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Friday, May 22, 2015


Disclaimer. This post is SO LONG. Seriously.

I should be editing right now. I should really be editing, but I have lots of love to give for one of my favorite writing events and if I don't sit and give that love out now, it may not happen.

LDStorymakers Conference. I have looked forward to this since my first year back in 2013. Remember? When I got that amazing bootcamp instructor, Becca Willhite and I revolutionized PLAYING FOR KEEPS (then titled The Game Plan) and I got a pitch with the lovely Kathy Gordon at Covenant and then just under a year later I got a contract with them? The next year, 2014, my sister got married and I only got to go to the sweet Jane Austen Tea Party. (Worth it.)

Needless to say, I was S-T-O-K-E-D for the awesomeness of this year's conference, especially since I'd spent the last year on the Whitney Awards committee, and I got to immerse myself in fantastic fiction written by fantastic LDS authors and then put together the event that sort of caps off the conference, the Whitney Gala.

My two-year-old (hereafter referred to by his twitter nickname, Squishy) and I flew into SLC on Sunday evening. I knew that the later half of the week was going to be chuck full of writer stuff and I needed some time with my family, who I hadn't seen in...well, okay, since I made a quick trip to the lower forty-eight for some basketball, it had only been a month or so. But who's counting?

Come Wednesday, though, the fun began. I started off at a lunch given by Covenant for their authors. Whoa, talk about a room full of coolness. (You guys know the names like Anita Stansfield, Sarah M. Eden, Annette Lyon, Krista Jensen, Jenny Moore...I could go on and on and on.) I got to meet, in person, one of the coolest people in that room, a.k.a. my editor, Stacey Owen. And another sweetheart, covenant's PR queen, Stephanie Lacey. (If you're a book-blogger, I'm sure you've traded emails with Stephanie before.) We chatted about cool things like book signings and getting actual copies of my books to me soon! Eeeep. Sadly, I had not yet gone on my take-pictures-of-everything roll and I have none from that lunch. On the bright side we ate Cafe Rio and it rocked.

That afternoon was the Jane Austen Tea party, and of that I do have pictures.

It's always so inspirational for me to hear Sarah Eden play because I know what it takes for her to do it and I know what it means to her when she can.

The adorable and hilarious Shelly Brown asked me to accompany her for a song "Begone Dull Care," a pub act as Shelly described it. We were happy to precede the lady singing an Italian aria and then expectations got high and we wouldn't have met them. We had a blast though. (Despite the fact that I left my music in Spanish Fork--the first of many things I would forget over the weekend--and my sister had to go into the library where the event was held and pay to use the computer and reprint it for me. She rocks so much too. My sister, Nikki, did so much for me this week to allow me to attend all this, including letting me crash at her place, feeding me {along with my sweet mom, who came all the way from Wyoming to nanny Squishy all weekend!} and letting me use her car!)

Getting to feel tall next to Sarah!

 Don't you just love Krista Jensen's dress? So. Cute. And the hat? She rocked it. I felt so slob in my Downeast knit dress and *shawl.* In July, when I visit my mom, we're going to make me a true Regency dress and I'll leave it with her to bring to me next year.

My other sister, Keesha, came to pick me up after the tea, and because we're a family full of snots, we took this picture to taunt our little sister, Savanna, who thinks Sarah M. Eden is the coolest thing ever. (I absolutely agree.) This picture made me laugh and laugh and laugh every time I looked at it. "Hey, I got to meet the Keesha Savage!!"

On Thursday I had Pub Primer, which is the second level of boot camp.  I had Elana Johnson for my instructor and it couldn't have been more perfect. She said some hard things, but they were GREAT hard things. That my query was strong and so were my pages but that she worried that a superhero novel with robots would just not sell. So I immediately emailed my CPs Kaylee and Gina and we went to work brainstorming better villains. And we came up with something amazing. I wish I could tell you all about it, but it would ruin big parts of the plot. :D

So then the conference started on Friday . . . and speaking of more taunting? Nikki and her class of sixth graders love James Dashner, so guess who I stopped in the halls and took another taunting picture with. James Dashner, of course. Nikki said when she got the text she put the picture up on her projector, and in her words, her sixth graders "lost it." (He was WAY cool and though I had my issues with THE MAZE RUNNER and 13TH REALITY, I think he's a fun awesome nice guy! When Nikki was with me at the Whitney Gala on Saturday night, I took her up to Mr. Dashner to introduce them and he remembered me. We were joking about how at least they'd spelled my rather hard first name right--His was spelled "Dasher" in the program . . . side-track, he joked when he presented that even when he thought he'd "made it" something like that happened to bring him back to reality. Too funny. Anyway. He called me Ranee` and I was like, "I'm so impressed! I met your for like five seconds yesterday and you remembered my name." To which my sister humbled me by reminding me that in the course of during the program my name had been announced at least five times . . . Dashner insisted, though, that he remembered me regardless of that.)

