Monday, October 15, 2012

Donuts and a Booksigning. Also, Seeking Reviewers

Donuts . . . see, here's the thing. We have the tradition of making homemade donuts sometime in October. I loved it when my mother would make them when I was a kid, and we've started doing it once a year. It's not the sort of thing I really want to do more than once a year, since, hey, do I really want dozens of greasy, sugary, delicious donuts waiting for me to devour them? (Maybe . . . ). Plus, it's a production and leaves the kitchen and dining room coated in flour, grease, and sugar, and the sink and counter stacked with dirty dishes. So, once a year is good.

But--I know this is shocking--I'm thinking of crossing the October donut-making off the list. With my two older daughters gone at college and my very slim and disciplined husband controlling his intake, there are just not enough people eating enough of them. He did eat a bunch last night, but I don't think he's had any today (!!) I don't think my older son is that keen on them. And in an unfortunate twist of fate, my younger two children felt icky with colds today, so they weren't consuming much. But never fear--I made up for EVERYONE. I will not tell you how many I ate today but it was a HUGE NUMBER (okay, I don't actually know the number, but I know it was huge). And there are some in the freezer, and some not in the freezer that are going stale even as we speak, and it's like, man, that's it--if I'm the only one pigging out like crazy, it's time for a new tradition. Next year we will line carrots up on the table and decorate them with flax seed and balsamic vinegar, after which we will do pushups. Or maybe I'll change my mind by next year . . .

And now, moving on to other news that doesn't involve the oddity of whining because my family didn't eat enough junk food. I was able to do a booksigning at the Beehive Bookstore in Campbell, CA as part of their Ladies' Night celebration, and it was super fun. The staff there was so nice and the customers were great, and I got to try a Tres Leches cupcake. One of the staff made them from Josi Kilpack's recipe, from her new book of the same name. Here's a picture (not of the cupcake--I ate the cupcake; I didn't pose with it).

And lastly: I'm looking for a few people who would like to review Shadowed. If you are interested, email me at emailstephanieblack (at) gmail (dot) com.

Friday, September 7, 2012

It's Here (in Actual Physical Form This Time)!

My books arrived! It's always exciting to see a new book for the first time--hold it, flip through the pages--a real book with my words in it! The book that grew from story ideas that emerged from the haphazard process of brainstorming and developed through that messy first draft . . . the story that passed through revision, revision, test reads, more revision . . . then the submission process, the editorial process, proofing, not to mention graphic design and all those other awesome things--it's all done and here's the culmination of all that work, the finished product. It's a book!! It has a cover! And pages! And an ISBN! It's going to be in bookstores, and online, and in libraries! Somebody might read it! People I don't know might read it! If you think about that long enough, it's kind of mind-blowing. 


Photographic evidence---it's here! My new book!

It's also an unabridged audio book. Oh unabridged audio, how I love thee!

And it's a Kindle book! Lots of choices.

Shadowed is my sixth novel. Whew. Six books! I wrote six books! Six whole books, full of words! I can't parallel park, I stink at reading maps, my socks are never all folded, and heaven knows what's living under my fridge, but I wrote six books. I'd celebrate with chocolate, but I already ate chocolate, plus three huge chocolate chip cookies. I should celebrate with wheat germ or garbanzo beans, just for a change of pace.

The book is now for sale at Deseret Book online and the Kindle version is for sale at Amazon. It should be listed at Seagull Book soon, and I hope soon to hear reports of a bookstore sighting.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Goodreads and Labor Day

I got my new book posted on Goodreads. Hooray! Also, as my two-year-old niece would say, holy yikes. Why oh why was I so eager to get the book listed there? That's just asking for trouble.

Yesterday on Labor Day, we wanted to do something fun, so we headed up to San Francisco, where it was going to be a lot (think 20-30 degrees) cooler than it was where we live. Travel motto for San Francisco: bring a jacket.

It was very sunny in this part of SF yesterday, but the Golden Gate bridge, which we should have been able to see from here, was shrouded in fog. It was weird how the sky could be so clear and the bridge so obscured by fog. 

