Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I'm a two-boxer!

It's official! I'm a two-boxer. That's what we nicknamed me now that I turned 25 and we discovered it takes TWO packs of candles to light my birthday cake. Apparently candles here only come 24 in a box, so....I'm now officially a two-boxer.

Not sure how I feel about that =P

We got up early yesterday and drove almost two hours to a zoo in Texas - just me, Hubby, and Little Miss. We had a perfect day - toted her around or pushed the stroller, showed her all the animals, ate lunch by the giraffes and elephants, shopped in the gift shop, went in the petting zoo. It was the best birthday I could ask for.

(You know you're a mommy when your birthday focus turns toward your child....and you LOVE it!!) =)

Here are some pics from our trip!

Doesn't this look like a postcard???

Maybe a little scarey!! lol

Loved the penguins!!

Not sure if you all remember my blog a few years back about this bird walk-about. (read it again HERE) I stayed out this time but Audrey bravely went in with Daddy.

Feeding the ducks!

Not sure what to think of the petting zoo!!

We stopped by the gift shop on the way out and Audrey picked out a toy - a stuffed giraffe. We named it Gi-Gi. SHE LOVED IT!! Wouldn't let go long enough to pay. So she sat on the counter by the register while the clerk rang it up and cut the tag off for her. haha.

We got home mid-afternoon and all took naps before going to a b-day dinner at a favorite restaurant with my parents, grandparents and sister. (Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro!) Then my parents took Audrey home with them so I could hang out with Hubby for awhile. He's playing softball on a league with the fire dept. and he wanted me to come watch his game, but it didn't start 'til 9. Way too late for a Little Miss to be out! So she went home all snuggly with my parents and I sat outside on the bleachers at the park and cheered Hubby on in the cold! But it was great! We also spent 45 minutes in Books-A-Million.

My parents!

My Pappaw ordered this banana split for his dinner. Isn't it gigantic?? 3 people ate out of it and still didn't finish!!! lol

What a day! Family, food, animals, books. Doesn't get much better!! Happy birthday to me!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Quarter of a century...

Today is my 25th birthday! I'm spending my day OFF WORK and with my little family. Yay! I'll blog tomorrow on my birthday events! =)

Friday, March 27, 2009


And the winner of ILLUMINATED is...












































Email me at betsystamant@yahoo.com with your mailing address and I'll ship this ASAP.

Thanks for playing, everyone!
Check back soon, I have lots more books to give away! =)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's really not so bad...

I was doing my daily Bible reading today in Hebrews 11 - one of my favorite chapters. "My" verse since I was a younger teenager has always been Hebrews 11:1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

I got to the end of the chapter, and a thought struck me. We really don't have it that bad. Even if the midst of economic crisis and a national recession, seriously - its not that bad. Check this out:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms...Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

Wow. Next time I have a bad day or think I've got problems, I'm going to look around and take note that there is no one chasing me with a sword. No one determined to kill me because of what I believe. No one waiting to torture me for my faith. I'm going to be grateful that I'm not lost on a mountain or in a desert.

Most of all, I'm going to remember the heroes of the Bible - many of them unsung - and realize how good I've really got it...how good Americans really have it!!! So the economy is down. So things are more expensive. So we're having to cut back and sacrifice on a few things. For many Americans these days, sacrificing means buying Starbucks once a week instead of five times a week. What do we know about it? We've never been persecuted for our faith. Never had to deal with the world as the heroes of the Bible had to. And yet we wonder why our faith isn't like theirs? We wonder why God spoke to them more clearly than He seems to to us now-a-days?

It seems obvious to me.

I don't mean to make light of the families truly struggling right now. I realize there are people the recession has hit harder than others, especially those who have lost their jobs. But for the majority of us right now, we have nothing to complain about.

We're not wearing goatskin, right? =)

Don't worry, the ending of the chapter is a little happier:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Just some thoughts for your Thursday morning.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cleaning house!

