Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Hop Winner picked the winner for the Holiday Hop giveaway, and it's time to announce who that is.

As a reminder, the prize is all three of my e-novels:

PLUS (assuming the winner has a device that supports a .mobi file) an e-copy of my grammar guide, There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd. The e-version is more comprehensive and up-to-date than the print version, so booyah.

The winner is Ruth!

Congratulations to Ruth, and thanks to everyone who entered!

I'll be back to regular posting after the new year. Now, off for more pie . . .

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Blog Hop Giveaway

Yippee for book giveaways, and an extra hooray for ones that coincide with Christmas!

I'm part of the Holiday Blog Hop, which runs from December 15 - December 25. Visit The Holiday Blog Hop to find the rest of the participating blogs (and so you can win more ebooks!).

Extra bonus: The winners from each participating blog will be put together, and one of them will be randomly chosen to win a Kindle Fire. (I recently got to see the Kindle my mother-in-law owns. Didn't get to use it, as my kids were all over it. It's very cool.)

SO: Enter any of the giveaways participating, including mine, and if you win, you'll have an extra shot at the grand prize.

Due to personal writing and editing deadlines (and thing like, oh, family and Christmas), this will be my last post until after the hop is over and I announce the winner.

My giveaway will be very simple:
The winner will receive a copy of all three of my e-novels:

PLUS an e-copy of my grammar guide, There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd. (The e-version is more comprehensive and up-to-date than the print version, so booyah.)

Note: The 3 novels are available in formats other than .mobi (Kindle), but to date, the grammar book is only in .mobi. Apologies if the winner doesn't use Kindle; they'll miss out on that book.

As I did during my last giveaway, I'm not going to make people jump through lots of hoops. I like doing giveaways to thank my followers.

So that's all you need to do:
1) Be a follower (either on my blog through Google Friend Connect) or on Twitter.
2) Leave a comment on this post telling me that you're a follower (and which way).

That's it!

The fine print:
Entrants must be 18 years old, and I must be able to contact the winner, either via an email address left in a comment, or via a Blogger profile link. If the winner does not contact me to claim their prize within 48 hours, it's forfeit.

Merry Christmas, and happy reading!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Media and Young Women

Writer and bloggy friend Melanie Jacobson (hey, I spelled her name right!) recently linked to a page relating to a study at Dartmouth that I found both fascinating and disturbing.

The page had rows of photographs that had been touched up digitally. Above each row is a toggle button allowing the viewer to click between the original photo and the after, touched-up version.

I had several reactions. First, it's amazing what technology can do today.

Second, even though I already knew that photos we see of celebrities are enhanced, this was the first time I saw to what extent that's true. And, um, turns out that the stars don't look like themselves.

Third, the longer I clicked back and forth, the more uneasy I became. This is largely thanks to the fact that I have three daughters, and two of them are out of grade school and quickly turning into young women. The images of beauty and body images they see around them every day, everywhere, must have an impact on them.

The potential effects are frightening. Even if they don't end up with something as serious as anorexia or bulimia, it's hard to escape the pressure to meet society's vision of beauty: the hair, the makeup, the clothes, the body.

Recently our stake held a standards night where a BYU professor (apologies for not remembering her name; she was amazing) spoke about this very thing. She started out showing pictures of what's considered beautiful in other countries: neck stretching with rings, the old practice of foot binding in China, and so on.

Then she showed so-called "beautiful" women today, and charts showing that beauty pageant winners, over time, have ended up with lower and lower BMIs, to the point that they're now in the very unhealthy, almost starvation-level ranges.

Her point, which she made so well: Is our vision of beauty any less unhealthy than neck-stretching rings or foot binding? No. We see models with their collar bones sticking out, their ribs showing, so thin they're unhealthy. And our girls feel pressure to emulate that image.

While looking at the pictures at the link Melanie gave me, one thing made me particularly sad: several pictures were beautiful just the way they were. I'm not talking about getting rid of George Clooney's gray hair. Or giving a man teeth. I'm talking about "fixing" a sweet little boy's face so his skin had a perfectly even tone and no shine. Of "fixing" a male model who would probably make teen girls swoon . . . but whose mouth was slightly crooked, so he wasn't "perfect." Or of (seriously!) raising Angelina Jolie's left eye.

I quickly called my daughters in to look at the photos, hoping that they'd realize just how unreal they are. That they'd know how, when they see their favorite singers or actors in a photo, it's all pretend. No one really looks like that. And that's okay.

We also looked at the famous Dove commercial that shows digital retouching in action. I hope the message sank in.

The whole thing reminded me of the trip my husband and I took to Finland a few years back. The magazines at grocery store checkout lines looked different than what I was used to.

My initial reaction was that, man, those are really unprofessional photographs. But on second look, it dawned on me that no, the photos were professional.

They just weren't touched up.

One woman didn't have porcelain-smooth skin. Maybe a man had a shiny spot on his forehead. Or another model had crow's feet. They were real.

Every time I entered a grocery store after that, I eagerly looked at the photos and found them refreshing. Yes, the images were probably somewhat out there: makeup artists, fashion designers, lighting, and probably even blowing fans were still part of the photo shoots. But the people in the pictures were allowed to look like real human beings, blemishes and all.

I have a theory, although I have nothing to back it up: I wonder if the young women (or all women, for that matter) in Finland have slightly better self-images than those in the States. (That is, unless they're bombarded by US images, which is likely.)

If you're interested in looking at the pictures, here's where you can toggle between the before and after pictures on the Dartmouth site. As I said, it's fascinating and disturbing all at once. And if you're a parent, it's a great conversation starter.

Edited to add: Thanks to the comment from An Ordinary Mom, here's another video about this topic that's well worth your time to watch.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Music for Christmas

The other day, a dear friend of mine, Michelle, who is one of the powerhouses behind Mormon Woman, pointed me toward a beautiful song for Christmas.

