Monday, February 28, 2011

Letter vs Magazine, Letter Wins

During a recent trip to my new grocery store (as I just moved to Texas since you asked) I noticed a popular magazine with a particularly inappropriate cover placed at the head of each check-out lane. And right at eye-level of young and impressionable children like my son. Now, I've grocery shopped long enough to realize that most magazines placed in check-out lanes aren't there to propagate wholesome values, but this one was really over-the-top.

Well, it's not as if I could choose another activity because my family has to um...EAT. So I wrote a letter. (Okay, it's the 21st century so it was more like a nicely-written and well thought-out e-complaint.) There is only ONE grocery store chain here, other than the superstores, so I knew I'd have to make the switch to that-one-blue-superstore-that-is-taking-over-the-world but which I shall not mention in order to avoid google hits...if the letter yielded no results.

But it did.

The same day I received a call from the manager of that particular store, and we discussed the possibility of incorporating a "family friendly" aisle, something he is taking up with corporate. The next day he let me know that he had worked with the magazine merchandiser, and he was able to move the offending magazine to the BACK of the that each month's newest (illicit) cover is well..COVERED.

Okay, this manager was very easy to work with and very, very nice. So maybe it was too easy, but letters can effect change. It felt very empowering. "What can I change next..."

Have you ever used your writing skills to influence for the positive? Do you sometimes want to burn the magazine racks in your grocery store? (Don't. I'm pretty sure that would be considered illegal in spite of your good intentions.)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Comfort Zone

I've recently read Don Carey's Bumpy Landings (book review posted February 18th on blog). It's a fantastic read about a returned missionary who struggles to find his place. Why? Because of the pressures of work, home, and school. Not to mention girls!

The moral of the story is integrity. How true he had to be to himself, even if it took him out of his comfort zone. That was when he did the MOST growing.

I wonder. How many of us do everything we can to stay within our comfort zones? I know I do. But I ask myself, how much growing am I doing?

Can you think of any instances where you ventured from your comfort zone? What happened?

photos from

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Stories, Silvina Riboldi Niccum

I met Silvina Riboldi Niccum when she volunteered to be one of my Saturday Stories guests. And I am so glad she did because her upcoming debut novel Veiled is exactly the kind of book I like to read.
When you’re finished checking out the interview make sure you hop over to her website for a sample from Veiled. The publication date for Veiled hasn’t been set yet but it should be announced next month so make sure you stay tuned to Silvina’s website for the details!

Q--Please share a little background with us.
I was born in Rosario, Argentina (the second largest city in Argentina) and at the age of nine my family moved to Buenos Aires, where my father worked for the L.D.S. Church as a manager for the South American region in the computer systems something or other.  I am the youngest of three with two older brothers.  I grew up two doors down from my grandmother and just around the corner from a several sets of cousins.  I played with them almost every day, in fact all my best friends from my childhood are also my cousins.  I still keep in touch with them via Skype!

Q--You said you were born in Argentina, how did your family end up in America?
While my dad worked for the Church, he had to travel to Utah for training a few times.  One of those times he went on a hike with my mom and standing on Ensign Peak he said that we would live there one day. This seemed farfetched at the time, but the opportunity presented itself in 1989.  I was fourteen years old and didn’t want to move.  At first it was a little adventure, but then reality set in and I really hated it for about two years.  
Frustration motivated me to learn English, I was sick of being an outcast, so I vowed to learn the language just like a native.  It was a hard period in my life.  No one likes being friendless at that age, but I learned a lot about myself and people during that time.  I also turned to books for entertainment and companionship, which in retrospect was a good thing for me. 

Q--Your debut novel is coming out very soon! Would you please tell us what the book is about?

Veiled is a supernatural fantasy about the eternal nature of the soul. Tess and her clan are a gifted group of spirits who together fight the combined forces of evil and become Secret Service Angels. They deal with the hardest and coolest Earth missions and are trained by twelve feet tall Cherubs with feathered wings, and golden half-human half lion Seraphs.  But all their training will not prepare them for the Veil and it's forgetting effects.  Once they cross over into mortality they will forget all about Heaven, each other and their soul mates.  