Today is another book giveaway day!
Leave a comment on this post to win a copy of Matt Bronleewe's ILLUMINATED. This is a very unique treasure-hunt story, which reminds me of THE DA VINCI CODE, but without all the bad theology ideas. =)

August Adams has failed his family before. He's sacrificed relationships in pursuit of adventure, fame, and money. Now the very lives of those he loves depend on his ability to decipher a centuries-old puzzle encrypted in the colorful hand-painted illuminations that adorn three rare Gutenberg Bibles.

It's a secret that could yield unimaginable wealth, undermine two major religions, and change the course of Western civilization. Two ruthless, ancient organizations are willing to do anything to get their hands on it. And August has the span of one transatlantic flight to figure it out.

One of the reasons I am giving away this book (my only copy) is because while I enjoyed the basic plot of the story, it simply had too much volence for me. I felt the violence and gore was completely unnecessary to the plot, and other reviews on Amazon agree with me. This is definitely not a story for the average church library! However, if those issues don't bother you, then please sign up to win the copy. Maybe you'll enjoy it more than me! I feel this book deserves a home and an appreciative reader!

Drawing will be held Friday morning, March 27th! Sign up now!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring has sprung!

Well, it's topping 80 degrees here this week, and the pollen is out in full force!
To celebrate Spring, let's take a fun little quiz. =)

What Part of Spring Are You?

My results below!

You Are Baseball Games

You like old fashioned things. You're one of those people who values tradition.
You enjoy a slow pace of life. You believe that life is all about enjoying every moment.
You love the changing of the seasons, and you look forward to what each season brings.
You are smart and a bit obsessive. You become very immersed in your interests.

Funny that my score was about baseball, because right, I am LOVING Allison Pittman's new novel, STEALING HOME. I'm not quite done yet but its absolutely fantastic! A historical about a famous, but alcoholic baseball player sent to dry up at a small, lovely little town - and shakes things up for everyone when he gets there, especially prim and proper Ms. Ellie Jane!

Monday, March 23, 2009

What NOT to write?

I read a book last week that I couldn't put down. Not because of the typical page-turning reasons, though...no, this time, I was turning pages for a completely different reason - because the book was THAT bad.

Story, decent. Craft? Awful.

After several emails and texts to my crit partner about it (I was stunned, seriously the writing was SHOCKING to me!) she suggested that I write a what-not-to-do blog.

Let me clarify a few things first. First, I am obviously NOT an expert writer, and I'm not trying to diss another author or look like a know-it-all. Secondly, I'm still getting started in my own writing career and because of that, I'm usually lenient on other authors, especially fellow newbies. We all have to learn and grow, and we all strive to make our next story better than our last.

But this novel was written by an author who is multi-published in a variety of houses. What was extra confusing was that this book also received mostly good reviews on Amazon! So I'm not still not sure what made all this faults jump out at me when apparently they didn't to others. I'm not going to post a bad review, or tell you which book or author this was out of respect. I just want to share the tips I picked up - things to watch for in my own writing because they obviously bother me so badly! lol

Here we go.


#1. Plausibility. Realism is so important, even in fiction. So when characters show up in the middle of the book from NO WHERE and conveniently solve all of the hero's problems, its just not believable. In this story, the hero was in angst over a certain issue in his life, and all of a sudden, here comes so and so to save the day. I felt cheated. It wasn't a real solution. All that time I had invested with the hero in wondering how he was going to figure out an answer was wasted. And I was mad!

#2. Repeated words. I've been really watching this in my own writing lately and my crit partner is helping me out. Its so easy to use repeated words in a paragraph or even a sentence or two apart. At the time of writing, its the word that comes the easiest so you write it down. But when you go back and read it, you realize there are usually 2 or 3 other ways to say the same thing and avoid that repeated word that jarrs the reader from the story.

