Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hikes and Heart--Sterling Bridge Blog Tour

My first comment has to be an apology/explanation.  Apparently, my brain went through a convoluted series of mistakes in which I was supposed to review this book next Wednesday, not Tuesday.  Don't ask me how this happened, but this is also how I confused my roommate by claiming my hair appointment tomorrow is on the 18th.  7 days before my next big trip, my brain is starved for intelligence.

Anyway, here we go!  A little while ago, I was asked to review this book and knowing that it was a sports story, I gave it a shot.  After all, I am a huge fan of Miracle at Fenway, 42, A League of Their Own, Fever Pitch...  Basically, if you give me a good sports story, make it true and write it well, I'll be a puddle of emotions by the end of it.

Emphasis on "write it well."  I can't stand flimsy characters that I can't relate to or care about.  I have little patience for sports that expect me to know the playbook.  I need a good ending.

So, with those yo-yoing standards, where do I fall on the subject of Sterling Bridge?  Somewhere between Remember the Titans and 42.  It is a fantastic period piece.  I am not familiar with the area or the sport.  I periodically stopped and looked up things like European national boundaries in the 1920's or the history of the text of the Pledge of Allegiance.  (I found a factual error.  He had the students recite the text as found in 1954.)  I laughed in delight when he fictionalized Loren C. Dunn, the first president of the Boston Temple.

It was a multicultural story, both in the telling of life stories of Yugoslav and Polish and half a dozen other heritages in a small mining town, and a town segregated by religion.  There are 42-esque scenarios of people getting a black eye for calling another person a wop, the locals complain about the ferriners (and it took me a while to figure out that it was a Utah pronunciation of foreigner) and a local priest confesses that he thinks the Mormons refer to his flock as the "Catholic impostors."  But the binding force as in so many sports stories was the common goal.

Sterling Harris is clearly the ultimate hero of the book, but I found myself absolutely devastated when my favorite character died young.  I won't watch BYU football because I find it boring, but I read the play-by-play of the state championships eagerly.  I even possibly brought shame upon myself in my grandfather's eyes when I hoped that Tooele would win against his alma mater.

Do you have to be a football fan to like this?  Absolutely not.  Do you have to be religious?  No, you will still appreciate the cultural heritage of people embracing their religion and the struggles of multiple characters with faith.  Can you get excited over games that happened 80 years ago?  Good grief, yes.

Buy it here

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Blog tour: Stephen Zimmer guest posts!

Note:  I'm excited to have another person give advice on this blog!  He addresses a writing style that reminds me of Pratchett and Bujold, so I admire it already!  Also, check out a new Writing Wednesday post on later tonight. 

The Character Franchise Versus a Series: The Writer's Challenge

Heart of a Lion is the first book of the Dark Sun Dawn trilogy, featuring the sword and axe-wielding heroine Rayden Valkyrie.  The trilogy, though, is not the totality of the story of Rayden Valkyrie.  The Dark Sun Dawn trilogy is a story arc that is going to be part of a developing collection of short stories, other multi-novel story arcs, and perhaps even tales that can be stand-alone novels, all of which will feature Rayden.

To date, I have a pair of active series that have been progressing, the epic fantasy Fires in Eden series, which has three books out of a planned seven now available, and the Rising Dawn Saga, which has four books of a planned seven now available.  At this stage of my path, I do understand what's involved in writing a dedicated series, and that's why the Rayden Valkyrie stories, and the Dark Sun Dawn trilogy, represented new ground to me as a writer.

To illustrate what I am getting at, I will cite the short story where she makes her debut as well as Heart of a Lion, the first novel featuring her.  “All the Lands, Nowhere a Home”, which is contained in the sword and sorcery anthology Thunder on the Battlefield: Sword, marks the first appearance of Rayden Valkyrie.  The story in it is going to be continued, but it is set at a time in Rayden's life different than that portrayed in Heart of a Lion.  And that's what I'm getting at here.

A series develops in a sequential manner, while a character-based franchise, such as Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian tales, can unfold in a very non-linear manner.  One story or book could take place in a hero or heroine's more advance years, with the next taking place in their youth, and another taking place somewhere in-between.

This presents a unique kind of writing challenge, as a person evolves and grows over the course of their lifetime.  The stories have to reflect where they are at, on their path, and requires the author to have a full command of that character's history, very thoroughly, in order to maintain the right mode of that character and the references contained in the story.

