Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Finding Your Writing Group

I am a big fan of writing groups.  I've been a member of two over the last eight years (one while I was in New Hampshire, and one in Utah). Both have helped me improve my writing and up my game. Here’s why:

In a writing group you help each other.  We read each other’s manuscripts and give input. My friend Becca may have read one of my manuscripts more than me (is that possible? No?). I owe her pages and pages of acknowledgments.

Writing groups give you actual deadlines. I am not enrolled at school. I don’t have papers due. I can’t usually trick myself into producing something by a certain time just for the sake of it (I’m too clever for that J). But I work well when something has to be completed by a certain date. Currently, my writing group meets once a month. Sometimes life happens and one or two of us don’t bring anything. But we still meet. And we motivate each other.

Writing groups motivate you to write well. I want people to like what I've written. In my current group, we read each other’s manuscripts aloud (this is a great exercise—you notice things in a different way when you’re listening to your words in someone else’s voice). With an audience, I can gauge reactions—Does this work? Where did I fail? What could I improve, where?

You learn about writing (and about life) from your writing group. I love to read Jenny’s quick wit, Emily’s just right voice, and anything by Amy who can make the most ordinary of things beautiful with her word choice (I could go on—truly, everyone brings something good to the table…).

Your writing group members understand and support you. When you read each other’s work, you can’t help but get to know and love each other. And when success happens (publishing or otherwise), it’s a full-on dance party.

Joining a writing group is a chance to meet with people who are different from you (and hurray for that!) but who share a passion and think deeply. I mentioned in a previous post how going to writing group is like therapy. Writing and meeting together is a chance for antisocial writer-me to be social. It’s fun! It’s something different from my everyday life, and I love that.

While it would probably have been easier for me to become a member of a writing group when I was a student (I took classes and peer review for granted then), both of my writing groups evolved from post-graduate writing classes. One evolved from a workshop that was part of a larger conference (sometimes big conferences feel overwhelming, but smaller workshops make for instant friends), and one came from a class listed privately on two of my favorite authors’ blogs.

Both of my writing groups have made a big difference in my work and in my life.
For those of you who have a writing group: Where have you found them? How have you come together? [I worried about finding a new one when we moved]. What has being part of a writing group done for you?

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Emily Manwaring spent her childhood in Wales, her adolescence in Utah and the time since in England and New Hampshire respectively. She has a degree in English Literature from BYU and currently lives in Northern Utah with her husband and children. She likes to sleep [mostly she just misses it], read, and write [this makes her sound very lazy].  She is currently working on a picture book series.



Monday, March 2, 2015

Love Triangles

Lately, more often than not, love triangles make me roll my eyes. I wish I could say I hated them, but honestly compels me to admit that there have been many, many books that I have read solely to find out which love interest the main character chooses (including an entire series of books, each about a different girl, that had covers featuring the main character standing torn between two boys). Also, you can’t watch as many K-dramas as I do without gaining an appreciation for a love triangle done right.

But how do you do a love triangle right?

First of all, there is no requirement that a story, even a YA novel, needs to have a love triangle. So if you don’t want to have a love triangle, don’t put one in your story. There are times, though, where a love triangle is a natural part of the plot/character development (Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch is a good example of this) or maybe you just want to explore some different avenues of growth with your main character. In that case, here are a few differences I've noticed between love triangles that annoy me and love triangles that tangle me up, torment me, and leave me desperate to know its conclusion:

(I know that there can be other love triangles besides the girl trying to decide between two boys, but since the majority of love triangles follow that prototype, I’ll refer to the main character as a she and the love interests as he.)

1. Both love interest have to have a chance at winning the main character’s heart.

This is one reason why I would say that the Edward-Bella-Jacob dynamic in the Twilight series wasn't, in fact, a love triangle. Oh, sure, Jacob wanted it to be a love triangle, but he really never had the chance. Bella was always, always going to choose Edward (much to the sorrow of those of us who liked Jacob best).

