Thursday, July 24, 2014

Where Stories Come From

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is: Where do you get your ideas from?

Answer: From everywhere.

Here are some steps I take in building a story:

Step 1: At first it starts as hearing or seeing or thinking about something that strikes me as interesting, or a concept that I want to explore more. This is all about observation.

Here are a few places I’ve gotten ideas from:

Overheard conversations

The news

Song lyrics


Ads for products

You tube videos

My own experiences

Poetry, plays, essays


Historical events


I promise, if you don’t, you will forget it.

An example: I was at the grocery store in the middle of summer, and there was this teenager employee wearing a bright colored beanie and character-themed shirt under his apron, and he was dancing to some music in his head as he walked through the parking lot to gather carts.  I watched him for a minute, and an idea for a character started to form.

Step Two: Take your interesting idea, quote, person, etc. and build on it. Make it your own by asking, “What if…?”

What if the grocery boy wore a beanie in summer because he had something obscene shaved into his head? What if he hid it from his dad? Or what if his dad was the one who had shaved the word into his head?  But he’s dancing in the lot, because he’s happy, so maybe there are no obscene words. No, he’s happy because he just got good news. What if he just found out he got into the college he wants and that means he can finally escape his suffocating family? But Dad is in a work-related accident, and now grocery boy has to give up his dreams of leaving so he can take care of his family? What if he chooses to run away and go to college despite his family’s need? Would he regret it? Would he be relieved? What if his little sister runs away too, to find him because things get so bad, and she disappears? No one can find little sister, Dad is injured, Mom isn’t speaking to him, and his dream isn’t as glossy as it was before he started chasing it.

Or what if he DOES stay home, and he starts to resent everyone and everything, and it’s at this point that he meets THE GIRL (because, in my books, there is always THE GIRL or THE BOY that makes life that much more complicated, but also worth living.) What if The GIRL is the one who caused his dad’s accident? Etc, etc.

 I have whole notebooks full of brainstorming like this. Usually the book will take on its own direction the more I write. I’ll start down a line of thought and get really excited about it and just keep chasing it until I have something work-able.

TIP: Don’t be afraid of dumb ideas while in the brainstorming stage. Sometimes a dumb idea will lead you to a brilliant one.

Step 3: Take these “What if” scenarios and start plotting.

Some people like to dive in and discover their story as they write it. I used to write that way, but it requires a lot more revising.

I like to write a rough outline at this point so that I know all my main points of conflict and exactly how the book is going to end. Usually, I like the end to reflect the changes I want to see in my character and his/her situation.

At no point do I stop asking: What if?

Tip: Have fun with it! If the story starts to feel stale or boring, go back and do another “What if” brainstorming session.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Ones Who Push Us

I took an ethnic literature class at ASU my first semester there. I’d just transferred from Brigham Young University (a super conservative school) and was a little shell-shocked by the culture change. I went from a school with a super-strict dress code and where we said prayers before and after every class, to a place with miles of skin and professors starting the class with passionate F-bombs.

My ethnic lit class was taught by a professor who didn’t shy away from difficult topics. She was my hardest professor, but the one I learned the most from.

The first paper I wrote for her, she refused to grade. It was a paper on symbolism in a short story by Sherman Alexie. She handed it back to me and told me to rewrite it. She said, “I know you’re not racist, but you are coming across that way. This is elitist BS. Rewrite it.”

I was mortified and devastated. She was right, I was not racist, but when I reread over my paper with these thoughts in mind and saw a bunch of offensive stereotypes and cultural sayings I'd used as arguments, I realized that I was seriously uninformed. And judgmental. So, I took my research deeper. A lot deeper.

