Life Lessons From Mothers of Faith has beautiful pictures in it (except mine.  They chose to put in a horrible picture of me, so if you buy it put a post-it over my picture, okay?  Promise?)  It is just beautifully done from the first page to the last page.  If you are looking for a Mother's Day gift, then really, you don't have to look any further.  I highly recommend it. 

Here is the back copy:   

We all have stories to tell. And some of our most lifechanging experiences happen with our mothers, often during everyday moments. Life Lessons from Mothers of Faith will delight you with touching true stories that highlight the almost magical way faithful mothers teach powerful lessons. These inspirational tributes from the children of Mormon moms from all walks of life underscore the sacred bond between mother and child. This is family history in the richest sense of the word simple yet influential tales that will have you laughing, crying, and thinking. Rich with unforgettable recollections, engaging anecdotes, and timeless wisdom, these are stories mothers can truly relate to, gain insight from, and feel honored by unique tributes that remind latter-day moms that their children are actually paying attention. Featuring Latter-day Saint sons' and daughters' recollections of their famous and not-so-famous mothers, this engaging celebration of unforgettable moments and immeasurable gifts will show any mother how it's often the little things that make the biggest difference in a child's life. Mothers of Faith contains more than seventy inspiring tributes, including stories from or about: Julie B. Beck, Steve Young, Silvia H. Allred, Jim Matheson, Ann Romney, Ruth Hale, Jason Chaffetz, Janice Kapp Perry, Doug Wright, Liz Lemon Swindle, J. Willard Marriott, Jr., Harry Reid, Sharlene Wells Hawkes, Gary Herbert, Greg Olsen, Susan Easton Black, Jimmer Fredette, and dozens more.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Never-Ending To-Do List for WriterMoms

Friday marked a red-letter day for me.  The words were flowing and I finished a major revision on my chapter that really set the stage for the rest of the book.  I was feeling so motivated to work on my chapters, a feeling I haven't had in quite a while.

Saturday came around and I spent the morning teaching a class for scouts (I was a merit badge counselor).  In the back of my mind my story scenes were running non-stop and I couldn't wait to get to my computer and get going.  When I got home, I took care of lunch for my kids, and got the little ones down for naps and I practically ran downstairs to my computer.  Unfortunately, my husband was getting ready to paint the ceiling right above my computer and there was plastic everywhere.  Thwarted again.

When he finished, the babies were awake and my husband turned to me and said, "Let's take the kids to feed the ducks." 

I looked longingly at my computer keyboard, the story scenes begging me to write them down, but at the same time I looked at my children's faces, alight with the excitement of seeing ducks.  There wasn't even a question.

We went to feed the ducks.

I will never forget the look on my baby's face when a duck landed so close to him with her six babies he could almost touch them, and the sound of his laughter as a turtle next to the boardwalk swam close.  My little girl squealed with delight when the ducks ate the bread she offered and came closer and closer wanting more. 

It was a glorious afternoon.

We went out to dinner and got home late and I didn't think of the computer or my story once as we relived the day together.  Oh, I know the pull of a story is always there for a writer, simmering in the background, and as a mom my to-do list is long and sometimes feels never-ending, and I have to find balance that works for me.  But for now, it is afternoons like the one we shared last Saturday that will make the memories my children will remember for a lifetime and it was worth every second away from my computer.

My story isn't anywhere near done, but I know I'll get there.  And in the meantime, I'll think about fun and laughter and children's smiles. 

Because I'm a WriterMom.

Friday, April 20, 2012

First Page Friday

I took into account all of your suggestions yesterday and I contacted some writer friends. You will not believe the amazing prizes we will be offering for my blog's first birthday! Books, critiques, character naming, I've got it all. I'm so excited. Thank you all for your opinions.

As you all know, it's First Page Friday! I just wanted to remind all of you why we only do one page. When I was at a writer's conference, there was a panel of agents and editors who all agreed that if the writing doesn't catch their attention by the first page, they reject it. That's why I started First Page Fridays so we could make our first pages the very best they can be by having them critiqued by two amazing national editors. I know I've learned a lot over the past year of reading First Page Fridays and I hope you have, too. So, let's get right to it.  

The Entry 
by Rick Fowler

It was her silent affirmation that kept her from going completely insane. Rachel knew this weekend would be fine. After all, hadn’t Tom headed to their Upper Peninsula cabin to ice fish with his buddies for the past twelve years without any hint of trouble? Yet something was bothering her. Maybe it was just the snowy forecast, the call for “unusual weather”, that the local station had predicted that had her on edge. Then again, maybe it was the fact that Tom had left far earlier for this excursion then in years past, and she hadn’t had the chance to kiss him goodbye.

“Ah, I’m just being silly. If something important happens he can get to a phone”, and she shrugged her shoulders and headed out the door and into steady, wet January snowfall. “God, winters suck”…

This, the final weekend of a Michigan January brought with it howling Canadian based winds and enough snow to keep the plow guys in overtime heaven. Outside the small Upper Peninsula cabin swirls of wind whipped snow began to pile up against the sliding doors on the northern exposure of the cabin, and crystal formations began to take shape on most of the single pane windows.

There was a soft glow from the interior of the sixty-five-year old structure and every so often a whoop and a groan emanated from the occupants inside. The weathered, cedar door, the main entrance to the cabin, was pushed open and the accumulating snows caused some resistant at first. Eventually the door opens and a figure emerges clad in long underwear, a black down vest with boots and a brown wool hat pulled tightly over the ears.

“It’s a fricking blizzard out here! This is what they call a slight chance of snow? Fricking weatherman!” Tom hollered to no one in particular. The man struggled against the wind and gusts until he reached an area clear of the stoop and the door, and relieved himself quickly. After cursing the weatherman, nature and his inability to maneuver through the building snowdrifts, he struggled to the front porch. After making a few swipes with the sole of his boots, he opened the slightly warped door and entered.

“Holy crap, Tom! What did you do-fall in a snow bank?” Kevin, one of the other inhabitants of the cabin asked as the man shoved his way in from the elements.

