Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Speech as President

Last Saturday, May 16, was the awards gala honoring the best fiction published by LDS writers in 2014. As the program's outgoing president, I gave a speech prior to the presentation of the awards. I'll share some thoughts and feelings about my year as president another time.

For now, here's a photo of that night when I asked the finalists present to join me on the stage, which was an incredibly cool moment with so much talent in one place. And below that, the speech I gave next. Being the Whitney Awards president has truly been an honor, one I did my best to live up to.

2014 Whitney Awards Gala
May 16, 2015

I have literally spent the last year pondering what to say tonight. I have a file on my computer where I dumped quotes and ideas. It’s ridiculously long, but I promise that my remarks won’t be.

Many of you have been acquainted with the Whitney Awards for a long time, while some here tonight know little about the program, so I’ll begin with a little background.

In your program, you’ll see a section called “by the numbers.” I thought it might be interesting for attendees to get a feel for how the scope of the awards. A book must receive 5 reader nominations to become an official nominee. For 2014, we had nearly 400 books receive at least one nomination. The total number of nominations is the official recorded number, but the real number is higher, as some books received more than five nominations.

About half of the nominated titled became official nominees, which sent them to the judging round. Each of the 8 award categories had 5 judges who read and ranked each book in their category on a Condorcet-style ballot. The result was 5 finalists in each category, for a total of 40 finalists. Essentially, a book had a shot of one in ten of becoming a finalist.

Once the finalists were announced in early February, the voting academy gets to read them and cast their ballot. The academy has about 400 members made up of writers, editors, reviewers, judges, and other industry professionals and experts.

The academy ballots were due on April 30, and tonight, the winners will be announced.

So that’s how they function in a very large nutshell. But I thought it might be good to share how the program came into being as well.

Fellow novelist Robison Wells was on a mission to continually raise the bar on literature written by Latter-day Saints. He began that journey by creating a database of reviews, making it as comprehensive as he could. But he soon realized that criticism, while important, isn’t enough by itself.

At what I believe was the 4th annual Storymakers conference, he had the realization that honoring the best among us would naturally raise the bar, and he set to creating an awards program to do just that.

I remember talking to him at the conference and getting excited about the idea of a purely Mormon literary award. I wasn’t on the first committee, but I did get to watch pretty close by as the program was created. Robison studied the Hugos and Nebulas and many other awards programs to come up with the best mix of input and voting, wanting to include the general readership and fans as well as professionals and industry peers.

He also wanted a name for the awards that would reflect the goals of the program and would also be uniquely Mormon. One night as I made dinner, he called to brainstorm ideas for a name, as nothing quite felt right yet—the Golden Plates award and such felt a bit too cheesy.

I suggested that we name the program after a literary figure from our Church history. The first name to come to mind was Eliza R. Snow. But, I pointed out, she was primarily a poet. Who else? We wanted someone who related to fiction.

I offhandedly said that well, there’s that one really cool talk by Orson F. Whitney all about literature and fiction. You know, the one about how we will one day have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. But did Elder Whitney write fiction?

(To be honest, I hadn’t actually read the talk, but I knew that one prophecy.)

Rob latched on to idea and never let go. Today, at the 8th Whitney Awards gala, I’m honored to be president. And it’s kind of neat that I helped name the program, even if people generally think that “Whitney” refers to a 1980s cheerleader. I’ve even been called “Whitney,” and once, a bank teller who apparently didn’t read closely called me “Wendy.”

Orson F. Whitney gave his famous talk a few weeks before his 33rd birthday and about 18 years before his call as an apostle. He gave the speech at a large youth conference, and it published the following month. On this year’s program, we used a young photo of him than we’ve often seen, taken closer to the age he was when he gave his famous speech.

When I suggested his name, I didn’t know that Elder Whitney was a writer himself, but he was. He wrote fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, including the biography of his grandfather, Heber C. Kimball. Our modern hymnal includes two of his songs, “The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close,” and “Savior Redeemer of My Soul.”

His father set type for the Deseret News and worked with the paper for 21 years, so in some respects, the written word was likely always part of Orson’s family life and childhood.

Elder Whitney was a proponent for education, reading, and writing. In his famous talk, he said, “It suffices me to know … that this people are the friends, not the foes, of education; that they are seekers after wisdom, lovers of light and truth, universal Truth, which, like the waters of earth, or the sunbeams of heaven, has but one Source, let its earthly origin be what it may.”

Education is all well and good, and considering the period, he was way ahead of his time about it. But he also understood that the arts themselves are significant.

He declared that God’s people must progress; their destiny demands it. And he seemed to see that the progression would happen through the arts, saying that even as “the glory of God is intelligence,” so is “culture … the duty of man.”

Think about that. Culture is our duty. In context, it’s clear that by “culture,” he means the arts, in all their forms. Culture is our DUTY.

So much for those people who think that fiction is a waste of energy. Next time you run into someone at a book signing who is concerned for your eternal salvation, you can calmly assure them that oh, no, they’re quite mistaken—your soul is quite safe and by writing, you’re doing your eternal duty.

As fun as that would be to actually say to someone, the idea that writing can be our duty is profound. We believe that we are here on earth for a purpose, with special talents and missions.

Quoting Brother Whitney again: “It is by means of literature that much of this great work will have to be accomplished: a literature of power and purity, worthy of such a work. And a pure and powerful literature can only proceed from a pure and powerful people. Grapes are not gathered of thorns, nor figs of thistles.”

In other words, for many of us, writing is part of our mission and purpose, and God can use our words for good and for advancing His work.

And that doesn’t mean our stories much feature Mormon characters and story lines, although they may. It doesn’t mean that our stories must include sappy morals. It doesn’t mean they have to be so whitewashed to avoid offense that they’re stripped of voice and personality.

I will always remember what Dan Wells said when he accepted his Whitney Award for Best Novel by a New Author. Keep in mind that he won the award with a HORROR novel. And the sequel also won a Whitney. And so did the third book of the trilogy.

This is all paraphrasing, of course. He said that some people consider horror as a very “un-Mormon” genre. How could he consider himself a good Mormon if he wrote “bad” stuff? And now he was being honored by his peers for that very work.

But horror, he said, could arguably be the most Mormon of genres. Horror at its core is about good versus evil, and his series is especially so—a young man fighting his natural man, struggling to do the right thing when every impulse is to do the wrong one. When Nephi preached about the natural man, he might as well have been talking about John Cleaver.

Regardless of the genre or age group or market we’re writing for, the things we write matter. Our words have the potential to influence and change lives. There is power in words.

The scriptures strengthen that idea:

In the beginning was the WORD.

Alma counsels us to test our faith by planting a seed, and that seed is THE WORD.

