Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This Crazy Thing I Did & Book Review In God Is Our Trust

So, remember yesterday when I was saying how good I felt with the paper purging? (And when I found another $20 this morning I felt even better). Well, last night, I was on Facebook talking about it and this other author chimed in and said she had a bunch of filing/paperwork she needed to go through by Thursday, and she challenged me to get my last corner of my room AND my closet done by Thursday. If I do it, I will reeceive a free copy of each of her five books.

And I agreed. (And if she finishes her goals, I'll give her free copies of some of my books.)

I know, I know, it might kill my good feelings to rush through this, but I'm halfway through the corner already. It's the closet that's going to kill me. (And I took before pics this time so you can see what I'm talking about when I post them.) So, if you come by the house and find me mumbling to myself with a stack of paper in my hand, you'll know I've finally lost it, all for the love of books. Just FYI.

Today I want to tell you about In God Is Our Trust, the final volume of the Free Men and Dreamers series by L.C. Lewis. Truth be told, I've only read the last two books in the series and I really want to go back and start at the beginning, just so I can get the layers and nuances of this post-Revolutionary war epic.

The series deals with the years after the Revolutionary War, but the fourth book begins with one of the main characters in a prisoner hold of a ship and he is who really caught my attention. The struggles of the Pearson family, both physically and emotionally, really tie these books together. The author seamlessly weaves in the history, so I feel like I'm being swept away in the time period and left breathless by the courage of those who lived through the events. My only complaint, and it's a small one, is that flipping back and forth between England and the Americas jolted me sometimes and I'd have to stop and readjust my thinking as to which family was which. But it's a small thing when you have such a sweeping drama before your eyes. The research is impeccable and I know I will never look at the Revolutionary war in quite the same way again.

This is a book that is well worth your time. Here is the back copy:

And this be our motto 'In God is our trust.'

America exits the War of 1812 battered but determined under the leadership of the last men tutored by the Founding Fathers. As she is welcomed onto the world stage, new leaders prepare to thrust an aggressive platform on the nation, threatening America's unity and her brief period of prosperity and peace.

The country's trials have prepared a choice generation, but as adversity afflicts the Pearson home, Hannah enters a crisis of faith, questioning man's interpretation of God's word. The struggles plaguing the Pearsons affect Frannie and the six families with whom the Pearsons have become entangled during the war. As a new religious reformation dawns in America, the Pearsons and Snowdens become involved with a young man from Hannah's past, Joseph Smith, whose accounts of visions and dealings with angels strain tender relationships and test the Constitution's guarantees of religious liberty.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Treasure Hunting

So, I realize you might be getting tired of hearing about my paper-purging efforts, but I had such a productive weekend. I sorted all the kids' papers, and we went through them together to see what they wanted to keep and what they didn't. It was hilarious! Old love notes, pictures and doodles they'd drawn, it was just so fun to sit and reminisce with them and to see how far they've come.

Not only did we unearth those little sentimental treasures, but I also unearthed a $20 bill from an old birthday card, my daughter's social security card we'd misplaced a few years back, and a little bag of bite-size Three Musketeers bars that were only slightly smushed.

All in all, I'd count that as a very productive, treasure-filled, paper-purging weekend. And the good news is I only have ONE CORNER of my room left to purge. I wish I had taken a before picture so that you can all realize what an amazing feat this is. I also wish I'd taken a picture of the bags and bags of paper that I have recycled this month. Yet, even without the pictures, I'm feeling good.

What did you do this past weekend?

Friday, January 27, 2012

First Page Friday

Another amazing First Page Friday is here. We have been getting some wonderful submissions. If you are interested in having the first page of your manuscript critiqued by a professional editor, please submit your double-spaced 12 pt. font page to juliecoulterbellon@gmail.com with First Page Friday in the subject line.

Let's get right to it.

The Entry
She Came From the Hill

by Janice Sperry

Clay skidded his bike to a stop and planted his foot on the ground before his heavy pack could knock him over. His friends were scattered in Alex’s yard – none of them in uniform. He straightened his scout shirt. They needed to take scouting more seriously.

Alex aimed a small camcorder covered with duct tape at him and pushed a button. A bright light flashed and then shined in Clay’s eyes.

Clay put his hands over his eyes. “Watch where you’re aiming that thing.”

“The IR works! Sweet.” Alex switched the light off, leaving Clay seeing spots.

“Why are you bringing a camera with night vision to scout camp?” Clay swung his pack off his shoulder and dropped it on the ground.

“So I can film things that go bump in the night.”

Alex flipped the tiny screen shut and tucked it inside a case. Then he whispered, “The camera sees what we can’t.”

“I get the feeling that scout camp is still next weekend,” Clay said. Mr. Walters never let the boys leave the campground at night and Alex wouldn’t bring his specially designed night camera if he wasn’t planning to use it. Once Alex messed with something, it only had so many uses before it fell apart.

Alex brushed a shock of blond hair from his eyes. “Do you doubt my word?” He put his hand over his heart.

“Yes. I do.”

“I’m hurt.” He grinned, showing how offended he really was. “Leave your bike by the garage.”

Angela's Comments


· Clay seems to have a clearly defined personality from the get-go. That’s good overall. He has a very subtle and economic way of telling us his world view.

· The same goes for Alex. You’ve got action (stimulus/response) and a setting to ground the characters in immediately. Also good. Alex definitely gets the reader’s attention from the start. You just know that he’s going to be getting into all sorts of hijinks. That’s a good way to get the reader hooked from page one.

· Also, you’ve done a good job of showing rather than telling. The writing is mechanically clean as well. That’s important, especially if this is for a middle reader audience. Not that you want to talk down for this age group. They are intelligent and demanding readers, but they want clear, straight forward syntax.

· I am interested in this group of boys and what type of trouble they are going to get in, but also in their dynamic, as Alex and Clay don’t seem as if they’d be natural friends – given their personalities thus far. So I would read on for several reasons.

