Monday, December 30, 2013

Blog Branching Out

 I hope you have found some useful writing tips, book reviews, and encouragement from my blog over the past year. That has been my goal. Thank you to all who visit.
The end of the year causes me to ponder the direction my blog will go for the coming year. I want to add to my purpose of this being an uplifting place for writers and readers to land, and a way to share my writing journey. I ran a contest using Rafflecopter for the first time and want to branch out with other new or borrowed ideas. In order to do this, I plan to explore more of what is out there in blog land. So far, I've decided to:

1. Visit and make a comment on a new-to-me blog each week.
2. Visit and make a comment on a familiar blog each week.
What do you like to see from your favorite blogs?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bearing Gifts Year Round

I found a great yearlong quote that holds added meaning at Christmas.
"Each day comes bearing Gifts. Untie the ribbons...." - Ann Ruth Schabacker
Do we look at each day with the same anticipation a child does when seeing presents under a Christmas tree? Granted, Christmas is a special time for both the reason we celebrate and the fact that it only comes yearly. But our participation also makes it magical and gets us in the proper mood.
It is my hope that we can look forward to each day's writing time with the expectation that magic will unfold if we simply untie whatever holds us back. The gifts are there, waiting. Even if you end up rewriting most of it, you have created something no one else has, and in the process, there is likely a magical phrase or two that are keepers. Put those efforts together and someday you can bear your gift to others.
Happy writing and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Review - Copied

COPIED - Book Review to follow.
Author: S. M. Anderson
Publisher: Curiosity Quills
Release Date: December 11
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Target Audience: 14 and up
Book Blurb: Adopted off the black market, Alexander Mitchell, has no idea his DNA is copyrighted and property of military weapons giant Texacom Defense.
Nor that his DNA is being used to develop an army of clones. When the company discovers he was not properly disposed of 17 years ago, they send an assassin copy, BETA23, to terminate Xan and cover it up
After he narrowly escapes BETA23’s first attempt, Xan teams up with Lacey, a genetically engineered genius he’s surprised to find common ground with— only they’re awkward together. Half of the time she stares at Xan like the science project he is and the other half…let’s just say Xan can’t keep his eyes off her lips.
When they manage to capture a company copy by luck and sheer stupidity on Xan’s part, Lacey is determined to see the good in their prisoner to the point she believes BETA23 can be persuaded to give them the intelligence they need to keep the company forever off Xan’s back. Xan’s not sure if he can trust the darker version of himself, not when it means gambling with the lives of his family and the possibility of losing Lacey.

My Review: This amount of Sci-Fi was just right for me, not too heavy. I liked the YA contemporary setting with a few interesting sci-fi oddities placed in it. Anderson did a good job adding researched elements to make the plot plausible. The story makes readers think about the ethics of cloning and gratitude for individualism. She throws fun characters into the mix, some fight scenes and romance--something for everyone. I found the transition from shifting Xan's attraction off a popular girl to a geek-girl believable and refreshing--one that gives hope to similar adolescents. But Lacey has her own complicated emotions that leave the relationship unresolved and readers hungry for the next book. Anderson has a good thing going here, yet it didn't quite reach that amazing wow factor I hoped for. I'm thinking the best is yet to come. The writing is good, it kept my interest, and the direction held some surprises. A clean book that I am happy to recommend.

DSC_0304 Author Biography: S. M. Anderson (Sarah Anderson) was born in Lima, Peru. She has lived in seven different countries, on five continents, and speaks a smattering of languages. As a child and even young adult, writing and reading were difficult for her, so difficult that she received extra help outside the classroom and was diagnosed with a learning disability. However, she always loved stories, especially ethnic folktales from the countries she lived in. It was the desire to create stories of her own that fueled her determination to overcome the challenges that came with writing. She has a BA in Art Education from BYU, with a minor in Russian, and a love of power tools. She has a growing family of three kids and currently lives in Springville, Utah.
Find Sarah Anderson or watch her book trailer at:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Intellectual Property Copyright Permissions

Putting together a non-fiction book has allowed me to stretch with new experiences. Last week I worked on a new kind of permission needed for Bishop Stories. I'm not talking about a personal story release. I've been dealing with those all along. I need to gain intellectual property permission from the Church to use printed material like scriptures and quotes from general conference talks. I'd been putting off the unfamiliar task. It actually turned out easy enough, though a little time consuming--filling out a form and sending in the manuscript with highlighting markings of whatever was copyrighted. I had to re-look up some of the references so I could add them with the internet URL. The form was linked to the author submissions guidelines, making it easy to find. Interesting stuff. I never realized how many LDS non-fiction books must have sought permission.

This week's focus will be finalizing Bishop Stories permissions and finishing a book tour read for next week's review. And I'm certain some Christmas happenings will weave their way into the timeline. It's a tricky time of year to stay motivated. Keep up your good efforts, wherever they lead you. More often than not, those tasks we put off are usually quite manageable. Have a great week!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Pace of Life

Hello December. Hectic or joyful? Maybe both. Today I'm thinking about pacing--not in writing but in life. Whether you are breathing a sigh of relief from a frantic finish to NaNoWriMo or you've been dragging your feet to accomplish year-end goals, December is a good month to think about life pacing. 