#3. Point of view. This author didn't head-hop, thank goodness. The book was divided in 3 POVs throughout, as is common. But then a new character, that I believe wasn't mentioned except once "in passing" toward the begining of the story, suddenly popped up with a point of view chapter toward the end of the novel! I've never seen that before and it was jarring. I still don't think it was necessary, even after finishing the book. I'm completely confused why the author did that.

#4. Voice. Voice is important in a story. Every author has their own voice that shines through the pages. But more than that is character voice. Each character in a novel should sound somewhat different than the other characters. Not just in how they think, but in how they talk.

An example of showing voice in narrative is having a city boy think in terms of city metaphors. A man born and raised and working in NYC wouldn't realistically compare the heroine's blonde hair to a waving wheat field. He would compare it to something familiar that he knows, maybe money - a copper coin. Or maybe he'd think her eyes were as green as the grass in Central Park. (not the best examples, but you see what I mean!) This author in this story had a handle on the narrative voice. But not in "vocals". Each character in the story SOUNDED the same in their dialogue. This made the conversations sound very stilted and out of place. Sometimes the characters would even sound a little too uppity, like maybe they'd sound more realistic set on an English countryside instead of America.

These were just a few of the things that jumped out at me over and over in the story. I hope to learn from this and maybe you can too. And despite all of this, I plan to give this particular author another chance with a different novel down the road! =)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

As many of you have probably been able to tell from Google's homepage, today is the 40th anniversary of the beloved children's story THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR.
Eric Carle wrote many famous children's tales on a variety of animals. Caterpillars, birds, elephants, roosters, sea horses, panda bears, and turtles only start the list!

THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR was published in 1969. What I think is really neat is that today is “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day,” so schools, libraries and bookstores will be hosting a variety of events and activities to celebrate. Can you imagine, as an author, having this level of fame? The fame part would be cool, of course, but not just that - I'm talking about touching children's lives and the lives of their families for 40 years running!! How amazing! Isn't that every author's goal? To touch lives and have our message linger in the hearts of readers for days, weeks, decades to come?

Makes you want to seriously consider the message you are sharing!

Here's an interesting blurb from Eric Carle's website:

Also in March, a special edition of the book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar Pop-Up Book featuring Eric Carle’s illustrations in a 3-dimensional format, will be available for sale at your local bookstore.

FUN!! Seriously, if you aren't familiar with these stories, please buy them in honor of Eric Carle today (and support the book industry!) or check them out from your local library. Your kids will thank you!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

These Boots Were Made For.... ?

In honor of my new WIP set on a Texas ranch, I thought it'd be fun to take a little quiz about boots! Are your boots made for walking? Stomping? Strutting?

My results below! =)

What Kind of Boots Are You?

You Are Riding Boots

You are very sophisticated.
You have refined tastes, and you don't fall for cheesy trends.
You are naturally chic and stylish.
You can pull together a great look in no time flat.
You don't need a lot of flash or bling in your life.
You prefer the glamour of the understated.
You treasure wisdom.
You are attracted to ideas and things that have stood the test of time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Come visit me!!!


Come visit me and read my post on the blessings of friendship!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Our Heavenly Father Knows Best

This was an article I wrote that was just published last Friday on WWW.CROSSWALK.COM
Be sure to check out their website for more articles on parenting, finances, love, and your spiritual life.


You’ve probably heard the phrase “having a baby changes everything.” Until six months ago, I had no idea exactly how much! The saying is so very true, but what they leave out is the fact that it changes everything for the better.

Sure, there are dirty diapers and spit up stains to deal with. Yes, there is extra laundry, less money, and a whole lot less sleep! Yet despite those things, I’ve never experienced anything quite like being a mother to Audrey, and I can’t see what on this earth could possibly be a better or more rewarding experience.