I interact with some really fun people on line, and going to the conference is that chance when we all get to stare at each other's chests--to read name tags! Ha!--and go, "OH! Hi, Darci!" or "Summer!" So of course you need a conference selfie with people like Darci Cole (we've *talked* so much online it's like we're BFFs) and Summer Spence!

And then there was the super fun Marion Jensen who claimed to be photo bombing all my pics, but in camo so no one saw him. Then I stalked him and caught him without all his camo as he sat behind me in a class. Not weird, guys. (At the end of class he signed SEARCHING SUPER--another side, it's the sequel to ALMOST SUPER, which one the Whitney Award for Middle Grade! Yay for Marion!--for my nine-year-old, who thought that was AMAZING and it really upped my cool-mom factor.)

This. Lady. I've worked with Annette for months and months as part of the Whitney committee. She is so put together and just thinks of everything. She has a BIG passion for books and for LDS writers and all of it, and I loved getting to know her better.

Friday night, as a so-called conference Mentor, I got to sit at a table with Annette, Krista, and Kaylee Baldwin to chat with conference attendees during the Author Mingle. We were at the contemporary romance table and um, took our jobs very seriously . . .

Okay, so maybe it was just me not taking things seriously. Maybe because the people at our table were smart enough to figure out that there were some masters of romance hanging out with us and they really didn't need to bother asking me anything . . . ;)
I've realized that a lot of things in my life are a lot like dating. Finding new friends when I move every year or so and definitely finding good critique partners/writing BFFs. The fun thing is though, you don't have to settle down and "marry" one CP! I never got a picture with Jeigh Meredith, who was at my table for pub primer, but we have certainly "traded numbers" (really email addresses...) and set ourselves up to date, i.e. critique each other's stuff. Her book, RESONANT, was fab, guys. Loved it.

Kaylee (who's name you've heard SO many times on this blog) and I can't even totally remember our how we met story. We know it was first online through ANWA, and that we then sat next to each other during a class or something at an ANWA conference in probably 2011 if not 2010...and from there it gets fuzzy. Seriously. Can't remember how she got my stuff, though she thinks the first thing she critiqued for me was an LDS time-traveling romance. (Maybe some day I'll get back to that.) Anyway, since she was a busy, busy bee on the conference committee, we didn't get a ton of hang out time. We did get to sit next to each other at the Whitney Gala, yay!

I also found my soul mate, Tiffany Odekirk. We hit it off within seconds of meeting each other and we're so alike it's a bit creepy. (We have children named the same thing. It's like deja vu for what happened when I first discovered Gina Denny.) Someday, Tiffany and I will have a really funny story to tell you about the connection between PLAYING FOR KEEPS and her first novel. In the meantime, we were made for each other. Tiffany and I hung out a lot during the conference and she made it SO fun.

So on Friday afternoon I pitched KISSING A SUPERHERO to Heidi Taylor at Shadow Mountain. I had this pretty simple, three-sentence pitch. When I gave it to her, she just smiled and said, "Wow, that was perfect. Very polished. Very professional. Good job!" She asked me how long the book was and some other minor questions, then I gave her my query. She asked how many people had read it, which confused me at first. I thought she meant agents or publishers. She clarified if I had a writing group or critique partners. To which I burst out laughing. "That's a very long list of people who have read this book over the last six or so years..." It told her what she wanted to know--that I had worked and polished and worked and polished and rewritten and worked and rewritten and yeah and it wasn't just something I wrote last month and came down to pitch. Then, even though we'd only been talking about five minutes, she said I'd told her everything she needed to know, that she wanted to see three chapters and I should submit. Woo!

Friday evening was also the keynote by Martine Leavitt. It was beautiful and spiritual and amazing. You may wonder why a keynote at a writer's conference would be spiritual, but that's the AWESOME thing about Storymakers. The gospel is woven so seamlessly into everything about it because we are writers and we are LDS. Martine said it beautifully when she began saying that she was part of one community, the LDS community, where everyone understood her spiritually. And she was part of another community, a writing community, and they understood her writing. But they didn't overlap, except at Storymakers. Here, she had the best of both her worlds--writing and the gospel. I can't even do what she said justice but it's right on. I have amazing friends at church who ask me about my writing all the time, but I'm lucky and it's kind of different. At Storymakers, I get it all. All of the cool spiritual stuff can be summed up in three words from Marion Jensen's acceptance speech, "Be a light." That's why we have this specific talent.

