Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012

In the rush of holiday madness, some years I forget to make my yearly roundup of favorites, inspired by Luisa's annual list. (Go read hers if nothing else than for the too-cute picture of her daughter ringing in new year.)

Top Books by Genre
Science Fiction: The Lost Gate, by Orson Scott Card
Paranormal: Dispirited, by Luisa Perkins

Acceptable Loss, by Anne Perry. (Wow. Just, wow.)
(Also: Didn't read much in this genre in 2012, but Anne Perry deserves a mention no matter what. Can't wait to hear her speak at the LDStorymakers conference in May!)

Young Adult:
Feedback, by Robison Wells (Even though I really read in in 2011, pre-publication)
After Hello, by Lisa Mangum
With a Name Like Love, by Tess Hilmo

Women's Fiction:
Handle with Care, by Jodi Piccoult (Didn't like the last chapter.)
Home Again, by Kristen Hannah
He's Gone, by Deb Caletti (An ARC. The book won't come out until May 2013. Look for it!)
Night on Moon Hill, by Tanya Parker Mills

My Lucky Stars, by Michele Paige Holmes
Lady Outlaw, by Stacy Henrie

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
(Read this for the second set of Newport Ladies books. Fascinating.)

Top Movies
Dark Knight Rises
I downed a giant Diet Coke at the beginning and really had to go, but the movie wouldn't let me. That's saying something.

I've seen my share of Bond movies, although I'm not a die-hard fan. This movie, to me, was everything a Bond movie should be, with the addition of stellar writing and character arcs.

Les Miserables
Totally lived up to the hype. I never expected Anne Hathaway to pull out such a gut-wrenching, real performance. I would have liked "Stars" to be about 5X more powerful, though, especially coming from an actor who has been nominated for 3 Oscars and owns a statue. That said, great movie. Can't remember the last time I cried this much in a theater.

Men in Black 3
Didn't expect this to be nearly as good as it was, following on the heels of a crappy MIB2. Delighted by the surprise of an awesome movie. They returned to their roots from the first one. So funny, and this one has heart, too.

Top Family Moments
Son getting his license, freeing up the mom taxi a bit.
Daughter (child #2) getting her permit, marking the beginning of training another driver.
Summer school to get ahead on credits for 2 kids.
Husband undergoing gastric bypass surgery. (Just a slight change in family life!)
Son embarking on his senior year, including final ACT testing, college applications, the school play, and more.
Daughter (Kid 2) becoming section leader in high-school band.
Daughter (Kid 3) testing (and passing!) to be on pointe in ballet and taking her dancing skills crazy high.
Daughter (Kid 2) opening her own piano studio and teaching students.
Youngest (Kid 4) Becoming a gymnast, entering team-level, and developing more muscles than is right for a 10-year-old. (She can beat any boy in her class at an arm wrestle, easy. I have to try to beat her.)
Watching Kid 3 work her tail off to overcome some major challenges as well as compete her heart out with her dance team.
Kid 4 counting down the days (literally, on a paper chain) until her best bud cousin Scott gets home from his mission (tonight!).

Top Career Moments
After a bit of publishing drought, having 2 novels come out within months of each other. (Okay, one hit shelves after the new year, but they're still only 5 months apart!)

Becoming part of Timeless Romance Anthologies, beginning with the Winter Collection. (The Spring Vacation Collection will be up for sale in about a month.)

Editing for some great clients and writers, including crit group friend, J. Scott Savage, with his next Farworld book.

Speaking at several conferences, including the League of Utah Writers Round-up, a goal of mine for about
15 years.

Watching Paige climb the bestseller list on Deseret Book's website, and then stay in the top 20 for months. (Also: writing Ilana, my next volume in The Newport Ladies Book Club.)

Top Personal Moments
After having a bunch of hair fall out, deciding to chop off my long (then stringy) hair. It hasn't been this short since infancy. A fun and long-overdue change. (And my hair is no longer falling out.)

Lost more weight from the freaky weight gain.

Made some minor progress in headache relief. Hoping for more improvement in 2013.

Had a great time teaching the 12-year-old Beehives at church and going to girls camp with my 2 older girls.

Got back into knitting more, my personal de-stresser.

Attended my 20-year high-school reunion. Time warp!

Exercised more than I had in years, and even ran a lot, something I never thought I'd do. However, I still say I hate running. But I love having run.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

WNW: Christmas Edition #2

After doing a Holiday Edition (please read that one before addressing your Christmas cards and gifts!) and a Christmas Edition (read that one before thinking someone is sacrilegious for using "Xmas") for Word Nerd Wednesday (I like both of those!), I thought it appropriate to do another post before Christmas.

Once again, I'm going back to my linguistics roots with two of my favorite linguists, Dad and Dr. Oaks.

Christmas carols, and I'd bet, songs in general, have a way of retaining archaic terms and phrases. I'm going to talk about two specific carols, both of which I remember for their word nerdy qualities.

"The 12 Days of Christmas"
When my sisters and I were young, we'd make up versions of this song to go with other holidays: Easter or Halloween or maybe another theme altogether.

The song itself is rather odd, though: who gives presents of milk maids and several types of birds? The five golden rings make sense. The pipers piping, not so much.

I imagine there's some cool history to the song itself, but today we're looking at one word in the song, one that's been tweaked into something that makes even less sense than giving lords a leaping to your beloved.

On the fourth day of Christmas, what was given to "my true love"?

I'd be you'd answer that it was four calling birds, right? And just about every recording and written transcript of the song would agree.

Except that what the heck is a calling bird?

My child self imagined a bird that could talk back, maybe like the Mocking Jay in the Hunger Games series.

Turns out that calling bird isn't the original term. It's coaly bird. As in, a coal-colored. As in, a black bird.

Why a loved one would give black birds is a mystery right up there with the geese a laying, but at least a coal-colored bird is something identifiable, whereas a calling bird is not. (Thanks to Dad for this one!)

"Silent Night"
One day in my grammar and usage class in college (somewhere around Christmas of 1994 . . . ahem, yes I'm that old), Dr. Oaks asked if we completely understood the words in "Silent Night."

At first we all sort of stared at him with an "um, duh" look. Until he went line by line.
Silent night, holy night,
Okay, yeah. We got that.
All is calm, all is bright 
Easy. Next, please.
Round yon virgin
Wait, what? The other lines so far were clear statements or descriptions. What exactly is a "round yon virgin"?

It was a weird brain teaser for a second there as we pictured maybe Mary's roundness before giving birth or . . . whatever.

That's when Dr. Oaks pointed out that if we look at the punctuation, rather than the spot where everyone pauses to take a big breath, the full sentence makes sense. Which meant backing up a line:
All is calm, all is bright round yon virgin, mother and child.
Do you see the full meaning? That round yon virgin isn't a statement like the previous parts?

Maybe my class was the only group who hadn't really clued in, but it wasn't until then that I really got that the song said (in modern terms) that everything was calm and bright in the vicinity of Mary and her baby. (It helps to note that round is short for around, so it's a preposition, not an adjective).

Trouble is, carolers rarely sing the line in one breath, but rather as two separate thoughts, so the meaning is often lost with the lines broken up the way Dr. Oaks first read them to us.

Whenever I sing "Silent Night" now, I make a point of mentally carrying the music from bright to round without a breath so that at least I can picture the full meaning of the song, which is far more beautiful that I'd realized.

Remembering that day in class helps me think on that silent night and what it meant for all of us.

(Note: See Grammar Girl for a great post about more archaic grammar in carols.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

WNW: A Twitchy Mistake: "Let Alone"

Some time ago, two friends (Sarah M. Eden and TJ Bronley), brought up a grammatical pet peeve they shared: the misuse of "let alone."