Step 1- Evaluate. Are there extra activities pulling you away from writing goals? Do you need more family time? Would a break invigorate you for those New Year Resolutions ahead or do you need a push to get into gear? Figure out where you stand. Don't be hard on yourself by analyzing it to death. It's just a place that you are currently at. A starting point to figure where to go from here.
Step 2 - Prioritize. Can the deadlines wait or does the family need more from you? In the long and short of it, what things will be important today, this week, and this month? I'm a list-maker and it feels good to cross things off, but a few things usually get pushed to tomorrow. Disruptions happen and usually I'm okay with that. I still see progress and some spontaneity makes life interesting. It can be tricky making sure the proper things get the most attention, whatever the amount of time we're dealt. If we have our priorities straight in our heads, it's easier to both implement action and go with the flow.
Step 3 - Work the Plan. Make those priorities happen to the degree of your abilities, whether you've decided to work hard or scale back. Put whatever it is that is your priority into action through step by step goals or keeping end-result focus. This is hard to do if you haven't completed steps 1 and 2. (That's the biggest tip here, folks.) 

May we all find a pace that makes us and those around us happy. Enjoy December!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Support For Your Writing Addiction

And the WINNER of the wall hanging is . . .

Thank you to all who participated in my Gratitude Contest!

The last post for this month of Gratitude is that I'm grateful for the support of my family. Support is crucial. Writers who go it on their own can go months or years without getting a single pat on the back or hearing the words, "Well done!" In my case, I imagined it would take a year to write and revise a book. Maybe another year to get reader feedback, tweak some more, submit, and hear from the publisher. That's a long time to go without any encouragement. In reality, it took me double that amount of time. My husband allowing me to use my time writing and giving financial support toward writer conferences was a great boon to me, as was having a good critique group.

But what if you don't have support close by? 
You have to find/create it. Either that or have super-human inner-strength.

Suggestions: Find a critique group that gives positive feedback as well as suggestions for things that don't work in your manuscript. Recognize that the latter is a gift--someone else telling you the spots where you can make your story better. Learn to enjoy the process of getting your best story out there. Seek out blogs and writer friends for help and encouragement. Pin up an inspiring quote. Make some goals and reward yourself for steps along the way to achievement. If you thrive on competition, find a writing buddy to 'sprint' with or participate in contests like NaNoWriMo. Involve those in your household by having them brainstorm ideas with you or read short segments. Respect their time by not pushing too much on them, but keep them informed through tidbits of what you achieved that day. If they can't take the smallest amount of interest, seek another source. Search online or ask your librarian to help you connect with writers. Attending a workshop can give you face-to-face connections that may lead to just what you need. The road will have some bumps but keep your eye on that destination! You can do it!

Got a suggestion to share?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Author Interview and a Gratitude Contest

Let me introduce you to my talented friend, Lori Nawyn. I'm grateful for friends who inspire. You will certainly be touched by this heartfelt interview. Lori 'taught me the ropes' as a member of my first critique group. Meet Lori:

The wife of a fireman, mother of four, grandmother of four, and mentor to three opinionated dogs she's training for urban mushing, Lori enjoys running, hiking, kayaking, and reading, and growing tomatoes, peppers, and herbs for her fresh salsa.

2. What does gratitude mean to you?

Lori: To me gratitude means seeing with my heart; consciously seeking to understand the purpose in all I experience and determining to appreciate the wonderful times as well as the difficult and challenging times for the opportunities they afford me to learn and grow.

3. Eloquently said. Please name something you are grateful for.

Lori: I am most grateful for the examples of friends and family members who have taught me that the quality of our lives has everything to do with our attitude, not our material possessions or social status. In particular the example of my Grandma Esther is a beacon in my life. I recently wrote about her for one of my publishers (

4. I'm big on attitude myself. Great article, BTW. Tell me about the Gratitude Journal Project.

Lori: Three years ago, I was going through a very difficult time. It seemed the harder I worked, and the more success I attained, the more miserable I became. I realized I was trying to fill some deep voids left by my growing up years. I felt inferior in many ways, that I would never measure up or be of value. In my childhood, a trusted adult had often expressed to me that I should never have been born. I came to see how much, throughout my lifetime, I had subconsciously internalized that sentiment, and how to a frightening degree I had embraced it as truth.

A good deal of soul searching led me to see that I needed to consciously shift my focus away from feeling and acting like a victim. Indeed, I saw I was blessed: I had physically survived many circumstances that others had not. Following the example of my Grandma Esther and those I knew like her, I determined to find something to be grateful for in each day.

At the time, a couple of relationships in my life were unraveling. Betrayal and distrust left me feeling vulnerable and hurt. In addition, I needed to deal with emotions I had not processed when I lost both my grandparents (who were effectively my parents) in 2006, and the deaths of many close friends–several who had committed suicide. Every stress, worry and fear in my life seemed amplified. When my husband, a fireman, responded to emergency calls, I became obsessed with feelings of trepidation that he wouldn't return.  Often it would take much conscious effort to surmount emotional challenges and find the strength I needed to face each day.

I kept a spiral notebook–my gratitude journal–with me at all times. I wrote down anything and everything I could remotely think of to be thankful for. Sunlight, my own breathing, the bite of cold on my face on a snowy day, challenges that had reinforced my determination to do my best, the love of friends and family who I could trust, the power of love, the hope of healing. One day I focused on the tedium of household chores, the certainty of aging, and my fear of making mistakes (Renae, see attached) and came to understand that it was my privilege to choose happiness. Over weeks and months, writing down what I was thankful for became habit. I began to see my stress and worries lift. I felt happy and hopeful. The practice of gratitude has become a life-sustaining influence that I never want to lose sight of again. 

5. Wow! So glad you pulled through. This gives personal meaning to the effort in this book. Lori graciously shares one of the Gratitude Journal pages with us. How does it feel to be inspirational and give encouragement to others?