Additionally, the author has a little challenge in selecting what stories to tell as everything unfolds.  For me, “All the Lands, Nowhwere a Home” serves as a good introduction to the Rayden Valkyrie character, while Heart of a Lion broadens and deepens the reader's experience of Rayden.

The story arc in the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy, when it is complete, will definitely leave the reader with the core of who Rayden is and what she is about.  For me, in developing her story and growing her body of work, that is the best place to start the path.

After the completion of the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy I will have to focus on what is next, as far as stand-alone novels or multi-book story arcs.  By then I may have some more Rayden Valkyries short stories, which will also involve their own decisions as far as the overall timeline and which stories to tell.

Whether short story or novel, I will have to determine what story is most important to tell at the time and what will be the best next step in revealing the overall Rayden Valkyrie story.  I don't know whether that will entail her early years, her middle years, or her later years, but I can say it will offer the reader something that will broaden their relationship with the Rayden Valkyrie character.

Nevertheless, life is determined by a heartbeat, and my telling of Rayden's story unfolds at the heart, in Heart of a Lion.  Much more to come, and much more to tell.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

One moment in time--Emma Parker's "Papa's Book of Mormon Christmas"

“Have you heard the story about the book that saved Christmas?” Papa asked.

Every couple of months, my roommate and I act like seven-year-olds.  It was her idea years ago to visit the 4th Floor Juvenile Literature section of BYU's Harold B. Lee Library and read picture books all afternoon and it was my notion to do it again.  We occasionally read old favorites--I started that first day with The Polar Express and predictably cried at the ending and she recently read Horton Hears a Who in Spanish.  I've discovered new favorites, like T-Rex at Swan Lake and Science Verse (which has a very unconventional rewrite of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.")  We've also done this all over Utah.

Anyway, all of that introduction leads up to today's book.  I tell you that story because it's one that I wish I  had discovered on one of our picture book Saturdays.

If you look at the "Written by," some of you will recognize the name from my stories about getting my book published.  Hint:  Her bio mentions her being an acquisitions editor.  (Since she is the one who famously told me I had a word count problem, the first thing I looked for was whether or not this broke 100,000.)  But after roughly six months of working out the best things to do for my manuscript, I know the sorts of things that she likes and some of her philosophies on plot and pacing, so I sort of geared myself up to see how well those translated into a bedtime story.

Do I have any complaints about this book?  Well, yes.  Not what you think, thoiugh.  It has nothing to do with the story, the POV, the subject matter, the dialogue...  Actually, all of those are delightful.  I have a problem (predictably) with the length.  I want this to be a full-length novel in which the powerful anecdote that is related from Papa to Alice is explored and given context.  I want to know if this is based on a true story.  I especially want to know the rest of the story because Papa tells about looking for lost soldiers on a Civil War-era Christmas, but doesn't actually say what the result of that quest was.  He says that it turned out to be a pretty good Christmas, but the rest is left up to the imagination.

To borrow an example from one of my favorite movies, think of Up.  Imagine if what we saw of the Ellie/Carl love story was contained in the scrapbook.  We would look at some of those adventures and wish fervently that we could have the rest of the story (as we do in the wonderful montage).  

Given that this is a picture book, I definitely understand the need to keep this story encapsulated, but I feel like I'm looking at a scrapbook with Alice and Papa, so I selfishly want a feature-length motion picture rather than a snapshot.  This is high praise, in case you were wondering.

One of the best things about this story is the realism of the characters.  When originally reading it, I thought "Wow, there is a lot of the story devoted to the behavior of the little girl."  Then I remembered trying to read books with my nephews and how everything is dependent not on the length of the book, but the current fixation of the audience.  (Richard Scarry books can take an hour if you're reading with a car-obsessed four-year-old, for example.)  So when they have to halt the story because Alice is fascinated by the aspects of winter, I absolutely believe that this is how it would be if any wise older person told a story to a child of a certain age.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The One Who Walks Behind the Truck Stop: Brick Marlin's "Shadow Out of the Sky"

There are many books out there that give me mixed feelings. This is one of them. Back in 10th grade, I read a round-robin discussion called "In Pursuit of Pure Horror" and it's set the standard for my interpretation of fear ever since. I feel like Brick Marlin took his cues from the same tome. The story itself is an interesting premise. One night, in the small town of Hampshire, the lights go out and hell breaks loose. The perpetrators of ghastly and cold-blooded crimes are the children of the town. But it is not because they are willfully evil. It is because they are under the thrall of a supernatural power. And they are, quite literally, unstoppable. I'm going to break this into two sections. If you're looking for a review of the book's story, read this next part and stop before the next section. If you want the nitty-gritty perspective of an author, finish the post.

