Friday, Friday…

Excitement is overflowing around here for my new book, The Forgotten Girl. It won’t be available until February, but preorders will be happening soon, and to kick it off, I’ll be releasing some beautiful photos with quotes from the book. Along with that, will be another book trailer. And I promise, it’s so awesome! Amanda Conley Photography did INCREDIBLE!

Stay tuned!

<3 H

Top 10 Whole Wheat Romances

I’ve been down for the past week recovering from jaw surgery. What a doozy, I tell you.

Someone texted me last week, “Was it as bad as you thought it would be?”

It wasn’t the right moment for such a question. I was on strong meds, barely able to squeeze a condiment bottle of tomato soup between my numb and dysfunctional lips. My jaw bone throbbed, resulting in an excruciating headache, and my neck and lower back were aching from the anesthetic and surgery. It might sound like I’m being a tad bit dramatic. But I’m not.

It took every ounce of restraint to respond rationally. It was a concerned family member, for goodness sake. But I couldn’t help add a touch of snarky. “Well, the doctor cut off half my face and screwed it back together, and it feels like it.”

Anyways…back to what this post is about. NETFLIX.

Netflix has really come through for me during this time. It’s been my shoulder to cry on, so to speak. I have spent more hours than I could count binging on series and such. And I’ve come to understand a fundamental truth– Romance movies, or rather romance stories, are not created equally.

Romance stories (at least the ones I’m going to discuss) fall in 1 of 2 categories:

  1. Whole Wheat Romance- these are the stories that uplift, leave you thinking. These stories have realistic characters, ones you become invested in. These romantic tales leave you feeling satisfied. Real romance stories are like a homemade chocolate chip cookie (the good kind, like my friend Becca makes). They are perfectly delicious, made of the real stuff… and no matter how many I eat, I NEVER regret it. I just want more. (Becca… if you are reading this… I can eat milk-soaked chocolate chip cookies in my current state… just saying).
  2. White Bread Romance- these are the stories made for binging, made for an occasional viewing– the type that usually leave viewers feeling indulged… and slightly disappointed with themselves. The iconic example is any movie made by Hallmark.  Like cheap Little Debbie snacks or a cheap Chinese-American buffet, these stories seem like a good choice in the moment. So many trans fats and sugars, so much oil… five bites and the choice is regretted… 

So, in an ode to all that is good in the Real Romances, I’ve compiled a list of my TOP 10 WHOLE WHEAT ROMANCES, accompanied by their less worthy, less effort-watching partner, the WHITE BREAD ROMANCES… Let me know if you agree, and heaven forbid, I hope I don’t misplace one of your beloved stories….But remember, we all have weaknesses (one Little Debbie type snack). I’m only telling you what is and what is NOT good for your romantic souls. Remember, I’m an expert now, thanks to my broken jaw and countless hours of binging.

DRUM ROLL… in no particular order…and with clips for your enjoyment…Whole Wheat vs. White Bread…

Far and Away vs. P.S. I love you

Like most girls, Ireland holds a piece of my heart… and so it would seem any romance with Ireland would be the real deal. Not the case, not the case. While P.S. I Love You brings the waterworks, it isn’t in a good hormonal-cleanse sort of way. Nope, it’s in a cry ‘til your sick way. And nobody needs to do that. Watch a real love story– not the heartbreak of one. Also, it’s one of the actually good Tom Cruise films.

 

 

Pride and Prejudice vs. Lost in Austen

Not all Austen adaptations are created equal, but I’m wise enough to avoid that debate. *cough, cough* That aside, there are numerous spinoffs of Austen’s work. Don’t fall for it, don’t go for the lazy attempts. Go for the real thing, the real stories with real characters and real lessons vs. the fantasies of a fourteen year old girl who RUINS everything about this beloved tale. Darcy was made for Elizabeth.

While You were Sleeping vs. ANYTHING on Hallmark during the Holidays

If you need to go for a lighthearted romance, that’s fine. There can still be merit in romcoms. But at least spare yourself the Hallmark channel during the holidays. I know… I know… I KNOW. I do it, too. Every holiday I find myself fall prey to the promise of lighthearted Christmas miracles and romance heroes (usually some retired baseball player or beyond handsome small town homeboy). But it always ends up the same. At the end of the show, I feel like I just binged on a cheap Chinese buffet. It was delicious, but I never quite feel well afterward. Opt for a more substantial romcom– perhaps While You were Sleeping. It even has Christmas. And it has REAL characters.

