Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tristi Pinkston's New Book

Author Tristi Pinkston is excited to announce the release of the third novel in her Secret Sisters Mysteries series.

Titled Hang ‘em High, this novel takes place on a dude ranch in Montana. When Ida Mae’s son invites her to come for a visit, of course she brings Arlette and Tansy along with her. They are expecting to spend the week looking at horses, avoiding the cows, and making amends in Ida Mae’s relationship with her son. What they don’t expect is to be stuck on the ranch in the middle of a blizzard and to be thrust headlong into the middle of a mystery.


Help Tristi celebrate her new novel in two ways. First, come participate in the two-week-long blog contest, where you can win a book nearly every single day! All the details are up on Tristi’s blog.

Second, come to the book launch!

You are invited to an

August Authorama!

Saturday, August 13th

Pioneer Book, 858 S. State, Orem

12 – 4 pm

Games, prizes, balloons, face painting,

and Dutch oven cobbler

prepared by world champion cook

Keith Fisher.

Authors Tristi Pinkston, J. Lloyd Morgan, Cindy Hogan,

Nichole Giles, and Heather Justesen

will all be there to sign books.

This is one book launch event

you will not want to miss!

Friday, July 29, 2011

First Page Friday

I'm so excited for this week's First Page Friday. I learned so much! Let's get right to it.

The Entry

by Gail Zuniga

Xander knew he had to kill her.

Teal flames raged through Snow Cloud, Colorado like sharks at a feeding frenzy.

People ran for cover as the flames spread and swept beneath a pickup truck. When the fire hit the gas tank, the truck exploded, flipped through the air and crashed into a running man. He didn’t even have time to scream.

Xander trudged through the deep snow down the hill and moved into town. Follow the destruction. That was the best way to find her. It always led him right to her. He ignored the humans trying to escape. He wasn’t there for them. His mission was to kill the girl before she could destroy the world. He had failed once, but never again.

Slowly he moved down the sidewalk and peered around the corner. He spotted her half a block away. She stood in the center of town. She looked like a normal slightly chubby teenage girl with pale skin and ink-black hair, but that was just her vessel. He knew her true nature.

She spun around, her eyes darting here and there as if she were looking for someone. Did she know he was there? She turned away from him and he saw a man with a goatee approaching her. She backed away from him—toward Xander. Was this a trick? She wouldn’t worry about a simple human.

"What do you want?" she asked.

"Ya ‘ave something that belongs to me," Goatee said, with a thick Irish accent.

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

Well, this story certainly knows how to make an entrance. What can I say about the opening line, really? It gets the job done in six words, and you all know how much I love economy of language.

The second sentence, on the other hand, is a bit clunky. The geographic locator (Snow Cloud, Colorado) drives a wedge between the two components of the simile. You might ask yourself if the teal flame simile adds anything to the text at all. All too often, writers contort themselves every which way to create awkward similes where none are needed. How are the flames analogous to feeding sharks? Is it because they’re devouring everything in their path? If the simile must stay, rework it to clarify the relationship between teal flames and feeding sharks.

An aside regarding punctuation of places and dates: When you’re using a town and state name midsentence, another comma needs to follow the state name—i.e., “...through Snow Cloud, Colorado, like sharks…” The same rule applies to dates in instances like this: “He was born on January 1, 1925, to a poor family.” The comma provides an added measure of clarity; without it, separate sentence components collide and create confusion. (My, that was alliterative, wasn’t it?) Please know that I don't throw commas around willy-nilly; Chicago style backs me up on this one.

Make sure to keep both perspective and verb tense consistent. For example, sonsider the following sentence: “Follow the destruction.” This doesn’t read like third-person limited perspective to me, and it deviates from the otherwise past-tense narrative. Is it a thought in his head? It blends in with the surrounding text and is a bit jarring at first read.

The narrative is a bit choppy at times, and some passages need better transitions to create a more logical flow of events/thoughts. I lost my way in a few places because the story flitted between abstract thoughts and concrete action with no transitions to pave the way.

“Goatee” makes for an intriguing development. Through him, we learn that it isn’t just Xander who is after the unnamed “her.” At first glance, though, I thought his actual name was Goatee and Googled up a storm to determine whether or not this was an actual Irish name. I realized my error in interpretation a few moments later, but I think that this may confuse a lot of readers. My advice: For clarity’s sake, ditch the “Goatee” moniker in the dialogue tag and refer to him as “the man” instead.

While we’re on the subject of “Goatee,” I would caution against using too much dialect. It slows the reader down and is, more often than not, more distracting than it is character-enhancing. A simple mention that he has a brogue when we first meet him should do the trick. Readers tend to be smart people; they’ll imagine the accent themselves in future dialogue without having it forced on them.

This brings up a good general rule of thumb for fiction writers: Don’t underestimate your readers. Let them fill in some blanks on their own so that your story isn’t filled with extraneous description and exposition. Part of the art of fiction writing is insinuation—i.e., giving readers enough to go on, but not chewing their food for them, so to speak.

Overall, this first page built some nice tension and introduced not one, but two immediate conflicts for Xander. It could use some copyediting to resolve grammatical errors and the aforementioned clarity issues, but it’s in fairly good shape.

Thanks again to our submitter and for the critique from Ms. Shreditor. I appreciate the insight every week! See you next Friday.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ribbon of Darkness was Reviewed in Meridian Magazine!

I am excited to announce that Jennie Hansen has done a full review of my new book, Ribbon of Darkness, in Meridian Magazine and it appeared today. Her review had a lot of good points, and a few things for me to think about. I appreciated all of her comments and am always grateful for people who want to help me improve my writing. Jennie has been reviewing my books since my very first novel, Through Love’s Trials came out, and she has been a very great help in making me stretch as a writer and improve my craft with each book.

If you’re interested in reading her review, you can find it here

I wanted to talk a bit today about what inspired me to write Ribbon of Darkness (maybe it might spark an idea for you!) and what marketing I have planned for next month. You can get book ideas anywhere, but most of mine come from the newspaper. As most of you know, I teach journalism at BYU, hence, I read a lot of newspapers and I have more ideas than I could ever write in a lifetime! And marketing ideas are always fun to share because I hope you'll participate.

One morning there was an article about the Malacca Strait and how the U.S. wanted to help Malaysia and Indonesia protect it, but those countries were balking at it, telling the U.S. they could handle it themselves. It made me wonder why the U.S. would care about some small little strait halfway across the world.

