Wednesday, July 31, 2013

We're Sprinting!!

I'm here, I'm here!  Is anyone else?

You know the drill, check back here every fifteen minutes.

Ready, set GO!!

Word Count Wednesday

Okay I am jumping up and down with excitement this week.  But first . . . remember when I had the first page of All Fall Down critiqued on First Page Friday?  Angela Eschler, one of our amazing editors for First Page Friday, has a new feature on her blog where she has the original submission, her critique, then the changes that were made. I also offered my thoughts on how the critiqued helped me.  You can see it all here  Great stuff, my friends.

I also got another review of Ashes Ashes today.  The reviewer from Books are Sanity said she was on the edge of her proverbial chair throughout the book.  You can read the whole thing here

But today, I am happy to share that I got almost 8000 words on my manuscript this week.  I know, right?! Something for me to cheer for sure. I am getting so close to being done with this draft and that excites me. I've also been editing the first half of my book that's coming out on October 1st, and that half will be going to my critique group tomorrow.  *bites nails*  I'm excited/terrified for them to read it.

How did you do this week?  And will you be joining us at the sprint tonight at 8 p.m. MST?  (We'd love to see you back here sprinting with us!  Just do it. You won't be sorry.)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Double Book Review

Today I have two books to tell you about.  The first one is a regency romance by G.G. Vandagriff called Lord Trowbridge's Angel.

In this book we meet Viscount Frank Trowbridge who agrees to escort Miss Sophie Edwards to a ball.  Sophie isn't able to dance because of a childhood injury, so when he finds out she plays the violin, he introduces her to the musical people he knows.

Pretty soon he finds himself utterly entranced with the woman at his side and how she seems to light up the room when she's speaking about music and an upcoming performance.  Unfortunately, his mistress also sees his interest in Miss Sophie, there's illness, society expectations and that isn't even all the twists and turns for our hero and heroine with many more misunderstandings and obstacles to their newfound love.

I thought the setting was well done, but there were times when the viscount seemed a little naive in his actions and what society expected.  I liked Miss Sophie and was happy to catch up with her sisters who were heroines in previous books.  Ms. Vandagriff does not disappoint her historical fiction fans and this is another gem in her series.  (Currently on Kindle for .99 cents! Click here) (And no, I don't receive any compensation for providing that link, I just want to make things easy for my blog friends.)

Here is the back copy:

When the very bored and very handsome Viscount Trowbridge agrees to escort Miss Sophie Edwards to her first ball, his life is upended. Because a childhood injury left her unable to dance, Sophie is new to the ton and not terribly interested in it. But our heroine has a secret weapon: she has mastered the violin.

The viscount, aka Gorgeous Frank, is unexpectedly and powerfully smitten the first time he hears her perform. Recognizing in Sophie a person more complex and passionate than any ton beauty, he launches a courtship calculated to win her in ways as original as she is.

Sophie is nearly bowled over, but a native disinclination to trust proves a serious challenge, as does Frank’s former mistress. At times, Frank is his own worst enemy. As he wades through a sea of misunderstandings, will his “angel” have the insight to believe that he is a changed man? Will Sophie avail herself of her sisters’ help, lower the barriers of a lifetime to trust him, and allow herself to fall in love?

The second book I want to tell you about today is Motive for Murder by Marlene Bateman.  It is an Erica Coleman mystery, the first in that series.  Erica is a quirky former police officer and a current private investigator.  When she goes to Florida to visit her needy friend Wendy, she literally stumbles over a murder scene.  Her friend is very shaken and asks Erica to stay and investigate the murder, especially since it looks like her boyfriend may be involved since he knew the victim.

Erica agrees to stay, even though she has a husband and kids at home waiting for her, and starts delving into the murder.  Erica has OCD issues and sometimes comes across stilted in her conversation, but she is good at trying to observe clues that others have missed.  It quickly becomes clear to her that almost everyone who had been at Wendy's house that night had a motive to murder the victim and I was led on a merry chase trying to follow all the clues and figure out who did it before I turned the last page.  There were some pacing and editing issues that were hard to overlook, but the desire to know who did it in the end kept me coming back.  Definitely a mystery that kept me guessing.

Here's the back copy:

Meet Erica Coleman—a gifted and quirky private investigator with an OCD-like passion for neatness and symmetry, a penchant for cooking, (ten terrific recipes are included), and a weakness for chocolate.

Erica imagined that her trip to Florida would be a slice of heaven—a chance to get away from it all and catch up with her best friend, Wendy. But one day into her vacation, all hope of fun in the sun is dashed when she stumbles, literally, over a dead man on Wendy’s driveway. With police closing in on her friend as their main suspect, Erica must find the real killer before Wendy ends up behind bars.

With Erica’s skill, solving the mystery should be a piece of cake but then a second homicide-attempt hits close to home and generates a whole new list of suspects. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, a murderer is on the prowl, and no one is above suspicion.

As the plot thickens, it appears Erica may have bitten off more than she can chew, but she forges on, sifting through mounting evidence until she hones in on the killer who has a surprising motive for murder. With a dash of romance and some surprising twists, this thrilling mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

Motive for Murder is available at all LDS bookstores and is also available on CD. Here are 3 links where Motive for Murder can be purchased online:  

Seagull Book  Amazon  Deseret Book or visit Marlene's website here 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Joss Whedon's Character Writing Advice

Everyone knows Joss Whedon, right? He's a writer, producer, director, script doctor, and executive producer to name a few of the hats he wears.  He is an amazingly talented man.  Some of his writing credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Toy Story, Firefly, Titan A.E., Alien Resurrection, Angel, and The Avengers.  Can you imagine the things going on in this man's head?  Does he ever sleep with that kind of imagination?  And while I know none of those things I listed are novel writing, he gave some advice that I've really been thinking about as I write my new novel.

He said:

"Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue: you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny; not everybody has to be cute; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble."

I have a minor character in Pocket Full of Posies that has really been clamoring to be more of a major character and I've been fleshing him out.  This "thug flanking my bad guy" has a history and an identity and even though he started out non-speaking, he's now becoming an integral part of my book.  And as I was doing that, I read what Mr. Whedon said and it resonated with me.  I started looking at my other non-speaking people.  What's their story?  Why are they there and what's their reason?