2. Balance the time spent with each love interest.

The love triangles that work the best keep the reader guessing which boy she’ll choose by having a positive interaction with Boy A, but a negative encounter with Boy B. Then the reverse happens and something goes wrong with Boy A, but she’s really clicking with Boy B. Keep that going and you’ll keep your readers as torn and conflicted as your MC.

3. Each love interest appeals to a different side of the main character.

Maybe one love interest constantly challenges and encourages the MC, pushes her to be better, to try harder, but the other is more easy-going and accepts her for who she is, flaws and all. Both traits can be good in a romantic relationship, but the question is: what does the MC want? Or rephrased a bit, who does the MC want to be? Does she want to be strong and tough or does she want something more nurturing? Both are good options, but she has to choose.

One of the reasons that love triangles are so prevalent in YA literature is that the teenage protagonist is still trying to figure out who she wants to be, whether it’s a doctor or a poet or a star basketball player or whatever. For good or bad, love interests can be a big influence on a teen and that’s part of why the decision between them can be so engrossing: the MC isn't just deciding who she loves. She’s deciding who she wants to BE.

4. Give your main character (and your readers) a reason to fall in love with both love interests.

Think about the good characteristics of each love interest. What makes him interesting? What makes him fun to be around? What is he passionate about? And then find ways to show that to your reader. Being brooding is all well and good, but I, for one, never fell for Darcy or Mr. Thornton or even Edward Cullen until I saw their good attributes. Darcy’s love for his sister, Mr. Thornton’s concern for the well-being of his people, etc.

Some love triangles that I think were done quite well:
The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni
The Raven Ring by Patricia C. Wrede
Pivot Point by Kasie West
Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

What other differences have you noticed between love triangles you like and ones you don’t? What are some love triangles that you think were done particularly successfully?


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Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she'll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she's now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving

Friday, February 27, 2015

Good News Giveaway

One of the things I love best about the writing community is generally how generous and supportive most writers are. We mourn when friends face rejections or low points; we celebrate when they hit new milestones.

Today, on the blog, we want to celebrate some recent milestones and good news from several of our contributors--and we want to invite you to celebrate with us!

To that end, we're hosting three different giveaways. You can enter one--or all three! The deadline for entries is midnight March 6. (Continental U.S. only, sadly. None of us are rich. Yet.)

What are we celebrating?

Here's some of our good news:

Kathryn Purdie, Elaine Vickers, and I have all recently sold our debut books: Katie's BURNING GLASS comes out Winter 2016 from Katherine Tegen Books, Elaine's LOST AND FOUND comes out 2016 from Harper Children's, and my BLOOD ROSE REBELLION comes out Fall 2016 from Knopf.

The final book in Helen Boswell's MYTHOLOGY series, THE ETERNAL comes out soon! Both film and TV rights have been optioned for the series.

Tasha Seegmiller has finished drafting and is deep in revisions on a lovely women's fiction novel (loosely inspired by Little Women) that you should hope gets picked up quickly because you want to read this.

Jolene Perry turned in a partial manuscript to her editor and bought her tickets fir LDStorymakers.

Erin Shakespear won a VIP pass to the upcoming LDStorymakers conference by having the very best bad book pitches, including such winning titles as 26 CLEVER WAYS TO STASH A BODY, an alphabet book, illustrated by children, *and* OH, THE PLACES YOU WON'T GO, a realistic picture book for children who'll probably end up living in their parent's basement.

Also, Erin just  moved into a lovely new house. 

What can you win?

