Writers Conference Top Ten #ANWACon15

It’s over. Once again, the ANWA Conference has come to an end. I’m always totally saturated with new knowledge and completely wiped out by Saturday afternoon and dying to get home to sleep, but by Monday morning I’m wishing I was back there again.

I’m just going to make an abridged list, a top ten list, of things I loved at this year’s exhausting extravaganza.

10. Heather B. Moore’s class on how to hit a top 100 list on Amazon. Can I say what I’ve said many times before? I think this woman is a genius.

9. Helping CJ Anaya shop for her Cat Woman shoes for the Antagonist Ball and Gala, which was delightfully fun and planned expertly by Sarah Daley.

8. Getting feedback at the critique camp on my little fluffy romance from none other than Lisa Mangum, Editorial Manager at Shadow Mountain Publishing (and then pitching another, different piece to her later.) She … just knows stuff. And her class on character motivation totally changed how I am going to write my WIP.

7. Getting to finally meet the man behind the hilarious and insightful blog that is Middle Aged Mormon Man. Read this blog post about his experience at the conference and cringe along with the truth it exposes.

6. The weather in Mesa, Arizona, in February. (Makes YOU want to sign up for next year, doesn’t it, snow-bound writers of the Northeast and Midwest.)

5. Finding out that Julie Wright bought my novella. What? And sitting with her at breakfast. And almost laughing so hard that I was afraid I’d snort milk from my cereal out my nose. That is one funny chick.

4. Receiving expert feedback on my book covers from John Wincek, an expert at book covers. And feedback. Thanks, John. You never did give me your card. Dang it. Now who is going to design the interior of my upcoming project?

3. Watching Sarah Eden quote/lip synch long stretches of dialogue from the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice when the audio on her presentation went out. Quite impressive knowledge on the subject.

2. Near the top there must always be food, so eating delicious salmon at Mimi’s Café with CJ Anaya and the ever-hilarious Stephany Robinson, and in the process getting introduced to Kelly Oram. Oh, my word. When I saw her books, I thought, “This woman? She is my people.” I can’t wait to read all those YA Contemporary books. My favorite brain candy.

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What’cha gonna wear today, Steph? Blue t-shirt? Jeans? Cool. I will too.

 

Kelly Oram. This woman is "my people."

Kelly Oram. This woman is “my people.”

1. Meeting the keynote speaker Regina Sirois. Not only is she loveliness itself and a gifted, poetic writer and speaker, she’s grounded. She’s has climbed an amazing mountain– being an Amazon Breakout Novelist winner and published by Penguin–and yet she taught us all that we can be happy with our own mountain we choose to climb. So grateful to have made a new friend.

Regina Sirois. I love her.

Regina Sirois. I love her.

I’m already getting excited about the prospect of next year’s conference, wondering who I’ll get to reconnect with, and happy that I can be part of a great organization that’s so uplifting, nurturing and supportive. I thank Marsha Ward for being inspired to organize it, and for making it what it is today. Love all of you, ANWA friends!

 

Now I guess I’d better get to work implementing the stuff I learned!

What did you do this weekend, Jen? Oh, nothing. Just talked to Brandon Mull and stuff. Might've been kinda snotty to him. Probably never see him again to apologize. Sorry, Brandon. >where is my filter?<

What did you do this weekend, Jen? Oh, nothing. Just talked to Brandon Mull and stuff. Might’ve been kinda snotty to him. Probably never see him again to apologize. Sorry, Brandon. >where is my filter?<

 

New Cover for Big in Japan: Buck Cooper Revealed!

Okay! After 2 1/2 years of hiding behind the red and white cover, Buck Cooper is at last on view for all the world to see!

Is this how you pictured him? I tell you what, this is so much more how I pictured the cover originally. It makes me snicker just thinking about it. Way to go, Jolly Fish Press! To celebrate, they put it on sale for the week – dropping the Kindle price to just $2.99. Now’s the perfect time to get it if you haven’t read it yet. It’s a five-star book, according to readers that I’m not even related to!

Soooooooo…. Ta da! What do you think?

BIG IN JAPAN

BIG IN JAPAN

Oh, and it has a new little blurb, too.

Buck Cooper can’t remember when he became socially invisible—probably when he hit 300 pounds. Now he’s working a dead end job, getting no notice from his boss and no love from the cute secretary he pines for.
But when he gets shanghaied to Tokyo, all of that changes for the mild-mannered Buck—because this blond Texan is about to go sumo!
Peek inside the secret world of sumo, and cheer for Buck as he fights his way through the ranks— against bullies of incredible size—to win the heart of the girl he loves.

