Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!!!!

I hope you all have a super happy Christmas! I'll be back after the new year, excited to read your blogs and see how the holidays went.

God Bless.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"I Will Never Have Him Again"

About a year ago, I saw the saddest sight I have ever seen so far in my life. I talk about it a little more in depth here, but it was the sight of a friend carrying his son's casket down the aisle at church, all by himself, tears running down his cheeks, as he carried him outside to the waiting car. My heart broke for this dad and this family, who was now facing life without their precious son. Every painful year, day, minute, and even second, they would feel the loss of this little person who had filled their lives with love and joy. But, the family  said, we know we will see him again. Because of Christ, we know that he will live again.

Last night, while winding down after a long day, I turned on CNN to watch a few minutes of news before bed. Pierce Morgan was talking to the dad of a child who had been killed in the Newtown shooting.

My heart went out to this father, who was so dignified, so compassionate, and yet, at times, the pain would overwhelm his features as he spoke of his little boy. I still get tears in my eyes when I think about his parting words to Morgan about his son. As his face filled with anguish, the dad said: "I will never have him again."

I can't even write these words without crying--the saddest words I believe I have ever heard. I will never have him again. I cannot imagine the pain of believing that your child is lost to you.

I thought about this phrase all night long, wishing I could tell this father that he will see his son again. That, though his body is dead, his spirit lives. That, though he is lost to him now, Christ came that lost things may be found again. Every lost thing.

My mind is heavy with thoughts of these families facing the holidays without their precious children--perhaps because I have a son who is five years old and in kindergarten and my mind keeps putting him in the place of these kids. Perhaps because I have seen friends go through the pain of losing a child and those feelings are still fresh.

I have a favorite conference talk that I share with people often. I carry a copy of it around with me, and I've had the opportunity to hand it out several times to people who are struggling with the the loss of a loved one and share with them the most hopeful words I've ever heard. Here's the link if you want to read it in full, but I am going to include my favorite passage from it. Not only is it appropriate for what has happened in Newtown and for anyone who is struggling right now through unimaginable trials, but also for Christmas, when we remember the Light of the World and the great gift He gave us.

And if you're thinking: Kaylee, this post is too serious and too long and I'm going to skip this quote... I get that. I know I've had a series of kind of heavy posts, and it won't always be this way over here, but sometimes life gets serious. And sometimes we need a reminder of hope.

I've underlined the very best part of this quote, the life changing, hopeful part that I have memorized and think of whenever I get overwhelmed with this life, so if you are going to skip everything else, at least read that.

"I think of how dark that Friday was when Christ was lifted up on the cross.
On that terrible Friday the earth shook and grew dark. Frightful storms lashed at the earth.
Those evil men who sought His life rejoiced. Now that Jesus was no more, surely those who followed Him would disperse. On that day they stood triumphant.
On that day the veil of the temple was rent in twain.
Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were both overcome with grief and despair. The superb man they had loved and honored hung lifeless upon the cross.
On that Friday the Apostles were devastated. Jesus, their Savior—the man who had walked on water and raised the dead—was Himself at the mercy of wicked men. They watched helplessly as He was overcome by His enemies.
On that Friday the Savior of mankind was humiliated and bruised, abused and reviled.
It was a Friday filled with devastating, consuming sorrow that gnawed at the souls of those who loved and honored the Son of God.
I think that of all the days since the beginning of this world’s history, that Friday was the darkest.
But the doom of that day did not endure.
The despair did not linger because on Sunday, the resurrected Lord burst the bonds of death. He ascended from the grave and appeared gloriously triumphant as the Savior of all mankind.
And in an instant the eyes that had been filled with ever-flowing tears dried. The lips that had whispered prayers of distress and grief now filled the air with wondrous praise, for Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, stood before them as the firstfruits of the Resurrection, the proof that death is merely the beginning of a new and wondrous existence.
Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.
But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.
No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come." --Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

Monday, December 17, 2012

Superlative Fiction Blogfest

Today is the first day of the Class of 2012 Superlative Fiction Blogfest.

So, here is where I TRY to remember all of the awesome books I've read this year.

Disclaimer: I am going to shamelessly bend the genres so that I can get most of my favorite reads from this year on here...

Favorite Dystopian:

The Selection (The Selection, #1)

If you are a follower of my blog, it is no secret that I am a huge fan of The Bachelor (Go Sean!) and I think that's what I loved about this book. It was a unique take on the idea of The Bachelor--with a prince as the prize. The whole book was just pure fun.

Favorite Science Fiction:
Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)
I picked this one up by accident, thinking it was a different book I'd heard a lot about, and ended up LOVING it. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down. So exciting and a love triangle that actually kept me guessing to the end.

Favorite Fantasy
Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)
I loved Fire and I loved Graceling, so I couldn't wait to read Bitterblue, and for me, it didn't disappoint. I thought that Bitterblue was a great character, and I really felt for her. In fact, I thought this book was so good, that when I put it down, I wanted to pick up another fantasy, and I'm normally not a huge fan of fantasy.

Favorite Contemporary:
The Fault in Our Stars

Hands-down, the best contemporary I read this year. I recommend it to everyone. It's wickedly funny. How John Green can take a book about two kids with terminal cancer who fall in love, and then make me laugh so hard throughout it, I don't know. But it was awesome. And poignant. And heartwrenchingly beautiful.

Favorite Mystery

Breaking Beautiful
 Fantastic writing with an edge-of-my-seat mystery. And I had to read to the end to see what in the world happened the night of the accident.

Favorite Romance:

My Life Next Door

Romance is my favorite genre, so it was easy for me to remember the romancees I read. The love story in this one was so sweet.