Questions/Things to fine tune:

· Alex is excited because the infrared recording option is working on his camcorder (or perhaps he converted his camera with some tinkering – which seems to be suggested – he “messes” with things) but if it isn’t dark when he tests it, will he know that it is working effectively, or does the camera just seem to be recording? Wouldn’t he have to playback the recording to verify this? I haven’t shot with IR, so I’m not certain, but it may be helpful to clarify this for the reader.

I’m wondering how long IR has been a common feature on camcorders (unless Alex has jury-rigged a homemade IR device). Just the last few years? This scene gives me sort of a Goonies or Super 8 feeling (the films), what with the kids having disparate personalities but still being friends and with bike riding as their mode of transportation. That stuff isn’t as common anymore. So I’m just wondering if this is supposed to be at all historical. If so, a greater hint at the time period might be helpful.

When Alex says “The camera sees what we can’t,” is he whispering this dramatically, ominously, or literally, as if it’s a secret? An adverb would be helpful in this case, or some other clue. I’m guessing he’s pretending to be dramatic, but there are other ways a reader could interpret this passage.

· “I get the feeling that Scout camp is still next weekend,” Clay said. So my only question here is why wouldn’t he have heard from the leaders when Scout camp was? If it was initially on this day and Mr. Walters changed the date and asked them to tell Clay, that would work, but as I read, I’m sensing a plot hole here without a little tweak to buy my suspension of disbelief. Another interpretation is that Clay is giving a jab at the other Scouts for not being as prepared as he is. (This is suggested in the first paragraph.)

You can see the problem here – Clay’s meaning is ambiguous. Is he expressing uncertainty about the date of the campout or is he complaining about his friends’ levity? Also, I need more of a bead on Clay. Is he saying this warily, wearily, what? I get the sense that Alex has done this type of thing to him before (which I’m getting hints of), but how does Clay feel about that? We do get the feeling he’s kind of a stiff rule-follower type, but is he good friends with Alex then? Seems he wouldn’t approve of the Alex-type. But the opening says these guys are his friends.

· Mr. Walters would never let the guys leave the campground at night. This sentence makes the paragraph a little unclear. Is Clay suggesting that Scout camp can’t possibly be on because Alex has a camera that Mr. Walters would never let him use, or is he saying that Alex must plan on breaking the rules?

Here’s one possible way to reword this section: “You’re acting like Scout camp is still next weekend,” Clay said. He knew Mr. Walters would never let the guys leave the campground at night, but Alex wasn’t one to let rules stand in the way of a good adventure. If Alex was bringing his specially designed night camera, he was planning on using it.

In this passage, I also changed the word “boys” to “guys” but doing so implies a bigger question. I am not sure of the audience for this book. The voice isn’t strongly YA or middle grade, although readers may make assumptions based on the Scouts and the biking, which leans toward younger Scouts – a guess would be ten to twelve-year-olds. It feels a little more like the beginning of a short story or something for adults. If it is Clay’s POV voice telling this story, is he really stiff and adult-like enough to refer to himself and his friends as “boys”?

· The POV narrator right now seems to imply that Clay’s viewpoint is what we’re going to get throughout the story. If that’s the case, we should really like Clay. Right now he seems like a square—not normally something kids are attracted to. So just a comment on audience/voice: Who is this for, can you make the Clay more likeable if he needs to be, and can you give a hint as to his social status in the group? Are they just kids from the neighborhood and therefore a group simply because of geographical proximity, or are they also friends? And if they aren’t friends, why would Alex want Clay along to the point of not telling him about Scout camp?

· Once Alex messed with something, it only had so many uses before it fell apart. So I’m not clear if Clay is telling the reader this as an aside, or if he’s saying that Alex, himself, only brings valuable things if he really needs them because Alex, himself, knows he breaks things. In other words, the reason for telling the reader this information is unclear. Or at least, its connection to the previous sentences is unclear.

· “I’m hurt.” He grinned, showing how offended he really was. Change this to “I’m hurt.” He grinned. The grin speaks for itself—the showing works without the telling.


Alex has already caught my attention. He seems like he could be full of mischievous fun. Of course, I don’t know what way you plan to develop his character. Clay comes across as more of a straight man. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but you might consider ways to show a little more of what type of character Clay is. If he’s the main viewpoint character, you want to create a bond between him and the reader as quickly as possible (especially if this is written for a younger crowd). Try to create a bit of dialogue or action that will help the reader identify, sympathize, or empathize with Clay. Keep your target audience in mind as you set the tone and the characters. If you intended Clay to come across less stiff, you’ll want to consider how boys this age talk and interact with each other. If you haven’t had the opportunity, try to get permission to observe a Scout activity (volunteer, if you dare!) and then pay attention to the natives.

Some of the confusion (Scout camp next weekend/is Alex testing the IR in the daytime?) could be resolved by giving more setting details up front, specifically time and place. You could mention in the first paragraph that the Scouts are meeting at Mr. Walter’s home prior to driving to the camp. Is it morning or late afternoon? Friday or Saturday? Summer? Space is at a premium the first few pages of any story, so you won’t want to spend too much time establishing the setting, but a few well-placed details will help ease the reader into the story and prevent confusion down the road.

Your characters promise to be interesting, which is a bit of a hook for the reader,
but your first sentence should pack as much of a punch as possible, so you may want to use that opportunity to craft an opening sentence that really hints that a wild adventure awaits the reader. The current start of the story is a solid place to continue after you’ve done that.

Best of luck and happy writing. This promises to be a fun read.

Thank you so much to Angela and Janice for their hard work! See you next Friday!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Know Your Audience--Writing Tip

We took six of our children to see comedian Brian Regan last night. I have to tell you, my sides still hurt this morning from laughing so hard. He is so funny! He takes something so ordinary and then shares his observations about it. Like marching bands. And riding on the back of a motorcycle. And airports.