  What went well

 I like this premise for a number of reasons: 1) The lack of free agency is something that that has caused terror for millennia. We see it in the Bible, where evil spirits are cast out. We recognize it in the zombie legend, where the corpse is controlled by dark magic and enslaved forever. We even find it in Harry Potter, where subjecting someone to your will can be an imprisonable offense. 2) Children are supposed to be sacrosanct. They are the protected, the ones that adults die to save. 3) There is no reasoning with the nature of this evil. Several of the children continue mauling their fellow citizens while faceless or headless. They have a mission and cannot be restrained. I think that I would like to read other books by this writer if he could find a good copyeditor or spell-check because he does have interesting ideas and some funny moments.

  Where it went to hell

 That said, this is not my favorite book. It does for rednecks what Children of the Corn did for blondes. Granted, since this is Podunk, USA, they all have accents, but the dialogue was inconsistent. The education level of a character often changed in the course of a single paragraph.

 All the men were sexist and all of the women were nags. This black-and-white representation bothered me almost as much as the frequent typos and grammatical errors. The author sometimes punctuated with numerals and mistook 'em for 'im. Because all of the characters were inherently offensive to me, I wasn't sure who I wanted to die. He also started the story by introducing a supernatural element described by Dean and referencing Sam. I facepalmed on the behalf of the Supernatural fandom.

 Brick brings up a character named Martha. I picture her as Betty White and she is pretty awesome. But her main function is to be the Good-Book-readin' Christian widow who sees this as the end of times. She goes to bed reading from the Revelation of St. John the Divine and wakes up in her personal Armageddon. She says frequently and vehemently that this whole thing is out of Revelations and "LUCIFER HIMSELF!" But nothing about this other than the Greek interpretation of the title--Apocalypse--has any resemblance to the book that she's faithfully remembering. I kept scratching my head and wondering "How?"

 The two things that bothered me had to do with backstory. 1) He introduced Kabul, who seems to be a pied piper origin story, and throws in a couple of scenes with him. They don't sufficiently explain the driving force of this massacre. 2) One of my favorite character arcs is that of "Uncle Barry." We know from the story that he is a pedophiliac clown who would promise children toys if they came home with him. When the children go on the rampage, he is punished and taunted by those he murdered. Another woman is depicted praying for the soul of her deceased child, who died through no fault of hers from pneumonia at a young age. The child returns to her and murders her for that crime. The four ring-leading children are known as The Reckoning and they are exacting justice under the direction of evil. This is short-changed in the story.

  In Short

 This is an interesting premise damaged by an outline form. If the stories were told as an anthology, rather than being expected to keep a cohesive story arc, they would have been much more effective. I wanted more of Kabul and his efforts. I wanted examples of other Reckoning actions. I wanted to go read fanfic of both things for the vast, untapped potential. Thanks to Brick for letting me read!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Who Rules the World?--Rebecca Greenwood's "Scripture Princesses"

 Hey, friends.  I'm back for another blog tour because I enjoy them so much!  Rebecca and I go back a ways, since we were in the same ward before she got married and she was in Sing 4 Something the year that I got to choreograph and direct part of the show.  (The poor girl played a pirate, beautiful maiden, sailor AND Japanese bride in the course of a few songs.)  She's also been my unofficial spy at Cedar Fort, telling me in February that one editor had read my book and it was going to the next person, letting me know that my editor hadn't gotten back to me because of vacation and telling me that she'd just gotten the e-mail at work announcing my book.  When I had to set up my author site, they referred me to her.  So she's a very cool person and an author/illustrator as well.  

What is Scripture Princesses?  

Back in the '80's, I grew up with a Children's Bible, which put the Bible into comic form.  I loved that little red tome, with its amazing pictures of the Red Sea and leprosy.  I also loved how memorable it made the unfamiliar.  'm fond of Rebecca's book in a similar way.  She has chosen over a dozen women from the scriptures, told their stories in an engaging and accessible way and illustrated each one beautifully.  (The above graphic is an example of this style.  Each one has a slogan/exhortation to remind us in one sentence what the take-away could be.)

Rebecca was nice enough to let me do a Q&A with this one, so here we go!  Afterwards, I hope you'll stop by for more information.  They have coloring pages (I'm printing out my tiara later today!) and links to where you can buy the book.  Enjoy this look into the book for now and thanks for reading!