The more I looked into it, the more I learned how important the Malacca Strait is to world affairs. You see, the Malacca Strait is a major shipping lane with half the world’s goods and a third of the world’s oil passing through there each year. It was also a hotbed for piracy, where modern-day pirates would board the ships, take hostages, and demand ransoms, or just steal cargo. Of course that got me thinking, (like several government entities) what if terrorists somehow blocked that Strait? It would affect the world’s economy in an enormous way.

I started to research. I came across the story of the Dewi Madrim, a ship that al-Qaeda had briefly taken over. The weird thing was, no one on the ship was hurt, the terrorists just wanted the captain to teach them how to navigate the ship. Doesn’t that make you go hmmm . . .? (Of course several countries were very concerned about the ramifications of this.)

We also had the capture and daring rescue of the captain and crew of the Maersk Alabama. My story was really taking shape at this point and I had so much research on cargo ships, Indonesia, and navigation in the Strait. (My family was getting sick of watching “specials” on modern-day piracy and how cargo ships work.) But I think it was worth it. We all learned something new!

My thoughts turned to one of my minor characters in Dangerous Connections, Ethan Barak. He was sort of a gray character, not all good or bad, and I knew he’d be the perfect combination of a Jack Bauer/James Bond type who could carry this story in Ribbon of Darkness. All I needed was a strong female character, and Kennedy Campbell was born. All the elements were there.

Kennedy's part in the story became something close to my heart. If you read the book, the part in Kennedy's story about the Afghan refugee camp and the attempted flight to Australia is based on a true account. Afghan refugees often get turned away from Australian coasts or never make it all the way there, and many of them end up in Indonesian holding cells. It’s quite an immigration problem for everyone.

Obviously, with all the research, the story materialized and came together and I am so thrilled that it is finally out and about to be released on store shelves. (You can currently find it on Kindle). It’s been a long hard journey for this book and I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me get to this point.

Every author knows that the hard work really begins once the book is out because you have to let people know about it. Marketing is the lifeblood of an author and a lot goes into the planning of the launch.

Here are some fun things I have planned for my Ribbon of Darkness launch next month.

My KSL radio show will be airing mid-August and you can hear all about me and my books, as well as hear some great stories for the whole family.

I will be having a contest starting August 8th with some great prizes.

My blog tour will be going on throughout the month of August and September.

I will be signing books at the Layton Barnes and Noble on August 27th from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

As you can see, August is going to be a really fun month and I hope you’ll check back here often for all the news.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Word Count Wednesday

Well, my word count this week? Zero. Nada. None.

But I’m okay with that.

You see, my mother came to visit. I haven’t seen her in two and a half years and so I spent the entire last week doing nothing but being with her, shopping with her, visiting with her, introducing my babies to her, and laughing with her.

My book can wait. We were making memories!

But how did you do on your word count this week? And did you hear I have something fun to announce to you tomorrow?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: The List

To be honest, I thought The List was going to be a breezy little romance. It had all the elements---a girl planning for a summer fling, the hot guy who seems unreachable but has depth, and a situation that throws them together. I settled in for a fun read.

But The List surprised me. The writing was fun and quirky, the situations had a fresh twist on it, and I absolutely loved the ending, but for me, it didn’t feel quite finished. (And believe me, I don't say that a lot and it is purely a personal feeling, does that make sense?) I mean, it ended and there was some closure, but I really just wanted an epilogue. I needed an epilogue!

So, in hopes of trying to get one, I’m currently lobbying the author to write me a page of epilogue. Just ONE little page! I will join her fan club forever just to have it. I would even throw in two of my precious Canadian chocolate bars. (Melanie, if you’re reading this, just one little epilogue, pretty please? With cherries and your favorite topping on top?)

Seriously, though, I think the thing I liked best about the book is the dialogue. It was witty and flowy and natural. Sometimes in books like these it feels forced, but Melanie seems to have a knack for crisp dialogue that I really enjoyed. The characters were realistic, which is sometimes hard to find with romantic humor, and I liked that their flaws were so real, and the reasons behind the flaws were, again, very natural. I mean, Ashley had a good reason for making her list that was very sympathetic, and her cousins had a good reason for calling her Smashley, (which was really funny). And of course, Matt had just enough mysteriousness about him that made him irresistible, but his reactions to things showed exactly how deep he really was. *le sigh* It was so good. I know Melanie is going to be one of those writers that I will be first in line on her book's release day so I can have my own copy to devour the second it comes out!

The only thing I really had a hard time with wasn’t something the author could control. It was the formatting. I bought the book on Kindle and there were several spacing issues that were distracting for me. But the story made it worth it. My daughter took it the second I was through and is almost finished reading it herself. It’s just that kind of book---so fun and fresh that you have to see what happens! It’s a great summer read.

Here’s the back copy for it:

Ashley Barrett doesn’t want to get married. At least, not anytime soon. She doesn’t care how many of her friends and family members and fellow churchgoers had weddings before they finished college — the last thing she needs in her fun-loving twenties is the dead-weight of some guy. And that’s why she created The List. By the time she completes all twenty-five goals — from learning a language to skydiving to perfecting the art of making sushi — she’ll be more ready to settle down. Maybe.

This summer in California is a prime time for Ashley to cross two items off the list: learn to surf (#13) and have a summer romance (#17). And Matt Gibson, the best surf instructor in Huntington Beach and the most wanted guy in the singles ward, is the perfect man for the job. Ashley hatches a plan to love him and leave him before heading off to grad school in the fall (#4, get a master’s degree). But when Matt decides he doesn’t like the “leaving” part, Ashley’s carefully laid plans are turned sideways. Now Ashley faces an unexpected dilemma: should she stick to the safety of The List, or risk everything for a love that may tie her down — or might set her free?

Definitely put this one on your to-read list. You won’t be sorry!

Monday, July 25, 2011

O Pioneers!

Yesterday we talked a lot about pioneers because of the holiday in Utah. We have a lot of pioneer heritage, people who walked across the plains in hopes of finally finding religious freedom. But what really struck me was something my daughter said. “We can be pioneers today, not because we’re paving the way with handcarts, but because we’re paving the way with our example.”

I think we are all paving a path for our children and for the people around us every day with our choices and what we choose to do. We can be an example for good or an example of what not to do with every choice we make.