The thing I probably liked best about last night is that we were there as a family. I knew the show would be appropriate for any age and we had so much fun together. Then, in the car afterward, we could quote the jokes and laugh about it again. It was a great family memory.

You see, Brian Regan taps a family audience. He has said in interviews that he doesn't intentionally do it, but he's just a clean comedian.

The article explains, "Regan doesn’t give the “clean comic” label a big, warm embrace because it was never a deliberate decision to target clean-leaning audiences. He’s not “Mr. Wholesome,” he says, and he can’t claim to have never told a joke with a four-letter word. He’s simply focused on humor that interests him — and it happens to be clean.

Regan had a validating experience recently when a friend from college gave him an old tape of the two performing a mock interview where they each played a character — filmed long before Regan had any aspirations of being a comedian. As he watched, he notice his friend taking the conversation in a darker, dirtier direction. Regan noticed himself steering it back to the more “absurd, conceptual kind of stuff.”

“And it interested me listening to this stuff, going, ‘Wow, that was my instinct even before I knew I wanted to be a comedian,’” he said. “So it comforted me to think, ‘Well, alright, then I’m going after my true path. It isn’t like I’ve chosen this for career reasons. I’ve chosen it because it’s what interests me.’ It was very gratifying to listen to that.” (You can read the entire article here)

The thing that caught my eye was the last paragraph when he talked about going after his true path and knowing his "instinct" or voice. I think as writers, that's what we're looking for as well. The genre you lean toward, the subjects you're interested in, that's what affects you as a writer. You develop and hone writing skills so that you can provide the rich stories and characters that are bubbling inside of you. But, until you find your voice, sometimes that can be difficult.

I was asked once if I would ever write something other than suspense. Of course I didn't say no, I can't rule anything out, but suspense is what interests me. That's what I write currently and I write it because it's my passion. It's what I love. And if I listen to those who like my writing, I'm pretty good at it. (I know, I know, I can improve, but sometimes I like to believe what I hear.) Suspense is my favorite kind of books, my favorite kind of TV shows, I just love the genre. And it's always been that way. So I like to think that I've found my true path, my instinct, and because of that, it's a little easier to know exactly where to start in honing my craft for the appropriate audience.

So, while I'm not leaving everyone laughing, I hope that in some sense, I'm like Brian Regan, in that I can tap into my audience and use my writing skills to get the adrenaline pumping enough that my readers are racing to the end and glad they read my story when they're done.

Do you know feel like you know your path? And, out of curiosity for the funny people of the earth, have you listened to Brian Regan before?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

For those of you who are following my PaperWatch 2012, I am happy to tell you that HALF of my bedroom is now paper-free. HALF! I am so excited. It's taken me 25 days, but I'm so motivated to do the other half and I have to say, it's really done something for my peace of mind. It just makes me feel good.

What also makes me feel good is the fact that I have rewritten and edited fifty pages of my manuscript this week and then I wrote a new chapter. It's really coming along and I'm so excited. I'm not quite at my goal that I set for January, but I'm close.

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Family by Design

Family by Design by Heather Justesen piqued my interest from the very beginning. The heroine, Rena, was so easy to identify with, searching for love, dealing with tragedy, trying to find her way in the world. She's leaned on her best friend for years and once you meet him you can understand why.

Yeah, I loved Tucker, the best friend and hero.

I loved Tucker because he was willing to be vulnerable and flawed. I've read several books recently and watched a movie where the hero was just too perfect. Good-looking, great job, personality of a prince---all he needed was the "S" on his shirt. But that isn't reality and it takes me out of the story. Family by Design had a hero that was real and faced with difficult decisions, (but was still good-looking with a great job. ).

The first half of the book was so well-written I couldn't read it fast enough. The romance was the kind that brings to life the butterflies in your stomach and makes you sigh and re-read the last paragraph because it was so good. The last half was harder because the plot becomes front and center and the romance takes a back seat, so that slowed the pacing down a bit. That said, it was a good ending, which I was glad about, since there were a few ways it could have gone.

So, my final verdict is, if you want a great rainy afternoon read, Family by Design is for you.

Here's the back copy:

Tucker’s on his way to the biggest challenge of his life. Rena already has it all—except a family of her own. But neither one expected their friendship would take such a dramatic turn.

When Tucker becomes the guardian of his newly orphaned niece and nephew, he knows he can’t handle them alone, not when he might be shipped out with the Marines at any moment.

Desperate, he turns to Rena for a major favor. His marriage proposal would give her everything she wants, but can she learn to live without the romance she’s always dreamed of?

As time, prayer, and a life-changing kiss work a little magic in her heart, Rena wonders if someone up there has a plan for her that’s better than anything she could’ve come up with on her own. And though it seems crazy at first, this could become her chance for a marriage that will last for eternity.

As part of the Blog Tour, as a special promotion for anyone who buys Family By Design before January 31, you can get a free ebook for Heather Justesen’s companion novella, “Shear Luck.” Once you buy a copy of Family by Design, go here to get your free copy of “Shear Luck.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Dreaded Monday

Well, today is the dreaded Monday. After a wonderful, almost-relaxing weekend, I had to get up today and face the house, the paper, and the kids.

So, you know what we did? We used the Flylady fifteen minutes and the two kids I have at home during the day helped me "clean" fifteen minutes in each room. Then, when we were done, we spent fifteen minutes playing a game and repeated. They shockingly both went down for a nap at the same time and I got some work done on my manuscript AND I went through an entire box of paper.

It feels good.

Sometimes being a mom feels monotonous, but today, I feel productive and that makes me feel happy. And I have happy kids because Mom had fun playing with them today.

How do you get rid of the monotonous feeling we sometimes get in our lives?

Friday, January 20, 2012

First Page Friday

So this week was a good writing week for me and as I was doing some research, I found this quote:

"It's not what you go through that defines you; you can't help that. It's what you do after you go through it, that defines who you really are." - Unknown

I think that is a great quote for both a character and a writer.