It was one of those things that I hadn't noticed too much . . . until someone pointed it out. Turns out that yep, people do use this one wrong, and with somewhat alarming frequency.

Here's how you use "let alone": 
"Let alone" ups the stakes. Generally, the speaker/writer is referring to two things, one much bigger/worse/awful/awesome than the other.

Rules of thumb: 
(1) The smaller "less wow" item is first.
(2) The item with the biggest "wow" factor is mentioned second, after "let alone."

And that is where people make the mistake: by putting "let alone" next to the lesser item.

Example #1 (courtesy TJ)
Five-year-old Timmy asked for a pet, but we aren't getting a pony, let a lone a dog.

Here, the sentence implies that a pony is a common pet, while a dog (a DOG!) is something totally out of the realm of possibility, a ridiculous idea.

Five-year-old Timmy asked for a pet, but we aren't getting a dog [lesser pet!], let a lone a pony [the WOW pet!].

Example #2 (courtesy Sarah)
I've never been to London, let alone  Salt Lake City.

For most of my readers (likely Utahns) and even those throughout the U.S. and the world, Salt Lake City is by far the lesser "wow" of the two cities. For starters, SLC, as an actual settled city (not counting Native Americans who may have lived in the area) doesn't even have 200 years of history yet, while London has hundreds and hundreds of years' worth.

I've never been to Salt Lake City [the lesser city, assuming you're big about history, art, literature, etc.], let alone London [the holy grail for writers and English major nerds like me, ergo the WOW city to visit].


As with many of my Word Nerd Wednesday posts, this issue probably a lot of readers wondering how anyone could get that wrong. Good!

For those few people who didn't know the correct way of using "let alone," now you can go forth and use it properly over Thanksgiving dinner, knowing that the word nerd at your table won't choke on a turkey bone.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Secret Weapon: Or, Writing Isn't So Solitary Anymore

Today's post has a partner. Luisa Perkins and I are blogging about the same thing today (surely with individual perspectives and insights). After reading my post, be sure to hop over to her blog. The link is here and again at the bottom of the post.

Picture of me with Luisa Perkins 
at the Whitney Awards gala, May 2012

First off, I'm stating the obvious: Writing is a solitary pursuit.

You do it alone. It's just you and the computer. If you're lucky, you have a critique group, you attend conferences, and have other chances to rub shoulders with fellow writers, all things to help to keep you going.

But when push comes to shove, it's the whole BIC, HOK—butt in chair, hands on keyboard—that gets words onto the page and, eventually a whole book written. Or revised. Or submitted. And so on.

As my regular readers know, I've been at this writing gig for a really long time. But I still fight my old enemy, Resistance, which can show up in any form to keep me from getting my work done, whether it's puttering around online or getting caught up in the daily drama of life or whatever else (that "other else" often being, at its core, "I'm actually scared to work on that"), somehow, POOF! my time to write is eaten up, and I don't know where it went.

Resistance is sneaky that way, and I have to battle it, consciously, every day. But that's hard to do alone. And writing is a solitary pursuit, right?

This is where my newest and best weapon against Resistance comes in: For the last year and a half (I think? I've lost track), I've had a system with a dear friend and fellow writer, Luisa Perkins. We're accountability partners, and we help each other keep moving, break through blocks, and prioritize our lives. (And yes, that includes family time.)

Here's the basic gist of what we do: 
Each day (or the night before), we email our goals. The lists often include basic stuff like exercise and doing laundry, and then go into specific, measurable writing goals (such as "Edit 30 pages of X" or "Complete chapter ten of Y).

With my list sent to Luisa, she knows my goals. The luxury of slacking off isn't an option. Suddenly writing (and being a mom and cleaning house) aren't so solitary.

And here's why: Throughout the day, we send texts whenever we've accomplished something. My phone goes off a lot, and my kids have reached the point where they just assume a text is from Luisa when they hear it. Even though they've never met her, she's a real part of their lives.

Examples of texts:
-Dishwasher running. Load of laundry started.
-Read scriptures
-10 pages edited
-Blog post written
-Revised 2 chapters
-Grocery list made

(Yes, we even report showing, getting dressed, and putting on makeup. Some days, even those things are an accomplishment. Any stay-at-home mom can relate to that, I'm sure.)

Some results of our partnership, which began largely as an experiment: 

(1) I get far more done when I know someone else is expecting me to report back.

(2) I make better goals for myself. So instead of saying, "I need to finish drafting this book," I've learned to break down big jobs into smaller pieces, taking them one day at a time. So today I'll draft chapter fifteen. That's doable. It isn't nearly as scary.

(3) I've learned new methods of working and fighting Resistance. Every writer has his or her own bag of tricks. Mine has expanded as I discover Luisa's ways of battling it out. One of my favorite ways is her chapter/chore method. She recently blogged about that here. (She also wrote a brilliant post about Resistance. Read that here.)

(4) I've developed new methods of battling Resistance. One of mine is taking a writing task that seems totally daunting and setting a timer for 20 minutes. Certainly I can survive working on anything for that long, right? So I do. More often than not, those 20 minutes turn into 30 or 40 or even 60. Sometimes it really is just 20, and that's okay. Either way, I've made progress on something that would have gathered dust. I kicked Resistance in the teeth!

(5) When Resistance/fatigue/depression/anxiety/stress kick in (and they do), I know that Luisa is only a text away. I can complain to her about my headache or the latest problem that dropped from the sky, and she's always there with a compassionate and loving ear. Her replies give me strength. They may be text-length, but they buoy me up. I've been known to cry after reading her texts, suddenly able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

(6) The tiniest of celebrations is often enough to keep my inner writer going. Often, after I send off a text with my latest to-do item check off, I'll get a reply with something short like, "You're awesome!" or a simple, "Yay!" It's like I have my own cheering section. Most of the time, no one else is around to see, let alone acknowledge, what I've done, especially when most of my battles are on computer files and are therefore pretty much invisible to everyone else.

(7) I find myself doing more things that are important for my personal well-being and that of my family's, including making home-cooked meals, keeping the house cleaner, exercising regularly, and reading my scriptures daily. (That said, don't drop in expecting to see a Martha Stewart house . . .)

(8) Writing is no longer a solitary pursuit. Every week day, Luisa is right beside me, keeping me going, from hundreds of miles away.

The entire time we've been doing this, we've lived far apart. I'm in Utah, and when we began, Luisa lived in New York, on the east coast. Last summer, her family moved to the west coast, so she's technically a bit closer to me now, but for all practical purposes, she's as far away as ever.

Fortunately, distance simply doesn't matter. We have a simple piece of technology that links us.

I still cling to my critique group; they're my source of weekly sanity. They keep me writing to deadlines, and they keep me striving to constantly improve my work. (And they're great to simply hang out with, some of my best friends ever.)

My ten shades of awesome accountability partner is one very big piece of my writer's arsenal in helping me get the job done . . . and not doing it alone. I stay motivated. I produce. I'm happier. I'm more me. I'm more there for my family. It's been a wonderful thing.

Having an accountability partner has become such a part of my life that when my phone beeps, my kids assume it's a text from Luisa. If they're playing a game on my phone and I tell them I need to send a text to Luisa, they know they have to relinquish it right away. They've never met Luisa, but they probably know her better than they do many of my friends, because she's such a big part of their mom's life.

Accountability partners may not be for everyone, but I know that Luisa and I have both benefited from the arrangement, so we thought that sharing the idea with others could be helpful.