It's called "Do You Have Room," by Shawna Edwards. As soon as I listened to it, I wanted my son to play it at church, accompanying someone singing it who sings far better than I do. (Twenty years ago, I had a voice. We'll not discuss my current vocal abilities.)

Watch the video for it below, and if you enjoy it, here's the great news: You can get a free MP3 of the song or the sheet music! Doing so is way easy:

Go to the composer's website and share a special Christmas memory or tell how you will make room for Christ in your life this Christmas. Easy peasy. (Link below.)

Here's the song:

For more information, visit (and LIKE!) the Shawna Edwards Facebook page.

To leave your Christmas memory or tell how you'll be Christ into Christmas, here's the Shawna Edwards website.

It's beautiful. I think I'll go play it again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

VARIANT Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Gratitude Giveaway Hop.

I had a tremendous response, and I'm grateful for each and every new (and old!) follower.

The winner of VARIANT, by Robison Wells, is Kristi from Books and Needlepoint!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

WNW: Turkey!

In honor of Thanksgiving, today's Word Nerd Wednesday is all about a favorite staple the holiday: turkey.

Until I did a bit of digging with my trusty OED, I didn't realize just how many definitions turkey has.

For fun, a sampling of 10 of the many definitions and phrases associated with the word:

1) Guinea-fowl
According to a quotation into OED dating from 1552 to 1601, it's a bird originally brought from Numidia (a former kingdom in northern Africa) to the country today known as, of course, Turkey.

2) Bird of which all the species are American, one type originally domesticated in Mexico.
The definition goes on about predominantly where in Northern America, but as long as they're also available in the freezer section of my local grocery store, I don't know that I care that many of them are from Missouri.

3) The wild version of the domestic fowl above.
Again, found in North America.

4) The flesh of the bird mentioned above.
Now we're talking Thanksgiving. Pass the cranberry sauce!

5) To "talk turkey"
Speaking frankly or without reserve. Getting to the hard facts.

6) To "walk turkey"
To strut or swagger. This one was new to me.

7) Cold turkey
Quitting a drug or other addictive substance all at once. Not something I plan to do with chocolate any time soon.

8) A cinematic flop
US slang that hails back to the early days of film, first showing up in print in 1927. This term also referred to disappointing theater or any other thing that was a let-down.

9) A slow, stupid, or inept person.
This is a newer use, going back only to 1951. I think in modern usage, it's morphed into meaning less a stupid or inept person and more of a silly or goofy one.

10) Turkey tomb
A rather gruesome yet humorous way to refer to a turkey pie.

(I'll take my pie with pumpkin and whipped cream, thanks.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chocolate Never Faileth: Corrections and Bloopers

The first typo I became aware of in Chocolate Never Faileth was brought to my attention by my friend TJ, who came to a signing for the book with his wife and kids. He told me about the typo. I didn't believe him. Or, rather, I desperately hoped he was wrong.

The book had been all I worked on for almost a year, shoving my fiction (and creative writing self) aside. At least three people proofed the thing, including me.

On the other hand, I'd already published seven novels. I should have known that mistakes and typos can (and often do) slip through, no matter how carefully the writer and the publishing team work on a book.

As I became aware of a few more errors in the cookbook, I put corrections on my website. Even so, I still get regular questions about the same issues over and over again. I assume that means they aren't finding the list of corrections on my site, so maybe a blog post will help.

They're on THIS PAGE. If I find more things to fix (knock on wood!), that's where I'll put them. Future printings should have these things fixed.

In the meantime, these errors leave us all scratching our heads, wondering how they slipped through and who added them in the first place!


A mystery individual added a new first sentence to the instructions. Just ignore "preheat oven to 350." (This is, after all, a MICROWAVE cake.) This is the error TJ told me about. I'm convinced that this sentence didn't exist in the galley proof I saw, and it certainly wan't in my original manuscript. I'm guessing that someone along the pipeline, right before sending the book to press, saw a cake recipe without an oven temperature and added it. We'll never know what happened. Just take a black Sharpie over that bit.


Here's a situation where my test kitchen notes match the printed book, but the recipe doesn't seem right. The utterly weird thing is that the cookies worked beautifully, multiple times at home (evidence includes the fact that the picture of the cookies on page 54 are from my oven). But as written, they don't work so great. I'm as puzzled as anyone here. Fat is missing, so add some, around 1/3 to 1/2 cup. I'd go with butter, but oil works too.


Somehow adding flour got inserted into the instructions for the topping. I get people absolutely panicking about what to do because no flour is listed in the ingredients.

No flour is correct; ignore that word.


This typo is in the anecdote above the recipe, which reads "Read Food Chocolate Cake." That should, of course, be Real Food.


The anecdote in the original printing states that the countries who claim this dessert as their own are New Zealand and Austria. That should be Australia. (Yes, I know the difference between the two!)

To date, these are the only issues that I'm aware of. The Brownie Cookie Bites and Heavenly Chocolate Bars are the two issues that people contact me about most.

Hope this helps if you use the book for holiday treat making!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gratitude Giveaway Hop

Yay! From today, November 17, through Sunday, November 27th, I'm part of the Gratitude Giveaway Hop!

It's a chance for me to say thank you to those who follow my online doings. As such, this giveaway doesn't have a bunch of hoops to jump through. No tweeting, FB-ing, blogging, or anything else. And no one gets more than one entry.

Why? To say THANKS to my followers!

Somewhere around a gazillion other blogs are participating, so you can enter to win stuff on all of them, too. To find the other blogs participating, visit I Am a Reader, Not a Writer, where you'll find a Linky with the full list.

Here's what I'm giving away:

Variant, by Robison Wells

It's garnered a ton of praise. It was listed as one of the best books on the Publisher's Weekly list for 2011 and got starred review in Kirkus. (Stars there are a very big deal.)

This book is a great read for anyone 12 years old, up to 110 or so. Boys will love it (my 16-year-old son couldn't up it down), but I loved it too, and I know lots of grown-ups, both male and female, who rave over it.

It's a GREAT Christmas gift for any reader in your life (even if you don't win!)


