Guest Post on PenTalk Community Blog

Yesterday I guest posted on the PenTalk Community Blog. They’re discussing my post from two weeks ago, Writing Clean for Today’s Teen. Check it out to join the discussion. :)

http://www.pentalkcommunity.blogspot.com/

The Versatile Blogger Award

versatileblogger11Last week I received the Versatile Blogger Award (VBA) from writer and prolific blogger, Holly Michael on her blog Writing Straight.

Here is the link to Holly Michael’s post: Another Award: The Versatile Blogger.

There’s a whole site dedicated to this award: Versatile Blogger Award (VBA)

What is it?

The VBA is a blogger award for quality blogs as deemed by the blogging community. Yep–you guessed it. It’s an award by bloggers for bloggers. And it’s an honor to receive this award that is spreading fast in the blogging community.

Thank you Holly Michael for the VBA nod. Since I was nominated by Holly Michael my site traffic and comments have gone up. No coincidence. It’s nice to know there are other bloggers out there who want to write and support each other.

And the Nominees are . . .

Below I’ve nominated some of my favorite blogs in no specific order. Most are writers, book reviewers, and versatile people with lots of interests. Check them out:

  1. Author and fellow CBC alum Jessica Patch: www.jessicarpatch.blogspot.com
  2. Inspirational Romance writer Christina Rich: http://christinarich.wordpress.com/
  3. Reflections on the River with Susan Mires: www.susanmires.com and a blog she collaborates on with other writes, www.pagesfromstages.wordpress.com.
  4. Write-to-Publish staffer Tammy Eddington Shaw: http://www.tamedingtonshaw.blogspot.com/
  5. Chapter president, writer and editor Sally Bradley: www.sallybradley.com
  6. Darci Webster and her Siberian Husky Nora, who does most of the blogging :) :
  7. The ever funny Katy McKenna: www.fallible.com 
  8. Writer, homeschool circulum guru, and one year novel proponent for kids Dan Schwabauer: www.danschwabauer.com or his blog http://oneyearnovel.com/wordpress/
  9. Journeys of love . . . inspired by Faith with writer Susan Holloway: www.susanhollaway.com
  10. A college student’s journey through the Middle East: http://meintheme.wordpress.com/
  11. Writer and book reviewer Caryn Caldwell: http://caryncaldwell.com/
  12. Historical writer Sandra Ardoin: http://sandraardoin.wordpress.com/
  13. Jalynn on homeschooling, books, and more: http://asimplelifereally.blogspot.com/
  14. Jackie’s back porch with Jackie Layton: http://jackiesbackporch.blogspot.com/
  15. Where Light Pierces the Darkness with Ralene Burke: http://www.raleneburke.com/

The Rules

If you are nominated, you’ve been awarded the Versatile Blogger award.

  •  Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  •  Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
  •  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. ( I would add, pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent!)
  •  Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — you might include a link to the VBA site.
  • Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

Seven Things About Me

  1. I love purple, puppies, and dolphins. No surprise to anyone who knows me. :)
  2. The only foreign countries I’ve been to are Venezuela, Romania, and Mexico. All missions trips.
  3. In college I won Best Supporting Actress at the SPAM Awards. (Student Produced Amateur Movies.) Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I LOST that DVD of me lip-syncing to Etta James and Alicia Keyes.
  4. My favorite sport is baseball, because I actually know what’s going on. Thanks Dad!
  5. I had a friend in high school who thought I was the spitting image of the Star Wars diva Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher. Everyone else, including me, thought my friend was crazy.
  6. On my officle wall is a smiley face pic, a shiny pink star, and a dry erase board sponsored by The Office that I write funny sayings on. It’s got a picture of the original gang and a slogan, “Petty behavior. Zero productivity. All in a day’s work.”
  7. I just got a Kindle last week. What took me so long to join the e-reading gang? I’m THAT cheap. :)

My Novel: Would You Rather Go to College or Boarding School?