Yummy. I gained about five pounds just reading this book... It was a great story with the perfect amount of emotion and love and everything else that makes YA my favorite books to read.

Favorite Paranormal
The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)
So unique and fun. Lots of twists and turns that made me want to keep reading.

Favorite Family Drama
Slammed (Slammed, #1)

I've dragged my heels on reading this one for some reason. I don't know why. Maybe because of all the hype. Or maybe I'm suspicious of books that have a ton of really high ratings. And for some reason, I was under the impression that "slammed" meant something completely different (despite the cover, I'm clueless, yes.) But curiosity got the best of me, so I read it. Tonight. I finished it about ten minutes ago. And I loved it. So good. So worth the high ratings. It may not officially be a "family drama", but hey, there was a lot of drama in Will and Layken's families, so this is where it goes in my list.

A Happy Story About Good People

When I was about four months pregnant, I learned there was a good chance that my son would have Down Syndrome. I worried about his health. I worried about his growth. I worried about how he'd make friends, if people would make fun of him or understand if he did strange things. I met many moms of kids with Down Syndrome while I was pregnant, and they assured me that their kids did well at school, had friends, and were well-liked for the most part.

But, I still worried. Because that's what I do. (I think it's what a lot of mom's do.)

When I was growing up, all of the special needs kids were in a different classroom, clear on the other side of school. Our class would visit them once or twice a year, but I was always very uncomfortable and didn't know what to do or say around them, so I mostly stayed quiet and helped where I was told to help. I never reached out and tried to befriend any of them on my own. I didn't know how, to be honest.

Now, the special needs kids are mainstreamed into the regular classroom, so my son is in the main class over 50% of his day. The result of this is that most of the kids are used to Spencer's random loud noises, the fact that he doesn't talk much (all of about ten words), that he sucks on his hands when his stomach hurts or if he's cold, he doesn't understand "personal space." They also know he loves to give hi-fives and knuckles, that he loves to laugh (and they do silly things to make his laugh,) and that he loves to say "hello."

Yesterday at church, the primary kids (probably around 40ish of them) were playing a game called, "Who's got the button?" The kids were passing around the button really fast and then whoever was picked had to figure out who had the button.

It was Spencer's turn to figure out who had the button. His adult helper watched really closely and figured out who had it, and pointed at the kid. Spencer pointed to the same kid and made some noise to indicate that he was the person who had the button.

When they realized he'd guessed right, the kids all started clapping and cheering and yelling, "Good job, Spencer! You found it, Spencer!" Then they were holding up their hands so he could run around and give high-fives to them. He had a huge smile on his face and was so happy with the praise and attention from everyone.

I so wish I could have seen it, but I had several people tell me about it after church--including one of the kids who had been in the room with everyone. These kids are so accepting of Spencer and his differences, and not only that, but they rejoice in his small successes and milestones. They made him so happy that morning, and for that, I am so grateful.

With all of Spencer's health problems, my husband and I are so aware that anything can happen at any time and we try to cherish every special moment, and for me, this was a special moment. This was a great reminder for me that there are a lot of good people raising good-hearted children who can accept someone who is different and love him for who he is.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Moments That Change Everything

Someone said something really wise to me a little while back. He was telling my husband and I about how his son broke his arm in two places while attempting to do a 360 spin off the monkey bars and onto the slide. After two ER visits and a surgery, the boy was fine and ready to be playing again--but his mom and dad were still a little shaken up. Everything had turned out okay--but it might not have.

He finished his story by saying, "You know, we spend all these hours and days laboring to raise our kids and do everything right, and it just takes a few moments to change everything."

I've often thought about defining moments in life. Although the way we are raised plays a huge part in who we are and the decisions we make--those defining moments really set the course for where we go in life.

A friend of mine lost her son in an accident last year around Thanksgiving. His name was Chase. I think of Chase almost every day. His death was a defining moment for me. At the funeral, my friend said, "We don't regret one moment we had with Chase. We loved him and spent his whole life showing him that." It made me think about my kids and how I was spending my time. If they were to die suddenly, could I say that I had no regrets? Had I done the best I could? Did they know how much they were loved?

I am a different mom because of Chase. I am a better mom because of him, and I will never forget him and his sweet, chubby-cheeked smile.

A lot of defining moments are things that we have no control over. These families couldn't control what happened to their children or the outcome of these accidents. I think we find out who we are, what we're made of, and what we really believe in the wake of these moments and in the years that follow.

When I think about who I am at the core--I know a lot of those come from moments where I've had to make a decision that could change everything, or moments when something has happened and I have to choose how to react. Moments that other people may move forward from, but I'll never forget. These have been defining moments for me.

I'd love to hear some of your defining moments.

Monday, December 10, 2012

My Turn on Time

I've read a lot of blog posts where authors talk about where they find time to write in the midst of other obligations. I love reading these posts, because it encourages me that people who are super busy can still find time to write without neglecting their families and work.

I guess I'm not alone in being curious about this, because when people find out I'm an author, one of the first questions I get is: How do you find time to write?

Background info:
I have four kids: 7, 5, 3, 6 months old.

My oldest has Down Syndrome and has a TON of health problems. My weeks are filled with doctor's appointments, medical testing, calling doctors, calling the insurance company, meetings with his support coordinator, with his teachers, researching what's going on with him, giving him meds, changing his diaper, playing with him (and trying to keep him out of trouble!)

I also make sure to give the other three equal amount of attention, play time, running around outside-good-quality-mom time.

Plus regular mom duties like cleaning the house, making dinner, running errands, etc. And I have church stuff of top of this.

So... how do I find time to write?