“You won’t believe the amount of snow that has fallen in the past hour. It’s a raging blizzard. We’re not getting out of here tomorrow.” Tom brushed the wet globs of snow from his hat and then from his damp underwear as he made his way into the lower level of the cabin. “I should have just taken a leak inside. Now I’m freezing.”

With the gloomy assessment of the weather situation made to everyone inside, Tom headed for the wooden table, which served as the dining area on most nights. “Okay, the good news is we brought enough wood in, we have a fridge full of cold ones and enough food to feed an army for weeks. The bad news? We aren’t getting out on the ice tonight and probably not tomorrow. You guys won’t believe the intensity of that wind.”

Kevin opened the doors to the fireplace insert and threw in an aged log from the pile by the hearth. “So! We have food, drink and stories to tell. What’s the matter with that? If we don’t get out tomorrow who cares? Hey Kenny, get some more wood in will you?”

Buzz, had been busy respooling an ice reel in the living room, but was now listening to the conversation in the other room. “Hey Tom, did you bring the cards? Let’s get a game going. C’mon, clear off the table, get the chips and let’s pop a couple of cold ones. I’ll be done with this in just a second. If we can’t get out on the ice, let’s at least play some poker.”

The hurricane winds continued to pound the log cabin and the drifts took on the appearance of mini-mountains as they swirled up and around the cabin and onto the roof. The only signs that permeated life from this domain was the smoke exiting the chimney which was quickly rushed away by the mounting winds and the yellow soft rays illuminating over the table which now housed four ice fishermen turned poker players.

Kenny got up and rubbed the now frosted windowpane free to look out at the wintry scene. “Blackjack, blackjack, does anyone know any other games?  

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

This week’s sample provides me with a valuable opportunity to revisit submissions guidelines. I pasted the text from Julie’s e-mail into Microsoft Word and found that it was single-spaced and about a page and a half long. The word count is 763.

I’m actually grateful that this sample weighs in at the equivalent of nearly two and a half pages in a printed book (assuming fairly tight text layout and minimal white space, or 320 words per page). Here we’ve stumbled upon a teachable moment.

In most Shreditor columns, I dissect the text itself to address issues of continuity, characterization, plausibility, syntax, spelling, and grammar. A clean first page, after all, will likely score points with an acquiring editor. However, if you don’t want to end up in the slushpile before the editor has read a single word, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve read the submissions guidelines carefully. Julie’s submission guidelines for the weekly critique column call for one double-spaced page. It’s difficult, therefore, to assess this as a first page, as this sample is actually two and a half double-spaced pages.

The writing is quite descriptive and paints a clear picture of the inclement weather, but this sample could benefit from a strong copy edit. There are a lot of grammatical and punctuation issues that distract from the overall quality of the writing.

I’m struggling with the structure. Rachel’s section seems somehow detached from the rest of the sample, more like a prologue than part of the first chapter. Most of this excerpt unfolds from Tom’s point of view. You might consider pulling out Rachel’s segment, expanding it, and turning it into its own chapter. I’m generally not a fan of prologues, so I wouldn’t advise the use of one here. But characters needs to make a strong impression from the beginning, and that’s difficult to accomplish when the story starts with a short scene featuring one character and segues abruptly into a longer scene featuring another.

While we’re on the subject of perspective, let’s talk about Tom. While we’re privy to Rachel’s thoughts and feelings about the storm, there’s a narrative chasm between us and Tom. Although his point of view commands much of the first few pages, we experience none of his thoughts and feelings. We learn nothing about him. Instead, we meet Kevin, Buzz, and Kenny in rapid succession without proper introductions. The story first mentions Buzz and Kenny as if we somehow already know them, with no transitions or introductory details to help acquaint us with them. Only Kevin gets a proper introduction as one of the cabin inhabitants.

My comments are running long this week, so I’ll sum up here: 1) Reconsider the structure of this story. Multiple character perspectives can be a beast, so it’s important to nail down a cohesive structure early on. Some writers find it easier to switch perspectives from chapter to chapter instead of from scene to scene. This structure minimizes reader confusion and allots the principal characters equal face time. 2) Regardless of which character kicks off the story, he or she must make a strong first impression. Expose the reader to the character’s mind as you did with Rachel. You know your characters more intimately than anyone in the world, and the first page should be a first step toward helping the readers get just as close. 3) Pay close attention to submission guidelines if you want to steer clear of the slushpile.

Thank you so much to everyone who participates each week. You are much appreciated. See you next time!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Need Your Opinion About Something

So my one year anniversary of having this blog is coming up on May 1st. It's hard to believe it's already been a year! I want to do something to celebrate, but I want to ask your opinion.

If I were to have a blogaversary party, complete with prizes and games, what do you think would be a fun prize? Obviously since we're mostly writers and readers that gather here, I'm thinking along the lines of things like books.

However, I am wondering if I did that, what would you like more?

Offering my own books?

A book basket with two or more books in it?

A book lovers box with a book, blanket, and dessert?

Would you prefer other authors' books?

I've also offered a free first chapter critique before. Is that something you would like?

What about a free pass for your first page critique to be bumped to the front of the line that can be held until you need it?

Do you have any other ideas for prizes that readers/writers would enjoy?

I've also been kicking around a few ideas for games that day and really want to make it fun for everyone and something you'll tell your friends about, so any opinions will be appreciated, especially on the prizes, and of course what you think is lame and overdone so I can stay away from that.

So please, give me your opinions. I'm ready.

Thank you. :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

This very strange thing happened to me. You remember a couple of weeks ago, I was complaining about not being able to write the finale for this book and how that had never happened to me before? Then, in the comments, someone said well maybe you haven't plotted out the villain well enough so that's why you can't write the finale. And I thought, that could be true, but then I looked at my character bible and thought, no, I've plotted and think I have a pretty good villain.

But I still couldn't write the dang finale. And then the very strange thing happened.

I had a nightmare and was awakened at 3 a.m. because of it. There I was, in the middle of the night, trying to push the thoughts of a very realistic nightmare away, when suddenly I saw a minor character in my book as the villain. I let the thoughts flow and suddenly I had all these ideas come to me on how he could be a very well-rounded villain that no one would suspect and how it added a little more oomph to the story to have him be the villain instead of my current villain. And in my mind, the end practically wrote itself.