Q--What was your inspiration for Veiled?
The scriptures.  The idea came to me while reading The Pearl of Great Price and pondering.  I was thinking about Abraham and how he was told that he was one of the “great ones”.  Then I started thinking about the veil, and how we must have felt knowing that the minute we would step through it, we would forget each other and our heavenly home.  Then I saw them!  The two main characters!  I felt their anxiety so keenly.  Then the images and the scenes started coming at me in torrents!  It was both very exciting and very frustrating.  All those ideas and no time!  
Q--What was the process you went through from writing queries to publication.

QUERIES!!! Arrrrg.  That’s how I feel about queries.  I’d be glad to share the one I wrote.  When I was querying agents I loved looking at examples of the queries that had captured the attention of an agent or a publisher.  But honestly I think that queries have more to do with how the agent is feeling at the time they read yours than anything else.  Well perhaps knowing someone in the industry helps too.  
I have a great friend who was querying people at the same time as I was, so we shared our experience together and that was helpful.  I learned through her, that not all rejections are bad; some are good rejections, so we tried to make the experience as painless as possible. She was in fact the reason why I got published at all.  She blogs, so through the blogging world got me in touch with a virtual friend who had just gotten picked up by a publisher.  She put me in touch with her virtual friend who put me in touch with the publisher, and a few months later I was signing a contract.  

Q--Can you tell us about the moment you learned your book was getting published?
Like I said, I was querying agents, but I was also reading a book that my brother recommended (he’s an author as well, but self-published) about the whole publishing industry and how it works.  I realized then that there is a whole world of small publishers where agents are not needed because they work through the POD (Print On Demand) system and only set their authors up through Amazon, Kindle and Smashwords.  The process is simple:  They edit, typeset (a pain in the *&%^%*) design a cover and give you an ISBN #.  They also help a little with publicity, but the bulk of it is largely up to the Author.  
I realized that I could keep trying agents, but the whole thing was distasteful to me.  There’s lifers out there who query agents for years and years!  And I didn’t want to get sucked into that world.  I wanted to hold my book in the near future.  
An agent, actually, at a Writers Guild of Texas meeting, heard my pitch and told me to check out one of these small publishers.  But they were so busy they were not taking any queries at the time.  Agents and big publishers are for the books that fit a certain standard and I knew my book was not that. 
When Linda Boulanger from TreasureLine books and I started talking I was relinquishing my agent quest and shifting my focus.  We talked back and forth for a while with no definite agreement or feedback other than “It’s interesting” (a statement that I was used to getting).  About a month later she started talking formalities and sent a sample contract over.  I thought I was dreaming.  I had to keep pinching myself and reminding myself and my husband that this was really happening.  I’m still a little dazed!

Q--How have you incorporated your religious beliefs into Veiled?
It may not seem like it, but I put a lot of thought into how to present this story to a non-lds crowd.  I knew that LDS readers would get it, but I also knew that it would sound a lot like si-fi to those not of our faith.  It was difficult at times; I couldn’t be 100% factual about doctrine because I didn’t want to be sacrilegious or preachy.  I had to take what I knew and turn it into a fantasy that anyone would enjoy reading. 

Q--How did you get started writing?
When this story came to me, I wrote everywhere.  By hand, or on the computer, it just poured out of me.  Because I have three children that I homeschool and have with me all day long, I had to set time aside.  I woke up two hours earlier than usual (not easy for me, I’m a night owl) and used that time to write.  Once those two hours were gone, that was it! No more until the next day.  It took me a year to finish the whole book and six more months to polish it.  

Q--Was there a book or story that first got you interested in reading and/or writing?
I’ve always wanted to write! Always!  In fourth grade I wrote my first little book and treasured it a little too much.  In college I did pretty well with some of the things I wrote, but I never thought I could actually be a published author because English is my second language.  I still think that sometimes, but I figure…oh well…it’s done.   Like my mom said “You’re not Isabel Allende, but you wrote a good story.” 
Q--Out of all the books you've read in the last six months, what is your favorite?
That’s like asking what type of chocolate you like most!  Ok… Scaramouche , The Woman in White and The Scarlet Pimpernel I’m currently reading Inferno and I’m really enjoying it. 

Q--If you could be any character from any book you've ever read (including your own), who would you be and why?

Mmm…I could always identify with Pip from Great Expectations.  He has this “pie in the sky” idea of what he wants out of life, and then he realizes that perhaps those things or people are not the best for him.  He learns who his true friends are and what true love is the hard way.  

Q--If you could create your own real, magical fantasy world, what magical powers would you give yourself?
Ha!  I did do just that and had all kinds of fun giving cool gifts and abilities to my characters.  I think that Wolverine from X-Men is super cool, I would want his ability to heal myself and others with a mere touch!

