Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Medici Effect

by Jewel Leann Williams

The Medici family were wealthy bankers and merchants who came into power in the 1400's and ruled Florence, Italy until the mid-1700's.  They had their hands in everything. Some of them became Popes, and the sponsored scientists such as Galileo, and artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci. They brought the foremost intellectual, scientific, and creative talents together in one place, and under their influence the Renaissance was born.

A business writer and entrepreneur named Frans Johansson, coined the term "The Medici Effect," for what he proposes happened to bring about the Renaissance. Because the Medici's brought all of these different disciplines together, they influenced each other and that synergy fueled the creativity explosion that was the Renaissance Era. Johannson explains it as the "intersection," a place where:

...ideas and concepts from diverse industries, cultures, departments, and disciplines collide, ultimately igniting an explosion of ideas leading to extraordinary innovations. Breakthrough ideas are most often “intersectional” and occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory.
What does this have to do with writing?

It's the basis of a new way of thinking about our creativity.

I for one, have always felt that I need quiet, calm, and leisure time in order to be my most creative.

But that may not be true.

If there is something magical about different, non-creative pieces of my life crashing together to form a synergy that put my own creativity into hyperdrive, then probably the busier I am, the more creative I will become.

That's why the little notebook we writers carry around all the time is so important. While I'm doing yardwork, dishes, hanging out with kids, folding clothes, working on documents in my job, or whatever it may be, that "intersection" may occur. The trick is to mine the information and ideas when they come in so that when that elusive leisure time does come, we can further explore them.

In reality, the busier we are, the better our creativity thrives--it's just up to us to use it properly.

When do you find that you're the most creative? What surprising places or actions kick your idea-maker into overdrive? Comment below!

Thursday, January 28, 2016


by Katy White

Over the last several weeks, #novelaesthetics has been making the rounds in the twitter writing community. In a nutshell:

It's a fun, quick way to give people a sense for your novel and drum up interest in it. It's also ridiculously hard (for me...or maybe everyone?). Three pictures just seems like so few! So I cheated and did this for my novel, SEEKING MANSFIELD, instead:

I love seeing the pictures people choose to represent their projects, so if you've been looking for an excuse to do it, go to twitter and say that @katew223 or @mmwriters tagged you, and post away!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

But Will I Really?

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

I need a reality check. I think. I’m not sure. Maybe what I really need is a healthy dose of some sort of mothering gene that I didn’t get. I’ve come to accept, mostly, finally, that I don’t have what I normally think of as the standard “nurturing spirit.” I’ve written about it extensively,* and I’m slowly realizing that I have used a too-narrow definition of mothering and nurturing.

The truth is I don’t have any great fondness for newborns and babies. Sure, I have loved mine, but I don’t feel any sort of yearning toward them in general. I can look at someone else holding a baby and have absolutely no desire to snuggle it. In fact, I don’t have this feeling toward any age of children. I just don’t want to hang out with them. I have always considered this to be a major personality flaw. In fact, I still sort of do.** But at least now I have come to recognize that it doesn’t mean that I’m not a nurturing, loving mother of my own children. At least, not much.

So that’s why I get a little confused when I see a friend or stranger or celebrity post on social media, “I am just crying so much. Little Z has started walking. It’s the end of an era.” Or, “I’m so happy-sad about potty training. My kid doesn’t need me so much anymore.” Or, “I miss how little she was!” I am just generally really excited about my kids growing up more. Maybe this will stop being true when they hit the teens? I don’t know.

But even more, the posts that really puzzle me are the ubiquitous bits about how you’re going to miss the laundry and the diaper changes and whatnot. And these posts always start by addressing those of us in the throes of parenting littles, and they say, “Yes, we know you don’t think you’re going to miss it, but trust us, you will.”

To which, every time, I think, “No way.”

First of all, let’s get serious. I will be doing crazy amounts of laundry for at least the next 18 to 20 years. This is not tapering off any time soon. Also, I really don’t like doing laundry. Or dishes. Or vacuuming. Pretty much if it involves cleaning, you can guess that it’s not an activity I’m big on. So, if I don’t like it now, how am I suddenly going to get nostalgic about it in the future?

I think what they’re really saying is this: “You’re going to miss having your kids need you so much.”

To which I say, “Well, why don’t you just say that instead? That I can probably believe.” I’m sure someday I’ll look around at an empty house and think about the good times when they needed me more.*** Although, in all honesty, I am just loving having them grow up more and need me less for things like behind-wiping and pouring milk for their cereal. How are these not good things? But I can theoretically conceive of a time when I will miss the 8yo coming to me to discuss her schoolwork or the 5yo wanting to snuggle while we read a book.

But if that’s what they’re really saying, why in the world do they keep on bringing up the laundry? And they do it so emphatically. It makes me wonder—I’ve gotten over my lack of universal nurturing, but am I now missing something else? Am I genetically absent a love-of-children’s-laundry gene?

Explain it to me, world! No one has yet convinced me! (And trust me, I’ve read it about a bajillion times.) What am I missing?

Or maybe we’ll just have to wait another twenty years, and then suddenly I’ll be a believer?

* Like here, here, and here.

** Partially because it extends to all ages, not just children—I just don’t love being with lots of people. It’s partially an introvert thing and partially a socially awkward thing and partially an emotional energy thing, and it has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post. So, moving on. . .

*** But probably not those times when one of them was screaming because her favorite shirt wasn’t clean because I’d forgotten to do the laundry—or she wore it every day for the past week, and I’d washed it every night and just ran out of other stuff to wash with it. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience. This is just a hypothetical.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Change in Perspective

By Lacey Gunter

As a picture book writer much of my editing time is spent figuring out what I can take out of my texts and still maintain the heart of the story. Words are a very expensive commodity in picture books so one has to be sparing and pick them wisely.