Captain Moroni called his people to action and saved their lives through a few powerful words written on his coat and held up as a banner.

And in the New Testament, the armor of God is described with a list of DEFENSIVE items: the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and so on.

Only ONE item is OFFENSIVE, which to me means that it can have an EFFECT. It’s the one item that isn’t reactionary but can take ACTION.

What is it? The sword the word of God.

Of course we aren’t channeling the word the God onto our keyboards. But I believe that literature has a place in the plan and that God is willing and eager to help us with our writing.

Back in 1996, way before blogs and online newspapers and e-books, at a time when we had fewer things to choose in the art and entertainment we consume, Elder M. Russell Ballard said:
With so many choices for viewers and listeners, the artistic works of the Latter-day Saint … must be excellent to set them apart from the worldly and the mediocre. People deserve alternatives of quality, the kind that Latter-day Saints are capable of providing through the influence of the Holy Spirit.
And further:
If we are determined to live by Heavenly Father’s plan … we will use the inspiring opportunities around us to increase our talents.
Brother Whitney prophesied that we would have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. Today, those two writers are taught in the classroom as classics, but in their lifetimes, they were the poplar genre writers. They were the Stephenie Meyers, the Orson Scott Cards, the Shannon Hales, the James Dashners, the David Farlands, the Brandon Sandersons of their day.

The prophecy continued, saying, “In God’s name and by his help we will build up a literature whose top shall touch heaven, though its foundations may now be low in the earth.”

So has the prophecy been fulfilled? Do we have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own?

Some may say yes. Others say no.

I don’t think we can know, not in our lifetimes. I have a suspicion that maybe we do have Miltons and Shakespeares—and more than two—but we can’t know who they are.

And we won’t know for another 400 years, when, from the other side, we’ll take a peek through the veil to see whose books are still being read, whose words are still influencing lives long after we’ve passed.

I’ll say one more thing, and then we’ll move on to the actual awards, which is why you’re here.

After the first gala, I wrote out my impressions on my blog. Here’s a snippet from that post:
Our table was dead center at the back of the room. As a result, I had a great view of the large crowd that had gathered for the awards. A lot of amazing people were inside those four walls. Some I’d go so far as to call legends.
As the evening wore on, I felt a surging sense of awe and privilege. That night represented the beginning of something very big. And I got to be a small part of it. I even got to be involved a tiny bit in its creation. I was sitting in the middle of a piece of history. The thought was overwhelming. I felt so honored to be in the company of those around me, to bear witness to the birth of something so much bigger than myself, something meaningful, something that I believe Orson F. Whitney himself smiled down upon.
I still believe that Orson F. Whitney is aware of the program bearing his name. And I believe that he’s pleased with the program and pleased to see the literature of his people continue to grow and expand in both quantity and, more importantly, in quality every year.

It may be a small thing to most people, but my belief that he’s looking down on all of this was reinforced when I learned that tonight’s gala falls on the 84th anniversary of Orson F. Whitney’s death.

Click here to see the list of winners

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

L. M. Montgomery and My Truth about Depression

A lot has been written and posted and discussed about mental illness over the last few years, at least in my little circle of the world. To some extent, a lot of the openness was sparked by fellow writer and friend Robison Wells being public with his battle with several mental illnesses.

Then came the Altered Perspectives anthology, spearheaded by Brandon Sanderson and Robison's brother, Dan Wells, to help raise funds that would aid the Wells family, who were struggling financially due to no fault of their own.

I was honored to be able to be part of the anthology (my name is listed first on the back, which is cool, but that's only because the names are in alphabetical order). In the book, readers can find a brief glimpse into how mental illness has been part of my life, followed by an excerpt from a novel that will be coming out later this year. Writing that tidbit about mental illness turned out to be hard for me, not because of the topic, but because of the space constraints.

I've long wanted to talk about my experience with depression, specifically because it's so different from what people typically envision depression to look like. It's different from how a lot of other fellow depression sufferers describe it. Yet I know that I'm not the only person who experiences depression the way I do, so I hope I can show and explain in a way that helps with understanding.

I think I finally found a way to explain: by telling about the author who has had the single biggest influence on me and her personal, lifelong struggle with depression.

As long-time readers know, I'm a bit of an L. M. Montgomery nut. I own every book she ever wrote, collections of her hundreds of short stories, all five volumes of her annotated journals, her autobiography, a CD filled with photographs from her life, a first edition Windy Poplars, and more. But I'm not an Anne nut, something I wrote about a long time ago (see that last link). Rather, I've admired and connected with the author from the first day I opened one of her books back when I was thirteen.

Now that I've read her journals, however, I connect with her on a different level, and a lot of that has to do with her mental and emotional inner life.

What a lot of her fans don't know—and what many would be shocked to learn, considering how happy her books are—is that she fought deep depression and an anxiety disorder.

Yet to look at her during her lifetime, you never would have known. She put on a happy face. She went out in public and did her duties and acted the part everyone expected of her. She played the gracious guest. Then she'd go home and collapse. She'd walk the floor all night, unable to sleep. She'd wish for death. She had more than one nervous breakdown.

To make matters even more challenging, her husband, Ewen Macdonald, had mental illness too. He certainly had some kind of depression—religious melancholia, they called it at the time, as he was convinced that he was predestined to go to hell. He was a minister, which made this belief and his attacks that much worse. Some theorize that he had some type of bipolar disorder in addition to depression. Whatever it was, the medical community back then did not have the ability to diagnose or treat it.

Keep in mind that Ewen Macdonald was a minister. His salary was paid and his position retained only if his congregation remained happy with the performance of his duties. And that meant the congregation's belief that their leader was strong and stable. If they ever learned that he was really a complete wreck, that he was mentally and emotionally unstable and therefore unable to help others through their spiritual journeys because he thought he was personally going to hell? Well, the congregation would simply have found another minister.

That would have spelled the end of his career.

Quite literally, to keep her husband's career alive, LMM, as the minister's wife, had to cover for him and pretend that all was well. No matter how miserable she was, she had to go out to community and church events, looking chipper and acting strong and everything she didn't feel while Ewen stayed home with a handkerchief tied around his head due to a headache brought on by his mental misery. There he sat in a corner, wailing. From her journals, it sounds like most of his public appearances during bad spells were Sunday sermons. His wife took care of the rest, protecting him from prying eyes that would have destroyed the family's reputation.

LMM couldn't confide in anyone, or the secret would get out. Yet she was utterly miserable for years on end. Her anxiety and depression worsened and ate at her, yet she had to keep playing the role of the perfect minister's wife.

Her writing was the one escape she had from the bitter realities of her life and her own mental illnesses.

And no one around her had a clue. 