 

Anne of Green Gables vs. When Calls the Heart series

Historical series have my heart. I, too, have watched When Calls the Heart. It felt so harmless at first… but then the series kept going on and on and on and on… until the plot got forced and the real romance was lost. It only took one watch of Anne of Green Gables to remind me of why it trumps all others… hopefully this clip will convince you, too.

 

Age of Adaline vs. The Lake House

Age of Adaline surprised me. It shouldn’t have. I adore Blake Lively. But anyways… if you happen to be in a mood for time-defying romance, please, I’m asking you to choose Age of Adaline over The Lake House. Please.

 

You’ve Got Mail vs. She’s All That

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are classic. Their on-screen chemistry is so real, and I can’t help but love them. Any of the 90s romcoms– She’s All That, Never Been Kissed, etc, they have NOTHING on the classic Ryan-Hanks stories. They resembled fast food. Don’t do it. There’s a better choice.

 

Tangled vs. Snow White

I had to put a Disney in here, because I love Disney. If you want your children to think love is about a chance meeting at a wishing well, followed by true love’s kiss… be my guest. But, I’d opt for the real kind of love– the type Flynn Rider offers Rapunzel by sacrificing himself to free her. Mmmmhmm.

 

Sweet Home Alabama vs. Twilight

If you are craving a love triangle, there are a plethora of options. If you need something that transcends reality also, you’ve still got options (Just Like Heaven). Reese Witherspoon brings a realness to her characters that’s absent from any character of Twilight. And, you won’t have an indulgent hangover the next morning.

 

How to lose a guy in 10 days vs. Anything Nicholas Sparks

I know this one is controversial. But with the exception of The Notebook (and even that one is debatable…I’m not a huge fan), Sparks’ stories are indulgent, weak love stories. They almost all seem to deal with infidelity or affairs and infatuation. It’s rarely worth your time. If you’re looking for contemporary, opt for a Kate Hudson or, dare I say it, Matthew McConaughey flick. My husband would die of he heard that (he can’t stand these type of rom coms). But it’s true. You’ll get more of the real thing than you will with Sparks.

 

Under The Greenwood Tree vs. Titanic

A privileged lady with different options… will she choose the rich one or the poor one? It’s a classic quandary. But, if you want one that is based on real love and in real life time, choose this period piece Under the Greenwood Tree. You won’t regret it, and you won’t be covering your youngen’s eyes.

 

Fact and Fiction

“I’m writing books. They’re still a work of fact and fiction and will continue to be. I think it’s an interesting place to work.” -James Frey 

“A play is fiction- and fiction is fact distilled into truth.”

-Edward Albee

In the near future, I’ll be teasing more about The Forgotten Girl. It’s not set to release until February, but I’ve been working with a talented photographer (and dear friend) to create a book trailer and still photos. The main character, Stella, was based off my great grandmother, and consequently, much of what happened to her in her life.

But it’s fiction.

It’s important to remember that as a writer, my book becomes my canvas, and the story I tell often becomes different than the one I set out to paint. I believe most authors– at least the really good ones– use personal experiences and emotions to tell their stories. That doesn’t mean they have experienced all that their character has. It just means that good writing has to come from a place of authenticity. I never immigrated to the United States to escape servitude like Stella. But I have felt trapped in situations, places so dark that I felt I would suffocate. That’s the place I found when I wrote this book. And, I’d venture to say that most authors try to do the same. They find a place in their heart, perhaps a spot of shared emotions or lessons as their MC, and they stay there. They pull from there, and they try their hardest to write truth into every bit of fiction. I know I try.