Lori: I meet those who tell me, "It must be so cool to see your name in print." Or, "It must be great to be famous." Really, what is wonderful about being an author and illustrator is the chance it gives me to share what I've learned with others and hopefully touch their hearts and lives for the better. Just last night a dear friend, a great-grandmother in her nineties, related to me how the book I recently illustrated (Love, Hugs, and Hope: When Scary Things Happen) has helped her. Her daughter died unexpectedly a few weeks ago. "I know you illustrated that book for children," she told me, "but I picked it up and went through all of it. I held it close to me. I embraced the message of hope." Hearing that meant more to me than words can express.

6. Can you leave a writing tip for us?

Lori: Don't give up! I used to think that if I couldn't turn out award-winning writing in the first draft I should quit. But writing is like painting. You do some sketches, you move things around, rearranging the composition. You put down some bold strokes of paint; you add subtle nuances, fine details. You work to find a pleasing balance of contrast and color that feels right to your heart, mind, and eye. It's the same with writing.

7. I'm grateful she didn't give up on me as a new writer! She has such a way with words and many wonderful books out. Please tell us what you are working on now and how to contact you.

Lori: Right now I'm working on compiling a book of pear recipes. I'm also writing a children's picture  book about my grandfather and rewriting a middle grade novel. In between I'm working on layouts for a line of gift books. 
Here is the brand new cover of her book coming out in January. So pretty!

Twitter: @LoriNawyn

Thank you, Lori. More warm thoughts: Enter to win this wall hanging. Contest ends November 22.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

A Book Review and Two More Contests!

Gratitude is November's theme. I am grateful for Christmas with all its spiritual meanings and fun traditions. I'm grateful for new stories of Christmas to read. The stories so far have been enjoyable and sometimes inspiring. I plan to finish them all and believe that you would like this book too. The best part is that the proceeds go toward Autism programs. I'm grateful for the charity of these authors. Don't forget that I'm grateful for my followers and those who stop in to make comments. For you there is a special giveaway below.

Carol of the Tales and Other Nightly Noels: An Advent Anthology, Volume 2

Christmas carols capture the spirit of Christmas, and Carol of the Tales and Other Nightly Noels brings beloved carols to life like never before. Throw your cares away with the tales from sweet silver bells. Find out how Santa Claus dabbles in time travel, and feel the redemption of a dying wife's parting Christmas gift. Experience all this and more in these heartfelt, entertaining tales donated by a team of authors from across the country, working together for a good cause. The proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated toward Autism research and advocacy.

Anthology authors include: Shirley Bahlmann, C. David Belt, Rebecca Carlson, Loretta Carter, Madonna D. Christensen, Danyelle Ferguson, C. Michelle Jefferies, Theric Jepson, Ryan Larsen, Angie Lofthouse, Betsy Love, J. Lloyd Morgan, Janet Olsen, Teresa G. Osgood, Brian Ricks, Jennifer Ricks, Peg Russell, and Michael Young.

Carol of the Tales is the 2nd book in the Advent Anthology series. Both anthologies are available in paperback and Amazon Kindle
formats from 

Purchase “Sing We Now of Christmas”:
Purchase: “Carol of the Tales”:

To kick off the release of the second anthology, a Christmas
concert will be held at American Fork Junior High on December 7th,
2013. The concert will feature the Saltaires Barbershop Chorus. All proceeds from this concert will be donated to charity as well. Purchase: Tickets for the Concert:

Blog Tour Giveaway!
Use the rafflecopter below to enter to win wonderful prizes, such as tickets to the concert and copies of the anthology

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Blog Followers Appreciation Giveaway!
Be a Follower and make a comment for easy entry to win this wall hanging.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Review and Two Contests

My focus for November is Gratitude. I am grateful today for those with the courage to write or speak out against ills that plague them in an effort to make changes for the better. That is what the following book is about.
Blurb: In December, 2009, Susan Cox Powell was reported missing from her home in West Valley City, Utah. As law enforcement tried to piece together what had happened to Susan, her husband, Josh Powell, became the only person of interest in the case.
For Jennifer Graves, Josh’s sister, the nightmare started long before Susan’s disappearance. From her experiences growing up in the Powell family to the terrifying moment when she first started to believe her brother was a killer, she relied on her faith to stay strong. She devoted herself to the safety of Susan’s boys, Charlie and Braden, whom she hoped to be able to raise as her own. When the boys were murdered by their father in February, 2012, Jennifer was more than devastated, but she had to believe there was a reason for it all—including the deaths of her beloved nephews.
In A Light In Dark Places, Jennifer shares her struggles and her triumphs. In coming to terms with such tragedy she finally was able to embrace the truth that we all have the power to choose our own path—and there is always hope, no matter how dark things may seem.
Wow. It's a privilege to tell you about A Light in Dark Places. This is a personal account from the viewpoint of Josh Powell's sister, the man who is suspected of killing his wife and later blew up himself and his two young sons. What a hard story to tell. But one with a purpose. Jennifer Graves and co-author Emily Graves Clawson write this biographical account in sequential events that kept me turning page after page. A fascinating read that grabbed my emotions, tastefully done with the right amount of details to portray an accurate account from her viewpoint, but without getting too disturbing. This book is meant to give hope to others locked in abusive relationships, but I would recommend it to any but the most sensitive adult reader. 5 Stars.
The blog tour sponsor is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card or Paypal cash. Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway 

More fun:

To show appreciation to my followers, I am giving away this cute wall hanging in an easy contest! All you have to do is be a follower and make a comment. Yep. That's it! The contest runs through November 22nd and the winner will be announced November 25th. Earn another entry by commenting each week until the deadline.
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Monday, October 28, 2013

Chapters Full of Plot Elements

Not only is this a follow-up to last week's post on elements of plot--after all, the overall plot is built from a series of chapters--but my reading also took me in that direction. My focus this week has been on chapters and scenes. I’ll take a short break from writing tips next time so look for a couple of book reviews and a CONTEST during November.