1) I have an extremely supportive husband. He takes the kids out of the house at least once a week on his day off so that I can get some quiet writing time in. He helps clean, wash dishes, fold laundry, give meds, so that I can have more time to write in the evenings, and he is always encouraging me to go write.

2) I've had to give up some of my favorite primetime tv shows. One of the best times for me to write is in the evening after my kids go to bed. My husband has basketball in the evenings, or scout meetings (he's a unit or district commissioner or something like that. Don't ask me. The scout stuff is gibberish to me. All I know is that he as meetings that he's in charge of and he wears a uniform), so he's gone a lot and I have a quiet house all to myself. I'm usually exhausted by the end of the day, but I force myself to pull out my laptop, and after a few minutes of trudging through, I always get in the groove.

3) I put my three-year-old in preschool twice a week and I put the baby down for a nap, and I get almost three hours of writing time on those days. This is my sacred writing time. I won't even answer the phone on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 8 and 11am. People can leave a message. That's my 100%-never-fail writing time and I LOVE it.

4) Sometimes I tell people: When you're scrapbooking (or sewing, or baking, or crafting, or training for a race, or cleaning) that's when I'm writing.

5) It takes self-disciple. When I do get those bits of time, I force myself to sit and the computer and write something. It can be a blog post or part of my outline, or story ideas, or the next scene in my wip. But if my fingers are moving over the keyboard (and not because I'm on Facebook or my email) then I'm good.

When do you find time to write? Have you had to give up anything in order to have time to write?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The End

Just so you know, December is the last month of our group blog, For The Love Of Contemporary.

This is a drama-free ending.

We all still love contemporary.

We all still love each other.

We are just BUSY. It's a lot of work to write and keep up a personal blog (and take care of a family and work and help out in the community) and also add one more thing. And we can't do the blog justice when we all have so many other things on our plates.

Jolene Perry and Nyrae Dawn came up with the idea for this blog about a year and a half ago and invited a few of us to join them in it. These two ladies are some of most ambitious, talented people I know. It's been great for me to get to know everyone and see their insights on the blog.

So go check out our last month on For the Love of Contemporary.

Monday, December 3, 2012

And You Are...?

Here is Tammy and Emily's blog hop!

1. How many speeding tickets have you gotten?
Just one--from one of those stupid speeding cameras. I was on my way to get a Christmas present for my husband a few years ago--and speeding to get to the store in time to get the great deal. A $225 speeding ticket later... (BTW, everyone told me not to pay it. All that got me was a visit from the police and a $25 fine in addition to the ticket I had to pay before my court date. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a court date.) 

2. Can you pitch a tent?
Yes. Kind of. I pitched on in our living room a few months ago so me and the kids could go indoor camping. When my husband got home, he informed me that it was a "creative" way to set up a tent.

3. What was your worst vacation ever?
We went to Mission Bay in San Diego and rode these bicycle-things on the water for hours. I didn't wear sun screen (Rule #1 for redheads: ALWAYS wear sunscreen.) When we got done, I was so sunburned, I couldn't even wear pants. And it was my fourteenth birthday. I spent the whole drive home, moaning and complaining in the back of the car. Come to think of it, it was probably my parent's worst vacation, too.

4. What was the last thing you bought over $100?
A stroller/car seat combo for the baby.

5. We're handing you the keys to what?
A beach house. 

6. What was the last meal you cooked that made even you sick?
This corn chowder mess. I still can't even smell corn chowder without feeling sick.

7. Fill in the blank: Oh my gosh! Becky, look at her butt! It is so big. She looks like a ... Drawing blanks here. Ummm... I feel kind of bad for Becky and her bootilicious butt... so pass.

8. What was your first car?
A 2001 Daewo. Never heard of them? That's probably a good thing. Everything that could break, broke on that car. Including the driver's door. It fell off one day--while I was driving. On the freeway.

9. Your best friend falls and gets hurt. Do you ask if he/she's okay or laugh first?
I make sure they're okay first, then laugh. Except, my husband fell of the bed a few weeks ago while he was trying to reach something, took down the rolling chair, broke his open night table drawer with his head, and hit so hard that he had a huge bump behind his ear. I was laughing so hard I couldn't even breathe. Just last night, I did a reenactment of it for him. I'm a good wife like that.

10. What's the worst song ever?
This is the song that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friends... (you know it's stuck in your head now)

You know I'm editing when...

I update my blog more often.

When I'm writing a book, I get deep into it. I try to spend all of my writing time on my book. I get so little of it, that I have to prioritize it--and writing my next book is always my number one priority.

Right now I'm editing a wip that's taken me about a year and a half to finish. And I'll probably spend the next month on intense edits and rewrites. I cannot wait to get this story out to my beta readers and get some feedback. This is one of my favorite parts of writing. I've talked before how I feel like I can do a lot of the real "art" of writing when I'm editing. It's just so satisfying.

Having a completely polished manuscript would be a great Christmas present to give myself. And what better way to start the new year than working on the new idea I've outlined and I'm completely excited about?

Where are you at in your manuscript right now?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Six Days of Christmas

My story in All I Want is called Six Days of Christmas. It's a little over 100 pages and it was a ton of fun to write. I've never written a comedy before. All of my writing is usually so serious--but my husband challenged me to avoid any issues that were too heavy--and instead focus on making people smile.

I took his challenge and I was the one who smiled the whole way through writing it.

Here's the long blurb for my story (the one that wouldn't fit on the back of the book!):

Natalie Ekins is on the pathway to success. She’s dating a gorgeous lawyer who’s up for a promotion, has a fabulous internship at Alderman Ad Agency, and her boss just gave her the opportunity to turn her dream internship into her dream job. Just make a killer ad for a new children’s toy and the job is hers. The only problem is that Natalie doesn’t know anything about kids. Or toys.