Doing that has helped me to know my story better.  I didn't think I could know it any better than I did, but it added a whole other dimension to it.  I can tell you the reason for a lot of actions now, where previously it was just setting up the next character arc.  It's been a great exercise for me and advice I will definitely use in my future novels.

What do you think?  Is it valuable for you to know the whys and wherefores for each character both minor, major, and the ones who are firmly in the background?

Friday, July 26, 2013

First Page Friday

Can you believe it's Friday already? This week has flown by.  I'm so excited about today's First Page Friday critique because it's on memoir.  Someday I'll write my own memoirs and hopefully have this post bookmarked!

If you would like your first page critiqued by a national editor, submit your double-spaced 12 pt. font first page to with First Page Friday in the subject line.  We still have two openings in August.

As always, thank you to our editor and author for their time and effort.

See you next week!

The Entry
Dreamed I Could Fly
by Lee Hinkle

In college, I was a cheap date. If a guy asked me what I’d like to do, I’d often suggest a drive out to the end of Imperial Boulevard1, which runs parallel to the south side of Los Angeles International Airport to watch airplanes take off and land. If he didn’t know me very well, the guy inevitably interpreted my response as a come-on and would happily, eagerly agree to the excursion. However, by the third date, he would likely sigh and say something like “Not again.” If our relationship made it as far as a fourth date he knew better than to ask.

Why do I feel this weird cosmic link to airplanes? I wish I knew. It has been there inside me for as long as I can remember. I’m just fascinated by those sleek, metal birds that soar high above all that is mundane and earthbound. Oddly enough, my fascination and passion for them have never translated to wanting to actually pilot one. Mostly, I just want to look at them, experience their kingly presence, delight in their amazing ability to whisk me away to anywhere else, watch and listen to their splendid roar as they climb into the sky, and breathe in the heavenly scent of jet fuel left trailing in their wake.

My love for airplanes is best illustrated by my choice of apartments when I went to work for Continental Airlines at in Los Angeles back in 1977. I rented an efficiency apartment at the end of Imperial Avenue in El Segundo, CA, which was located directly across the street from one of the runways at LAX. My new address blessed me daily with the opportunity to hear the roar of jets taking-off and landing practically in my own front yard. It was music to my ears, though visitors to my apartment often were jarred by what they described as noise.

1 Imperial Boulevard parallels the south side of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It ends at Pershing Drive, which runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean.

Heidi From Eschler Editing Comments

Every life is a story, and every person’s story is worth telling. The trick is in telling it properly, so that it has maximum impact.

There are as many reasons for writing a memoir as there are people. Memoirs can be fancy or fussy, complex or simple, full of whimsy or gravitas. They can be broad and expansive, covering a long life, or short and focused. They can explore one season in your life, one experience, one angle, or they may try to tie up the myriad of experiences that define you as a person into an overarching whole. A memoir is an invitation to the world to share in your life’s journey, whether it’s for the space of a year in Provence, the span of a wild childhood, the length of a war, or the sum of an entire life with the marrow fully extracted.

You can write at the start of your journey, the middle, or the end, from the perspective of childhood or the wisdom of age. Still, so much choice can leave you feeling indecisive and unsure of where to start.

What I like:

The narrative is a little quirky and off-kilter. I’m left with the impression that the person I’m accompanying on this journey has a sense of humor – always a positive thing in a traveling companion.

The first line really is great, setting up a fun and interesting premise. It would be a good hook if you are sure that’s what your story is about. Although it has potential, you want to be sure it is the right one for the story you want to tell. Below are some thoughts on creating a strong opening for your story.

Are you starting in the right place? 

Every beginning of a story has an inherent promise in it. The words, the events, you choose to talk about in the opening paragraph and first few pages are an indication to the reader that those are important and hold weight. Therefore, if you start your story with a puzzle, an enigma (why this “weird cosmic link” to planes?) you must be prepared to follow through and explain it over the course of the story, or at least by the resolution. Right off, as a reader I’m already a little doubtful that I will be satisfied, since I’ve already been informed that the storyteller doesn’t know why she feels such a magnetic pull to these magnificent carriages of the sky. That’s not necessarily the strongest starting position.

How you position the events, what weight you give them, what interpretation, what order you relate them in, will all impact the effectiveness of your tale.

Although a memoir is non-fiction, it can benefit from many of the same guidelines that inform fiction writing. So your opening, your hook, your first five pages, all these are prime real estate. Every word counts, and you want to maximize their impact. Just as you want to start with a story-worthy problem in fiction, in a memoir, a great place to start is a life-changing event.

What is your inciting incident?

The inciting incident in fiction is the event that brings the main character to a realization of the main problem that is going to propel the plot forward. In a memoir, a life-changing event can fill this role.

Take, for example, the first three paragraphs of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. The author relates how she is in a cab on the way to a party, and looking out the window, she spots her homeless mother going through the dumpster, and the author is panicked at the thought of her mother recognizing her and greeting her, and of other people seeing them together. This would be gripping if it were fiction. Knowing that it’s real makes it even more intense.

What is your beginning doing to pull people into the story? 

People that love planes may be intrigued (or they may be confused as to why someone that is so fascinated with planes has no desire to fly one). People whose interests lie elsewhere may not be as hooked. And what is the problem or life-changing event? Of course, there’s always the possibility that your story is not really about how your fascination for planes has shaped and molded your life. But in that case, a different opening anecdote may be a stronger pick.
The other possibility is that this is an examination of your relationship experiences. That’s what your first sentence and paragraph focus on: your dating patterns and attitudes. But that theory runs into a conflict when the love of planes is brought on stage. The reader may wonder: is your love of planes interfering with your love life? If that’s your intended message, all’s well. If not, you may want to re-imagine your beginning.

What belongs on the first page?

I mentioned earlier that your first page is prime real-estate. You don’t want to waste a millimeter of space. But your first three paragraphs mention Imperial Boulevard and its location three times with slight variations. Unless this location is where a life shattering event is going to occur, once is enough (and even in that case, once is enough). There is also no need to put that information into a footnote, especially since it’s been adequately explained within the body of the text. Be sure that you don’t get side-tracked by tangents in this vital opening section.