Here is a view of the remains of the Sutro Baths--seven swimming pools built on the coast in the late 1800s.  In this area, it was foggy, as you can see. You get accustomed to foggy and chilly at the coast--it can be 100 degrees inland and 62 degrees and overcast at the beach. 

Here is the Lands End Labyrinth. Be careful not to get lost in the maze!  

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Yay! It's Here!

I mean . . . it's sort of here. I don't yet have my physical copies of Shadowed, and it will probably take a few days for it to hit bookstore shelves, but as of today, it is available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook. Yes, right this minute someone could be reading it. Do they like it??? Maybe I should start nervously checking Goodreads every thirty seconds, except last time I looked, the book wasn't listed yet, so maybe it's a little early to get obsessive. 

Hang on, I need to go see if it's on Goodreads yet. 

Nope, not yet.

Ahem. Anyway, if you live near an LDS bookstore and happen to drop in sometime in the near future, let me know if you see it on the shelves. 

In other news, I won a $10 Amazon Gift Card on Debra Erfert's blog. Woohoo! Thank you, Debra. The gift card is to purchase a copy of Sariah Wilson's new book, The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back, which looks like a totally darling book. Sariah and I used to blog together; she was the founder of Six LDS Writers and a Frog. Congratulations on your new book, Sariah! And since her book is available for $3.99, that leaves me another six bucks to buy another ebook too. Books! Books! Yaaaaay books! What should I buy? Any recommendations? 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Good News Wednesday

Good news: my website is up and running! Somebody please click on it so it will have visitors and The Googles will start to like me again (and let me know if there are any problems). There are still some issues--namely, through efforts to make it work, we managed to create a sort of Star Trekky parallel universe situation, with other websites existing concurrently with the real one. But we'll get that cleaned up at some point and right now, the link above will take you to the right spot (caution: if you get to a that depicts me as someone who returns her library books on time and did not eat a large chocolate chip cookie for breakfast this morning, that's not the right universe). 

Other fun news: I will be doing a Ladies Night booksigning for Shadowed at the Beehive Bookstore in Campbell, California on Saturday, October 6th. I'm so excited! If you're in the area, come see me! (I'll post details later when I get them).

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Website and Other Assorted Topics

*My website ( is down at the moment. My old website host stopped hosting, so I got a new host (now I'm starting to sound like a parasite), but I haven't figured out how to upload my site. This is not surprising, because I'm very un-techy--I have to ask my children for help for anything complicated, like using the remote control--but I don't feel too bad that I'm clueless this time around, because my husband was having trouble with it too, and he's a genius. But never fear: tech support will save me. I suppose I'd better get that website up soon, since Shadowed will be released in September, which is coming up fast, and how sad would it be if someone got interested in my new book and wanted to check out my website, and they typed in the URL and all that showed up was a blank, white page (which is what comes up now) and they're like, gee, that was underwhelming.

*Speaking of Shadowed, it's now available for pre-order from Deseret Book. Yay!

*For her birthday, my oldest daughter got a 1500-piece puzzle of Van Gogh's "Cafe Terrace at Night."

It took her and her sister two months to put the puzzle together. Since it was such a complicated puzzle, she figured she wouldn't want to do it again, and I suggested hanging it on the wall, like my mother does with puzzles (she has a bunch of completed puzzles decorating the long hallway in her basement). My daughter liked the idea. Sadly, it turns out I lack both skillz and common sense when it comes to turning a completed puzzle front-side down so you can put packing tape on the back (the method my mother uses). The puzzle is now, um, not as done as it used to be. The question is: do I try to reassemble the broken parts, or do I just go online and buy a Van Gogh poster, which I can get for way cheap?