Are you already following me? Great! Say so in the comments, and BAM! you're entered.

If you're not already following me, do ONE of these:
  • Follow my blog using the Followers doohickey widget at the top of the side bar
  • Follow me on Twitter (@AnnetteLyon)
Leave a comment saying which way you're following.

(No, you don't get additional entries for following both the blog and my Twitter feed, but if you do, you'll get good karma points. :D)

If you're already following (THANK YOU! You're awesome!). Just drop a comment saying you're already a follower via the blog or Twitter, and you're entered.

The Gratitude Giveaway Hop runs from November 17-27. I'll post the winner on Monday, November 28th.

During this month of Thanksgiving, this is my chance to express gratitude to the people who support me online. Thank you for reading, for commenting, for supporting me all the years I've been prattling online. My blog would be pointless without my readers, and I'm grateful for each one.

The fine print:
1) Be sure that I have a way for me to contact you if you win. To do so, either leave an email address in your comment or be sure your Blogger profile has your email embedded.
2) If I can't contact the first name drawn, I'll draw a second name.
3) If the winner I announce on November 28th doesn't claim their prize after 48 hours, it's forfeit.

Happy blog hopping!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Choice to Write & Publish

Today I'm on my soap box about a truth and what it means to me. It has a few parts.

Part I: The writing and publishing life isn't easy.

Not everyone will tell you that, and not everyone who is told so believes it, but it's true. And the reality is that if you're going to walk the path seriously, you'll have to sacrifice something.

Some of what I've sacrificed: several hobbies and pretty much all television, with the exception of the news and the occasional Dr. Phil episode, prerecorded on the TiVo, watched while I fold laundry and do dishes. I've also sacrificed having a Martha Stewart house (if you can call that a sacrifice; I'm teaching my kids to do more, which prepares them for adulthood anyway).

What I haven't sacrificed is my family.

The truth is that a lot of people love the idea of writing and getting published, but don't like the reality of what that means. When push comes to shove, they don't have the drive to do what's needed before and after publication: work your tail off learning more, getting honest (sometimes harsh) feedback, attending conferences, networking, building a platform, promoting, and so much more.

Part II: If you don't want to do all those things . . . that's perfectly fine.

The published writer's life is not for everyone.

But please, if you decide it's not for you, don't pretend you aren't writing because of some noble reason like you're waiting to have the time because family comes first, that you'll write when your children grow up because they need you now, or some such. I hear those things a lot, sometimes to my face, and it's awfully close to saying I'm a bad mom.

My kids, I believe, would say I'm a great mom. (I totally am, so there.) On top of that, I've had plenty of experiences, including many spiritual ones, confirming that I'm supposed to be doing this.

Billions of people on this world means billions of paths. There's a good chance that your path isn't mine. And if your path doesn't include writing for publication, that's just fine.

I have a difficult time with people who put on a martyr act, as if they're somehow better, more righteous, more holy, for "giving up" writing, when the truth is, they never had writing to begin with, so they're really giving up nothing.

They never faced the terrifying fears of the blank screen, of rejection after rejection, of criticism, of deadlines, and so much more. They're never gone into and through the dark tunnels, coming out the other side. No, it's much easier to simply say, "Oh, I'd love to do all that, but my family comes first."

Guess what? My family comes first. But I still write. I still publish.

Part III: The writing life and the publishing life aren't necessarily the same thing.

I believe that writing without publishing (blogging, personal histories, journaling, poetry, short stories, essays, perhaps for yourself and your loved ones) is great. They have their place and can be fulfilling.

If the writing life (but not the publishing life) is where you are, where you feel happy, and where you're meant to be, embrace it. Don't pretend you're giving up something that, if you're being honest with yourself, you never really wanted in your heart of hearts.

Part IV: I couldn't have been as active on this path when my children were tiny.

Life has its times and seasons. No way could I have done some of what I do today when I had a nursing baby, for example. My kids are all in school during the day, and they no longer depend on me for the basics. They're all potty trained, can get dressed, make their beds, take showers, get themselves breakfast and lunch, and so on. There was a time when they couldn't do those things, and the job fell on my shoulders.

On the other hand, I still wrote when they were little, but the extent and purpose were somewhat different. (For starters, the biggest purpose for my writing was to keep me sane, although I still sought publication and had my first article published when my second child was a year or two old. She's in ninth grade now.)

Also: blogging didn't exist back then.

But being a novelist was always my end-goal. Not just one novel. A career as a novelist. Some days, the mountain feels as tall as it ever did. Every step I take presents a new one, a new challenge or goal. To use another metaphor, each lap I finish presents a new one; the race never ends.

Part V: Everyone has God-given talents, passions, and missions.

I believe that motherhood is one of mine. And that so is writing. But it's not everyone's.

If you decide that this particular path isn't for you, I'm sure you'll find another one, something that's what you are supposed to be doing. Hundreds of things could be your path, your mountain.

For some reason, writing seems to be a popular passion for people to lay claim to, then place on the altar, give it up, then sigh nobly and walk away from it.

The truth is that writing and publishing require all kinds of sacrifices, including things like ego, to keep going. Remember how I said it's hard? In some ways, walking away from it would be the easy way out. (I can't count the times I've said or heard writer friends say something along the lines of, "Why do I do this? Seriously, am I crazy?")

So I get a bit uppity when I hear people (especially mothers) claim that their children and their calling as a mother are why they never wrote. I don't buy that reason. (Or, rather, that excuse.)

I'm betting that most of those same people are probably investing time, money, and energy into something else (running marathons, quilting, photography, gardening, jewelry making, greeting card design, an Etsy shop, PTA, community theater, whatever). You could be putting the same time, energy, and money into writing, but choose to spend it elsewhere. Please don't pretend that your children are why you don't do it.

The truth is that to write, you'd have to give up your other passion. Is that a choice you're willing to (or are supposed to) make? No one can make that call but you.

All of those things can be worthwhile endeavors. They all require time, energy, and, often, money. Yet whatever is your priority you find time for. (This list his skewed toward women, but I could come up with another list for men that's just as valid.)