Taking a page from someone else’s story

The Glass Castle traces Jeannette’s journey through childhood with parents that are little better than children themselves. In the face of her father’s gambling and alcoholism, and her mother’s erratic behavior, Jeannette and her siblings face poverty, danger, and instability, moving precipitously from one town to another. Eventually, the Walls children must forge their own lives. Jeannette writes honestly but without self-pity or a feeling of victimization. Surprisingly, there is love and affection and charming memories mixed into the harsh realities of her life, such as the night her father takes the children outside one at a time and lets them pick out a star for their Christmas gift. The structure that Jeannette uses for her story starts with a moment of painful clarity and then loops the readers back to the beginning of her childhood, so that they can experience it chronologically along with the author. The resolution comes as she reminisces about her life after her father’s death.

Like a snowflake, no two life experiences are the same (not even within the same family). But that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow structure from other memoirs to enhance your own story, just as multiple poets can use the same structure (say a sonnet) to achieve vastly different results.

Your to-do list:

Be sure you can answer the following questions: What message do you want to convey to your audience? What life-changing event best propels your story forward? At what point does your journey reach a resolution? (This will be the logical end point of your story.) This will not only help launch your story, it will keep your narrative focused and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. It takes courage and passion and integrity to bare your soul and reveal a part of your innermost self to the world, but it can be a deeply rewarding and uplifting experience. Best of luck on your journey.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

Well, my sister is gone now, but I'm having a hard time getting back into my writing rhythm.  Which is bad news because I'm supposed to have my first ten chapters ready for my critique group in six days.  Yikes.

I did have one wonderful writing thing happen to me this week. I got a fan letter from someone who had simply loved Ashes Ashes and wrote to tell me about it.  It truly made my day.  I love fan mail and I answer all the letters I get.  It is such a bright spot for me as an author and I truly appreciate everyone who takes the time to write me.

So, maybe I will take that excitement from the fan letter and use it to get my fanny in gear and get these chapters ready.

Right after a snack and maybe a nap . . .

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

We're Sprinting!

I'm not as prepared as I was last week, but I'm motivated!  *cracks knuckles*  Let's get this done!

You know the drill---come back at check in at the blog at 8:15, 8:30, 8:45 and finish up at 9:00 p.m.

See you guys in fifteen minutes!!  Ready, set, GO!

Word Count Wednesday

Well, my sister is visiting me from Canada this week, so my word count was zero.  But if we were doing a laugh count I would have gotten into the thousands!  We're having a fun time.  How did you do this week?

I'm still planning on doing a sprint tonight at our regular time 8 p.m. MST  I hope you can all come!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Stephen King Discusses Opening Sentences

I read an article today by Stephen King on why he spends months and even years writing his opening sentence.  (He does make it clear he doesn't do that, however, until after he's done drafting.)

But some of the things he said made me think.  For example, as the article goes on, he discusses how an opening line invites a reader to come here, to listen to this.  It made me go back and look at some of the opening lines of my books.  I think Ashes Ashes did great since the first line was "It was gut-check time."  All Fall Down's first line was "Something was wrong."  So maybe I've already been inviting my readers to "come here, listen to this."  That made me feel good.

Then he talks about how the opening sentences should pull you right inside the story and make you curious---maybe without you even realizing it.  I checked that one off, too.  Whew.

But then he talked about something that I have been working on.  Voice.  Which he says that a lot of people mistake for style.  He compares voice to singer Mick Jagger, for example, and that when you buy a Rolling Stones album, you know the voice and something in us will connect with that.  It's recognizable.

He gives us writing examples of writers we would know like that because they are distinctive and then says it's the same with a book, that the writer's "voice" will create an intimate connection with the reader. There are a few books and authors that do that for me, but I know it's an area I can work on in my books. Although I do know that when people pick up my books they will expect a lot of suspense and a little romance because that's my style.  But still, I want each of my readers to be able to experience the characters and stories in a way that will connect them and be intimately memorable through voice.  Maybe someday Mr. King will be using me as an example of distinctive voice and say, "If you pick up a Julie Coulter Bellon book you'll see what I'm talking about."  (Or maybe not.  The man might be dead before I get it right!)

One of the last things he talks about is how he composes in bed, right before he goes to sleep, just lying there in the dark, thinking.  If nothing else, that made me happy because I do that, too.  It's one of my best creative times, right before sleep, composing a scene in my head.  It always flows then, and I always struggle whether I should actually turn the light back on and write it down, or try to remember it in the morning.  (I have learned over and over that I need to get up and write it down.  This old brain doesn't remember a lot in the morning.  But, at least Mr. King and I have something in common with composing right before bed.)

If you want to read the whole article you can see it here (Warning, there is language).  I found his thoughts fascinating and even more so when I stacked my work against his advice.  What do you think about opening sentences?  Do they represent an invitation to you? Do they really hold that much weight for the reader in voice, style, and pulling you in?  Or is it the first few pages?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: Just Like Elizabeth Taylor

This book was unexpected for me.  It's called Just Like Elizabeth Taylor by LuAnn Staheli and it wasn't at all what I thought it would be.

This is the first book I've ever read by this author and I was impressed with her style and flow.  The story is about twelve-year-old Elizabeth who has a single mother and is dealing with watching her mother be physically abused by her boyfriend while Elizabeth is also being abused by the boyfriend's son.  Hard stuff to read for sure.  This is a sensitive and timely subject in today's world and this book could definitely be a conversation starter with parents and children.

Because of the subject matter and storyline, I thought Elizabeth would be a bit older, and was surprised to find out she's only twelve.  She was a complex character, but there were a few times during the story when her voice/thoughts/conversation were a little above her age. That being said, though, I loved the way Elizabeth interacted with people and how she tried to deal with the adult issues surrounding her.  There was one character that I would have liked to know more about her situation, she seemed so interesting and in somewhat of the same boat as Elizabeth, but it isn't told.  (Maybe I'm just nosy like that.)  Of course, that speaks to the skill of an author and a great cast of characters when you want to know more about them.