Things got worse for her. Ewen's episodes grew longer, deeper, and more frequent. He eventually ended up spending time in a mental hospital (during which, if memory serves, LMM made up excuses as to where he was). Eventually, he could no longer function as a minister at all. His career was over.

At that point, LMM was world famous, and for a spell, she was able to support the household with her own income. But then the Great Depression hit. When people can hardly buy food, they certainly aren't spending money on books, so in spite of her fame, her income plummeted. As the sole breadwinner, and with far less income than ever, she struggled to make ends meet. She had other problems as well, some due to the painful choices of her son Chester. And Ewen continued to get worse.

Yet she had to keep going. So she did. I'm sure that she would have preferred to sit in a corner and wail like Ewen did. But that wasn't an option for her. Someone had to keep moving, paying the bills, being a parent, and attending to her career as best she could. If she didn't keep stepping up, everything would fall apart for her, her husband, and their sons.

Eventually, in the spring of 1942, she reached her limit and fell apart one last time. So much weighed on her, and I'm sure that World War II was part of her stress, as World War I troubled and worried her deeply. In April of that year, she died, quite possibly after deliberately taking an overdose of medication. Whether it was deliberate or not, the note found on her nightstand is revealing:
I have lost my mind by spells and I do not dare think what I may do in those spells. May God forgive me and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it. What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best.
I can't help but see the juxtaposition between such utter misery and despair in someone outwardly functional and apparently happy (and famous!). I'll repeat the most telling sentence, with some important emphasis:
My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it.
I bring all of this up to show that depression doesn't necessarily mean that the sufferer is lying in bed all day, unable to get up. It doesn't mean that the person sits on the couch for weeks at a time, watching television but unable to do the dishes while life passes them by.

Depression can mean all of those things. I know people for whom that is their depression experience. And it tends to be the image most people have in their heads when they picture depression. They never think that the woman over there who is showered and dressed and behaving professionally and talking animatedly could be suicidal.

Many years ago, Oprah interviewed an actress who talked about a major bout of depression. In her case, she couldn't get out of bed except for work. She went to work, did her job (acting the role of not depressed on set, even off camera), and then she went home and back to bed as soon as she could.

Oprah was confused. She asked how, if this actress had really been so depressed, she could even get out of bed to go to work. As an interviewer, Oprah usually showed a lot of insight, but in that moment, she revealed a big blind spot. I knew firsthand what she didn't grasp at all: functional depression is dark and ugly and powerful, and it's real. That actress had to go to work. She had to. So she did. That didn't mean she didn't also suffer terribly.

Functional depression is my experience too. Some people consider functional depression to be "low-grade" depression, but I can tell you with no uncertainty that it can be every bit as brutal and devastating as other kinds. (Low-grade nothing; don't get me started.)

The truth is that I have battled depression in some form most of my life. Yet I get out of bed in the morning. Not because I'm not depressed, but because I have to get up; my children are counting on it. I shower and get dressed and go out into public when needed, and I act as if all is well. Because I have to.

(It's not always an act, but I'd bet money on times when I've been in a very, very black place, that most people have been quite sure I was totally fine and happy.)

Here's the truth: Wearing mascara doesn't mean I'm not depressed. My kids are fed and get to school on time (okay, most mornings), and they wear clean clothes. None of that means that their mother doesn't battle significant depression. I go to their events with a smile. That doesn't mean I don't have depression or social anxiety. (I deal with both.)

During some periods, I've kept moving and doing because that was the only thing I could do. I had to, like the actress Oprah couldn't understand. A lot has to be done, and I am the person who has to do it. Sometimes I've resented that fact, but even so, during the rough times, I drag one leaden foot in front of the other through the darkness, even when I feel sure that the light will never come again.

Of course, the darkness does end. But that's hard to remember when the black dog is hanging on your back with its claws deep in your skin as it growls ugly things in your ear.

During those times, I keep moving, yes. But I move like a robot, trying not to think too much, drowning in feelings of despair. Writing has always been the one place I could escape, if briefly.

But every time I've been so low that I wondered why I had to keep living, the rest of the world saw a functional, healthy person.

Another significant difference in my depression: When I'm in the throes of the battle, I don't feel bad or sinful.

Instead, I feel as if, even if I were to be perfect in every way, it still wouldn't be enough. I feel irrelevant. As if I could vanish from the face of the earth, and no one would notice.

Depression makes me feel like I have to keep working no matter what, because that's the only way to ever mean something or get anywhere. It's the only way to be relevant, but it's a losing battle. So I run and run and run but advance mere inches, then fall behind by yards. Even without progress, I don't stop running. I can't stop running. But no matter how hard and fast and long I run, it's never enough. It doesn't matter.

For me the last part of LMM's note jumps off the page because it describes the run, run, run, but never get anywhere feeling that has been a huge part of my life:
What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best.
Those words make me ache. Yes. I feel the same way. 

I'm not always in that dark place. Compared to many years of my life, I'm much, much better most of the time. But I still have periods where the black dog shows up, and I'm back to dragging my feet one step and then another until I'm running frantically on what feels like a hamster wheel going nowhere, because I have to.

I may look fine. A good chunk of the time, I am fine. Not always, though. Most people, not even close friends, will know when I'm putting on a Stepford act to keep from shattering into a million pieces.

That right there is part of what makes any mental or emotional disorder so hard for everyone involved: you can't see it

Even if you're looking for it, the person suffering may be hiding it in an effort to cope. And they may be very good at hiding it. None of us can know who is suffering and who is totally fine.

It's easy to assume from Facebook status updates and witty tweets that the people behind them live a charmed existence. I heard Person A get snarky about Person B's feeling down. A scoffed, thinking B had a perfect life. In that case, as in so many others, I happened to know that A was living a life many people would yearn for, yet A couldn't see it. I have a suspicion that A has depression too. Maybe they're both doing their best to cling to life at all.

So let's be kind. Let's have compassion. Let's give one another the benefit of the doubt. Let's get rid of the jealousy that poisons and has us judging and categorizing.

You never know who is fighting a battle, who is wounded. Let's assume everyone is dealing with a heavy burden, whether it's the black dog or something else.

Even when they look "fine." Sometimes, especially then.

And often, you'll be right.

If you've made it this far, thank you. On Thursday, May 7, I'm part of the northern Utah Listen to Your Mother night of readings. (Think TED talks about motherhood.) It's at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. I've heard all of the readings, and they're all wonderful. Some are hilarious. Some are tearjerkers. Some make you think. You can get tickets HERE

Friday, February 13, 2015

Tribute to Lu Ann

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend and participate in my dear friend Lu Ann Staheli's funeral. Her husband, Mike, asked our writing group to put together some comments to be read during the services. The day before, group members emailed thoughts and memories, and I cobbled it all together. We all went up front to honor Lu Ann, and somehow, with my entire body quivering (likely my voice, too), I read what we'd put together. Here is what I read on behalf of the group.