Thanks, Silvina!

I love getting the chance to interview fellow writers. I also love the chance to help spread the word so if you want to use Saturday Stories as a platform for publicity for your book(s) please drop by and let me know. I'd be happy to interview you and let you tell everyone about your stories!

I'm almost out of interviewees people, I need more volunteers or Saturday Stories will be over in a couple weeks : (

Friday, February 25, 2011

Developing Character

Through the years Mona has been speculated over, stolen, recovered, splashed with acid, warped, cracked, stoned, mugged, passed around, spoofed, and always adored.  Needless to say, she has quite a backstory.  This is what makes her so special and an irresistable stop in the Louvre.  She is not a larger than life painting like some in the same museum.  She could easily be hung on the walls of the average home. 

She can teach every writer a good lesson.  Your characters don't need to be larger than life.  They don't need to be perfect.  They take time to develop.  They need a good backstory and some mystery.  When properly developed your characters will not only be irresistable and adored, but they will also be spoofed and hated by some. Most importantly, they will be real to the readers.

Do you have a Mona Lisa characters?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Counting Down the Days

Yes, I am counting down the days until my pitch to Covenant Editor, Kirk Shaw.  But I'm not counting down as in, "three days left".  No, I'm counting down as in:

Wednesday - nervous break down day (really did completely stress out at work, because I can't stress about the pitch...that would be bad.  So I found other things to obsess and stress out over.  I'm talented that way!)
Thursday - get it together day (Yep, that's right, today I pull myself together, finish polishing my pitch package, and spend the rest of the day doing deep breathing exercises.)
Friday - calm, cool, and collected day (That's the day I'm going dress up in my favorite pair of dark jeans, blue shirt, new sweater and a cute pair of black heels.  I will be feeling just as good as I will look!)
Saturday - I'm-the-best-darn-author-you'll-ever-meet day (I will be dressed professionally, complete with gray slacks, a rose colored chiffon blouse, and again, cute high heels.  I will hold my head high and feel just as confident as I'm going to look.  I will deliver my pitch the best I can and rejoice in my accomplishment of that first pitch!)

So my question to you is this:  How do you combat your nerves?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

We Did It! (Errr...well, um, YOU Did It!)

200 Followers. Wow! That means a lot, coming from you. It means you've liked what we had to say, and want to hear us say those things some more. It means that we have something in common, and you enjoy listening to the different ways and views we have on writing, motherhood, and how being LDS weaves itself through everything.

To commemorate such a momentous occasion, we'd like to announce...that we have an announcement coming. It's going to be BIG...but still in development, so I can't say much more. Look for more signs and hints to come in the next month. We are SOOO excited about this. I can't wait!

I posted this video link on my blog a few days ago, but it can't hurt to share it again. Take a look at this behind the scenes at Pixar Studios, and see what parallels you can see in your own "creativity nesting". What else can you do to improve your writing area to make it more conducive to your personal creativity?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This Page Brought To You By

This page brought to you by . . . homemade sugar cookies.

by Tamara Passey

How baking gets me through revisions

When I’m writing a new story, I feel like I have a lot of steam. It’s easy to sit in the chair and not even notice I’ve been there for two solid hours. Revising that story, well, is a different story (sorry for that pun.) After rewriting about five pages, I find myself in the kitchen, preheating the oven and rolling out cookie dough. The draw to the kitchen, more than my craving for something sweet—although it is a strong motivator– is the need for something that brings immediate results. Baking, unlike writing, does that. Put a sheet of heart-shaped cookies in the oven and in seven minutes, results.

Baking as a break from writing might be the equivalent to vocal rest for singers. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m not using a keyboard, pen or paper. I’m not talking (usually) and don’t take this the wrong way –I’m not thinking. Of course, I’m thinking –but not about my writing. I’m letting my brain rest and switching gears or brain sides. About the time I’ve baked a batch of cookies, or a few loaves of bread, I’m ready to return to the page. Writing might not yield the instant gratification of say, cupcakes, but when it's finished, it does last longer.

What do you do to take a creative break?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why I Like Shannon Hale

Before beginning this post, I did my homework. I entered "Shannon Hale" in the search bar so that nobody could say, "We've already talked about her, NEW GIRL." Well, I think I might be the first if you don't count the link to Shannon Hale's writing tips in the sidebar.