Picking what should stay and what should go is often a difficult task. Sometimes it requires a change in perspective. You have to step back and take in the big picture to distinguish the body of the story over the unnecessary details.

I recently found a surprising parallel in my journal writing. Until recently I had always bought into the idea that journal writing is 'supposed' to be a daily endeavor and any truly faithful journal writer was diligent enough to at least try to record things daily. Yet, I often struggled with what exactly to share. Many of my days seemed unexciting or at least similar to the day before. So what exactly do you write about on a daily basis? With this perspective I often lost motivation and steam and stopped trying after only a short time.

A couple of months ago I decided to try something totally different. In an effort to make our Sundays more meaningful, I decided to sit down with each of my young children and help them write a journal of their weekly activities. After just one week of doing this with them, I discovered it was dramatically more easy to write something when looking over the perspective of a week than just a day. I decided to try this with my own journal keeping.

Wow what a difference that perspective change has made. Instead of looking at the one inch square of daily life and trying to make sense of  and interpret the few different colored lines scratched into my day, I am able to step back and see the entire portrait of my week and discover how the pieces fit together to make a meaningful and interesting portrait of a window of my life. Best of all, I am actually excited to do it, rather than dreading it.

Tying that back into your writing, if you are stuck in a rut on a current WIP and can't make sense of what to do or where to go, take a look at it from a new angle.  Is there some rule, assumption or idea that is unnecessarily tying you down? Are you focusing in too closely on a minor piece of the picture and  trying to make sense of small bits of plot or character?  Try letting go of the perspective you are stuck in and step back to see the big picture.  It  may give you just the perspective you need to see how all the pieces fit together discover what is most meaningful.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Revision Help from the Pros

by Patricia Cates
Yesterday evening was the first ever NaNoWriMo Spreecast. It was intended for those who have a work in progress leftover from the fall, and who are now perhaps stuck in the revision stage. The title of the web cast was fittingly “How to Revise Your NaNoWriMo Novel.” Kami Garcia, NYT best-selling author, served as the host fielding questions for K.M. Weiland and James Scott Bell, as they were the other guest authors in attendance. They shared many great tips in order to help the rest of us. In case you missed this, I thought I would give you a short synopsis of what was shared. There was a ton of great information on how to rewrite, what to rewrite and how to fill in gaps. Questions came in live from viewers. I only wished it were longer. 

When asked what mattered most in revision stage, the authors all agreed that it was structure. Katie M. Weiland, (a.k.a. K.W.) suggests we make sure to have all the major plot points in place. To have the bones of your book be sound is crucial, because everything else is really cosmetic. She asks us to check to see if the beats play out, to look for a midpoint, to check for sign post scenes. Are the critical ones in the right spot?  Jim agreed on structure being key and pointed out that we need to make it very clear on what the character wants, what is at stake and what will stand in their way. He believes the stakes need to be "life or death" either physically or emotionally. He asks us to look at plot points and verify that there is increasing tension happening.

K.W. added that a great hack is to let your book rest. She says to walk away from it in order to gain objectivity and give yourself some space. Jim was in total agreement and feels that writers need to give themselves 3-4 weeks away from the book, and then come back to it and view it as a reader. He says that the worst thing you can do is start on page one and start crossing things out. He likes to print off a hard copy and read it as if it were somebody else’s work and not his own. He’ll then go back and make notes in the margins as he’s reading, or use symbols that let him know what should be done. He makes note of whether it’s too slow, or confusing, or where he might be tempted to put it down and stop reading. When asked about the slow spots, Jim simply wants us to ask ourselves if the scene is necessary. If it’s not...but you don’t want to kill it...he suggests we turn up the heat. He likes to use fear of any kind, and on any level. If there is even just some worry, he feels it will bring emotion to the reader and act as a hook.

Another person asked the question about whether beta readers or critique partners were actually important in the process. Jim feels that it is an extremely important part of revision in that these people can bring about a terrific objectivity that we might not have. Katie adds that this can help an author clean up a manuscript before it even goes on to an editor, which really might only give you one good clean sweep. Jim also mentioned that it is smart to have readers of your genre take a look at your book and give input as opposed to fellow writers. K.W. likes to use craft books to help her revise before going to edit. She enjoys reading screenplay books as they help with structure so much. She suggests a few including the classic “Story” by Robert McKee, as well as “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby.

When asked how to develop characters that might be a bit one-dimensional, K.W. talked about using internal conflict as a basis, or, the conflict between a want and a need. Perhaps the character is even buying into a lie of the story theme. Jim wants us to use the element of surprise to capture the audience as it adds another layer of interest. He says to "make it unexpected" in action or dialogue. Katie Garcia likes to see evidence of wounds and old baggage which allows the reader to understand why that person might have the world view that they do. She asks us to delve into that “one bad thing” that happened to them, that makes our character think like they do, and do what they do. Another fun tip she suggests we can use on a character is to just make their life miserable.

In order to stay motivated during revision our expert authors suggest we use a calendar or simply remember to show up for work. We can train ourselves by forming good habits and sticking with them. For those who do not have a publisher or agent yet, K.W. suggests we hire a freelance editor. Right now there are a lot of legitimately good ones out there. Katie warns to do your due diligence in researching who they are for now, as anyone can say that they are an editor. K.W. is planning on compiling a list of veteran freelance editors and posting it soon on her blog. (Can't wait!)

When a viewer asked about the amount of backstory that is acceptable, and when or where to add it, Jim had a great idea. He says to use it sparingly at first and then layer it in. By rule of thumb he says that in the first 10 pages you should only allow yourself three sentences. That’s it. Then in the next 10 pages he says to allow three paragraphs. This does allow the reader to gain sympathy and empathy for the character, but he wants to see action first.