Anyway, I hope you're having a good writing week, too! Let's get on to First Page Friday.

The Entry
The Empress of Edom

By Kurt F. Kammeyer

Haganiel heard a voice speaking to him.

“Haganiel, come forth!”

He sat up and looked around. He could see nothing, but he could feel the rocks of his burial cairn pressing around him and through him. It was a peculiar sensation. He slowly lifted his arms and felt them pass through several large boulders.

How strange... he thought. I feel as solid as these rocks, yet I can pass through them like water...

He slowly rose to his feet. Still he could see nothing. He thought,

My fellow Believers must have piled these rocks higher than my head. Such an honor...

He took several steps, and in a moment he was standing outside the cairn. He looked around. He was standing in the clearing at the head of the Footstool of God, next to his own grave.

Brilliant shafts of sunlight were streaming into the clearing through the trees, illuminating the altar and the graves of his fellow Haganah who were buried all around the edges of the clearing. The colors were intensely vivid, in never-ending, beautiful shades which he had never seen in mortality. The marvelous light suffused everything including Haganiel, so that his whole body was filled with it.

As he cast his gaze around the clearing, he suddenly realized that he could now see equally in all directions without turning his head, simply by focusing his thoughts.

Standing next to the altar was his old friend and fellow Seer, Abdiel. He was dressed in a long robe of a shade of whiteness that Haganiel had never seen before, and he was glorious to behold.

The Fourth Seer stepped forward, smiled, and embraced the Fifth Seer.

“Welcome back, Haganiel!” he said. “You are one of us, now!”

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

My first suggestion for this week’s sample is to rearrange the opening a bit. It might work better here to begin with “Haganiel, come forth!” and then follow with something like, “Haganiel heard the voice speaking to him, sat up, and looked around.” The one-sentence opener as it stands feels a bit abrupt. By opening with the dialogue instead, you bring the reader more immediately into the thick of things instead of stopping them at the door with generic exposition. As I mentioned in a recent critique, I don't always recommend starting a story with dialogue, but the dialogue here is much more effective than the existing first line.

This piece does a good job of establishing setting. The reader can feel the change as Haganiel moves from the darkness of his burial cairn into the lit clearing. What I find most effective, however, is how we discover Haganiel’s new powers at the same time he does. We are right there with him when he realizes that he can pass through solid matter and when he realizes that he can expand his vision field simply by directing his thoughts.

Be careful with comparisons. In the fourth paragraph, Haganiel remarks that he can pass through rocks like water. I don’t think that this accurately conveys how easily he passes through solid matter, as water doesn’t pass easily through rocks.

In the fifth paragraph, I would recommend cutting “He thought” to introduce the italicized text in the following paragraph. The third paragraph establishes that italicized text represents Haganiel’s inner thoughts with “he thought,” so there’s no need to repeat the same tag two paragraphs later.

Lastly, one-sentence paragraphs can help build suspenseful momentum in a novel. They can also emphasize vital plot points or emotions in a way that longer paragraphs can’t. However, do use this device sparingly. I once read a fantasy series cluttered with one-sentence paragraphs, and they felt excessive after a point. They cheapened what was otherwise wonderful writing. Don't let that happen to your intriguing story. Highlight only what is most crucial in one-sentence paragraphs to intensify their impact.

Otherwise, the writing is quite clean. There are some minor punctuation issues and a few instances of choppy syntax, but nothing that a light proof wouldn’t resolve.

As always, thank you to everyone who submits and to Ms. Shreditor for taking the time to critique for us. It is greatly appreciated! See you next week!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Choosing Names for Your Characters

So, after reading Debra's comment yesterday about the name "Grace" being too common, I went into a bit of panic mode since that is the name of my heroine in my work in progress.

I loved the name for this particular character, but if you will remember I talked about how I was torn between the names Grace and Claire, so I spent this morning taking Grace out and putting in Claire. I also changed the name of my hero because he had a "C" name as well and if the heroine was Claire, it didn't really fit with the hero's name anymore.

But then, I had to change a bad guy's name because "Roy" just didn't seem to go with the vision of him I had in my mind after seeing him interacting with Claire and not Grace.

You know what was funny? After I'd changed everybody's name, it was like I was writing a whole new book. The hero seemed a little darker, the heroine a little sassier, the bad guy a little more sympathetic. It was amazing!

Unfortunately, with all the first name changes, I also had to do some last name changes as well. Last names are always hard for me. I have tried the phone book thing, the neighborhood list thing, genealogy sources, you name it. I dread choosing last names. But last night, I found this website who offers a free list of great last names. (Click here if you want to see it.) I think I will love this website for the rest of my writing career.

So, now I have new first names, great last names, and I'm ready to finish this baby up.

How do you choose names for your characters?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

The muse is back and with the help of all my beta readers and critique people, I have been using all my computer time for the last few days to revise and write. It's so wonderful and liberating!

It's interesting to me how critiques can jump-start me. There was a time in my writing career where I never wanted anyone to see my work until it was finished, but now that I know how helpful critiques and honest feedback can be, I can't wait until I get it back.

I have a bit of computer time left today while the kids are napping so I'm going to get back to it. I wrote a little over 2000 words this week and I revised three chapters. I'm feeling good!

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review: The Dark Lord

The Dark Lord by Karen Keegan was recently offered for free on Kindle and since it was advertised as a "clean" sort of romance, I downloaded it. I was intrigued by the back cover and the first few chapters really drew me in. Catherine has been more or less an indentured servant in her aunt and uncle's home in America. Her father, a Duke, is back in England dying, and he wishes to see her before he dies. He sends a representative, his ward, Viscount Jonathan Thornley, to retrieve her. Thornley has a reputation for being the "the Dark Lord," and is none too happy to perform the service for the Duke because he believes Catherine be a spoiled child who has rejected her father.