1)  You have great examples of Scripture Princesses and each chapter starts with an exhortation.  Who are some of your Scripture Princes and could you give us an example of the exhortations you’d give for them? 

A few: 
Go and do, like Nephi
Be an instrument in the hands of God, like Gideon
Be wise but harmless, like Ammon (who was actually a prince!) 
Be like Jesus. (The Prince of Peace) 

2)  I plan to share these stories with my extended family and I only have one niece so far. How do you think I can use these stories to teach my nephews to respect women?

 I believe that women and girls deserve to have books and media–stories–that are created solely for them. When I wrote Scripture Princesses, I made all decisions based on “Is it accurate to the scriptures? Could it appeal to girls? Does it appeal to me?” I did not consider whether it would appeal to boys. 

That said, they are welcome to read it! I hope it could help them realize there is another side to every story, one with a different mind-set and world view, but just as alive and vital as their own. We were created as two sexes for a reason, and God wants us to love each other, work together, and try to understand each other. Reading stories that are in the point of view and written for the opposite sex is a great way to learn empathy. 

3)  Did you ever consider doing a version of this that only focused on the Bible or on all of the standard works? 

I considered breaking it up, but I wanted each woman in my book to have a name. For the Bible, New Testament and Old Testament, that was easy. But there are only three named women in Book of Mormon: Sariah, Abish, and the harlot Isabelle. (Eve and Mary are also named, but their stories aren’t there). I decided I did need to cram them all into one book. 

4) Did you pick all of the Princesses yourself or did you have input from others?

I chose them.

5)  Are there any Princesses that were cut from the list for one reason or another?

The story that really inspired me to start writing this book was the maid servant of Morianton from Alma 50:30-31. I turned to her story while sitting in the chapel of the Provo temple. Reading it, I felt that, yes, I should pursue creating a book of stories of women from the scriptures for girls, both to tell the women’s stories, and show girls the difference they can make. Before, I had just been toying with the idea.

The name of Morianton’s maid isn’t given, and her story is a little harsh, so I didn’t include her in the book. Her story would probably be better told with a full fictional treatment, where she can be given a name and a happy ending to go with her bravery.

 6)  If you were to write a similar book based solely on historical figures, who would you include? 

Joan of Arc 
The real Pocahontas
Laura Ingalls Wilder…

I think I would enjoy more doing one of women’s stories from early church history.  I would need to deal with polygamy, however, so it would probably be better to have an older target audience for that project.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Moving Day

Greetings!  This is your official notice that I am taking my writing adventures to my new site.  I will put travelogs and book reviews here.

Why?  Well, on June 24, I got an e-mail with a book contract.  One of the parts of the contract required that I set up an author site.  I am going to be at for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for the few who once in a while read this.  Come visit me at the new site!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Waiting Game

So, I got my new phone, since the old one died a horrible and abrupt death.  That means that this Wednesday, I'll be posting a proper review of "Enslaved to Saved."  Look forward to that.

In the meantime, according to, it has been 16.12 hours since May 21, when I sent in my 99K manuscript to the editor and got a "The word count is perfect" back.  She then said she'd let me know within a few weeks.  So I'm currently obsessively checking my e-mail during the weekdays.  In the meantime, I posted my anticipation on Facebook, which lead to insider information.  The same friend who works there (and told me on Valentine's Day that one editor had liked it and I needed a second editor to get on board) IMed me to say "You haven't heard because she's been on vacation for a week."  I love my friend.  I really do.  

I also (injudiciously) got more active on Twitter recently.  The publisher shared a link to an article about the recent death of L. Tom Perry.  I commented on it. Then I saw a post about doughnuts and got into a lively debate about whether it's dialectically correct for me to insist on them being donuts because that's what they call them at Dunkin' on every other street corner and subway station in Boston.  Now I'm friends with a sportswriter who was my sparring partner.  The point of this story is that I kept getting e-mail notifications saying they were from the publisher and kept having trouble breathing.  Then I remembered that they were just replies or retweets of my commentaries.

Long story short, I've got the song "God, I hope I get it!  I hope I get it!" from A Chorus Line stuck in my head and I wonder when on earth I will hear back.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Blog Tour: Ritchfield's "From Enslaved to Saved" Announcement

I have been bad.  I have my notes and digital copy of this book on my phone and currently have a phone that will not charge.  Therefore, I can say the following:  His book was doctrinally sound and thought-provoking and his Greek checked out.  I have a lot more to say, but I can't access it.  I will post properly when my phone is fixed (hopefully soon).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I told you that would be my post-edits announcement.  It took over 37,000 words, several incredibly helpful friends, one month and one day and a lot of stress, but I got Wingspan into the 5-figure range.  I promised myself I'd do it before I left for my well-earned vacation to California and that meant that while I finished the edit on the 20th, I finished the formatting at the SLC airport on the 21st and sent the e-mail to the mysterious E. from Gate E-80, where I was waiting for the flight from Utah to San Jose.

