Sunday, August 31, 2014

There is a Season

By Nikki Wilson

" To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
  A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
  A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
  A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
  A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
  A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
  A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
  A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."
                                                                     -Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I love the scripture above. It also helps that it was once made into a song that makes it nearly impossible for me to read this scripture without singing it in my head and adding the words, "turn, turn, turn" to each verse. 

But I've been especially drawn to this scripture lately as my oldest child turns 18 years old this month. She still has another year of high school but it feels like my time with her is slipping away. And not just my time with her, but my other children as well. I have three children in high school this year and one still in elementary school. How did time move so quickly? How did I let this happen? I suddenly find myself wanting to spend more time with them. I want to make sure I teach them more about the gospel, I want to warn them more about the world, I want to go back to the days when they sat in my lap and gave me slobbery kisses on my cheeks. This year will be particularly trying as I try to do all those things and get to all their school/church functions, and sporting events. This means I have to give myself permission to let the rest of the world go to the wayside.

This unfortunately means my writing as well. Not that I'm going to stop entirely. I'm just allowing myself to slow the pace and be alright with that. I'm not sure if I'm even going to try Nano this year. Mostly because I have three kids in three different fall sports right now. Though I'll take it one step at a time. But right now is definitely the season of my family. This is my time to keep them close and my time to get as many memories as I can. It's my time to embrace them as often as possible, and my time to build them up before the world tries to tear them down. Yes, I have been doing all this for their whole lives, but I suddenly feel like it's crunch time and I need to cram in as much as I can before the final exam of letting them go. 

So I will enter this season of my life knowing what my focus is and giving myself permission to let everything else take a back seat. Because my family is more than worth it!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Forget My Book…What About My Spouse’s Book?


Getting something published, anything published, is a sweet accomplishment.  Regardless of it being an online blog (wink), a journal, an info-edit on Wikipedia, or that illusive but epic n-o-v-e-l, we do enjoy seeing our work out there.
            However, what do we do if a spouse or family member has some work of literary brilliance in the works as well?  We know that we must keep writing, upwards and onwards, in order to keep our skills up to snuff.  So, what do we do if our family member wants us to help them get their work published?  It’s hard enough to get our own material out there.
            So, my spouse wrote a children’s ‘A-B-C’ book that is a unique style that I have never seen before in any of the numerous versions out there.  I know; I’m happily biased. 
            My spouse took the normal path and sent out samples and cover letters to several publishers.  And, like all of us, she received several rejection letters.  Since collecting endless streams of rejection letters is not one of my spouse’s strong points, I wasn’t too surprised when she put this excellent work on the back-burner.  There were other, more important things for her to focus her efforts.  At least those things gave her more immediate, more fulfilling results.
            As I briefly diverted my attention from my own meteoric rise in literary excellence (guffaw…guffaw), I decided to pick up my wife’s manuscript give it the ol’ peruse.  I read it once…twice…and loved it more each time.  There was something solid there. 
            I asked my spouse if she wanted to renew her interest in her book concept, but she politely declined.  She’d given her creative genius to the script and that was her limit.  Yet, I felt very strongly that her book had a place in the A-B-C book universe.  So, with my spouse’s permission, I volunteered to pick up the flag and run with it. 
            Off goes the manuscript to my favorite editor; off goes the interest letters to a few illustrators, seeking sample pages; out comes the growing list of possible publishers.  If I’m successful, my spouse will get all of the credit. 

            Not surprisingly, I’m perfectly fine with this.  Taking time out to help another rise in the biz will take quite a bit of time and you’ll end up shouldering some of the same highs and lows that your spouse felt; however, when success finally arrives, you’ll get to share the joy.  And isn’t that what this talent is really about…spreading the joy.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Writing Goals--My New Year's Resolution Updates

by Katy White

At the beginning of the New Year, I shared my writing goals for the year. After 12 years in Corporate America, I'm in the habit of self-reflection and peer accountability, so I wanted to share an update on my goals to my peers. :)

Here are the goals I set for myself:

-Get the two books I wrote in 2013 query ready,
-Query one or both of them,
-Land an agent, and
-Write two more books.

I'm thrilled to say that I've actually accomplished three of these! I got the first book I wrote in 2013 reviewed by friends and revised multiple times, and then in March, I started querying it and entering it in contests. While I was in the middle of a contest in April, I heard back from an agent at the top of my list that she loved my book and wanted to represent me! In May, I signed with the phenomenal Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary Agency and am currently working with her on revisions to get my novel ready for submission. It's beyond exciting for me, and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next steps with Bree and this manuscript.