Lastly, K.W. advises we avoid “on the nose” dialogue in our books. This would be direct answers that are not surprising or exciting. Also avoid “I love you” and the like. Save the direct statements for later on where they are actually needed. The fewer found, the more impact they will have. Jim says to trim the fat and take out filler words. This is great for those writers who need to get their word count down. If it isn’t necessary, get rid of it.

If you’d like to watch the podcast online you can do so by downloading the Spreecast App. If you don’t have access to that technology you can always purchase one of the craft books that these guest authors have written. You can check out their websites and

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Story in the Branches of Your Tree: 2 Fun Ways to Explore Your Family History

Did you know that family history is really, really fun?

I know, you're saying, "Wait- you are talking about that thing with fan charts and record numbers and death dates, right?"

I know, doesn't exactly sound like a roaring good time, but I promise you- it's really, really fun.

Here are two really fun family history "games" you can play:

1. Log onto FamilySearch or Ancestry and pick a branch of your family tree- trace it back and back and back until you find some ancestors from a place you've never been to before, a place that intrigues you. Next, go on Google Earth and find that place, then, if possible, get down to street view and see what you can see- envision your ancestors walking the streets, or farming the fields, or going to church.

Screenshot from my Google Street View adventure in Switzerland. All of the houses and shops have window boxes with flowers in them. I am in love.

For me, this was the tiny town of Limpach in Bern, Switzerland. I started noticing this place name starting with my great grandparents' marriage there in 1907 and continuing all the way back to a many-greats grandfather who was born there in 1606. After that there is no more record of the family, so it could go back even farther.

I looked on Wikipedia to find out more about Limpach and discovered that it occupies a whopping 1.7 square miles of the planet's surface, and of that, 70% is agricultural, 22% is forested, and 8% is buildings and roads. The current population is 354 people.

As I began learning more about this place, I couldn't help but wonder- what must it have been like to have your family live in such a tiny place for such a long time? Surely the village must have been like a family. 

My great grandmother left there because she found the gospel and she wanted to join the rest of the Saints in Utah. She made it, but she passed away in childbirth at the age of 31, and she and her baby are buried in the Logan City Cemetery. Sadly, her other two daughters were not raised in the Church- but her granddaughter (my mom) found it anyway, and so a portion of her descendants are following her legacy of faith.

2. Okay, if you're ready for some REAL fun, check out This is a site that is powered by FamilySearch and when you use your FamilySearch login it will go through your family tree and find every notable person you are related to in some way- and it will even show you your common ancestors! 

Through this site I discovered I have family ties to all 12 current apostles, Joseph Smith (4th cousin 7 times removed), Emma Smith (8th cousin 4 times removed), Eliza R. Snow (4th cousin 4 times removed), Wilford Woodruff (3rd cousin 7 times removed), Gordon B. Hinckley (7th cousin 3 times removed), and many more notable members of the Church. I also discovered other ties that made me a bit giddy- Ernest Hemingway (9th cousin 2 times removed), Robert Frost (9th cousin 5 times removed), Samuel Clemens (aka, Mark Twain- 8th cousin 5 times removed), and Emily Dickinson (9th cousin 2 times removed), to name a few. I'm also distantly related to several presidents, Lucille Ball (9th cousin 2 times removed), and Elvis Presley (13th cousin 2 times removed). 

It is so. much. FUN! My kids got a huge kick out of it.

Out of curiosity, I decided to see who my closest "famous" relations were, and I found 2 aunts- one a 10th great aunt, Martha Penoyer, and the other an 11th great aunt, Sarah Warren, who had been tried as part of the Salem Witch Trials. I found their stories through FamilySearch and Wikipedia, and I was shocked and appalled to learn of the things they had endured. 

The story of Martha Penoyer (Corey) was a particularly tragic one- she was tried for witchcraft in 1692 at the age of 72 years old. During her trial her husband Giles spoke out in her defense, and they wanted to try him as a witch as well, but he refused, and was put to death by pressing, "a slow, crushing death under a pile of stones." And "when the sheriff asked how he would plead, he only asked for more stones." Three days later his wife was found guilty and hanged.

As I study these branches of my family tree, I can't help but wonder what little bits and pieces of these individuals might have gotten into me. 

Did the conviction that led my great grandmother to leave her ancestral homeland find its way through the bloodline to me? 

Is my Great Aunt Martha's belief in truth, no matter what the cost, somehow manifested in me in diluted form every time I look at look at something I read on the internet with a critical eye? 

What about those amazing writers- could my talent have somehow been passed down through the decades, some tiny little glimmer of a gene that compels me to put thoughts into words? 

And those stalwart leaders of the early Church- has the power of their cumulative faith somehow shaped my own testimony in some intangible way that I will only understand after this life?

One thing I can't help thinking as I wander through the crowded and complex forest that is my family tree: there are so, so many people. So many lives lived and faded and gone. How peculiar it feels to know that I am a part of it, and that I just happen to be the living my life at this time. Of all the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers- right now it's me. I'm one of them, and it's my turn to be here, my turn to experience all the ups and downs of earth life that they all did and as we all do. I can't help but wonder what they think of it- what they think of me- and what they might expect of me. Each life seems just a blip- a fraction of a century- and that is our magnum opus. What happens before this life and what comes after are but prelude and prologue; my story is now. 

What will my story be?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Apple Tree

by Jewel Leann Williams

A couple of weeks ago I saw a video that was shared on Facebook that talked about apple trees, and creativity, and becoming who we were meant to be. I watched it and moved on, but some of the thoughts stayed with me. They percolated for a while, and then in a panic I realized that this was what I wanted to write about--and I couldn't find the video!!