Cover Reveal!

I updated the cover of Super Daisy. What do you think???

Super Daisy_Cover FINAL-page-0 JPG

A huge thank you to Laura Tolman of CMI Signs for this design. She’s pretty dang talented.

image description

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Because I Was on National Radio This Morning

Because I was on national radio (Bill Martinez Live — Rapid Fire Radio) this morning talking about the year I home schooled my son, I remembered this post I’d written at the end of that year. It’s still pretty tender and close to my heart. I decided to re-post it here for anyone who hasn’t already read this story. It was a winner of the Arizona Mothers Inc essay contest and received a runner up at the national contest, so I guess that makes me “an award-winning author.” Mostly, this post makes me feel like God cares about me, even as an imperfect mother.

And so I present to you (again) “Seeds Grow In Dirt.”

It was a rotten year and a half for housework.

My New Year’s resolution was to keep my house utterly clean. I washed walls, I organized closets, I dreamed of shininess.

Then, my oldest son had a problem with school. And pregnancy happened—never my finest hours. Within a short time I was a pregnant, home-schooling mom of four kids under ten with a perpetual headache. A major accomplishment for the day was setting out the cold cereal at mealtime.

The year went on. Home-school continued, and the baby arrived, and everyone knows how productive those first few months aren’t with a newborn. If her little white nightgowns were clean, I felt like queen of all housework.

Meanwhile, grime pockets formed behind doors, dust bunnies grew and had bunny families—several generations of them. The top of our old piano started to collect so many items it could open an antique store of its own. At a low point, there was a two-week period where someone broke a different item made of glass every single day. For some reason I got called to the Relief Society presidency, just to add to the chaos.

Months passed. Baby learned to crawl. My year teaching a bright, much happier, 4th grader wound down. The two preschoolers started to be a little less prone to break glass. But the house languished, nay, wallowed in its filth, especially the formerly light blue carpet. In fact, one spring afternoon after Little League, I had an argument with Zane, who insisted our carpet is grey. “Light blue,” I claimed half-heartedly, barely remembering the true color myself.

Summer came. All five kids tracked in roughly 75 pounds of dirt from their treasure pit in the sand pile and about a million squished leaves from their fort under the nectarine tree. My girls had birthday parties for their teddy bears that for some reason involved crumbling blueberry muffins into oblivion on the grey carpet, possibly in an attempt to turn it blue again. I got drafted to be the interim Webelos leader and actually sanctioned large messes in the house. Cousins came over and incited a game as destructive as it sounds: Toy War. We went through our twelfth 100-count box of Otter Pops and our second vacuum cleaner motor (due to renegade thread while the oldest three kids learned embroidery.)

When mid-August rolled around, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Stephen went back to fifth grade, and he found a niche in learning there. Zane opted out of soccer, so we now only had one uniform to find on Saturday mornings. Rachel started kindergarten, and Catherine dropped out of preschool after a month to stay home to paint and do coloring books with mom. Baby Zuzu could now walk around by herself, looking for stray popcorn kernels to gnaw on with her two teeth.

Things got quieter around home.

With a sense of newfound power, I conducted a yard sale, which made it so we could park inside our garage again. Miracle. Next I looked to tackle the house.

That first morning, however, I caught a glimpse of our kitchen sink, the drainer side. Whoa. How long had it been? A while, for sure. Gingerly I lifted the drainer.

Oh. My. Goodness. What was that green thing?

I pulled out the clean, drying measuring cups and lifted the rack from the sink. Yep, something was definitely growing there: a two-pronged leaf sprout, about four inches tall.

With a squeal of horror I plucked out the sink stopper and found the little white root ball and what looked like the yellow-brown transparent hull of a popcorn kernel around its base. Or maybe it was one of Gary’s gardening projects. Or an escaped food-storage black eyed pea?

No! How could I have let the sink cleaning lapse long enough for a seed to germinate and sprout—plus grow four inches? I wanted to cry. What a terrible housekeeper. My kids could probably get some kind of disease from filth this rampant! My word! A seed grew in my sink!

Then a thought stopped my self-berating rant.

Hey. Seeds grow in dirt.

In the past couple of years my most precious seeds, all five of them, had grown an awful lot in this dirt.