Being a mom has taught this Type A woman so much. I’ve learned that it’s okay to let the house get messy at times, that I don’t have to always have everything in its place every second anymore. I’ve learned that beds don’t have to made every single day, dishes don’t have to be washed the minute they’re in the sink, and a slight level of dust isn’t going to hurt anyone. I come home from work and know that immediately putting away the clean laundry isn’t nearly as important as spending quality time snuggling my daughter. Playing peek-a-boo wins out over vacuuming every time, and letting her fall asleep in my arms definitely beats paying the bills.

Of course things still have to get done eventually, and I still do them (most of the time). But I’ve loosened up a lot. This is the first year I’ve been married that my Christmas tree has stayed up past New Year’s weekend! It might linger until February at this point! But that’s okay. To me, being there for my family is more important than a super-clean house or preparing cooking-show quality meals. I can’t do everything all the time, and when I get the choice, I choose my family.

Not only has motherhood loosened me up about my Type A tendencies, it’s also opened my eyes to an entirely new perspective of my relationship with God. The other day I was getting Audrey’s bottle ready, and the whole time I was mixing the formula, gathering the bib and burp cloth, shaking the bottle, and settling into the chair, she was in no uncertain terms letting me know exactly how slow I was moving! She cried and cried at the top of her lungs until I popped that bottle in her mouth. Then she looked at me with eyes that clearly said “Oh. There it is. Thanks.”

As I held her and fed her, I explained that she didn’t need to fuss, that Mommy will always make sure she has exactly what she needs, exactly when she needs it. And in that moment, I was struck with a thought so powerful I almost dropped her bottle. God does the same thing for us. Yet how many times do we fuss and complain and moan and cry that we aren’t getting what we want, exactly when we want it?

I wonder if God sees us that way sometimes. There we are, complaining loudly about something we don’t understand, while He sees the big picture. He knows what we need is on its way, yet our impatient human flesh demands it sooner. I bet He smiles that loving, parental smile of unconditional love, shakes His head a little and thinks “Oh, if you only knew!”— just like I did with Audrey.

Catching that glimpse makes me want to do better as a child of God, and trust Him completely. If my mother’s instincts for Audrey are right, how much more are our Heavenly Father’s instincts toward us? If I want to do what is best for Audrey as a human, flawed, sinful mother, how much more does God love us as a perfect, holy, flawless Father?

Even knowing that, still we often worry. We wonder if our priorities aren’t God’s priorities. We wonder if He has something different for us than what we want. We wonder if what He has planned is better than what we would plan.

God makes us an incredible promise in Jeremiah 29:11 regarding this very thing. “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Hmmm. Prosper, hope, a future—sounds pretty good to me!

Just like Audrey will eventually learn that her parents will take care of her, we as children of God need to learn that He will do the same with us. We need to trust His plan, His timing, and His heart. As I continue to care for Audrey, she will begin to see that her needs are met, and oftentimes even her wants. She will further trust me as she grows to depend on me more and more.

Let that be your prayer to God today. Ask Him to help you trust and depend on Him. Ask Him to give you faith like a child.

And remember—Father knows best!

Monday, March 16, 2009


And the winner is...

~ CATHY! ~

Thanks to everyone who played and please check back soon for more contests and giveaways.

Cathy, email me at betsystamant@yahoo.com with your mailing address and I'll get this free autographed copy of WITH ENDLESS SIGHT to you ASAP. Enjoy!

Also, readers - don't forget to check out Allison's website HERE for more info on her and her fantastic stories. She has a new release coming soon STEALING HOME that is absolutely wonderful! It will be released in mid-April.
(I got an advance copy from the publisher for review! haha =P )

Don't miss this exciting new novel! It's a very special book to Allison and I know it will be to her readers as well.