After a plea for help on the Facebook and thankfully a friend who figured out what I was looking for, and I got to watch the video again.  I will link to it after this article.

So what of the apple tree?

If we look at an apple tree, we notice that it doesn't care how many apples it sells. It doesn't worry if people like the apples or not. It just does what it's supposed to do, which is produce apples.  If you see an apple tree that isn't giving apples, it is probably a sick tree, and we know there is something wrong and try to help it to return to its purpose.

The takeaway for us, as writers, is that often we get so caught up in whether people will like what we've written, or buy what  we've written, that we destroy our own creativity.  We stop writing because "no one likes what I write" or "I can't get an agent on anything I've done," or whatever reason.

But are you an apple tree? Were you born to put words out there into the world, to uplift, inspire, bring light? I affirm to you that you were. Our Father in Heaven gave you the talent and  the urge to write for a reason.

So what if you don't?

Another quote  paraphrase from this video:

We stress because we're not giving our gift that we are naturally here to give, and all day long we hear that gift inside us, whispering for us to do that thing we were born to do. 

That's the apples in us, trying to make their way up through the xylem and phloem, the trunk, the branches, the twigs, to flower and bud. Sometimes we don't feed the tree, don't give it any sunlight, and we become sick. Stressed about not writing, depressed about not creating, blocked and bitter because we say things like, "I used to be a writer, but I don't write anymore."

In a more scriptural analogy, it's because we know full well that the Master will not be happy when he sees that we've taken our talent and judged that it's not what others were given, not as shiny or as big, and we've buried it in the ground for fear.

That voice says, "Do this one thing" but we're scared, because we only see the loss of what we could give up, not the infinite possibilities that lay beyond that one leap. (More paraphrasing there)
Look what I found from Elder Russell M. Nelson!


Can I ask you (and myself more than any) to BE the apple tree? You already are placed here for a purpose, and just like an apple tree, you can nourish your purpose and give it lots of sun, shape it and strengthen it, and fulfill that purpose. Fear is the enemy as much as frost in winter (for those of us from Arizona, that's like the 3 cold nights where we put sheets on our plants).

This one is a direct quote:

There is a power in you that has been calling to you since day one, and today could actually be the day that you listen.  

How can you "access your apple tree?"

Friday, January 15, 2016

Harry Potter Comfort

Last night I decided to reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I can’t tell you (because I don’t remember) how many times I’ve read this book. I think I first read it in 5th grade when a school librarian introduced it to my class. I rushed to check it out, devoured it within a week, and then had to agonizingly wait another year or two for the second one to come out.

Returning to this book is like curling up in a lovingly worn blanket. I know the story almost by heart, could tell you every plot line and funny dialogue throughout the chapters, but diving back into this story is such a comfort.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I feel like this is what a brilliant book does. It sucks you in every time. Its characters pull at your heartstrings, its plot brings action alive. Reading it for the 100th time is just as much fun as reading it for the first time.

Now, I’m not saying that J.K. Rowling is the greatest writer alive. I’m not saying that Harry Potter is the best series in the world. But there is no denying the sense of magic when we open the book and go back to Harry’s world. It’s almost as if his world truly exists, we just can’t see it with our Muggle eyes.

This is the kind of inspiration I strive for when I write. Sure, I write about things that interest me, but I keep my audience in mind. Teaching has taught me that there are kids out there who flat out refuse to read. They have such a negative stigma attached to reading that they don’t want to even try anymore. Even when I was in high school myself, my goal was to capture the attention and the hearts of those non-readers. I wanted to introduce them to the magic of reading plain, printed words that can transport you anywhere in the world. I still wish for this. I want my students to realize that reading isn’t so bad. That it can be just as much fun as playing a video game or watching a movie.

So with feelings of nostalgia and comfort, I wish you happy writing!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What Happens After You Get Your Agent?

by Katy White

Last month, I was excited to announce that I have a publishing deal. Before getting an agent, I never really had a firm understanding of what happens next, let alone how one goes from being agented to under contract with a publishing company. I can't say my understanding is exactly firm now, but I wanted to share what my experience has been to this point.

I got my agent a little over eighteen months ago on the book that also got me my publishing deal (but the second book I'd queried). At the time, my agent was in the middle of going to conferences, so she let me know that it would be a couple of months until we could discuss next steps. About two months later, I got an email with her suggestions for edits and changes to the book, and she gave me a general timeline for when to have it back to her. A couple of months later, she signed off on my revisions and we moved to the next step.


The way my agent explained it, being on submission was a lot like the process of getting an agent. She did her homework identifying editors she thought would like my work, from looking at their blog posts, interviews, manuscript wish lists (#MSWL), past conversations they'd had at conferences, etc. After she established the first list of six to eight, she essentially queried them. Then we waited to hear back from them. And editors, being tremendously busy, frequently take months to get back to agents on a project. We went through a few rounds of submission, and my full manuscript was requested by a lot of the editors, which was flattering. But it was also rejected by those same editors, which was not so flattering. The feedback was complimentary, but fairly similar to what those of us who've been (or are) in the query trenches have received: the story didn't quite connect for me, the characters didn't quite pop, it's too similar to something we've just acquired.

My agent and I had discussed how I wanted feedback beforehand, so based on that, my agent didn't send me every rejection, just occasional emails when one round of feedback had been received and we were submitting to another group of editors. After several months, I found out that an editor loved my book and wanted to take it to her editorial review board. I had never heard of an editorial review board, so I smiled and nodded when my agent told me this (and then promptly remembered that she couldn't see me, so I then used my words).  While we were waiting for word back from that editor, she also told me that another editor wanted to take my book to her review board, too.

There was a lot of this happening.