Of course, if I have my druthers, I’d like to be an example for good. Maybe my descendants will read my journal someday and think, wow, she was an awesome lady. (More than likely they’ll probably say, boy, she was boring. Haha!) But hey, a girl can dream, right? And if people are reading my journal, I’m probably dead and won’t care.

So, today, my little thought is that I am grateful to the pioneers of old who sacrificed for a good cause and I’m grateful today for those around me who are pioneers in trying to be examples for good, carrying on in so great a cause. I think I need that and our world needs that.

FHE Dessert Tonight

Tonight we are going to talk about our pioneer ancestors, play pioneer games like “Stick-pulling,” and make pioneer ice cream in a baggie. Here is the recipe in case you want to try it.

Pioneer Ice Cream

1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. sugar
8 tbsp. rock salt

Put milk, vanilla, and sugar into a pint size freezer bag. Seal well.

Fill a large gallon size freezer bag with ice. Add the rock salt.

Put the smaller bag in the big bag and seal it. Then shake, mix, squeeze and squish it until the ice cream thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes. Take the little bag out and eat the ice cream. Makes one serving.

Friday, July 22, 2011

First Page Friday

Welcome back to First Page Friday. I hope you’re having a wonderful week!

Before we get to the critique, I wanted to mention to always remember to look for the positives that you are given in any critique first, before you look at and consider the parts that need improving. If you do that, it makes everything a little easier.

The Entry

Ocean Wylde

by S.L. Seele.

The only sounds to penetrate Ocean’s conscious thoughts were the rhythmic thump, thump, thump of leather on wood and the raspy echo of her lungs sucking air. If she were going to make a break for it, it had to be now. She faked right, spun left, then angled back in three long strides and leapt into the air, her right arm stretching beyond its limits. An intense pain shot up her arm. The oversized goon that guarded her caught her hard; a sickening smirk creased his face. Ocean landed with a thud and grasped her stinging wrist. She looked up to see an orange blur circle once, twice, then in.

Yes. Fouled on the shot!

Ocean stood at the foul line, took the shot and…swish – nothin’ but net. She repeated the process with her second shot.

“Good job, Wylde,” the coach called. “And, Olsen, that’s what separates first string from second.”

Ocean just smiled when Tyler Olsen glared at her.

“That’s it, hit the showers ladies. Um…men…I mean, not you Wylde,” the coach stammered. “I’ll make sure they leave the girls locker room open for you from now on.”

Ocean waved him off. “I’m good, Coach. See ya Monday.”

She strode toward the bleachers on the far side of the gym and Reg rose to meet her. He raised his arm and Ocean leapt to reach his hand in a high-five, their arms continuing on to clap low behind them.

“That was wicked!” he told her.

“That’s how I roll.” Ocean pulled herself up to her full five feet, but turned a bit pink around her ears when Reg smiled down at her. She grabbed her backpack off the bleachers and they headed for the exit.

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

The first paragraph could use some revision here. It begins rather abruptly, with sounds interrupting Ocean’s thoughts, and leaves the reader feeling disoriented. Who is Ocean? Why is leather thumping against wood? (At this point, the reader can’t know that it’s the sound of a basketball against the court.) Why is Ocean so winded? Instead of answering these questions in short order, the first paragraph presents an action sequence that is a bit hard to follow. Instead of building momentum, it slows the reader down as he/she tries to visualize the rapid-fire choreography. This is exactly what you don’t want to happen in your opening lines. The reader should be picking up speed, not slowing down.

The dialogue between Ocean and Reg feels somewhat forced. We have some Bostonian lingo (“‘wicked’”) and some pseudo-urbanspeak (“‘That’s how I roll’”). I get the impression that this mish-mash of vernacular is supposed to function as banter, but I have strong feelings about banter. Good banter is an art form. It has to entertain the reader while feeling completely natural. It has to flow; it can’t just be a stringing together of lingo. I can recommend some national authors who excel at it, but I’m not as familiar with the LDS bantersmiths. I’ll defer to Julie on that one. In any event, this patch of dialogue could use some tweaking to create more natural repartee.

Be careful to stick with either third-person limited or third-person omniscient. In the last paragraph, Ocean turns “a bit pink around the ears.” She can’t see this for herself, so this feels like a shift to an all-seeing, godlike narrator.

I really enjoy the interplay between Ocean and her coach. It would be nice to know his name, even if just his last name at this juncture; “the coach” makes him feel remote. Since this is, I assume, a third-person limited narrative, I imagine Ocean would think of him as “Coach [last name].” Anyway, we learn from subtle dialogue that Ocean is the only girl on a guy’s basketball team. We learn from her pink ears (more on those later) that she has a thing for Reg. There is, in other words, a whole lot of showing and not much telling, which is the way it should be.

Thank you to Ms. Shreditor and to Ms. Seele for participating. It is so helpful for every writer to see a general idea of how to build a first page that editors and agents will love. As for the banter issues, LDS or not, do you have an author you like who is a natural at banter?

See you next week!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ten Great Websites for Thriller/Suspense Writers

I was thinking today that perhaps I would share some websites that I’ve found helpful for my writing journey. As a suspense writer, I frequent a lot of sites on global intelligence agencies, terrorism watch lists, firearms, officer tactics, etc., (sometimes I think if the government were monitoring my online searches, they'd raise an eyebrow or two!) so maybe some of these will be helpful to other suspense writers out there. I hope so!



Crime Scene Investigation


Tactics, Firearms, Officer Safety

United States Special Ops

Google Earth

Secret Intelligence Service

Global Security

Mystery Writer’s Guide to Guns (They also have great sidebar articles on Knife Wounds, Forensics, Poisons, etc.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Word Count Wednesday

Okay, people, it's time to check in!

I am thrilled with how my word count went this week! I got two chapters written and even though I’m not supposed to when I’m drafting, I went back and revised the previous two chapters. I’m really excited about this story and the characters. Grace and Connor are really shaping up well.

(Of course if any of you have read my previous writing, you know I love strong women, and Grace is definitely a woman who knows her own mind, takes care of herself, but can still be feminine. Does that make sense?)

It’s just nice when the words are flowing and the scenes are filling my head. It’s like my muse knows that my writing time will soon be very limited so I’m being given a precious gift of hopefully being able to finish this story before it's gone.

How did your word count go this week?

(Did you guys know you can read the first chapter of Ribbon of Darkness here? Just checking!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Reviews--How Honest Are You?