I used to be an avid scrapbooker. You can tell pretty easily by looking at my scrapbooks when I signed my first contract.

A friend of mine was a fantastic seamstress. She let her sewing machine get dusty and instead and picked up her laptop. Yet she's a fantastic mom, often skipping critique group and writing events to be at her kids' games (they're freakishly talented in many sports, and therefore have seasons that overlap and last just short of eternity). Beyond attending games, I see her always putting her role as mother first. Yet she still finds a way to write. In fact, I hope to be as prolific as she is some day. She's multi-published and multi-award winning.

I could go on and on with other examples: friends who write in spite of chronic illness, family crises, full-time jobs, and a thousand other potential roadblocks. (Note I said potential.)

Part VI: If you're meant to be a writer but are making excuses, stop it and get writing already.

But if you prefer the dream, the idea of writing and publishing, far more than the rigors of the reality, something else is probably more up your alley: maybe it's some other form of writing, like those mentioned earlier. Or it could be something else entirely. Everyone has a passion, a talent, a mission. Find yours.

I once heard a novelist speak to a church group and answer the question, "How do you find time to write?" This guy has since quit his day job and is a very successful, full-time writer who supports his family with his fiction, but back then he still had a regular, 40-hour a week career that paid the bills.

He asked the audience how many people had watched 30 minutes of television the day before. Most hands went up. He asked how many had watched one hour. A few hands went down, but most stayed up. Two hours? Fewer hands stayed up, but quite a few remained. Three? Still a good number of hands in the air.

Then his point: "Instead of watching any TV last night, I wrote."


At the writing retreat I recently went to, we had 20-minute sprints, contests where we wrote hard and fast to see how many words we could get in. My record was over 1300 words. That's about 6 pages, double spaced, in 20 minutes. Do that several days a week, and you've got a book in a few months.

Yes, my sprint pages need revision, but the point is, you don't need 8-hour blocks to write a novel. If you want it, grab it and find a way to do it. If you think you want it, but you don't really, figure out what you're here to do and do that.

But no more excuses, please.

Monday, November 07, 2011

WNW: Providing Education and a Future

Today's Word Nerd Wednesday is taking a somewhat more serious turn.

I have fun here on WNW, where we often discuss goofy language stuff or pet grammar peeves. But if you've followed me for very long, you know that my interest in language and words goes way beyond grammar.

I'm huge on bringing both adults and children into the 21st century through literacy and education. We're in place now where getting an education and knowing how to communicate (both read and write) are crucial to success.

Statistic after statistic shows that poverty is directly connected to education and literacy levels . . . especially the mother's. Increase the mom's education, and suddenly her children have a better shot at a happy, successful life.

That's why I'm joining bloggers during November to help raise funds for an LDS Philanthropies scholarship that helps single parents get degrees so they and their children can improve their lives.

From LDS Philantrophies (bolded section my emphasis):
During the month of November bloggers are uniting to help single parents like Megan. We can help bring hope with our goal to raise money for as many single parents’ scholarships as we can. At LDS Business College, each semester costs $1,800 or $3,600 a year, or $7,200 for a full two-year degree. There are 45 single parents currently in need. We can make a difference! Please choose to give and spread the word.

Why single parents?

• 28% of children now live with just one parent.

• 40% of children under 18 experience a parental breakup.

• 90% of single-parent families are headed by females.

• Single moms with children have the highest poverty rates.

• 60% of children living in mother-only families are impoverished.

• Single moms are more likely to be poor because of lower earning capacity.

• Single moms median income is only about 25% what a married couple make.

In recent years, LDSBC has placed 90% of its graduates.


Me again. To hear Megan's story, click the speaker icon at the top of the widget in the side bar. For more information on participating in the scholarship program or on raising awareness(including getting the widget for your blog), visit LDS Philanthropies.

Even five dollars can help. (Just think: if all the bloggers who post about the scholarship, and all their readers, each gave $5, that would add up to a lot!)

Use the widget in the left column of my sidebar, and please spread the word!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

WNW: Changing Names Doesn't Change Attitude

I've talked many times about how English (and all languages) evolve. Today's Word Nerd Wednesday is taking a slightly different angle.

Many people believe that language is power, that by changing how we refer to something, we'll change attitudes. That's just not true at all.

An easy example is the word toilet.

The word used to mean the place where a person (usually a woman) would primp: do her hair, spritz perfume, add her jewelry.

But when we got indoor plumbing, people wanted to refer to our, well, business in a manner what would sound nice. So they called the place where we do something entirely different than primp by the same name, the toilet.

Instead of thinking about bodily functions in a pretty, primping sort of way, the new word, toilet, took on the connotations of what we do there. (In other words, it adopted the ick factor.)

Dang. Toilet didn't work. We needed a new term. How about bathroom?

Well, sure, we bathe there, too, but we all know what it really means. That term took on the connotation toilet already had.

Trying again. What about restroom?

Okay, first off, no one rests there, and we all know it. The term is a somewhat a more formal version of bathroom, but it certainly has the same general connotations as toilet. Same with water closet, powder room, and any other term you come up with.

You can change the term all you want, but until we as human beings stop thinking of that particular behavior as anything but a bit gross, any name we give it will take on that same meaning.

A similar thing happened with language during the Civil Rights era. Black had a negative connotation, probably thanks to the bigotry of the day. So activists started using the word colored.

The problem: a change in term didn't change anyone's existing prejudice.

Later we went on to African-American, back to black, possibly back to colored at some point, and today I'm not sure what the politically correct term is.

But the point: anyone who was already prejudiced didn't change their mind based on whatever black people were called. Bigots needed to learn about black people and clue in from experience and education that they're deserving of respect just like anyone else. That doesn't happen from a change in name.

I've watched the same thing happen with handicapped people. Activists seem to hate the term handicapped, or at least the baggage associated with it.

Their predictable response: Let's change the term and thereby change people's attitudes!