I felt great about both possibilities, but I had a feeling about one over the other--I was just certain that it was going to work out. Oddly, this was the exact same feeling I had with my agent when she and a few others had my full MS. There was something about both of these experiences that felt different to me, even kismet. So when my agent told me that the editor I felt so good about was offering, I didn't have a moment's concern.

From there, my agent and the editor/publishing house went through negotiations. This also took some time. A few months went by between the time I found out the publisher wanted to offer me a contract and the time the contract was actually signed. There are a lot of moving pieces involved, and I probably don't know the half of it. But contracts and negotiations take time. I told myself this a lot, even as I secretly stress-ate my worries that my editor would change her mind. However, that didn't happen. Huzzah!

After the contract came the Publisher's Marketplace announcement. Evidently not every agent does this, but mine did, and I was glad of it. Truthfully, I didn't want to announce anything to anyone until that happened, as it made it all feel extra official to me. When I woke up to see the press release from my publisher and the PM announcement, I was half-convinced it was all a dream.

And then my baby spit up on me, and I realized it was real life. And I was elated.

If you have any questions about the process or have had a different experience, please share below!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Stitch Fix Review

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

I have never been super fashionable. I have this memory from sixth grade of a tropical melon-neon shirt, a neon green headband, and something else neon (a bracelet maybe?). These matched, of course, because—neon! Some girl near me at school was looking at me weird. Finally she whispered, “I was just looking to see if you had neon socks too.” Translation: “You are the most hideous eyesore to ever cross the threshold of this school.”

Then there were the awesome buns (like Princess Leia, only much much higher on my head), the too-small faded t-shirt from elementary school I wore in junior high (at least I was wearing it “ironically”), and the candy necklace choker that I wore for waaay too long (gross, yes).

And probably we shouldn’t even mention the time I wore the canvas shoes with mismatched neon (!) shoelaces with a floral skirt . . . to a debate tournament.

In other words, fashion and I are not close friends.

Stitch FixEnter Stitch Fix.

I started hearing about it from various bloggers. I looked it up, thought about it, and spent months wavering back and forth, until finally my hubby just bought me three months of “Fixes” for my birthday.

If you’re not familiar with Stitch Fix, it’s a service where you enter a bunch of info about yourself, pay a $20 styling fee, and have a box of five items of clothing sent to you in the mail. If you like them, you pay for them (minus the styling fee). If not, you send them back. The clothing comes with a couple of suggestions on how to wear it and a note from the stylist who put together your box.

I’ve had two of my three Fixes so far, and it has been really fun. Of the ten items I received, I have kept three, and I seriously debated several more. Here is my opinion of the pros and cons.


Someone else, far more stylish than I am, is coming up with clothing for me. I have tried on several items from my Fixes that I’ve seen in stores before and thought, “No way would that work on me.” And I was wrong. Example #1: One of those swishy cardigans that are longer and kind of hang down in the front (see how fashionable I am? I’m sure they have a name). I loved it, kept it, and have worn it a ton. Example #2: Boyfriend jeans. Seriously, I have hips, people, not like a boyfriend. But they sent me maternity boyfriend jeans that I really liked. I almost kept them, but they were “distressed” (AKA already holey), and I just couldn’t convince myself to spend so much money on them. Plus, the first thing my 8yo daughter said when she saw them was, “I could patch that for you!” But in general, Stitch Fix is broadening my fashion horizons.

I don’t have to shop. This is related to the above pro and the below one, but it bears mentioning separately. I’m not the one trying to find these clothes! YAY! Also, I think the stylist is magical because even the clothing I didn’t like still fit me pretty well overall. This does not happen to me in real life.

Super duper easy. I was leery at first that it wouldn’t be as easy as it sounds. But it is. The box comes straight to your house, and it includes a return mailer that is already paid for. So when you drop it off, you don’t have to wait in line at the post office. I have three small children; waiting in line at the post office, even though my kids are not crazy-bouncing-off-the-walls, is still horrible. But I want to cry with the easiness of Stitch Fix returns. Tears of happy, happy joy.


I feel bad about saying, “No.” I realize this is ridiculous, but I know that somewhere out there is a stylist who chose these items, and I want to make her happy that she chose well. So I want to buy things even if I don’t absolutely love them. Like I said, ridiculous. Also, I feel kind of silly about saying that something is too expensive for me because, if we’re being honest, I prefer dirt cheap. But I’ve never managed dirt cheap and stylish at the same time. So this is really my problem, maybe, not Stitch Fix’s.

Prices. When you sign up, you can pick what price ranges you’re comfortable with for various items. For example, you could choose “The cheaper the better” for jewelry and “$100-150” for dresses, etc. I decided to blend realistic and idealistic in my price ranges, because if I was being completely honest, I would have answered “The cheaper the better” for everything. And I really wanted to experience Stitch Fix without being completely constrained by my distaste for spending money on clothes (I am still wearing t-shirts I bought when I was pregnant with my first child, nine years ago; they were cheap then and they are just plain old and icky now). So yes, the cardigan cost something like $50. And the super warm, super comfy leggings I’ve been wearing under my skirts for the cold weather were around there too, and also the shirt I just kept. The boyfriend jeans I didn’t keep were $88. Had they been $30 or $40, I might have overlooked the distressed style, but at $88, I just couldn’t. So my “price” con comes with a caveat—I don’t know what my boxes would look like if I just said, “The cheaper the better” on everything. I might actually try that, we’ll see. In the meantime, however, the clothes have been a higher quality overall than I normally buy as well, so the price tag makes a little more sense. Oh! I should also mention that if you keep all five items in a box, there’s a 20% discount.