I got lucky in finding mine. Luisa and I have been friends since 2007 (there's a fun story behind that involving knitting), and we sort of fell into it one step at a time. If you hope to find an accountability partner, my best advice would be to find someone you're already friends with. If you've attended writing conferences and the like, you probably have writing friends. I'd definitely partner with a fellow writer, because your goals will more closely line up, and you'll understand each other's needs, desires, and feelings so much better.

Find Luisa's post about accountability partners on her Novembrance blog.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

WNW: The Influence of a Madman

If you've frequented my blog for any significant period, you know that I adore and rely on the Oxford English Dictionary (known as the OED). An entire blog label is devoted to my references to the beloved OED (including this post!). I turned to my most beloved dictionary a lot when writing my historical novels. (Was "cookie" used in the 1880s?) Many friends ask me to check the OED for similar reasons. (Among them, J. Scott Savage, author of The Fourth Nephite books, to be sure he's got the 1830s lingo right.)

And, of course, right here, Word Nerd Wednesday mentions the OED with relative frequency.

This post will have two parts:
(1) What is the OED anyway? (What makes it different from any other English dictionary out there?) (I've covered this briefly in past posts, but it's been a long while.) (Yes, I know that multiple sets of parentheses is atypical.)


(2) What does a madman have to do with the OED?

What Is the OED, Anyway?
In 1857, Professor James Murray began one of the most ambitious linguistic projects of all time. His goal: to create a dictionary that went beyond definitions to recording the first instance of each word used in print. His dictionary would show the change and evolution of the language.

Understandably, the project took years and years. An entry in the OED lists quotations from multiple sources, so you can see when a word was used, fell out of use, and came back. How the meaning has changed over time, and so on.

During my university days at Brigham Young University, I often walked past a copy in the library. It sat atop a waist-high bookcase, which the blue volumes covered in two full rows with somewhere around 30 volumes. (In that edition. It's longer now.) The OED is constantly being updated, as new words constantly enter the language (today more than ever).

My dad owns the shrunken-down version of the OED. It's only two volumes long, but each page has four complete, miniaturized pages. And no kidding, the set comes with a magnifying glass because even someone with 20/20 vision would go cross-eyed trying to read that puppy.

I own a CD version of the OED from about 10 years ago. I got it for my birthday one year and use it regularly.

What does a madman have to do with the OED?
While working on his dictionary, Professor Murray sent out calls for help in looking for early printed instances of specific words. This wasn't a one-man task. Even with help, completing the dictionary would take decades. And this was way more than a century before computers. Many people sent in slips of paper with quotes and sources.

But one man came to Murray's aid more than any other, somehow managing to find the time search for words hours on end, constantly, eventually submitting over ten thousand quotes, including many obscure words Murray wrote to him about, specifically assigning him to look for.

What Murray didn't know was why this man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had so much time on his hands: He was an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. A murderer.

You can read the true story, which reads like a novel, in a book I love: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester.

I read it years ago, marked it up, and still count it as one of the most fascinating non-fiction works I've ever read.

Oh, and if you're on Twitter, be sure to follow @OEDonline for fun word nerdiness throughout your day!

Monday, October 01, 2012

A Release, An Event, & A Giveaway

All I can say about the last little while is holy busy, Batman!

(I may be channeling a lot of Batman lately, as my husband and I went to see Dark Knight Rises over the weekend . . .)

I swear, someone has a demented time turner and has put my life on fast forward. (How in the world have I reached the point where my son has to look at college and scholarship applications? Impossible, I tell you!)

This post is to help keep my readers in the loop on the fun (and not Mom's freaking out again) stuff going on in the writing arena of my life.

Introducing Timeless Romance Anthologies
I feel so fortunate to be part of this awesome project! Heather B. Moore, Sarah M. Eden, and I have begun something uber cool: anthologies of Romance stories. Each volume will have SIX stories focused on a specific theme, and we'll hand pick three other writers to contribute to each volume, and you can expect three anthologies a year.

The first volume, what we're calling our "Winter Collection," is full of historical Romance stories that take place, yep, in the winter. (See? It's up in time for the holidays! Awesome stocking-stuffer! *cough-cough*)

(Also: Isn't the cover so pretty?!)

Our guest writers this time: Heidi Ashworth, Joyce DiPastena, and Donna Hatch.

The historical stories span the medieval period all the way to 1901 New York City, and each one is a great read. (It was no accident that we picked Heidi, Joyce, and Donna; we know they'd come up with something wonderful!)

The e-book anthology is up for purchase TODAY! Get it on Kindle HERE or in other e-book formats on  Smashwords HERE, for the whopping price (haha!) of $3.99.

ATHENA Launch: A Month Early in ONE Store Only
Join me, Julie Wright, and Heather,  author of the fourth Newport Ladies book Athena, this Saturday at the Fort Union Deseret Book during their Ladies Night event from 6-8PM.

This is the only store that will have Athena available for sale until it hits stores officially in November. So come get it before anyone else! There will be giveaways, other authors and artists, and food. Come!

ATHENA Spread-the-Word Contest
Help us let others know about Saturday's book signing, especially that long-anticipated Athena will be available for Fort Union customers!

Tweet about it, Facebook it, mention it on Google +, blog about it . . . and have a shot at entering one of several awesome prizes.

For details, visit THIS POST on the Newport Ladies blog.

While you're there, check out the awesome review (link in the sidebar) that Paige got from The Deseret News!

Joyce DiPastena is holding a giveaways right now in honor of the anthology's release.

Phew. I think I covered all the big stuff for this week!

In the meantime, go download the anthology, curl up with a cup of cocoa, and enjoy six awesome stories!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fun with Punctuation. Really.

Those little black marks we use in our sentences are remarkably powerful. A slight change or deletion to a sentence, and suddenly we have a totally different meaning.

Here are two of my favorite examples in action.

#1. I see this one around Facebook a lot, so you may have seen it: 
Version 1: Let's eat Grandpa!
Version 2: Let's eat, Grandpa!

"Punctuation saves lives."
(All thanks to a little comma!)
#2. I first saw this one in college thanks to a professor. Like the first example, neither is incorrect from a technical standpoint, but each has a totally different meaning that relies entirely on punctuation.
Version 1: Woman, without her man, is nothing.
Our professor wrote that on the board, to the angry gasps (and possibly hisses) of the women in the class (and to the chortles of the guys).
Version 2: Woman: without her, man is nothing.
Now the women were laughing. And the guys just grunted and shifted uncomfortably. 

So why am I bringing up punctuation, something usually reserved for Word Nerd Wednesday? For one reason:

Today is the 9th Annual National Punctuation Day!

According to the official website, the holiday, among other things, "reminds America that a semicolon is not a surgical procedure."

(Hahahaa! The only thing better than a semicolon is a semicolon joke. I know, right?!)

Each year, the folks at National Punctuation Day host a short writing challenge, one that requires entries to use thirteen different punctuation marks in the span one paragraph, which can consist of only 3 sentences. (Yes, you can use the same mark more than once, but you must use all thirteen.)

I love the idea of this challenge, because, among other things, you must know how all of the punctuation marks actually work (or you're forced into finding out!).

Here's this year's contest, taken from the official site:
Vote for your favorite Presidential Punctuation Mark in one, highly punctuated paragraph!
The rules: Write one paragraph with a maximum of three sentences using the following 13 punctuation marks to explain which should be “presidential,” and why: apostrophe, brackets, colon, comma, dash, ellipsis, exclamation point, hyphen, parentheses, period, question mark, quotation mark, and semicolon. You may use a punctuation mark more than once, and there is no word limit. Multiple entries are permitted.
In short, persuade us that your favorite punctuation mark should be the official punctuation mark of the President of the United States.