You can already predict what's happened, right? We've ended up with things like differently abled and handi-capable. But have any of us changed our attitudes based solely on those terms? I doubt it. If we've changed, it's because of other types of social education, like being exposed to people who use wheelchairs and learning that they're people with hopes, dreams, and feelings (and intelligence!) just like the rest of us.

Chances are, the name didn't do a dang thing. Worse, the new terms are taking on the baggage that handicapped always brought with it.

I believe that the way to create social change is not to change a name or a term. All that does is carry people's baggage from the old term to the new one.

Instead, progress can be made far more quickly by focusing efforts on education and exposure, and possibly even by embracing the name. An example from the past is the way Mormons embraced that nickname, which started out as derogatory. They called themselves Mormons and showed people what that meant . . . through educating them.

Fighting a name is a waste of everyone's energy.

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Dickens Confession

As a BYU English graduate, I had the opportunity last week to speak to a group of English majors. I always love speaking opportunities like that; it's quite different than discussing dialog or plotting at a writing conference. (It's also a bit weird to look out at the class, feeling like I just graduated, and realize that most of those in the audience are half my age. Ahem.)

In the intro that Brother Spotts, the academic advisor, gave for me, he mentioned that my senior course (a semester-long required class where you focus on one author) was on Charles Dickens. I was impressed; he had to research that one out.

I had a great time speaking to the class, and afterward, I had the urge to pull some Dickens off the shelf.

I absolutely loved my Dickens course. We didn't read the typical Great Expectations and such that most of us were already familiar with. Instead we read books like Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House. Our professor led fascinating classroom discussions that challenged me, revealed layered themes Dickens used again and again, and helped me think in new ways. In fact, some of the "tests" she gave were nothing but small groups discussing the reading with her listening in.

(Talking and giving my opinion? Now that's my kind of test.)

The same semester, I also took a general Victorian literature class. (I tended to gravitate toward literature written between the Romantic and Victorian eras any chance I got.)

I was also expecting my first child and therefore heinously exhausted. All. The. Time. I could fall asleep at the drop of a hat.

That semester, I also had more reading to do than any other, often 1,000+ pages a week (of small, itty bitty text). And I'm a slow reader.

More than once, I opened a novel to read my assignment, only to find myself waking up two hours later.


To get my reading in, I resorted to pacing our little apartment and reading aloud. I made slower progress that way, but hey, at least I didn't fall asleep.

Side note: My son turned out to be a natural, reading at age three and decoding at a fourth-grade level when in kindergarten (as the youngest in his class, no less). I've always wondered if hearing classic literature in utero helped his brain form extra connections or something.

Meanwhile, for my Victorian Lit class, we were to pick any book written during that era and write a 2-page paper on it. Very simple, right? Except that I simply had no time to read one more book. I almost cried when I heard the assignment. How could I possibly squeeze in anything else?

And then it dawned on me: I'd just finished Bleak House for my Dickens class, and hello, it's a Victorian novel. It's also something like a thousand pages long, has dozens of characters, and is one of Dickens's darker works. Not nearly as easy to read as Oliver Twist.

So I killed two birds with one stone by using the novel I'd just read for my senior course and writing about it for my 2-page Victorian Lit paper.

The class period after we turned our papers in, our professor wrote the titles of the novels we'd chosen and did hash marks for how many students picked each book. Most of the books had several hash marks next to them. But he paused significantly before writing one title (Bleak House) and turned to the class, eyes wide.

"Can you believe it? One student read Bleak House for this assignment. Bleak House!"

I sat there feeling a bit sheepish. He didn't identify me as the student who'd chosen it.

And I didn't dare admit why I'd written the paper on that book . . . especially since I'm pretty sure his admiration was the reason he gave me an A on it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How I Pulled an "Anne"

Or: Maud's Influence

Like many writers (at least, I believe), I am influenced here and there by the books I read. Not in a blatant "I'm stealing this plot" sort of way, and not even in the more subtle, "I'm totally using that metaphor" kind of way, either.

If I come across a passage where an emotion comes across powerfully, I'll step back, put on my writer hat, and try to figure out how the author made the scene so effective. I watch for structure: what works well, what doesn't. Most importantly, why.

And so on.

But there was one case where a book impacted mine in a more direct way.

I won't do spoilers, so here's my attempt at explaining while being vague:

There was a case where I wrote Character A needing redemption in the eyes Character B, so A and C could be together. As I pondered the plot issue, I remembered a device in Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (who preferred to be called Maud, not Lucy).

I realized with an aha that I'd found my solution. Sort of.

Those who have read all my books will likely recognize this now that I'm about to point it out. (And now you'll know where that plot event came from.)

When Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk on what she thinks is raspberry cordial, Mrs. Barry refuses to let the two be friends anymore. The two girls are not allowed to even talk to one another.

It's not until Mr. and Mrs. Barry are gone one night, and Diana's little sister Minnie Mae gets very ill, that things change: Anne comes to the rescue to save Minnie Mae, who would have died by the time a doctor arrived had Anne not intervened.

That night changes everything: now Mrs. Barry is overflowing in gratitude toward Anne for saving her baby. And she knows without any doubt that Anne can't be a horrid, evil girl after all. Diana and Anne get to be friends again! All is well.

In my book, I pulled an "Anne." I gave Character A, who needed redeeming, a chance to save someone else to prove their character to Character B, who was keeping them from the Character C.

(Is that vague enough to avoid a spoiler? Yet clear enough for those who know what I'm talking about? Hope so.)

That was the one time I deliberately used a specific technique I learned from LMM or any other writer. Yet my version looks very different than hers. I adapted a device.

However, in my very first book, I accidentally mimicked a line of hers from one of my all-time favorite books. I didn't realize I'd done so until two years after Lost Without You first hit shelves, while rereading The Blue Castle for probably the 10th time. I came to a similar line near the end of the book and gasped.

At first I was horrified. Had I accidentally plagiarized? But then I realized that no, I hadn't. First of all, plagiarism is deliberate. This was completely unintentional. Plus, the line wasn't copied; it just contained a distinctive adverb. I'd simply read and loved so much of LMM's work that her influence was bound to creep into my writing on some level.