Hmm . . . I’m sure there are some other cons, but I can’t think of them. My experience so far has been pretty great. I was concerned that they wouldn’t be good about respecting my coverage desires (you know, sleeves, longer skirts, etc.), but they have been awesome about it so far. You can also write notes explaining to your stylist what you are looking for, and I think the magical Samantha (the woman who styled my first two boxes) has done a fabulous job of listening.

I feel weird writing a blog post about fashion, but I think this service is cool. Sure, I wish it were cheaper, but nothing’s perfect. Also, currently they only style certain sizes (up to size 14ish, I think, and also maternity), so it won’t work for everyone.

So if you are still reading and you decide you want to give this service a try, it would be really really really nice of you if you do it from this link here.

Because if you do, I get a referral bonus to spend on clothes from my next Fix. Which would definitely be a win for me, right? And then you can tell all your friends and get bonuses for referring them. So it would just make the world a happier, and more fashionable, place.

My next hope is that someone comes up with a version of Stitch Fix for slovenly stay-at-home moms who would rather spend less than $100 on their wardrobes for the entire decade. But maybe that’s too much to ask.

Oh, and maybe they should throw in a candy necklace!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cinderella and the Heat of Battle

by Kasey Tross

One of my goals for the year is to read 20 books, with at least 3 of them on writing, so as to supplement my other goal of finally finishing a comprehensive first draft of my novel. My current read is "Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft" by Janet Burroway. So far I'm finding it to be very helpful.

One thing she mentions is the idea that your story should essentially be a war, a battle fought between your protagonist and the forces that oppose your protagonist, and the war should have many battles in which power is seized and lost.

She gives the example of Cinderella- Cinderella's mother dies and her father marries an evil stepmother. The stepmother brings two ugly daughters with her, and when Cinderella's father dies, all the power is in the stepmother's hands.

But then, an invitation arrives to a ball to which all the young women of the household are invited- suddenly, Cinderella again has some power and some hope.

Yet the wicked stepmother forbids her to go, and the stepmother is once again in power.

When the fairy godmother appears to assist Cinderella, however, Cinderella seizes power once more.

And so on- clock strikes midnight, power lost; Prince will try the shoe on every maiden in the land, power regained; stepmother locks Cinderella away when her moment comes, power lost; she is finally able to try on the shoe and is shown to be the prince's true love, power regained, war is won, Cinderella triumphs.

I'm a big fan of simple things, and I loved the simple formula this idea set forth. In fact, it helped me rewrite the beginning of my story, which has always felt awkward to me because while I know it's important to start in the middle of action, I wasn't sure which action to start in the middle of, because the story starts after the main character has been through some unpleasant action, but before the main action begins.

After learning about this idea of "doing battle", I realized that I needed to give the reader an opportunity to understand the shock of the MC's current situation (because that way we understand why we want to root for her), but still keep it the current situation without rewinding too far back to when the actual situation changed, because then I would be losing a lot of ground on the main story; on the other hand, starting in the current situation left me ripe for a lot of info-dumping, and I HATE that, so I was trying to avoid that as well.

If that makes any sense at all.

So I rewrote the story to begin with a dream in which the MC is over-the-moon happy, and then she awakes to realize that her dream was nothing but a memory of what she had before, and her current situation is like a nightmare. That, to me, puts the reader in the middle of the action, and shortly after her waking to the current (awful) reality, she gets hope of a way she can change that reality- power shift! So,
happy --> miserable --> hope --> then I have another great twist which threatens it all!

That's your Writing 101 lesson for today.

Go forth.

Be awesome.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Charaters: What Illustration and Art Can Teach Us

By Lacey Gunter

Well,  I thought about writing a post on New Years resolutions and writing goals, snce I just gave a lesson on that in one of my writing groups. But I think the topic has been covered well enough in the past week.  So instead I have decided to talk about characters.

It is a common phrase in the writing world to say a character falls flat.  When we hear this from critique partners or editors about our own characters, we may understand what the critiquer is saying, but not have a good sense about how to fix it.  A good way I have learned to think about it, is to consider it from a drawing or illustration perspective.

When cartoon illustrators design a character, they often exaggerate or emphasize a certain trait to such a point that it becomes a character's defining trait. Illustrators have the freedom to do this because cartoon characters are not expected to look realistic. That is one of the appeals of the art form.

Drawing  a realistic portrait of a person, is nearly opposite of that. It is amazing how off a portrait can look when the proportions of the face are inaccurate by only a little bit. It takes a lot of time and skill to figure out the proportions of a person well enough to make a portrait look like it's intended subject.

Designing characters in a novel can be the same way. If you don't get the proportions of their personality right, they can seem unrealistic or one dimensional.  So how can we use this idea to help us fix a flat character?

Well, first think about the things that define you. You might be a mom, a wife, a daughter, and a sister. You might be a writer and also have a day job.  You might have a calling or responsibility in your church congregation. Maybe you take on other roles in the community.  Each of these ways you define yourself could be thought of as aspects of your personality.  In our own lives we can give a level of priorities to each of these roles. For example, you might find that your role as a mother is more important than your role in your job or as a volunteer in your community.  Using this ordering of priorities we could also think of these roles as proportions of your personality. For example you could say you were 35% mom, 35% wife, 20% writer, so on and so forth. If any one of these roles took up 95% of your personality you would seem like a pretty flat character. And that's not really very realistic either.

How we define these proportions will affect the way we act and think and make choices. If I define myself as 35% mom, then I cannot be expected to be universally focusing on what is going on in my kids lives and how my decisions affect them. 65% of the time other things are pressing on my time and resources, such as giving attention to my husband, getting writing projects done and taking a nap when I am under the weather.

Likewise, you need to give your characters the proper proportions to make them look realistic.  The typical example that is given is "Your character is all good. They need to make a bad decision or have a selfish thought once in a while." While this hints at the idea, we can and need to make it much more nuanced.  What's really being said, is there needs to be more conflict or exchange between the aspects of your character's personality.