When Natalie’s best friend, Janessa, invites her to come home for Christmas, Natalie accepts, hoping that she’ll have ample quiet time to work on her ad. She doesn’t anticipate the over-the-top Christmas wonderland at her friend’s house, the Six Days of Christmas Tradition that is taking up way too much time, and grandchildren who invade her space and somehow seem to be multiplying.

And she definitely doesn’t expect Jimmy, her best friend’s brother. Although she can’t help but notice how well Jimmy’s grown into himself, he’s as infuriating as ever: teasing her, daring her, distracting her… Natalie has to stay focused on finishing her ad and reminding herself that she and her boyfriend are the perfect fit, especially with Jimmy making her question what she really wants.

I want to share the first chapter with you here... I hope you enjoy :)

Natalie Ekins flicked one of the bright colored Magneto Blocks she had spread across the floor. How could so much of her future depend on a toy? A pretty lame toy, actually. She stacked a few of them together, alternating red, green, red, green and racked her brain for an idea. This was what she was going to school for, what this whole internship at Alderman Ad Agency had been about. This was her chance to get her dream job, and it was about to get blown because she knew nothing about children.
“I need that contract emailed to me in the next fifteen minutes if it’s going to make a difference,” Natalie’s boyfriend, Grant Leaver, said from where he sat at her kitchen table. Natalie stopped playing with the blocks so she could watch Grant talk on the phone. He still wore his suit from work, but he’d draped his suit coat on the back of her couch and loosened his tie. She’d met Grant almost six months before at a company party—just weeks after starting her internship—and they’d hit it off right away. He was one of the ad agency’s lawyers and was the only person she knew who was as driven as her.
“Save me, please?” Natalie pled after he hung up his cell phone with a terse goodbye.
Grant tore his gaze from his computer for a second, a black eyebrow raised against his olive forehead. “The Nat I know can save herself.”
“Yes, but look at this. Toys.”
“And, I don’t know anything about kids! How am I supposed to win this thing if I can’t even figure out why this product would appeal to someone?”
“You’ll figure something out.”
Natalie ran her fingers through her blonde hair with a sigh. She’d think of something—but would it be better than what anyone else thought of? There were five other interns vying for a full time job after graduation in six months, and only one position. Robert Billings, her boss, had designed a contest using a new product from one of their clients. They were to take the product, come up with an ad campaign, and turn in their idea before the end of the year. Whoever had the best ad got a full-time job with Alderman after completing grad school in the spring.
Since Natalie got hired on, she’d been dying for a chance to work with Fantastique—Alderman’s number one client that dealt in make-up, perfume, and hair product. She’d even come up with several sexy ideas for their new cosmetic line: Luminescence.
Instead, Billings called a meeting, explained the competition, and handed out a bag of blocks. How in the world would Natalie make blocks appealing to anyone? They were the last toy she’d ever want to play with. At least give her a doll or a play make-up set. That, she could work with. Now, unless she could come up with a killer idea to sell Magneto Blocks, she’d never get on the Fantasique team.
“I need to brainstorm.” Natalie stood and walked to the kitchen, giving Grant a peck on the cheek before grabbing a water bottle from the fridge. “Blocks. Kids play with blocks. They stack. Bright colors. These ones have magnets on them. Why? So they stick together better? What about that feature makes it more appealing to children?”
She looked at Grant for an answer, but he’d already returned his attention back to whatever he was working on. “Grant.”
“Hmmm?” He angled his head as if to show he was listening, but his fingers still kept tapping over the keys.
“The toy? Brainstorming here?”
Grant mumbled something unintelligible, then snagged his phone before it even finished its first ring. “I still haven’t received the Archer contract,” he barked, his complete attention back on the computer.
Natalie sighed. Grant’s dedication to his work was one of the things that she liked most about him. Two driven people in a driven relationship. Together, they were going places. With him, she knew she’d never be carted around the world on humanitarian trips, uprooted every few months, always hoping there was enough money to live off of. No, with Grant she was stable. Secure. Successful.
Jingle bells jangled against the door as Janessa, Natalie’s roommate, walked into their apartment. “Brrr. It’s cold out there!” she exclaimed, shutting the door loudly behind her. Grant shot Janessa a glare and pointed to the phone at his ear. Client, he mouthed, obviously annoyed.
“Sorry,” she said. Not, she mouthed to Natalie as she unwound the knitted scarf from around her neck. Janessa’s long brown hair lifted with static that she tried unsuccessfully to smooth down.
“Be good, please,” Natalie begged quietly. Over and over she’d heard that Grant was arrogant and self-absorbed, and Janessa was flaky and immature. Nothing she said so far could convince the other that they were both awesome people. At this point, Grant and Janessa barely tolerated each other for Natalie’s sake, but she was willing to take what she could get.
“What’s all this?” Janessa plopped herself beside Natalie on the couch and rooted around the cushions for the television remote control.
“Work. Some dumb contest that I have to win or I lose everything I’ve worked for.”
“Exactly. At least I’ll have something to work on for the next couple of weeks.”
Janessa put the television on mute. “Aren’t you spending Christmas break with your parents?”
“They bailed again.” Natalie batted her blue eyes and held her hands under her chin. “‘We can’t leave all these children, Natalie. They need us,’” she mimicked her mother’s saccharine, sweet voice.