Of course, he finds that is not the truth, as Catherine's aunt and uncle have been using her money for themselves and their spoiled daughter, and reducing Catherine to waiting on them and being beaten or banished to her attic room. When Thornley finds her, with some machinations, he is able to tell her she is a beloved daughter of the Duke and he wants her to come home.

They start to make the journey back to England and Thornley does everything he can to keep her safe and keep himself at arm's length. There is a mystery brewing about who wants to hurt the Duke and Catherine, which is where the rest of the book takes us. I had a hard time with the last half because the hero came across as so unlikeable and the heroine just seemed to act more and more like a bratty kid. There was such a potential here for mutual bonding since both of them had lost parents and such, and Thornley knew and loved her father, but Thornley was mostly rude to her with only flashes of gallantry and concern, and Catherine pretty much did everything he told her not to and made him mad a lot with all the dumb things she did. The author also switches back and forth between present and past tense which was a bit jarring, and it needed a good edit.

That said, I liked the premise, and it was a good ending. It was clean, with only a few kisses sprinkled throughout and there was a slight paranormal angle that I liked. I've been reading a lot of historical lately and I did like that little surprise added to the story.

Here is the back copy:

Lady Catherine Greystow

For her entire life, Catherine Greystow has lived as a servant in her Aunt and Uncle's home. With her mother having died and her father having abandoned her, she has been left at their mercy for the last sixteen years. Then, on her twentieth birthday, a dark and dangerous stranger shows up at her door. It is none other than the rakish Jonathan Thornley, an English Viscount who announces that he was sent by her father, The Duke of Lancaster, to collect her. With no choice but to trust him, Catherine agrees to leave her Aunt's home, to accept her place as one of the wealthiest heiresses in England.

But Catherine's joyful reunion with her father is short-lived. The Duke is soon murdered and it becomes clear that the person who killed him now wants Catherine dead. Catherine must be careful who she trusts—so much so that when Count Thornley insists it was her father's deathbed wish that she and Thornley marry immediately, Catherine must decide whether the Count lusts for her or her fortune.

Count Jonathan Thornley

For as long as he can remember, Jonathan Thornley has resented the daughter of Duke Greystow—the cousin who raised him. He thinks Catherine a silly girl, content with receiving his cousin's fortune but refusing to see the man himself. When asked by his dying cousin to retrieve the girl, he crosses the Atlantic to collect the selfish, spoiled brat. But when he arrives in the States he is surprised to find not a bratty child but an unspoiled woman, as unaware of her fortune as she is of her beauty.

He resists his attraction to her and brings her home, only to recognize that his cousin's illness is no accident. With the knowledge that someone wanted the Duke dead comes the realization that they now want Catherine dead as well. To remove her from their reach, Jonathan must marry her. But to do so, he must make her believe that he loves her and not her fortune—before it is too late.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Day

Most of you know that I'm a fan of Flylady and her principles have helped me get organized. She has a quote from Martin Luther King that she uses frequently to remind us that we have to take the first step.

"To take the first step in faith, you don't have to see the whole staircase: just take the first step." Martin Luther King

I like that quote not only in getting motivated for organizing, but in anything I do. When things seem insurmountable and the tasks before me are too hard, I think about this quote and I know I can take it one step at a time.

One thing that always interested me, though, was the idea of whether you were going up the staircase or taking a step down the staircase. For me, it doesn't matter. Both ways can be scary and it does take faith and courage sometimes to pick up your foot and take that step into the unknown.

I am grateful for men like Martin Luther King who were an example of taking that first step, even though the endeavor was hard and the outcome unknown.

And you know what else I like about the staircase idea? A lot of times there are other people on that staircase willing to reach back and give you a hand.

So, today I am grateful for courage, people of conviction, and friends that lift me. Thank you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

First Page Friday

Can you believe it's Friday already? And the start of a long weekend. I think I really need that and I'm looking forward to some down time.

Let's get right to First Page Friday!

The Entry

by: Anonymous

Dean and Laura’s parents ran away on a Wednesday.

When eight-year old Laura came to breakfast that morning, still in her pink flannel nightgown, only Dean was at the table. A bowl of cereal sat in front of him, but he wasn’t eating. Already eleven, Dean was old enough to stay up until Jack Paar’s Tonight Show came onto their new color television, but not old enough to watch it.

“Why are you eating Rice Krinkles?” Laura sat across from him. “Mom said we’re supposed to eat grapefruit every day until juice is coming out our ears.”

Dean’s only response was twisting his bowl until the spoon made one perfect, complete rotation. An empty Coca-Cola bottle filled with sticks and loose string sat next to him on the table. Despite nearly six months of fatherly encouragement, Dean had never shown much interest in trying to assemble the scraps into a boat.

“Where’s Mom?” Laura took a grapefruit from the bowl at the center of the table. “Why didn’t she wake me up this morning?”

Dean shrugged, but Laura hadn’t expected him to answer. Their mother called him a quiet soul. Their dad said he needed to develop more confidence. His teacher sent notes saying he was very bright and she hoped nothing was wrong at home.

Laura put the grapefruit back. “She’s not still asleep. I already checked.”

Dean jabbed his spoon around the bowl, sinking sugar-coated Krinkles one at a time. “You want some?”

Surprised, Laura looked up. “What?”

Dean stood, and stepped toward the cupboard.

“Dean, you just talked, and no one even made you. What’s going on?”

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

Before I explore some of the larger concepts in this excerpt, I just want to comment on how clean it is. There are very few technical items I would mark with my trusty red pen. (There needs to be a hyphen between “year” and “old” in the first line of the second paragraph. I would also delete the comma in the second-to-last paragraph, because what follows the comma is a dependent clause.) Otherwise, it’s pretty clean. Well done!