Back to today's focus. I'm intrigued with a sweet romance I am reading, Fair Catch. Since I know the strong attraction means the couple gets together, and in fact they do early in the story, I am drawn to see what the author could possibly come up with in the next chapter to keep my interest going. How does she succeed? Many of the right elements are there. 

The other thing I've been reading is a final read-through of my inspirational historical fiction, The Seventh City, to make it as perfect as I know how before handing it over to my editor. Yes, I tweaked a word or sentence here and there, but the major revisions were complete. I’m pleased to report that I still love my story instead of being sick of it. *Grins* Again, many of the right elements must have been included. The elements of a chapter are similar to those for the entire plot. (Scroll down to last week's post.)  Let’s keep the focus today on chapter goals and transitions.

Each chapter should have a goal just as the book has a goal. Ask what this chapter achieves or what is the point of view character's goal. Is important information included, an object obtained, or travel to a new destination? How can you best give this information or what obstacles must the character overcome in this chapter to show growth and results toward his/her goal? Is his/her motive believable?

One chapter should transition into the next in a logical, linear sequence of events. Jumping back and forth in a timeline is confusing. End a chapter on an emotional high or low to keep the flow going into the next chapter. Leave the reader at a chapter's end with both seeing progress toward the goal and a hint of trouble to come. Don't conclude a chapter with the character simply going off to sleep, *yawn*, unless they go to bed worrying. The worry part is the hint of trouble to come. End with something that makes readers want to know what will happen next. Page turners are not all about leaving a character hanging from the proverbial cliff. Small teases can do the same thing. They hint at something more even while there is closure to the last scene's events. Readers want to feel emotional satisfaction about the results of the scene goal and also look forward to having more revealed.

Hope this was timely help to you NaNoWriMo participants and that you'll check back for my November contest! Have a great week!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Plot Elements - for Outlines, Or Not

Whether you're gearing up for nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in November or stuck as to where to go in your novel, or even curious how your favorite author may have planned his/her book, a plotting outline can be a valuable tool. Not every author uses outlines, but they typically save time. Here's a few things to consider whether you put it into outline form or not. (And my thanks to Sarah Anderson for some of these ideas.)

1. Every story has an overall Goal. What does the protagonist want or the problem they need to resolve and what are the Consequences if the goal is not reached? (This will later become the main point to mention in your query letter.)
2. Order of Events. Consider what needs to happen before the goal can be achieved. The inciting event or catalyst that makes the hero decide to initially take action toward the goal is obviously an early event. There will be obstacles along the way that raise the stakes as these complications are introduced. In building to the climax, think what more should be added to show the sacrifice your hero is willing to endure to reach the goal. Think 'emotion'. His or her crisis or darkest night where readers see no physical or other way to pull the hero out of their pit piggybacks into the climax. During the climax, the skills and knowledge a hero uses to get himself out of this pit must have their groundwork laid earlier in the story. We can't all of the sudden have the hero sneak on board an airplane and fly off to safety if the reader never knew they possessed a pilot's skill. 
3. Questions to ask in both plotting and putting together an outline:

  • What world is revealed and Problem presented in this world to set the hero on his new path?
  • What friends, teachers, skills does he meet or learn along the way? How will these be introduced?
  • What obstacles must the hero overcome. In what order should they appear? Weave these throughout the story, not scene after scene of them.
  • What love interest or other subplot should develop? Allot scenes for added fun or excitement between problems. 
  • Add greater complications to change the path, a twist from the expected path. What events will show that the hero is willing to make even greater sacrifices?
  • What is the worst that can happen? What is needed to add to foreshadow it or show the strengths and motivations of the villain so readers can believe the worst is possible?
  • What can the hero do to get himself out of this worst thing when it happens? Others may help with the minor or secondary struggles. Let the hero earn his reward.
  • What loose ends need resolution? Is the ending realistic and satisfying?

Are you an outliner or a panster?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Creating Vivid Villains

My previous post exposed the protagonist from The Seventh City. Today's post follows up with its villain. Meet Japethihah--high priest to Lamanite king, Lamoni. He can be sly, which evolves into deviousness when his status changes. Authors need to know their antagonist every bit as well as they know their hero. My villain is based off Jafar, the royal vizier in Disney's animated movie Aladdin. It doesn't matter if your inspiration comes from a cartoon, magazine image, or real-life person. Arm yourself with knowledge of what they look like, sound like, what they would do and have done. Keep a spreadsheet or some type of notation system.

Each villain needs flaws and strengths just like the main character does. Japethihah's strengths go beyond his respectable position, which crumbles when missionary Ammon comes to preach. The priest exudes confidence and has a gift for speech. He takes matters into his own hands to secure his marriage to the princess. Readers watch him develop from the slimy way he eyes Karlinah to worrying about him as a danger to her.

Villains not only create blocks in the hero's path, they can add a spicy flavor that makes readers love to hate them. They provide contrast next to the good for readers to measure against and they have their own motivations for their choices. Trouble usually starts out slowly and builds as the story progresses. I'm thinking of two main reasons for this: 1) The author may want to keep the reader in suspense longer over revealing the villain, and 2) The clashes presented to the protagonist are meant to show growth along the way. We can't have all the hero's life-altering decisions in the first chapter. Therefore, the villain doesn't do his/her worst until later. 