“So wrong. I know you’re anti-travel and all, but can’t you fly down there for a few days?”
“Nope. My passport expired. So my parents and the children of the Honduran orphanage are just going to have Christmas without me. It’s really not a big deal. I’m used to it.”
“Still sucks.”
Natalie sank down beside her blocks with a shrug. “I’m honestly not all that into Christmas anyway. I deal with enough commercialism at work.”
Janessa sat up suddenly, her feet knocking down one of Natalie’s block towers. Natalie noted that the tower mostly stayed together after falling. Another selling point? Can accidentally get knocked over, but won’t destroy all of your hard work. She grabbed her notebook to write that down.
            “Oh!” Janessa grabbed Natalie’s shoulder. “I have the best idea. You have to say yes.”
            “She doesn’t have to ‘say yes’ to anything, Janessa,” Grant said.
            Fire lit Janessa’s gaze and she sat up straighter. “Mind your own business, Grant.”
            “Maybe if you weren’t so pushy all the time.”
            “Oh, that’s hilarious, Nat. Did you hear that? Grant Leaver just called me pushy.”
            Natalie rolled her eyes to the sky and prayed for patience. “Guys, stop. This is ridiculous.” She pointed at Janessa—who already had an open mouth and a battle-ready posture. “And don’t say he started it. Please, just try to get along.”
“Okay.” Janessa took a deep breath and pointedly turned her back on Grant. “As I was saying, before I was rudely interrupted, I have the best idea ever.”
“Grant, shut it.” Natalie threw him a stern look. This was really getting ridiculous. Natalie usually hung out at Grant’s apartment, but his roommate was having his parents over for dinner and neither of them wanted to be there for that. Luckily Grant’s phone rang again and he was too distracted to mock Janessa anymore.
“So my mom called today. She’s kind of upset because Jimmy just told her that he’s not coming home for Christmas this year.”
“Where’s Jimmy going to be?” Jimmy was Janessa’s younger brother by a couple of years. They’d all hung out in high school—or at least Janessa and Natalie hung out while Jimmy got his kicks out of annoying the girls in any way possible.
“His girlfriend’s parents.” Janessa made a sour face.
“Is he still with the girl that speaks like everything is a question?”
“Uptalk Girl? Yes. I don’t know how Jimmy can stand it. ‘I love your shirt? I’m hungry? I want to have your babies?’” Janessa fluttered her eyelashes.
Natalie knew she shouldn’t laugh at this poor girl, but couldn’t help it. She’d never met Jimmy’s girlfriend—in fact it had been years since she’d even seen Jimmy. But Janessa always liked to give Natalie updates on what he was up to when she got back from visiting Phoenix to see her mom. Natalie’s parents had sold their home in Phoenix after she’d graduated from high school so they could travel the world freely for humanitarian efforts.
“Anyway, Jimmy’s not coming, and without him, I’m going to be home all alone with the newlyweds.”
“Oh, no. Are your mom and Stan all icky-lovey-dovey?”
“No, thank heavens. But he’s weird, and I need a buffer. And that’s where my great idea comes in.”
Natalie shook her head before Janessa could finish. She knew where this was going. “Not happening.”
“Please, Natalie. Come home with me for Christmas. I promise that we’ll have way more fun than you’ll have here by yourself.”
“I have Grant.”
“Grant’s probably working anyway. And my mom’s house is only a three hour drive from here. He can come down and stay for a few days, too.”
Natalie laughed. “You must be desperate if you’re inviting Grant.”
“I’m totally desperate. I should have thought of this sooner. You, Natalie, have the power to save my Christmas. Having you come home with me would be like my own personal Christmas miracle.”
Should she go home with Janessa? Natalie picked up one of the colorful blocks while she debated and ran her thumb across the smooth edge. These things were pretty heavy. If she threw one at the window, there was a good chance it would break. Maybe she should write that down in her notebook, except it wasn’t really a selling point.
Focus. Janessa’s house. It could be fun. She’d always loved Janessa’s mom. And Grant did just mention that he’d picked up another client and he’d be working overtime for the next few months, which meant a lot more nights of sitting together on the couch, each on their own computer, working. She liked it that way, really, but could admit that it was a little lonely sometimes. He could come down for Christmas day. She knew he wouldn’t be thrilled about it, but he’d do it for her. And maybe a change of scenery was just what she needed in order to come up with a winning idea.
“Who am I to deny you of your Christmas miracle?” The last of her words were lost in Janessa’s squeal-and-tackle-hug that took Natalie down onto her pile of blocks. “I have to make sure that I get a lot of time to work on my ad campaign. This is really important for me to win.”
“You will, you will, I promise. You’ll see. This is going to be the best Christmas ever!”
Natalie rolled away from the blocks digging into her back. Really sharp edges. Maybe she should write that down. Janessa pulled out her phone to text her mom while Natalie wrote down her latest observation of the awful blocks. Unfortunately, those blocks were her ticket to a successful life.
She didn’t care about having the best Christmas ever. She only cared about making sure she came up with the winning ad and turned her dream internship into her dream job.
            Natalie dragged her large suitcase behind her and hiked her duffel bag higher on her shoulder as she knocked on the Janessa’s mom’s front door. The bright red and green sparkle Christmas wreath was only a minor dab on the gaudy Christmas painting of Janessa’s mom’s house. Natalie was pretty sure she’d seen their lit up house from over a mile away as that faint glow that lit up the dusky sky.