This book is full of some very real-life situations and reactions and if I let my pre-teen read it, I would definitely want to read it with them or have several discussions before, during, and after.  All in all, I think this author has a lot of talent and I am interested in reading more from her.

Here is the back copy:

Twelve-year-old Liz Taylor has known for a long time that she would escape—escape the abuse against herself, and against her mother. She just didn’t know how or when.

Then the perfect opportunity comes—money left of the table by her mother’s abuser—and Liz is on the run. But a girl her age doesn’t have many options when it comes to hideouts, making a K.O. A. Kampground and a nearby middle school her perfect choices.

If only she can keep to herself, Liz, now using the name Beth, knows she can make it on her own, until things change, and she realizes she must face her situation head on if she is to save herself and her mom.

Friday, July 19, 2013

First Page Friday

Today's First Page Friday sample was so interesting to me and Ms. Shreditor's remarks made it doubly so. I can't wait to hear what you think of it.

If you would like your first page critiqued by a national editor, please submit your double-spaced 12 pt. font first page to with First Page Friday in the subject line.  There are two openings for August.

As always, thank you to Ms. Shreditor and to our authors for their time and effort.  See you next week!

The Entry
An Uncommon Blue
by Ryan Hancock

There are three unspoken rules in high school rugby.

1. Your team members are family.

2. You support your family.

3. This support must be shown periodically with an affectionate slap on the backside.

After four years as the starting right winger, I had almost gotten used to this.

Almost. At least I no longer felt the urge to bloody my teammates' noses when they tried it. But in the middle of the hall? No way. During school hours my glutes were off limits.

I whirled around to explain this to whichever of my idiotic team members was behind me.

Instead, I found myself face to face with an attractive redhead.

“Hey, Bruno,” Drea said with a smirk. “Ready for the test?”

I opened my mouth but no sound came out.

Even with her super-short hair, Drea was stunning. Before last summer she’d often been mistaken for a boy. But that all ended when puberty hit. With both fists.

I recovered from my embarrassment enough to nod.

She leaned against the lockers. Her face reflected the light from her blue palm as she twisted an earring. “History should be a breeze compared to pre-calc. I wanted to stab myself in the eye when I got to that section on antiderivatives.”

I grunted and fumbled with my combination.

Without warning she came up close and spoke in a half-whisper. Her hair smelled like coconut. “I know someone that likes you. If you hurry up with that lock, we might have time to talk before the final.”

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

I’ve read this first page several times to collect my thoughts. At first glance, it looks great because it’s clean as a whistle. I might tweak the punctuation here and there, but there aren’t any egregious proofreading errors. The author clearly took the time to proofread this before submitting, a vital step in the submission process.
When I read through the second time, my inner developmental editor awoke and started evaluating the structure of the sample. Before long, I was mentally rearranging various components of the story to create a stronger opening. The issue here is that the first page throws two hefty plot points at us without lingering on either one for long: rugby and Drea.
Starting the story with the three rules of high school rugby suggests to the reader that this is the master plot in this book. Is this correct? If not, if Bruno’s relationship with Drea (and the unnamed girl who has a crush on him) is actually the main event, then you might consider opening with that and weaving in the rugby later. As is, we get only the briefest of primers on the narrator’s status as a rugby player before the story rapidly diverts into Drea’s orbit. This makes the rules of rugby at the beginning feel a bit gratuitous—more like an attempt to engage the reader with a Fight Club–esque breakdown of rules than an actual gateway into the story.
I tend to be a character-driven reader, and I don’t feel like I really connected with Bruno. If we clear away the rugby and his crush on Drea, what do we know about him? This is actually a good gauge for all writers of fiction. If you strip the story of its external plot points, what is left of your protagonist? Is there some meaty internal conflict? Where does this person’s humanity lie? His weaknesses? These are seeds you want to plant from the very beginning to give the reader an immediate understanding of the person driving this narrative bus. Right now, Bruno is somewhat of a blank slate.
At the line editing level: Be careful not to develop what I call the “one-liner” tic. I counted ten one-sentence paragraphs on this page. This can be a hard habit to break. You’re trying to build up the level of suspense, and paragraph breaks can certainly punctuate the story at key moments. But you should rely on this tactic sparingly. The mounting suspense has to come from more than just strategically placed paragraph breaks.
I’d recommend revisiting this first page and thinking about the most important things your reader needs to know from the outset. I’ve been tough on this week’s sample because I want to coax it out of its YA romance boilerplate and into something that will stand out on a shelf. This author writes well, so it’s a matter of turning this into a rich, fully realized first-person story. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Two Writing Tips That Will Help You Draft Your Novel

Well, today is the last day of my blog tour.  Today's reviewer loved the suspense of Ashes Ashes but had a few things to say about the romance.  Want to read what she thought?  Click here

I'd really like to thank everyone who participated.  I loved meeting new friends and reading the reviews.

Last night I was getting ready to sprint and I realized there are two things that are really helping me sit down and breeze through this first draft.

First of all, like I talked about last week, I have a loose outline.  I had someone ask me what my loose outline looks like, so here's the one I used for last night's sprint.

  • Bart is observing Lucy's questioning.  Brings her water.
  • Confrontation with James.
  • Questions from Colby
  • Bart scene with Attorney/Lucy
  • Bart goes to his mother's condo, Lucy's words in his ears
  • His mother reveals the secret.
  • He makes security arrangements for her.
  • He's having a hard time processing what he's just heard and everything that happened that day.

So, that's what I went off of as I was sprinting and laying down the foundation of the chapter.  As I mentioned last week, sprinting is where I can write the first layer, then go back and add more to it later.  I usually am dialogue-heavy at first, and when I revise I add in more description, body language, and setting.

Second, I did have a little personal revelation last night.  Last week, I talked about knowing where the chapter is going before you start drafting, but one thing I noticed that is really helping me with my chapter goals is to ask myself why?  Why is the character doing/acting/thinking this way?  Why does he view the world this way?  Why is this event important?  It's sort of like a little mental checklist of character motivation, and making sure each event is relevant and important in moving the story forward and carrying me to the end.  It made me write little notes in the corner to make sure I'm meeting my character goals and answering those 'why' questions for my readers---which will add to my word count and has already given me ideas for future chapters.  Win/win!