I know I usually do a book review on Tuesdays, but I didn't really like the book I read this week. It was an interesting premise, and I liked the main characters in the first part of the book, but near the middle it all sort of broke down and I got to the point where I wanted to poke my eyes out with a spork rather than keep reading. (Although I resisted the urge and did finish the book).

You see, every time some really great conflict or action would start, the author would go into flashbacks and it drove me crazy. Not only did it slow down the story, but a lot of it was unnecessary. It just seemed like the author thought of something to add to the story that had made her characters behave in a certain way, so she wanted to explain it to the audience in a flashback.

It just didn’t work for me.

So, today, I want to ask you some questions about books that you review.

How honest are you in your reviews?

Have you ever given a one or two star review on Goodreads?

Would it affect your review if you knew the author would see it?

Would it affect your review if you were friends with the author?

If you thought your review could possibly offer a critique or what could be improved about the author's writing style, would you consider that helpful to the author and something that should be said?

Put on your honesty hat, and tell me true. What do you do? How honest are you?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Family Responsibilities & Sariah's Complaining

Yesterday, we were talking about Family Responsibilities in our lesson (I was teaching) and I brought out the story of Sariah when she was complaining to Lehi about their sons being gone so long.

It always intrigued me that this story in particular was included in the scriptures. It sort of had a negative connotation to me because it mentions Sariah’s complaining, and not really her faith. But as I looked closer, some things jumped out at me.

Sariah openly and honestly communicates her fears with her husband. She doesn’t mince words, and her natural worry for her children spills over to telling her husband he’s a visionary man.

But Lehi doesn’t over-react either. He doesn’t dismiss her feelings or tell her she’s a whiner. He agrees with her, “I am a visionary man,” and he tries to comfort her by letting her know of his faith that the boys are all right.

I love that because it’s honest communication between a married couple in regard to their children who may or may not be in danger. But the real eye-opener was, for me, whose point of view this entire story was told from.


This entire episode was recorded by Nephi, who didn’t witness it for himself (because he was gone) so he had to have been told by his parents what had happened. Although he did see and hear for himself how Sariah testified that her faith had been strengthened through this ordeal.

So, to me, this does show us and tell us something very important about our family responsibilities. We should have open and honest communication with our loved ones, but not the type of communication that would erode trust and cause contention. And we should share with our children our trials (maybe not the gory details) but how we arrived at the place we did and how our faith was strengthened because of it.

It was just an interesting little insight into something I’d read many times but had never thought about like that, and I thought I’d share.

Communication, strength, and love--something every relationship needs.

Friday, July 15, 2011

First Page Friday

I’m so grateful to those of you who have submitted to Ms. Shreditor. Thank you for your courage and I hope you’ll keep submitting! Again, the submission guidelines are posted on the sidebar and tell your friends!

The Entry
Ideal High
by Anonymous

Whose idea was it to broadcast the screen-sized faces of the dead to the farthest shadowy corners of the school’s auditorium. Everybody knew they were gone. Why emphasize the obvious even for the sake of a memorial. And why no rain on this
joyless day. Never a good Texas thunderstorm when you needed one. Instead, sunlight poured through the ribbon of windows high along the back wall.

It fell across the podium where Taryn stood, making it too bright to read the first name on the list. When she finally focused through the glare to speak into the microphone, the name echoed across the vast room. All eyes riveted on the screen behind her as the name and the face went straight to the heart of each student, parent, faculty member, and community leader standing at attention. The ornate school bell, a class gift thirty-four years prior, clanged long and deep at the side of the stage where it swung in its polished-wood stand.

Chelsea, leaning heavily on crutches at a second podium across the stage, recited the next name on the list. Again the old bell sounded and with it muffled sniffles that began at the front and rippled through the crowd.

“Kayla Carter.” Taryn spoke the third name to the back wall, avoiding the eyes of Kayla’s parents who stood with her own mother and father in the front row. Why had she agreed to do this? Even if she was alone in this nostalgia-ridden place, she
wasn’t comfortable speaking the names of the friends she’d lost out loud. She kept her eyes on the paper in front of her. Some were friends, some friend-like. All on the A-list as Jen liked to say. In fact, so A, they were considered A plus because they were cheerleaders.

Except for Blake. How many more until his? Taryn glanced down the list. She had scanned the names as soon as the principal handed them to her, immediately volunteering to go first before Chelsea had the chance to speak up. If duty required
Taryn’s participation in the ceremony, she certainly didn’t have to let Chelsea announce his name.

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

At 357 words, this sample is a bit long for a first page. Keep in mind that a lot of publishers request double or 1.5 line spacing in manuscript submissions, so you will want to plan your first page accordingly. (And, in all likelihood, the page will break midsentence, so don’t worry too much if this happens in your submission. It’s natural.)

The first paragraph baits the reader with a series of rhetorical questions. However, I found myself distracted by the choice to punctuate them with periods. Was this intentional? At the very least, I would recommend using a question mark in the first sentence. A question can make for a powerful opening line, but this one loses something with the declarative terminal punctuation.

I like the choice to characterize the physical setting by what it isn’t (i.e., portraying the narrator as unnerved that it's so sunny on such a mournful day). The use of light is quite effective here: It blinds the narrator, and it defies the overwhelming physical and emotional darkness in the room by pouring in, unwelcome, through the windows. This juxtaposition creates a sort of literary chiaroscuro that leaves the door wide open for all manner of symbolism.

I was confused as to why the first piece of dialogue was the third name called. Is Kayla Carter of particular importance? Why not start with the first name on the list?

We already know that something tragic has happened at this school, but then the narrative sinks in its claws for a second round when we learn that there is a guy on the list whose loss is particularly painful to Taryn. Even meatier, the story establishes an immediate rivalry between Taryn and Chelsea. The reader is left wondering what happened between them, who Blake was to them, and how all these teens died. Was it a school shooting? Automobile accident? Natural disaster? The fact that I’m asking these questions is a sign that the first page has done its job. I know enough to want to keep reading; I care enough to wonder about these unanswered questions.

There are some minor proofing issues on this page, but nothing egregious. The text could use a very light copyedit for clarity in a few places (e.g., the A/A-plus/cheerleader exposition, which I found to be a bit muddy). Otherwise, this excerpt is in great shape.

Thank again to everyone who participates. Remember, if you offer your own comments and suggestions on “Ideal High,” please be constructive and respectful. See you next week!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Your Character Checklist

When you are writing, it’s easy to get too close to your characters. After all, they are in your head 24/7 and you know them well. So, today, I’d like to offer you a character checklist to go over, just to make sure that your characters are everything you want them to be.