I liked that so much of the characterization here is accomplished via insinuation. We learn about Dean from what others—i.e., his teacher, his parents, and Laura—say about him. He is quiet and lacks confidence. He doesn’t speak much. And, perhaps most troubling, life at home appears to be rough. I also really liked the “old enough to stay up, not old enough to watch” statement. It highlights that, at eleven, Dean is at an awkward, transitional age.

Laura’s comment about the Rice Krinkles raised a question of character consistency for me: If their mother wants them to eat grapefruit for breakfast every morning, why does she keep sugary cereal in the house at all?

Also, be careful not to head-hop. We experience certain bits from Laura’s point of view (“Laura hadn’t expected him to answer”) and others apparently from Dean’s (“Dean was old enough to stay up until The Jack Paar Tonight Show came onto their new color television, but not old enough to watch it”). My instinct is that this is a third-person omniscient story, so we are experiencing both Dean and Laura from a narrative distance. Just make sure to delineate clearly between their points of view rather than flipping constantly between them.

I did some fact checking regarding The Jack Paar Tonight Show, originally known as Tonight Starring Jack Paar. Make sure to use the correct title for the year this story takes place. Color TV didn't start to become mainstream in the United States until the late 1960s, and The Jack Paar Tonight Show only broadcast in color between 1960 and 1962. Unless Dean’s parents are particularly well off, it seems unlikely that they’d have a color TV set in the early 1960s.

One last issue: I was having a hard time getting a handle on the parents. They seem pretty supportive, but we know from the get-go that they’ve abandoned their two children. These two things may not be contradictory (perhaps the parents didn’t actually run away), but they appear so at first glance. This is just something to consider when establishing the backstory.

I’m dissecting so much of this story because I think it has a lot of potential. The writing is very strong, and I find Dean’s character intriguing. It can be tough to write in a past era—even one we’ve lived through ourselves. So make sure that historical references are plausible and, most importantly, correct. But, most important of all, just keep on writing.

Thank you to our submitter and, as always, to Ms. Shreditor! It was a great critique this week. See you next Friday!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Do You Ever Wonder If It's Worth It?

"In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins not by strength but by perseverance." - H. Jackson Brown

I've been thinking a lot about this quote lately, mostly because I'm not really where I want to be in my writing life. So many things keep getting in the way. If only I had hours and hours to just sit and craft my stories!

But then I got to thinking that even my little nuggets of writing time have pushed me forward. I'm persevering because writing is important to me, even if it isn't the highest priority.

So, if my writing goals are the stream, and the rock is everything else that seems to be a barrier to my writing goals, then, according to H. Jackson Brown, perseverance is all it will take to win that battle.

I've decided to tell myself three things when I don't have the strength or energy anymore and am wondering if it's all worth it.

1. It's okay to take a little break sometimes and recharge my creative batteries.

2 When I think my writing sucks, I'm going to go back and look at the fan mail I've gotten and re-read those reviews from people that loved my stories.

3. I love writing and creating because it fulfills me in a way that no other talent could.

Writing is a part of me, and while the slice of time it currently gets in my life isn't what I'd like it to be, I'm trying hard to be satisfied with just persevering for now. And I know, deep down, that it will all be worth it in the end.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

After the craziness of yesterday, I forgot to tell you guys about a writer's event I've been invited to be a part of this weekend.

It's called "The Profitable Author Event," and it will be in Salt Lake City this Saturday January 14, 2012
from 9 am – 1 pm at the Holiday Inn Express, 3036 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City, UT. They're going to cover such topics as Book Publishing Secrets, How to Self-Publish on a Shoestring, How to Make Your Book a Bestseller, Do It Yourself Tricks and Top Ten New Author Mistakes to Avoid, just to name a few.

I'm going to be on a panel, and while it costs $97 to attend, if you come as my guest, I can get you in for $30, although guest seats are limited. So email me ASAP at juliecoulterbellon@gmail.com for the code to get you in. I'd love to see you there!

(You can click here for all the details)

Okay, on to Word Count Wednesday. It was a slower week for me this week, I only added about 500 words, but I did get some revising done, so I'm counting it as a success. I like the shape my manuscript is taking, and I'm excited to add some more word count to it this week. I'm crossing my fingers for a nice block of writing time. Cross your fingers for me, too, okay?

How did you do on your word count this week?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Late Book Review--Miss Delacourt Has Her Day

I'm sorry that my post is so late today. I had some unforeseen things come up and I spent most of it running around to different appointments. Thank you to my faithful readers for being so patient with me.

Today I'm reviewing Miss Delacourt Has Her Day by Heidi Ashworth. I am a big Jane Austen fan and I love the way this author's style is so reminiscent of hers. This is a historical romance through and through, but it does have a bit of adventure to it, in the fact that our hero Anthony is called upon to really work for the woman he loves.

When I picked up this book I didn't realize that it is a sequel to Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind. If I had known that I probably would have read that one first, since I think that the reading experience I had with Miss Delacourt Has Her Day would probably have been richer for having the background of the characters.

It was a short and easy read, which I loved, but felt the ending was a bit too abrupt---especially for a romantic at heart like myself. (Or maybe I just didn't want it to end.) It was a sweet romance, full of so many wonderful details of the time period, and I really enjoyed it.

Here is the back copy for it:

Ginny Delacourt felt the course of true love could not have run smoother. After all, it required only a fortnight, a pair of highwaymen, a pox quarantine, a sham betrothal, and a masquerade ball to bring Sir Anthony up to snuff. When her beloved suddenly becomes the heir to his uncle, the Duke of Marcross, protocol dictates that he drop the 'Sir' from his name. It's his uncle who insists Ginny, daughter of a lowly vicar, is not the proper bride for a future duke.

Lucinda and Lord Avery arrive on the scene to stir up trouble, and Ginny's normally manipulative Grandaunt Regina seems helpless to arrange anything, least of all a frowned-upon wedding. It's up to Anthony, with help from his fussy valet, to see to it that Ginny has her day.

The road to true love just got a little bumpier.