But whatever!  I did it!  The hardest part of the whole process was getting to the last page of the book and discovering that I still had 6656 words left.  Then I turned back to page 1 and had 15 words per page that I had to cut instead of 68.  When I was cutting 65 per page, I felt immensely powerful.  Later on, it was more in the range of 35 words per page until it trickled down to a handful per page by the end.

So, now that I'm back from 5 days in the Bay Area (sort of), I thought I'd post my happiness and also give a few Easter eggs.

EE1:  The tarot reader is named Marianne, in honor of the friend who not only did my first reading but gave me my own tarot deck a couple of years ago.
EE2:  Avril is a variation on an old roommate and channels her occasionally.
EE3:  Sosi is based on an Armenian-American friend from choir and would have been named Vana if I didn't want to go with something different.
EE4:  The therapist is named for one of my nephews.  It doesn'r use the last name, but the rest is the same.
EE5:  At one point, the Byrne family goes to an unnamed restaurant in Wayland for a special occasion.  This is an Easter egg because the restaurant it's meant to be (Which is sadly closed now) is called Hillary's.  If you know me in real life, you'll understand who that's honoring.  It's also where my family went for special occasions as well.
EE6:  The therapist is named for a nephew by my younger sister.  The Byrne sisters' favorite aunt has a name that's just one letter away from matching hers.
EE7:  All of the girls on the JV soccer team are named for people I disliked in my hometown, especially the idiot named Mari.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Climb Every Mountain

No, this isn't a Kevin J. Anderson-style hiking post.  This is a story...well, actually two stories.  These are two stories about my week so far.

As I mentioned before, I submitted my manuscript on Saturday.  On Monday, during a brief break, I got an e-mail saying "Oh, I needed to mention that this needs to be no longer than 100,000."  I promptly had a panic attack, had to take a walk around the office under the convenient pretense of filing (my boss needed me to do it anyway) and then came back.  100,000 requires me to cut at least 37,000 words from my manuscript.

So, here are the two stories.  The first one was from when I was a wee lass of seven.  I had the chicken pox quite badly and was out of school for a while.  During that time, I had lots of hours on my hands, so I finished this huge project to write all of the numbers from 1-1000 in order.  I was so proud of myself.  This was not only an important homework assignment, but members of the 1000 Club got their names in the school newspaper.  I turned it in to Mrs. Bartman, my teacher and she looked it over before announcing that I had skipped 367 and had to write 368-1000 all over again.

The second one is from when I was a little less wee.  My parents, who celebrated their 40th anniversary last Friday, decided to take whichever kids were available on a backpacking trip to Peru for their 25th anniversary.  I trained for months.  I lost weight.  I drank mate de coca like shots in the lobby of our hotel because that helps get lowlanders used to the Andes.  On Day 3 of our 5-day hike to Macchu Pichu, we got to Dead Woman's Pass.  Williams, our guide, warned us that it was the most difficult part of the hike and he was right.  This was a punishing part of the Inca Trail.  It punished me for being fat, for being a hiker, for being easily sunburned, for existing.  (This is also, it turns out, when I started developing what became a 103-degree fever.)  The trail narrowed from its usual 5-10 feet or more to about 2. at some points.  The stones were loose.  There was a drop so steep that all I could see were the tops of the trees hundreds of feet below.  I literally got on my hands and knees for part of this trail in order to make it to the top.  A couple of hours later, I reached the peak.  Williams greeted me, gave me a high five, and promised me that I was almost to the spot where we were stopping for lunch.  I grinned and told him to lead the way.  He pointed across a narrow valley and halfway up the next mountain and said, "THERE!  See that little yellow tent?  That's where we're setting up lunch."  I came THIS CLOSE to pushing him down Dead Woman's Pass right then and there.

I don't feel quite that strongly about these 37,000 words.  After all, they're only 68 words per page.  I can do that.  But I feel like I did looking at that distant yellow tent--exhausted and like I just want to sit down for a while and ignore how far I have to go.  I feel like I did at the age of 7 when I found out that for all my work, I had to back and work hard again.