Stan must have had an unhealthy affinity for Christmas decorations because Janessa’s house had never been so…festive. A full size sleigh with nine reindeer sat on the roof. Colorful, twinkling Christmas lights covered nearly every available square inch of house—roof, wall, porch, and even the walkway that led to the street. On one side of the yard, a functioning train with a nutcracker conductor circled elves, Santa, and other Christmas themed blow-up decorations. And on the other side—oh, no that was just wrong. Nestled in bales of hay they’d set up a nativity, and in place of baby Jesus in the manger was a baby Santa. Wearing a baby Santa suit. Okay, baby Santa was actually kind of cute, with his plump, rosy cheeks, the tiny Santa clothes, and someone had even painted a loveable little sparkle in his right eye, but still. Wrong in so many, many ways.
            The wreath jingled and jangled, and a shower of glitter fell to the “Welcome to our Ho-Ho-Home” welcome mat when Janessa’s mom answered the door.
            “Natalie!” Janessa’s mom pulled her into a Janessa-type suffocating hug that managed to make Natalie feel both unable to breathe and extremely welcome all at the same time. Janessa’s mom rocked with her side to side and said, “I am so glad you could make it.”
            “Thanks for having me, Mrs. Clouse.”
“I’ve told you again and again to call me Anne,” Janessa’s mom said.
“I know. Thank you, Anne.” The name felt awkward coming from Natalie’s mouth.
Anne laughed and took Natalie’s duffel bag before leading her into the cinnamon-scented house. “Seriously, my name is not a four-letter word. Actually, it does have four letters, but you know what I mean. You don’t have to do that little choke thing every time you say it.”
Ah, Janessa’s family. Always so honest. It just wasn’t in them to politely pretend they didn’t notice other people’s awkward moments.
Jimmy had always been the worst at remembering every, little embarrassing thing. One bright spot of him not being there for the holidays was that she’d get a reprieve of reliving The Underwear Incident of senior year. Natalie had a feeling that Jimmy was never going to let her live that one down. She’d just as soon forget that she’d ever been that socially awkward teen who traveled so much she only had two good friends: Janessa and Jimmy.
“Janessa had to run to the store real quick, but she should be home any minute now.” Anne led Natalie down the hallway. “Stan’s in the kitchen starting dinner, so after you get settled come on down and meet him.”
Anne opened a bedroom door and threw Natalie’s bag onto the floor next to a dusty weight set. “I’m going to have you stay in Jimmy’s old room for a few nights. You and Janessa will probably have to bunk up together once Stan’s kids get here, but at least you can have your own bed for a few days.”
Natalie looked around the room after Anne left, remembering the fun Janessa, Jimmy, and Natalie had when they were younger. Stan’s Christmas love hadn’t reached this room, so it still looked the same as Natalie remembered—even though she hadn’t been in here in almost three years. Blue plaid bedspread. Bookshelf filled with sci-fi and fantasy novels. A picture of Jimmy and Janessa together on her graduation night exactly how Natalie remembered him: over a head taller than Janessa, mostly knees and elbows, long-ish brown hair, thick glasses, and his trademark mischievous smile that always seemed to be daring Natalie to do something that would get her into trouble.
Natalie washed her hands in Jimmy’s bathroom after pulling the clothes out of her bag that she didn’t want getting wrinkled.
She stared intently in the bathroom mirror when she spotted something. Wait, was that…? There was no way she was this lucky. Yes, her parents had abandoned her right at Christmastime and she’d fallen into some sort of Christmas-themed rabbit hole, but this might make up for everything.
She crouched down beside the toilet and retrieved the bikini waxing kit she’d spotted. He’d been a swimmer in high school, but he would never talk shaving with the girls. Now she had proof. And did he still swim, or why the heck was he waxing? She did not want to know, but he deserved the teasing she was going to dish.
Except he wasn’t coming home for Christmas, and she didn’t know when their paths might cross again. She picked up the box anyway and put it into her suitcase. She was so getting the address of where he was staying for Christmas to send this to him. Maybe he’d even open it in front of his girlfriend.That would teach him to keep his mouth shut the next time she saw him.
 Move over, Underwear Incident. Bikini Wax was moving in.
            Natalie didn’t even realize she was humming a Christmas tune until a painfully tall and even painfully thinner man in a Santa Clause sweater began to sing along with a surprisingly deep baritone voice.
            “And saints, and saints, and angels sing,” he finished with a low note that should not have been possible outside of a tuba. Natalie clapped as he took a bow.
            “Stan Clouse,” he said, extending his hand. “And you must be Natalie.”
            “I am. Nice to meet you.”
            “I’m glad you could come here for Christmas. It’s kind of a big deal for me, so I want to make sure that we include any Christmas traditions that you’re used to. I love hearing about what other people do and adding other’s traditions to our own.”
            Natalie nodded and followed Stan into the kitchen. “Um, thanks. We never really did much for Christmas, though.”
            Stan stopped in his tracks. “Nothing?”
Natalie shrugged, feeling like she’d said something wrong. “We traveled a lot when I had breaks from school. My parents usually remember to get me a gift,” her words faded.
“Okay. Wow.” Stan shook his head and let out a deep breath. “You’re in the right place. We’re going to show you how Christmas should be done.”
Natalie followed him into the kitchen for dinner, taking in the kitschy Christmas decorations filling every available nook and counter space, a leaf-and-bulb-filled garland wrapping around the banister and doorways, and way too many cowboy-themed Santa figurines for any one family, and suddenly Stan’s promise felt more like a threat.