Most of the time, when I'm influenced by another writer, it's in unseen ways: I notice how they start or end chapters, how they reveal character, show emotion, even describe gestures. (Robert Jordan was particularly good at the latter.)

So: I'm assuming others are influenced in similar ways. For the writers out there: whose writing influences you and how?

Or am I the only one weird one?

(Oh, and if you know what book and situation I'm talking about, please don't spoil it in the comments for anyone else! Thanks!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

WNW: Homophones, Take 3

Time for another round of homophones that are commonly confused.

Six more pairs in today's Word Nerd Wednesday:

Something rises on its own, like bread or the sun. Or yourself, if you're talking about getting out of bed in the morning.

A person or thing raises another object, like the curtain on a stage, or an employee's wage, or children.

Hint: The second word (raise) requires a direct object, like the curtain or the wage. It can't be alone:
I raised. We raised. He raised.
Nope. Those don't make any sense. We need a "what" that is the object of the raising.

everyday/every day
This one has its own WNW post, but in short, the single word (everyday) is an adjective, while the two-word version describes a time period. It answers the question, "When?"

Tip: If you can add "single" in the middle, you know you need the two-word version.
Brushing my teeth is an everyday thing.
I brush my teeth every (single) day.

If something is just and evenhanded, it's fair, like a test or a ruling.

What you pay to ride the bus is a fare.

Moments after my daughter comes home from school, I've been shown her latest creation. (Past tense of show.)

When something is very bright and shines (such as the sun), the past tense is shone or shined.

The most common way of using these wrong is like so:
She'll just have to make due with the current job schedule.
Nope. What you need here is DO:
She'll just have to make do with the current job schedule.
The other words, due means (among other things) when something is expected, like a library book or an assignment or a baby.

I think the confusion comes in with another definition of due: Something owned or rightfully belonging to someone, such as:
The teacher gave Scott his due.
Maybe people are thinking "make do" and "his due" mean the same thing? I don't know.

When you're asking for help on something, you may ask your friend to advise you. (VERB)

What your friend then gives you is advice. (NOUN)

I'm learning some fun Finnish terms for a project I'm working on. Maybe they'll show up in a future Word Nerd Wednesday!

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Current Writing Life

Thought I'd post a few pictures of what I've been up to lately.

In September, I went up to the League of Utah Writers Round-up conference. Due to mommy commitments, I wasn't able to stay the entire time (next year, I hope!). I did some one-on-one manuscript critiques for Precision Editing Group. At the hotel, Josi, Heather, Julie and I wrote, laughed, ate snacks at a bakery, and ultimately buckled down to go over mutual scenes from the Newport Ladies Book Club series to make sure they all match.

(We had to finish that over the phone Saturday night, since I was no longer at the hotel.)

Saturday morning before my critique sessions, I spent some time with my laptop. I literally kicked off my heels and typed away. Unbeknownst to me, Josi snapped a picture.

I believe this is the only photo in existence where I'm drafting something involving the military wives from Band of Sisters. Here, I'm working on the sequel (as yet unnamed). The book is about the re-entry time after the husbands come home.

Above: Me, hanging out with Marianne.

Later in September was the triple launch party for Josi, Sarah, and Mel. Because I'm smart like that, I didn't get picture of them, but here's one of some of us who were there:

Pictured: Mindy and Sheila from the LDS Women's Book Review
and novelists Becca Wilhite and Julie Wright, with me on the end.

Then on October 6th was a day my entire critique group has been waiting for: the release party for Robison Wells' Variant at The King's English bookstore.

First we gathered in a small room to hear Rob speak. It was super inspiring and totally awesome. Here I am right before Rob spoke, with critique group member Michele Paige Holmes.

(Image from Krista Lynne Jensen's blog.)

After Rob spoke, we had yummy refreshments and an insanely long line to get books signed, plus lots of friends and writers to chat with (I'd name drop, but I know I'll forget someone). I even got to meet Rob's parents, who are seriously cool people.

Here I am with Rob at his launch with my very own signed copy of VARIANT:

I actually have two signed copies, one for me, and one that I'll use as a giveaway sometime in the future.

Coming in about a month: I get to attend the Authors Incognito writing retreat. If I can keep up my drafting goals this month, I should be able to finish the BofS sequel at the retreat. Then it'll be time to get it hammered by critiques and alpha and beta readers, revision, and, soon after that, I hope, submission.

Of course, I have several other pots in the fire as well, but that's my biggest focus for now.

Something for local writers out there to be thinking about: in the first quarter of 2012, Precision Editing Group will be doing another live critique workshop like the one we did in August. Be sure to watch for the date announcement and registration information. It was a great experience last time, and you won't want to miss out.

Here's a picture of my workshop table from last summer. They were awesome, and we had a great time!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Come! Learn to Write About YOU

A lot of people tell me they aren't writers. And in the sense of writing for publication, maybe they aren't. But then they say they "can't" write, and I want to blow a raspberry at them and say that yes, they can too write.

Everyone should write, if nothing else than to experience the power of the written word and of creating the written word for yourself and your family. That doesn't mean it's up to you to write the Great American Novel or anything like that.

It can mean blogging. Journaling. Family history. It can also mean writing a personal history.

About a year ago, I attended the funeral of my aunt Eleanor, my father's older sister. As I listened to her daughter, my cousin Becky, relate Aunt Eleanor's life sketch, I couldn't help but think about the day (many, many years hence, I hope) when my father passes. I sat there thinking that I didn't know the kinds of stories about my dad that Becky was telling about her mother. And I wanted to know them.

Afterward, I told my dad that he needed to write his personal history. He replied, "I already have." (And then I cheered.)

A few months later, he let me read it. I've known lots about my father. I've heard him tell many stories about his life. But those 60 single-spaced pages told me so much more. I laughed a lot. Many times, I cried. And when I finished, I felt that I knew my father so much better--and my grandmother, grandfather, aunts and uncles--in ways I never had before and couldn't in any other way.