I recently finished another rough draft. It’s historical fiction (Yep…I can’t seem to stray from that). It’s yet to find a name (or a contract, for that matter), and it is raw and jumbled. However, between the lines and messiness, lies truth beneath the fiction. I put so much of me into the pages– in the same way I did with Stella’s story. The plot, the characters, the actual things that happened– total fiction. But the feelings and growth that happens to the main character Elle (and the growing pains she experiences) are as real as could be. So much of them are what I experienced. I know I’m not alone, and I hope to connect with younger readers (high school girls), as well as those like me (the ones that survived the whole growing-into-yourself thing).

Fiction isn’t really fiction, when you see it for what it is: a way for writers to share their truths they’ve found along the way.

 

 

Trips to the City

About once a month (sometimes more), we pack up the kids and head to the city. We love our small town, but there are some things it lacks… namely a Costco, Winco, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Ross, tj maxx, Hobby Lobby, Joanns… I could go on.  These city trips, though necessary and fun, can sometimes drag on and on, and on and on.

Mark starts to go crazy after the fifth store… rightly so. Dragging four kids around stores all day has its own set of challenges, like peed pants and screaming children… and maybe a frazzled hair, screaming lady. 

I can always tell when Mark is DONE. The DVD player comes on, Costco spoils are dispersed, and Mark sends me into the stores alone, while he tries to keep it together with kids. This was the case last time. My oldest needed new shoes. I popped into Ross, found some shoes (only adding a couple impulse buys), and headed back to the car. I was proud of how fast I was in and out. 

The car was parked near the front. Ain’t no car like ours– a maroon suburban, named by my second child (who was three years old at the time) “Little Sis”.  

I pulled the door open, and my eyes instantly fell to the cream colored interior. 

Wait. 

My eyes flashed to the man in the driving seat. He had a mouthful of food and a surprised expression.  His thinning hair was light, his skin color a far cry from my swarthy Mediterranean husband…

“Hello,” he said, half nervous and half mocking. 

That’s when I saw “Little Sis” charging down the parking isle, my knight in shining armor behind the wheel. 

I promptly screamed, slammed the door, and ran to our car. I think I said, “sorry”, “oops” or something… but I’ll never know. It was a blur. I opened our car door, the familiar black interior, along with my husband’s choked laughter, my only welcome. 

That’s true love. He laughed the whole way home… as did I.

What kind of freak am I?! 

I’m sure that other guy laughed about the crazy, screaming lady, too. …at least that’s what I tell myself at night. And what mark tells me. Lest you think mark planned such an embarrassing mishap, he likes to remind me what happened on his end…

It was the BABY’s fault… or so he claims. He couldn’t stay stationary without tears. So he circled the parking lot, trying to keep everyone happy. He had his route, watching and waiting as he circumnavigated. About the fifth lap, he saw me bee lining it. He had seen the burb’s twin… it was only a split second… he knows me too well… and he knew what was coming. He stepped on the gas to save me from imminent disaster.

He reached me just as I slammed the door. He recalls my “girly, flailing arms” as I ran (his words, not mine), and the way my every look screamed utter embarrassment. 

… but instead of asking me what happened, or if I was okay… he only laughed… and laughed…because he knew EXACTLY what had happened. 

Crafting the Weird.

Dwight Schrute.

Esqueleto.

Esqueleto from nacho libre! Haha. Funny guy

Phil Dunphy.

Mary Bennet.

Mr. Collins.

Kip.

Uncle Rico.

I could go on and on. There are so many perfectly ridiculous characters. I believe in humor, and sometimes when the story is too serious, or the pacing is too fast, we writers have the chance to create a character that makes an audience smile. So, this post is dedicated to all those weird characters that make stories more interesting, bring a smile to our face, or make us inwardly cringe (sometimes because we recognize a little bit of our awkward selves in them).

For those of you that are rolling your eyes, you should probably stop reading this post. Now. For the rest of you, enjoy.

Here’s to our favorite weirdos.

 

 

The Right Resources

If you’re anything like me, publishing can feel intimidating, impossible even.

One resource that changed everything was this.

I can’t remember who told me about this book, but I am forever grateful. Each year, a new edition comes out, and it’s important to have the current edition. There are also many versions– an edition for novels and short stories, children’s writing and illustrating, poet’s market, literary agents, and even a gold deluxe version.