Monday, November 26, 2012

How I met Jolene and Rachael

Right now the ALL I WANT blog tour is going on, and I've been answering a ton of interview questions about the book or how Jo, Racheal and I decided to do this, but I haven't had anyone ask me how we all met.

Jolene and I started emailing each other almost two years ago. We both belong to a writers group for LDS women (ANWA) and she'd asked for someone to critique her manuscript. I volunteered to do it and we traded. I read The Next Door Boys and she read a book of mine that I'm querying. I loved The Next Door Boys. I'd gone through a spell of critiquing books that still needed a ton of work, and Jolene's book was so good and so publishable--which was awesome.

After this, we were both querying books at the same time, so we traded lists and research on agents, and emailed each other the statuses of where we were on rejections and requests. It was awesome to have someone doing this at the same time, because it really does take courage to put a book out there and query agents--knowing that you are going to be rejected at some point.

In May 2011, we both went to the LDStorymakers conference in Salt Lake City. She flew in from Alaska and I drove up from Arizona. I was really nervous about meeting her, because we'd been emailing for months and knew a lot about each other, but didn't really know each other, if that makes any sense at all. (I wonder if that's how people who date online feel...) Anyway, we met up at the conference and she was just as cool and easy to talk to as it had been emailing. We spent the whole day together, going to classes and sneaking M&Ms. It was so much fun.

Here we are:

I knew who Rachel was long before I met her. Her first book, Divinely Designed, came out several years ago, and my mom picked it up from Deseret Book and told me that I needed to read it. I was just finishing up my edits on Meg's Melody--so I had LDS publishers on the brain. I really liked Rachael's book and her writing style--and I remembered doing the whole dream thing: If I can get my book published, would I get to meet people like Rachael? That would be so cool. (Yes, I'm a nerd. And for the record, it is really cool to meet people who's books I love)

So at the same writers conference I met Jo at (Storymakers 2011), I also met Rachael. We saw each other in passing here and there in the halls, and we were both finalists for the Whitney Award in the romance category, so we set up that we'd sit by each other at the banquet. I wasn't going to know anyone there and was feeling pretty awkward.

My husband and I sat with Rachael and her husband for dinner and the awards ceremony--and had a great time. Both of our husbands are engineers, so they were able to talk easily to each other (and Rachael and I both understand what it's like to be married to an engineer.) Rachael was so great and easy to talk to, and really made the awards banquet so much fun for me.

I wish I had a picture of the two of us together. I don't have any pictures from the Whitneys, which totally stinks.

I'm actually not sure of how Jo and Rachael met. I'm pretty sure they met in person at that conference as well. Maybe one of them can pipe in and let us know.

It's been way fun getting to know these girls--and just so you know--they are as friendly as they seem on their blogs and in their books.

Any other shoutouts from the Storymakers 2011 conference? I know I met a few more of you there. If you've met one of us before, tell us how it happened!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Overlooked Thankfuls

When I say my prayers, I always remember to thank God for my kids, my husband, my home, the food we eat, the talents we have, our health, my awesome friends, modern medicine, the opportunities we have, my country, etc. I repeat these things probably two or three times a day. I'm not trying to be repetitive--I am just abundantly grateful for the most important things that I have.

But there is a list of overlooked thankfuls. Things that I might think of as my day goes by--that I would have a really difficult time living without--but that don't make it into the nightly prayers.

1) Scented candles. I have four kids--two in diapers. Plus, with the smelly sweat of kids that love to run around outside and having three boys, I need my cinnamon candle burning all day long.

2) Mickey Mouse Club House. Without that half-an-hour of entertainment for my three year old, I'm not sure when my dishes would get done.

3) Google. How did I live without it. My son accidentally broke the Z key on my laptop, and all I had to do was search "Replacement Z keys" and found a place that sold them and got it sent out the next day. I accidentally ordered the wrong one, so it doesn't fit, but that was my fault, not theirs.

4) Chocolate chip cookies. I  make them about once a week. There is nothing healthy about this. (Sometimes I add oats and call them healthy, but we all know that for the lie it is). But it makes my family very happy, which makes me happy, too.

5)My son's iPad. He's finally able to start communicating with us through an app that was developed for the use of people with special needs who have a hard time speaking. He's still learning on it, but we LOVE it.

6) Marshmallows. I don't know if my daughter would be potty trained without them.

7) Disposable diapers. Enough said.

8) The cologne my husband wears. He's been wearing the same kind since we were dating and he only wears it when we go out on dates. I just want to snuggle in close every time he has it on.

9) Unlimited minutes on my cell phone for other people that use T-Mobile. I know this is really specific, but I talk a lot on the phone and I talk a lot to my family, and this habit could cost us a fortune. I've convinced most of my family to switch over and now I can call them any time and talk as long as I want...

10) Really good books with amazing stories that are impossible to put down. Finishing a good book is one of my favorite feelings.

What are some of your overlooked thankfuls?


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Time is Going to Pass Anyway

It took my mom ten years to graduate from college. In that time she had three kids, worked multiple jobs including babysitting six other kids and doing shifts as a CNA at the hospital. For most of my childhood, she took one night class a semester at the local community college, working on her pre-recs for nursing school. I was sixteen when she graduated with her nursing degree.

She always had people asking her how she could just keep going with her school even though it was taking so long. Ten years is a really long time to be chasing after a dream--especially with life just getting busier and busier as the years went on. I love what how my mom would respond to people who said this. She would say, "The time is going to pass anyway. In ten years I can have my nursing degree or I can still be taking any job I can find to make ends meet. It doesn't matter how long it takes as long as I get there."

I think about this all the time. I was just thinking about it this morning, actually, because I still have that extra five-ish pounds left from having my baby this summer--and I just can't find the motivation to a)stop eating my kids Halloween candy and b) work out consistently. I got my rear end off the couch this morning to go for a walk, knowing that the one mile I had time for wasn't going to make that much of a difference in my weight. But maybe one mile every day for a year might--and I found myself saying, "A year is going to pass anyway. Am I going to make a tiny sacrifice and be five pounds thinner at the end of it?"