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Embarrassing Moment

For those of you on PaperWatch 2012 I have two bookbags full of paper still left to go through in my first corner. Which is good news because that means I've gone through five bags of paper already. So I'm feeling pretty good about that.

On Saturday, I was reffing a girls' basketball game. The reffing staff was short-handed, so I was doing this game on my own. The first half started well and things were really moving, but the white team started doing some body slam fouls (you know, they're straight up and down and using their bodies to push people) and some three second in the key violations. So I called them. The other team was less experienced and while they didn't do many fouls (mostly because they hardly touched the ball and the other team was really fast) I called the ones I saw.

Unfortunately, that wasn't good enough for one spectator who was sitting under the blue team's basket. Every time we came down the court she would start with the comments, "why aren't you calling three in the key on the blue team?" and "why aren't you calling that foul?" or "hey, is the blue team your favorite?" and on and on. I tried to ignore it, but as the game wore on, it was annoying me that she questioned my fairness and integrity. (I know, I know, it's part of the reffing gig, but still!)

The second half started and as I ran down the court, I gave her a good look. Older woman, fit-looking, arms crossed, watching me intently. She also had another lady sitting next to her. Probably moral support or something, since they looked close. Sure enough, the first time down the court, the older lady had some more comments on my reffing and kept it up the entire game. I finished the game more than annoyed with her and went over to the scorer's table to finish up, glad it was over, and the lady who'd been sitting next to my tormentor came up to me.

I have to admit, my expression was sour. I knew she was probably going to be just like her friend and complain about my reffing. I folded my arms and steeled myself for what was going to come out of her mouth.

And she looked up at me and said, "Aren't you Julie Bellon? You came to our book club two years ago. I love all your books!"

Honestly, I think I just opened and closed my mouth because I was so surprised. And sorry that I'd been so presumptuous and given her my annoyed stare. I did smile and say that I was Julie Bellon (okay, it was a little tempting to say that is my twin sister or something, but I owned it.) She went on to gush about the books of mine that she'd read and we walked out together. (Her friend left quickly after the game. Go figure.)

So the moral to my embarrassing experience is, "don't assume anything." Or "whate'er thou art, act well thy part," or "even mean people have great friends who like your books," or something like that. You never know who's watching and who knows you. I know I'm going to be better next time and at least greet people with a smile. Maybe I can add that to my new year goals.

Have you ever had an experience like that? Or do those sorts of things just happen to me?

Friday, January 6, 2012

First Page Friday

I'm excited for a whole new year of First Page Fridays. We still have openings in February, so submit your first page now! (Directions in the side bar).

Let's get on to today's submission.

The Entry
Bucket List of Hope

by Debra Erfert

“I changed my mind!”

The tornado-like wind tore the panicked words from my lips the moment I spoke them. The plane’s open door, where the experienced skydivers already jumped from, looked innocent enough when six grown men sat between IT and me. But now the huge, gaping hole seemed monstrously evil. It laughed at me, like it knew my irrational terror as I stared down at the geometric patches of green and brown landscape with my stomach crammed up my throat. I moved to grab the doorframe. The diving instructor attached to my back had other ideas.

We fell from 13,000 feet.

The icy wind stabbed at my skin, keeping me from passing out. I had no choice but to greet death with my eyes open—head on. I looked up. A man from the dive company pointed to his helmet and then waved. My brain clicked on. I paid extra money to have my first experience recorded. With my face pushed back into a perpetual, flapping sudo-smile by the freefall wind, I waved back at the guy. He gave me a thumbs-up sign. I gestured him right back.

Jerry, or Gary, my over-enthusiastic diving instructor, took hold of my wrist and led my fist to a ball. I unclenched my hand and pulled. My backpack fell apart—and then swooshed . . . our parachute opened, stopping our freefall into a gentle descent. That intense fear of dying I had for the past sixty-seconds vanished, and just like that I remembered everything they briefed me on in the pre-jump class.

Above my head, I grabbed the steering toggles in my fists and gently pulled down on the right. I laughed, as we turned clockwise. I tried turning in the other direction. No problem. My heart raced, beating with a freedom that escaped my tenuous grasp for the twenty-seven years of my life.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

Happy 2012!

It seems we’re off to a great start this year. This week’s sample definitely has my attention. Opening with dialogue can be a risky maneuver, but in this case, it’s quite effective.

I often take first pages to task for not telling us enough about the narrator, but in this case, the sparse characterization works. The page-turning action generates plenty of momentum on its own. We don’t know anything about this narrator, but we can infer certain things from cues in the text. The voice strikes me as female. If I had to guess, I’d say that this opening scene signifies a moment of real empowerment for a previously inhibited young woman. The story tells us that, at age twenty-seven, the narrator never done anything like this.

Be careful with past tense. There are a few instances of the simple past (“verbed”) that should be expressed in past perfect (“had [verb]ed”). Examples: 1) “…where the experienced divers had already jumped from,” 2) “That intense fear of dying I’d had for the past sixty seconds…,” 3) “I had paid extra money to have my first experience recorded,” and 4) “…a freedom that had escaped my tenuous grasp for the twenty-seven years of my life.” In each of these instances, you’re describing something that happened before something else, so use of the past perfect is necessary.

There are other minor syntactic hiccups that a light copyedit would resolve. But the author accomplishes something important here: natural prose rhythm (thanks to varied sentence length). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It shows when an author reads his/her work aloud.

One last question: Did you mean “pseudo-smile” instead of “sudo-smile”? Just checking!

Thanks so much Debra and Ms. Shreditor. I think we're off to a great start, too. See you next week!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Writing Tip---Are You An Over-Describer?

I wish I could describe to you how amazing and wonderful it's been to get rid of two grocery bags full of paper. Paper that I'd been hanging onto for years, for no apparent reason.