Below, I’ve posted a couple pictures of mine from 2015, when I first started trying to get my writing published. If you were to flip through my copy, you would find folded corners, tabs, highlights, notes in the margin. THIS BOOK IS GOLDEN.

So, what is this amazing resource, and why do you need it?

Well, for starters, this book is a great introduction to the publishing world. There are helpful articles written by successful authors and those in the industry (aka people who know what they are talking about and how to navigate the publishing world). From my 2015 edition, there are articles entitled Writing Strong Scenes, Capturing a Reader’s Interest, The Business of Fiction Writing, Breaking in, It has Merit, but..., and many others.

There are also sections listing many, many literary agents (what they are looking for, how to submit, etc.), magazines,  publishers (how to submit, what they accept, genres they are seeking, etc.), Contests and Awards (I need to reread this section…), and conferences and workshops.

Hundreds of pages, all of which are helpful. And, I should add, I have no affiliation with this book or amazon. I just love it, and wanted to pass it on to all of you.

Marriage

Marriage is all about accepting each other at our worst, right? I keep reminding myself that this is true– like when I am picking up dirty socks for the hundredth time or when Mark still kisses me after I haven’t showered in days. However, last night was a whole new experience, highlighting this truth once again.

Mark needs a haircut, like bad. You know how there are some men that can pull off the Fabio look when their hair gets long, and then there are some that just look…like a wolf-man? Mark securely falls into that second category—wolf-man. It’s been a running joke throughout our marriage. He always waits until he’s two months past wolf-man to get a haircut. It is no different this time, and it might be even worse– perhaps three months past wolf-man?

And guys, I don’t get it. Seriously, every time he gets a haircut, it’s like we’re dating all over again. I’m swept off my feet, reminded of how very handsome my swarthy-Mediterranean husband is (that’s his nickname of choice). Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Mark likes to become crazy wolf-man so that when he gets a haircut, like normal people, I fall deeply and madly in love with him all over again. That sounds shallow. I like him a lot even when he is wolf-man. It’s just… I love a clean haircut.

Well, last night he was standing in front of the bathroom mirror shaving. I couldn’t stop staring at his ridiculous hair. So I grabbed a comb and my girls’ elastics and started combing his hair into small sections. I put pony tails every so often, and it was hilarious. We were both laughing so hard at how ridiculous it looked! Mark had to set down the razor and wipe at his tear-filled eyes. Secretly, it was my ploy to induce him to get a haircut. But we were laughing so hard that I forgot and got carried away. At one point, I put an elastic in my mouth as a holding spot while I combed a small section.

Then, Mark made me laugh, and yes…I swallowed that elastic. It was past the point of no return, so to speak, but it wouldn’t go down my throat (I have an itty bitty throat). Suddenly, mid laugh, I fell to the floor trying to huck the stupid elastic up. Mark stepped back, crazy ponytails and all, a blank look on his face.

I put my hand up, halting any question certain to come. This elastic was not going down, and I knew it had to come up. But how do you gurgle something that is past that point? I could hardly breathe. And that stupid elastic was threatening to go in my airway. So, I did what any natural person would do. And it came up.

So did half a frozen Costco pizza from dinner, along with various other food items that will remain nameless. I don’t want to get graphic here.

There was stifling silence for at least a minute. I was busy recovering from fight-or-flight. And Mark (still sporting the crazy hair) was standing with his jaw to the floor, his brows furrowed. At long last, he crouched down, lifting his arms in the air.

“What the hell just happened?”

The combination of his crazy hair and confused expression was just too much. We both laughed until our sides hurt, mine infinitely more from my recent upchuck.

The point of this story is: Marriage really is all about loving each other through the worst of times. HUSBANDS, cut your dang hair. WIVES, never put elastics in your mouth.

And most importantly, laughter really is the best medicine.

Getting Published 101: An Interview with an Acquisitions Editor

“How do you get published?”

I hear this question often. My writer friends (or complete strangers) want the process laid out for them. This is a difficult question to answer because in all honesty, I have no idea. I feel incredibly lucky to have had my manuscripts accepted by Cedar Fort. I could share my personal experience, but there is no saying if that would help anyone.