While the holiday is a time to play around with punctuation, I hope it also brings some attention to the little marks that can seemingly clutter up our sentences.

If more people understood how a well-punctuated sentence can make their message come across smoothly and easily for the reader, I think more people would learn proper punctuation.

They'd also realize that punctuation rules aren't limiting; rather, the rules open up far greater possibilities for communication than you would have without them.

The contest is open until the Sunday, September 30. For details about how to submit, what prizes you're competing for, and more, visit the National Punctuation Day site.

And then bake up some punctuation mark treats. Just think: three cupcakes in a row for ellipses. A jelly roll cake plus a cookie for an exclamation point. Bread dough shaped and baked into a question mark. The possibilities are endless! I may have to come up with a punctuation mark-themed dessert or side dish tonight!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On My Own—From the Archives

SO much has happened and is happening that I'm trying frantically to catch up, and that includes keeping my blog updated. I hope to return to Word Nerd Wednesday next week.

One thing happening is that my oldest daughter has been playing music from Les Miserables. She particularly enjoys playing "On My Own."

It's beautiful, but I admit that hearing it also makes me giggle. The experience described below is why. It originally appeared here on my blog in October 2007.

(This same daughter, if anyone in my area is interested, is beginning to teach piano lessons. She's a beautiful musician, and she's great with kids.)

On My Own, Or on YouTube

As I’ve mentioned before, I went to high school with a bunch of thespians. These are people who took acting and made it a lifestyle. Their favorite party games were acting games. (Ever played "In the Manner of the Adverb"?) Their favorite pastimes were viewing or participating in plays—or listening to Broadway soundtracks.

With their insane music ability, it was a snap to stand around a piano while one (take your pick; it could be any one of half a dozen of them) sight read music and the rest sang along in perfect harmony. (Except me. "Give Annette the melody" was their sympathetic mantra.) Their competitions weren’t of the football variety, but rather Region Drama.

Being part of this group was particularly interesting for me, as I lived in a tight shell of shyness. These people exploded that shell off my person—which was a good thing in many ways, if uncomfortable at times. It stretched me.

Because of them, I auditioned for and performed in three community youth theater productions. It was because of them I started taking voice lessons and tried out for (and sang in) the school choir. It was because of them I found my interest in ballroom dance (which, in turn, led to meeting my husband).

It was also because of them that I ended up playing the temptress/blackmailer Desaray Cahoon one wintry night.

Four of the gang were on a double date and decided to make a soap opera video. They spent much of the evening writing out the script. Then they called the rest of our group over to film the thing. (Essentially crashing their date, but hey—we were all buds, and it was fun.)

The script began with one of the love interests getting smacked on the head by a rival, sending her into a coma. I’m fuzzy on the rest of the story—it made more sense on paper than it did on tape—but there was also a mute girl cured by the pure love of her teacher, including a delightful montage between them after they discover their love. They frolicked in the snow in Em’s backyard.

And then there was the blackmailing scheme of which Desaray (moi) was a part.

But the scene that had us all in stitches was when Em—the one who loved the mute girl's teacher (so we had a triangle; he was in love with the mute instead of her . . . the whole thing was dreadfully soapy)—sang a tearful rendition of “On My Own” from Les Miserables.

To fully appreciate this, you have to understand Em. She’s a consummate actress. In high school she played about every leading role possible. She won the award as the best actor of her graduating class. She went on to get a BA and an MA in theater. So yeah, the girl could (and can) act.

[2012 update: She's gone on to appear in a film many of my readers have surely seen. In the Joseph Smith movie, she's Mary Fielding, Hyrum's wife.]

Em can be very intense in her performances, especially her dramatic ones. Which is what made her hysterical to watch when she would take humorous material and turn it serious.

To this day, I crack up whenever I think of her dramatic interpretation of the song, “Oklahoma.” I can still hear the emotion and intensity in her voice when she’d declare, “And the waving wheat can sure smell sweet.” She had us hyperventilating.

Take that passion, add a cup of melodrama, and throw “On My Own” at her.

During the taping, one of the pianists in the group (did I mention these friends were also ridiculously talented musically?) played the music while she sang the song with the passion no Eponine has ever expressed.

I don’t know how she kept a straight face; the rest of us were rolling on the floor trying not to laugh out loud and ruin the shot.

Afterward, we had a scream watching the soap opera—then we all declared it should be burned, because someone really could blackmail us with such embarrassing stuff.

To my knowledge, it never was destroyed. In fact, I’ve met people (friends of friends) who say they’ve seen it. Um . . . yikes?

So I’m a bit scared that some day it’ll make its way onto YouTube or something. (This was way before YouTube.)

Fast forward many years:

When I wrote the book that became Lost Without You, I dropped in an inside joke that only those friends would catch. Some of them reportedly snorted with laughter when they came to it.

It was when the voice teacher in the book is first introduced.

Her name is Desaray Cahoon.

Monday, August 06, 2012

PAIGE Launch: Spread the Love Contest

Paige is now in stores! (Yippee! Woohoo! Happy Snoopy Dance!)


The official launch party is this Saturday, August 11th, from 1-3 PM at the Fort Union Deseret Book store (same location as the other launches).

Help us spread the word about the launch.

Head on over to The Newport Ladies Book Club blog for details on how to enter and what prizes you can win!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Blop Hop Winners

It's Wednesday, but it's not Word Nerd Wednesday. Instead, I'm announcing the winners of the Summer Splash Blog Hop.

The e-book of Lost Without You goes to Cathy Jeppson.

The e-book of At the Water's Edge goes to Lynn Parsons.

The e-book of The Golden Cup of Kardak goes to Lisa Banks Bennett.

The paperback of Spires of Stone Goes to Aimee.

The paperback of Paige goes to Zanza.

Thanks to all who entered!

The fine print: If I don't receive email addresses or mailing addresses (where applicable) for the winners by 8/3, prizes are forfeited.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summer Splash Blog Hop!

BIG FUN is afoot at the Circle K. (Pardon the goofy Bill and Ted's reference.)

Consider this a jump-start to your fall reading list as well as a jump into the excitement for the release of my next book, Paige.

Truly, though. A boatload of writers are participating in a giant blog hop through the end of July. Each blog offers a chance to win prizes like books and other swag.

PLUS: The home blog for the hop will give out lots of GRAND PRIZES that you won't want to miss out on.

Grand Prizes Include: 
  • TWO Kindle Fires
  • $75 Amazon gift card
  • $50 Amazon gift card
  • A Kindle cover
  • And signed paperbacks of something like TWENTY different novels (including a copy of PAIGE, which will be out right about the time the hop ends!)

To win one of the grand prizes, tweet about the hop.

Each tweet must have two things: (1) a link to the hop AND (2) the #SummerHop hash tag (both are needed to track the tweets to give you credit). Cool side note: The blog hop host blog post already has pre-written tweets, complete with links, for you to use. Copy, paste, and tweet. Easy peasy. (Use the link below to get there, or use the blog hop button in the sidebar.)


I'll randomly select FIVE winners. Each will receive one of the following prizes:
  • E-book of Lost Without You: Contemporary inspirational romance. A woman staring at her upcoming 30th birthday and biological clock, a widower with a young daughter, and an ex-boyfriend who decides if he can't have her, no one will.
  • E-book of At the Water's Edge: Contemporary inspirational romance. A Finnish woman's decision to change her religion sets a chain of events into motion that change every aspect of her life. Work, family, home, and, possibly, her heart. 
  • E-book of The Golden Cup of Kardak: Middle-grade fantasy. If there's any chance of winning the war, two siblings must find their father in the enemy's prison and bring him a magical goblet, a journey fraught with danger and adventures. 
  • Paperback of Spires of Stone: Historical romance. A loose re-telling of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing set in 1860s Salt Lake City.
  • Paperback of Paige (Get your hands on it before anyone else!) Contemporary women's fiction, part of The Newport Ladies Book Club. A new divorcee and mother of two young boys starts over and must discover who she is as a woman rather than a wife and whether she can ever learn to trust another man again.