So, items one through three on my list have been accomplished, and I still can hardly believe my good fortune!

My fourth goal--writing two books this year--is, I think, also going to happen. I'm about 71,000 words into a manuscript that I think will be around 80,000 words, and because I'm writing this novel NaNo style throughout the month of August, I plan to be done by the end of the month. PHEW! One down.

Here's where my fourth goal gets into sub-goals (I'm an external processor, so forgive me for dumping my brain on you):

-In September, after my first revision, I'll send my new MS (manuscript) out to my two, erm, alpha critique partners (the ones who don't mind reading something rough and being brutally honest with me about it).
-Then I'll revise based on their feedback by, I'm hoping, mid-to late October.
-Once it's further revised, I hope to send it out to other critique partners (those who aren't doing NaNoWriMo) and give them time to read and critique it.
-While my CP's critique, I'll do NaNo in November for the second manuscript I'm planning to write this year!

It's an ambitious timeline, but I think I can do it. It just means ignoring the TV, paying less attention to social media, and not reading nearly as many books as I do when I'm not binge-writing. I can do it, right? (As long as my toddler continues to nap and go to bed at a decent hour. If that changes, all bets are off!)

Okay, so that's my update! I'd love to hear from all of you now! How are you doing on your writing resolutions? How can we help each other get and stay motivated in the midst of the slumps that may be hitting? Any changes to your goals? Sound off in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Two New Book Babies

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Forgive me, but I'm so terribly excited I can't contain the news. I've got two new books coming out next week! Finally seeing your hard work in print is one of the greatest (and most nerve-wracking) parts of being an author so please indulge me while I introduce them to you.

Emon and the Emperor is  my seventh novel. It's taken about five years to write, rewrite and edit, and I'm quite inappropriately proud of the end result. It probably helps that it's my favourite genre--sci-fi--but if that's not your thing there's a little romance in there too. It's essentially a story about a very ordinary, none-too-bright young man who finds himself in an impossible situation. It's released on 1st September on Nook, Kobo, Kindle and paperback, priced at £3.99/$4.99 for the ebook, £8.50/$12.87 in paperback. Needless to say, I'd love you to buy it (you can pre-order it already), and love it even more if you could leave me an honest review. Click here to buy it in the US, and here in the UK. Thank you!

Supporting Emon is Random Ramblings, a collection of my various short stories, poems, fan fiction some excerpts from novels. The plan was to put it out for free as an ebook, but unfortunately it turns out Amazon won't let me, so it's currently priced at 77p/$1.28 as an ebook, and £5/$7.93 as a paperback. It is available free on Smashwords, however: and here's the link for that. (Feel free to pop over to Amazon and report that you've found a lower price so that they'll price match it. I've already done so, but they might be ignoring me because I'm the author.)

Thanks for bearing with me as I boasted about my book babies. I really hope you enjoy them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dear Not-Quite-Tween Daughter: A Conversation on Modesty

by Merry Gordon

Dear Not-Quite-Tween Daughter:

It’s early, I know. The fact that you’re a girl barely registers with you. You still smell of recess and little kid sweat and school cafeteria and it’s all I can do to get you to brush your hair once a day. Knots of whispering females are cropping up under the bleachers at snack time to trade secrets and lip gloss, but you’re still out there on the soccer field kicking the collective rear of every boy in your grade—you are not the kind of girl who’ll be sidelined by your gender, and for that I’m grateful.

But a time will come in the none-too-distant future when we will bond over PMS-fueled ice cream benders and watch YouTube videos on how to best conceal a surprise zit on class picture day. You’ll borrow my mascara in the mornings, steal your dad’s razor to shave your legs for the first time…and eventually you might try to sneak out of the house wearing an outfit that raises an eyebrow. Maybe you’ll wriggle into your seat at church and tug on a too-short dress or shake your hair over a strappy shirt. It’s possible you’ll test boundaries; most kids do.

And if this happens, your father and I will both take a deep breath.

He will sit down, clean his gun collection and make a mental note of any boy over the age of twelve who has so much as glanced at you in the past six months.

I will put on my best MomFace and consider my next move.

What I won’t do is tell you ‘modest is hottest’. This is why:  I spent years preventing your Hannah Montana-loving eyes from seeing the “Wrecking Ball” music video. I steered you away from hyper-eroticized fashion dolls. The last thing I’m going to do is confuse you with a cute catchphrase implying that covering up will make you physically desirable.

I also won’t force you to change your outfit. I don’t own your body. You have been endowed with the sublime gift of agency, and I will not, even in that lovingly passive-aggressive way mothers have, attempt to take that away from you.