Here's the blurb:

It’s 1905 and the Chicago Cubs are banking on superstar Donald “Duke” Dennison’s golden arm to help them win the pennant. Only one thing stands between Duke and an unprecedented ten thousand dollar contract: alcohol. That’s when sportswriter David Voyant whisks Duke to the one-horse town of Picksville, Missouri, so he can sober up in anonymity. He bides his time flirting with Ellie Jane Voyant, his unofficial chaperone, who would rather hide herself in the railway station ticket booth than face the echoes of childhood taunts. Ned Clovis, the feed store clerk, has secretly loved Ellie Jane since childhood, but he loves baseball and the Duke almost as much–until he notices Ellie Jane may be succumbing to the star’s charm. Then there’s Morris, a twelve-year-old Negro boy, whose only dream is to break away from Picksville. When Duke discovers his innate talent for throwing a baseball, Morris might just have found his way out.Four individuals, each living in haunted isolation, each harboring a secret passion. Providence brings them together. Tragedy threatens to tear them apart. Will love be enough to bring them home?

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Knight Rides a Silver Steed

So yesterday, I left work and was happily driving along. (I have a good 30 minute trip from work to our house in the country) I took my interstate exit and stopped at the red light at the base of the exit's hill. When I started going again at the greenlight, I heard a weird grating noise. I thought maybe I had run over some cardboard or plastic and it was trying to free itself from my wheel well.

But it kept on, so I slowed down and looked carefully to make sure I wasn't too far over in the lane and hitting those lane grid divider thingies. Nope. Still grating.

I pulled over on the shoulder (which was pretty wide, thankfully) and got out to check my tires. I had a sinking suspicion, and yes, sure enough, my back passenger side tire was COMPLETELY flat. We're talking IHOP Pancake here.

I got back in the car and thought "now what?" My dad taught me how to change a tire once but that was one lesson, seven years ago, and well, as you can imagine, it didn't really stick. Plus it was 40 degrees or colder outside, drizzly, and rapidly approaching sunset.


Hubby was not at work, thankfully, and was at home with our daughter. So I called him and - yay, she wasn't asleep! - and said "Guess what?" He told me he'd be there ASAP, which I knew would take a solid 20 minutes at best, coming all the way from our house.

So I hung up, feeling pretty grateful that I had a hubby who was accesible AND who knew how to change a tire.

Then I realized the drama this was going to involve. Driving on a spare until Saturday, going to the tire store, possibly buying a new tire or at best having them fix it, all of which cost major $. But what can you do? A girl's gotta have wheels - literally.

So I flipped on my flashers and waited. And waited. Called my mom to chat. Waited. Called my dad to chat. Waited. Texted. Waited some more.

Then a cop pulled up and asked if I was okay, after announcing the obvious. "Looks like you've got a flat tire there little lady." (yes, Little Lady) This was one country sheriff! Then he said he had to take someone home that was already in his squad car but he'd be back to check on me and make sure no one was bothering me.

He left, and there I sat weighing that particular phrase over and over in my mind. "Make sure no one bothers you."

Well, thanks for putting that in my head, as the sun begins to set and I'm here alone.

The next 15 minutes were spent staring in my mirrors, praying no one else would stop. Then I realized it was kind rude of them NOT to stop and try to help a stranded motorist, so I alternated between feeling relieved and insulted at each car/truck/18-wheeler that whizzed past.

Then I got really worked up about how people still zipped by me in the lane closest to me, even though they could have gotten over and given my gimpy car some room. The wind from their vehicles rocked my car over and over.

So there I sat, angry, relieved, frustrated, and insulted, and still waiting. I texted my critique partner and friend Georgiana Daniels and told her my situation and that I felt like a sitting duck. Does she offer wise words of wisdom? Tips on self defense? Sympathy and encouragement? No. Her response?

"Quack quack".

Thanks, G.

She really did do that, but she also panicked in all the right places beore and after and commiserated. =) Nothing like texting companionship in a crisis! We also agreed it was times like those that made us regret ever having written suspense! lol

Finally Hubby arrived, having had to borrow a jack from a neighbor and bundle Little Miss up before coming out in the cold. He changed the tire pretty quickly as Little Miss napped in the truck with the heat on. Thankfully the rain held off for those few minutes while he worked. (has anyone EVER changed a tire on a pretty, sunny, spring afternoon? No, its always either 140 degrees, raining, or 30 below. Go figure!)