The problem is making a minor character into a villain is going to take a bit of revision. Or maybe a lot of revision. But I know if I do it the story will be stronger. *sigh* The price we pay to have a tight manuscript.

So, that's what I've been doing this morning. Fleshing out the villain, and starting in on the changes. I know my word count will be small over the next little bit, but seeing that amazing finale go from an idea in my mind to written words on a page will make all the effort worth it. Right? Right.

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book Review: Espionage

I've been reading a lot of historicals lately so I jumped at the chance to be part of A.L. Sowards blog tour for her new historical, Espionage. (Isn't that a creepy looking cover? The eye is so weird and well, creepy.)

We are quickly introduced to Peter Eddy who is on his first covert ops mission in 1944 France. He's crossing enemy lines, trying to steal back a code book from the Nazis that they've stolen and could compromise Allied agents. The mission quickly goes bad and Peter's wholesome Idaho upbringing is severely tested.

We are also introduced to Jacques Olivier, a French resistance fighter who is blowing up Nazi strongholds and generally trying to make their lives miserable and stay alive himself.

Peter and Jacques cross paths on an undercover mission that puts both of their lives at risk as they fight to mislead the Germans into thinking the Allied forces will be attacking Calais, France, instead of somewhere else, like Normandy. I was amazed at the level of detail throughout the entire book, for the military missions, the characters, and the French town of Calais. As a reader I became quickly invested in Peter's life as he struggled to reconcile his LDS upbringing with his feeelings for what he was doing during the course of the war. There was also a similar internal struggle with Jacques who had become hardened in his hatred for Nazis and what they had done to his family and friends. There were some interesting asides as both men wrestled with their feelings.

There was plenty of action in this book, as you might expect in a novel set during a war, but there are some fairly graphic torture scenes and quite a bit of killing as well (although the killing isn't very graphic per se. We mostly see the blood etc. left behind). I liked the spy stuff a lot and it was so authentic it was easy to lose myself in 1944 France. My only complaint was the middle of the book was a bit long which slowed the pacing down somewhat, but all in all, I really enjoyed this book. I think A.L. Sowards will be a great addition to my favorite historical authors. I will definitely be anxious for her next book.

If you want to read the first chapter for yourself and enter a contest for a free copy of Espionage, you can click here

And if that isn't enough, as an extra bonus for me (and for you), I got to interview A.L. Sowards! Wait until you read what she does with spam.

What motivated you to write about World War II? Are you a big history buff?

History was always one of my favorite subjects in school, and I’ve got several siblings with similar interests. So yes, I guess you could call me a history buff—and it’s actually getting worse as I get older and do research for my books. The spark for Espionage began in a high school history class when our teacher told us about the D-day deception schemes the Allies were using to make the German Army expect an attack in the Pas-de-Calias instead of in Normandy.

The book is so detailed in both setting and characters. I can only imagine how much research you had to do. What was one thing you came across while doing research that didn't make it into the book?

There was this spy, known as Garbo, who was really interesting. He didn’t like the Nazis, but convinced them he was willing to be an agent for them, and started making reports. They thought he was in England. In reality, he was in Portugal, getting his information from newspapers and the public library. The British were breaking German codes, so they found out about Garbo and wondered who he was and where he was and why that hadn’t caught him yet. (During the war, the British were very good at catching German spies—they caught all of them.) As things progressed, Garbo was formally hired by the British, they moved him to England, and then he continued supplying false or useless or late information to the Nazis. They even had him warn the Nazis about the D-day landings a few hours before they started, wanting to preserve his credibility with the Nazis and knowing the information would take a while before it was decoded. For his work during the war, he received awards from both the Germans and the British.

Did you base any of your characters in the book off of real people that you know?

Bits and pieces of them are. Genevieve looks like one of my college roommates and argues with her brother the same way she argued with hers. Peter and Captain Flanney look like some of the guys I swam with in high school, but I wouldn’t say any one character is based on a real person.

Where do you get your story ideas?

I often get ideas when I’m reading history books. I’ll come across something that I think is really, really interesting and wonder what it would be like to have a character inserted into it. I’ll also see some aspect of a story I like (in a novel or a movie) and wonder what it would be like if I took it and twisted it a bit.

Do you have any other books in the works? What are you working on now?

I recently submitted my second book to my publisher, and I’m about half-way through a rough draft of my third book. Both include characters from Espionage, but I’m trying to write them so they can stand on their own or be read as a series.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
Real writers revise.

After all your hard work in getting your book to publication, what was your first thought when you held your book in your hands for the first time?

Something along the lines of “holy cow, this really happened!” I had been expecting the book at the first of March, then was told the printer doesn’t usually ship the books to the publisher until the second week of the month. I ended up with a copy on March 2nd, so it was a nice, early surprise.

If you could travel in time, what time period would you visit?

I think we live in a fantastic time, so I wouldn’t want to permanently leave the modern world of indoor plumbing, internet, and fast food, but there are a lot of times it would be fun to visit for a week or so. If I had to narrow it down, being in Times Square in New York during V-E (victory in Europe) day or V-J (Victory in Japan) day in 1945 would be amazing.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Don’t give up. Be patient. Be willing to do a lot of rewriting.

What is one thing about yourself that not very many people know?

I know a lot of people think spam (the tinned meat, not the junk email) is really gross. A lot of WWII servicemen had that opinion after getting more than their share of it while serving overseas. But I like it. I shred it, add cheese, oatmeal, and an egg, mix it all together, and make a little spam loaf out of it. We eat it about once a month at our house, served with rice and a pineapple sauce.

Here is the back copy for Espionage:

France, 1944: Nobody expects Peter Eddy to survive his first commando mission—to retrieve a code book stolen by the Nazis—so when he does come back alive, his success is rewarded with an even more daunting assignment. Partnered with French Resistance leader Jacques Olivier, Eddy must identify which of three Allied contacts in Calais is a double agent and use the traitor to help implement a strategic Allied diversion that might win the war. Eddy and Olivier secretly cross the English Channel to confront their suspects one at a time, but what appears to be a clean assignment soon turns disastrous, and a shocking betrayal leaves Eddy in the grip of the Gestapo. With the courageous aid of Olivier and his sister, Genevieve, Eddy evades his captors with a dangerous escape plan. But as the Allied invasion approaches, treachery in the least likely places leads to fresh graves in the bloodied European soil—and only the power of loyalty and love can transform tragic endings into new beginnings.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Our Writing is Part of Us

I think I have just lived through one of the most insane weeks of my life. I am so glad today is Monday and we are starting over.