Oh, we’ll still have words about modesty and why it’s important—don’t get me wrong.

But maybe before it gets to this point, we should sit down and have an honest conversation that doesn’t dodge the tough stuff and couch doctrine in platitudes. I owe you that.

So here goes…

Let me tell you something. I have great legs for a woman my age. I could still rock a mini like it’s nobody’s business.

I just choose not to.

Maybe you’ve heard someone say that women should be modest because they don’t want to tempt boys into immorality, but that’s not what makes me pass up the Daisy Dukes and bandeaus.

I don’t dress modestly because I feel some kind of obligation toward male moral agency—and I don’t want you dressing modestly only so Johnny keeps his eyes on his math notes instead of on your backside. Making men the sole focus of modesty gives license to the idea that they are no more than club-wielding cavemen incapable of controlling their carnal urges, and I have a little more faith in humanity than that.

Here’s why I choose to cover up. I dress modestly because I believe that one way to close the gender gap is to stop giving so much importance to the thigh gap. My contribution to the world goes beyond cleavage:  I will not objectify myself. But most importantly, I choose modesty because I understand my divine nature. I believe that my body is a temple. I believe in glorifying God with my body—and with my spirit, which is the far harder lesson. I believe that modesty is more than what I wear.

You are ten now, all scabby-kneed body joy and breathless with hope. But I can’t keep you little forever:  crushes and stick-on nails are just around the corner. They lurk there in the shadows, with Temptation and Doubt and all the other trials that cross the path of teenage life and make you wonder if it’s worth it to hike up your skirt a little for the attention.

Before that time comes, a promise:

I will show you how to be beautiful and not merely hot.

I will teach you that your body is a miracle, not something to be afraid and ashamed of.

I will talk to you about sleeves and necklines, but also about modesty in thought and in word, the kind of grace that calls attention to your divine potential as a daughter of God and helps you focus on what is truly meaningful in life.

All of my love forever,


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Share Goodness

by Becky Porter

I'm sure many of you have heard about Elder Bednar's recent talk regarding social media.  I have to confess that I haven't watched the talk yet, but I love everything I have read about it.  One of the reasons I write on this blog and use Facebook is to spread my version of happiness to the world.  Part of Elder Bednar's talk includes the challenge to flood social media with uplifting messages.  So that's my invitation to you this week.  Evaluate the way you use social media and find time at least once this week (maybe daily) to share your happiness.

Now I'm off to watch the whole talk.  You can learn more at this link:

P.S.  I'd love to hear about your experiences with positive social media so join the conversation by leaving a comment.  Thanks!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Epic Battle

By Lacey Gunter

There are certain ideas that seem to be woven into the fabric of our beings. Ideas that we can all resonate with on one level or another. Someone might try to ague that they are just a result of environmental or cultural influences.  But the countless generations and myriads of cultures in which they appear clearly puts that argument into question.

One of these ideas is the battle between good and evil. This idea has dominated literature and the arts for as long as we have records of literature and arts. If it is not the most frequent theme, I suspect it would only come in second to the topic of love.

The modern secularization of America has led to the promotion of the concept that there is no such thing as good and evil, only what feels best for you.   It is funny that even as this concept is being preached as wisdom, our imagination and our hearts can't seem to let go of the idea of a battle between good and evil. All one need do is skim a list of the most popular books and movies of the past decade to see that the idea still deeply resonates with people. From Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Hunger Games to super heroes and super villains, to name a just a few.

Why is this? Why do we seem to be so drawn to the idea of an epic battle between good and evil that we have to study it and immerse ourselves it and see it from many different angles and scenarios? Being a blog with a religious bent, as you might guess, I think this is because it is what we are actually doing, what we are actually involved in, an epic battle, of infinite proportions, between good and evil. We are battling it within ourselves, within the walls of our own homes and in our communities all around us. We resonate with it because we have experienced and felt it and we want and need to be inspired to continue to fight and to conquer despite our exhaustion and the looming difficulties that lay ahead.

When the dust settles and the victory is decided and the narrative of this world is finally all written, man is it going to be a fantastical epic tale.  I can't wait to read it and I hope ever so much my miniscule contribution in it will be something I can be proud of. Even if I am just some faceless, nameless soldier in the crowd, as long as I am fighting for the right side, I know I will have contributed to something far greater than even the best fiction, fairy tales and fantasies.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Do You Ever Disconnect?


I'm struggling with social media this week.  I've discovered something disturbing.

When I'm not on facebook, twitter, or pinterest for 3-4 days or more - I don't really miss it.  I actually kind of forget about them.  How can this be good?!?!  I'm a writer - I need those networks!