All of this is why I was excited to hear about a new conference about this very thing. It'll be in March up in Salt Lake City.

If you're even remotely inclined to write and record and save . . . or to learn how to find records from relatives who have already passed on . . . you'll want to attend.

The Power of Story @ Home conference is March 9-10, 2012. It's sponsored by Cherish Bound, Family Search, and the Casual Bloggers Community.

You can find workshops on blogging, oral history, traditional storytelling, and getting your own stories put someplace permanent. You can dip your toes into genealogy and writing your own history or the story of your family.

Tickets are $79 for the full event, or you can pay for one day ($49). Either way it's a great price. You can already register HERE.

I'm going to the conference. I hope you will too.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week.

For readers, writers, teachers, and parents, that should mean something. And it's not that we should be cheering for books to be yanked off shelves, either.

I'm the first person to raise their hand if there's a conversation about how some books are garbage, how I don't want my kids reading that, how I won't read such-and-such, for that matter.

But I want the right to make those choices for myself and for my family. No one else has the right to choose for me.

Based on the choices others have tried to make in banning books for other people's "good," censorship is a very dangerous road. A look at some of the most banned classics stunned me. It includes several of my all-time favorite novels. It also includes some I hate, but I don't think they should be banned.

Children's books in particular tend to get under fire, as well-meaning (at least, we hope) adults put their noses into parents' business and make the parenting decisions on our behalf.

One of the most currently banned books Scholastic publishes is well-loved in our house: Captain Underpants. (We've bought the entire series twice because the books were so loved they fell apart.)

I have a special place in my heart for Dav Pilkey's work. They were the first "real" books my son ever read on his own, cover to cover. Sure, they have lots of goofy potty humor and misspellings.

So what? They got my son reading. He laughed and had fun and advanced to harder and deeper books (without potty humor and misspellings!). Today he's a high-school junior who still reads a lot (much more advanced stuff). He has a great vocabulary, is a great writer, and, in my totally unbiased opinion, is a brilliant student.

Had I taken away his favorite books back when he was six and insisted he read Tom Sawyer when he simply wasn't ready for a classic like that, I think that today he'd hate reading and wouldn't have the academic success he has today.

And that would be a travesty.

One of my favorite posts about Banned Books Week is by Dan Wells, a great writer and a friend of mine. Read it. Here. Now.

Then go check out some lists of banned books . . . and then be really rebellious and read one.

I'm betting you already have.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WNW: Grammar as Currency

On last week's Word Nerd Wednesday, Jordan McCollum made a comment about how the "needs washed" usage can be considered standard if you live in an area where it is, well, standard.

We exchanged some emails about what constitutes "standard" and acceptable as far as English goes. I don't want to put words into Jordan's mouth, and she can always write about her opinion on the issue, but I thought the topic was worth addressing in a WNW post.

Here's my basic opinion on standard English and the "rules," keeping in mind that while I love language and am a total nerd about it, I am not an expert, nor a linguist. And Jordan has studied linguistics.

However, my dad is a linguist (I think word nerdery is genetic). We talk about this kind of stuff a lot, and I think it's largely thanks to his influence that I don't get overly annoyed by a lot of so-called grammatical mistakes in conversation or other casual settings, like emails and blog posts. I don't even care that on Twitter, there's a search feature for "Who to Follow" instead of "Whom."

For that matter, sometimes I find myself enjoying differences in speech patterns, as it's a peek into a different culture.

There was the time Dr. Oaks taught about how some people pronounce an R sound after an A, resulting in words like warshed instead of washed. I'd never heard anyone pronounce it like that, but lo and behold, just a few months later, I met a family who did. They warshed their warsh rags in the warshing machine.

I was fascinated. Dr. Oaks was right! How cool.

Jordan has a point that what's acceptable usage varies from area to area. I'd say that since such a huge portion of the world speaks English as a native language, you'll find variations within every country (and state) that speaks English. There's bound to be a wide range of what's considered okay in any one place.

On top of what's considered standard, most people speak in several "registers," meaning they slip into and out of various ways of talking depending on the context. So I'd use far more formal language when teaching a writing workshop than I would when chatting with my sister.

Another example: While we were dating, my husband mentioned how differently I spoke when I was around my high-school friends. At first I balked at the idea, saying that I didn't just change who I was when they showed up. But I watched myself after that, and his observation was right. My group of friends from that era had its own tone and even slang. It was natural to slip into it when around them and then slip out of it like a light jacket when I walked away. So natural I didn't notice I was doing it.

I've heard of corporate professionals who speak one way most of their days but then visit their parents back in the Bronx (or the Deep South or some other place) for Christmas and by New Year's, they're talking with a heavier accent again and using colloquial phrases they'd almost forgotten about.

This is normal. This if perfectly fine.

AND YET. (You could hear that coming, couldn't you?)

The standard exists for a reason. It's a collection of agreed-upon rules that marks what is expected of educated people in our culture. If you are educated, you're expected to know these rules.

In a social (and even economic) sense, standard English is the currency we use in our interactions.

That means it's valued. If you decide not to use it, fine. Just know that your language may prevent you from using the same currency, communicating (and succeeding!) in a way others who do use the standard will by default.

Because the standard is such a huge currency, it's a good idea to follow any rule in a situation that values the currency.

If you used their as a singular possessive pronoun in a resume, you may know that it's gradually becoming accepted usage, but a potential boss may not, thinking it's still a standard rule. The potential employer, knowing the currency of standard English, may well assume you don't know correct grammar and therefore aren't as smart or capable as you really are.

Just like you'd never wear a swim suit or pajamas to a job interview, you need to use the right language in the right settings to be taken seriously.

I've mentioned this idea before, particularly how a student called Dr. Oaks out on it, asking why we couldn't just turn in our papers using our regional dialects if they aren't inherently any more inferior or "wrong" than the standard.