Neither, right? Actually, I had to ask my character that question. My current WIP (work in progress) was about a teen’s first year in college. I thought it would fit into the YA market because my character is 18. But when I pitched at the 2011 ACFW conference it didn’t fly. Why? Because teens don’t want to read about college life. And college students don’t have time to read fiction. At least that’s what one agent and one editor said.

What One Editor Suggested

When an editor from Thomas Nelson suggested I switch my setting from college to a boarding school, I cringed. It would make my story more teenage-friendly. But who would rather read about boarding school than college? College seems like more fun. In my mind I associate boarding school with a harsh regime, like a reform school. Who knows. Maybe I could make my boarding school as cool as Hogwart’s.

So I took a step back and did some research. There actually are Christian boarding schools in New York. Only a few, but they cater to hundreds of students. It’s a different twist on the ordinary high school drama. But is it interesting enough to relate to?

Will an Agent Get It?

The agent I spoke with at the ACFW conference agreed with the editor. I was devastated. But she said one thing that stuck with me, “Your writing is strong.” And she handed me her card. I was so disappointed by the news that I needed to change my novel’s setting. I only remembered the bad part for a month or two afterward.

As the Genesis contest approached, I suddenly remembered the agent’s praise. And her card. So I updated my story to the boarding school version and sent it off to Genesis to test out the new version. When it semi-finaled (yay!) I sent an updated query to the agent. Last week she sent me another rejection letter. This time with pointed advice. She had a lot of contemporary YA novels on her plate, and my story didn’t wow her. Back to the drawing board.  I’m still looking for the right agent, one who will get it.

A New Market

In the market where paranormal teen romance is a section in Barnes & Noble bookstores, my contemporary YA romantic comedy needs some extra punch. I’m not quite willing to add a paranormal punch. That wouldn’t be true to my story.

But I could change parts of my story. Maybe a prep school in New York City would be a better setting. Or my heroine could be a country girl who has to adjust to the big city. Time to spice it up. :)

Brainstorm With Me

Q4U: Would you rather read about a character in college, boarding school, or prep school? What other plot, character, or setting developments do you think might spice up a ho-hum YA romantic comedy about a girl running away from a heartbreak only to have to face it again? Don’t worry, there’s no bad ideas here.

Writing Clean for Today’s Teen

Teen readers are some of the most avid readers in the market. They deserve well-thought out novels that entertain and inspire. Yet, every time I pick up a YA novel at the bookstore there’s some kind of cuss word, explicit reference, or drug reference in the first five chapters. Sure, teens deal with heavy stuff every day at public high schools. But that doesn’t mean authors need to promote sex, drugs, and rock and roll. (Just kidding on that last one. :) )

Why Teens Need Better Options

Ok, before you get Footloose on me and organize a dancing protest, consider this. Teen reading is a great time to show kids making good choices. Those high school years are not only a teaching time academically, but relationally as well.  That’s why it’s important to portray characters who eventually make good choices, even if they mess it up at first. They still need to get it right in the end.

Teens want to read books they can relate to. But what makes a book transcendent? A book that rises above the standards, shows real characters fighting tough choices, and becoming better people in the process.  Don’t give the character exactly what they want. Watch how they deal with it. That’s real life. Adulthood. Aren’t teen years preparation for adulthood?

Readers want to grow with the character. It’s part of a good story. Especially to teenagers. They’re in the middle of a hyped-up time of change and they are open to learning new things. So give ‘em what they need, not just what they want.

Why I Choose to Write Clean

I read clean fiction. The Christian market is a great place to find clean reads, but I’ll consider books that meet the clean standard. I prefer positive, redemptive books that show a glimpse of a new reality or shed a new light on something.