Because last week was rough.

Last week was spring break for all my kids so we planned a fun trip to the zoo (hich we did but it rained on us) and other activities like that. Unfortunately, we also started out the week with my mother being in a car accident, then continued with my son being in a car accident and totaling our car, my son having an eighteenth birthday, my husband's uncle dying and us attending his funeral, helping my friend move into her new home, and having an extended family birthday luncheon at our home right after we finished working at my other son's Eagle project.

See what I mean?

Thankfully, my son and my mother were okay and walked away from their car accidents with only bruises. (The airbag hit my son so hard in the face it was pretty swollen and his ears were ringing from the airbag popping out, though. Scary.) But as I reflected on the events of the week, two things really stood out for me.

When the phone rang late that night I was pretty calm, just wondering why my son wasn't home yet. But I learned quickly that seven words "Mom, I've been in a car accident" can make the adrenaline in my body start flowing freely and it takes a while for adrenaline to calm down. So, someday in a book I will be able to say with authority that reactions to a child in distress can be adrenaline-fueled with no action necessary.

I also had the experience at the uncle's funeral of witnessing the military honors for this relative. From my line of sight, there was a young man in full uniform, down to the crisply pressed pants and beautifully shined shoes, folding the flag as they prepared to give it to the widow. This was being done in the mortuary's small back area, and directly behind it was an apartment building with a little balcony. On that balcony was a young man, with ripped jeans, earbuds in his ears, a t-shirt with something I can't repeat emblazoned on it, and sunglasses. He was watching the ceremony, but from where I was standing, he was directly behind the military man about his age who was folding the flag. It was a powerful image for me. The sacrifice of those in our military seems to huge, so that people like that young man on the balcony, and myself, can have the freedom to express ourselves through words, clothing, and actions. Having the mournful notes of "Taps" being played as I watched these two young men was an image I won't soon forget and I know I will write about someday.

It's not that I write about every experience I have, but there are times when life experience can add another dimension to my writing that wouldn't have been there if I hadn't experienced it myself. I think that's why writing becomes such a labor of love because we put ourselves and the fruits of our observation in the pages that eventually becomes our book, our baby, that part of us that we express through our stories.

So, I am chalking up this past week to lessons learned and experiences that will someday be put into the words of a book to be explored and re-lived through a character's eyes as well as my own. However, living through last week has also motivated me to start working on my grand finale that I've been struggling with. We'll see how I did on Word Count Wednesday this week.

How was your weekend? Did you do anything fun?

Friday, April 13, 2012

First Page Friday

It's Friday the 13th, but here at the blog, we're lucky because it's First Page Friday! Let's get right to it.

The Entry

by Melanie Conklin

It’s three weeks into my freshman year at Chester High and nobody, much less a certain best friend of my big brother, knows I exist. Except for Tammy. And Brian, of course—but middle school friends don’t count in high school!

Mr. Hughes is lulling me to sleep this morning, despite my popularity retarding love for all things animal-vegetable-mineral. His voice is like a blanket. And the stuffy, sticky air is not helping one bit. An Indian Summer heat wave has turned our spare cinder block classroom into a stinky beige oven.

“Hey, Katie. Do you know why they call it ‘Indian Summer’?” Brian whispers, like he can hear what I’m thinking under my sweaty black headband.

“Did I say that out loud?”

“Say what out loud? It’s hot. The weather guy calls it Indian Summer.” His brown eyes look scolded. I shrug off the weirdness.

“Never mind. So why do they call it that?”

“Well, the theory is European colonies expected raids by Native American war parties late in the summer, before the snow fell, so they called it Indian Summer. But it could be because they harvested at time of year too, and—“

“Excuse me, Brian,” Mr. Hughes says, “Let’s save the Indians for Mr. Hardwick’s class and keep our minds on biology, shall we? As I was saying, today we will discuss the structures of the cell. But first I have a little surprise for you.”
Pausing, he turns to his desk and scoops up an armload of photocopies. We hold our collective breath.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

I like the humorous tone here, but this excerpt doesn’t quite grab my attention. We have a generic first-person narrator, some banter about Indian summer, and a pop quiz. The most compelling piece for me is the potential love triangle between the narrator, her brother’s best friend, and Brian (if I’ve interpreted his ability to read her mind correctly). However, it’s hard to invest in storyline possibilities when we learn so little about our heroine.

Be careful not to overwrite in the name of wittiness. Phrases like “popularity retarding love” feel a bit forced. (Also, I’d hyphenate compound adjectives like “popularity-retarding” when they precede the noun, for clarity’s sake.) That said, “all things animal-vegetable-mineral” was quite snappy.

I felt a bit taken aback at this: “…but middle school friends don’t count in high school!” I would reconsider this line, because it doesn’t cast the most favorable first impression. Sure, our narrator is only fourteen or fifteen, but why would she be so dismissive of her friends—particularly Brian, who knows her so well? Is she on a quest for popularity?

It’s been a while since I last discussed participial verb phrases, so I’d like to address the first sentence of the last paragraph: “Pausing, he turns to his desk and scoops up an armload of photocopies.” Participial verb phrases (in this case, “Pausing”) denote simultaneous action with the main verb (“turns”). In other words, this sentence is telling us that Mr. Hughes is pausing and turning to his desk at the same time, which isn’t possible. I’d cut “pausing” from this sentence and keep the rest; not only will the sentence not lose anything, but the progression of events will be much clearer.

It’s not that participial phrases are inherently bad—like all other grammatical devices, they have a purpose. They’re just tricky to get right. Incorrect use can create chronological impossibilities (e.g., “Opening the jar of pickles, she reached for the ketchup”) or dangling participles (e.g., “Tired after a long day, his head hurt”) if a writer doesn’t have a firm grasp of their function. It doesn’t help that they’re so darn seductive: Present “-ing” participles can create pleasant rhythm—rhythm that sometimes lulls us into grammatical error.