1. Is your character motivation obvious? My main character in Ribbon of Darkness has just buried his father and is out for revenge. All of his motivation is directed toward finding the killer and making sure his father’s killer gets what he deserves. That kind of motivation is obvious. But the subtext becomes if when he is faced with the opportunity, can he mete out the vigilante justice he was imagining? Can he become the killer he abhors? So, you see, the primary motivation also has a secondary point to it.

But what about the subtle character who is in the background, a supporting character perhaps. Do they have a motivation? Are they necessary for main character motivation? Can you combine them with another character or are they truly necessary? What motivated you to put them in the story in the first place? (And yes, I’ve had to cut characters when I’ve realized that they really didn’t add to the story.) Motivation is important from main character to secondary ones.

One thing that’s really helped me with my character motivation is to write out a list of every character that appears in my manuscript and do a short blurb on them. That makes it very easy to see who is extraneous and who might need a little more motivation.

2. Do you characters have a voice? It’s important for your characters to have a unique personality, or “voice,” that makes them more real on the page. It’s sort of like looking around at your friends. I have friends that are always happy, can tell jokes and laugh loudly, friends that are always busy with a new cause and usually start conversations with, "Well, let me tell you this," friends that are constantly with their nose in a book and can spout off their opinions on pretty much any author with the least provocation. Each one of those people are unique, they have a unique “voice” about them in how they deal with the world around them and run their lives, and that is what draws me to them. Your characters in your book need this as well---something that will draw people to them and make it easier to relate to them.

3. Have you described your characters? I went through my last book and realized that I hadn’t described one of the main characters until well into chapter three. Of course, you have to be subtle, you can’t just throw in a laundry list of “John was 6’2”, long brown hair pulled back with an elastic, aquiline nose, azure blue eyes, strong jaw, good muscular frame, and very large feet.” You have to make it natural by giving the info piece by piece, (i.e. he has to re-tie his hair before dinner, or he tried to squish into a small booth, etc.) and please, for the love, do not use the cliché description of azure eyes and a strong jaw. Really see the details in your mind and be fresh in your descriptions.

4. Do your characters have flaws? I read a popular book thinking I would love the hero as much as all my friends had, but I found myself annoyed by him because every time there was a problem, the hero would appear and fix it. It wasn’t even hard for him, he just seemed to be able to do everything right and save everyone. He was just too perfect (he was even perfect in his description!) Every person has a flaw, whether it’s physical (his ears stuck out a little, his nose was slightly crooked, etc.) or an inner flaw (insecure, impatient, too focused, always stressed out, you get the picture.) It is more realistic for your characters to have a flaw of some kind and frankly, it’s more fun to write (and read) about someone you can identify with, since we’re all flawed.

5. Are your characters layered? Are your characters multi-dimensional? Do they come off as a cardboard cutout? Do they have depth and texture and feel like real people?

We talk a lot about plot points, story beats, and conflict, but none of those things will draw the reader in if the emotions of your characters are not involved. Your readers need to feel what is at stake for your characters, feel how torn they are, feel the anger or impatience, or unrequited love. And you draw them in when you write the characters with depth and emotions.

We all have a public face that we put on, but behind that face is a real human being with emotions simmering just underneath the surface. The trick as a writer, is to give your characters their surface face, but have a lot going on underneath that and be able to communicate it to your readers. It just makes your characters real, whether they are the good guys or the bad guys or anyone in between.

So, once your masterpiece is begun, if you’re in the middle, or even if you have finished, take a moment and go over your character checklist. You might be surprised at what you need to cut or add and the depth and layers you will realize need to be added to your story. It’s definitely worth doing because it can add that special something to your manuscript to make it stand out from the rest.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Word Count Wednesday & My First Review!

Well, with everything going on at my house, my word count this week was dismal. But I did manage to write another chapter for the sequel to Ribbon of Darkness, and submit a short piece to Anne Bradshaw, the author of True Miracles with Genealogy, so I’m excited about that. (Have you ever been to Anne’s blog? If you are interested in genealogy, you should click here and take a peek.)

I also got my first review on Ribbon of Darkness. Want to see it?

Here it is: “I was excited to read another of Julie Bellon's suspense filled books. I believe Ribbon of Darkness is her best book yet. You definitely won't want to put this book down or I should say won't be able to put this book down! This book keeps you guessing from the first page to the last. This book is definitely a winner!” Kathy L.

I was thrilled that she liked it and especially glad she wrote such a nice review. Thanks, Kathy!

How did you do with your word count this week?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review: Shades of Gray

Want to win an advanced reading copy of my new book, Ribbon of Darkness? Go here for a fun contest!

While I was in the waiting room waiting for my kids to come out of surgery, I was finally able to finish Rachel Ann Nunes’ book, Shades of Gray. I won it in a contest, and since I never win anything, I was pretty excited about it.

Shades of Gray is another Autumn Rain novel. I read Imprints and loved it because the premise is so original. Autumn Rain is a very unique woman who gets “imprints” from different objects that she touches---feelings and impressions that people who have touched those objects give off. In Imprints she is asked to help find a missing young woman. In Shades of Gray she is asked to figure out why a husband has left his young wife and their two children.

I love characters in this series. Autumn is so sure of herself in almost every area except when it comes to the men in her life who care about her. She is anxious to help others, and wanting to cling to her twin sister that she’s barely reconnected with. She’s such a well-rounded character I could easily identify with her and like her.

Shannon, the police detective who is wary of Autumn’s abilities and yet is also attracted to her is by far my favorite character after Autumn. He’s so real and mysterious, I hope that Rachel does a book about him, or at least has a ton more of him in her next book.

Jake, Autumn’s boyfriend is also a fun character, and Tawnia, Autumn’s sister is captivating in her own right. It’s just a really tight cast and totally makes the book worth reading. My only disappointment, and it was purely personal, is that I was hoping a few things relationship-wise would be wrapped up in this book, but they weren’t. I guess I have to wait for the next one. Can I just say I hope the next one comes out soon?

Anyway, I highly recommend the series, and I know there was an introductory one called Eyes of a Stranger, that I need to get because it introduces Autumn through her sister’s story and I want to know all the background.

If you haven’t started this series, you need to! It’s a definite must-read.