It is for that reason that I will post at the end of this draft what I have on my t-shirt from that hike:  I SURVIVED DEAD WOMAN'S PASS!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Lessons learned from this round of edits

So, at 11:22 a.m. MDT, I hit the send button on my e-mail back to that extremely kind editor that I mentioned recently.  I have been working on putting her ideas into their place for 39 days and now what's left is to wait to see what she thinks about how I implemented them.

So, while waiting, here are a few lessons learned:

1)  My friends are awesome.  They texted and called me, sometimes at 4 in the morning, to see how I was doing and if I needed anything.  They sent me pictures of badgers when I needed to be badgered.  They even sent me a stuffed badger and helped me name her Susurrus.  They kept track of when my deadline was and liked my Facebook posts a lot by way of encouragement.

2)  My friends can be counted on for brainstorms.  I'm not sure if I told this story here, but one of the things I had to explore in this round of edits was the limit of the curse and what would allow the curse to win.  I first figured out that it had to be something to do with adulthood, because that is a point that differs so widely that the age of majority is nothing but a number.  Then I refined it to a specific moment in life and worked out the why of that technicality.  Then I picked on my two most extreme feminists.  One is my amazingly strong lesbian friend who always keeps me informed on the LGBTQ community's rights and issues.  One is my fantastically intelligent mom of 2 friend who has something to say about EVERYTHING related to women.  I figured that if I could get both of them to not hate that idea, I would be fine.  I had six people of various sexualities and backgrounds give me feedback in the end and they all loved it for different reasons.

3)  My roommate is a never-ending fount of editing power.  I wouldn't let her actually read this final draft because she just finished meeting one of my deadlines and has already edited the book and put up with my "Hey, could you give me feedback on something"s.  That doesn't mean that she didn't sit down with me for an hour the first night and several occasions since to hash out the details.  I have promised her that unless this manuscript comes back with really unfavorable responses, the next time I want her to read my book is for a blog tour.

4)  That stupid quote about the best-laid plans of mice and men is true.  I thought giving myself 40 days was so freaking reasonable.  E, the mystery editor, told me it could take between 2 weeks and a couple of months.  And then I woke up 11 days into editing with bronchitis and it didn't leave for two weeks.  Granted, that's when I spent all of my time getting feedback from a wide spectrum of women, but I would have rather been well and able to write.

5)  Goals are my friend.  I would ask a random friend to give me a number each day and make that my wordcount goal.  I wrote 520 and 1266 and such things and then usually had energy left over to write more.

6)  I need a nap.  No, seriously, I think I'll be able to sleep properly for the first time in weeks tonight.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Importance of Self-Fanfic

So to go into a little more detail than I have in the past, I got a bite rather than a nibble from one publisher.  I got a very nice e-mail where one of their editors told me all of the things she liked about and that she had some "general edits" that she wanted me to address before she recommended it for publication.  This is the most serious interest that I've had in my writing EVER, which is why when I saw an e-mail entitled "Re: Wingspan Submission," I literally blacked out for an unknown period of time.  Then I read the letter and it wasn't a rejection and was better than I expected.

So, with these "general edits," I've had to go back and tweak a few minor things and one or two major things.  On the day that I got the e-mail, Kate let me pick her brain for an hour.  The following Sunday, I spent a little more time than that talking about the philosophies behind what I had to change.  Tonight, I spent time consulting a paralegal and a nursing student in order to be accurate with certain aspects of the plot.  Last weekend, I cane up with a much more intricateversion of the curse and because it expressed some very personal philosophies of mine, I ran it by my ultra-feminist conservative Mormon friend, my lesbian activist friend and several people across the spectrum in between.  When all of them surprisingly found good things to say about what I came up with, I called it a win and decided that I could integrate that idea into the book series as large.

Most of the time, the edits have not been sweeping story arcs and changes of characterization.  It's been adapting small things that will have eventual significance.  One minor subplot caused Kate to have a crossover idea between this book and The Deserter, which amused and delighted me.

As difficult as this is, I think it would be a lot harder if I hadn't been keeping an active part of my brain involved in this universe.  For a writing challenge a few months ago, I wrote a missing moment from the next book.  I recently cheered Kate up by writing her the prologue of the next book.  While the manuscript was done a while back, I haven't put it on a back burner.  I've been acting like a fangirl with my novel and that has been of great help.