An easy way to do this is to do the same role defining and proportions I described above for your characters. Then when a character is at a junction of thought or action or decision, place your character in each of the roles that character takes on and ask "What would a person with that role think or do at this junction?" Obviously, some of these thoughts or decisions are going to be different or conflicting with each other.  Then once you have established what each of these actions are, make sure that, on a whole, the thoughts or decisions you end up having your character do come close to matching up with the role proportions you have defined for that character.

I hope that helps, my friends. Have a great week!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dish on Demand

by Patricia Cates

Cats and dogs are fun pets to have don't you think? They bring so much pleasure to the household with their sweet little faces, soft brown eyes and perpetual happy state. My kids love how adorable they all are, and how their warm little bodies are so nice to cuddle with at night. They often fight who gets to sleep with who. We consider them to be members of our family. We truly love our furry friends.
Unless they want in or out. Then we don’t like getting up and down...and then up, and then down.
We actually have a pet door that the house came with, but it’s made for miniature dogs and we have large dogs. We would let our cats use it, but when we leave it open in the winter it lets too much cold air in. In the summer time we can’t leave it open because the kitties think its great fun to bring in live rodents. I don’t particularly mind mice, but when the cat loses track of a mouse, and we don’t know where it is any longer, it poses a problem. The last mouse took two days to recover. We trapped it in our laundry room. Thankfully one particular feline we house is a truly evil and neurotic calico. She sat vigilantly next to the dryer until she had her chance to pounce. One night I finally shut the pet door permanently when another cat brought in the mother of all gophers at 3:00 am. To be awakened by loud scuffling and banging at three o'clock in the morning was maddening in of its self. But when one has to turn on the bedroom lights to chase a gopher for 30 minutes scurrying along the baseboards and hiding under furniture...well you get my drift. The pet door is no longer on an “open door policy” so to speak.
"We" also enjoy our animals until it is time to clean out a cat box or pick up the mess in the yard. However, if "we" masters do not keep the yard picked up, "we" sure regret it when the kids are outside playing and their shoes get mucked up and tracked onto our floors; or when it comes time to mow, rake or pick apples. Also if the little feline pet keepers at our house choose to not clean the cat box, then the house gets unhappy feline rebellion surprises left in the most indiscriminate of places. Enough said.
Feeding the household pets is always enjoyable too. To see their tails wag in anticipation of mealtime is so rewarding. Even the fish we own swim up near the glass as if to say “Hello” and “Good morning!” I noticed last week that our child in charge must have forgotten to feed them for a few days. I say this only because one of the fish now has no fins and just wobbles to propel itself. They’ve been in there for three years with no problem until now. I feel sorry for the dude. He must have been the low fish on the totem pole. Nature is cruel. We can only hope fish fins are regenerative. We don’t flush family.
Hamster feeding is a task NEVER to be taken lightly. Our family bought a cage set up, and two of the most darling long-haired fancy hamster critters you have ever laid eyes on. Our girls named them Bandit (for his markings) and Cory. Sadly, someone forgot to feed the new family members residing in her bedroom, because on day four, Cory had eaten off the left side of Bandit’s sweet little head. Cory in turn died two days later. Apparently raw hamster head isn’t healthy. Lesson learned. If only we had purchased a larger dish, or been told not to put them together. There were a lot of tears shed that week.
At feeding time, and actually all the time, our two dogs run around in a hyper state of glee. They are pretty irresistible when it comes to cuteness. Then there are the cats. They just meow in the most endearing high pitched voices. This is when they are their most flirty. We tend to keep those guys hungry for a few minutes, because we enjoy having their brief undivided attention. They allow us to pet and torture them with our affections a wee bit longer than normally tolerated.
Who leaves out a self-feeder? Some authorities on feline pet keeping say it is fine to let the pet self-regulate their food intake, (although for dogs this is NOT a good idea.) We tried the self-watering unit and it proved a pain to clean as it quickly got full of sludge. Since water is always to be fresh, we fill our dog’s water bowl in the kitchen at least four to six times a day. This in turn spurns on the urge to release the water taken in. But the alternative would be to leave a bone dry bowl. Would it be considered animal cruelty to only give the pets water morning and night, with no snack in between? Or do we feed and water on demand? That is the question. At our home it is definitely dish on demand. We feed our cats up to five times a day. They have their people trained well. Oddly enough all of our pets are at their ideal healthy weight.
We also have door on demand. If we do not let our dogs and cats out or in accordance to their wishes we are met with scratching and/or barking. So the screen, back door and weather stripping are ruined by animal nails (trimmed or not) and the inside metal blinds are completely trashed. These things can be fixed, but won’t be. The neighbors calling the police for a noise ordinance issue is an entire different story. We let our pets in on demand so as not to bother the dear neighbors surrounding us. It is quite a job indeed. It’s strange how the younger folks who reside in our home cannot hear the dogs barking. It must be out of their range of hearing. They can sit on the couch, 10 feet away from the back door, watching an episode of any cartoon and not hear the incessant barking. This could potentially go on for hours. I usually have to yell from upstairs, “Please will someone let the poor dog in.”
We have a huge backyard with lots of grass, shade trees, shrubs, toys, birds, squirrels and various things to sniff, so our dogs are hardly poor. It can be a sunshine-y gorgeous day outside and the temperature is perfection, but the pooches cannot stand to be out there alone. They want to be inside with their people. I’m also pretty sure they think that every time they go to the door to be let out, that it is to play with the children. Instead the kids let them out and shut the door, and leave the dogs sitting there dumbfounded. The child then walks away and resumes sitting down in front of the television. The barking immediately ensues. The kids really should be outside playing. Unfortunately we have Dish on Demand at our house, and so the cycle continues.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Set Goals Like You MEAN IT!

by Kasey Tross

I hate the word "resolution." Whenever I think of that word, I imagine someone putting one finger in the air, puffing out their chest, and with an obnoxiously authoritative voice announcing, "I resoooolve toooo eat healthier!" (or lose weight, exercise more, write more, be a nicer person, stop picking their nose, etc.)