I ended up making an appointment to meet with my professor and talk about some of the new ideas I had, to see if I was on the right track. In that hour, she opened up my eyes to how important it is to embrace other cultures, to not buy into stereotypes, to not act like or believe that I am better than anyone else. She said that I, especially, should understand a heritage of being brutalized and kicked from one’s home, and show compassion for that.  (This because I’m Mormon, and my ancestors were beaten, raped, killed, driven from their homes and pushed westward because of their beliefs. Sherman Alexie, the author of the short story my paper was on, is Native American.)

I rewrote the paper, pouring all of my research and new ways of thinking into it.

It is the hardest thing I’ve ever written because it required me to stretch and grow and think differently than I had before. It made me really look within myself and realize that I can’t always accept the surface, accept what I see on television or pop culture, but that I need to always, ALWAYS, remember that I am reading and writing and thinking and looking at people, not caricatures.

I turned in my paper and held my breath.

She didn’t return it to me when she gave the rest of the class theirs. Instead, she asked me to meet with her again. I was sick to my stomach. I’d worked harder on this paper than anything else, I’d learned more from writing this paper than I had in two and a half years of college previous to this. But maybe it still wasn’t enough.

I came to her office and she had my paper ready for me. She slid it across the desk and waited while I flipped through the pages to the back. There was a big, red “A” after the last line.

She sat back in her chair with a smile. “I loved it,” she said. “And the reason I wanted to meet with you was because I wanted to ask your permission to use your paper next year as one of my good examples for the class.”

Of course I gave her permission to do so, and I walked out of her office feeling amazing.

Of all my classes, this one was the hardest. It was the one that made me stretch and reach beyond how I used to write and think.

This professor pushed me to be better than I was, and though it was a painful process, it was invaluable.

As writers, we need to surround ourselves with people who will push us. Who believe we can do better than we are doing, and won’t settle for less. Who cheer us on and gently correct us if needed and are willing to praise and be our cheerleaders when the time is right.

They won’t let us settle for lazy writing because they believe in us.

They will encourage us to dig deeper, reach further, research more, build up our descriptions and get rid of self-indulgent prose, and to never, ever fall back on generic thinking, stereotypes, and caricatures.

 If you can find a critique partner like that, you’re golden.

Because the ones who are not afraid to push us are the ones who will help us reach our full potential.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I Have an Agent!!

I have wanted to write one of these posts for a long time. Three and a half years, to be exact. It’s been that long since I started querying agents with my first YA manuscript.

I spent about eight months writing and revising my first manuscript, and soon after Meg’s Melody (my first book) came out, I started querying agents. I knew I wanted an agent after trying to navigate a contract on my own. I researched a ton of agents and started querying slowly. I’d read somewhere that I should only send out about ten queries at a time and see what the response is like before sending out more. So I did that. And over the next eight months, I sent out queries in batches of ten, waiting to hear back before I sent more. I also had my first pitching experience, which was invaluable. I went through about ten versions of my query, and ended up with fifteen requests that all came back as some version of “not for me.”

Meanwhile, I’d been working on my next YA book—this one also contemporary/coming of age, but more of a comedy. I went through the whole querying process again, with batches of ten, waiting to hear back, changing my query over and over and over. I ended up getting fifteen requests for this book as well. I absolutely love this book and was so excited to see that people were liking it as well.

But, then the “not for me’s” started rolling in again. And I was started to feel like this whole rejection thing was “not for me.” I went to a huge book festival while this was all happening, and I got the opportunity to attend a panel with Heather Brewer on it. I’m so glad I went, because she talked about all the rejections she got on her books before her first one was picked up. She encouraged us to keep trying and said: “At first, you get no’s. Then the no’s turn into maybes. And the maybes turn into a yes.” I’d gotten my share of “no’s” but I also had a lot of “maybes” and a ton of feedback, so I decided to keep pushing forward.

 I spent a few months on a major revision based on some agent feedback for the comedic YA and decided to pitch it at the Storymaker conference this year as kind of the “kick-off” for a new round of queries. It was an interesting kind of pitch, more of a workshop, where I’d sent my query and first ten pages to her a few months in advance, and we met to discuss them at the conference.