Still.  When I take a's really nice.

A young friend of mine decided to give up facebook after a decade of checking in daily.  I was stunned.  Her generation created social media, they have mastered it and loved it and lived by it.

Still.  She'd had enough. She realized 80% of the people she was friends with, she didn't really know or care that much about.  She could count on one hand her true friends and realized she talked to them on the phone anyway.  Maybe it all had something to do with nearing 30.  Her career is taking off, she's thinking about starting a family with her husband, and social media was just wasting too much time.

I admit, I often feel like that.  When I just "check" facebook, two hours disappears.  I can't even tell you the time pinterest sucks up. 

Luckily, I'm not as compelled by twitter.  I check in once a day, but it doesn't draw me in like the other two.  I thank God for this.  I don't need to be enslaved by another screen.

I wonder if these forms of social media will last.  People are beginning to gripe about facebook - its advertising and the way it controls the news feed.  We're beginning to have to pay to get the exposure we used to get for free. Is it just another addiction we're going to regret five years from now?

Pinterest is way cool, and I hope it's around for awhile, but I wonder what changes are ahead there as well.  Are any ideas really your own anymore?  I've posted crafts I thought were mine, but as I scrolled the boards, I saw my ideas already there.  How can this be?  Are there really only seven original ideas in the entire world?  Maybe we're not as creative as we think we are.

Google +?  I really don't get that one.  I have a profile there, but I don't get it.  It seems like the facebook nobody goes to.  I'm sure I'm wrong on this, but I'm not sure there's room in my head for another endless scroll.

Am I alone here?  How are you handling the social media formats?  What's your favorite?  What do you think will be fizzling out in five years? 

Scroll weary at the Ballpark,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

You Will Be Misunderstood

I had always heard that authors have problems with hate mail, grumpy fans, people who just don’t “get it.” But for a long time I thought maybe this was only an occurrence for some authors or for some books. I was rather naïve. The fact is that no matter what you write, someone out there (if you have a big enough audience) will think it’s terrible. Someone will think it’s trash. Someone will be very vocal about it.

Be prepared.

I first experienced this myself when I wrote a short story that I thought was merely humorous and silly. When a few strangers read it, I discovered that what I thought was fun and light-hearted they perceived to be selfish and cruel. It was utterly surprising to me, but I could see how they interpreted it that way. It made me realize I would either have to be much more careful about what I wrote or just not care if it was misinterpreted.

At least, that’s what I thought at first. Recently, however, I have decided to amend my opinion. It is impossible to write carefully enough that no one will misunderstand you. Recently a lovely, very G-rated book by a fantastic author was reviewed on Amazon as being “soft porn” and “highly inappropriate.” We’re talking about a book that had, I think, a quick peck on the cheek. That’s it. Now, I have no way of knowing why the reviewer felt this way about the book. Was she particularly sensitive to any sort of physical contact? Does she have just absolutely no tolerance for any sort of romance in a book at all? Was she confusing this title with another book? I don’t know. But the fact is that the review exists.

You will be misunderstood. No matter what.

I’m sorry to say that I have, at times, been on the giving end of this phenomenon. I have read books that I thought were dreadful, and I kind of blasted them. I don’t do this anymore, unless the author is very very dead (I’m fairly sure Shakespeare really doesn’t care what I thought of Romeo and Juliet). Authors don’t need it or deserve it, and if you’re trying to warn your friends away from a book, you can do it gently.

And if you’re on the receiving end, if you felt that you wrote something meaningful or lovely or good or just fun, ignore the reviews that tell you that what you wrote isn’t good enough. It’s yours and it is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vulnerability Can Make Us Stronger

Lately I've been learning a lot about myself and this week I've been thinking a lot about shame and vulnerability in my own life.  I'm feeling an urgency about figuring out any dysfunction in myself because I know that the best way to teach my children to become loving, healthy, productive adults is to BE a loving, healthy, productive adult.  We pass our dysfunctional habits on to our kids and I want to clean out my closet before it's too late.    Brene Brown has a lot of wisdom to offer regarding vulnerability, perfectionism and shame.  Here's a little Brene taster for you.  (I highly recommend her Book "The Gifts of Imperfection").  Question:  how can embracing vulnerability make us better parents and/or better writers?  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Robin Williams: Like a Friend

 As writers, we are also artists: creating worlds, inspiring feelings, and even teaching using our talents. One week ago, one such creative light went out in the world when Robin Williams passed away.

There were all sorts of controversies sparked by his passing, and if you want my opinions on those, feel free to check out this post on my blog. But today's post here will be something a little bit different.