You see, I have two corners of my bedroom that have paper piles in them. And it is one of my goals for this year to get rid of all of that. It overwhelms me to look at all of it, (because there's a lot) so I've been following Flylady's advice of doing it fifteen minutes at a time. So every day, I get out a pile of it and go through it for fifteen minutes. And mostly, throw it away while wondering why I kept it in the first place. I certainly didn't need it, but obviously at one time thought I might, so I held onto all that clutter.

I was thinking about how I'm actually the opposite in my reading and writing habits. I really don't like over-description and "clutter words" at all and go out of my way to avoid it, (unlike my cluttery paper room). As a former reporter, (I almost wrote reformed there, haha!) economy of words is a big deal. When you only have two inches to get the story across, you learn quickly to cut down on any flowery words and get to the point. And my books have kind of followed the same thing, but of course I've gone back to add layers and description to fill in my blanks so to speak, and overcome my habit of being too stark in my writing.

As a reader I must say when I come across over-description I roll my eyes and try to skip that part. You know what I'm talking about, things like, "The emerald green eyes crackled with anger, staring daggers over my fast-fluttering heart." First of all, can anyone tell me why characters with green eyes can't have something other than emerald eyes? (My eyes are green and I have to admit I was a teeny bit proud of that until I got told they were more of a swamp green. That humbled me.) And how can eyes crackle with anger? I think I'd freak out if someone's eyes started crackling and I witnessed it. (I imagine it sort of like the Emperor's eyes when he's got Luke on the floor and is electrocuting him with his laser stare in Return of the Jedi, maybe?) But, you get my point. It's the over-description that weighs the writing down and takes you out of the story.

As a reader, there's really nothing you can do about over-description. As a writer, however you can be on the lookout for a few telltale signs.

1. If you've used a list to describe something---you might be an over-describer. She was a fair-haired girl, a little plump, with short stubby legs, and thick-rimmed glasses. Laundry lists like that are always a sign that you are telling your stories instead of showing it. Delete and be more subtle.

2. If you have an entire page of setting description with nothing else---you might be an over-describer. Giving your reader setting details is important, but you have to sprinkle it in among your dialogue and characters. Balance is the key.

3. This one sort of goes along with the last one. If you've described everything down to the cracks in the sidewalk---you might be an over-describer. Pick and choose the details that you are describing. Your reader generally doesn't need to know every tiny thing (unless it's pertinent to the plot). I once heard the advice that everything that you include in your book, each character, each scene, each snippet of dialogue, should all be a thread in your plot, something pertinent that furthers your story. If it doesn't, then delete it.

4. If you have a lot of "ly" verbs, you might be an over-describer. "She talked angrily to her fetchingly handsome beau", "she said firmly to herself as she lovingly stroked the achingly beautiful flower," "he slammed his hand down forcefully." You get the picture.

The key to description is subtlety and pertinence. I know you've all heard it said that a novel is like a beautiful painting, the shades of light and dark, the layers of effort and realistic portrayal evident. But nothing extraneous is included, each image, each background piece adds to the enjoyment of the painting.

So, just like I'm throwing out papers that I don't need, but thought I might one day, throw out the extra stuff. You don't need it no matter how much you think you do. Don't be an over-describer. Make your words count.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

Well, so far I'm doing great on my New Year's goals. I have been getting rid of a grocery bag full of paper every day, I've read two books so far this year, and I've been revising my manuscript.

Because I'm revising and adding in a storyline, I haven't had a great word count, but I did add 1028 words to my manuscript. So I'm counting that as a success.

There is just something so satisfying about revising and molding my manuscript. I really do love that part of writing.

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book Review: the Sweetest Kiss

The Sweetest Kiss by Marie Higgins is just that---a sweet regency romance.

Our hero, Trey Worthington, has been told his entire life that he is just like his father. Unfortunately, his father wasn't an honorable man and Trey watched his mother suffer through a difficult marriage. So, not only does Trey believe he can never have a happy marriage, he's decided he will just never marry. He also carries a lot of guilt over something that happened to his younger brother. Yet, once our tortured hero is introduced to Judith, a young lady that he becomes responsible for, he begins to question everything he thought he'd ever known.

Judith Faraday doesn't feel like she needs a guardian, especially one like Trey whom she is very attracted to. She has endured her parents' death and is carrying a few secrets of her own---including a secret engagement to an officer in the Navy. Things don't go as she planned, however, and she finds herself being introduced into London society, thrust into several situations that have her questioning everything she thought she knew.

I thought this was an enjoyable story and I really wanted to see how Judith would end up. The plot was a bit predictable and some of the language a bit over the top, but I thought the author did a good job in presenting the characters and making the reader identify with them. For those of you who love happy endings, this one wraps up nicely.

Here's the back copy:

Lord Trey Worthington isn’t about to give his heart to a woman. He does not want a marriage like his parents. But when his mother brings in a childhood acquaintance into the home to sponsor into society, Trey has to get Miss Faraday trained properly. The more he gets to know Judith, the more he yearns for something he doesn’t dare reach for. Judith is after a faithful husband—something Trey has been convinced most of his life he’ll never become.

Judith Faraday is only after one thing—to marry her Naval Officer and enjoy a life full of love. She’s doubtful her dream will ever come true while living as the ward to the dowager duchess. However, the longer Judith is with the dowager’s son, Trey, an attraction blossoms. Judith now wonders if God has different plans for her life, because Trey doesn’t believe in the sanctity of marriage . . . the very thing Judith cannot do without.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

I know a lot of people don't like New Year Resolutions, but I love them. I try really hard to make my resolutions (or goals) manageable and yet something I need to reach for. Goals give me a direction in my life and are fluid enough that once I reach them, it leads to another goal. I am going to post five of my goals here so I have some accountability for myself.

So here are some of my goals for 2012:

Read 112 books this year.

Write ten pages a week minimum on my work in progress.

Organize my papers and pictures.

Do one memorable family activity per month.

Be more understanding with myself and others.

Do you make New Year Resolutions or goals? Care to share what they are?