On the other hand, I'm trying to work with a self-imposed deadline for these edits to be done.  40 days seemed reasonable on March 10.  On March 21, when I was starting to make progress, I developed bronchitis and didn't stay conscious for much of the next week and a half.  Now I've got 14 days before I'd like to be done with this and, while I have over 8,000 words added to the manuscript and have the rest of the procedure mapped out, I'm trying not to panic about how much time has passed already.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tangential delights--Review of Lauren Skidmore's "What Is Lost."

You know, one of the worst things that I can say at the end of a book is "I didn't see that coming."  I remember co-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Kate and I were on opposite ends of the living room, reading from midnight until 7:50 a.m.) and being slightly exasperated by her frequent jaunts to her bedroom.  She would be checking a reference or revelation against a previous installment of the series.  One of the best "reveals" was when we witnessed a young Severus Snape telling Lily Evans about dementors and finally understood that Petunia's comment about hearing about dementors from "That awful boy" was not a slight against James Potter.

I love a mystery as much as the next person, but I love a mystery with antecedents.  When it gets to the denoument, I expect to be nodding and smiling at the cool logic and clear presentation.  

All of that goes to say that, yes, I quite enjoyed the second book in Lauren's series.  I developed a theory about the ending about 50 pages in and spent the rest of the time finding things to back up my theory or to throw me for a loop.  When it came to the climax and I found myself nodding and smiling and saying, "Of course!  That makes sense!", it was with fondness.  So my first recommendation is that this is a great mystery with an indeterminate audience.

Let me take a moment to talk about the characters.  While I half-expected to see the story of the first book continued, having it told from the point of the antagonist was a master stroke.  It made me question everything that we knew about him from the first book.  I was never quite sure if I liked him--he was a man with good intentions and a really screwy way of working with them--but I never thought of him as an unrealistic character.  

For its subtitle, the Little Red Riding Hood story didn't play as much of a part as I anticipated.  I loved that the Gradmother is a bit of a criminal mastermind and the Wolf reminded me of Ras Al-Ghul at times.  As someone who knows of Lauren's fixation with Japan, I enjoyed seeing this second book set in the culture and some of the customs of that country.  It amused me that every person of consequence in the book seemed to have ninja training, but that again can be attributed to either the Japanese influence or the Ras Al-Ghul factor.

As I recently said to Kate, the highest compliment I can pay this book is "There HAS to be a sequel."  If the story is left there, I will feel cheated and a little bit resentful.  So, until that comes out, please join me in becoming fans of the series.  

Where to find this:

Monday, March 16, 2015

Build-up Binder--An Exercise in Self-Therapy

So, you'll be getting another post soon.  If you remember Lauren Skidmore's wonderful book--What is Hidden--I get to blog-tour the sequel this Sunday.  Stay tuned!

In the mean time, I'll talk about the power of positive thinking.  This isn't something that comes easily to me.  I'm a Bostonian and someone with clinical depression and PTSD.  This often means that I want to punch people in the face when they try to hug out a problem.  I stayed away from a well-meant church activity where someone lectured on happiness.

Counseling and medication could undoubtedly help with this, but right now, I work 40 hours a week take piano lessons, play for choir, teach Sunday School, have season tickets to the Symphony, am training for a 10K...  I have yet to find time since moving to my new town to actually find a therapist, a psychiatrist or a reliable GP who doesn't tell me that if a migraine lasts more than four hours, it's no longer a migraine but a cry for attention.

So, what do I do instead?  To be honest, I bang on the piano a lot.  I run my butt off at the local gym.  I eat too much Mexican food.

Recently, I got a response to Wingspan that I'll talk about more later.  The person greeted me like a friend, called the writing witty and lovely and at one point called the idea genius.  Yes, I've gotten this sort of thing said about fanfic before, but she went into so much detail that I had a hard time not crying because she went into such detail about the characters and plot and intentions that,,,

Well, let me put it this way.  Kate has been contributing ideas and feedback to Wingspan for so long that I feel like Aislin and Maeve are in on our circle of friends.  We have in jokes with them.  We care about what's going on in their lives.  This person, who recently read this unpublished book, made me feel like she's a genuine friend to my characters as well.

What this has to do with my depression is this:  I went to Wal-Mart and got a green binder.  I'm going to print off things that people have written to me that make me feel good about myself and put them in that binder.  In there will be the e-mail from this friend of the series as well as the page where Kate wrote "THIS IS BRILLIANT!" about the Kafka reference three-quarters of the way through the book.  It will include my favorite reviews on fanfics, from the "OH MY GOD!" variations to the ones from my Irish barrister friend.  It will even include funny tweets I've gotten in response to my own tweets.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Did You Mean To Do That?--My reasons for not self-publishing

So, on a regular basis, when people find out that not only do I want to be a novelist, but have already written two books, they follow up the questions about queries and submissions with this:  "And you're not going to self-publish?"