Both of these tips are helping me get through my first draft in record time.  What helps you draft?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

We're Sprinting Come Join the Fun!

Okay, people, you know the drill.  Come back in fifteen minutes and check in with your word count.

Ready, set, GO!!

Word Count Wednesday

Well, the blog tour ends tomorrow and it has been a great ride.  If you still want to enter the drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card, you can do that here

I got one review today from Love.Pray.Read and they said it was a fast-paced and engaging story. You can read the whole review here There's also a spot to enter the drawing for the Amazon gift card there, too.

So, on to word counts.  I did great this week and got 4789 words.  I added two and a half chapters and I am feeling gooooood about this book.  How did you do?

I will be sprinting tonight at 8 p.m. as usual.  I hope you can join me!  Just look for the sprint post so you can check in with us.  See you there!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review: Lifestyles of the Great and Spacious

Well, if you are as dedicated as Debra and are following my blog tour, I got two more reviews today for Ashes Ashes.

The first one was from Hershey Wishes and Kisses (isn't that a great name?) and they said that it was "filled with intense suspense, a heart-pounding plot, and great characters."  Yay!  You can read the whole review here

The second one was from Min Reads and she said it was a fast-paced thriller.  She was also happy to get an update on Rafe and Claire.  I'm glad because I really loved Rafe and Claire, too.  You can see her whole review here

And if you are interested in knowing my top ten TV shows, you can read that list here

Today I'd like to tell you about a little book by John Bytheway.  It's called Lifestyles of the Great and Spacious and while it is a small book, it is full of great concepts and things to ponder.  He goes over the thirty-two verses of Lehi's Dream in the Book of Mormon, offering insights into the metaphor and how it applies in our lives today.

At first I was thinking I would breeze through this small little book, but the more I read, the slower I went because there was a lot to think about. Bytheway presents things in a way I've never really thought of before, even though I've read that passage many times.  I enjoyed the real-life application and the way he offered his insights and observations in a very conversational tone.  I liked that there were humorous moments and serious discussion, much like Bytheway's firesides---fun and serious at the same time.  I think I will definitely read this one more than once just to really let it all sink in.  I thought it was really well done and I felt inspired.

Here is the back copy:

With every passing day, the unforgettable imagery in Lehi’s dream becomes more real and more relevant. In our modern world, we can literally hear the taunts and see the pointing fingers of people like those in the great and spacious building. We find ourselves clinging with greater energy to the rod of iron as we work through the massive mists of darkness toward the tree of life. In Lifestyles of the Great and Spacious, John Bytheway looks at Lehi’s dream, and with his characteristic humor, comments from Church leaders, scholarly insights, and personal experiences, he expands our understanding of these precious verses of scripture.

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Character's First Interview! (And a Recipe)

The hero of my book, Ashes Ashes, had his first interview today!  Detective Colby Black tells what kind of music he likes, what book he's reading now, and how he unwinds.  Not to be missed!  You can read it here

I also had a new book review at Literary Time Out.  They said they liked my quirky characters!  You can read the entire review here

And lastly, I tell the story of how that kitchen fire in Ashes Ashes is based on a true event (a little embarrassing!) and give my Bellon Family Torte recipe away.  You won't want to miss this one.  You can read it here

I know I usually do a book review on Mondays, but I'm part of a John Bytheway blog tour, so I'll be posting my book review tomorrow.

See you then!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How I Play/Draw "Badminton With Kids"

Just for fun, I drew pictures of how I play my favorite summer "Mommy" sport, Badminton with Kids.  It's posted over at Reading in Twilight blog today.  So click here and then scroll down.  (Disclaimer: I am definitely not an artist.  Haha!)

Friday, July 12, 2013

First Page Friday & More Reviews!

Today I have a guest post over at Spellbindings, where I talk about how I can realistically write about snipers and law enforcement.  You can read it here

I also received two new reviews.  The first one from Why Not? Because I Said So, said the reviewer actually took her iPad to the theater so she could read a bit more of my book before the lights went out.  I loved that!  You can read what she thought of Ashes Ashes here

And this was my favorite line from the second review I got today at Sarah Aisling's blog:  "Bellon’s writing is intriguing and descriptive, and she keeps the plot moving at a rapid-fire pace with no wasted words or unnecessary scenes to bog down the story."  I definitely want to put that one in my keeper file.  You can see the whole review here.

I am really loving this blog tour.  And if you didn't know, you can enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card at any of the blog stops.  Yay!

All right, on to First Page Friday.  This one was fun because of what Ms. Shreditor thought of it.  As always, thank you to both our author and our editor for all their hard work.

See you next week!

The Entry
Relative Evil
by Jaycie Allen

It stood motionless, less than ten feet away from Ryan. The sallow, blotchy skin barely hung on its bones. The not-quite-human’s lips were gone, eaten away by the fleas that had given it the virus. Now, only broken teeth, dripping with blood, glistened in the hot sunlight, and forced an aberrant smile onto its face, like a gruesome Halloween Jack-o-lantern. The tiny bugs still feasted on what was left of its healthy membrane.

It stared at him through clouded blue eyes; the whites tainted jaundice yellow with disease. Ryan wanted to run away from it. He knew he had time, but watching it kept him riveted to where he thought was his hiding place behind a forgotten industrial garbage bin. He shivered as gooseflesh coursed over his sweaty skin. This one appeared cognitive, unlike some of the other altered creatures. When it lifted its boney left hand, something caught the sun, refracting the light into minuscule rainbows onto the broken window by its fetid arm. A diamond. Her wedding ring—
their wedding ring.  

“Oh! Yuck! No, no, no! This is so stupid,” I said out loud, and I began tapping the delete key with more force than necessary to get rid of the last two disgusting paragraphs I’d just written. I glanced at Paddles, my fifteen-year-old polydactyl cat, who trilled at the noise my excessive pounding produced. “Why can’t I just be happy writing romance?” I asked him. He didn’t answer me in words, of course. But I interpreted his ears rotating backwards and half-closed his eyes as his way of saying, “You should be happy, Claire.