You see, Robin Williams holds a special place in my heart. I kind of feel like I grew up with him; his movies seemed to always come at times in my life when I needed the specific messages they offered. And because of that, I’ve always felt almost like he was a mentor, and a friend.

When I was just a kid, Aladdin was a favorite movie in our house. We watched it time and time again, giggling at the genie's outrageous and hilarious antics. When I was in middle school our choir did a special musical production of songs from Aladdin, and my best friend Becky played the part of the genie. She was just as goofy and over the top as the genie, giving every one of his lines with the same impeccable comic timing that Robin Williams had.

Back in June my own little girl was in a stage production of Aladdin with her performing arts studio, and it brought back so many fond memories for me.

I saw Mrs. Doubtfire when I was 12, and my parents were in the middle of a messy divorce. The movie so closely mirrored my life that it was almost eerie (minus my dad dressing in drag). Sally Field looked and acted so much like my spunky mom, and Robin Williams was just like my goofy, carefree dad, and my brother and little sister and I were caught in the middle. I remember almost holding my breath wondering if such a story could possibly have a happy ending; and knowing that if it did, perhaps our story could also.

That movie gave me hope that things would work out, that life would go on, and that my family could still be a family, even if we were in two pieces. It also made me laugh at a time in my life when I desperately needed to.

When I was sixteen I saw What Dreams May Come in the movie theater. I remember thinking it was such a beautiful movie, and such an intriguing perspective on life after death.

One week after I saw it, one of my classmates was killed in a tragic car accident.

I remember returning with my friends to the movie theater to watch it again. It was the only thing that could distract us from our grief while allowing us to still hold on to it the way we needed to in order to heal. It helped us to work through our tumultuous raw emotions and face the idea of death head-on in the safety of a darkened theater, with a loveable Robin Williams- someone we were all already very familiar with- as our guide. It helped us to talk about things that were difficult to put into words, and to imagine our friend happy, vibrant, and full of life once more.

Patch Adams came out during my college years, and it taught me that, as I was making my way into the professional world, I didn't necessarily have to do things the same way everyone else was doing them. I could think outside the box and be my own person and make my own mark on the world. It was okay to break the rules sometimes.

I remember shocking so many people by getting married in the summer between my junior and senior year (they all thought I should wait until after I graduated) and then using my debate class as a platform to argue for the benefits of marriage in a world that seemed to by shying away from serious commitment.

Patch Adams also taught me that humanity is sometimes more important that sanity, and I tried to make sure I always had just enough crazy in my life to keep it interesting.

Robin Williams was a remarkably talented actor, comedian, and a good human being. And to me, he always felt like a friend. He was just always there, with me as I was growing up, and I feel like I lost him too soon.

Mr. Williams, thank you for making me laugh, for helping me through the tough times, and for teaching me some valuable life lessons. You will be missed.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

WIP (Work in Progess)

As writers we know that WIP means a work in progress. We generally refer to our latest project or book as a WIP. But I think the key word in that phrase is "work". We generally think of the word work as a noun in that phrase, but the truth is we need to see the word work as a verb or our WIP won't ever get finished. Here's a video to inspire you work hard using the talents God has given you. The quotes at the beginning of the video are very relevant to us as writers!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Word Crimes

Leann's computer is giving her the blue screen of death so I told her I'd fill in for her today. About a month ago on Facebook, Leann sent me the link to this youtube video. It's basically a grammar public service announcement and it's hilarious!

So kick back and relax and laugh with me this afternoon!

Friday, August 15, 2014

When Jogging…Take a Buddy

No, I’m not talking about me jogging.  Besides, none of my friends would go with me.  Not because they don’t like staying fit and healthy, but because they don’t want to hear me pull out my favorite excuse for why I can’t go jogging…shin splints. 

            This excuse has worked pretty well so far.  In fact, I've started using it for other activities that might be challenging or that might cause me to lose a certain amount of body fluids.  (Rumor has it that our bodies are made up of up to 75% water and I don’t want to mess with my percentages.)  For instance, when friends invite me to dine at a restaurant that I don’t care for, I respectfully decline, due to shin splints. 

Then came the annual physical.  The results were not encouraging.  I was given two options for recovery: Take meds for years to come or get cardio-fit.  Because the latter is much cheaper and closer (running around the park down the street), I opted for getting fit. 

So, I started running.  At first, I started running to the end of our cul-de-sac, taking a quick nap under the large oak tree in the front yard of the corner house, and returning home for a snack and another nap.  I did feel much better, but I wasn't really getting healthier. 