Do you realize that villains can take other forms than people? Weather, for instance, can play the villain when that scorching desert or killer wave presses upon your protagonist. Without that villain we wouldn't have problems for the hero to overcome. Have fun making them bad! Just make sure that the worst day coincides with where the crisis should fall. 

Do you have a favorite villain that you love to hate?

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Character Connection

I created a great protagonist for my novel--or so I thought, until my Boot Camp Sargent told me she had a hard time connecting with her. She was too perfect. Thin, beautiful, full of life. That was three years ago. Karlinah, from The Seventh City, has evolved since then. Now I am happy to say that an editor deemed her to be "a rich, complex, and compelling character". What thrilling comments to receive! So what has made the difference?

  • Give your character flaws. Okay, so Karlinah is a gorgeous Lamanite princess but she most definitely isn't perfect. She is outspoken, impatient, and has a temper. She's bossy and used to getting her way. Imagine the opportunities to reveal a dynamic, changing character when circumstances force her to face trials out of her comfort zone. Likewise, she has strengths that go beyond the physical and must use them to get out of trouble. We want believable and memorable characters. 
  • Start in a place where readers feel empathy for the character. My boot camp manuscript beginning is now chapter five in the novel. I needed to back up and start with the background event that most aroused reader sympathy for Karlinah. Not overboard sympathy, but enough trouble to make readers instantly care about her. Throw in some intrigue and the new first chapter garnered me a first place in a first chapter contest.
  • Show the protagonist doing something to find the solution to her problem(s). Karlinah makes choices she wouldn't have had to make if she lived forever in her pampered princess world. This is where character and plot work together to show the heroine's growth. What motivation drives your character toward her arc? Avoiding death is perhaps the biggest motivator of all and Karlinah must guard the secret that could get her killed. This secret is partly revealed in the first chapter, with more along the way.

Thinking about these five things to reveal your character can go a long way toward making your story riveting. There are others, of course, but strengthen one at a time during the revision process and you are well on your way. Happy writing!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Weaving Plot and Character Together in Story Beginnings

If you've worried about how to formulate a story, worry no more. It doesn't matter if you start with character or plot first, according to Liesl Shurtliff in her WriteOnCon article on how character and plot work together. Just get those ideas going. Eventually they have to work together and the sooner the better. "If I have a great dynamic character in mind," Shurtliff says, "that character is sort of worthless if nothing interesting happens to them, or they don't make interesting choices. The same goes for plot. I might think up a great scenario, but that scenario will only be as interesting as the characters I develop to carry it out. The very best books take plot and character and work them together in order to build the most resonant stories."

To weave the two together, ask your characters what they want. Shurtliff tells, "The strength of your plot is held in the desires of your characters. Your main character should have an overarching goal and then several mini-goals along the way, which all drive toward the main goal in one way or another." She explains that character desires and motivations; their history, time, and culture; and external forces all affect character and plot. "Plot forces a character to make choices only they would make because of their motivations and personal history, for example. When you develop character and plot together, constantly asking how one affects the other, then you're more likely to develop a story in which readers are willing to completely immerse themselves--both the characters and the plot."

When you think about it, the following great ways to start your story--which I stole from Canda Mortensen--involve both plot and character:

  • Start on the day when everything is different in the world you've created or for the main character.
  • Start when your character must make a life changing decision.
  • Start when your character is avoiding a change.

Now get started without the worry and let those ideas come from your fingertips! You can always revise later--just don't think about that part yet.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Just a quick addition here to the below weekly post to shout out another talented friend. Author Michelle Jefferies now provides author services. Feel free to LIKE her page.
...See More

Need that push or guidance to make a struggling manuscript become awesome? Welcome to Metamorphosis Author Services. The place where plot magic happens.
Page: 113 like this

Scroll on down to my previous post if you haven't seen it this week. I'm highlighting some good books. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Good Friends, Good Books

You might call this a support-your-writerly-friends post. That's what we do for each other. You get to find out about the debut of three great books and their authors. It's a win-win. I'm just sharing highlights here but you can follow links to read each summary. Great-looking covers for all. 

The first author holds a special place in my heart. She invited me into my first critique group experience and taught me much about editing. Meet Melissa J. Cunningham and her first published novel, Reluctant Guardian. I had the privilege of being one of her critiquers for this clean but mature YA paranormal romance. Melissa is currently writing the sequel. Learn more on her website or order here.

Next, meet Cindy Roland Anderson. She just released a fun and clean romance story between a divorcee and football celebrity called Fair Catch. Read more about or order this book here

Another clean romance inserted into a spy story can be found by author Jordan McCollum. What could be more fun to read than that? What I can tell you is that I loved her first spy book and gave it 5 stars. The book blast just ended but SPY FOR A SPY is out now this November. See more here.
Happy reading and writing this week!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Agent Perspective on Query Letters

You've got one minute to impress an agent. What do you say about your story? There is a lot of info out there on writing queries. Sometimes it's nice to know what the agent is thinking. 