There isn’t much to be found online or anywhere about how to get published either. Maybe it’s because everyone’s path to publication is a little different. I’m not really sure. But, for everyone that would like a little more guidance on this process, I’ve decided to start posting interviews and tips for aspiring authors, and perhaps some of my own experience. For lack of a better term, I’ll be posting these topics under the tag ‘Getting Published 101’.

To start off, I emailed my friend and former editor Emma Parker and asked if she would be willing to do an interview with me. She was so kind to agree. I think her answers are informative for anyone trying to catch the attention of an acquisitions editor. So, without further ado, meet the amazing Emma Parker 🙂

Emma is a former acquisitions editor at Cedar Fort, Inc. She is now breaking into the technical editing industry at her job in Southern California. She loves her new career but misses going to work everyday to read books and her group of author friends that she worked with everyday. She continues working on her first love, juvenile fiction. Her first book, Papa’s Book of Mormon Christmas, was published in October 2015. You can find her website here.

***I guess I need to start with a disclaimer. I’m sure I did things very different from other acquisitions editors. Cedar Fort is a small publisher with a pretty specific market; however, they accept all submissions (which means LOADS of work for acquisitions), so a lot of our processes were impacted by that. ***

When skimming through the slush pile of submissions, what makes a story stand out?

Good writing is the absolute best way to keep an acquisitions editor reading. For us, we would read a few pages of every single submission and just go in order from when they were received (aside from returning authors who we were contractually obligated to provide answers to faster), so there is not much you can do to make your manuscript pop to the top of the pile. I know “good writing” is a vague answer, but editors will know if your submission is a first draft, and they will stop reading. They are looking for books that are worth a several thousand dollar investment. If it wasn’t worth the author’s time to clean up and tighten their book, it probably wasn’t worth the publisher’s investment. 

What are the biggest deterrents that lead to a rejection?

Writing and story aside, experience and willingness will go a long way. After giving the green light on the writing and story, I would then review the author info. If the author provides little information about themselves or appears unwilling to participate in social media, events, or marketing, it could be enough cause for a rejection.

How important is a cover letter?

A cover letter specifically is completely unnecessary. (This is one of those answers that might be specific to Cedar Fort.) Editors do not have time to dissect a cute a quirky letter for the information they need. Everything we need to know is asked in the submission form. In addition, there’s no need for a letter to show your personality and how creative you are because the manuscript should do that.

As an acquisition editor, how much control do you have over the manuscripts that ultimately get published?

Acquisitions editors are the gatekeepers, so if you can impress them, you stand a good chance of making it through. Editors have the power to throw rejections around like free candy, but if they want to get a manuscript published, they need to pitch it to the editorial board. (In our case, this consisted of the CEO, president, sales team, and production manager.) So if the acquisitions editor has a good manuscript and/or is a good sales pitcher, they have a great amount of influence in getting a book published.

How much time do you devote to each submission? How long does it take you decide whether to accept or reject a manuscript?

I would have loved to devote more time to every single manuscript, but since my department alone (fiction) received 100+ submissions each month, I could only read 5-10 pages of submissions that had little or no potential. I would need to read entire manuscripts before deciding to move forward with them. This meant that there were several manuscripts that I would get several hundred pages into before realizing that the story wasn’t moving well enough or it wasn’t portraying themes that our market would appreciate. But if you do receive an offer, this also means that tons of time and research has already been spent of your manuscript. 

What submission advice do you have for aspiring authors?

– Get involved in the writing community. This can even be done completely online now. Social media has a lot of communities where you can meet other authors and stay in the industry loop. It is always a good idea to have author connections for beta reading, blurbs, advice, or just to have an understanding support group. 
– Don’t bug the publisher about the status of your submission unless they have passed the date by which they said they would get you an answer. Publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts will need a lot more review time. You also don’t want to get a bad rap for being a needy author. 
– Provide a list of comp titles to your manuscript (not all of them being best sellers). Editors will want to hug you for doing some of their work for them. It also just shows that you are a credible author. Believe it or not, I read a few submission forms where the author said that he or she didn’t read much. If you aren’t a reader, there is just no way you can be a writer. Also, not being able to think of any comp titles or thinking that there are none is not a good thing. If nothing compares to your manuscript, you either need to read more or there’s a reason why.
– Here’s an important one. Do your research on potential publishers. All publishers do best in a specific market and have to cater to what that market wants. For example, Cedar Fort’s market prefers clean, upbeat, and/or Christian books. There were several times where it pained me to have to reject a fantastically written manuscript because it was too dark for our market. Publishers make it easy to find out what they are looking for because they don’t want you to waste your or their time. It takes a little effort to research but not nearly as much as it would take to submit to every publisher that isn’t looking for what you are writing.
Thank you, Emma! You were so fun to work with, and I am grateful for all you did to help me as a new author. 🙂