Here’s the back copy for Shades of Gray:

Why would a contented husband who has it all simply disappear?

Autumn Rain believes someone from Dennis Brigg’s past has played into his sudden disappearance, and she involves Detective Shannon Martin in the investigation, hoping that together they can find her friend before the past catches up to him.

Meanwhile, Autumn has troubles of her own. Her boyfriend, Jake, has been a great support since her father’s death, but now his old girlfriend, Kolonda, needs his help with the strange events occurring at her rental buildings. Unfortunately, Jake’s help doesn’t seem to be all Kolonda wants. Autumn is equally confused about her own changing feelings for Jake and for Detective Martin.

Both investigations take a dangerous turn, with millions of dollars and many lives at stake, including that of an innocent young boy. Only by reading imprints—emotions left on certain objects—and putting herself at risk can Autumn unravel the mystery and save her friends.

A fast-paced, romantic suspense novel, Shades of Gray is one book you will not want to miss!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Unbalanced Writer Mom

I feel tired.

Usually church on Sunday rejuvenates me and I come home ready to start the new week. But, instead, I just felt tired after church and still do.

I’ve been running around a lot this past weekend because three of my children got their wisdom teeth out and I’ve been trying to keep them comfortable. I thought it would be a really great idea to get it all done at once, and nurse them all back to health at the same time. But it turned out to be a horrible idea and I don’t recommend it at all. Three miserable people makes for a miserable mom because it’s so hard to see them suffering and in pain.

I think that’s only part of the reason I feel tired. I have so many things in my writing life that need attention, and several things in my personal life that have to take priority, so I feel out of balance. And I think that’s why I didn’t get my usual feelings of renewal at church. I need to find my balance again.

What sorts of things do you do to help you regain your balance when things are getting crazy in your life?

Friday, July 8, 2011

First Page Friday

Once again, I am thrilled to welcome Angela Eschler to the blog today. If you don’t know who Angela is, she is an amazing editor who has helped many authors get their manuscripts ready for submission. She has a knack for knowing exactly where a manuscript needs work and she’s fantastic to work with. If you’d like to know more about her services, you can go to her webpage here.

The Entry

by Rebecca Talley

The sudden bright light chased all traces of darkness away while I waited, muscles tensed, for his judgment. Perspiration collected at the base of my neck.

"What was that?" Mr. Jordan's voice boomed through the room.

I knew better than to say anything when he was agitated, especially if I was the cause.

"Run this part of the scene again." He glared at me. "This time let's try some acting, if it isn't too much to ask."

I nodded.

He switched the house lights off and only the hot spotlights shone on Cole and me.

Cole delivered his lines. He strode toward me, anger painted on his face, and pushed me. I fell to the ground, hard, pain shooting through my elbow. I instinctively pawed at my arm, trying not to let the grimace cross my face. I hoped it was enough.

Cole reached his hand down and mouthed, “Sorry.”

I took a deep breath and latched onto his hand. He pulled me to my feet.

“Mildly better,” Mr. Jordan said. "But, don't anticipate it. Be surprised. We want the audience to be shocked at his display of anger." He peered at me. "Do you understand?”

I rubbed my elbow, the floor burn tingling and pulsating along my arm. “Yes, sir.” I knew Mr. Jordan would keep after me until I got this scene right, even if I fractured my elbow in the process.

The door at the back of the theater opened and light from the hallway backlit a familiar form. I smiled slightly. Nate. I glanced at my watch—he was early.

The Critique

Without further ado, let’s jump into this review with brief points in no particular order of importance (other than the general categories).


--The opening sentence hook is intriguing. It could be any setting in any world. Where are we and what’s going on? Just a little confusion on our part, the feeling of darkness, etc.—all draws us in.

--The opening few paragraphs of the hook are a good follow-up. There’s something at stake in them—conflict. The main character is being judged, is worried about his/her performance is getting injured, and there’s a mean/sarcastic/judgmental antagonist in our Mr. Jordan (which riles our blood and gets our emotions involved right off). All good things to keep us interested.

Just as the initial tension/conflict is resolved, we are intrigued by the next possible source of tension—who is Nate? Oooh….And he’s early. What does that mean—early for what/early how?? (Heart pumping faster.)

This is all good. Keep the tension going with each breath in and out of the story. Especially in the opening couple of pages, you need a reason for the reader to keep turning pages. Great job on this. (Maybe you’ve read some good materials on the subject already, but if not, the book Scene and Structure, by Jack Bickham, is a great little read on keeping that tension going throughout your story. And when you’re in the mood to read through a tome on the subject, the bible for the topic is Story, by Robert McKee.)


Let’s pretend I’m the agent/editor you are submitting to:

--I need to know the genre. What age are the characters? The fact that the antagonist is “Mr. Jordan” made me think high school or junior high for the setting, as adult actors would probably call the instructor “Professor,” or just by his/her last name, or “the director” maybe. But on the other hand they are in a theater, not an assembly hall (as at a school). Some schools have theaters, but it does make me unsure of my setting. You’ll definitely want to clarify the world/age of the main character pretty quickly after this opening hook and/or be slightly less subtle—either overtly (but subtly phrased/placed please), or through character voice, or through setting, etc.

--I also need to know the gender of the main character pretty quickly, which isn’t clear in this hook. Mainly we just need to know how the POV character relates to the world around him/her, and gender is a very clear starting point for that. I am assuming “her” just because the violence visited upon her is a push rather than a punch, and because the person who enters at the end of the scene is a boy, that she smiles when thinking of, and there consequently seems to be a mild undercurrent of excitement from the POV character at his arrival (though this may be due to the simple fact that the scene ends there, so the reader automatically gives that moment more emphasis/emotional significance, and thus we assume the significance comes from how teen boys and girls feel about each other); but it would definitely be good to know if the main character is not a girl, and to clearly establish it immediately or before the time Nate arrives. If the POV character is a girl, she could be wearing a dress when she’s pushed, or something like that so we know her gender for sure.

The only case in which you wouldn’t want to clarify her gender, and/or ages, etc., soon, is if you were deliberately trying to write some sort of deconstructionist/post-modern YA novel where you were messing with the reader’s preconceived notions (like my assumptions above) and intending to produce social commentary with your novel.