Lu Ann signing books at the
LDStorymakers Writers Conference in 2011.

July of 1999, Lu Ann opened the directory of a writing organization, found my number, and invited me to be part of a brand new critique group. I was two weeks away from giving birth to my third child and three years into a calling in the Young Women presidency. Yet I was eager to join and asked if she could hold a spot until things were a tiny bit less crazy. January of 2000, I showed up to my first meeting with my heart pounding in my chest. I was incredibly intimidated by the talent sitting across the table.

A few months later, Michele joined us. Here’s how she put that experience: “I quickly discovered that my writing was not brilliant; it wasn’t even good, and I was nowhere near the skill level of the rest of the group. Lu Ann could have easily voted me off; I was not yet in a position to help her writing, and she already had classrooms of students to teach during the day. But she took me under her wing and helped me learn how to write well.”

Jeff recalls his first meeting, after his first book was published. Lu Ann looked at him, smiled, and said, “I read Cutting Edge. I liked it, but it could use some work.” He would be the first to say that she was right.

Heather and Rob rounded out the group until Sarah Eden moved to Utah County about five years ago, and we invited her to come to see if we would be a good fit for one another.

“Their credentials were intimidating,” Sarah says of that time. “I was absolutely certain that after a single night of my relative incompetence, they’d simply quit telling me where they were meeting. That first evening, I was impressed by the excerpt Lu Ann had brought and ravenously devoured the advice she gave the others, all the while scared out of my mind about what she’d think of my humble offering. Not three sentences into her response to my efforts, I knew I had found a treasure in LuAnn, and that my work would be the better as a result of her influence. She was encouraging without being coddling.”

And she truly didn’t coddle. No, Lu Ann didn’t mince words. Sometimes her comments stung, but we knew that they were always given with the intent to help our stories be the best they could be. In fact, her total honesty became something we learned to trust and look forward to. Such honesty is a rare gift, so we weren’t hurt or offended—how could we be, when she was genuinely trying to help, but even more importantly, because so much of the time, she was right?

She was always a teacher, always a mentor, forever looking for ways to help and lift. Sometimes that meant suggesting new ways to promote our books. Other times, she urged one of us to read a specific book because it was just what would help us with the manuscript we were working on. And she knew because she was a walking library catalog—she read constantly from every genre, so she knew more about books than anyone we’ve ever met.

She has given us feedback, encouragement, ideas, and someone to vent to. Someone to laugh with. She gave solid advice, such as when Heather debated whether to take on a certain project: “No,” Lu Ann told her. “You’re better off working on what you already have planned. Stick to your plan. You know it’s right.”

In addition to the hundreds of critique group sessions we’ve shared together, she took the time to read and edit numerous manuscripts for all of us, in addition to those of many other authors, students, and friends. She was never too busy to help. 

In fact, recently I sent a manuscript to the group for feedback. She was already very ill, so while we included her in our email exchanges, I never once expected Lu Ann to read the 90,000-word manuscript while battling cancer. Yet she replied to the email thread, saying rather apologetically that while she’d try to read my book, she couldn’t guarantee she’d get through the whole thing by the time I needed the feedback. That was about three weeks ago. Even in her last days, her concerns were about how much she could give.

Perhaps if she had been less giving, less generous with her time and talents, and more focused on her own career, she would have found both fame and fortune as a writer. Instead, her legacy is farther reaching.

Lu Ann had the talent and skills of a brilliant writer, but more than that, she had the heart of a teacher. She found joy in helping others, in sharing with them the magic of the written word, both in reading and writing. Her loss is also a great loss to the writing community as a whole.

As we have reminisced, variations of the same two things have come up again and again: First, that every book we’ve written since meeting her has been touched by her unique hand.

And second, that going forward, we will continue to hear her voice as we type away, calling us out on awkward word choices, weak character motivations, demanding better descriptions. Things we’ve heard before, like

“Where are we? You didn’t show us the setting.”

“Um, that’s not humanly possible.”

“You used the word very fifteen times on this page—I counted.”

“The girl just rolled her eyes for the fifth time this chapter.”

“Your main character has three arms in this scene.”

Or the classic comment we’ve all heard a thousand times that was all Lu Ann: “Sorry. I don’t buy it.”

We’ll miss not having our pages marked in red with her neat handwriting, no longer seeing her smiley faces and stars in the margins next to parts she thought were especially good. It’s hard to know that never again will we sit around her kitchen table and hear her laugh as we talk shop and brainstorm.

But from the other side, she will certainly continue to whisper in our ears as we write—scolding, cajoling, telling us that we can do better, calling us on it when we don’t. No doubt, she’s already at work, busily helping others, teaching and serving. Being the friend and woman we were all blessed to know. 

She challenged all of us to do better and be better because she sincerely believed we were capable of great things. None of us could have predicted the immense impact she has had on us.

Her support and selfless assistance made us better writers.

Her friendship made us better people.

Some members of our critique group in 2013.
L to R: Lu Ann Staheli, J. Scott Savage,
Sarah M. Eden, Annette Lyon, Michele Paige Holmes
Not pictured: Heather B. Moore and Robison Wells


Lu Ann's family is buried under medical bills from her treatment, even more so because her sweet husband hasn't worked since her diagnosis last summer, so he could be at her side. 

If you can help even a little, please do donate to the family HERE

Another way to help is to buy her books. You can find them on Lu AnnAmazon author page

Thursday, January 22, 2015

ADD & Me: How I Focus, Write, AND Exercise

For all you writers wondering how to get in exercise to avoid the spread that hours of sitting at a computer can bring (also called Writer's Butt), here's the best thing I've found for me. It may be useful for you, too.

Some history: About a year ago, at the end of 2013, I posted about my ADHD-I, and how it has grown worse and worse with age, making it hard (if not impossible) to be productive and keep my life in balance.

In the last year, I've come a long way. I did get onto medication, which has made a world of difference. It's not that I can't get distracted (I still can, and I am, often), or that I've stopped using coping tools (I rely on them like oxygen). But for me, medication has been one more tool that's helped me immensely.

You may recall that I did just fine in high school and college. I did really well, in fact. And that's one reason that diagnosing me took so long. I have a lot of theories as to why I was able to do well, but among them is the fact that I could hyper-focus to the exclusion of all else. I might have forgotten the pot of water on the stove until it's boiled dry and ruined, but by golly, check out the paper I just wrote. But the ability to hyper-focus faded with age, and that became a huge problem for me as a writer.