We met in a group of eight, and she started with my manuscript. I was so nervous, so psyched up for her to tear it apart. Instead, she said she loved it. She loved the voice, the characters, and said it was “in the shoot” meaning that it would be picked up by an agent, and it was the kind of book teens would love and it would sell a ton of copies. I was elated. Then I came crashing down when she finished her thought. But, she said, I’m not looking to pick up any comedies right now. They’re not selling. New York wants issues.

So after I went to the bookstore and had a cleansing public cry, I remembered that I had an issue book. My first manuscript. One that I had also done a complete rewrite on based on some agent feedback, but that I had never requeried.

So I went home from the conference and spent a month polishing it up. I sent it to a new critique partner, who helped me clean it up and made it sparkle.  I wrote my query (my one query) and my synopsis, and started to send it out on June 3rd. To every agent on my list, all at once. I decided that I didn’t want to do this whole ten at a time business this go-round. I was right in the middle of another manuscript that I was planning on querying when I was done, so I didn’t want to drag this round out for eight months.

I spent tons of time personalizing my queries, sending it to people whom I’ve have the privilege to meet over the years at conferences, to people who had requested my past manuscripts, and figured I’d have a forever wait, as usual.

Within three hours, my first request came in. And they kept coming and coming. I was in shock. For every rejection I received, I got another request.

Then three weeks into querying I got an email from an agent, Rachel Brooks from the L. Perkins Agency, saying that my query and sample pages had been forwarded to her from a colleague and that she’d love to read more.

I sent them to her on Saturday and by Monday, she emailed me and said she wanted to talk. We spoke on the phone Tuesday, and I absolutely loved her enthusiasm for the industry and for my book and I knew that this was someone I really wanted in my corner.

It all happened so fast, that I could hardly wrap my mind around it. I was mentally settling in for months of waiting, and within a month of querying this book, I had an agent. To be honest, I’m still having a hard time digesting it all. There was much dancing and screaming and excitement in the house after our phone call. My kids didn’t understand, but they were happy to join in the celebrating.

I know this is a first step, but it’s a step that I’ve worked so hard toward for years and it feels really good.

So, I am so excited to say that Rachel Brooks from the L.Perkins Agency is my agent and I look forward to whatever comes next in my publishing journey.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Loads of Amazing Books on Sale!

This sale is amazing. Dozens of books for $.99 or free and the chance to win all these fun prizes. Go to Bookmarked Bargains to click on the books you'd like to purchase and to enter to win. 

Here are the other participating authors. Happy reading!

Imperfect Love, Rebecca Talley
Wild Hearts, Heather Tullis
Fallen Angel, Lisa Swinton
The Daisy Chain, Heather Moore
Sweet Confections, Danyelle Ferguson 
A Portrait for Toni, Annette Lyon
My Own Mr. Darcy, Karey White
Home Matters, Julie N. Ford
Silver Linings, Kaylee Baldwin
Third Times the Charm, Heather Moore

Discovering Sophie, Cindy Roland Anderson
The Making of a Queen (Ariana Book 1), Rachel Ann Nunes
Prank Wars, Stephanie Fowers
Mr. Wrong, Alivia Anderson
Intercession, Vicki Budge

Amazon, Sunset, Marie Higgins
Loyalty’s Web, Joyce DiPastena
The Man from Shenandoah, Marsha Ward
Intertwine, Nichole Van
Illuminations of the Heart, Joyce DiPastena
Spinster’s Folly, Marsha Ward
Tell me No Lies, Rachel Branton
Spy Noon (Spy Another Day prequel), Jordan McCollum
A Change of Plans, Donna K. Weaver
Fourth of July, Cami Checketts
Homecoming Identity, Heather Justesen
I, Spy (Spy Another Day #1), Jordan McCollum
To Sleep No More, Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen
The Colony, Cami Checketts