(And yes, my cop never showed back up. Thanks for that, Mr. Tax Dollars At Work! Okay, still a little bitter. lol)

My friend texted me and mentioned how she was super glad I had a hubby who knew how to do all these handy things, and that they would have had to call a tow truck. I thought about that and realized I really am married to a hero! My hero! He can change tires, even fix minor mechanical issues with our vehicles, deal with electricity and plumbing, repair basically anything around the house. Paint, and make it look good. Plant trees and they remain upright in heavy wind. Mow the grass, plant bushes, make flowerbeds. He's the bottle maker, tractor driver, gun shooter, bug killer of the family. He can do a load of laundry and kiss boo-boos better. He can play lacrosse or horsie with equal fervor. Overall, the perfect hubby and daddy.

So here's a salute to my knight in shining armor. There's no white horse, but there is a very large, very silver steed that roars so loudly in parking garage he often sets off car alarms.

Thanks, Hubby, for being my hero. Mmmmmuah!!! =)

PS - he not only changed the tire, he also had a tire repair kit at home. So he took the tire to the gas station, aired it up, found the hole, repaired it, and put my original tire back on. All for free!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

For the frazzled writer...

Today, I'd like to encourage writers who feel discouraged. Maybe you've not yet received that elusive contract. Maybe you're still trying to land that star agent. Maybe you feel like giving up. I hear things like "The economy is bad so why even bother right now" or "I'm just not good enough to compete."

In regards to the economy, here's a fact. Just like sex sells, so does bad news. Have you ever heard people refusing to watch the local news or read the newspaper? That's because, unless there is a special segment, 99% of that news is depressing. So and so was killed, so and so died in a wreck, so and so started a school shooting, so and so is wanted for robbery.... It's ratings. It sells. The stories about kittens rescued from trees, families who are paying their bills, and positive church community outreaches just don't usually make the cut. So ignore the doom and gloom stats from the news and keep reaching for your goal. I've read as many articles saying that publishing is doing fine as I've read that its a sinking ship. Just step back, reevaluate your goals, and KEEP AT IT. More than likely, the economy will pick back up next year. And publishers will be feening for books! So be sure to have one ready to submit =)

As for the "just not good enough" excuse - here's a good, firm kick in your behind. And that's all I have to say about that.

Here's an interesting quote by Kevin Alexander. "Statistics say that almost everyone in America is working on a novel. But how many of them will actually finish it? The percentage is so small that it doesn't even compute on nonscientific calculators. Are you one of the few, the elite, the unrecognizable percentage who will actually finish your novel?"


Think about how many people will actually finish theirs. Kevin says the number is so small it wouldn't even show up on a calculator!! And its probably safe to say that a good 1/2 or 1/4 of THOSE people's work is going to be very amateur because its from writers too lazy to pursue the art of their craft and learn by going to conferences, getting critique partners, studying other novels, attending workshops, etc. etc. etc.

Think how far head of the game this makes YOU! YOU, the author who is trying, learning, and growing every day. YOU, the author who has completed one or even several novels and is actively attempting publication or agent representation. YOU, the author who is networking, attending conferences, and getting your name and smiling face in front of the industry.

YOU, my friend, are getting close. Don't give up now!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I'm giving away a FREE, AUTOGRAPHED copy of the novel posted below. Allison just signed it for me this past weekend at a local writer's conference. You don't want to miss this story!