My best advice would be to rethink the opening of this story. Is a nondescript classroom scene the best use of space on the first page, or could there be a more compelling hook? What first impression would you like your heroine to leave? Lastly, what dialogue, if any, will be most effective in propelling this story (and the reader) forward?

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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Using Book Signings, Book Launches, and Book Bombs for Marketing Tools

Today I'd like to talk to you about three mainstays for marketing your book and what I think of them---Book Signings, Book Launches, and Book Bombs.

Book Signings

As an author, I've lost count of the number of book signings I've done. Some authors I know hate book signings because it can be uncomfortable, but I've always enjoyed them because I get to meet so many interesting people.

Book signings can be a wonderful way to do some marketing (albeit a more spontaneous and unpredictable way to do it) and there are a few things the author can do to make it work.

Have a display. Make sure your book is prominently displayed on your table. Just seeing a person sitting behind a table doesn't tell anyone what you're doing there and it doesn't get your name or product out there. I have a large cardboard-y type cover of my book that I can use, and I also make little display designs with copies of my books on the table. Silly, I know, but you'd be surprised at how many comments I get about that.

Have candy at your table. It sounds like bribery, but it gives people a reason to saunter over and talk to you.

Talk to the people who come in. I have sold so many other authors' work because I ask people who their favorite author is, or what genre they like, and I truly enjoy the conversation and being able to give them a recommendation. Building community with readers and writers is always a good thing because I believe it comes back to you.

Have a bookmark you can give out and have a sign up sheet on your table where they can sign up for your newsletter or a drawing or whatever. Getting readers to give permission for you to contact them again is a gift. I always enjoy new subscribers to my newsletter and try to make it worth their while. Giving the reader the chance to look at your bookmark and see your name one more time before they throw it away or mark their page could be considered "planting a seed" if you will.

Get to know the staff of the store. I am so grateful for the friendships I've made with store managers and clerks because they request me for signings and they recommend my books to others. It's a win/win situation for me because I get to talk books and make new friends.

Book signings aren't necessarily the greatest way to market your books, however, because you can't predict how many customers will be there, weather conditions, people's reactions to your product, advertising success for your visit, there's just a whole host of things that are out of your control. But if you look at it as a way to build your name and build relationships, then I think you can count every book signing a success.

Book Launches

I was part of a multi-author book launch for my book Dangerous Connections. It was probably one of the most successful things I've been a part of, not only because of the number of books we sold, but because of the example it set for me in how to do a book launch well.

(Sadly, I can't take much credit for any of it because I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and really sick at the time.)

Here's what we did: Annette Lyon, Sarah Eden, and myself all had new releases coming out at the same time. Annette had a women's fiction release, Sarah's was historical, and mine was romantic suspense. That was the first stroke of genius because we had different genres, so our fanbases were there and exposed to different authors that they could try. It was great marketing because all three of us were promoting to a different group of people so the same groups of people (historical fans, suspense fans, etc.) weren't getting bombarded with announcements for the launch.

Annette Lyon also put effort into getting prizes for drawings very half hour of the launch. People stayed to talk to us and to browse while they were waiting for the drawings.

With book launches, getting the word out is the main thing, and having other author support combined with store support is critical. That's why having a writing community surround you is so important--writers helping writers to promote and market. Another author that does this well is Josi Kilpack. Her culinary mysteries are masterpieces and she offers yummy treats from her books at her book launches. She also sends out postcards to let her mailing list know about the launch. I think the key is planning how to magnetize people to your release party and then execute it in a way that excites the reader and makes them glad they came.

Book Bombs

This is the only one I haven't personally participated in (because I haven't had a new release since these became popular) but I have had several author friends do them. So here's what I've learned:

Book bombs are when you have a specified day for people to buy your book to "bomb" it so to speak. Some people offer specific prizes throughout the day for those who produce a "receipt" of their purchase on that day, like giving away deleted scenes, or other ebooks, what have you.

Here's the rub, though. One of my author friends did a book bomb and sold 500 books in one day and got some pretty high Amazon rankings. Another friend did a book bomb and sold around 50 books. Both of them felt their "bomb" was a success because they'd gotten their name out there. This told me that defining what will make your book bomb a success to you is what will make it a success. Will you define your success by number of books sold? Is your goal to be a high-ranking author on Amazon? Whatever it is, spend a bit of time thinking about it beforehand so you can do your best to reach for it.

Again, the key to a book bomb is planning your strategy. Getting the word out there that it's going to happen is imperative and getting people excited to buy your book goes without saying. (It's that whole "have a great product" thing again.) Using social media is a great way to get the word out, but having word of mouth from the writing community you've been building is the easiest way to spark interest since your reach will be longer.)

So, the moral of my marketing tale today is, build your writing community. Like we talked about last week, when you have followers/friends on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, pinterest, etc., and you post regularly and build up your friendship/face/name you are only helping yourself when it comes time to market. People will come and see you at book signings, they will come to your book launch and tell their friends, and they will participate in your book bomb because they know what you're about and like you and your writing. Plus, it enriches your life to have a supportive community around you. (But don't blow it by pestering people constantly with it. Then you're the guy that everyone can't wait to get away from.)

Have any of you participated in book signings, book launches, or book bombs? What did you like or what didn't you like?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

Well, despite all my best intentions, my word count this week was dismal. I still haven't finished my work in progress, (but I thought of another chapter I could add) and I sort of started another writing project that I shouldn't have. But at least starting that project gave me some word count about 1500 words). And it's so new and bright and shiny it seems easier to draft that one than slog with the manuscript I've been working on for months.

Sad, but true.

I don't think I'm stuck in writers' block per se, but I think I am hoping that this new shiny project will translate into the motivation to finish the one I need to finish. Cross your fingers for me.