Then, I remembered the advice to jog with a buddy.  They can be a constant reminder of goals to be achieved, motivators to turn stopping points into benchmarks, and performance prodders. 

Sounds idealistic, doesn't it?    I still didn't enjoy the experience all that much.  My shin splints still caused some discomfort after every run and I had to ice them down with bags of frozen peas.  But my stats were improving, naturally. 

Coincidentally, it’s also a good idea to take a ‘buddy’ along when working on a book manuscript.  I found this to be extremely helpful. 

Like running, the writing buddy travels along with you, chapter by chapter, writing their own manuscript while you write yours.  You check each other's work at the end of each chapter to see if everything went okay.  They console you when you've had a tough go of it.  If you hit a wall of writer’s block, your buddy keeps you motivated and helps you push through the discomfort.  And, you do the same for your buddy. 

And the mental shin splints when runn…er…writing?  I've learned to just put a bag of frozen peas on my head and get back to improving my literary health.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Query Trenches Part II: Resources

by Katy White

In my last post, I talked about the importance of querying in traditional publishing. Today, I want to share a few additional resources that I used during my time in the query trenches. If you're looking to make your work really shine, check these out.

First Five Pages Workshop - From their site: "Our monthly First Five Pages Workshops begin the first Saturday of every month. We accept the first five middle grade or young adult manuscripts received by email starting at noon. (The moderators) work alongside a guest mentor to tell you what we see in those first five pages with respect to your voice, plot, characters, setting, pacing and writing in general. Depending on the mentor's schedule, they may comment only on your initial entry, on the initial entry and one revision, or on all subsequent revisions. You'll also get feedback and comments from your peers, and have the opportunity to post two revisions, so you'll end up the strongest possible start."  

I entered this workshop for another manuscript, and it later ended up winning a contest based on my first page! Although I eventually decided to shelve that novel, the advice and insight I got from this experience was crucial in making my next novel stand out, from the first five through to the last five. If nothing else, look at the archives, comments, and the growth of those entries over the weeks. It's really eye-opening!

Pitch Contests - Once you have a tight query, killer opening pages, and a generally clean, strong manuscript, consider online pitch contests like Pitch Madness, #PitMadPitch Slam, and #PitchMas, among others. In these contests, you usually have 140 characters (Twitter) or 35 words (if it's through a blog/website) to condense your MS, then typically your include your first 250 words. You need to make your pitch and opening enticing, interesting, and utterly unputdownable. If you make it past the judges, agents and even publishing houses make requests to see anything from a query to your full MS! Even if you don't make it, though, seeing the entries that make it helps you understand how to polish yours. For a more beginning-to-end pitch contest, be sure to check out Pitch Wars, where a mentor will read your entire MS and give you advice to make it as pretty as can be for agents.

The Writer's Voice - This contest is a "multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by some writers who are really well known in the writing community for all the help they provide aspiring authors. The hosts serve as coaches, critiques, and mentors during the course of the contest. They select multiple projects for their teams based on entrants' queries and first pages and help make each entry as strong as it can be for the agent round.

These are only a few of the fabulous helps you can find from the writing community. If you know of more, please include those in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Why I'll Never Write a Sex Scene

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I'm currently writing a book about four friends who meet at a reunion and discover that they are all forty and single. They embark on a contest to see which of them can find a "Keeper"--a man worth marrying--first. The four women are all very different and choose different paths to find their Keeper. One tries online dating, and another tries to track down her first love, for example. In writing this book I've drawn on some of the hilarious dating disasters and misadventures of my real-life friends, and I hope the finished book will be very funny but ultimately life-affirming.*

What it won't be is steamy.

That's actually proving to be a bit of a problem. The more I write, the more I realise that my genre for this book seems to be pure, unadulterated chick-lit - without the adultery. I don't write sex scenes; never have, never will. But readers of this kind of book expect them. They will assume that the four friends in my book are merrily jumping into bed with the men they date, and they may feel a bit short-changed when there is nothing titillating or erotic in the pages. (In fact my women will jump into bed with some of the men, but I will discreetly fade to black long before any clothes get removed.)

With the enormous success of Fifty Shades of Grey and the subsequent huge rise in popularity and availability of erotic fiction, I'm bucking a trend here. But there are many reasons which I will never write (or read) a sex scene, even though not doing so could damage the success of this book.

First, my mother might read my book. So might my children. In fact, I'd die of embarrassment if anyone I knew read a sex scene written by me. For anyone reading this who does write sex scenes, don't you worry that it tells the reader far more than you'd like about your mentality?