I listened to an interesting perspective at from an agent who shared what she looks for in a pile of query letters. Carlie Webber of C K Webber Associates went through Sixty Queries in Sixty Minutes. If she was interested in spending more time on a submission, it would go into it's own pile that she would come back to later--the 'yes' pile. Here's a summary of what she noticed in that short amount of time:

Describes emotional development instead of plot--No
Describes each main character and tells what they have at stake--Yes
Genre and idea is appealing--Yes
Author knows market and mentions comps--Yes
Plot not given, query overwritten--No
Characters are not compelling, low stakes--No
Not right genre for this agent--No
A self-published novel wants to go traditional, no sales info was included--No
Lacks info on the main character and plot--No
Introduces character, gives background, presents the major problem simply and how it can complicate the MC's life--Yes
Author has professional background in the subject--Yes
World not mentioned in a sci-fi story--No
General dislikes: Rhetorical questions--No     First person POV query--No     Word count low, high, or missing--No

I've never written a query letter. What I've written is more like a summary or back cover blurb. Familiarity with queries helps for those of us who submit to editor/publishers instead of agents (check requirements) because we still need to give a description of our book. Writing my description out for my Book of Mormon novel helped me to figure out and fix some plot problems. It let me identify the overall goal from the stakes and goals that changed. For this reason, I recommend writing your query or description before revisions. It just might keep you on track.

Here's the blurb I came up with for The Seventh City. I'd love your feedback!
If Lamanite princess Karlinah can return to her father’s kingdom before the truth of her abusive husband's murder is discovered, she just might get her safe, pampered life back. Surprises await her at King Lamoni's household. Karlinah's younger sister, Hepka, is betrothed and tradition requires that the eldest be married first. Matched with Japethihah, the lascivious high priest, she dreads her imminent wedding.

Karlinah is saved from becoming Japethihah’s property when missionary Ammon converts many of the king's household—but not herself. Relief is short-lived after dismantled foolish traditions give Karlinah freedom to choose. She just might tear her beautiful hair out when no one but Japethihah wants a non-believer. Karlinah struggles with loneliness and new beliefs, unable to trust the Nephite missionary when repentance means confessing the secret that could get her killed. 

Finding strength to overcome doctrinal misconceptions, Karlinah aims to show the handsome stone artisan the heart of a believer before Cumroth’s work on the synagogue is completed. But Japethihah has plans of his own and will stop at nothing to make Karlinah his. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Power of Words

"The pen is mightier than the sword." -- Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Truth or falsehood in advertising has the power to entice one to purchase. Speeches stir patriotic feelings or spur listeners to action. Words in the Bible draw out spirituality within. A good book takes us into its world and lets us live alongside the characters. Each of these has a common element: The power of words. No wonder there are so many poets, authors, and orators! These two little words impact relationships: "I'm sorry." A sincere "I love you" warms the heart. What makes words so powerful? They convey emotion.

I've been reading mini stories--events packed with emotion--in JoLyn Brown's A Circle of Sisters. It's similar to my inspirational non-fiction, Bishop Stories. As I've gone over the submissions for this book, I've felt a range of emotions. I've laughed and cried at the tender sentiments conveyed through words. If you would like to be a part of this wonderful collection of stories, I am taking submissions through September 15, 2013. For more information, e-mail me at bishopstories.submissionsATgmailDOTcom or leave a comment. Emotion is at the heart of these stories and that's what makes them so powerful.

Have a great week!

Monday, September 2, 2013

In Your Pants Blogfest Uses Book Titles

In the spirit of fun and reading, I'm participating in the In Your Pants Blogfest. We're sharing reading titles and adding the tag "in your pants". Enjoy some silliness, see what people are currently reading, and leave your title in my comments. I'm actually reading two books for whichever mood I'm in and including a recent read because it's funny. Here's mine:

Recently finished: The your pants.
Current: A Change of your pants.
              A Circle of your pants.

Huh. Similar title format in the last two. We could even get some title ideas here. What are you reading?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Diversity In Writing

An article from Ellen Oh in the recent WriteOnCon set me thinking about how I handle diversity in my writing.
One of my projects is a YA contemporary suspense set in a fictional Southern California high school. This setting practically screamls diversity. Yes, my white main character has a mix of race in his friends and the humorous sidekick is Latin. Though I've included it, have I 'done' diversity right? Have I avoided stereotypes and treated each character with respect? I hope so, but it will be something to check in revisions. One thing I have not done is to reach out to minorities for help in properly reflecting their world. There are probably realistic elements I should add once I become aware of them.

One last thought on this topic concerns writing what you know. Is this why I naturally think of white main characters? We often use the familiar because the whole craft of putting together a story is complicated enough on its own. Or is that a cop out? Maybe it's time to think more outside the box. For me it's a stretch that my MC is male. That takes some 'getting it right' during revisions as well. 

We live in a diverse world. Fantasy worlds should also reflect diversity. How do you use diversity in your writing? Or what have you read that struck you as using diversity well?
Y'all have a great week!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Receiving Editorial Feedback

Do you need a spoonful of sugar to help those truthful/opinionated critique group comments go down? Keep reading. I loved this WriteOnCon article on How to Handle Editorial Feedback by author Dianne Salerni. Basically, Salerni says she goes through the following six stages when she reads feedback on her manuscript.
Stage 1: No! She’s wrong! She is absolutely and completely wrong about this!
Stage 2: Crap. She’s right.
Stage 3: But I can’t fix it! Changing this will have a domino effect and make the entire plot unworkable. It cannot be fixed!
Stage 4: Oh, wait. I see how to fix it.
Stage 5: You know, this change is pretty good. I’m liking it.
Stage 6: This is brilliant! Why didn't I do it this way in the first place?!