TWO ways to win on my blog:
(1) Spread the word about MY participation in the hop, leaving a link to my blog. Be sure to leave comments each time you tweet or Facebook about it. PLEASE add the links so I can track them. (This is in addition to general tweeting with the #SummerHop tag.)


(2) Answer any or all of the trivia questions below, but NOT in a comment. (EMAIL the answers to me. See details below.)

Every day from July 23 through the end of the month, you can get an entry point for linking to THIS post on Facebook or Twitter. (Don't link to my blog's regular URL. Use this post's permalink). Do it every day, and that's NINE potential entries on FB and NINE more on Twitter, for EIGHTEEN total.

E-mail me the answers to any of the following trivia questions about me. Each correct answer gives you TWO entries, for a possible total of TEN.

Find every answer with a simple blog search right here. HINT: Each question has a big-time hint in it. Just search this blog for the bolded and italicized words.

NO trivia answers in the comments will be accepted, or the answers will be ruined for everyone else. Comments with trivia answers will be deleted. Instead, e-mail your answers to ANNETTE (at) ANNETTE LYON (dot) com with "SUMMER HOP TRIVIA" in the subject line.


(1) When I referred to racing stripes in a post, what was I referring to?

(2) If I'm NOT an Anne freak, who or what am I obsessed with?

(3) While blow drying my hair, I got a great idea for the story that became Tower of Strength (the creative juices were really flowing). What annual tradition kept me from working on that book for a week?

(4) In the company of weird, where was I? (A general answer is fine. No specific date or location required.)

(5) When my family decided to attack the grammar fascista, what word pair did my husband brilliantly drive me crazy with? (TIP: The answer to this question is part of Melissa Smith's scavenger hunt, which she's doing for the hop. Find the answer to this question, and you're ahead of the game when you hop over to her place!)

For the list of all of the participating blogs, and for further details about how the hop (and for a chance to win prizes!), head on over to the Summer Splash Blog itself.

Happy hopping!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Print vs. Electronic Books: My Take

You'd have to be living under the proverbial rock to not be aware of the brouhaha over e-books versus print ("real") books.

Two common arguments:
1) Get with the program. E-books are the wave of the future.

2) Nothing will ever, ever replace a good book. I love turning pages and the SMELL! Oh, I love the smell of paper!

Not surprisingly, I'm often asked where I stand on the issue, so I figured a blog post would be apt. Everything below is my opinion. The book industry is changing at warp speed, and no one has a crystal ball to know what it'll be like in the future. But here's my take:

E-books, for better or for worse, are here to stay. 
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. A few years ago, my mother (a bibliophile who at the time traveled by air a lot) asked why anyone would want a Kindle. I told her to imagine being on a long flight and having hundreds of books to choose from to read . . . but no extra weight in your carry-on.

Her eyes lit up at that.

This is a woman who has bookshelves in every room of the house. (Yes, the bathroom, too.) When I moved out, bookshelves moved into my room. My dad has joked that he needs a library card to get into his own room. If anyone loves a real book, it's Mom.

And yet. Even she could see an advantage to having e-books as an option in addition to print books. Slip that e-reader into your purse instead of a bulky hardback (or two) and read any time you have the chance.

Sales of e-readers and e-books continue to grow each year, at an amazing pace. There's no unringing this bell.

Perks to e-books:
I read a lot of books. Books take up a lot of room. Eventually, I have to weed through my collection and decide what to keep and what to give away.

And then there are books I want to read, but which probably won't end up on my all-time favorites list, to be read and re-read. Once is enough. I don't need a physical copy of those books. A digital one is just fine.

Five devices can access the same account on Kindle. So all four of my kids' Kindles can download any book that any of the others have bought and read--or are currently reading. It's like a family library with extra copies of the same book.

Another benefit that may impact me more than some other readers is that I read a lot of beta manuscripts from friends, as well as some Whitney Award books for judging purposes, and it's easier to do that on the fly with my Kindle. I can email it documents and read them that way. So easy.

I'm betting that schools will get more and more involved with e-books, especially with text books, which can be enormously expensive in print.

Why print books are here to stay.
All that said, I believe that there will always be a place for print books.

Think of hardback books versus paperbacks. A lot of people worried that that cheap paperback would eliminate the market for hardbacks. In reality, die-hard fans tend to buy both: the paperback to read fast and quick and maybe share with friends, and the hardback to keep on the shelf in their collection.

The way I see it, the e-book is the new paperback. In my case, I have a lot of books signed by the authors (who are usually friends). A "signed" e-book (done with a website) isn't the same. I'll always treasure my personalized signed books. I buy the physical book in those cases instead of downloading it, although I've been known to buy the book AND download the e-book version too, especially if the e-version is inexpensive.

For that matter, I wouldn't be at all surprised if some publishers start bundling the versions together: buy the hard copy and get a code to download the e-book for free.

Print books do have an advantage in some areas. If I want to highlight and take notes and easily flip back to find something, an e-book is a bit cumbersome. Yes, they have highlighting and note-taking features, but it's not the same. This is an issue, for me, at least, that's mostly a non-fiction book problem. (Not too often that I'm highlighting stuff in a novel.)

I have a lot of books that hold dear memories, like my dog-eared copy of Rilla of Ingleside, which I bought at my 8th grade book fair at school and remains one of my favorite books ever. I love reading the "real" book.

But when I want to eat up a book, something I'll be glad I read but don't necessarily need the physical reminder of the experience, an e-book will do the job just fine.

Another element to the whole issue is that children from poor areas, who already have a gap in reading because they don't have access to books at home, will fall even further behind if they need technology to access books. I can hope that schools will fill in the gap, whether with e-readers during class or by sending home actual books. But it's an issue that could widen the education and literacy gap.

The e-book generation
My kids each have a Kindle. They're avid readers of "real" books and e-books, both. From what I can tell, they're pretty even on how much they read of both, and they don't seem to prefer one method over another. If we go on a car ride that's longer than 20 minutes, it's common for them to bring along a Kindle to pass the time. Kindles go along to Grandma's house and other trips. They love having access to lots of books at the push of a button.

It's sort of like how kids today are "fluent" with computers. They were born into a world where computers were everywhere, and they picked them up almost like another language. So to them, they aren't hindered by the idea of whether reading on a screen is "real" or not. They just want a great story.

Call me crazy, but anything that gets kids reading more is a good thing. Paper smell or not.

I'm confident that e-books are not heralding the death of print books. I'm also confident that e-books are here, and they aren't going away. Readers (and writers and publishers) will gradually adapt, and each type of book will settle into its own niche.

Sort of like how television didn't destroy radio. VHS and DVD players didn't keep us from going to the movie theater. E-books won't keep us from reading on paper. They're simply one more form in which to enjoy a great book.

Oh, and if you've got an e-reader and just gotta have the smell of paper books, try THIS.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

WNW: Independence Day Edition

Laurie (L.C.) Lewis is a friend of mine and a historical novelist who has studied U.S. History, particularly the founding of the country. She's written a series of books about the the War of 1812. 

(Note: I consider myself relatively well-versed in US history, but I learned a ton reading her stuff.)

She suggested a few words worth looking at on Word Nerd Wednesday for the holiday. Laurie gets lots of feedback from people who see those misused, so she passed some of them on to me.