Four Marvelous Middle Grade Novels



Fortunately, the Milk  The One and Only Ivan  The Time of the Fireflies  The Shadow Throne (The Ascendance Trilogy, #3)

Neil Gaiman's FORTUNATELY, THE MILK
Katherine Applegate's THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

Kimberley Griffiths Little's THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES

Jennifer Nielsen's SHADOW THRONE


Four Adventurous and Romantic YA Novels

 Forbidden (Forbidden, #1) Signed, Skye Harper  Fragments (Partials, #2)  Ruins (Partials Sequence, #3)

 Kimberley Griffiths Little's FORBIDDEN (yes, I know she shows up twice, but she's an agency sister so I'm biased)
Carol Lynch Williams' SIGNED, SKYE HARPER

Dan Wells' FRAGMENTS and RUINS




Four Romantic YA/NA/Adult books
 Beautiful On the Fence  Make It Last (Friends & Lovers, #1) I Choose You (Friends & Lovers, #2)
Amy Reed's BEAUTIFUL
Kasie West's ON THE FENCE
Bethany Lopez's MAKE IT LAST and I CHOOSE YOU



We'd love to hear your good news too! It doesn't have to be book related.

  a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Life as a Hybrid Author

We are thrilled to have Jolene Perry as our newest contributor, with the next installment in our "Life of a Writer" series!

First, let me say what “hybrid” means since the first picture I get in my head is of a Liger (I’m totally kidding) (mostly). Any-way…

A hybrid author is someone who publishes both with traditional publishers and self-publishes.

HOW I TURNED HYBRID:

When I first set out to be published (2010), self-publishing wasn’t even a thing. I mean, you could hire a vanity press to publish your books, and spend a small fortune doing it, but that was not at all what I wanted.

I got my first contract with CFI and my first agent within a few months of each other. My agent very quickly sold two of my YA novels to an ebook only publisher, and then over the next year, two more to traditional publishers (Entangled/Macmillan and AW Teen, who I love and am still with). But we were not a good fit for a ton of reasons, which could be a blog post all by itself.

So. I’d written a book called My Heart for Yours with my friend, Steph Campbell. She’d had a lot of success with her self-published novels, and since I was between agents, we published that book together. After the pressure and stress of cover arguments, and edits I was disappointed with and/or didn’t agree on, it was a welcome relief to control all of those things myself. Consequently, that book got me my current agent WHOM I LOVE.

My Heart for Yours did so well that when CFI offered on the next two books in The Next Door Boys series, I turned them down in favor of self-publishing.

For a while, self-publishing was very good to me. I had the benefit of professional edits, and friends who were cover designers to keep me on track.

And then everyone started self-publishing. I started to feel like I was getting lost in the shuffle, and I just wasn’t willing to play all the games to keep my books ahead.

I re-focused on traditional publishing, which has its own set of problems.

And then I realized something very important. Something that took me an embarrassingly long time to understand, when it should have been obvious from the beginning: Not all projects are meant for traditional publishing and not all projects are meant for self-publishing. (at least for me)

So, now I decide at some point in the writing process if I’m going to self pub, or trad pub. I’m very fortunate to have an agent who has no problems with me doing both. I just have to watch the language in my contracts with traditional publishers to make sure I’m not in breach or stepping on toes.

I’ve done this by keeping my full length YA in traditional houses, and self-publishing my adult romances under pen names.

This is what works for me. For sure it wouldn’t work for everyone.

THE PROBLEMS?

Well, aside from what I just mentioned, I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in anywhere. I know that hybrids are more and more common, but very often I feel like I’m standing on this bright line between two publishing avenues. The self-pubbers don’t take much notice because my numbers aren’t high enough for them to bother hanging with me. The traditional only pubbers don’t take much notice because I’m one of those “self pubbers.”

I know that the bias is changing and shifting, and I’m grateful for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that I sometimes feel like the last kid picked for the dodgeball team. (And I really love dodgeball)

THE BEST PART ABOUT BEING HYBRID?

For the first time in a long time, authors have a lot of avenues for their work. If a book doesn’t sell, or if a contract isn’t what an author wants, they still have a way to get that work into the world.

I love self-publishing for the freedom, and I love traditional publishing for the audience. And because, as petty and vain as it is, I love to see my books on bookshelves ;-)

In the end, the best we can do is learn what we can, make decisions and plans, and then have a back-up for when nothing turns out the way we expect. And this goes for a lot more than publishing books.