Switching hands, I continued hitting the delete button, maybe not with as much enthusiasm. “At least I’ve published two in that genre. My editor probably won’t take a second look at this drivel.” I looked back at Paddles. “Would she?” I sighed. “What was I thinking? Moonwriting Publishing doesn’t even accept science fiction.”

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

Okay, I fell for it. Before I started reading, I took a cursory glance at this first page and noticed that the first half was italicized. I flexed my fingers, ready to take the text to task for mashing up a prologue and the actual beginning of the story—and a multitude of other sins, which we’ll get to in a minute. And then the italics stopped, and the evil genius of the first two paragraphs began to sink in. It was supposed to be over the top. Some of the errors in execution that activated my editorial radar might have been deliberate.

I’m going to break this week’s critique up into two sections: Ryan and Claire. Think of them as Goofus and Gallant, if you will. (If you aren’t familiar with these crazy fictional kids, you can find tons of their old comic strips from Highlights magazine on Google Images. To boil it down: Goofus bad, Gallant good.)


In all honesty, I wasn’t really going to eviscerate Ryan’s story. It’s flawed enough to give Claire agita, but I’ve read far, far worse. So what exactly does the first part of the sample get wrong? For starters, there’s some serious excess here. We have broken teeth dripping with blood, bugs feasting on membranes, and jaundiced eyeballs. It’s funny that Claire later classifies her piece as science fiction, because it reads more like campy horror to me. There are a lot of horror clichés herein. (However, bonus points to the author for spelling “minuscule” correctly. If I had a dollar for every time I had to fix the spelling of that word, I could afford a wheel of cheddar cheese that’s been aged more than six months.)

A few technical hiccups stood out to me in Ryan’s story that I suspect weren't intentional. For instance, we have “the whites tainted jaundice yellow with disease.” The syntax is a bit murky here. “Claire” could simplify this by saying “the whites jaundiced with disease.” You’ll also want to ditch the preceding semicolon and replace it with a comma. (Semicolons separate two independent clauses; we have an independent and dependent clause here.)


So what does Claire’s section of the sample get right? For starters, it’s funny. Claire has a distinctive voice. She’s self-deprecating and aware of her own flaws. Her feline sidekick, Paddles, provides comic relief in an already funny scene. There’s also something very “meta” about her commentary on book publishing. It speaks to the difficulty of the writing and submission process.

The First Page about First Page Friday

I have a feeling that the structure of this first page will garner mixed reviews. Ryan’s story sets up a pretty good fake-out. Someone reading this blind (as I did) wouldn’t know right off the bat that his story is somewhat of a farce and might deem it a cheap trick. I personally like it because of its aforementioned “meta” nature. This entire first page is like a satirical salute to the literary angst that powers First Page Friday every week—from the challenges of the writing process to the self-doubt to the agony over submission guidelines. These things are very real, and the author illustrates them in creative fashion here. Well done.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blog Tour & My Writing Sprint Secrets

So, if you are following my book's blog tour, you know I got two great reviews today.

First, Ronda gave me four stars and said "It's exciting, full of twists, and keeps you guessing the whole way." Loved that!  You can read her entire review here.

Second, I think this is the review I will print off and display next to my desk for when I get discouraged about writing.  Shauna said, among other things, "If Julie Bellon wrote the book you KNOW it will be GOOD!"  There were many things I liked about her review, but I think that line made my whole day.  You can read all of her review here.

So, today I saw this little gem. "Do not be afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still." Chinese Proverb

Doesn't that describe the writing process sometimes?  Especially when we're sitting there staring at the cursor hoping that the words will come?  And then we're disappointed if we only get 400 new words or something?

I had one of my sprint friends ask me how I got so many words in just one hour.  Today, I thought I'd share my process/secrets with you.

First of all, I don't edit when I'm sprinting.  I just get the words out and type like a bat out of Hades.  Editing will come later.  I'm getting the skeleton of this draft down and the fleshing out is another step entirely.

Second, before I start editing I write down a loose outline of where the chapters are going.  I usually get about two chapters done per sprint, so I like to have some direction.  It helps my word count, too, because since I know where the scene/chapter is going, it makes the ideas come faster.

Third, I set aside the sprint hour so my kids know not to interrupt and to find the person in charge while I'm sprinting. Sometimes they are so fascinated by my lightning-speed typing they sit and watch.  Haha.

Fourth, I like to do the sprints on the blog so I have other people to sprint with and celebrate with and be accountable to. That's why Wednesdays are so important to me.  It motivates me to get things going whether I feel like it or not.  People are waiting for me and that's very powerful.

And the best part about sprinting is that when that hour is up, no matter how many words you wrote, it was more than you had the hour before.  Reason for celebration in my book!  (See what I did there?)

So, there you have it.  What's your sprinting process?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

We're Sprinting in ONE MINUTE!

So, here's the deal---write your fanny off for fifteen minutes, then come back here and tell me your word count in the comments section.  Then we'll check back at 8:30, 8:45 and finish up at 9:00.

Come play! It's fun and motivating.  :)

Ready, set, GO!

Word Count Wednesday & My Blog Tour!

Well, I am FULL of good news today.

First of all, I wrote 3426 words.  It's not a huge amount, but the impact those words made on the story is immense.  So YAY!  I am also going to do another writing sprint tonight at 8 p.m. MST so if you can come, please do!  I love sprints because it is so motivating.  Thanks to everyone who comes to those.

How did you do on your word count this week?

Second in the good news department, I got another review today from Katie's Clean Book Collection.  She loved Colby and I'm glad because I loved him, too.  If you want to read what else she said, go here.

And because of my blog tour, I'm counting this as lots of good news today because that makes for a good Julie day.  :)

If you want to see all the stops on my blog tour, (I'm excited!) here is the schedule:

July 10th
Mary’s Cup of Tea – Spotlight

July 11th
readalot – Review
StoryBook Reviews – Spotlight
Writer Mike – Spotlight

July 12th
Spellbindings – Guest Post
Sarah Aisling – Review
Deal Sharing Aunt – Spotlight

July 13th
I Read, Ergo I Write – Tens List
Reading in Twilight – Spotlight

July 14th
Mythical Books – Spotlight

July 15th
Literary Time Out – Review
My Crafty Zoo – Guest Post
Sweeping Me – Spotlight
Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews – Character Interview

July 16th
LDS & Lovin’ It – Review
Bookly Books – Spotlight
Hershey Wishes and Kisses – Review & Guest Post
My Devotional Thoughts – Tens List

July 17th
A Casual Reader’s Blog – Spotlight
Love. Read. Pray. – Review

July 18th

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Do You Keep a Journal?