The text: But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.

The meaning: To display clearly, or provide evidence of. This part of the Declaration says that the "long train of abuses and usurpations," among other things, show clearly that the intent ("design") or the British government was to absolutely control the colonists. And when a people have such evidence, it is their right to throw off that government.


The text: We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The meaning: Something that cannot be alienated from or transferred from ownership or relation. In other words, there are certain things human beings own by virtue of simply being alive. Jefferson used John Locke's ideas in his writings, and here, he used the same idea, changing one of Locke's unalienable rights. The Declaration has "the pursuit of happiness" where Locke used "estate" (or property).

PERFIDY In the text: HE [meaning the king] is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with Circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.

The meaning: Being unfaithful and disloyal. Pretty clear in this instance what it refers to: The King George III of England was sending troops to the colonies to keep them in line and make them obey his laws, which felt traitorous tot he colonists.

CONSANGUINITY In the text: We have warned them, from Time to Time, of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native Justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our Connexions and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice and of Consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the Necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the Rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

The meaning: Being a close relation or connection. The colonists were saying that the king had essentially cut off the close relationship the colonists had once shared with their mother land.

Laurie also pointed out two words that are often misunderstood in our country:

REPUBLIC This is the kind of government we have in the United States. (Remember the pledge: "and to the republic for which it stands . . .") A republic is where citizens vote for representatives who then run the government and are responsible to those who voted them in. This is what we do with our representatives and our senators. The average U.S. citizen doesn't make laws or vote for laws. We vote for leaders who do that for us.

DEMOCRACY In some ways, a democracy can be a republic, and vice versa, but they aren't necessarily the same thing. A democracy usually means that the majority rules. The power lies entirely with the people themselves. Our country has elements of a democracy, but in the end, we're mostly a republic. Even voting for the president isn't technically a democratic situation, because each state is really voting for electoral seats to represent their votes. It's not majority rule. If it were, several recent presidential elections would have ended up with different results.


There's an episode of Monk where he sees a copy of the US Constitution in a bag and knows immediately that the woman who owns the bag is an immigrant working toward citizenship. He explains how he knows: "You're studying the Constitution, something no citizen would ever do." The line gets a good laugh because, unfortunately, it's at least somewhat true. I hope more of us take the founding of our nation more seriously, and that includes knowing what's in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Happy 4th of July!

Monday, July 02, 2012

DISPIRITED WINNER! picked Heffalump as the winner of her own copy of Dispirited.

I'll be returning to my regular blogging schedule soon, including a new Word Nerd Wednesday.

In the meantime, congrats to Heffalump, and for the rest of my readers, be sure to check out the book. (Remember that the Kindle version is mucho cheap!)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Author Interview: Luisa M. Perkins

I'm so stinking excited to host my dear friend Luisa on my blog today. She and I met online years ago, when my blog was brand new. We struck up a friendship based on the fact that we're both knitters (that's how we connected originally), writers, and Mormon.

Our friendship has gone way beyond those things. Today, we communicate via email and text almost every day, often several times, as we report our progress with to-do lists and goals and cheer each other on. Everyone needs a Luisa in their lives.

Aside from being a great friend, she's a great writer. As long-time readers know, I don't officially review books here. That said, her new book, Dispirited, is fantastic. It's deliciously creepy (this from someone who doesn't like to be scared), with a fascinating story, complex characters, and lyrical writing (something missing from a lot of fiction).

First, a bit about Luisa. Then her interview. And finally, a giveaway!

Luisa Perkins writes contemporary fantasy. She loves cooking and eating, all kinds of music, and knitting. She and her husband, Patrick, have six children and one aging-but-still-insane cat. They are in the process of moving from the Hudson Highlands to Pasadena, California.

And now our interview about writing and her new book. (Isn't the cover delicious?)

AL: How long have you been writing and how did you get started? (When did the bug bite you?)
LP: I’ve been writing off and on since I was four years old. (Note to self: remember to burn those early journals.) I started writing because reading was my life, and I wanted to give that gift of wonder and escape to others—kind of a “pay it forward” situation.

AL: Where did the idea for Dispirited come from, and how is it significant to the book?
LP: A long time ago, I read an article about astral projection. I immediately wondered—as cool as it sounded to have your spirit floating free—how would you possibly protect your body while you were away? That problem wouldn’t leave my imagination alone until I started exploring it through fiction.

AL: What research did you have to do for it? What was the most interesting thing you learned?
LP: I read a lot of folklore from around the world about unembodied or disembodied spirits. (I realize those terms are somewhat redundant) One of the most compelling myths was that of the wekufe, a Chilean legend about malevolent beings who envy the bodies of the living.

AL: What is your writing style? Are you an outliner or a by-the-seat-of-your-pantser? Somewhere in between?
LP: I actually totally changed styles in the midst of writing Dispirited. I started out knowing how I wanted it to end, but having no idea how to get there. I wrote the first third of the book that way—in the “discovery” or “pantsy” way.

Then I got horribly stuck and started researching story structure and outlining methods in my desperation. I made a spreadsheet and finished the book adhering to a pretty strict outline. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to pantsing it.

AL: What is your typical writing schedule like?
LP: I wish I had one. I try to write every weekday—or at least every day that my children are in school. I try to get that done sometime between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., so that I can be fully present for my kids when they get home from school. It doesn’t always work that way. I am trying hard to be more consistent and disciplined.

AL: What is one big thing you've learned through the process of publishing this novel?
LP: That I am not my writing—that there will inevitably be people who do not care for my writing, and that I can’t take that personally.

AL: What's been the biggest surprise?
LP: I love to garden. Every spring, I plant seeds. A few weeks later, I am always astonished and delighted when they actually grow. It’s the same kind of act of faith when you publish a book—and the same fun surprise when people actually buy it and enjoy it.

AL: What’s the greatest challenge?
LP: My greatest challenge has been trying to balance focusing on marketing the currently published book with working on my new work in progress. It’s very hard for me to switch hats like that.

AL: What’s the greatest reward?
LP: I love hearing from readers who were touched by the book—that it frightened them or made them cry or made them think. Books affect me deeply, and so when my book makes an impression others, I get that “pay it forward” reward that got me writing in the first place.

AL: Which authors are your biggest literary influences in the national market?
LP: I’ll stick to people who are alive, or we’ll be here all day.

  • Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman write the kind of quietly creepy book that I find thrilling and thought-provoking. 
  • Peter Straub and Stephen King’s books are never quiet, but I almost always get sucked into their masterful webs of dread and hope and redemption. 
  • George R.R. Martin and Neal Stephenson are geniuses at creating immersive, complex, fascinating worlds and plots. 
  • Mark Helprin is unmatched for the gorgeous and uplifting way he portrays the human struggle.

I could go on and on listing writers whose work I deeply envy.

In the LDS market?
There’s this writer I adore named Annette Lyon. You should check her books out. They rock.

AL: Wow, thanks! [blush]
LP: Also: Josi Kilpack, Julie Wright, and Melanie Jacobson. LDS writers writing in the national market whose work I love: Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Rob Wells, Anne Perry, and Elana Johnson.

Any advice for aspiring authors?
Most writers read a lot, but for someone who wants to break out, I would say that it’s time to add weightlifting to your cardio routine. By that, I mean read outside your favorite genre. Hard stuff. Classic literature, histories, biographies, poetry. I firmly believe that you’ll only ever write half as well as the stuff you consistently read. If my writing could ever be half as good as that of Dickens or Cather or Toni Morrison? So be it.