The thing is, I recently finished the last of Shannon Hale's young adult fiction collection. I'd already read the Books of Bayern and Princess Academy (for which she can claim a Newbery Honor). When I finished Book of A Thousand Days last week, it just capped off my great opinion of Shannon Hale as an author. Her stories are magical and layered, and her writing is like a beautiful song that you want to close your eyes to as you listen and think of NOTHING else.

My favorite book of hers? Probably a toss-up between Goose Girl and Princess Academy, although I really enjoyed her adult book, Austenland, and I'm looking forward to her sequel, Midnight in Austenland. And if you can't read one of her books right now, her website and blog are equally entertaining. (And also really, REALLY detailed. You could get lost for hours.)

Who is your favorite LDS author? (There are so many now I can't keep track.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011


For the past several months, it's been a great struggle for me to maintain a healthy balance between housework, family, writing and church. I've prayed and asked for blessings on this.

Based upon inspiration, I am to create a detailed schedule from the time I awake until I go to bed. So it looks something like this:

6:00  wake up
8:00  say good bye to kids for school/read scriptures/shower/journal
9:00  breakfast
10:30 read to my preschooler

and so on, so on. I know it sounds crazy, but ever since I wrote it down that way, it's helped me stay in line! This past week has been the MOST productive week I've had in over  a year!

I've been able to squeeze in my editing, cleaning, homework time, childtime, hubby time, networking time...I take Sundays off. Whew!

How do you manage your time?


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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Stories, Stephanie Humphreys

Today's guest for Saturday Stories is published author Stephanie Humphreys. Make sure to go check out her BLOG!

Q--Would you please share some fun facts with us?
I was born in Utah but spent most of my childhood in Canada. I have two brothers and three sisters. We moved a lot when I was a kid although I did manage to go to the same school from grade seven to twelve. By the time I turned 30 I had moved 30 times. My best friend and I would write silly plays and then gather all the neighborhood kids to take part in the productions. One year we decided instead of a play, our little community needed a beauty pageant, so we organized the event for all the neighborhood girls. We made sure every girl won some sort of prize and even built a float for the 24th of July parade. All these years later, the neighbors still mention the pageant with a chuckle. We always entertained ourselves by using our imaginations.

Q--Would you please share with us any awards you've won and what you've published?
I've had two pieces take second place in the First Chapters contest at the LDStorymakers conference. My novel, Finding Rose, was published in August 2010. 

Q--Where did your idea come from for writing Finding Rose?
Finding Rose started out as single scene. After I wrote that scene, I just examined the characters and tried to figure out what would happen to them next. I actually wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo. There aren't that many LDS publishers and so I just started at the largest one and went from there. I received four rejections before Walnut Springs Press decided to publish it. I have really enjoyed working with them.

Q--How did you learn that you were going to be published?
When I received the email telling me that my book had been accepted, I didn't know what to think. I seem to remember holding my breath and wondering if I was dreaming. Of course, I called my husband first, then I printed the email and took it to the school were my sister-in-law/writing buddy worked. I waited in the hall until recess and then let her read the email. I'm sure the librarian down the hall wondered what all the screaming was in the grade one room.

Q--What was it like when you held the first copy of your book?
It was overwhelming. I had always imagined having a box delivered to my door and being able to open it and see my books for the first time. I tried to imagine who I would call first to come see the new book. Instead, my editor found out I would be in Utah during the LDSBA convention. They told me they could have the first case of books delivered there if I would be willing to do a signing. The first time I saw one of my books was on a bookshelf at this convention. I don't usually show how excited I am and being surrounded by so many people I felt like I had to contain my emotion and excitement a little more than normal, but it was still pretty cool. 

Q--What have you done to help improve your writing talent? Any advice?
I've been attending the LDStorymakers writers conference since 2007 and learn so much there. My personal library is full of writing books that I study often and I also subscribe to Writer's Digest. I have a networks of other friends and writers who are a great support. I actively participate in a critique group as well.
I think one of the biggest ways I improve my talent is by always being willing to learn. This means taking advice and listening to criticism with an open mind. I try to take something from each review of my book or each conversation I have with a reader and try to figure out how to use those opinions to make the next book better. Sometimes I learn as much or more from what is not said than what is said. 

Q--Computer or Notebook?
I prefer writing on my laptop because I can't keep up with my thoughts when I write by hand. I also better at ignoring the mistakes and fixing them later when I write on the computer. 