--I’m not sure how to interpret Mr. Jordan’s words in the opening lines. “What was that?” With a little sarcasm? Otherwise, given that we don’t know quite what’s going on yet when he says it, we read it as if the main character had said something to Mr. Jordan (that we didn’t see) and was being asked to repeat it or speak up, or was in big trouble for it, etc. Maybe you want it to be vague to keep up the suspense about where we are and what’s going on, but at the same time, since there was no dialogue before this point, we are likely to be more confused than you intend (you want the initial reader confusion resolved pretty fast), and are likely to misinterpret it as our having missed some dialogue previously. The result is that it takes a minute for us to figure out she’s being asked to fix an acting scene. So we waste time getting our bearings, which can slow down the page-turning pace you might want to supply us.

--After the main character is pushed down, it’s momentarily unclear if the acting scene has ended, or if the following behavior is part of it. Again, we lose our bearings in the story. A transition would help: “The scene over, Cole reached his hand down …”

--A little word economy could make the opening lines more powerful: “Sudden bright light purged the darkness while I waited, muscles tensed, for judgment. Perspiration collected at the base of my neck.” The original diction was fine, but it was a tad wordy, so the reader loses the immediacy of the image while they slog through the words. Another option, if you love the opening description of darkness, is to break up the sentences so the opening line isn’t so long.

Last thoughts:

This is a good and interesting hook (or partial hook). However, if I were an agent, I’d need to know a few more things pretty quickly (within a page-ish) in order to decide if the book was something I should spend more time reading (whether it’s a genre/sub-genre I represent): I think you’ll want to move pretty quickly after Nate’s arrival in clarifying what kind of world we’re in—futuristic, current, magical (unless the magic comes later and is a surprise to the characters), or historical, whether this is YA or something else (characters’ ages, world views, establishing strong POV character voice), and you’ll want to present us with the inciting incident (the dramatic thing that occurs that puts our POV character on the path to the journey and lets us know what’s at stake so that we—gasp—can’t stop reading).

A full hook offers all of that within a couple of pages. Obviously this is just the first page, but a lot of your competing authors are trying to fit the inciting incident onto the first page, so you’ll want to be aware of that. Not all agents insist on the biggest, flashiest, oh-my-gosh hook on the very first page, but some do. So just be aware of to whom you’ll want to pitch this book and the pattern of hooks for the books they represent. If you don’t want/need an agent, the same goes for readers. What crowd do you want to draw in? What are they reading, and how (and how quickly, in terms of the inciting incident) do many of those books start?

As always, I’d like to thank Angela for her time and effort in critiquing for me and to Rebecca for being brave enough to submit. If you have anything else to add to Rebecca’s critique, feel free to do so in the comments, but remember to be kind as well as helpful.

See you next week!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

E-Readers vs. Books

I apologize for posting late. Two of my children had their wisdom teeth out this morning and one of them isn’t doing very well. If you think about it, send some good thoughts and prayers our way, will you?

If any of you know me, you know that I love books. I have bookshelves in every room of my home that are overflowing. The books who don’t fit on the shelf are neatly stacked in front of it until I can figure out where to put a new shelf.

This has been somewhat of a sticky situation for me because since I love all of the books I own for the most part, I haven’t been able to get rid of them, and there really isn’t any more room to put any more of my beloved books. And, of course, new books come out every month that become favorites and when I buy them, I can only add them to my stack.

There didn’t seem to be a solution for me, until the Kindle came out. The Kindle can store 3500 books inside its tiny frame. It allows me to make little shelves with all the e-titles I buy and categorize them any way I want. It seemed so easy. But the drawback was that I was afraid holding a Kindle wasn’t going to be the same as holding a book and smelling its pages--especially when it’s new. I love that new book smell.

The thing that amazed me, however, was the fact that when I bought my Kindle, I bought the lighted cover with it. Opening that cover, with its "new" smell, totally gives me that feeling of having a book in my hands. (I also heard they are going to start marketing a “new book smell” spray for the book people like me.) And the little light is so convenient when I want to read and the baby is sleeping. All of my concerns went out the window. I felt like I had a book in my hands, I had the new smell I wanted, and easy access to any title I could ever want. (Although that quickly became a drawback. I can finish one book, browse in Amazon for the next one in the series at any time day or night, and with a quick click of a button, I own it! It’s so easy! Of course, it’s all wonderful until I get my Visa bill. LOL)

Long story short, I love my Kindle. And I know my sagging bookshelves love it, too. It seems like more and more people are turning to e-readers these days, because of its convenience, but is that really true? Do you own an e-reader? Why or why not?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Word Count Wednesday

Here’s the quote I liked this week:

"Being defeated is often temporary, giving up makes it
- Marilyn von Savant

I like that quote because a writing career is full of “setbacks.” Rejections and critiques can make it hard sometimes to feel like you’re a good writer whose stories are worth publishing. That quote just speaks to me on the value of not giving up. Of course it also helps when the words are flowing.

And this has been a wonderful word-flowing week for me. I am so excited because I did great on my word count this week and I’m halfway through my draft. I really like the way the story is shaping up and the way my characters are behaving. Hopefully that will last.

I want to make it my goal to have this thing drafted by the end of July. I think seeing it here in black and white will help me get that done--so I’m saying it out loud. My goal is to have this draft done by July 31st, 2011 at midnight.

What are your writing goals for July?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: The Homecoming by Dan Walsh

Well, last night’s fireworks had only two unexpected happenings--it rained on us (I’ve never had to look up to see fireworks and get hit with raindrops before) and there was only a small fire on the hillside that was put out quickly. Not quite as exciting as years past, but the fireworks show was second to none. We really enjoyed ourselves!

I have been reading a book called The Homecoming by Dan Walsh. I’ve never read anything by this author before and only found out today that this book is a sequel. It definitely can be a stand alone since I haven’t been confused during the storyline at all.

It’s such an unassuming little book, I didn’t expect to feel so strongly about it. I’ve been slowly reading a chapter a night for a while now and it’s like a little web of intrigue wound its way around my heart with each chapter. The characters are full of depth and emotion and I honestly can’t say I’ve read such a heartwarming book such as this before.

The story begins in the middle of World War II, with a man being called home from the war because his wife has died and he must now take care of his young son. He’s just been through a harrowing experience in the war, nearly captured by Germans, and barely escaping with his life. As he returns home, he is asked to help on a USO tour to encourage people to buy war bonds.

This really isn't the kind of book that I am normally drawn to, but it is so introspective, so real, and full of pain and hope, that it is a story that drew me back to it again and again. There is a level of tension that seems to resonate in the characters and carries on to the reader that has intrigued me from the start and never went away. I definitely want to read the other book in the series.