The more I've researched ADHD and ADHD-I, the more tools I've learned, and the more I've experimented. I'd seen in my ADHD-I son that movement helped him focus. Sometimes that meant drawing circles, over and over, in a corner of a notebook during a lecture. Other times, when he could  move more, he'd puzzle out a math problem at home by pacing.

So I decided to experiment with whether I could focus better at the computer while walking. The experiment required a tread-desk of some sort. Even the cheapest ones out there are at least $600--not an amount I have just lying around. But we do have a treadmill. So I decided to search Pinterest, and I found a set-up another writer created for her treadmill. If memory serves, in her case, it was just to get in some exercise and be less sedentary. For me, if it worked, it could be a game changer.

I read up on her treadmill attachment and headed over to Home Depot, where I spent $12.42. Here's what I bought: a ready-made shelf (about $7), foam pipe insulation (about $3), and some hardware, which I didn't end up actually using (not pictured).

In the photo below, you'll note a full length of pipe insulation and then two smaller pieces of the same insulation, cut up, which have been used a lot over the last few months. Below them are my husband's wood clamps, which we already had, and which I'll get to in a second.  

The original concept had dryer clamps screwed onto both sides of the shelf. The shelf then rested over the arms of the treadmill, sitting on the insulation pipe, which had been cut in half and protected the arms. Then the dyer clamps were tightened around the treadmill arms and screwed tight.

I opted for a slightly different method, but one which works wonderfully anyway. I needed something that was easily removable, so that any time other family members (or I) want to use the treadmill for an actual workout, we can. And as for easily removable, screws, well, aren't.

I will probably find something a tad smaller to use down the road, but for now, I'm borrowing those two wood clamps from my husband's tools in the garage.

The only insulation I could find had a pretty narrow diameter, so I settled on what I could get. I cut one length of insulation in half and then sliced each piece down the middle so it opened up and can hug the treadmill arm. See the cut (and now flattened) pieces in the picture above.

The next step was simply putting it all together: insulation pieces on the treadmill's arms for protection, balancing the shelf on top, and putting the clamps on to hold the shelf in place.

Here's what it looks like:

And a closer look:

Putting it together takes maybe sixty seconds. Taking it off even less time, if the shelf is empty, more if I have to remove my laptop, notebook, water bottle, etc.

Seriously, it couldn't be easier to set up and take down.

I've had the setup since October. Family members often do take it down to workout. And one of my daughters (who also has ADHD-I) often uses it after school while doing homework or even just reading a book. It helps her focus too.

I get a ton more done while walking and working and the same time (I find that 1.5 to 1.7 mph is optimal for me), and on days I use it, I easily get in my 10,000 steps with my FitBit. In fact, tread-desk days are typically around 13,000 steps, often many more. And I've hit my FitBit record for a day  on it with 28,300 steps.

Unexpected bonus #1:
If I've used the tread desk in the morning, I can focus OFF it longer that afternoon than I could before I had it. So on days when my feet or hips or knees get tired, I can move my laptop to the table beside the treadmill and keep working, and I know that chances are, I'll still be able to focus.

Unexpected bonus #2: 
Moving for literally hours a day has helped me stave off a lot of depression, anxiety, and even panic attacks. My moods are more even, and I manage stress better. I'm not cured by any means, but I'm doing much better on the mental-health front.

Unexpected bonus #3: 
I get many of the benefits of exercise without triggering heinous migraines. Granted, I still have chronic migraines. That hasn't changed. But for years, I'd battled with two realities: Exercise relieves stress and releases endorphins, two things that help my headaches. But if I get my heart rate up with a regular workout, there's a very good chance I'll overheat and click over into hideous pain. And there's no telling which workouts will do it and which won't. The very same workout would be fine one day but would trigger something awful the next. Now, with my tread-desk setup, I'm not at risk of overheating, yet I'm still getting regular exercise. Huzzah!

So there's my solution to several problems. If you're a writer struggling with the typical writer's sedentary lifestyle, maybe you can create your own tread desk too. 

It's been a lifesaver for me!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Tips for Writers on Navigating the Whitney Awards

I've been fortunate to be a part of the Whitney Awards in some capacity for as long as the program has existed. Some years I've been a finalist. Other years I've been on the committee. (Those years don't overlap; anyone on the committee is automatically ineligible.) I've been a judge many times in a variety of categories. I was fortunate enough to win a Whitney Award in the General Fiction category for my 2010 novel Band of Sisters.

And this year, I'm (gulp) president. 

Having seen parts of the program at a distance and (this year) up close, I've learned a lot of things that I think would be useful for writers to be aware of. Hence, this post. Consider it a primer for writers who hope their books will one day be a finalist (or winner!), and that they'll take home a Whitney Award of their own. 

For those interested: The upcoming Whitney Awards will be presented at the 8th annual gala. The program honors the best fiction published by Latter-day Saint writers each year. The dinner and awards ceremony held in May will honor books published in 2014 and will be held on Saturday, May 16, 2015, at 7:00 PM at the Provo Marriott Hotel. The program is named after 19th-century Mormon Apostle Orson F. Whitney, who was a writer and proponent of literary arts.

You can buy gala tickets HERE.

And now, the advice: 

Make sure you can be both found and contacted online. Be accessible!
One of the most important steps in the Whitney Awards backstage process is contacting an author to confirm that their book is eligible in any given year. This happens after a book receives five reader nominations. A WA committee member will email the author to get some basic BUT CRUCIAL information. 

You would be surprised to find how hard it is to find any kind of contact information for some authors. You'd think that writers would have an online presence to build their platform. And that there would be contact information through that platform. In many cases you would be right, often in the cases of some very big names. But with some writers? Holy cow. We've spent weeks as a committee trying to find a way to contact a specific writer, using Facebook, Twitter, website contact forms, and more. Nothing.

Here's the problem: If the WA committee cannot confirm your book's details and eligibility with you, your book can't be considered for the awards. Seriously. That's the end of the line. So make sure we can contact you. If you have a random email address for your personal website that you check only rarely, check it regularly. Even better, have your author website forward to your regular inbox so you get messages. 

It's tragic when a book has received the required nominations but no one can reach the author, and the book ends up ineligible after all. Don't let that happen to your book. 

Be reachable online and reply to communications! Which leads us to the next point:

When you are contacted by the Whitney Awards committee informing you that your book is an official nominee, reply ASAP.
The committee spends months and months all year long tracking down books and getting them into the hands of the 40 judges who cover 8 different categories. Inevitably, due to many factors, but in part due to writers taking forever to get back to us (which then delays all of the other steps in getting books from publishers), the judges typically end up with a ton of books to read in just a few weeks during January before their ballots are due early February. 

Truth: The earlier a judge gets your book, the more time they have to spend reading it and really appreciating your awesomeness as a writer. 