And then they smile, put their finger down, and turn around and eat a cheeseburger.

I mean, really, what does it mean to "resolve" to do something? We're imperfect beings. Resolve is far too profound and serious a word for us fallible humans, especially as a yearly event.

So anyway, long ago I ditched the idea of New Years Resolutions and instead I create my goals for the upcoming year. Recently I got a boost in this department with a free webinar by Michael Hyatt in which he discussed the value of goals and the hallmarks of a good goal. It was nothing I hadn't heard before, but I definitely needed the reminder. So here it is for you too:

A good goal




So how do your goals stack up? Saying, "I resolve to lose weight" does not have the same power as saying, "My goal is to lose 20lbs by June 1st." When I decided I wanted to run the Monument Avenue 10k I knew that my deadline for being able to run 6.2 miles was March 28th. Which brings me to my next point...

Once you have a goal that is specific, concrete, and has a deadline,

(break it down into bite-sized pieces)

Again, when I decided I my goal was to run the 10k on March 28th, and I had never even been able to run a mile without stopping, I knew that giving running a whirl for the first time on March 27th probably wouldn't give me stellar results. So I made a plan that included smaller goals: run 1 mile the first month, 2 the second, and so on. I broke those down into the even smaller goal that I wanted to run at least 3 times each week. By the time March 1st came around I could do 5 miles.

One of my goals this year is to have the first draft of my book finished by October 31st (deadline!) so I can NaNoWriMo my heart out on an novel I've been DYING to write. The current book exists, but it's in reaaaally rough shape (Grand-Canyon-sized plot holes, random characters that just drop out of sight completely halfway through the book, that sort of thing) so I need to tie up loose ends and polish it. And in order to do that, my smaller goal (action plan) is to rewrite one chapter per week. That is challenging, yet doable. 

So once you've set your goals and created an action plan, don't forget about these two more pieces of advice that will certainly ensure your success:



Just the act of writing down your goals and posting them somewhere makes you feel accountable (after all, they're in WRITING!) but also snagging a buddy to act as an accountability partner for you is a great insurance policy for your success. 

So...anybody want to read a chapter of a book a week? ;-)

Some other goals of mine for the year:

1. Eat at least 10 servings of vegetables daily.
2. Read the Book of Mormon (again) by June 1st.
3. Submit at least 5 more stories to the Friend magazine by December 1st.
4. Read at least 20 books in 2016.
5. Make contact with each of my Visiting Teaching sisters every month.

Under a lot of my goals I have the breakdown; for example, for my Book of Mormon reading goal I noted beneath it "In order to do this I must read 3 pages or 1.5 chapters each day." For my 20 books goal I have written, "In order to do this I must read about 2 books per month." (I'm excited about that goal!) So clearly I'm going to have to develop some good daily and weekly habits to go along with my goals- it's all part of the process.

I hope these goal-setting reminders help you as much as they've helped me. May 2016 be a smashing success for you and your goals!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year's Revolutions

by Jewel Leann Williams

I don't make New Year's resolutions.

I almost fell off the couch watching a new (to me) episode of Phineas and Ferb wherein the "evil" villain, Dr. Doofenschmirtz, creates the "Resolution-Changer-inator" to change everyone's New Year's resolutions to "follow Heinz Doofenschmirtz, our new leader." He then starts to run off to take over City Hall (and the Tri-State Area, of course), but no one in the crowd follows him. He asks, "Why aren't you following me?" and a guy says,"C'mon, nobody ever keeps their New Years' resolutions" and they go back to dancing.
Of course this is owned by Disney. 

Yeah, that's me. I would've been totally safe in that crowd. No chance of helping Doof carry out his evil plan.

So, I don't even bother.

But, let me tell you what I do. I recommit to trying just a little harder. I see New Year's as a chance to remind myself to hit the refresh button on ongoing goals I do have. I can hear President Hinckley in my head:

May we go with determination to try a little harder to be a little better.  (General Conference, April 1995)

So, I'm going to dust myself off and keep marching, with a little more determination and spring in my step.

One goal, which I made in earnest a few months ago, is to stop swearing. I had an epiphany that was in no way related to the fireworks and the ball dropping, but more to the faces of my kids when I dropped a choice word at them (usually when I was angry).  I looked up "how to stop swearing" and found the old rubber-band-on-the-wrist-inator. I put it on, and snapped it when I said a bad word, and man, does it hurt. My swearing dropped to almost nothing almost immediately. I still think the words, though, but I am almost completely successful and not letting them out of my mouth. I can see myself slipping back into it very easily though, so I haven't quite retrained my brain yet.

So I'm going to continue with that goal, with that process.

Another is the soda thing. We all know it's terrible for us, but for me it's also a way to stay awake and alert at work. Sugar and caffeine--two of the 4 major food groups, right?

Saying "no soda" is a pipe dream. But, doctor is worried about me, so I am trying to cut it down as far as I can. Going to continue that process.

Scriptures. Gonna keep trying to read more and more meaningfully.

Prayers. Gonna keep trying to say them more often, and more meaningfully.

See the theme here? It's "gonna keep trying." I don't need a new year to tell me that's what I need to do, but it's nice to have the big glowing reminder every once in a while.

To take a page out of Dory's book, in the New Year, my "resolution" is:



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