Thanks SO VERY MUCH FOR HAVING ME!!

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Jolene Perry wears worn out Chucks, juvenile t-shirts, and eats too much chocolate. She loves to go fast, love french fries dipped in Frosties, and stories that keep her guessing. She writes for Entangled, Albert Whitman Teen, and Simon Pulse. Author of lots of books.

She is represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management and Rachel Stout, also of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management.

She write speculative fiction under the name AJ Brooks and new adult fiction under the name Mia Josephs

Monday, February 23, 2015

It's About Time

I have been engaged in many conversations lately regarding time. Not necessarily the philosophical element, but the way to utilize it better. I used to be an expert on wasting time, finding things that I "had" to do that made me feel busy but rarely left me feeling satisfied. I used to blame the people around me for not having time, but when I did, it got lost in pretty much any way possible.

A year ago, I decided I'd had enough. Enough of my own excuses. Enough blaming my family. Enough spoiling the time I had.

However, there were some modifications that had to take place. I am naturally a morning person. In college, most of my essays were written between 4:30 and 7:00 am. I can wake up, take a deep breath and face the day. However, the job I have now requires that I be at work by 7:20 in the morning, and between exercising, showering, and the religious time I spend with my kids, trying to fit in another hour or two of writing would require me to rise much earlier than mental cognition allows. As such, I have had to retrain myself to be productive.

Chances are, if you are not gifted the opportunity to write full time, such modifications are probably necessary as well. I have a few suggestions for the best way to reprogram your productivity.

Establish a Sense of Place. 

I know some people have the luxury of an office, a place where they and their writing can become one. My desk is in the center of my home, sharing the open space that contains the living room and dining room. I have three kids, a busy husband, and no room in my house to have a space of my own.

But just as the routine of putting kids to bed at night *theoretically* helps them settle for the evening better, the sense of place is more a way to notify the brain it's time to write. I open my laptop, turn off facebook, stop the things that make me feel productive but are really procrastination in disguise, put on my cute red SkullCandy headphones, and turn on my classical music. I notify my kids and spouse that I need to get some writing in, and when they interrupt (it will happen), my response is a kind but firm, "I'm writing".

And then I do.

Period.

Be Deliberate

Determine how much you need to accomplish every day to get where you want to be. If you are writing in nap-time, write for all of nap-time. If you have mentioned that it is necessary for two hours to be spent writing, make those two deliberate hours of working. It may be, when you are first starting, that you need to provide yourself with some motivation. You may be familiar with the Pomodoro Technique. I like this strategy as well because it gives me an excuse to be a little healthier. When my time limit is up, I will often then do 20 squats, throw in a few push-ups, etc.

Don't think this is only a beginning technique. I had half this post written, found myself getting distracted by ALL THE THINGS and set a timer for ten minutes. I will use it as well, to jump start drafts or revisions.

If you, like me, have had to retrain your natural writing time,

Be Aware of the Cost and Benefit of EVERYTHING

One of the things I have really asked myself lately is

What is the cost? 
and 
What is the benefit? 

If something is going to take a half hour or an hour, time when I could be spending either with my family or on my writing, it has to earn that time. I have dreams - big ones - and none of them involve binge watching a series in record time, being on a higher level of Candy Crush than all my other friends, etc.

I take time out each week for self-reflection, thanks to these incredible journal pages by Jamie Raintree who founded the Motivated Women Reflection Journal Project. I am seriously considering what I want, what I'm doing to get there, and that kind of centering sets the tone for my week. I'm on the board for two community organizations because I belong to a community and feel the importance of giving back. I help edit several articles for the WFWA quarterly ezine because I like the association with an organization that is trying to encourage others. I run two clubs at the high school where I teach because I could see there were students who would benefit from that kind of affiliation and I knew I could work it in with minimal disruption to what I have going on. I am not, however, a member of the PTA, have never run a book fair or a bake sale, or anything of the like because the cost was too high for me.