I've never analyzed it into stages like this, but yeah. Changes are either easy-fixes where I instantly see the improvement or I follow these steps to some degree. Here is more wisdom from Salerni: “I have come to accept these stages. I also understand that it’s not possible for me to skip the scary and upsetting ones, even though I know the later, more positive stages are coming. The trick is NOT to respond to the critique while you are in the throes of Stage 1 or Stage 3!”

We newbie writers need a lot of things divulged to us and a multiplicity of readers to compare which spots they keep pointing out. Feedback is our friend. It's a valuable learning tool. It lets us perfect our craft. The already mentioned article includes a great quote from Neil Gaiman. “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” 
YOU are the one who best knows your story and how to work the magic it needs to bring your manuscript to the next level. Bring the feedback on.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Improving Stories Through Rearranged or Combined Scenes

I recently swapped manuscripts for critique purposes and got some great feedback on The Seventh City. I wish I’d found this reviewer before submitting my novel. Oh well. I'll post that story sometime soon. Anyway, I made changes where I felt she was spot on because why settle for less when it's an improvement? Most were little things like clarifications. Today I’m sharing one of the bigger fixes with you.

I had two close in proximity scenes where Karlinah speaks with her father, King Lamoni. The critiquer suggested I combine these so it doesn't feel like the story goes back and forth. It would improve the pacing, better advancing the story. This sounded like a good idea. TIP: Sometimes writers just need to try scenes in a different order. Especially since I was lucky enough to have it pointed out to me. I analyzed these scenes with the surrounding ones to see why I had placed them apart. The only thing I figured was that I was focusing on one subject at a time or I just had it in my head that way. Combining one venue with the same characters would make my story better.

Analyzing caused me to discover that I also had two scenes where the MC speaks with the slimy High Priest. This time I knew why I had separated these. I wanted readers introduced to the HP before the second discussion so the audience would already know he is creepy. Combining the previously mentioned scenes with the king affected this split of speaking with the priest. I should combine those as well and see the result. Check. Now to reread through those chapters to see if the flow improved.
Color-coded Revisions from Marissa Meyer - Check out her detailed article

Some writers color code their manuscript to visualize things such as which characters are interacting and which major plot threads or subplots are involved. The colors show which things are spread too far apart or clumped together. Another method is to keep a summary of each scene on 3x5 cards and play with their arrangement. In my case I was working with a section of only two chapters so I used alphabet labeling. My arrangement switched from A thru G to A, E, B, C, F, G, D. Just make sure to get more Beta readers to verify the new version works. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review and Tough Choices

It's tricky making a clean YA story feel realistic in a world where young people swear and are experimenting with sex. This brings me to the friend-recommended audio-book I listened to last week called The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.
It featured an excellent teenage voice and the atypical subject matter of teens with cancer. I loved those things about it and more. In an author interview recorded at the end, the author tells that he wants readers to get "what it's like to be young and in love and sick". His goal was met. He also succeeded in perpetuating worldly ideals such as it being better not to die a virgin. I can't help but notice my difference in moral standards, even while I try not to impose them on others. It is what it is. I suppose I am not the target audience. I just wish there were more clean reading choices for me from good, national authors.

Because I consider all talents to be God-given--at whatever current level they exist--I feel an added responsibility when those talents affect others. The more public the venue, the more responsibility to bless the lives of others through 1) giving my best performance, and 2) giving it as God would have me do. I want to please Him. That means striving to keep high moral standards in my writing while wanting to please man as well. (Or at least a portion of readers.)

I am committed to using my writing as a way to uplift others. It is easier to meet this goal with my inspirational non-fiction WIP, Bishop Stories, or my Book of Mormon Fiction, The Seventh City, than with Perception, a contemporary YA suspense. I've gone back and forth on the latter becoming LDS fiction rather than mainstream. So far it's still for the national market and I hope to stick to that. Either way, I want it to be a clean read and provide readers with that choice. 

Leave me your recommendation for a good, clean read. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

WIP Sharing Game

It was summer vacation time for me last week.
Such fun camping with my children and grandchildren at a clear blue lake in the mountains. Aren't they cute? Meanwhile, I missed a share-your-WIP (work in progress) tag game so I thought it would make a fun post. I'll take my posting date and use it to determine which paragraph to share from Perception, a YA suspense I need to get back to as soon as my inspirational nonfiction is revised.

Page 7 (for July), paragraph with word number 29 on that page:
     My sister, Katelyn, pranced into the kitchen with all the drama of a fourteen-year-old. “I know who you really are.” Her sarcasm thickened. “You’re Superman who watches the news so you can go out and rid the world of crime.” She raised her chin and sent a wicked laugh sprawling into the air. “I don’t know why you watch that stuff. Too depressing.”

Who else wants to share? Paste your paragraph into comment form. Tag. You're it!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Making Library Choices Work For You

I came across a social media discussion about book recommendations for a certain genre. Aha! This would work for me as well so I jotted down ten titles/authors. I was curious to see how my local libraries compared. (Yes, I have membership in two library systems since I reside near the county border.) I've had a hard time finding clean reads and hoped for referrals for new-to-me national market authors.

The two county libraries were fairly comparable. Both neglected the same two books on my list. The larger library system included one title that the other did not, and more choices of format (print, e-book, or audio-book). When a search turned up with no matches, I noticed a place on the site where I could suggest a library purchase. Hmm. I need to take advantage of requesting rather than feeling stuck with what is on the book shelves. 

I typically take home extra books/CDs so I can discard the distasteful or unappealing ones and try another. This not only wastes time, it records the 'dumb' books I picked up as being used, thus perpetuating similar purchases. I need to be a smarter shopper at my library. A little homework in advance goes a long way to getting what we want. Most libraries let patrons reserve titles and notifies them when the book becomes available. 