Consider this: If a judge is thrown twenty books to read in two weeks, that's more than a book a day that they have to somehow get through. Remember, judges have regular lives: jobs, families, and more. And they don't get paid for being judges. Plus, they aren't necessarily super-fast readers. Instead, they're excellent readers. That's why they have the assignment. But fast and excellent are different things. 

If a judge doesn't get your book until January (or worse, the second week of January), along with a bunch of others, they simply won't have time to sit down and truly enjoy your book. Instead, through no fault of their own, they're racing through each book, making mental notes as to how to rate it, and then moving on to the next one. It's almost like cramming for a big test. (Did you enjoy studying for university finals? Didn't think so.)

Judges do their very best to be objective and fair. Yet they're human, not computers. If they get to spend a whole week or more on your book, chances are, they will remember details and cool stuff far better than if they raced through it in a matter of hours on one day. 

I'm giving this advice as someone who has been a judge many times, but I've heard the same thing from many judges over the years: they wish they'd had more books earlier so they could have devoted more time to each book. 

Speaking as a writer, I want judges to have a great, leisurely experience with my book, not some stressful, holy-crap-how-can-I-get-this-read-in-time freak-out. If I have the power to get my book to judges with months to spare instead of weeks or days, I'll do it.

SO: If you have the fortune to receive the committee's confirmation email, answer it IMMEDIATELY. 

AND, if you know who best can send over an electronic file of the book, even better. (Hard copies are fine too, but shipping takes time. E-books are preferred.)

For those who have self-published, go ahead and reply with your book file attached to the email. That cuts out several steps and gets your book to judges even faster.

Mention the Whitney Awards to your readers.
A lot of books don't necessarily get the required five nominations for the simple fact that the book's readers were unaware of the program. 

On the flip side, some very popular books take forever to get the nominations because readers incorrectly assume that a book must have already been nominated plenty of times. In this case, it's not a bad idea to reach out to the author to find out if their book is an official nominee yet. They'll know within a day or two of the fifth nomination coming in. (That is, assuming they're accessible online!)

If you self-publish, consider adding a line in the back of your book asking readers who enjoyed it to nominate it. (For e-books, please take out that line after the December 31 deadline of the publication year. For printed books, be sure to include the December 31 deadline with the year so the committee doesn't keep getting nominations for it years past its eligibility.)

Spread the word about the Whitney Awards! That helps writers as well as the committee and judges. Follow the Whitney Awards on Twitter, like the Facebook page, and follow the Pinterest page. Then re-tweet/favorite/like/share/re-pin things from the awards' social media. That spreads the word among readers, and in turn, will likely nudge your readers toward nominating your book.

THAT SAID: Please don't launch big campaigns with your readers to get a ton of nominations. 
Once a book reaches five, further ones aren't even recorded; they're irrelevant. The book already moves to the judging round. A flood of nominations just wastes the committee's time and clogs up the president's inbox. 

To clarify: A book with a hundred nominations is at no advantage in becoming a finalist over a book that received only five nominations. Both books go on to the judges, who cast their ballots while being completely unaware of how many nominations any of the books in their category received. 

For that matter, only the president will ever know. And, if they're anything like me, the president will quickly lose track of the number of nominations a book got past the magic number of five. (Except they may want to put a pox on the house of authors who do launch big campaigns, glutting the president's inbox and adding pointless hours to their duties. We can totally tell when you do that. Please don't.) (For the last four months, I've spent an average of two hours on awards-related email every single day. Seriously.)

Let your readers know when your book is an official nominee.
It's a moment to celebrate anyway, so spread the word! Even better, put the information somewhere that readers can find it, such as on your website's ABOUT page or in your Facebook bio description. That way readers can know that they don't need to nominate the book, which saves the president's time. (This is no longer an issue for my term, but I thank you on behalf of future presidents.)

Be hyper aware of your publication date and what it means for your book's eligibility.
The most common place to find the eligibility date for your book is on the copyright page in the front. Granted, a book even in rough-draft form is legally protected by copyright, but traditionally, the copyright year in the front is the publication date. 

If your book is listed as having been published late in December, then that is the year it's eligible. Late-year releases do make getting nominations a bit trickier, but it happens quite frequently. You can help the process along. For example, you could send out review copies a few months in advance, then ask reviewers to nominate the book if they enjoyed it. 

If your book was technically eligible at the end of a previous year, it cannot be eligible the following year. That's not fair to anyone. One possible exception exists, but it's an incredibly rare case that's unlikely to happen to anyone living in the U.S. And it's happened once in eight years.

Advice: Talk to your publisher about release dates. If you're thinking a book will come out in January, and you don't give a thought to the Whitneys until the following spring, but the copyright and sale date are December, you're up a creek. Your book was eligible but isn't anymore. 

The rule: Books are eligible only during the year they were published in. The upcoming gala will present awards for books published during 2014 only. 

The website nomination page is still open, and here's why: Readers can already start nominating books they loved with 2015 publication dates. Any nominations that come in between now and the gala in May will count for the next Whitney Awards gala. I'll keep track of those nominations as I have the ones for 2014, and then I'll pass along that information to the next president. 

In short: Be sure you know when your book is eligible!

Place your book into the correct category.
The Whitneys recognize books in two age categories (youth and adult) and eight genre categories. Authors decide in which category to place their book. 

That's very useful for the committee, because sometimes a book blurb makes a book sound like one genre, but it's another (e.g. it sounds like a romance, but while it has romantic elements, it's not really a romance and would really fit better under General Fiction). Or maybe a writer typically known for one genre switched genres for a new book, and the committee was unaware of the change. 

However, sometimes authors think that trying to play the system is a good idea, so they put their book into a category where it doesn't really belong, usually in a category that's known to have fewer books and therefore, they think, less competition. 

This type of thinking inevitably backfires. Why? Because judges are consciously judging books based on the category they've been assigned. If a book doesn't fit the category, it won't fare well in the rankings, no matter how brilliant it is. 

Don't over think this one; it's nothing to be paranoid over. Just familiarize yourself with the genres (I blogged about them a couple of years ago HERE) and be honest in picking the one that best suits your book. You're doing yourself a favor.

Here's a hypothetical example: If your book is similar in content and tone to an Encyclopedia Brown book, don't put it into the adult Mystery/Suspense category. It'll be up against books with complex plots and a level of suspense intended for grown-up audiences. Such a book may be downright excellent, but that doesn't mean it fits in the adult category. It probably belongs in one of the youth categories, but if it's in the adult one, it'll be judged as an adult book. 

(As of this year, the best fit for this hypothetical book would be the Middle Grade category; there is no youth mystery category, at least not yet.)

If you're unsure about what categories exist for the awards, visit the website and check out the finalists and winners from recent years to get a feel for what books fit into which categories.