And I say it all the time with my writing. Some days I am really busy. Crazy busy. And time flies by and I wonder where it's all gone (we're already in November, folks. This is nuts.) And sometimes I only have a few minutes here or there to add another scene to my manuscript or another page or even just another paragraph--and I have to remind myself: The time is going to pass anyway. In two, or three, or more years, I can have a well-written book that I love, or I can still be dreaming of one day being a writer and not be doing anything about it. It doesn't matter how long it takes, as long as I am doing something to make sure I get there.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Contemptible Affection by Ranee S. Clark

Ranee has a new Regency out that I, ahem, got the chance to read before almost anyone. And I loved it. So now that it's available on Amazon, I snagged Ranee for an interview so you can learn more about her book and her.

Here's the cover:

Beautiful right? I really want that dress even though its pure whiteness would last all of two seconds in my house.

Ranee! I'm so happy to have you here on my blog. Tell us a little bit about your book.
A CONTEMPTIBLE AFFECTION is a Regency romance novella about an heiress who is spurned by her childhood sweetheart the season before, and now she's intent on staying very far away -- despite his intent to win her back.

Love childhood sweethearts. *sigh* Where did you get the idea from?
The idea came from a line in a Georgette Heyer novel. I can't remember the exact line, but I know the circumstances were that this young man had always intended to marry the heroine. They don't end up together, but of course, it got me thinking about what if ... and then Iris and Dersingham's story came to be and it ended up wildly different than I imagined.

Yes, that happens sometimes. It seems like characters can take on lives of their own. Are you an outliner or a pantser?
I used to be mostly a pantser -- I'd have four or five plot points to work towards and would know the ending. But, as I've grown as a writer, I realize now that doesn't work. My early stuff lacks good pace and I'm ending up having to go back and rearrange stuff, which is such a pain. So now I'm definitely more of an outliner.

I know you are a mom, too. When do you find time to write?
Right now I'm lucky enough to have a 4yo at home who still naps about three hours every day, so that's when I do most of my writing. I also have my desk in the kitchen, so if he's occupied during the day, I'll snatch 10 to 20 minutes of writing time. I know it's not ideal, but it works for me. Evenings are for my family and my husband, so for now, I don't write at night. And if I got up at 5 am to write, so would my 4yo, which would make for a CRAZY day! I know someday that will have to change, but for now, where I am in my writing, it works.

Naps. LOVE naps. Do you have a favorite book about writing?
I don't read a lot of writing books -- perhaps I should! So, no, I don't have a favorite.

What is the best advice you can give authors?
The best advice actually comes from my editing life rather than my writing life (but a little of both, since I can see both sides now). First, find a critique partner you trust. Second, trust them. One of the things that I see a lot is me asking a question in an MS and the writer explaining to me why they don't need to clarify. Nine times out of ten, if the question is being asked, you're not getting the point across you thought you were. So when your CP's and readers ask about something you think is obvious, go back and take a good hard look at it. I had to do that with your (Kaylee's) questions when you did the crit on A CONTEMPTIBLE AFFECTION, as well as with what other readers thought. 

It was fun critiquing for you. Do you have any projects you're working on now you'd like to tease us with? 
Right now I'm working on something totally different for me and also very fun. It's a contemporary LDS romance about a famous college football player (Think Jimmer Ferdette, but football) and the girl who goes to great lengths to win him over. I really like it, but I've just started revisions, so who knows how long that will last!

That sounds so good. Thanks for stopping by.

Here are a few places you can catch up with Ranee:

And you can buy A Contemptible Affection at Amazon and Smashwords.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tag! The Next Big Thing

What is the working title of your book?
Six Days of Christmas

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I knew that I wanted to write a Christmas book and I was brainstorming with my husband about ideas. After I tossed out his zombie apocalypse idea (and the twisted love story idea where main character snaps and kills everyone in the end—so romantic that husband of mine) I somehow stumbled on the idea of a family that celebrates different Christmas traditions from around the world in the week before Christmas.

What genre does your book fall under?
Romantic comedy

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’ve got to be honest here… I can only think of Disney people since that’s what my kids watch…

Natalie: Bridget Mendler in her twenties
Jimmy: A just-woke-up Zach Effron

What is the one two-sentence synopsis of your book?
When Natalie goes home with her best friend for Christmas, she expects plenty of quiet time to work on a winning ad so she can turn her dream internship into her dream job. Instead, she gets time-consuming Christmas festivities, a house full of children, and Jimmy, her best friend’s brother - someone who makes her question everything she’s always thought she wanted.

Will your book be self-published or repped by an agency?
I am self-publishing it with the always fabulous Jolene Perry and Rachael Anderson. It will be in a Christmas collection called All I Want.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Three weeks. (It’s about 25K words.)

Opening sentence:
Natalie Ekins flicked one of the bright colored Magneto Blocks she had spread across the floor. How could so much of her future depend on a toy?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Rachael approached me and Jolene about a year ago with the idea of writing a book together—and in the spring we decided to write Christmas stories. It was so much fun writing about cold weather, Christmas traditions, hot chocolate, and fires when it was over a hundred degrees outside.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
 Jolene and Rachael also wrote really great stories for All I Want that I can't wait for everyone to read.

Jolene's is called Pretty Near Perfect and it's an awesome combination of awkward moments and sweet love story as Nora spends the holidays with her deceased fiance's parents, but starts to fall for their handsome, intellectual (and, yes, awkward) house guest.

Rachael's is Twist of Fate and it's so much fun and hilarious. Tyler's been in love with his neighbor, Kenzie, for a while. Problem? She's engaged to someone else. When he accidentally receives a postcard for Kenzie from her fiancé calling off the wedding, he decides to wait to give it to her until after Christmas--and maybe he can get her to notice him as more than just a friend.

Check it out on Goodreads or add it to your read list here.

Okay, I'm tagging:

*Use this format for your post
*Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
*Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

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