It’s what I strive to write. Even in the land of the unpubbed, I picture my reader when I write. In my mind, my reader is a teen girl who is tired of the same old click-lit, mean girls club, vampire romance. They want something that’s funny, honest, and thought-provoking. And they don’t want the junk they deal with every day.  They want to rise above it to learn more about themselves and their world.

I loved those stories as a teen. Madeleine L’Engle is still my favorite author. I grew up reading her young adult books, A Wrinkle in Time and my all-time favorite A Ring of Endless Light. Those books stayed with me. They transcended the time period they were written in and spoke to me. One day I hope to publish novels that will speak to any reader, anywhere, just like that.

An Author’s Challenge

In YA fiction, it’s hard to stay on trend and still write a transcendent story. It takes extra research, plotting, and characterization. But it’s well worth the effort for a book that will speak to teens the way no other book can. And those books are usually appreciated by adults as well. I still love finding that great YA book I can rave about.

Everybody loves a good story, but a great one is remembered for a long time. Maybe that’s why Jesus taught in stories. Yeah, I like to set my standards high. Reach for the stars and all that. A good story is something we can all relate to. A great story is one that makes us see the world in a whole new light. Gotta love the power of story.

Here are some of my favorite YA authors:

Madeleine L’Engle Classics that read like modern-day stories.

Jenny B. Jones Hilarious and thoughtful books that inspire.

Robin Jones Gunn Godly stories the portray girls making good choices.

Stephanie Morrill A thoughtful, funny, and dramatic series of how a bad girl finds a good path.

Kristin Billerbeck Lighthearted, inspirational chick lit for teens and twenty-somethings.

Nicole O’Dell Great choose-your-own-ending series.

For more insights on this topic go to Holly Michael’s Writing Straight blog post with guest blogger YA author Jennifer Donohue What’s In a Story.

Q4U: What are your pet peeves about YA fiction? What are some clean reads you can recommend?

Time to Turn That Blog Into a Book? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself First

Lately I’ve been thinking about turning my blog into something publishable, a column, a book, or an ebook. There’s so many options to choose from. And lots of resources out there clamoring for attention. As I formulate my thoughts into some kind of plan, I wondered if other bloggers are in the same predicament. If so, here’s a look at my thought processes before the fateful decision is made:

1. Am I Ready? How much time it will take, and how much of my resources will be needed? Now is a great time for self-publishing, but is it right for me? I’ve always told myself to try the traditional publishing route first. Would a short self-pubbed book ruin my chances? I know it all depends on the publisher, but it’ll take some research to figure that out.

2. Do I Have Enough Content?  I wonder if it makes sense to pour time into one tiny ebook without any other products to back it up. I’d probably have to charge a few bucks to make it work it. I could follow the advice of Joel Friedlander(@JFBookman) in his CopyBlogger post today: 3 Simple Ways to Turn Your Website Archive into Profitable Books and eBooks.

3. What Would the Focus Be? I have a great Writer’s Tips series that I could easily make into an ebook. It would be great for beginning writers who aren’t sure where to start. But beyond that, I’m not sure what else I can offer. Then again, I could turn my new focus of faith and entertainment into a short ebook, too. Or I can start future blog series to turn into books, like Joel suggests.

4. How Can a Book Promote My Blog? A blog in itself reaches a certain niche of people. There’s an audience to reach, if I can learn to target them. Free content, otherwise known as content marketing, would promote my brand further, and in turn promote my blog. It’s all a new process to me. And I wonder if free content would be better than a cheap book. There are examples of how both can work like The Creative Penn.

5. Can I Make it Professional? This is a big deal to me. If I put something out there, I want it to be professional. That means fully edited and promoted. But those things cost money. And time, not only to find a great editor but to go through rounds of edits. Marketing and promotion are tools I’m interested in, but I wonder if I can do it all myself.

Will my reasons of promoting my blog and enhancing my platform outweigh my concerns of self-pubbing? The verdict is still out on that. Right now I’ve got a query out and a contest to worry about. But when those things are decided, this might be a next step to consider. Food for thought anyway. I’ll keep you posted.