All of the categories are listed on the Program Overview page.

Or wait until you get the confirmation email; they'll all be listed there for you to choose from. 

Remember that the first version of your book is the eligible one. 
With e-books and self-publishing becoming more common, this issue is a bigger problem than ever. For those self-publishing, here's the thing to remember: Don't hit PUBLISH until you're sure that the books is as good as you can get it. 

Here's why: If you're informed that your book is an official nominee, you're not allowed to go back to do another revision before sending the new, shinier version to be judged. You need to send the original version. (And soon, too. See above.)

Educate yourself on the rest of the awards process.
The nomination process and judging round don't make up the whole program. The judges' ballots lead to the selection of five finalists in each category. (This year, finalists will be announced on February 9.) From there, the Whitney Awards academy, which is made up of hundreds of industry experts, reads the finalists and casts their ballots. The awards are announced at the gala, which immediately follows the annual LDStorymakers conference each spring.

You can read the rules and FAQ page on the awards website, but the Program Overview is a quick guide for understanding the basics.

There you go! My best advice for navigating the Whitney Awards and making sure your book has a shot. These suggestions will also make life so much easier for the committee: seven people who volunteer an untold number of hours throughout the year simply because they believe in the program and want it to succeed.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: The Bishop's Wife

What an absolute delight! I’ve long wanted to read a novel where my LDS (Mormon) faith was a relevant, deep part of the characters and story, in a book that wasn’t didactic and one that was aimed at a national audience, not just for Mormons. HERE IT IS, people!

THE BISHOP’S WIFE, by Mette Ivie Harrison is billed as a mystery, and while the mystery element is crucial to the story, I see it as the hanger on which the rest of the story is draped—the mystery holds up and gives shape to the characters and events. I loved Linda, the title character, with all of her strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. She’s real and flawed, often overwhelmed, but always doing her best, even when she’s hard on herself.

The story has a wonderful cast of varied characters, people that felt real to me—possibly because I know people like them living in my current and past neighborhoods and wards (congregations). I was especially touched by how Linda’s drive to investigate and poke her nose into others’ business is motivated by the loss of her own daughter many years before.

Her husband, the bishop, is just as real: a very much mortal man trying to do his best to care for those under his charge, doing so with blinders he isn’t even aware of. He’s easy to like even when you don’t agree with his ideas or actions because, like Linda, he’s honestly trying.

This is a great book for readers who enjoy women’s fiction and cozy mystery. It’s not a rip-roaring James Bond episode with explosions and car chases; the pace is much gentler as the author weaves the tale, laying down layer upon layer to gradually reveal the full picture.

It’s beautifully written, unpredictable yet satisfying, and a book I hope will find its way into many hands—it deserves to be widely read. I suspect that it would make a fantastic book club selection; so many parts are thought-provoking and would make for fascinating discussion. One element that will stay with me: Who ARE the people around me, really? I can’t know. Everyone has secrets. Most people have secrets that are benign, while others’ secrets are dark and twisted. And we simply can’t know which is which based on appearance.

My only (very minor) complaint: There were a few factual errors regarding the Mormon faith, which surprised me, seeing as the author is Mormon herself. They may well have been simple oversights, and seeing as I read an uncorrected ARC, I’m going to assume that those things will be corrected before the book officially hits shelves. That’s why I won’t list them; they may not be in the final version anyway, and even if they’re not fixed, those things are minor enough that the typical reader, especially one unfamiliar with the LDS faith, wouldn’t even know they’re there. The errors don’t have any negative impact on the story.

 It’s a rare book that I feel I can broadcast far and wide, recommending it to friends. This is one of them. Well done, Mette! THE BISHOP'S WIFE won't be out until December 30. Keep it in mind when you get an Amazon gift certificate for Christmas! Even better, go ahead and pre-order it HERE right now.

**Reminder: I have a standing policy of not accepting review requests from authors or publishers Reviews posted here are few and far between, and are always for books I've read and have personally decided to review here. Please do not contact me with review requests.**

Friday, September 19, 2014

Big Ebook Sale

Don't miss out on this clean ebook sale!

Lots of great deals here, including a 3-book set for 99 cents (that's 33 cents per novel!). My own Portrait for Toni is in that set!

The last day is Saturday, September 20, ending at midnight mountain time. So hurry!

Discern, Katon University Book One

Andrea Pearson
Kindle, Nook, Smashwords

Nicole Williams is an Arete—a fourth child with magical abilities—yet no matter how hard she tries, she can’t Channel her power. In fact, she seems to be the only student at Katon University who fails at magic.

That doesn’t stop magic from finding her. It starts with magical currents and possessed books before moving quickly to cursed spiders and freaky shadows. Nicole turns to her best friend for help, along with fellow student Austin Young, who is considered by all a magical rarity. He also happens to be the hottest guy on campus and just might be interested in her.

Nicole soon finds herself competing to be included on a university-led expedition to Arches National Park. She is determined to show everyone, but mostly herself, that she does belong. Yet, to qualify for the trip, she must produce at least a speck of Wind magic, and that appears to be impossible.

As the competition progresses, Nicole wonders if she’s making the right choice—especially when she learns that the strange fossils they’ll be studying in Arches might not be as dead as everyone thinks.

Prejudice Meets Pride

Rachael Anderson
Kindle, Nook

After years of pinching pennies and struggling to get through art school, Emma Makie’s hard work finally pays off with the offer of a dream job. But when tragedy strikes, she has no choice but to make a cross-country move to Colorado Springs to take temporary custody of her two nieces. She has no money, no job prospects, and no idea how to be a mother to two little girls, but she isn’t about to let that stop her. Nor is she about to accept the help of Kevin Grantham, her handsome neighbor, who seems to think she’s incapable of doing anything on her own.

Prejudice Meets Pride is the story of a guy who thinks he has it all figured out and a girl who isn't afraid to show him that he doesn't. It’s about learning what it means to trust, figuring out how to give and to take, and realizing that not everyone gets to pick the person they fall in love with. Sometimes, love picks them.

Your Eyes Don't Lie

Rachel Branton
Kindle, Nook

Sometimes Surviving Isn't Enough . . .

Years of living on the street and fending for herself have made Makay Greyson tough and resourceful, if a bit disillusioned. She's come a long way from sleeping in parks and scavenging for food. Her entire focus is on providing a better life for her young brother, one without fear of loss and

That certainly doesn't leave time for Harrison Matthews, who from their first meeting sends fire through her veins and upsets all her carefully laid plans.

Makay has done things she isn't proud of to survive, and those choices now threaten the small amount of security she's created-and any chance of a future with Harrison. They've been raised in two very different worlds, and the secrets they both hide can only lead to disaster.  There is only one chance to make it right, and one misstep could be fatal.