Libraries also offer special programs of interest such as writer's workshops and group book discussions. Participate or let them know your interests. Sometimes they just need your ideas. What special things does your library do for you?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Vicious Cycle of Critiques and Revisions

Raise your hand if you hate revisions. 
It feels like the process is dragging on--you just want it to be perfect by now or maybe you've gotten sick of working on it. I'm stimulated by revisions. I love the feeling of, "Man, this is so much better now!" Progress. The hard part is turning our babies over to others with their sharpened red pencils. But writers willingly do it because they know that others can't see what is in the author's head and there is bound to be some lack of clarity, some missing details you figured you'd already added.

I'm using the red pen this week, finishing up a whole manuscript critique. I enjoy that too. Maybe it's my dominant left brain. I like finding details on which to comment. Both good and bad. It helps me hone into what is needed, improves my craft as well as helping another's ms. My weakness of reading slowly helps me to catch things like typos. I've marked something on almost every page. And it's a good story too. I like to think I am thorough but some might use the term 'excessive'. That's why we ask for multiple beta readers.

Authors have to be tough. They have to take constructive criticism over and over again. If I'm being too picky or take a word too literally, the author has the chance to compare it against what others have marked or accepted as is. The right to ignore a comment is theirs. When several beta readers come up with the same conclusion over a needed change, the author best listen. That's how it works.

In another week or so I'll turn the ms back to it's owner and she will hand me mine. I imagine a new round of revisions will begin. Maybe I should raise my hand. Revisions can take for-e-ver and I'll be telling myself to focus on that progress I'm so fond of. Sigh.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Ratings and Values

I honestly would like to know what you think. How much do your values figure into the rating system for ranking books? 
Let me give an example of what I mean. I finished an audio book that was well-written, interesting plot and characters, and kept me wanting to read on . . . until the author threw in the parts that offend my standards. I knew these spots including sex and foul language would be short-lived and I was already caught up in the story, so I skipped what I didn't like and finished the book. If they had thrown this stuff into the first chapter, I would have moved on to another story. But I finished it and wonder how to rate it.

Some readers may scoff at my skipping those parts because they don't get offended by it or simply tough it out. We all have some level of values. Yours and mine are not the issue here. At some point you may be offended by something you read but still need to rate it. How do you do figure that out? This is the question I would like feedback on.

The Goodreads star ratings go like this: 1 star = did not like it, 2 star = it was ok, 3 stars = liked it, 4 stars = really liked it, 5 stars = it was amazing. Well, for this book I liked or really liked most of it and did not like some of it. Do I take an average of those? If someone who follows my reviews or knows my values sees that I liked it, will that give them the wrong impression and consider it a 'safe' read? What would you do?

Perhaps my rating is just a drop in the bucket. After all, this book has had 135,570 ratings and 10,626 reviews at my last checking. But what if all the people with mixed feelings on the book skipped rating it? Then the scoring would truly be lopsided. Every opinion should count. And I guess our values figure into those opinions, but I'd like to hear what you think about this scenario.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer's Sweet Reading Spot

Do you ever feel grateful to have the leisure time to do such things as lie in a hammock with a good book and a glass of lemonade nearby? Is it a guilty pleasure or does it make you feel guilty? That might depend on the frequency of this activity compared to your to-do list. But hey, we all need a break sometime. Make it do double duty if that works better for you. Turn it into a family activity with blankets on the backyard grass. A friend of mine likes to soak in the tub while reading. Another calls it writing research. I like the company of an audio book when I'm cooking or cleaning. Mega double duty. I get twice the reading time this way. But let's face it. Summer is a great time to spend reading. No book reports attached. 

While we're celebrating summer and American freedom this week, I just want to say that I am grateful for the freedom to read and write what I choose. This includes the freedom to stick to my values in a world full of media mayhem. A shout goes out to a great hubby who puts up with the time I spend pursuing my dreams. I'm grateful for writer friends who encourage and support me. You guys rock! Stay safe this summer, everybody.

How do you catch your reading time?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Using Goodreads to Choose A Book

Okay, readers, do you go from one book to the next with hardly a word about it OR do you give out reviews or recommendations? Are you a feedback kind of person? I'm learning to be. I've updated Renae's Reads on my sidebar with a link to my Goodreads ratings and reviews. You can easily view what I rated the past five books I read or click on it to find out more or other books I've listed. 

A few years back I told my friend that I enjoyed her book and she asked me if I could post a review on Goodreads. It was new to me but I found it easy enough to create an account and navigate my way around. Now I feel it almost a duty to at least rate a book. Sometimes I tap out my opinion. Who looks at it? The authors, maybe someone on my friend list, or someone checking out judgement of a book. I hope it matters to someone. Since I took the time to read or listen to a book, why not give what I can? 

Social media alerted me that an author friend discovered her book on a Goodreads list. The ranking of her book could go higher, creating more exposure of said book, by people voting or putting it on their "To Read" list. I'm not going to get into a debate of popularity contests or manipulation here, except to say that it plays into the equation. Ratings have their issues as well. You've probably heard that discussion before. I can only account for myself and hope that my honest evaluation might even out someone else's crazy one.

How do you choose a book to read? Do you look at what others are reading or how a book gets rated? Do you sometimes branch out from your favorite author or genre? I'm will to take more of a chance when it's a library book rather than a purchase. I recently won an Amazon gift card (thank you, Jordan McCollum) and could use some suggestions how to spend it. Or tell me if Goodreads works for you.