Now, I certainly hadn’t been a perfect mother by anyone’s definition. I hadn’t kept a cheery temperament every single day. I hadn’t nurtured my children in every way possible. Without question, I had not created an “antiseptic environment” for my little ones to play and learn in.

But they grew.

I know they say cleanliness is next to godliness. Whoever “they” are, they’re mean. That’s too much pressure. Seriously. Instead I find myself thinking maybe other things wedge their way into the lineup beside godliness. Maybe doing-the-best-you-can-motherhood is one of them. After all, God helps all things to grow. Maybe that’s what motherhood is all about.

Now, it’s not that I will henceforth refuse to scrub my tub or decide never to replace that ailing vacuum. But God formed Man out of the dust of the Earth. Perhaps I ought to be aiming to do that, too—to form men and women out of these sweet little seeds they are now, and remember that most seeds require all kinds of light, and water (that’d be Saturday night baths), and at least a little dirt. Because seeds grow in dirt.

Four Cool Things That Happened in 2014

This morning I sat down with my list of goals called “Stuff I Want to Do in 2014.” When I wrote it a year ago, I didn’t realize what kinds of opportunities and adventures would come my way this year. It made me reflect on some of the super cool unexpected things that happened this year to me as a writer. It’s just wild to think of all the things I’ve had happen.

1) Speaking at Comic Con

Here's my panel on Japanese etiquette. I was also on the panel about Disney, one on publishing, one on imagination, and one on Back to the Future, baby!

Here’s my panel on Japanese etiquette. I was also on the panel about Disney, one on publishing, one on imagination, and one on Back to the Future, baby!

It was quite an experience to attend the Fan-X in Salt Lake City in April. Well, for one, I never dreamed of attending a Comic Con, let alone be asked to sit on four writing panels! Back to the Future, Japanese Culture, Is Disney Relevant to Adults?, and Writing for Young People. My husband went along with me to keep me company (and my cousin Lisa came and sat with me at the booth one day.) I met some really interesting people, and got to sit on those panels with authors who have been my writing idols for years. What an honor! I almost felt like an impostor, a fraud. But there I was. And I can’t believe what a neat chance it was. Plus, seeing all the costumes? Shazam.

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2) Having a book optioned for film.

THIS was a dream come true. In September of 2013, I stepped way outside my comfort zone and went to Hollywood to pitch my book to movie producers. Holy scary! But the time and money and courage were worth it because I think I met the perfect person to get behind my project. He really saw the vision of the BIG IN JAPAN book and is working on getting funding and out shopping it to the money people. Cross your fingers and say your prayers for his success. He’s a great guy, and he deserves to have something great happen for his career. And those of you who’ve read BIG might agree that Buck Cooper deserves some time on screen. Call me ego-centric if you must, but this book would honestly be a really good movie.

3) Having another book be considered for film adaptation and being able to hand a copy of the book to the person I dreamed of having star in the movie.

While at that same conference, I met a different producer who loved the concept of SUPER DAISY. He had me revamp it to adapt for screen. It could die on the vine, but whatevs, baby. It’s just fun to get asked to the prom, even if you don’t end up going. Then, at Comic Con, I was able to cross paths with Mallory Everton of Studio C fame and plop a copy of Super Daisy in her hands. She would be the PERFECT Daisy. Ahhhh. Dreams.

Coolest panel! It's kind of far back, but can you seeeeee who they are?

Coolest panel! It’s kind of far back, but can you seeeeee who they are?

4) Being invited to participate in two collaborations

Being part of the Ripples collaboration and writing IMMERSED opened my eyes to a million new possibilities and gave me courage to really branch out in my writing into some fun areas of romantic comedy. The project had such a quick turnaround that I realized a book doesn’t need to take yeeeeeeeears to complete and bring to print. What an awesome thing to realize as a writer. It pumps up the productivity and creativity level to new and exciting heights. I’ve had so much fun writing my own stuff since then. Even if some pet projects keep getting bogged down by plot changes. Ugh. But I believe! And the other project, STRANGE AND LOVELY, was such a great thing, learning and getting to be involved with other authors whose work and success I admire so much. What an honor.

Well, that’s not all the coolness of this year. But I just felt so blessed this morning as I reflected on the coolness. And I have all of you to thank too, as you read my books and supported me and encouraged me. You’re the best part of all of this. A big THANK YOU to you.