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

LDS Writers Blogfest---A Time to Prepare

Being a wife, mother, and a writer has a lot of perks and a lot of struggles that come along with it. I worry that I'm not balancing my life well and one of those areas of my life will suffer for it because in each of these small little words comes so much responsibility:




Last October, Ian S. Arden gave a talk to the members of the LDS church in our General Conference. It was called A Time to Prepare and addressed some of the things I'd been worrying about. He said, "With the demands made of us, we must learn to prioritize our choices to match our goals or risk being exposed to the winds of procrastination and being blown from one time-wasting activity to another."

To me, that was such a powerful visual. Prioritizing important choices so we are not buffeted on the wind between time-wasting activities.

Every day I make hundreds of choices. Mundane ones that don't matter (like what I eat for lunch) and big ones that would seem small at first (what are my children doing while I write) but are actually large in the eternal scheme of things. I have to prioritize what's important, and as much as I love writing, my children will always come first. Sitting on the porch, listening to my teenage children talk about their day is a highlight rather than a hindrance. Even if I do have twenty more things on my to-do list. Sitting to play tea party with my little girl, even though I have a manuscript waiting to be finished will never be considered time-wasting for me because I want my daughter to grow up to remember that her mommy loved to play with her and cherished all the moments of her childhood. I want that for all my children.

Having said that, I also want my children to see that I have a talent that I'm trying to develop and that taking writing time for myself is still a priority. However, the computer is so convenient that sometimes I find myself looking at Facebook, playing Bejeweled Blitz, or looking at Google+ and Twitter. I have obligations as a writer to market my work and get my name out there, I feel sometimes that I need a break and justify playing Bejeweled Blitz, and of course I can always rationalize that I am researching ideas for my next book when I'm reading all the latest newspapers. But the reality is, those are my distractions. Those are my winds of procrastination.

Ian Arden went on to say, "I invite us to identify the time-wasting distractions in our lives that may need to be figuratively ground into dust. We will need to be wise in our judgment to ensure that the scales of time are correctly balanced to include the Lord, family, work, and wholesome recreational activities. As many have already discovered, there is an increase of happiness in life as we use our time to seek after those things which are “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.”

So, I've already taken the first step in identifying my time-wasting distractions. And frankly, I don't think they're all bad. Sometimes I may need a distraction and sometimes going to social media is part of my job. But the key is to correctly balance it all so I am not cheating the Lord, my family, or myself. When I'm giving my best to my family, I find that I'm a better writer. And when I'm writing, I find I'm a better wife and mother.

But how do we find the balance? Elder Arden tells us we must do two things. One, we must become master managers of our time. To me, this doesn't mean scheduling each day down to the minute, but it does include making sure time is allotted for all the important things in our life with a little left over for the inevitable time crashers---the things we can't plan for but always happen.

The second thing he said to do was to pray because, "when help is prayerfully and sincerely sought, our Heavenly Father will help us to give emphasis to that which deserves our time above something else."

To me, that was the greatest comfort of all to know that Heavenly Father will help me prioritize and that He knows what is most important at a given time in my life and all I have to do is pray---anytime and anywhere. Those words of comfort are what get me through the day sometimes when I question my choices or second-guess myself. Knowing that I'm doing the best I can and that my Father in Heaven knows that, too, gets me through some hard times and adds a little extra joy to the good times.

There are so many demands on our time these days, and with the advances in technology, including in the publishing world, I think those demands will only get louder. But I also know that as we prioritize our choices in developing ourselves as writers, parents, spouses, and children of God, we will be happier and blessed for our efforts in ways we might not be able to imagine now.

I am so grateful for my family, for my opportunities, and for the blessing I have of trying to do better today than I did yesterday. As Elder Arden said, "Time marches swiftly forward to the tick of the clock." As time slips away each day, I know we are all looking for balance in our lives and I truly believe that, as Elder Arden so eloquently said, seeking guidance through individual prayer and then making priorities are the scales that balance us in today's world.

If you would like to read the entire article of A Time to Prepare click here

**Here are some other writers who are taking part in the LDS Writers Blogfest today. You can check out what touched them about a particular Conference talk and maybe find a new blog or friend to follow.

Amanda Sowards
Angie Lofthouse
Ben Spendlove
Britanny Larsen
Cami Checketts
Charity Bradford
Danyelle Ferguson
Giselle Abreu
Julia Keanini
Kasey Tross
Kayeleen Hamblin
Kelly Bryson
Krista Van Dolzer
Laura Johnston
Melanie Standord
Rachelle Christensen
Rebecca Belliston
Sierra Gardner
Stephanie Worlton

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: Countdown to Love

I've been getting to bed quite late these days, so I was pretty happy when I was able to get into bed at 10:30 p.m. on Friday night. (Yeah, I know, I must be getting old to make that statement.) Anyway, I thought I'd read for fifteen minutes before I turned in and I had Countdown to Love by Julie Ford on my Kindle that I'd been meaning to start. So I picked it up.

That was my first mistake.

Holy cow. That book sucked me in so fast before I knew it it was 2:30 a.m. and I was finishing the last page. It was funny and heartwarming and fluffy and fiery. I loved it.

So, here's the premise: We are introduced to Kelly Grace, a country singer, and it's her wedding day. She's staring into the mirror and feeling in the pit of her stomach something is going to go wrong. Something does go horribly wrong and circumstances are such that she ends up on the reality TV show "Countdown to Love," similar to "The Bachelor."

I will admit to you that I watched the Bachelor reality show until they gave a second chance to that guy who didn't choose any girl the first time around (I stopped watching after that because I didn't think he deserved a second chance and I wasn't going to watch him again, besides which, the show was getting repetitive and dumb and over the top. But I digress.) So to have a book that was obviously a takeoff on that show, that had behind the scenes stuff that felt so real and was funny, combined with a guy, Dillon, who is actually likeable and complicated, well, that really drew me in. Plus, I loved Kelly's character because she was relatable and the scenes between her and the other "contestants" were laugh out loud funny and something I could totally imagine happening. Kelly's southern girl status as a person who tells it like it is, (a girl after my own heart) is the perfect opposite to Dillon, a New Yorker with a mysterious air about him. They were just the ingredients for a romance that honestly kept me up half the night just so I could see what happened.