Making Room

Recently I watched The Minimalists on Netflix. It was so fascinating to see people that have transformed their lives by living a life free of the crippling debt and the constant stress of things. It inspired me. I am, by no means, planning on selling all of our family’s belongings and moving into a 500 sq. ft. tiny house. I am, however, seriously considering how to make my life more simple by getting rid of stuff. How much time do I spend cleaning all my space? Why do I need 10 mixing bowls in the kitchen? Do I really watch all the DVDs in our cabinet? Do my kids really need as many clothes (after all, they just make for more laundry)? Do I need as many clothes? Could someone else use them more? What about the winter hats and stretchy gloves, or the mounting pile of towels in my linen closet? And what about all the books I have lying around? I don’t even have enough shelf space for them all!

We can do better. I can do better. I like the idea of someday building a smaller house that still accommodates our lifestyle. A 4000 sq. ft. home just seems so…unnecessary. There is wasted space in our house. Things just accumulate. It seems that if you buy a large home, you will find enough junk to fill it. Add to that the many, many weird things my kids bring home from school and parties. Why do people pass out plastic spinning tops and fake jewelry that breaks after 5 minutes? And, why, oh why, do my kids hoard the broken pieces, spinning tops, kid meal toys, little bubble containers, pencils, and everything else you might find in a party favor bag? You could say I have cabin fever, and you might be right. We have had record amounts of snow this year. Feet outside our front door.

But I am so ready to go through our whole house and make room. Room to breathe. Room for less. Room for my ideas and projects. And, most importantly, more room for those I care about.

I am ready to deal with all the things that are holding me back. I’m not just talking about stuff here. I am so ready to go through my mental junk also. I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert this last week. Wow. Talk about inspiring. I had so many “aha” moments. Creativity is such a part of me, and I want to be able to make more room for it. I want to teach my kids to follow their curiosity and find their own creativity.

You’re probably wondering why I am even sharing all this. And here it is– I feel excited to clean out my house and habits, and I am hopeful that in the process, I will make more room for creativity and the people I love most.

What is holding you back from creating the relationships and life you want? Perhaps this question can help each of us to identify the clutter surrounding us, be it mental or physical, so that we can deal with it accordingly and live a more intentional life.

January Update

If you follow me on Facebook, by now you’ve heard that I have another novel contracted to be released September 2017!

I am so excited about this book, The Forgotten Girl. It is very different from my regency writings. This new novel is set in the early 1900s and follows a young girl named Stella as she immigrates to the United States from Russian-ruled Poland. It’s a story of strength, survival, and hope. Of course I had to add a bit of romance in it, but this book is primarily Stella’s story and not necessarily focused on the romance. The Forgotten Girl was an emotional journey to write, and I am hoping that my readers will enjoy the ride as well!

Now that my novella is off to the printers and my new novel has found a home with my editors, I find I finally have time to imagine something new. Creating a new story and characters is my favorite part about writing. Some authors love to edit. I admire that. Most of writing is editing after all. But I crave the creation process. I absolutely love it. So, for the next few months I will be in creation paradise– creating a new world, characters, plots and so on.

In the meantime, have you read Mischief and Manors by Ashtyn Newbold? Or To Suit a Suitor by Paula Kremser? I absolutely loved these books! I can’t wait to read Mandi Ellsworth’s Uneasy Fortunes, too, especially after reading her novella. It was such a fun read! It’s nice to relax and read a story every once in a while. It’s so refreshing, and it inspires my sometimes burned-out-writer’s soul.