Second, I have always said that written erotica is pornography in print. Books are better than television because the pictures are better, and this also goes for steamy "romances". The pictures go directly into our heads, and there they stay. I wouldn't want my husband to read Penthouse, so how could it be acceptable for me to read novels with the same sort of content? This comes from the August edition of The New Era, the church magazine for teenagers and youth:

Making a common display of a sacred intimacy that’s intended to only be part of a marriage relationship is wrong—whether in words or images. If something you’re reading contains explicit sexual descriptions that imprint themselves on your mind and arouse sexual feelings in the same way that looking at pornographic images would, then ... it's pornography.

Third, I have too much respect for my characters. I believe that sexual intimacy is something which is very personal and sacred, and should be kept completely private between the couple involved, even when they're fictional. My fourth book was about a couple on their honeymoon, and I really enjoyed showing the development of their relationship and their growing dependence and trust in each other. But I didn't show their wedding night. Apart from saying that they were quite eager to get to their honeymoon hotel, I didn't even mention it. Their sex life is their business, not mine, and not the reader's.

Sex has a place: its place is in private, between a loving husband and wife. It is not in a pages of a novel which anyone could read for their own perverse gratification.

* In case the book sounds interesting to you, it's going to be called either Finders Keepers, The Husband Hunt or Four Friends. I'd still welcome disastrous dating stories, as well as suggestions on the title.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Mothering: Ma Vie En Rose (-Colored Glasses)

by Merry Gordon

I used to travel. That was before the kids (these days, just passing the Asian food section at the grocery store seems exotic). But back then, I had overheard enough wistful adult conversations about wasted youth to know I’d better take on the big, romantic world long before the grim reality of mortgage payments and stretch marks set in. By 16, I was hoarding copies of Travel + Leisure under my bed; by 18, my bags were packed.

My first destination?


Everyone comes to Paris with expectations, but mine were absurdly naïve. My France was a hodgepodge of fashion spreads in Elle, a Renoir pocket calendar and the Madeline books—oh, and that mildly dirty nursery rhyme involving naked dancing ladies and a hole in the wall. In the Paris I imagined, everyone wore berets and Dior and Chanel No. 5 and ate croissants in corner bistros. Paris was sexy, très chic. I stepped off the tour bus and took in my first view of the city.

It wasn’t the Eiffel Tower.

It wasn’t lovers kissing in a boat on the Seine.

 It was a naked man urinating into a cardboard box on a litter-strewn curbside.

Très chic, indeed.

Nearly everything about Paris echoed my first let-down. The Eiffel Tower was overpriced and crowded, the bread was stale, and I got insulted by a trio of sweaty French boys on the Champs-Élysées (at least I think I did—while I’m not exactly sure what they said, some gestures are probably universal). The Mona Lisa was small, and even a twilight cruise down the Seine was interrupted by a mizzling rain and Eurotrash techno thumping from the open door of a club.

I left disappointed, but eventually I got over Paris.

I got over myself a little too. I grew up, got married. My priorities changed. By 25, I was hoarding copies of Baby Talk under my bed; by 27, I was exhausted on a delivery table waiting to hear my newborn daughter’s first cry.

The nurse beamed down at me. “Congratulations! You’re a mommy!”

But once she handed me the discharge papers, it was like Paris all over again.

Expecting to jump right out of my hospital gown and back into my size five Calvin Kleins, I was shocked to find myself still shuffling around the house in my husband’s sweats four weeks postpartum. Having been assured by glossy La Leche League pamphlets that breastfeeding was both serene and natural, I was unprepared for round-the-clock feeds (involving six pillows and another pair of hands just to get the position right) and more howling on my part than on my daughter’s. And that whole Gerber baby thing? After a vacuum delivery, my precious newborn looked more alien than adorable. How was I supposed to fall in love with this lump of flesh that only had the capacity to scream, poop and projectile vomit?

But I did.

It started small. One particularly desperate night, I sang Pink Floyd because I’d run out of lullabies. About halfway through “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” I felt that little head finally snuggle into my shoulder and my universe shifted. All those books and blogs, and nothing could have prepared me for the reality of parenting:  one moment you’re a chorus away from tipping the kiddo’s pacifier in Benadryl, and the next moment a milky sigh and the clutch of a tiny finger elevate you to a zen-like understanding of the cosmos. Powerful stuff, that.

I finally got it. It wasn’t like American Baby promised—I’d been up since 2 A.M., I couldn’t remember the last shower I took, and most of the pillow talk between my husband and I that week had involved our daughter’s stool consistency—but the moment was real and potent and entirely untranslatable in the airbrushed perfection of parenting magazines.