Managing time, like everything else takes practice. But chances are you are reading this because you have dreams, goals, or maybe deadlines you are avoiding. We cannot escape time, we can't earn it back, and it slips away faster than we often realize.

The trickiest thing about time is the accountability for how we spend it lies within ourselves.

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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Writers: Are You Remembering to Take Care of Your Health?

Writing isn't easy. Writing requires a lot of extra time. Writing requires sacrifice.

How many of us have ever sacrificed sleep, diet, and exercise until we got that draft finished, or those revisions done, or those edits completed? *raises hand a million times.* The problem is when the list of sacrifices plus the list of things "to do" stack up. Sometimes they stack up so much that they topple over and crush us.


I'm guilty of putting my health second to writing. I used to rationalize my crazy writing schedule and crappy diet by saying that I would take a short hiatus when I finished my next book and finally work on those things then. But new projects developed, deadlines happened, collaborative projects demanded my attention, and that planned hiatus? That was three books ago.

I knew my life required change a little over a year ago when I started having health issues. Note that these aren't necessarily as a result of writing, but they did coincide with the time of my life when I was writing on a rather maniacal schedule. It wasn't until recently that I was forced to make some fairly drastic changes in my life, and I am amazed at how my major health issues have improved, how much more energy I have, and how overall less stressed I am.

I am NO expert, but these are some of the things that I've found have made a difference in my life (all of which were recommended by my physician). Even if you don't require a major overhaul like I did, maybe they can help you too. At the very least, they're worth thinking about.

1. Stock up on healthier snacks and beverages. Chocolate, diet soda, and sugary treats are staples for lots of writer friends of mine (believe me, I was guilty of chocolate. Lots of chocolate.) But sugar and sugar substitutes cause energy spikes and crashes and long-term use can wreak havoc on your health. At the very least, try to incorporate healthy snacks as part of your regimen. And while these aren't for everyone, if you require daily caffeine boosts, coffee and green tea even have antioxidant properties (plus other recently discovered benefits that can even be in decaf versions!) My favorite writing snack: apples or carrots dipped in almond butter or guacamole. My favorite writing beverage: green tea with pomegranate

2. Take stretch breaks. Prolonged sitting dramatically increases chances for serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Recent studies show that even if you exercise regularly, the effects of that exercise will NOT counteract the damage done from sitting for long periods of time. The health risk goes down when you get up intermittently to take breaks. (Read one of the many recent articles on this here.) Get up and stretch in between short writing sprints. Or write at a standing desk. Or try working while sitting on an exercise ball instead of on a chair (It's actually kind of fun!)

3. Reevaluate your sleep schedule. I used to force myself to stay up until past midnight to get writing done. I mean, hey -- I worked all morning and was with kids all afternoon and evening, so late night was my time. I would often write until I was bleary-eyed, or sometimes even when I was half-asleep, and in the morning, would wake up to a bunch of crappy words and a lot of frustration AND I would still be tired. Over the last month, I have been going to bed earlier (sometimes ridiculously early) and waking up early enough to get in a good hour and sometimes two hours of writing before my kids got up for the day. Ultimately, you need to do whatever works best for you and your brain, but it's always worth a second look. :)

What about you? Suggestions for a healthier writing snack or healthier writing habit?
________________________________________


Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL (coming 2015) and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She is also one of the authors on the YA/NA crossover anthology LOSING IT.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Storyist: The Other Scrivener

Every time I post a picture of my workspace on Instagram or Facebook, people want to know, "What writing program are you using?" Or, "Is that Scrivener?" No, it's not Scrivener, but I'm surprised more people don't know what it is. The program is called Storyist and today I'm going to tell you how it's similar to Scrivener, how it's different, and why I switched.

I was first introduced to Storyist when I got an iPad. Up until then, I'd been an avid Scrivener user and promoter, so the very first thing I did before I even bought my iPad was go to the Scrivener website to see if they had an iPad app. They didn't. They promised an iPad version was coming but that was over two years ago and I have yet to see an app happen. So I went on the lookout for an novel writing app and found Storyist. I was so happy with the app that when I bought a new laptop, I decided to stick with it.