The only thing I was disappointed in was that this book was screaming for an epilogue. One practically wrote itself as a juxtaposition to the original first scene in the book. Hence, I mentally wrote my own epilogue and without giving anything away, it was in Wyoming, it had wildflowers in it, and maybe a mirror with a whole different girl staring out of it. *le sigh*

If you are looking for a fun romantic read, this is definitely the book for you. Here's the back copy:

Kelly Grace Pickens is an excited bride - until she's abandoned at the altar. Desperate, she accepts an offer to appear on a reality TV show, Count Down to Love. Her country ways are a stark contrast to the mysterious bachelor from New York. Wading through hurt and betrayal both on and off screen, Kelly discovers that being true to yourself is essential to finding happiness and love.

Friday, April 6, 2012

First Page Friday

We have gotten some wonderful submissions for First Page Friday. Today is no exception. I always learn so much from these critiques, it's like sitting in a little class each Friday. I hope they are beneficial for you as well. :)

(If you would like to have your first page critiqued by a national editor, please submit it to with First Page Friday in the subject line. Submissions are critiqued on a first come first served basis.)

Thank you all for participating!

The Entry
by Spencer Phelps

“Marion Tourism Board, this is Mike… No, this isn’t Tubby’s Pizza. Their number ends in a six, you dialed a seven… Yes, I’m sure… No, I won’t call them for you.” Mike hung up the phone.

The tourism office was housed in what used to be some sort of old-timey shop since it had a large display window in front. Downtown Marion, Ohio didn’t look very pretty having so many empty store and office spaces. Mike swore the downtown planning committee was so in love with their only claim to fame, ex-president Warren G. Harding, that they strove to keep downtown looking the same way it did when he was commander-in-chief. Mike’s place of employment was part of a worn, red-brick, downtown building built in the early 1900s and employed exactly three people: Mike, his good friend Ben, and their boss Gary. Posters of various, older slogans the office had come up with to spur tourism to Marion hung along the walls that were covered with that fake wood paneling that probably looked so trendy many decades ago. Mike sat at his oversized, metal desk that was built in the fifties to withstand a nuclear blast should the commies decide to attack.

Mike Lynch was a fairly good-looking young dude with short, black hair, neatly-cut sideburns, hazel eyes, and a light frame that he kept toned by doing a few sit-ups and crunches in the morning and staying away from the Mt. Dew and M&Ms most of the time. His clothes were usually just as trendy as his smart sideburns, although you’d never guess he shopped at the local Salvation Army. Mike’s philosophy on clothes was, “It doesn’t matter what you wear; it matters how you wear it.” So he was sporting his faded, straight-cut jeans, snazzy black, leather belt, and brown t-shirt with a worn “Seneca County Fair 1997” logo on the front at work today.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

What I like most about this piece is its overall voice. It’s distinctly male, and there’s a delicious undercurrent of snark that flows through it from beginning to end. Mike appears to be a pretty standard protagonist—good-looking, riddled with life ennui, primed for some sort of life-altering experience.

The problem is that there’s no way of predicting what that experience will be from this first page. The story doesn’t get immediately under way after the initial scrap of dialogue. Instead, there’s a bit of an information dump about the tourism office and Marion, followed immediately by a paragraph-long description of Mike’s appearance and fashion sense. Don’t get me wrong: These are all important pieces of information, but clumping them together on the first page kills some of the momentum. Consider integrating this information more gradually. This will feel a lot more organic than paragraph-long laundry lists of traits.

The description of Mike in particular feels heavy-handed. He’s a good-looking young dude with great hair, a great body, healthy eating and frugal spending habits, and somewhat hipster fashion sensibilities. It all feels a bit airbrushed, the way someone who is infatuated with him might describe him and not how he would describe himself. Does he have any flaws, or is he a perfect ten on all fronts? Readers may have a problem connecting with a narrator who comes off as too perfect, particularly in a comedy.

Speaking of comedy, the strength of this piece is in its abiding humor. I particularly liked the quip about Marion looking as it did when Warren G. Harding was commander-in-chief and the description of Mike’s desk. There are some problems at the syntax level that a good copy edit would resolve (eliminating extraneous words and phrases, punctuation issues, etc.), but the overall writing quality is quite good.

So, to sum up, the key issue for me is a lack of direction on this first page. I don’t have a sense of where this story might be headed, and I haven’t yet connected with the narrator who will lead the way. We learn some superficial stats about Mike, but we don’t learn much of substance about him from this first page. Flesh him out a bit from the start. Hint at what might be at stake for him in this story. And, above all else, keep the quips coming!

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

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Marketing--Whose Side Are You On?

There has been a lot of discussion on book marketing lately among authors. Mostly just what works and what doesn't.

The standard things that work are what you've all heard before:

1. Build your writing community profile by having a blog/website, Facebook fan page, Twitter accounts, Goodreads, Google+, Pinterest, or whatever venue you feel comfortable in.

2. Don't go overboard in self-promotion on those sites. No one wants to feel like they're being sold to all the time. Just be yourself and let people get to know you.

3. Make sure the book you are marketing is solid---well-plotted and well-edited.

Nothing new to see here, really. But then some authors were complaining about how hard it is to update their blogs, update Twitter, Google+, pinterest, Facebook, etc. etc., and still find time to write a book and wondered how much good any of that did anyway for their sales.

Here's my take on it (and I'm not saying I'm perfect by any stretch). As an author, I want to share my stories with as many people as would like to read them. In order to do that, I have to reach people that I don't come in contact with every day. The internet is a wonderful tool for that, but it can also be the biggest time-sucker around. It's all in how you balance it.

For example, I blog five days a week not because I'm addicted to blogging, but because I feel like I have writer/reader friends who come by every day to talk and I don't want to miss that visit. I also like the idea of helping each other through the ups and downs of writing because it can be a lonely business and having a little writer support is invaluable. Same thing with Twitter and Facebook. I spend a little bit of time each day with my "friends" and then I turn to my writing. Since my computer time is so limited with small children, I have to be time-conscious, but I think every writer should be time-conscious. Don't let the internet kill your writing time. Self-discipline is a must.

You might think it's easy to just throw out some self-promoting link each day (I see it all the time--Come check out my new book! Come like my Facebook page!) and there's never anything new. They may think they're promoting, but mostly what people are doing when they resort to that is losing potential customers and friends. If that's all you're about, why would I want more of it? Let me see more of the real you and maybe I'll want to get to know your books as well.