Your Eyes Don't Lie is a story about facing fears, sacrificing for those you love, and about a girl who thinks she isn't worth loving and a guy who knows she is.

A Fantasy Christmas

Cindy C Bennett, Stephanie Fowers, and Sherry Gammon
Kindle, Nook, Smashwords

Three mystical tales that make for fun reading as the weather turns cold. Enjoy the romance, the magic, and the joy of Christmas and fantasy while you snuggle up in a blanket and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate.

Ride to Raton

Marsha Ward
Kindle, Nook, Smashwords

Thinking he's been treated unjustly by his father, James Owen leaves the family homestead to make a new life for himself.

The turbulent world of post-Civil War Colorado Territory is fraught with danger and prejudice that increase his bitter loneliness as personal setbacks threaten to break him. Then James's journey brings him into contact with another wayfarer, beautiful young Amparo Garc├ęs, who has come from Santa Fe to Colorado to marry a stranger. Through a twist of fate, their futures are changed forever when their lives are merged in a marriage of convenience. James and Amparo undertake a hazardous horseback trek over Raton Pass to Santa Fe, battling their personal demons, a challenging language barrier, and winter's raging storms.

"Ride to Raton is a pure western, complete with bad guys and broken hearts and even a dog. The sequel to The Man from Shenandoah features James Owen, the younger brother. Marsha Ward writes a fantastic romance against a vivid southwestern backdrop. James begins this book as a hurt young man, but by the end of the book, I really could see him grow up and become a man. Made tougher by circumstances he has no control over, James realizes that the love he thought he had lost was nothing compared to what Amparo shows him. Amparo is a young Hispanic lady, forced to leave her home in Santa Fe to marry a stranger in Colorado. She bravely faces her uncertain future, relying on her faith to get her through. She is sweet, loving and she provides a great contrast to James's rough exterior. With an ending that surprised even me, Ride to Raton is not your usual romance. However, I do recommend it for western lovers—even the cover is wonderful! Marsha Ward once again shows us her gift for old fashioned storytelling!" ~Jen Hill, Roundtable Reviews

The Husband Maker

Karey White
Kindle, Nook

Charlotte’s a girl with nicknames. She may not love being called Charles or Chuck, but the hardest nickname to take is the one she was given in college, the one that’s followed her now for too many years. They call her “the husband maker” and sadly, it fits. Every guy she's dated since high school has gone on to marry the next girl they date. Not two or three girls down the road. The very next one.
Is she doing something wrong or is she just cursed?

When Kyle Aldsworth enters the picture and sweeps her off her feet, Charlotte begins to hope that maybe she's not destined to be single forever. A senator’s son with political aspirations of his own, Kyle's wealthy, handsome, and in need of a wife. Will Charlotte be disappointed yet again, or will she finally be able to make a husband for herself?

Life, Love, and The Pursuit of  Free Throws

Janette Rallison

Josie loves hottie Ethan Lancaster, the captain of the basketball team, but she never can do or say the right thing in front of him. So how can it be fair that Ethan is only interested in her best friend, Cami, when Cami isn’t even trying for his affection? Or is she?

Cami dreams of winning her basketball team’s coveted MVP award, and earning the chance to take the court during a special halftime demonstration with WNBA star Rebecca Lobo, but her best friend, Josie, is a better player. So how can it be fair that Josie is a shoo-in for the honor if she is barely interested in basketball in the first place and isn’t even trying to be the best? Or is she?

Told from two points of view, this novel of freshman life, love, and the pursuit of free throws displays the same delightful humor as Janette Rallison's other comedies.

My Forever: A Triple Treat Romance Box Set

Annette Lyon, Karey White, Cami Checketts
Kindle, Nook

A Portrait for Toni  by Amazon bestselling author Annette Lyon 
Toni has no idea what she’d do without her best friend, Carter. Who else would she be able to vent to about her parents, her job at the dance studio, or her latest relationship woes? That is, until he starts questioning Toni, saying he thinks she has an eating disorder. Then she starts dating Clint, and somehow that puts a deeper wedge between her and Carter. When she’s hospitalized after an on-stage collapse, and Carter stupidly starts in with advice about food and weight, she sends him away. One night after a performance, Toni tries to mend the hurt between them. Instead of finding Carter, she stumbles onto proof that he has feelings for her that go way beyond those of a friend. Toni is left with the very real prospect of losing Carter forever, unless somehow she can return his feelings—but that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

My Own Mr. Darcy by USA Today bestselling author Karey White 
After being dragged to the 2005 movie Pride and Prejudice by her mother, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth’s life changes when Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy appears on the screen. Lizzie makes a promise to herself that she will settle for nothing less than her own Mr. Darcy. During the six intervening years, she finds all of her suitors lacking—they just aren’t Mr. Darcy enough. Coerced by her roommate, Elizabeth agrees to give the next interested guy ten dates before she dumps him. She starts dating Chad, but she believes her dream comes true in the form of wealthy bookstore owner Matt Dawson, who looks and acts like her Mr. Darcy. But as Elizabeth simultaneously dates a regular guy and the dazzling Mr. Dawson, she’s forced to re-evaluate what it was she loved about Mr. Darcy in the first place.

The Broken Path by Amazon bestselling author Cami Checketts 
Injured in a debilitating accident at age six, Ethan Searle believes women eye him with a mixture of pity and disdain. He’s tried love before. He won’t again. He meets his match in a precocious two-year old who loves him despite his disability, even while her mother seems bothered by everything about Ethan. Autumn Reader escaped her abusive marriage with her beautiful daughter and a stack of fear. She can’t make the mistake of trusting a man again. Autumn’s daughter becomes enraptured by Ethan. Despite Autumn’s best intentions, she finds herself following her daughter’s example. When her ex-husband reappears, threatening everyone she loves if she won’t submit to his demands, Autumn has to learn to trust or lose her chance at real love.

Still Time

Maria Hoagland
Kindle, Nook, Smashwords

Thrust into the chaos of her mother-in-law’s hoarding and forgetfulness, LDS church member Alyssa Johnston wishes she could retreat to a simpler time when her kids were small and almost anything could be fixed with a hug. But reassurance and a quick distraction no longer erase the pain of a missionary son who is struggling, a young teen who is bullied, or a daughter who is distant. As Aly’s own life and relationship with her husband plunge out of control, she wonders if her faith will be enough to keep her family—or herself—from falling apart.

Still Time is a deeply moving story about a woman’s faithful journey into the next phase of her life. You will laugh with Aly, feel her sorrow, and see yourself in Maria Hoagland’s realistic, heartfelt portrayal of a woman’s struggle to keep her family safe and hold back time as long as she can.