Here's the blurb:

Belleville, Illinois and Wyoming Territories, 1861 Born into a life of privilege, fourteen-year-old Belinda never questions her security, even as she leaves Illinois with her family to discover new adventures in the Oregon Territory. But when disaster falls, Belinda is left wounded, weak, and alone. Her faith in God gives her the only strength she knows in a harsh new world. Belinda’s journey takes her to a snow-covered mining camp and a red-roofed brothel in the Wyoming mountains, but not before she must spend a lonely winter with the man who took away the life she knew. Throughout the grief and hope of a strange land, Belinda must decide if her faith is big enough to allow her to forgive. The satisfying conclusion to the Crossroads of Grace series, With Endless Sight offers a rich story of family, new beginnings, and the freedom that grace can bring.

To sign up to win this FREE, AUTOGRAPHED copy of "With Endless Sight", leave a message in the comment section with a quick note about why you want this novel.
The drawing will be held Monday morning, March 16.

I blogged yesterday about Allison's class on dialogue I attended at last weekend's conference. And guys, this chick writes even better than she teaches! You do NOT want to miss this opportunity. Her series was what got me interested in reading historical fiction - before, I never touched them. Now, I'm addicted and know you will be too. =)

Sign up now!

And don't forget to visit Allison's website HERE and learn about the other books in this passionate, heartfelt series on grace.

PS - Don't forget to check back Monday to see if you WON!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


As promised, here are some of my notes from my two favorite workshops at the NOLA conference this past weekend.

The first class I attended was taught by Renee Ryan, on the topic of Subtext. She says that "a scene is never about what the scene is about". She showed us a clip of the movie Atonement and we got to see firsthand how the scene (about a broken vase) was not about the broken vase at all, but rather about the tension between the characters. Every phrase was heavy with subtext. This is what makes such great novels (and movies!)

Renee also says "Subtext is what lies under the action of the scene". Again with the broken vase example.

Think about your favorite books. How many times do you see a character doing something without a reason? Pretty rarely, if the book is well written, anyway. If characters are hanging around, talking or drinking tea or coffee, there better be something else going on in the scene other than hanging out and drinking tea or coffee. Otherwise, the reader is bored. There is no propelling action. Every scene needs that layer of subtext to give depth, or else you come away with an empty novel.

There is a common phrase "Write what you know". Renee believes , however, that we actually "write who we are". I really liked that! Think about it for a minute. Our feelings and emotions and backgrounds come into our stories, subconsciously or not. She gave an example of a friend who was writing a lighthearted romantic comedy, but something about the story was just way off. Renee later realized that the friend was going through a really dark time in her life and that bitterness and anger was coming through on the page - in a comedy! It obviously wasn't working. So whether we want to write what we know or not, we tend to write who we are. Very interesting thoughts!

There was more to the class but I missed the middle because of having to attend an editor appointment. Whoops! But look how much I gleaned from the beginning and end! =)

Okay, moving on to Allison Pittman's class on Dialogue. This was excellent, mostly because I was so surprised. I never thought I had issues with dialogue. I know how to technically do it well (no she saids, he saids. I know to mix up the beats and alternate pharasing with tags so the dialogue doesn't have the exact same consistent (boring!) format on the page, etc.) Dialogue has never been my "weak spot" in writing, though I certainly have others! (stakes, anyone? haha) But sitting in Allison's class revealed an entire new level of dialogue that I had never considered.

I attended Allison's full class and can't begin to share everything she said, so I'll stick with what resonated strongly with me.

First of all, gestures. Allison said that 99% of gestures in books are truly not neccesary. How many times have you noticed writers having the character shrug AND say "I don't know." - (guilty!) It happens, I think subconsciously by the writer most of the time. So remember to let your characters words speak for themselves, and avoid unnecessary gestures.

Also, avoid useless tags. Allison says that a character drinking coffee should never just take a sip for the heck of it (or, as a tag to show who is speaking next). If a character is doing something it should always carry meaning and purpose. If they have to drink the coffee, then instead of "Ann took a sip of coffee." consider "Ann took a sip of coffee to hold back the words she wanted to say." (that's horrible, but you know what I mean!) Give it a reason. Allison taught that useless tags hinder the flow of the story and with good dialogue, are truly unnecessary.