Q--What is the strangest thing, person, place, or event that has inspired your writing?
The world is full of strange things, but people are the strangest. I love to sit in the mall or a park, watch people, and figure out their stories. My kids and I have made a game of it. Most of my stories are inspired by interesting people I know or observe. 

Q--Would you please share a story about writing with us?
Most of of my favourite writing memories involve my children. Like many parents, I used to make up stories for them at bedtime and they loved to help me shape the characters and add to a plotline that would be continued night after night. A few years ago, I realized how much they were influenced by my earlier storytelling. 
My three children and I were weeding the vegetable garden and I was trying to keep them distracted so I wouldn't have to listen to them complain about the chore. I suggested that they make up a story to keep their minds busy. We have a serious problem with the weed morning glory in our area and it is always a huge task to pull it out of the garden so it won't choke the vegetables. They began weaving an elaborate tale about the evil Morning Glory and his nemesis, Captain Potato. Their tale was exciting, the characters were interesting, it made the time pass quickly, and in the end, good conquered evil. (Unlike the weeds in my garden.) As they wove their tale and I listened to them, I was reminded of the power of a good story. Fiction entertains and teaches us, it allows us to become someone else for a little while, and it often touches us emotionally. As authors, we never know who our work will influence and inspire in some way. The experience reminded me of the responsibility I have as a writer to to continue to strengthen my skills and tell the best story I can. 

Q--At what point did you begin considering yourself a bona-fide writer?
I've always considered myself a writer, but it was difficult to tell people I wrote and have them dismiss my hopes and dreams as little more than a waste of time. About four years ago, my husband started introducing me to people as, "his wife who is a writer." It was his belief in my abilities and potential that helped my embrace who I am and to be able to say it without apology.

Q--Do you have a certain process you go through when you write or do you just wait for the "muse" to come out of hiding?
I'm still trying to find what works for me. Each book I write seems to go through a different process. I don't like outlining, but I am learning to use it more so that my books are more cohesive and the plots flow better. Even when I outline, I have to start at the beginning. I'll rewrite the first chapter, exploring different avenues of telling the story. When I find something that feels right, the rest of the story flows. When the muse takes a vacation, I do writing exercises to get the creative juices flowing again.

Q--Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
If you feel like you have to write, then keep at it. There will always be people who don't understand why you do it. There will always be people who don't like what you have written. So write because you love to do it and you have something to say. Be willing to learn from others and improve your skills. Attend conferences, talk to other writers, and read as much as you can. But most of all, never give up.

Q--How do you balance your writing and your family?
My family respects my abilities and dreams and they want to see me succeed, so they are willing to do a little extra work around the house so I can have time when I need it. I try not to abuse the privilege, though. There are times when I don't write for days on end because life gets hectic. My family always comes first, and sometimes that means the writing gets put aside. It helps that I am a night person and do some of my best work after my husband and children go to bed.

Q--What is your favorite genre to write?
I'm still trying to figure out how Finding Rose ended up being a romance. I certainly didn't set out to write a love story. My favorite genre to read and write is suspense. I love trying to figure out all the twists and turns of the story. Usually I just write what is floating around in my head, though.

Q--What is the best book you've read in the last six months?
I loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Q--Are you a cat or dog person?

Q--Neither? Okay, what kind of pets do you like?
I like animals as long as they don't live in my house. We did have a few fish once. Do plants count?

Q--If you could live or experience any story/book you've read, what story would it be and what character would you choose?
Anne of Green Gables. Of course I would want to be Anne. She had it all - adventure, romance, comedy.

Q--Are you a daydreamer? If so, do you have any advice on how to transform them into a story? 
Daydreaming used to get me into trouble, now I just tell people I'm working. When I dream something up I try to focus on why the story has caught my attention. Sometimes it is a fascinating character or an absorbing plot. I pull that element from my daydream and build on it. Most of my daydreams don't make it into stories exactly as as they come to me, but they always leave me something to work with. The biggest key is to write the ideas down. Don't be afraid to write down something silly and play with it. Some of the strangest ideas are the ones I shape into stories.

Next week my guest will be Silvina Riboldi Niccum. Silvina's debut novel "Veiled" is coming out soon so make sure to stop by to learn more about both Silvina and her book.

As always, I'm on the look-out for more guests for Saturday Stories. Make sure you don't miss out on your chance to shine in the MMW limelight. Drop me a comment if you're interested.


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