The one thing every author HAS to do, though, is spend the time to write something worth reading. It is ten times harder to market something that isn't ready for publication and needed a few more revisions. If your book is amazing, people will tell their friends. Word of mouth advertising is invaluable, but you have to put the time in. It's easy to think when you write The End that you're done, but revision and editing are your friends. Make sure your book is the best it can be so that you have a solid product to market in the first place.

I think book marketing is an individual thing since every author and book is in a different place (first-timers, seasoned authors, indie, traditional, etc.) and each author has a different comfort level with social media and internet marketing. For authors, though, these three basic marketing tools are the foundation of the "have to do" list. Yes, it can be time-consuming for an author, but in the long run, it is worth it, not only for book sales, but also for building a community that will last beyond your newest release.

As a reader, what do you like to see from your favorite authors? As an author, how do you handle marketing?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

Well, the strangest thing has happened to me this week. I'm at the end of my manuscript. I just need to revise the final scene, but every time I go to do it, I just can't seem to get it done. I've thought of dozens of scenarios and none of them seem right. So instead of writing, I've been futzing around on the internet and organizing my house again.

Yeah, I'm avoiding. But why?

For all you armchair shrinks out there, this is the first time I've never been able to finish a project like this. Usually I'm great at endings and I look forward to them, so this is weird. Any thoughts?

Of course as you may have guessed from my confession my word count was effectively zero. How did you do this week?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Castle--Don't Blink Or You Miss Him

Well, I've run the gamut of emotions over the Castle last night. The talk with Laney was awesome, but we really should have gotten that about ten episodes ago. And can Kate really claim she doesn't know how Castle feels when she heard him say I love you? It was a little bit of confusion there for me.

But then the confusion got deeper when we saw Castle for all of about ten minutes the entire episode. He's gone back to his playboy ways, but instead of it being like it was in the first seasons, it's just . . . well, dumb. We've spent the last three seasons seeing him grow beyond that and to have him deliberately compromise a case with a new bimbo is demeaning.

The case provides us with a "replacement Castle" so to speak in having Kate work with a British inspector. A bumbling British inspector who was not hard to look at. I liked the mystery, once again, and thought that part was well done. And the funniest line of the night was definitely when the Brit had talked himself past the airport security guy by saying he was Agent Bauer and when the security guy gets his supervisor on the phone in record time Castle says, "Agent Bauer? Well, what did he expect?" I laughed out loud. Jack Bauer is a legend of epic proportions. I miss him. (Although I heard the 24 movie will start filming next year now that contract negotiations are hammered out. I hope it goes smoothly. And a tiny part of me still hopes that Renee's death was staged and she comes back. She was such a great female lead for Jack. *sigh*)

Anyway, Castle gets a C- from me mostly because we hardly saw him, Kate knows exactly how he feels about her but didn't learn her lesson at waiting too long with the beach house thing and waited too long again. I guess for me it's just starting to feel silly and I wish they'd either do the relationship right, or don't do it at all and concentrate on having great mysteries and a lot of fun snark.

Do you watch shows in the genre you write in? I was curious about that when I realized that all my favorite shows are suspense with a dash of romance.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: Olivia

Since it worked out so well last week and with Debra's suggestion to shake things up a bit, I thought I'd try book reviews on Monday for a while. Then we can talk about Monday night TV on Tuesdays! I know, it's so perfect!

Today I'd like to tell you about Olivia by Julie Wright. Olivia is a woman who is trying hard to build the perfect home life on the outside. She does everything a dutiful wife and mother should, but when she spends hours making a perfect anniversary dinner and sits there alone while the candles melt to nubs, she realizes that everything is not perfect in her marriage. And to top it all off, she feels like she's lost her own identity.

When her husband comes home and doesn't even apologize for missing the dinner, Olivia realizes she needs to make some changes in her life. She sees a flapping flier advertising a book club and joins it which brings an entirely new dimension to her life. Of course that dimension becomes a lifeline as she starts to really address the problems in her marriage and family. I loved the introduction of each lady in the book club and their distinct personalities as they provide support for Olivia in their own way. It's clever since the other characters in the Newport Ladies Book Club will each be the main character in their own book. (I believe the next one comes out in June and is by Josi Kilpack.)

The thing I like about Olivia is the thing that all Julie Wright fans like about her writing. It's very visceral. Julie takes her readers down to the mat with the emotions of her characters and then pushes it two feet more. She engages you on such a realistic level it feels like you are right there experiencing a distant marriage that may be on its last legs combined with trying to deal with step-children who don't know where to turn or how to act and feeling exhausted by it all. It's a basic human emotion to want love and to be able to give love and Julie Wright taps into that while giving you so much more. If you read her book My Not So Fairy Tale Life, you'll know what I'm talking about---emotions written so well you really feel the punch in the gut surprise or the happy feeling that make you smile in a goofy way that would scare people if you were in public. Visceral. It's the only way to explain it.

Olivia has all of that and more. It's the story of a woman's journey in finding friendships, figuring out her marriage and family, but most of all discovering the strength she has within herself.

As I mentioned this book is the start of a series written by four separate authors. I think Julie Wright has set the bar high for the rest of the authors and I'll be anxiously waiting to see what happens to the ladies of the Newport Book Club.

Here is the back copy:

The Robbins household looks perfect from the outside: no dust, no stains, no wrinkles. Yet a glimpse into its heart reveals no laughter, no closeness, no joy. Olivia thinks that if she keeps everything tidy and serves delicious meals on time, family life is bound to get better. But when her husband, Nick, misses their anniversary, she realizes no amount of domestic success will compensate for failure in their marriage, or for her own failure to develop her identity, always busy as a mother, wife, and neighbor, she has forgotten how to be a unique and vibrant individual. Determined to make a change, Olivia joins a local book club, where she nurtures new friendships and explores new ideas. But her growing confidence falters when Nick declares his independence, and while her new friends lovingly encircle her with support, only Olivia can reach into the depths of her fledgling self to find the faith, hope, and love her troubled family needs.