I also wish every writer or artist or other creative type would read Steven Pressfield’s two amazing books, The War of Art and Turning Pro. They are second only to the scriptures as to influence on my creative life. My writing lives and dies by them. Buy and digest them at once.

Isn't Luisa awesome? I love her to pieces. Be sure to check out her cookbook, Comfortably Yum, as well. I'll never be the cook she is, by I can pretend. 

Get Dispirited HERE (only $3.99 for the Kindle edition!).

This is a great book for reading and discussing in a book club; it's got lots of layers and cool meanings and symbols. Luisa has an awesome discussion guide for book clubs, created by a friend who is a pro at these things. Get the discussion guide for Dispirited HERE. But don't read it unless you've finished the book, as spoilers abound. 

The Giveaway!
Luisa will send one copy of Dispirited to one lucky reader. Leave a topic-oriented comment on this post. For additional entries, spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, and/or your blog. Leave comments for each thing you do so I can keep track. A winner will be drawn on Sunday, July 1, and the name announced a week from today, on July 2.

Be sure to include an e-mail address I can reach you at. If the winner doesn't reply to my notification e-mail within 24 hours, they lose their prize, and that would be a real bummer.

Good luck, and happy reading!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Full Circle

A couple of weeks ago on Facebook, I mentioned getting a phone call that marked a full-circle moment for me. Life has been nothing short of hectic lately, so this is my first chance to explain.

March of 1996, I joined my local chapter of the League of Utah Writers. I attended their spring workshop, where I first met Rachel Ann Nunes, who wasn't yet published, but who today is pretty much a superstar in the local market.

I went to chapter meetings, which turned out to be one of the few times I left the house then, as I was a new mom. That fall, shortly after my son's first birthday and discovering I was expecting my second child, I attended  the League's annual Roundup conference. (I remember talking to Rachel in the hall after I'd stepped out of a class because I was so tired from the pregnancy that I kept falling asleep. She was out there soothing her newborn.)

At that conference and other Roundups that followed, I sat in classes taught by big names in the LDS market, which was where my goals were set.

I listened to Orson Scott Card, Jack Weyland, Jennie Hansen, Chris Heimerdinger, Anita Stansfield, and others.

More than once, I sat in a workshop and thought, "Some day, I want to speak at Roundup as a published novelist like these guys."

I became a published novelist in 2002. (My first book came out in July, so we're almost exactly to the decade mark.) I didn't speak at Roundup that year. Or after my second, third, fourth, or fifth books. (I'll stop there. My ninth book with Covenant is about to go to press.)

The last couple of years, I have taught at Roundup, but it's been under the umbrella of Precision Editing Group. And while that has been great (and I've been grateful for the experience!), it didn't fulfill my original dream of speaking in my own class, representing just me. I've been there as an editor, not a writer.

Some people may think that hey, it's silly to still want to be invited to speak at Roundup. After all, I've taught at a bunch of conferences, often several a year. Right? True. But it's never been at LUW, not me speaking as just me, the novelist. Roundup was my first big conference, and it was my first big goal.

You can probably see where this is going. I recently got a phone call inviting me to teach not one, but two workshops at Roundup in September! My picture and bio are already up. (Proof! CLICK HERE.) I'll also be there with Precision Editing, but this time, it's different.

I did it. I made it as me. The little whisper of a goal I had 16 years ago will be fulfilled in a few months.

I still have plenty of goals regarding my writing career, and I'm working hard toward them. But I must say, it's pretty cool to have something checked off the list so many years later.


If you're interested in attending this year's Roundup, check out the League's site. The conference will September 14 and 15 in Park City. Members of LUW get a discount, but anyone can come.

I'll also be teaching at The Teen Writers Conference on June 23 at Weber State University. This is the conference's 4th year, and it just gets better. If you have (or know!) a teen interested in writing, be sure to let them know about it, and soon, because registration forms must be postmarked by THIS Friday, June 15.

Other news:
*Paige, my contribution to The Newport Ladies Book Club, goes to press any day and will hit stores in August!

*The sequel to my Whitney Award-winning novel will be out in January, titled Band of Sisters: Coming Home. No cover on that yet. I imagine we'll be starting edits in the next couple of months.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Guest Post: Ali Luke on Why Editing Matters

Self-editing must be in the water . . . last week I posted on the Precision Editing Group blog about how I do it, answering questions from TJ, and today my readers get a treat: a guest post by Ali Luke that digs deeper in to the whys and wherefores of self-editing.

Ali is a personal writing coach. She's written books about freelance blogging, and now she's also a novelist. Today she addresses what's behind self-editing.

In short: It matters, and here's why.

Why Editing Matters . . . and How to Stay Motivated to Do It Well

by Ali Luke

Whatever sort of writing you do whether you’re working on a blog post, a book, or just a short piece for your church newsletter—you’re going to need to edit.

Sometimes, that editing might take just a few minutes. You’ll be looking for typos, smoothing awkward sentences, and making sure that you’ve included everything you wanted to say.

With bigger projects, though, the editing phase needs to take a correspondingly bigger chunk of your writing time. If you’re working on a non-fiction book or a novel, you may well find that you spent as long on the editing as on the first draft (and quite possibly longer).

If the creative bit of writing is what excites you—seeing a blank page fill up with new words and thoughts—then editing may feel uninspiring. You may be very tempted to just call it “done” and publish your blog post or send off your book manuscript as-is.

But here’s why editing matters...

Editing Shows Your Respect for Your Work . . . and Your Reader

It’s very, very tough to produce a perfect first draft. You might manage it on a short blog post (though even then, you’ll almost certainly find at least a word or two you want to change). With anything much longer, you’re likely to have all sorts of first draft problems. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your writing, or with you; it’s just part of the writing process.

First drafts often have:

·        Missing information—sections, chapters or scenes that you realize need to be added in for a sense of completeness.
·         Superfluous information—tangents and digressions that you might have needed to write through . . . but that are now making your work lopsided.
·         Badly ordered information—perhaps chapter 10 would make more sense as chapter 5.
·         Repetitive information—maybe you’ve been working on your project for years, and you didn’t realize that chapter 20 covers rather similar ground to chapter 12.
·         Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, poor punctuation, typos—all of these will distract, confuse and annoy your reader; thankfully, they’re easy to fix.

Careful editing means taking your work seriously. It means respecting the time that you’ve already put into the writing, and the time that you’re going to be spending on publishing, promoting, or sharing this piece with others.

Your editing also shows respect for your reader. Yes, of course the reader can still gain value from a piece of writing that has a few typos, or that’s badly organized—but when they’re investing their time and energy in reading your work, you want to deliver something that’s as good as you can make it.

Staying Motivated to Edit: Start to End

One of the best ways to be motivated is to split editing into several stages: don’t try to do everything at once, and definitely don’t try to edit while you’re writing the first draft. If you find yourself going back to restart every sentence before you’ve finished it, you won’t make much progress.
Whatever you’re editing—from a novel to a blog post—here’s a simple structure you can use:

Step #1: Let Your Work Sit

If you’ve written something short, leaving it alone over lunch might give your mind enough space to come back afresh. If you’ve written a whole novel, leaving it for at least a couple of weeks should help clear your head. While you’re away from your work, your subconscious will keep on mulling over ideas—and you may be surprised what comes up when you dig in on the editing.

Motivation Boost: Often, taking some time out can make you feel much more eager to get back to work! You might want to plan a vacation or a retreat so that you can rest while your writing is resting.

Step #2: Read Through the Whole Thing

Go through your whole post, article, or book in a short space of time—ideally, one day. Jot down any brief notes as you’re going along, if you’re worried about forgetting something. At this point, you’re just trying to get a sense of the shape of the work (something that’s tough to do when you’ve been writing for days, weeks, or months).