4 Thoughts From Psalm 139: Even the Darkness Will Not Be Dark

CandlesIf I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
–Psalm 139:11-12 (NIV)

Psalm 139 is one of my absolute favorite Bible passages, but for different reasons. It’s a great passage about how much God knows me, how He made me, and how He has great plans for me. When I reread this passage recently, verse 12 struck me in a new light. (Pun kinda/sorta intended.)

1. How many times do I want to hide from God? When I mess up, aka sin, or just plain get it wrong. I always want to run and hide, but I never feel like I can. And now I know why it never works.

2. In Bible college, my theology professor tried to explain it to me. There was one question on the test that I got wrong–and I didn’t understand why. He told me that we are always in God’s presence. There’s nowhere to hide. “For darkness is as light to you.” Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

3. If God is everywhere, even in my darkness, then it doesn’t have to be as dark as it seems. Of course it still hurts when things don’t go my way. Sometimes it really hurts. But instead of it being pitch black, maybe it’s really a charcoal gray. With a light in the corner, waiting to burn away the darkness.

4. “Even the darkness will not be dark to you.” In the darkness God is with me, holding me tight. Telling me it’s going to be okay. When I stop trying to fix it and let him take over . . .  it’s on, baby. He has a way of transforming my blackest moment to charcoal gray, to light gray, to white as snow. In His own unfathomable, out-of-the-box way.

It’s still a process for me. I’m still learning. Learning to look for the light in the darkness. To watch and pray for it. And one day there will be no more darkness.

Holy Paris Gellar: 8 Emerging Godly Girl Websites

I’ve been checking around for new websites for teen girls, and I’ve stumbled across some rocking sites. I stole this phrase from a Twitter teen because I thought it was awesome! Not that Paris was a Godly girl, but if she was, I’m sure she’d endorse these sites, too. (And I seriously miss Gilmore Girls.) Here’s my top 7 up-and-coming girls-for-God sites:

1. Nicole O’dell.com and Choose Now Ministries: For the Good Girl, who wants to surf the Web on parent-approved sites. This site has advice columns for parents and teens–separately. Nicole shares her site with top Christian authors who give advice on Dating, Boys, Dreaming Big, Teen Pregnancy, and more.

2. Girls, God, and the Good Life: Authors like Betsy St. Amant, Camy Tang, and Jeneatte Hanscome post candid life lessons that really make you think. This site is chockfull of great resources for book and entertainment lovers who want “clean” alternatives to the entertainment choices always out there. Check it out.

3. RelateMag.com: This site is like the Seventeen Magazine for the Godly Girl. It has all kinds of articles from style and health tips, to celebrity and entertainment news, to relating your faith. Girls who are godly and girly will love it.

4. GoTeenWriters.com: Author Stephanie Morrill shares her insights on writing just for teen girls. She is joined by Jill Williamson, Rachel Coker, and Roseanna White who post their tips and offer contests for the Writer Girl who wants to improve her craft.

5. KatharosNow.com: This site is a mix of published authors and teens who post on timely topics like The Hunger Games, dating and relationships, daily living, and more. There’s even guy perspectives on a few issues. I just LOVED all the different perspectives this site has to offer.

6. Novel Teen @ Jill Williamson.com: Author Jill Williamson posts interviews and book reviews of “clean” teen novels, and even offers teens a chance to submit reviews. (Within certain parameters of course.) This is a great site for all the latest in Christian teen books.

7. RealTeenFaith.com: Great site with videos, testimonials about teen topics, and an advice column for teens. If you need a boost for your faith, this site will help you make sense of it all.

8. ProofSeeTheEvidence.org: This is a new site with YA writers Becky Dean, Tanya Eavenson, and author Shellie Neumeier. They post devos, and thoughts on deep Christian issues, along with author interviews and other lighthearted topics. Give it a try.

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