A Wall of Cold Cereal

Yesterday I’d hit a wall in my writing, as I tried to push my NaNoWriMo novel forward. But it was awful. Sometimes I think bringing forth a novel is a lot like childbirth. Painful, a total body experience, a lot of work, and quite as much a spiritual effort as a physical and mental one. Labor. And sometimes there’s a mixture of gasping and prayer involved.

And yesterday was no exception. Finally, I resorted to breaking out my post-Halloween-stash of BooBerry cereal. When I was in Walmart one day, I noticed the price on the family size boxes of all the monster cereals had temporarily gone down from $3.48 a box to just $1.00. Guess who bought TEN boxes. Okay, maybe it was eleven. And they’re mostly gone now. Including the box I opened yesterday.

I am not proud.

And my tongue might be permanently blue.

But then I asked the “People of Facebook” for a bit of feedback, this time about paintings and what art they knew of that was instantly recognizable. Their responses, which related directly to some of the blocks I was facing in my book, went straight to the heart of my problem and broke the wall in pieces. My fears and worries about the direction I’d chosen dissipated and this morning I was off to the races again. Another few thousand words onto the page (after deleting about that many or more).

A hallelujah moment–one to be celebrated with the remainder of the box of BooBerry.

Thanks, friends. It’s nice to know that people have my back.

Now…a few more words on the page before my kids get home from school.

I Made it to 50K!

Winner-2014-Facebook-ProfileIt’s done! Yay! It took a wild wrong turn partway through, but I rewrote from the blank page and then ended up improving it. (Pretty sure of that.) Feeling excited about the changes. In fact, I might have to make December in JenNoWriMo so I can finish the rest of the story. #amwriting #andwritingandwritingandwriting

New Cover Reveal — Immersed

Okay, I didn’t actually think this would happen, but all of a sudden, Immersed has a new cover!

I’m so excited. I love these models and the look on their faces and how well they fit the story. It’s just…awesome. Big thank you to Rachael Renee Anderson for her incredible skills. She’s pretty dang amazing, right? And if I told you how fast she whipped this up, you’d cry in your tea. I know I did. Well, it wasn’t tea because I’m kind of a weirdo and only, only, only ever drink water. But yeah. Cried in my beverage.

Okay, and do you know what I like best? Her hair. Big hair. I am a child of the 80s, when big hair was the only hair. In fact, there’s this picture of me, circa 1989, in a newspaper article for Utah Schools Sterling Scholars in English (that was me, just for my school, I didn’t win for the state, of course. I write fluff.) And my face was about 10% of the center of the rectangle, and my hair took up the rest of the frame. Someday I shall learn how to scan photos and then I will amaze you all with the fluffiness of this future fluff-writer.

What do you think? If you already read the book, does this look like Lisette and Erik?

The new and fresh cover for Immersed

The new and fresh cover for Immersed

 

If you haven’t read the book yet, it’s up and for sale and stuff already. Like, now. And it’s only $2.99. Cheaper than a cup of tea or a large dirty Dr. Pepper. If you drink that stuff. I’m the weird person only drinking water. In the corner. By myself. With the big hair.

I Might Be A Cheater. I Don’t Know.

So I started my NaNoWriMo project, and quickly sailed through the first 20K words. As always. And then I hit the 20K wall. As always. Then, I decided it was time to take the story to the expert, my muse, the smartest man I know: my husband. He read the first 100 pages of my old draft (from last spring). We hashed it out, and he told me what I already should’ve known and kind of knew and didn’t want to admit.

My story had a lame plot.

The characters? Sparkly. The concept? Dynamite. The setting? Really cool. The plot? Muddled and uninspiring and lame.

Sigh. He was so right. I hated that he was right because this book was something I’d put a lot, lot, lot of time into. This, in fact, was about my 7th rewrite. Not from the ground up, mind you, but working with the same characters, concept and setting…and plot. Every time I’d rewrite I’d wonder, “Uh, why is this STILL not working?” Because it wasn’t.

It made me think back on a book I’ve been slowly going through, written by Larry Brooks, who I’d met a couple of years ago at the ANWA Conference in Phoenix. His book is called Story Engineering, and in it he talks about the six things that make a story work. I had five. I was missing #6. Plot.

So. So. Sad.

And I finally, as I stood ready to take a swan dive off that 20K word wall last week, was humbled enough to let that sink in. While we were on a family outing to the river to throw rocks –Honestly, that’s a fun family outing. We love throwing rocks. Last month we threw rocks off a mountain.–we talked a little about possible changes to the plot and came up with something drastic. Well, I thought it was drastic. It would involve cutting out about fifteen characters. (Is this a tipoff that the plot was messy?) It would change all the motivations (and the ages) of the remaining characters. It would bring in the Nazis and throw out the muddled mess. It looked like…work. Intense work. But probably the right thing to do.