Allison had us a read and dissect a portion of a novel (GOOD GRIEF, by Lolly Winston - Warner Books 2004) and taught us how in good dialogue, there should always be a winner. In the story example, a "big" and "little" sister (through the volunteer program) are eating ice cream, and talking about heavy stuff, like marriage, bad childhoods, widows, etc. The tension is fabulous an at the end of the scene, there is clearly a conversation "winner". Any author knows that conflict and tension is key to a page turner, and this should always be prevalent in your dialogue as well.

Two good keys to creating tension in dialogue is to answer questions with questions. Or any avoidance tactic. That builds tension immediately in a scene. The second key, which I personally love, is contradiction. Have heavy, deep conversation (like in the GOOD GRIEF example) take place in an ice cream shop. Immediate contradiction of heavy and light. Or one of Allison's examples was to have characters discuss a newborn or birthday in a graveyard. Life/death contradiction. See how neat that is? And how true! You are probably already thinking back to your favorite books/scenes and seeing how that was done. Now you realize why you love that scene so much! Its memorable because its unexpected, and because its full of tension and conflict.

Okay, one last thing from Allison's class. She suggested there always be a dominant and a passive character in a scene of dialogue. Like with the above "sisters" in the GOOD GRIEF story, there was a character with a more dominant personality than the other, and she is the one who "won" the conversation. Put a character at an advantage point. Per Allison's example - is the wealthy, professional boss more comfortable in his high rise office than in someone else's home? Yes. In his office, he is the king. It's his home turf. In someone else's house, however he has the lesser advantage because it is not his comfort zone. Putting characters out of their comfort zone also creates automatic tension.

Whew! I hope you learned a lot like I did! And don't forget to check back this week. I'll be giving away a free, signed copy of one of Allison Pittman's novels from her CROSSROADS OF GRACE SERIES. Don't miss it! She writes even better than she teaches =P

Monday, March 09, 2009

What a weekend!

I attended a local writers conference this weekend, WRITTEN IN THE STARS, by the North Louisiana chapter (NOLA) of the Romance Writers of America (RWA). What a fun weekend! I learned a lot, especially from Allison Pittman and Renee Ryan's classes, had a great time networking and catching up with old friends, making new ones, and enjoying some much needed BETSY time. =)

Here are some pics from the weekend, and later in the week I plan to blog on a few things I learned ,to share the wealth!

My new friend Mindy. She writes paranormal romances, and we had a big discussion about Twilight =)

Me with Steeple Hill Love Inspired senior editor Melissa Endlich. Lovely woman, inside and out. I had a GREAT time getting to know her and so glad I was able to meet a staff member of my publishing house.

Lenora Worth, winning an award! She's had, like, 9405849054 books published with Steeple Hill over the years. Great friend and neighbor! (She's actually had I think 37 books, but same thing. hehe)

Lenora & me, up close.

I was so excited to meet author Allison Pittman! We've emailed before but its so great meeting one of your favorite authors in person! She's a sweetheart and we had a great time hanging out. I learned a lot in her class on dialogue. Stay tuned, because later this week I will be doing a book giveaway on my blog for a SIGNED copy of a book from Allison's Crossroads of Grace series!

Allison teaching.

Me at the booksigning with Love Inspired suspense writer Robin Miller. She also has a release coming soon from B&H publishing. Awesome chick!
Lenora Worth, Connie Cox and Allison Pittman at the booksigning!
Me with Allison, promoting her fantastic stories.

Robin posing between signings. And yes, that's a Dr. Pepper, her trademark drink, in the Sonic cup I bought for her. (Hey, you owe me a dollar!) haha =)

Group shot

There's me with author Connie Cox and my Little Miss! Hubby brought her up to the hotel when it was almost time for me to leave, so Little Miss could meet my friends and get her first brush with author fame! She was a sweetheart and everyone enjoyed seeing her. Hey, it's never too early to start a career path! =)