There, Their, They're: A no-tears guide to grammar from the word nerd, 2nd edition, Annette Lyon   
Homeschool Lifestyles from Homeschool Moms, Valerie Steimle
The 2012 Book Bloggers' Cookbook, Christy Dorrity
Of One Heart: Being Single in the LDS World, Valerie Steimle

Nourish and Strength, Maria Hoagland
Wall of Faith, J Loyd Morgan
Intercession, Vicki Budge
Family Size, Maria Hoagland

Just Like Elizabeth Taylor, Lu Ann Staheli          
Worth It (an LDS love story), Taryn Taylor
The Princess Sisters, Stacy Lynn Carroll
Frogs and Toads, Stacy Lynn Carroll
Confessions of 16-year-old Virgin-Lips, Cindy Hogan
Samara: A Kilenya Romance, Andrea Pearson
Tides across the Sea, Lu Ann Staheli
Gravediggers, Cindy Hogan

Heroes of the Highest Order (1-3), Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen
The Secret Sisters Club (A Ginnie West Adventure), Monique Bucheger
The Stone of Valhalla, Mikey Brooks
The Key of Kilenya, Andrea Pearson
Simply West of Heaven: A Ginnie West Adventure, Monique bucheger
The Dream Keeper, Mikey Brooks

The Waxing Moon, author J Loyd Morgan
Blue Dragon (Dragonbound Series book one), Rebecca Shelley
Nexus Point, the Fall of the Altairan Empire Book 1, Jaleta Clegg
Soul Windows, Jaleta Clegg
DragonBound IV: Red Dragon, Rebecca Shelley

Inevitable, Tamara Heiner
Twisted Tales Trilogy, Stephanie Fowers
The Roilden Stones of Elf Mountain,  Anna del C.
Awakening: Book One of the Geis, Christy Dorrity
Fateful, Cheri Schmidt
The Silent Warrior Trilogy, Anna del C.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How I'm Lame and The Last Ripple

This is a bittersweet post for me. The last book in the Ripple Effect series is out today. Immersed by Jennifer Griffith.

With her brand new MBA in hand, language expert Lisette Pannebaker starts a business doing one-on-one language immersion for wealthy clients. But she’s far too beautiful for the job and has to give herself a drastic "make-under" to keep clients at bay. It works fabulously until . . . Erik Gunnarson.

Okay, I have to start off by saying that Jennifer Griffith is awesome. I’ve read her books since she started writing them with Spring Creek, and I even named my first blog Delicious Conversation after one of her books. I later got embarrassed that I did that when I met her in person for the first time at a book signing in Pima and changed it to something lame: Kaylee’s Eye, totally a rip off of my husband’s scouting blog, Jeremy’s Eye. I was not feeling inspired that day. I never update that blog, btw, so it’s double lame.  -à I don’t think I’ve ever told her any of this, so hey, Jennifer, see how cool I think you are?

She sent me Immersed to read back in January when I had the death flu, aka The Plague. It was horrible. I was sick for over seven days, my husband on travel for five of those. He got home just in time to take the kids to church, so I holed up in my bed and pulled up Jennifer’s book to edit in between moans.

I can’t even tell you how much I loved this story. Immediately I was drawn in and laughing and forgetting I was sick. THAT is exactly what I love about reading—the ability to forget life’s problems for a few hours and immerse myself into a character’s problems. This book was cute and funny and oh, so romantic. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves a cute, fun romance and needs a break from all the heaviness of life.

It’s available on Amazon, B&N, and Kobo.

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's All About Perspective

I promised myself that 2014 would be an amazing year. I’ve had a difficult couple of years, and coming into 2014 felt exciting because I knew it was a chance for a restart. Sure, things had been hard, but this was 2014. Anything could happen. My default setting is optimism, so I was all in, mentally, for a fabulous year.