So let me tell you more about Storyist.

There are a couple things you should know off the bat. First, it's only available for Mac and iOS so if you don't use Apple products, this won't be a good fit for you. Second, it is more expensive than Scrivener, but in my opinion, worth every penny. That said, here's why I love using Storyist: 

FEATURES THAT WILL BE FAMILIAR TO SCRIVENER USERS 

Chapter and Scene Breakdown. In my opinion, the best reason to use any novel-writing software is the chapter and scene breakdown. To me, there is nothing worse than scrolling through a never-ending Word document to insert a new scene, or especially to reorganize several scenes or chapters. Both programs allow you to create sections for new chapters and new scenes, and lists them in a menu on the left for easy navigation. This alone is worth the cost of either program.

Split-Pane View. As you can see in my picture above, I like to be able to look at my characters as I work. You can also split the screen to see your index cards as you write, or between two different scenes--say, if you want to copy from one and paste into another. The both also have full screen view to limit distractions.

Index Card Outlining. Another must-have feature for noveling. In both programs, you can create a index cards for each scene with notes about what you'd like to include in that scene. Index cards will link directly to individual scenes, making it easy to switch from outlining to writing, and allowing you to move them around freely as your story changes and grows. They both have outliner views as well with a list of the chapters and scenes with the details you've written in. This is such a helpful way to stay organized.

Sections for Research and Images. Instead of having information spread out throughout multiple programs and notebooks (Oh, who am I kidding? I still do this.), there are areas in each program to collect research, notes, and images.


FEATURES I LIKE ABOUT STORYIST

iPad App. As I mentioned before, Storyist has an iPad app, which Scrivener does not yet have. Some might not be interested in this and I now mostly use my laptop, but one thing I loved about writing on my iPad was the portability and comfort. If you like using an iPad, you could get a bluetooth keyboard and work almost exactly like you do on a laptop, though there are not as many features on the iOS version. The one downside is at this point, the iOS and Mac versions to not sync with each other. 

Story Sheets. At first these things weirded me out. They are pre-formatted for characters, settings, plot, and sections, and it took me a couple tries to understand how to use them. Once I figured them out, though, I kind of fell in love with them. They're hard to explain in a blog post but you can check them out here. One of the coolest things about them is you can link them to each other--like if you're working on a plot sheet, you can link to the important characters involved in that plot point for easy navigation to the character sheets.

Compiling. For me, this was the clincher. The thing that always drove me crazy in Scrivener was that compiling was so complicated and I never could figure it out. When I did manage to get my novel into Word, reformatting it took so much time. When I was giving pages to my critique partners every week, I wanted to tear my hair out doing this week after week after week. In Storyist, it's already compiled and formatted as you work. It's broken down by chapters and sections, yes, but it's also one big document that you can scroll through freely and that is formatted as you go. Whenever you need to share your pages, you can just export it into Word and all the formatting sticks.

Simplicity. What you see on my screen in the picture above is what you get. That's all the buttons and all the features (aside from the formatting and preferences provided in all programs). No, there are no major editing features, no tagging and tools and color-coding and cross referencing. You'll still find a comment feature, a bookmark feature, and target goals, but otherwise you can just open the program and get to work. If your novel-writing software needs aren't extensive or technology overwhelms you, this could be a breath of fresh air for you.

So for those of you who were curious, I hope I've answered some of your questions. If you're interested in finding out more or want to download the program, you'll of course want to visit the Storyist website. If you have any other questions, I'm happy to answer them to the best of my knowledge! Just leave a comment below or find me on Facebook!

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Jamie Raintree writes Women's Fiction about women searching for truth in life and love. She is currently working on revisions of her first novel in preparation for submission to publishers. In the meantime, she blogs about her journey toward a well-balanced life and a career in publishing--her struggles and successes along the way. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and two young daughters and is a Workshop Coordinator for the Women's Fiction Writers Association.