My usual response is a very quick one:  "I don't have the self-confidence for that!"  I laugh at myself and my neurotic tendencies and go back to letting them know which people or places are considering my work.

Today, I thought I would give a slightly longer explanation.  Let's be clear:  This is not a condemnation of the people who decide to self-publish.  It's my perspective of how my brain works and how that affects my aspirations.

To illustrate most simply, let's visit another one of my hobbies.  I play six instruments, but the one that I'm studying most actively right now is piano.  A couple of years ago, I realized that my teacher was essentially being paid to sit behind me and tell me "That's making real improvement" and occasionally, "Do you think that you should work more on the fluidity of your sixteenth notes?"  She was good at helping me construct a program and had some helpful tips, but she wasn't helping me make real progress as much as I liked.  I decided that it was time for us to part ways and, in the middle of this process, I told my mother that I was looking for a teacher who would get my music moving forward again.  Since Mom has a master's degree in piano pedagogy and an active piano studio, she offered to take over.

My mother is a lovely woman, but she's a tough teacher.  She doesn't let me get away with comfortable fingering that doesn't quite work.  She makes me do scales and Hanon exercises.  She recently made me play the same ten-note run for about four minutes because I kept having a fluidity problem in the middle and we were working out where my hand was tripping itself up.

One of our favorite refrains is "Did you mean to do that?"  The story behind this is that my mother went in for a first piano lesson with a renowned pianist and pedagogue.  After a few measures of her first piece, the woman mildly said, "Did you mean to do that?  I thought not."  It's a phrase that no one wants to hear, whether after three measures of a Bach two-part invention or three pages into a Beethoven sonata.

The result of this style of teaching is that my music is definitely moving forward.  I spend more time thinking about my fingering, working on the exact mechanics of how my hand gets through a tough spot.  I find myself thinking constantly, "Did you mean to do that?  I thought not."  This is the sort of process that works for me.  It is a rejection-heavy way of approaching a goal, but it's the way I learned to get results.

I played many auditions growing up.  One of my worst experiences was when I had to play a seating audition for my senior year in New England Conservatory's Youth Repertory Orchestra.  I had been playing under Melba Sandberg in the orchestra for a year at this point and thought I was pretty good.  Before I even played a note, Melba turned to the conductor who was helping her with the evaluations and said, "This is Kathryn Olsen, one of my violists.  You can never tell what you're going to get with her.  She can be flawless or hopeless."  I was utterly humiliated by the comment and don't even remember if I played flawlessly or hopelessly at that audition.  I can tell you that junior year, I was twelfth chair and senior year, I was sixth and that at least tells me that I was good.  Maybe even very good.  Melba thought there were twelve violists who played worse than me that day.

These sorts of experiences translate into how I perceive my writing.  I've shared my writing with others for 22 years now, since I started posting fanfic on  I've had rave reviews.  I've had people post replies no more coherent than "OH MY GOD.  OH...MY...GOD!  GOD!  OH...GOD!  OH, MY GOD!"  I've had people write me essays on my characterization.  Needless to say, my readers often make me feel very good.  They are essentially the piano teacher sitting back and telling me, "That's making real improvement."  They are also like the marvelously supportive friends who show up for my piano recitals and clap like mad when I finish anything.

What I need are more of the Moms and Melbas.  My best times while writing these days are when I sit down to write with the three friends who co-write the Botosphere with me.  They know where things are working, ask me for clarification, say "No, just no" on occasion and burst out in hysterical laughter at other times.  Some paragraphs come out easily.  Some less so.  My favorite parts are where one writer will start a sentence and write "[Insert something witty by Ish here.]"

My best critic is, of course, Katey.  She reads with a conusmer's eye and an editor's brain.  At one point in Wingspan, she wrote "THIS IS BRILLIANT" at the top of a page and underscored it twice.  I swear, I'm never deleting the pic that I have of that because I know how high praise that was from her.

So, what am I looking for with publishing?  I could self-publish and have the pleasure of seeing reviews pop up on Amazon and seeing my Kindle sales.  That would give me a really good feeling, the kind that I get when I get reviews on my posts at  But what would make me happiest is someone whose job it was to dislike most of what they read genuinely liked it.  It would feel just a little bit like getting sixth chair from the person who called me either flawless or hopeless.