If you like romantic historical fiction, and a slow, sweet read that will make you smile, this is definitely a book I think you’ll enjoy.

Here is the back copy:

No sooner is Shawn Collins home from the fighting in Europe than he's called upon to serve his country as a war hero on a USO bond tour. Others might jump at the chance to travel all around the country with attractive Hollywood starlets. But not Shawn. He just wants to stay home with his son Patrick, his aging father and to grieve the loss of his wife in private. When Shawn asks Katherine Townsend, Patrick's former social worker, to be Patrick's nanny while he's on the road, he has no idea how this decision will impact his life. Could it be the key to his future happiness and the mending of his heart? Or will the war once again threaten his chances for a new start?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

I hope you are all able to celebrate the 4th of July today with friends, family, and loved ones. I'm so grateful that I live in this country. As a Canadian who has lived here for almost 24 years, I truly feel like I have the best of both worlds--a great foundation from the country of my birth, and a great opportunity from the country that I live in.

I'm going to just pause today and think for a moment of those men and women who gave so much to make this country a land of freedom and liberty, and I hope you will, too.

(And I'm going to tell you a secret. I always go to my city's fireworks with a bit of anticipation and trepidation because every year something unexpected happens.

The first year I went they accidentally set a tree on fire at the edge of the field, the next year the safety zone wasn't far enough back and it rained fireworks debris on us, (some of it was still on fire!) and last year, one of the rocket launchers fell over and started launching fireworks into the crowd. It was SCARY!

So I always wonder as I'm packing up our blankets and such, what will happen this year. And even though it's a little on the scary side (I am better prepared each year) we have a lot of great 4th of July family memories watching the fire department put out the fires and making sure our blankets don't go up in flames at the fireworks show. And of course, making sure everyone is far, far, away from the action. Safety first! I'll let you know if anything out of the ordinary happens tonight.)


Friday, July 1, 2011

First Page Friday

First of all, HAPPY CANADA DAY!! If possible, you should all go have Shreddies for breakfast with a Caramilk bar for a morning snack. I know I want to. Canadian food is the best! O Canada . . .

In First Page news, if you thought I was up in the night about agents and the first page, last month, national agent Victoria Marini from the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency participated in a first page contest where the winner was awarded a request for a full manuscript and at least a partial critique.

From merely submitting the first page.

So, yeah, agents think first pages are pretty important, and that’s what First Page Friday is all about. Helping you, the author, have the most stellar first page possible. If you’re interested you can read about the First Page Contest that was held here

So, on to this week’s First Page Friday!

The Entry
by Anonymous

I ran along the walk way, trying not to slip on the slick cement sidewalks. my long, auburn hair was getting splattered as my head bent against the rain pelting down on me. My hair was undoubtedly flattened now and I had to work later that afternoon. It rarely rained in Arizona so this storm was unexpected and I had no umbrella. Who had time to watch the news for the weather reports? My book bag was tucked under my arm as far as I could get it in a vain attempt to keep my school books and music dry. My history class had just ended and I had only ten minutes to make my mad dash from the Classroom Office Building, across campus, and down Orange Mall to the Lyric Opera Theatre for my class on musical theatre.

"Oof!" I cried, as I ran right into someone, also hurrying head down to get out of the rain. My arms flew out on either side of me to try and keep myself upright rather than landing in the mud. Unfortunately, my bag fleww off in the process and skidded to a stop several feet away.

"Hey!" a deep voice exclaimed.

I looked up to see deep brown eyes staring at me. I stared back a moment before sucking my head, feeling my cheeks redden. I grabbed my book bag from off the rain-soaked ground where it had landed. "Sorry," I muttered as I desperately brushed at the mud now clinging to my bag.

A throaty chuckle filled the air. I glanced up in surprise. The man was laughing! As I looked quizzically at him I noticed that he seemed a little older than the average student at Arizona State University. He also wasn't carrying and books, just a slip of paper. His blond hair was very curly and slightly longer than I was used to seeing, but then I was also used to clean-cut LDS boys at the Institute Building. he had a very nice smile, it lit up his whole face. When he smiled his deep dimples showed. I loved dimples.

"Maybe you could help me?" he asked in a lilting English accent. I loved English accents. I loved anything English. It was at the top of my list of places to go someday. I had my passport ready should the occasion ever present itself.

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

This story starts with a pretty standard “meet cute,” as they’re often called. In other words, the would-be romantic partners collide in some comic or adversarial way to kick off their love story. It’s a classic convention of both romance novels and movies because, when done right, it works. In some ways, it’s the opposite of an information dump; the story simply begins without extensive, pace-killing exposition, and the writer fills in the blanks as the story progresses.

What compromises this opening is the first paragraph. It throws an awful lot at us at once without building much momentum. It feels frenetic. Consider cutting some extraneous detail from this paragraph and making a smoother segue into the story-defining collision.

There is also some awkward verb choice (e.g., her bag skidding to a stop). I read and re-read the following sentence: “I stared back a moment before sucking my head, feeling my cheeks redden.” I’m not quite sure what the intended meaning is here.

I want to emphasize the importance of submitting work that has undergone thorough proofreading. An agent or editor might not read past “walk way,” which should be one word, or the lowercased first word of the second sentence. Later, the narrator’s bag “fleww” off. Another sentence—"he had a very nice smile, it lit up his whole face.”—needs capitalization and, at the very least, a semicolon to eliminate the comma splice. (My suggestion: “He had a very nice smile that lit up his whole face.”) An error-laden first page signals a lack of effort on the author’s part, so don’t undermine all those months/years of hard work by submitting a raw cut.

I like that this story features a non-standard LDS love interest. His hair’s a little shaggy. He’s sporting a very desirable accent. More importantly, he fulfills a need within the narrator as her potential ticket to the U.K., her dream destination. These are interesting plot elements. While British accents, dimples, and shaggy hair alone can’t sustain reader interest across hundreds of pages, they are attention grabbers on a first page—particularly in a genre often populated by clean-cut white Americans. Just make sure that the hero’s attractive physical attributes aren’t the only interesting things about him. I’ve seen many stories fall into this trap: the authors think that all they need is a British accent and—poof—they’ve created the next romantic superhero. Writers have to dig deeper than that if they want their characters to make a lasting impression.

Thank you to Ms. Shreditor and to our entrant! See you next week.