Well, 2014 didn’t come in with its fairy godmother wand and swipe away all of my problems like I kind of expected it to. In fact, whoever is the opposite of the fairy godmother seemed to be shoving even more problems into 2014. This was supposed to be my year. The one where I got a breather. The one where things actually happened that I’ve been working so hard for.

So a few weeks ago, in pure pity-party fashion, I started thinking through all the things that I felt like had gone bad this year so far. Rejections on my book, my grandma dying, my flight for her funeral being cancelled, my oldest having his twenty-somethingth surgery, learning he’s in terrible pain, him having to go on four meds that have certain times that can and can’t be given, my youngest having his first surgery complete with eye gel four times a day and multiple follow-up appointments, my husband working so much overtime that we hardly spend time together anymore, then even more rejections on my book, feeling like I’m not accomplishing anything, and that I’m letting people down, and on and on and on.

The more I thought about bad things that had happened, the easier it was to think of more bad things. In a very short amount of time, I was weighed down by how difficult life can be and feeling very alone.

This is how I went in General Conference. I missed all of Saturday due to travel, but when I sat down on Sunday, I heard this advice right at the open: “It is easy to be grateful for things when life seems to be going our way. But what then of those times when what we wish for seems far out of reach? Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be.” (Dieter F. Uchtdor, Grateful in any Circumstances.)

I pondered on this statement for a while, remembering my very recent (and, to be honest, still-ongoing) pity party. How could I be thankful in my circumstances? Was I focusing on all the wrong things? Had I ignored circumstances I needed to be grateful for in favor of negativity?

I believed it was time for me to reevaluate 2014. So I did, focusing on circumstances to be grateful for versus things in my current situation that cannot be changed. The interesting thing? Most of the things that were so difficult had an opposite side to them that was positive.

So, in 2014, good things that have happened this year: I had a book come out, the airline was able to shuttle me to another airport hours away and get me to my grandma’s funeral before the viewing had ended, I saw many relatives I love and have missed and got to celebrate a wonderful woman’s life, many(many, many) prayers were answered when my oldest son’s surgery revealed a major stomach problem we didn’t know he had, the medicine he’s on is helping tremendously, my youngest son’s surgery went better than expected and we believe he now won’t go blind in his right eye, we’ve paid off our car and my student loan, I went two a writing conference and got two full requests for my new manuscript (plus met some fabulous people), I had the chance to be on staff for the Storymaker conference, which was amazing. Also, my husband has been able to work from home a lot, so we work side-by-side most nights and at least get to be with each other.

Prayers answered. Goals met. Fabulous experiences. And the chance to say goodbye to my grandma.

2014 was sounding a lot better. Kind of magical, even. And nothing had changed except my attitude and perspective. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

What, Kaylee, humiliate herself? Never. Except maybe at Storymakers.

There are a lot of fantastic posts about what people learned at the Storymaker conference.

This isn’t one of them.

Instead I’m going to let you all in on my embarrassing/less-than-graceful adventures, with the promise that if you come next year, there’s a good chance that there’ll be more of these. Yay.

Here’s an equation: Kaylee + Lack-of-sleep + stress + large groups of people  + consciously-trying-to-be-professional = Disaster.

Incident #1:
Thursday night was the Publication Primer, which is AMAZING. And I’m not just saying that because I spent hours and hours (and hours) of time putting it together this year. Imagine fantastic, published instructors helping people get their first ten pages publication ready over five hours of time and that is the Publication Primer.

Everything went so smooth. We had the last minute problems of not enough tables and no one knowing where they were supposed to be, but those things are bound to happen. The experience, overall, was successful. But, I guess my subconscious didn’t know that.

That night I went back to my hotel room where I was sharing with my mom, my sister, and my sweet 11 month old niece who had an ear infection. You should all be grateful that I had this arrangement going and that I shared a bed with my mom instead of any of you.

I slept okay.
Mom did not.