Shelly Brown. She's so great. Selfies on my phone when she's supposed to be taking pictures of me with FREAKIN' BRANDON MULL. Love you, Shelly.

But seriously, this is what you want to see, right? BRANDON MULL, and another guy, Chad Morris. But guys, I got to meet best selling author BRANDON MULL. After going to their class on three point plot structure, I knew my boys would love their books. (In truth, I've been trying to convince my 9yo, the lover of all things Rick Riordan, in fact, if you're name's not Riordan, you're a hack in his book...anyway, I've been trying to convince him to read Fablehaven for a long time, but I figured if I brought him home new books, it would go a long way, especially when they're signed by BRANDON MULL.) Back to the story (I've had to do that a lot, huh...) So I went to the bookstore at the conference and bough Chad's THE INVENTOR'S SECRET (the 9yo is gonna love it!) and THE FIVE KINGDOMS by Brandon. Then, I was sitting just a table or so away at lunch time, so I went over to have them sign the books--so I wouldn't have to wait in line at the book signing later on Saturday. Ha! Anyway, when Shelly came by (she's married to Chad) what I'd dropped by to do turned into like a fifteen minute conversation in which Chad and Brandon were way fun. Brandon is very personable. He asked right off if I liked writing, to which I replied, so respectfully (not), "Um. I'm at a writing conference, aren't I?" He asked me what I wrote, to which I said romance, and I had a book coming out next month (of COURSE I dropped that in there) but that I came to pitch a YA. Brandon asked about that and he thought it was a cool concept, but then we got on the subject of my book coming out, the romance, and we spent the remainder of the conversation on that, which cracks me up. It could be because my book is about football and that surprises most guys when they find out. Brandon also said my cover was "super cute." And that is a direct quote. Anyway, I think they're both super fun and excellent to hang out with. In fact, I love how "normal" all the big authors were at the conference. I never expected in my life to chat for 15 minutes about my romance book with Brandon Mull.

This is my little sister (in age, not height) geeking out over meeting Sarah Eden. She had everyone at the table giggling with all her fan-girling. Then I blew Savanna's mind even more by taking her to meet Brandon Mull. They ended up talking about track. Which, of course.

I actually didn't get to spend a lot of time at the author signing (another good reason to get my books all signed before hand). I had to head over and do final stuff for the Whitney Gala and then get pretty. Me looking pretty great, if I do say so myself, being photo bombed by the awesome Jaime Theler. Love it.

Fun times? Standing at the door and greeting all the lovely Whitney finalists who are also my friends. And standing in four-inch stilettos and for once in my life towering over everyone. It rocked.

Okay, not towering over Krista, but at least I wasn't the big head in this picture, right Krista? (A joke from the many silly pictures I took at our contemp romance table during the Author Mingle the night before.)

AND Amy Finegan wanting to meet ME. And take pics with ME! Amy wrote the finalist NOT IN THE SCRIPT which was really one of my top reads during all the reading I did for the Whitneys. (And that's impressive since I made it through everything but Middle Grade, Adult Spec, and the Best Novel categories--but I read some of the novels in those two.) She tweeted during conference that she was going to find me! So cool.

Me and Sarah Eden comparing shoes. Both fabulously red. Both with bows on the toes. Hers sparkled and were fuzzy inside, so they probably beat mine...

After beginning to worry, my beautiful date, my sister Nikki, finally showed up. She's gorgeous. She made that fab dress guys, without a pattern. Be impressed.

I SO did not get enough conversation with this girl, my accountability partner and good friend, Melanie Jacobson. But she was the big boss of the conference, so I guess that's expected. Next year, right Melanie? We'll sit at lunch and chat or something. We have to.

This is the point during dinner in which my sister and I realized that we were sitting RIGHT behind Anne Perry . . . (Who is another author who's a serious BIG SHOT but who is so down to earth and lovely. She spoke during lunch on Saturday...or maybe Friday, can't remember, and it was another perfect example of weaving spiritual inspiration into writing inspiration. As did Annette's opening remarks for the Whitney Gala. I tweeted a lot of quotes she had from Orson F. Whitney, of whom the Whitney's are named for, during her speech. All of them awesome.)