Motivation Boost: You’ll almost certainly come across some great passages in your work that you’ve completely forgotten writing. You may find that it’s better than you expected. And even though you’ll notice some problems, you’ll also start thinking of ways to fix it.

Step #3: Edit the Big Picture

This is the stage that I often call “revision”—making substantial changes to a work-in-progress. You’ll find yourself cutting, adding, or rearranging whole sections. If you’re working on a non-fiction book, you might change the direction entirely; if you’re writing a novel, you may add a subplot or cut a character.

Motivation Boost: You can make fast, visible progress at this stage, cutting through swathes of words at a time. You’ll see your book (or post, or article) coming into shape.

Step #4: Get Feedback

Once you’ve gone through step #3, it’s a great idea to get feedback on your piece, especially if you’ve written something in-depth like a book. Ask some trusted friends or fellow-writers to act as your “beta-readers,” testing out your work and giving feedback on what’s good and what might need some further improvement.

Note: Depending on the feedback you get, you might need to repeat step #3 and make some further big-picture changes.

Motivation Boost: Having readers feels great, especially if they get excited about your book. You’ll also get lots of new ideas and suggestions, which can be really encouraging, especially if you were starting to feel a bit stale.

Step #5: Edit the Details

By this point, your piece should be in good shape. If it’s a blog post or an article, all the paragraphs should be in the right order; if it’s a book, all the chapters and scenes should be firmly in place. Now, you can deal with all those little things like grammatical slips, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and so on.

Motivation Boost: This stage isn’t very creative, but it can be immensely satisfying to get things right. If it feels like there’s a lot of work before you, try splitting your project into sections; make a chart, and check each off as you complete it.

So, is editing really worth all that work? I was wondering that myself when I got to Draft 5 of my novel, Lycopolis: I sent the draft to a freelance editor, the lovely and honest Lorna Fergusson from fictionfire, and she recommended some substantial changes. I’d hoped for just a few minor corrections . . .  but I took her advice on board, and I cut the novel’s manuscript from 135,000 to 85,000 words.

It definitely was worth the work: the lovely reviews, tweets, and emails that I’ve had confirm that! So if you’re staring at a first draft right now—or even a fifth draft—then don’t be afraid to dig in once again, if that’s what your beta-reader (or your editor) is suggesting.

But once you’ve got that article or post or book as good as you can, let it go. Put it out into the world . . . and trust that the great editing job you’ve done will be enough that your work can really shine.

About the Author:

Ali Luke is currently on a virtual book tour for her novel Lycopolis, a fast-paced supernatural thriller centered on a group of online role players who summon a demon into their game . . . and into the world. Described by readers as “a fast and furious, addictive piece of escapism” and “absolutely gripping,” Lycopolis is available in print and e-book form. Find out more at

Monday, May 14, 2012

16 Months: My Transformation

While I usually talk about writing and books and word nerdiness here, this post is going to be a bit different. I'm hoping it will be of some benefit to others in their journeys.

A photo that amazing photographer Erin Summerill took of me at the recent LDStorymakers annual conference inspired me to put this post together. Even with my goofy facial expression and hand waving (I can't teach without using my hands), I've got great before and after pictures.

The really short version: 
For some unknown (then) reason, I got fat, sank into a horrid depression, and otherwise was miserable. Now I'm, well, not all that. The end. Oh, and this is what I looked like. The picture was taken at the 2010 UVU Book Academy conference. I may have gained a few pounds more in the following three months.

The longer version:
For most of my adult life, not counting pregnancies, my has weight stayed in about a seven-pound range. Ideally, I would have liked to have been around 10 lbs lighter and at my marriage weight, but I was at a healthy weight and felt decent about myself.

Then, a few years ago, the pounds began creeping on. I wasn't doing anything different in my life, as far as I could tell. Okay, I could have exercised more than I was (although I didn't stop altogether). And sure, I ate chocolate here and there. But that wasn't a change. Nothing significant had changed in my lifestyle.

But hey, I knew how to lose weight, right? I began watching my diet carefully, cutting here and there and eating much healthier. I exercised more.

Result: More weight gain. The scale just crept up and up. I'll clarify here that my weight gain wasn't in the realm of anything you'd see on The Biggest Loser, but it was still way more than was healthy, and I hated feeling like a beached whale. I hated not fitting into my biggest clothes and having to go to the thrift store to find stuff to wear. I rarely wore anything that didn't stretch.

At first I was in denial. Sure, the scale was up, but I didn't look that bad . . . right? I inherited my mother's frame, so I really can carry a little extra weight without it showing up. When my chocolate cookbook first came out, I had people asking how I could write it and stay so thin. That was before the weight gain. So when those comments stopped altogether, I had a clue what it meant. I was fat. I cringed at every photo of me. My usable wardrobe shrank and shrank.

I started to suspect I had a thyroid problem, but I didn't want to be one of those people making excuses for being fat. ("Oh, it's glandular . . .") I brought it up to my doctor, who ran a blood panel. My TSH and T4 were normal, so I was told not to worry about it; I wasn't hypothyroid.

But the results didn't sit right with me. I had plenty of symptoms of hypothyroid beyond unexplained weight gain, including a low body temperature (97.1), brain "fog," fatigue, depression, headaches, brittle nails, and a bunch of other things.

After doing a bit more research, including talking with a good friend who has a thyroid condition, I was convinced that something wasn't right. My original doctor, while a great guy, was a GP and likely didn't know how complex hypothyroid issues are and which panels to run, or how to read them. Finding a doctor to take me seriously and who knew enough to run the right tests took awhile, but eventually I did, thanks to the referral of a friend.

And waddaya know, but my T3 (the one that really matters) was in the toilet. So was my progesterone (which helps with stress, sleep, and mood), and a few other things, including Vitamin D, which was also contributing to my depression. I was indeed hypothyroid, among other things. My body was whacked out.

Almost as soon as I began taking the supplements I needed, my life, and my body, began to change. While the weight didn't come off in a flash, it did come off, slowly and steadily.

Here's a key point: I still had to do the work. 

I had to exercise, stay hydrated, and watch what I ate. But at least losing weight became possible, where before, it wasn't.

Something to note here: It's a horrid myth that to exercise you have to find something you like to do. I hate exercising, but I love having exercised. If you're waiting to like huffing and puffing and sweating like a pig, and you're using your dislike of exercise for not doing it, then you'll never have success. I often go running even when I hurt all over and I feel like someone's taking an ice pick to the back of my head. I go because it's something I have to do. I force myself to do it. I don't go to the gym when I feel good. I go to the gym and work my tail off so I'll feel good.

Another aspect in my success was that I started reading blogs of people who'd managed to lose weight and keep it off to learn more about how to fuel my body properly for weight loss (which takes more than cutting calories, of course). I grew up in a nutritious home, but there was still a lot to learn.

I'm now within (count 'em!) 9 pounds of my marriage weight. I'm solidly in the healthy range for what my weight should be, and on the low end of my old range. (I think I can actually hit that old marriage weight yet!) I sleep better (didn't even know how messed up my sleep was until it was fixed). I can exercise more. My chronic headaches are still around, but they're more manageable. My depression isn't the dark sink hole it once was.

No, life isn't all unicorns and rainbows. I still have chronic headaches. Depression of some kind just runs in my family. But things are so much better.

Losing the weight hasn't been an easy road. Like I said, it's still work. But now I can fit back into my skinny clothes, and my fat clothes are a thing of the past.

In my before picture up there, I hated myself.

But now? Well, this next picture was taken just over a week ago, at the LDStorymakers conference. I feel and look like myself again. Huzzah!


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