Because of my experiences as a mom, I think of Paris differently now. I was so obsessed with the Travel + Leisure version of the city that I got hung up on a couple of stale croissants; I should have been paying attention to the gypsy guitar player scattering those crusty remnants to the pigeons and singing “Hotel California” in broken English. And maybe I got harassed by a Gallic Casanova or two, but one of them did bear a passing resemblance to Johnny Depp. I burnt my finger during sightseeing? It was on a prayer candle I lit in some tiny, off-the-beaten-path medieval chapel I had ducked into to escape the drizzle. How could I not have noticed the beauty in that?

Parenting is just like Paris, all a thousand tiny unexpected moments that are imperfectly perfect—sometimes only in retrospect.

Every time I try to explain this to one of my non-parent friends, I feel a bit bad—not in a condescending way, but in a way that recognizes the inadequacy of trying to describe the indescribable. Wait a sec. So it’s not like the magazines? There’s screaming, and spit up, and sleep deprivation-induced hallucinations, and you’re telling me this is a good thing? That you’d go back and do it all over again?


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Writing My Own Real-Life Romance

by Becky Porter

This past Thursday, my husband and I celebrated fifteen years of marriage!  I know that not everyone has found their Prince Charming.  I know also that some find their knight in shining armor is really the evil villain of their fairy tale.  For those who are still searching and for those who have already found their love, here are some thoughts on how I am writing my personal real-life romance:

1.  Editors/Publishing.  My Savior, Jesus Christ, is literally "the Word" (John 1:1).  The scriptures tell us to "publish peace" and "publish good tidings of good" (Mosiah 27:37).  My Heavenly Father is all-knowing.  Why would I not take his advice on how to write the story of my life?  When I accept His personal advice and edits, my simple story will be turned into a masterpiece.

2.  Outlines/Character Sketches.  When I was in college, I had already seen a bit of the ugly side of life.  And my major was Family Studies, so I knew all the statistics on marriage in the modern world, and they aren't that great.  I was determined to find the right hero for my story.  All great stories begin with an outline and some character sketches.  Early on, I made my own character sketch for my real-life Prince Charming.  I wasn't looking for perfection, but I did want someone who shared my values, someone who had the strength to handle my past, someone who was gentle and patient.  I made my list and then prayerfully compared the many great guys I met to my sketch until I found one who met my criteria (and my Editor's).  Jeff had a list, too, and I'm grateful that we were both prayerfully looking for an eternal companion.

{A group of us in our college days; I'm in the red stripes and Jeff is in the blue plaid}

3.  Dialogue.  When you're writing fiction, the characters in your head don't always behave the way you want them to on paper.  In real life, of course, we can't control the other characters.  However, I have found that the words I say, how I say them, and my inner dialogue, have a powerful influence on my hero's dialogue and actions.  This is not manipulation.  Manipulation is based on selfishness and a desire to control another person, to take away their agency.  Rather, recognizing the power of our words, especially in relationships, can create an atmosphere of persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, and love (see D&C 121:41).  Adding spice to a marriage does not require adding drama (and trust me, having a spicy marriage makes for a better romance. wink, wink).

4.  Character Building.  No one wants to read about flat characters.  A good story fleshes them out and gives them life.  In my real-life romance, I work hard to bring out Jeff's good qualities while making sure the heroine--myself--isn't turning into a flat, two-dimensional character.  I have to allow my character to evolve, develop, and grow, or my romance will stagnate.  Just like any writing project, I have to set aside time regularly to build my character.

5.  Research.  OK, so it might not be the most enjoyable part of writing, but research has to be done.  If you're writing a historical novel, you have to study your setting.  If you are writing a mystery, you may need to learn more about police procedures and forensics.  This romance is my most important work, so I definitely try to do my research.  What do the scriptures say?  What do modern prophets have to say?  What do secular books, that reflect my values, have to say about romance?  The Family Proclamation tells me that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children." Doing my research improves my romance immensely! 

6.  Artistic License.  I fought hard for my agency, and I value it above almost all else.  I am the author of this life, this beautiful romantic fairy tale, and I refuse to let any other person or situation determine how I am going to feel, speak, or act.  I truly believe that each of us has the ability to use artistic license on our life, to change each situation to suit our eternal goals.  I know that each day I have to make artistic choices about where my romance will lead and what will happen in the next exciting chapter.

Every day, I am beyond grateful for my knight in shining armor and for my chance to write my own real-life romance.  With my Editor and Publisher on my side, I am working to make it the greatest book I ever write.  And I have faith that I am, right now, living my "happily ever after."


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