I think the highlight of that night might have been getting to present Sarah with her first Whitney for LONGING FOR HOME: HOPE SPRINGS. She also gave in inspirational acceptance speech. My favorite quote, "We may yet have Miltons and Shakespeares among us [referring to a quote by Orson F. Whitney] but we already have Brontes and Austens." Made me cry. She left the stage both times (LFH: HOPE SPRINGS also won Best Novel) to standing ovations. I adored when James Dashner presented that award. He opened the envelop saying as he did, that if it was Sanderson he was going to punch him in the face. (Brandon Sanderson, who won Best Adult Spec novel, of course, got a lot of ribbing that night. Because he's Brandon Sanderson and he wins a lot of stuff. And he's good. And people really like him.) Then Dashner said, "Get ready to cry," and he announced Sarah as the winner. And people did cry. Great times.

So below, me and Sarah before the Whitneys. She thought my stilettos were overdoing it when it came to standing next to her. Yeah. Whatever.

So. The conference was great and so full of great, great stuff. I can't begin to describe it. This year I had so much more fun because I was ready to jump in and introduce myself to everyone and to ask all the questions I wanted to ask. I loved it. I wanted to be home to see my boys but I already miss the great people there.

I'm often reminded that I'm an anomaly in the world of writers. Where many of you are introverts who suffer from minor panic (or major panic!) at the thought of interacting with so many people, I'm an extrovert who thrives on that kind of stuff. Where many of you were exhausted after that weekend from all the peopleness, I was refueled and roaring to go! You're all awesome, tribe. All of you!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Robyn Reviews: LOVING HELEN by Michelle Paige Holmes (Mirror Press, 2015)

From Amazon: From Amazon Top 100 Regency Romance author, Michele Paige Holmes, comes LOVING HELEN, a regency romance from the Hearthfire Romance series. Revisit the characters from SAVING GRACE in this story of Grace’s shy, younger sister.

Eighteen-year-old Helen Thatcher grew up under the protection of her older siblings, Grace and Christopher. Living in their shadows and keeping to herself suited Helen just fine—until she met widower Samuel Preston. Watching Mr. Preston care for his young daughter and seeing his concern extend to her own family, Helen felt her reserve slipping away, as she learned first to trust him and then realized she had fallen in love with him. But instead of returning—or even noticing her affection—Mr. Preston developed his own tender, and unrequited feelings, for Grace. 

In the midst of each silently nursing their broken hearts, Helen and Samuel are faced with a daunting task—reuniting Grace with her fiancĂ©, Nicholas Sutherland. Now it is Helen who must look out for her sister and sacrifice her own fragile heart, as she and Samuel pretend to be engaged. Helen finds the role surprisingly easy to play, allowing herself to imagine that Samuel’s loving remarks are sincere. As the time for their charade to end draws near Helen must summon her courage and tell Samuel the truth of her feelings, or risk losing him forever.

Audience: Adult (Clean)
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 232 pages

Rating: 5

Review: Love, deceptions, misunderstandings,and sweet,swoon worthy scenes; all the ingredients for a romance you can curl up with and sigh. 

I loved this book from the first page. I read Saving Grace and couldn't wait to read Helen’s story. This is book 2 in he series, however, you can read this one without reading book one (Saving Grace), it will be more fun if you do, though. I actually had Saving Grace open and it was fun reading the same scenes from the two different points of view. I really liked that they were companion novels and happened at the same time. Did I say how much I liked seeing the different ways each sister saw a situation? 

Helen is fun and really great to get to know throughout the novel. We saw glimpses of her personality in k, but she really shines and comes to life in her own story. Samuel makes a wonderful hero and I was so glad that he didn't get left behind when Grace chose Lord Sutherland over him. The story has lots of ups and downs and I especially liked how good the sisters were along with their brother. They were good people despite the bad things that happened to them. The slight side story of the servants was very sweet. I liked how Helen had to become strong for herself before she could show Samuel how much she loved him. It is a wonderful story of forgiveness and love. You won't be disappointed. 

Sex - 1—some kissing
Violence - 0
Language - 0
Overall Rating - PG – intended for adults 

Source - Review Copy 

About Me!

I've been writing since I was old enough to grasp a crayon--my grandma even has an early copy of a "book" I made her. I have a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Wyoming and will (hopefully) soon be starting a graduate program in English. When I'm not breaking up impromptu UFC fights in the living room or losing miserably to my boys at Uno, I'm ... well, writing or editing, of course! I'm married to my best friend, and we have three rambunctious but simply amazing little boys.


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