When I woke up Friday morning, my disheveled, exhausted mom was giving me the death stare. She said, “You STEAL the covers. You TALK in your sleep. You tossed and turned ALL night long. AND YOU PUNCHED ME IN THE FACE!”

Here’s the thing. I remember the punch. I was dreaming that my niece was falling off the bed and I reached out to save her—thus punching my mom in the face. It woke me up a little, I slurred out an apology and went back to sleep. The talking thing? I NEVER talk in my sleep. Ask my husband (I did.) But I was talking there. I was waking my mom and sister up with the things I was saying so they started writing them down—things like: “Tristan, you’re going to scratch yourself!”

*I think this is a good time to say that I’m looking for roommates next year for Storymaker 15. I’m entertaining…*

Incidents #2 and #3
There’s this panel every year at Storymakers that’s my favorite. A moderator reads the first page of a few manuscripts and the visiting agents will raise their hand when it gets to the place where they would have stopped reading if it had come from the slush pile. They then explain why they would have stopped there. It’s informative and fascinating and scary all rolled into one.

Well, about twenty minutes into this panel, I remembered that I was supposed to hand out feedback forms in the class that I had been a room host for. I figured I could sneak out of the panel, hand out the forms, and be back in to catch the last few manuscripts. Not a big deal.

Except I don’t even know what happened next. One minute I’m sliding my chair away from the table as quietly as possible, the next I’m sprawled on the ground next to my overturned chair. So much for SNEAKING and QUIET.

The girl beside me helped me right my chair and I left without making eye contact with anyone. Although I was in the back, and I’d like to believe most people hadn’t seen it happen, I still didn’t go back to the panel when I was done with the feedback forms.

THEN that night, after the Publisher’s mingle, I was moving tables back into place for classes the next day when I tripped hard over a cord in the middle of the room. Only one of the publishers witnessed this (along with the few people helping us put the room together) and I blame that one on pure exhaustion.

Incident #3 (the most embarrassing of them all)
Dinner Friday night. I had the Santa Fe Chicken and although it wasn’t too spicy, I was still really thirsty. I drank all my water just while waiting for my meal, and by the time I took two bites, I needed more to drink.

I tried waving down a server, but they were all really busy and none of them saw me. I was sitting in the front, to the right side of the room, and I could see all of the water and lemonade pitchers sitting on trays not too far from me. I figured I would go grab a water pitcher and bring it back to the table. (I drink A LOT of water at dinner. A friend once counted that I drank five glasses of water the last time we doubled—more than the other three of them combined).

I was not aware that the pitchers were balanced on a tray in a particular way that kept the tray from falling. So, I picked up the water pitcher and the ENTIRE TRAY of pitchers of lemonade (several full pitchers, people) flipped over, flinging several gallons of lemonade on the wall, the floor, everywhere. It was so loud. Horrifyingly loud. And I saw it coming but I couldn’t stop it.

Plus, in the sort of timing that can only happen in sitcoms or my life, Melanie Jacobson needed me to help her with something, so as I was dumping lemonade all over the conference center floor, she was calling my name over the mike, asking if anyone knew where I was. CRASH. Lemonade. People looking. Waiters probably wanting to kill me.

I’d sacrificed a lot of dignity to get my water pitcher, so I held it while I found a waiter to confess my mess to—a waiter who would not give me his rag so I could start cleaning up. I get why they wouldn’t let me clean it up, but it kind of goes against everything I teach my kids, you know. Make a mess, let someone else clean it up. Nice, but not good.  

And I won't even get into the time I broke down crying in the bookstore on the shoulder of Julie Ford and her niece in front of everyone shopping before the big book signing or the halo-hair disaster that prompted someone to give me her travel hair product as an intervention.

After this, I had several people tell me some of their embarrassing moments, which is one of my highlights. There’s something about sharing embarrassing moments that bonds people together, you know?

What were your favorite parts of the conference? Any less-than-graceful moments?