Dr. Oaks just laughed and basically said, "Because you're at a university, that's why. Part of your education is to learn how to communicate using the standard dialect and then prove you know it in your writing."

In today's technological world, where pretty much everyone is required to communicate with the written word in virtually any job (even at McDonald's), knowing the rules and expectations goes a very, very long way.

As we shoot forward into the electronic future, it's going to be more and more important for our kids to have the currency they need to succeed, and that means knowing the standard language so they can communicate effectively, be taken seriously (as smart and capable!), and, frankly, to get ahead in life.

I've seen too many cases where someone uses their regional dialect in a setting where it simply isn't appropriate or welcome. The person is brushed off as incompetent or even unintelligent.

Sure, you can always fight back by saying that the people who judge you based on your language are wrong, narrow-minded, and not so smart themselves.

And you may be right.

But being right isn't going to get you the job.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Author Interview: Abel Keogh

Today I get to interview fellow LDStorymakers member and writer, Abel Keogh, who has a new book out. He's a copywriter by day, and a creative writer by night (or by free time, as the case may be).

About Abel:

At the age of 26, Abel Keogh unexpectedly found himself a young widower. When he decided to starting dating again, he looked in vain for resources that could help guide him through the dating waters and open his heart to someone else. He found nothing. As he began blogging about his experiences, women dating widowers began emailing him asking for his thoughts on their situations. As the numbers of emails increased, Abel started writing his own dating a widower advice column. In Dating a Widower Abel shares the knowledge he’s learned from his own experience and the most common issues he’s seen from hundreds of emails from women dating widowers.

Abel is also the author of the memoir Room for Two—the story of the year of his life following his late wife’s suicide—and the novel The Third. He and his wife Julianna are the parents of three boys and two girls.

Since I get this a lot, before we get into the interview, let's start with his last name: It's pronounced KEY-OH.

Here's our discussion about Dating a Widower:

AL: Professionally you’ve worked as a technical and marketing writer for hi-tech organizations. You’ve also published a memoir, a novel, and now you have a self-help book. What is your favorite type of writing? Why?

AK: I really enjoy the challenge that comes with fiction. Creating new worlds, believable characters, and complex plot is fun but difficult. Non-fiction is easy for me to write. I’m not sure why—maybe it has something to do with my professional background. But being able to write a good novel is an absolute thrill. I’m in awe of those writers who can do it well.

AL: What prompted you to write Dating a Widower?

AK: I’ve received hundreds of emails from women dating widowers over the last five years finally and realized that there really was nothing in the market to help these women—especially form a male point of view. I started to meet the demand by writing a weekly column but my readers kept asking for a book so I took a couple weeks and wrote one.

AL: You’ve published two books traditionally with a small press and received a publishing contract for Dating a Widower. Why did you turn down the contract and decide to self-publish this book?

AK: Turning down the contract was a difficult decision—one that took over a month to make. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had a corner on the market and a fairly big audience that was eager for the book. I wasn’t sure that a publisher could reach the audience any better than I could, so self-publishing seemed like the best option. I knew going at it on my own was going to take a lot of extra work but had the potential for lots of reward that wouldn’t come going the traditional route. As of now, I’m happy with my decision.

AL: What is your typical writing schedule like?

AK: Most of my writing is done at night after the kids are in bed. On the weekends I can usually sneak in a few more hours early in the morning. I wish I had more time, but there are responsibilities that come with being a husband and father that take priority.

AL: What are some of the differences you’ve found in writing a book of non-fiction versus fiction?

AK: Unless you’re writing a memoir, there are a lot of things you don’t have to worry about when writing non-fiction. For example, you don’t have to worry about plot twists or whether there’s enough tension in the plot to keep the reader turning the pages. At their core, however, fiction and non-fiction both need a solid outline, clear concise writing, and meet the needs of the target audience in order to succeed.

AL: What challenges does self-publishing bring with it? What are the benefits?

AK: The biggest challenge is producing a product that just as good, if not better,than a regular publisher. From what I seen most self-published books still have a lot of quality issues such as typos and other mistakes any competent editor would catch. In addition most have poorly designed, amateur-looking covers. If you’re going to self-publishing and want to succeed, the packaging and the product has got to be first-rate.

The biggest reward, so far, is seeing the final product and being very pleased with it. I believe I did as good a job as any publisher could have done with it. The final verdict, of course, will be up to the book’s target audience. After looking at the sales numbers in a couple months I should know whether the packaging and content did their job.

AL:What's been the biggest surprise about the self-publishing process?

AK:The amount of work involved. I knew it was going to be time consuming but I didn’t realize how time consuming. I had to put a fiction project completely on hold for two months in order to get Dating a Widower done right.

AL: What are the most common questions you get from women dating widowers?

AK: The two big ones are 1) how long does it take for a widower to move on? and 2) when will he take down all the pictures of the late wife? (The answers to those questions are 1) It varies from person to person, but when the widower finds the right person, he’ll stop grieving and 2) as soon as he’s really ready to make room in his heart for you, the photos will come down.)

AL: Which authors are your biggest literary influences in the national market?

AK: Lee Child, Michael Connelly, and Robert Crais.

AL: In the LDS market?

AK: Tristi Pinkston, Gregg Luke, and Orson Scott Card. (Yes, I know Card publishes nationally, but in my mind he’s never stopped being an LDS writer.)

AL: Any advice for aspiring authors?

AK: There’s never been a better time to be a writer. The number of options and opportunities that are available to authors today are simply unbelievable. Authors can go the traditional route, self-publish and still get their books distributed through the world’s biggest bookstores, or do both. The eBook world has also revived the short story market—something I’m personally glad to see. How the new world of publishing will sort itself out remains to be seen, but I’m optimistic that, for authors, it’s only going to get better.

Read the first chapter HERE.

Buy Dating a Widower
on on the Kindle ($2.99)
on the Nook ($2.99)
or in paperback ($8.99).

Contact Abel via Twitter: @AbelKeogh, on his Facebook PAGE, or visit Abel's blog here.


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