Then a big thing happened. An author friend had also given up her entire weekend and read my last full draft (with the old plot). Bless her heart! And she called and said she loved it–the characters, the setting, the concept, the dialogue, all just blew her away. Publish immediately.

I was so relieved. Then I asked her about the plot. “Oh, there were some parts that are maybe a little hard to follow, but I think you finally tied it all together in the end.”

Bingo. Less enthusiastic. I told her my husband’s assessment (which was diametrically opposed to her.) She, bless her, said he was up a tree. He didn’t “get” me. And in a way she was right. But that wasn’t good. I wanted him to get me, and everyone else to get me. She said to ignore him. I wanted so badly to believe her.

This left me mightily confused. I was asking that question of Jack Nicholson as The Joker, “Who do you trust?” But I had on less pancake makeup.

So I called yet another author friend. She’d been going through similar edits and finally had had a breakthrough. She said she’d also give my old draft a read this week. Bless HER heart.

But as soon as I got off the phone with her, my original friend called back. I told her I was still on the fence, and asked if I could just tell her the beginning of the outline Gary and I had come up with. I did. She was silent for a bit.

“Oh, I hate to tell you this,” she said, “and I am married to that old book. But, to be honest, I like this better. Much better.”

Suddenly, the clouds parted.

I knew exactly what I had to do.

Since then, I’ve written 14K on that new draft. It was a super busy weekend, so I got nothing done then, but I’ve been on fire otherwise. It’s flowing pretty well, and since I already know these characters, I know how they will react in these new (less muddled) situations. It’s not too horrid. Granted, I’m only at 14K and haven’t hit that 20K wall yet. Maybe I won’t. (Ha ha.)

But I’m left with a question of my integrity. How do I measure word count for NaNoWriMo? Do I have to adjust my word count back down to 14K now? Or can I add the stuff I’m going to scrap from that proverbial “wrong turn at Albuquerque?” If I hadn’t made that wrong turn, I never would have gotten on the right road, I am pretty sure of that. But do the words only count from the actual draft that will become The Book?

I don’t want to be a cheater. And if it makes me “lose” NaNoWriMo, so be it. I will still come out a winner, since I’ll finally be on the track of the book I have been TRYING to write for two entire years.

Can the NaNo police, or someone with a good sense of right and wrong please advise me? I look forward to your counsel.

Thank you. And now, to the manuscript.

November: It’s Not Just About Overgrown Facial Hair

It’s officially underway, the NaNoWriMo challenge. Not all people have heard of this. I mentioned it to my sister, who did say she’d heard of it but thought it was a conference. (It’s okay, Carrie. If I weren’t steeped in this whole writing culture, I wouldn’t know either.)

November. It’s not just about not shaving. It’s also National Novel Writing Month. (a.k.a., NaNoWriMo.)

Thousands of writers sign up on the official website, NaNoWriMo.org, and take the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. This works out to about 2,000 words per day, if you take the Sabbath off. It all happens under the NaNoWriMo pretext: “The World Needs Your Novel.”

Now, I’m pretty sure the world does not NEEEEEED my novel. I am okay with that. It’s not like I’m Charles Dickens and making a thinly veiled social statement that will change the orphanage system in England–nor anything like unto it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I only write escapist fiction. The world doesn’t NEEEEEED it with all six capital Es. But maybe it needs it, with just two small ones.

Today I’m six days in, and I’m at word count. Probably tomorrow I’ll fall behind. And I’ll fall farther behind on Saturday and Sunday. That’s just how my life goes. My weekends belong to my family, Sundays to the Lord. Otherwise, I’d lose all balance.

But come Monday, I’m pretty sure I’ll be slapping out conflict, dialogue and characterization again–as much as I can. It’s pretty fun. I haven’t written a Young Adult novel in a while. My last release, the short story in the Strange and Lovely anthology last month got me thinking in a teen mindset again, so I decided to jump back in those waters. It’s really fun. I love it when writing is really fun.

Later, after NaNo, I’ll go back and edit the book I finished in October. And the book I was editing in September. And probably write a sequel to the October novel. And possibly rewrite something I wrote last September. And then I’ll edit this NaNo book, and then …

Life is too short to write all the stories I have in my head. It should be called NaNoWriLi, with Li for life.