I love keeping a journal.  It's such a part of me, it helps me sort out feelings and life in general, and keeps me writing every day even if it's not on my book.

For me, I write down everything.  My mistakes, my less than perfect feelings, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I mostly write my journal for me, but I have let my kids read the things I wrote down when I was a teenager, newlywed and new mom because it's fun for me to reminisce and for them to see what kind of a person I was and what was important to me back then.  (All right, all right, it's a little embarrassing sometimes, but oh well.)

One of the best things about having kept a journal since I was twelve is that I can really go back and see the growth in myself.  I see what I was insecure about then, how I worked through different events in my life, my impressions of my husband when I first met him, (he was cute!) and all the ups and downs of becoming a parent.  It's eye-opening for my kids to read about the long sleepless nights when they had colic and we walked them up and down the hall for hours until we finally figured out that running the vacuum calmed them down.  Or all the fun things we did when we were a young couple and first falling in love.  I love remembering all that, and I know I wouldn't have recalled the details if I hadn't kept a journal.

A journal to me is a chronicle of my life, a remembrance of what I did while on this earth, and a record for my kids of me and my true self.  I love taking a few moments at the end of the day to think through what I did and write down my thoughts and feelings.  It doesn't take long and it's had lasting rewards for me as a person.

Do you keep a journal? Why or why not?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Blog Tour Kickoff & Book Review Swept Up By the Sea

Well, today is the kickoff to my book Ashes Ashes blog tour!  Hooray!  You can enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card by going here

This is going to be fun!

Today I want to tell you about the book Swept Up by the Sea by Tracy and Laura Hickman.  It is billed as a romantic fairy tale and it really was fun.  There was a magical world that still felt familiar, great characters that had me cheering them on in their quest for love and adventure.  It was the kind of book that I would read to my kids under the stars in a tent.  Even the names were fun---pirates like Dead Eye Darrel, Hook Hand Horvath and Cutthroat Karka and a beautiful governor's daughter named Tuppence Magrathia-Paddock.  It was so imaginative, funny, and sort of child-like, yet still engaging enough that even I wanted to turn the page to see what happened!

We first meet Percival Taylor who is about to be married because the Dragon's Bard has arranged a marriage for him to the beautiful Vestia Walters.  But he goes to have his fortune told by Madame Zoltana who tells him that destiny awaits him at sea.  This sounds really great to Percival, so he goes to find his destiny and seek his fortune as a buccaneer.  Unfortunately, no ship seems to want him, and in a twist of fate, he finds himself accidentally protecting one of the most beautiful women he has ever seen---and who mistakes him for a romantic hero named Rodrigan.  Madame Zoltana and the Dragon's Bard step in, each with their own agenda for Percival, but Percival has his own ideas and the adventure begins.

I loved the cast of characters in this book.  Professor Nick-Nack, Adrian, Djara, Captain Swash, the naiads and mermen, Madame Zoltana, and of course our heroes and heroines all worked together to make a captivating book for all ages, really.  The prose was beautiful, the world exciting, and the treasure at the end was worth waiting for.  A fun summer read.

Here's the back copy:

Determined to seek his fortune, Percival Taylor leaves behind his sleepy hometown and sets out to become a legendary pirate. The only problem is, no one at the rough-and-tumble seaport of Blackshore will allow him anywhere near a ship!

Percival must find other means to win the heart of the beautiful Tuppence Magrathia-Paddock, who has mistaken him for a pirate rogue out of one of her romantic books. She is entirely willing to swoon into his arms if he can prove his buccaneer soul—and she will even arrange her own kidnapping to prove it.

Percival eventually find himself captain of a broken-down ship, complete with a crew of reluctant pirates, a jilted fiancee, a reclusive master shipwright, and an old professor with a magical secret that could kill them all. Join the strangest assortment of characters you'll ever meet on the Nine Seas as they set sail for treasure and romance!

Friday, July 5, 2013

First Page Friday

Whew, it's Friday!  I hope you all had a wonderful Independence Day celebration yesterday. I know I did!

I wanted to let you know we have one July opening for First Page Friday so if you would like the first page of your manuscript critiqued by a national editor, please submit your double-spaced 12 pt. font manuscript page to

As always, thank you to our author LAA and to Ms. Shreditor for their time and effort.  See you next week!

The Entry

middle grade science fiction
by LAA

Here’s the thing about super heroes: you can’t count on them. How many infant aliens manage to find their way to earth? How many lab accidents are there? The answer: not a lot. And then you run into the problem of, hey, they have a life. They’re not reliable to be there whenever you want them to be. They’re human (well, most of the time) and flawed.

That’s where I come in. My name is David and I’m four years-old. I don’t look it though. Physically speaking, I look about thirteen. I was born four years ago. Well, woke up. I wasn’t born like normal people.

The scientists at Epsilon Labs made me, the Lambda Project, code named ‘Sigma’. Their slogan is even ‘Heroes Aren’t Born. They’re Made.’ They collected the best genes they could find, from the fastest, strongest, and smartest people from all over the world. Then they mixed it all together and added in a bunch of other stuff, and voilà, me.


This is the game everyone talks about: Auto Jack 7, at least according to Anthony. I’d been begging the Docs to rent me a copy for weeks now and now I finally get to play. My leg jiggles with excitement as the game starts up. I can do this. I know I can.

The game starts and I move my character, going through the tutorial on stealing cars. The pressure in my chest grows, and my hands lock up on the controller. Not even a few minutes into the game and I'm already trapped. This is ridiculous, it's not even me that's really jacking a car, and none of this is real. Tons of other kids can do this, and if they can so can I. The Docs’ programing does not rule my life.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

          This piece has a lot of potential. The narrator, David, has a distinctive voice (and also the distinctive problem of being a four-year-old trapped in a thirteen-year-old’s body. He tells us in the first section that he was engineered by scientists, and then the narrative cuts to him playing Auto Jack 7, which sounds similar to Grand Theft Auto.
The section break that splits this first page into two parts is what concerns me. We get a very cursory introduction to David that reveals a few basic biographical details, and then we’re transported to a new scene in which he’s playing Auto Jack 7. It’s a bit too abrupt; there’s not a smooth enough segue between the two scenes. We’ve just found out a pretty juicy detail about David—that he essentially sprang from a petri dish of desirable genes—and then the curtain falls. When it rises again, David is playing the video game.
I’ve read some authors, particular postmodern ones, who can get away with frequent cutaways, but it takes some finesse to pull off this technique. You’re trying to leave the reader with impressionistic shreds of narrative while simultaneously developing characters and—one of the most important components of sci-fi/fantasy—world building. In this case, the sudden shift to the video game makes the entire introduction feel perfunctory, as if it’s there only to dispense a few key details before the story gets under way. It almost reads like a bare-bones prologue.
The thing is, we have two compelling tidbits of story here that are dueling in a very small space. We have our introduction to David’s character versus David embarking on what I assume to be a training exercise. These are both key elements of the story. Perhaps it would work better to open with David playing the video game and work in the biographical details as the story progresses. This would eliminate the troublesome section break halfway down the first page, and it would allow the author to develop David within the story (as opposed to outside it, in a cordoned-off introduction).
Overall, the story touches upon some classic sci-fi tropes, so I would only caution the author to avoid clichés. There have been plenty of stories about biologically engineered children, so make sure that yours stands out on the shelf. As a reader, I can often forgive a story that doesn’t break much new ground if the writing is strong and the characters are well developed.
The writing here is quite good. It could benefit from some copyediting to resolve various syntax and punctuation issues, but the author has a good sense of rhythm and transition (with the exception of the aforementioned section break issue). My best advice would be to revisit the structure of this first page. If this is a work in progress or a finished manuscript, examine any other section breaks closely to ensure that they interrupt the narrative in logical places and don’t compromise the integrity of the scenes on either side of the break. The result will be a fun sci-fi story that flows well and keeps readers turning the pages.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July!

I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday with your families today.  We are looking forward to spending the day together, barbequing, and then going to see our local fireworks display.  As you know from years past our community fireworks almost always starts something on fire accidentally, so it's pretty exciting!  I'll be sure to give you a report tomorrow.

What are your July 4th traditions?  Doing anything fun today?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Are You Ready to Sprint?

Okay, here's what we're going to do. Come back at 8:15 and tell us in the comment trail how many words you've written.  Then we'll do the same at 8:30, 8:45 and end at 9:00 p.m.

Are you ready?  Here we go . . .

Word Count Wednesday & A Writing Sprint Tonight

I saw this quote and liked it, so I thought I'd pass it along:

"Every great success is an accumulation of thousands of ordinary efforts that no one sees or appreciates."- Brian Tracy

Doesn't that describe writing to a T?

I also like this one:  "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."- Thomas Edison

Well, I'm not giving up!  I had a scene just come to me this morning so that bumped up my word count a little.  I'm still counting it for this week, even though technically it should probably be next week, haha.  That puts me just over 1500 words for this week.  I know it's not much, but as I mentioned in my blog post yesterday, I've had a busy past four days!

I think I want to do a writing sprint tonight at 8 p.m.  Is there anyone around who can sprint with me?  I need to jump start this story again and get going on it.  If you can, check back here at 8 p.m. MST for the sprint post and we can check in with each other to see how many words we can get done in ONE HOUR.

How did you do with your word count this week?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Conference Report & Canada Day Celebration Wrap Up

This has been an incredibly busy past four days for me.  I spent Friday and Saturday at the Utah Valley Lecture Series Writers Conference and had an incredible time.  (I live tweeted the event and if you're interested, you can look under #UVLectureSeries).  The keynotes were fantastic and I took tons of notes.  Jennifer Nielsen, author of The False Prince, talked about creativity and Jeff Savage, (or J. Scott Savage) author of Case File 13, talked about heroes and villains.  Let's just say he's really good at that, and I could listen to him speak all day.

My presentation was on tension and conflict in your writing.  I actually built a story with five tension beats with the audience so we could discuss how to integrate internal and external conflict, how to keep your tension building rather than sagging, and how to breathe anticipation into your work.  I got a lot of compliments on it, so I think it went well.  I also called up someone from the audience and had them stand there while I demonstrated different punches and kicks and why most fight scenes in fiction weren't realistic and how to make them better.  I think that was my favorite part.

But the best thing that happened besides meeting so many great people was this:

They had reserved parking for me!  Isn't that cool?  So fun.

Sunday I taught a Gospel Doctrine lesson about Learning by Study and Also by Faith which ended up being a really good discussion on what motivates us to learn and why we choose not to---do we feel too old, too dumb, too lazy?  Do we learn out of interest or fear?  It was a good lesson.

Monday was my Canada Day Celebration and Book Signing.  We had families from Toronto and Cardston come, and people who just wanted to know more about Canada.  I had such a great time and was glad my fellow author Jordan McCollum was there to share it with me.

We were even on the marquis!  It was a lot of fun. The only snag was I had bought a dozen red and white balloons to take to the party and forgot them at home!  I felt so bad.  But at least my house looks festive.

As you can imagine I am thoroughly exhausted, but in a good way.  I am so glad for the opportunities I have to share my books, my knowledge, and my culture, and thank you to everyone who supports me.  

So, what have you been doing while I was gone?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Happy Canada Day--Come Celebrate With Me!

It is Canada Day!  Woohoo!  Happy Canada Day to all my friends.

Tonight I am going to share in my Canada Day celebrations by hosting a Canada Day event at the Pleasant Grove Library from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

There will be:

  • Door prizes
  • Activities for Kids
  • Display Tables
  • Tasting Tables
  • My books (and Jordan McCollum's awesome books!)
  • Storytime for kids
  • and much more.

If you are in the area I hope you come and bring your family.  The Great White North Comes to Pleasant Grove should not be missed!