*I wrote something! After a long dry spell when it came to writing new things, I finally started a story yesterday while my son was at his trumpet lesson. I've been brainstorming this project for a while now and almost have the basic story figured out, but I've been stumped when it comes to figuring out who the villain is and what his/her motive is. So this time, I decided to start writing without knowing the villain and see if ideas develop along the way. I have trouble brainstorming for too long--I love writing stories, not brainstorming stories, and tend to get bored quickly when I'm brainstorming. But I need to get moving on this project, so we'll see what happens. Will I come up with a good villain idea while I'm writing or will I get all the way to the end of the project (it's a novella, so I'm aiming for around 100 pages) and realize there is no villain--in fact, everyone is peacefully fond of each other? Oooh . . . maybe it could have alternate endings! Choose Your Own Villain! If you think the ex-boyfriend did it, turn to page 92. If you think the long-lost grandmother did it, turn to page 102. Could be a fun idea . . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Growing Pains

My two older daughters left for BYU this morning. After they drove away and I was crying, my twelve-year-old son said, "It's not that sad! They'll be home for Christmas." I said, "It's a mother thing." He said, "Good thing I'll never be a mother." I'm sure my daughters weren't crying either, unless it was tears of joy at being able to quit their two summer jobs and head back to school. They were very blessed to find great summer jobs this year, but let's face it--even great summer jobs tend to be boring, as well as good motivation to get your rear back to school and get studying.

It's always poignant when a child leaves for college, but last year when my younger daughter started her freshman year, I learned that the mother-pain of saying goodbye to children is cumulative. This is in contrast to the difficulty level in raising children, which I didn't find to be cumulative--i.e., having five children is not five times as hard as having one; each new Wild Thing adds incrementally to the rumpus. But I've found that saying goodbye to two children is twice as hard--or harder--than saying goodbye to one. Not only do you have two children to miss, but it provokes more of a Ticking Clock personal crisis--they're growing up so quickly, it won't be long before they've flown from the nest for good, the family size has now shrunk dramatically, your other children are growing up so fast as well . . .  Last year when my college daughters went back to school after Thanksgiving, I was saddened by the realization that it was only eleven years until all our children were grown. Eleven years used to seem like a long time, but man, it sure didn't anymore. Of course, I was rather off-balance at the time, since they'd left us with a cat, which might explain the mental melodrama. As they went to pull out of the driveway this morning, I said, "You forgot the cat!" but it didn't work; they left her here. Actually, I'm accustomed to the cat now and quite fond of her, even if she is rather contemptuous of us and a suspected demon to boot.

When the kids were young, it seemed like life would be that way forever. Even the thought of having them all in school during the day was remote--it would be ages before they were all that old. Ages and eons! But nobody told me that time accelerates. No, seriously, it does. You're in baby mode, toddler mode, preschool mode; time is making its leisurely way through your life. Then elementary school, and junior high, and high school and . . . BAM. As soon as one kid graduates, that's it--life starts shooting forward like you're on the downward slope of a rollercoaster.

I absolutely love having older kids; it's a tremendous joy watching them grow and mature and develop into adults. But as a mother, I can't help but be sad when they drive away and wish I could keep them with me a little longer--even as I'm happy for them, extremely grateful for the opportunities they'll have at school, and definitely wouldn't have it any other way.

So now, it's time to go get ready to take my older son to school registration. He's turning sixteen soon . . .

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


We had two family reunions this summer--three if you count the pre-reunion mini-reunion before the official reunion. My sister's family couldn't make it to the scheduled reunion, due to a new church assignment--her husband had been called as mission president, and they needed to report two weeks before the reunion date. So those of us who could make it early met at my parents' house in Utah (my parents had just returned the previous month from their mission to Portugal) to have the opportunity to see my sister's family. Southern Utah in the summer is super hot, so the visit was very laid back--mainly  we sat around, talked, swam, and ate--visits to Cafe Rio and Iceberg are always important events. We love food.

Mmm, food. Let's talk about food. Tonight for dinner I made Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Soup, which turned out to be quite tasty. I'm happy about that, as it's nice to have another soup to add to the soup repertoire. Other noteworthy foods of late: my husband made a strawberry pie on Sunday. And on Saturday, we went to the Nestle Cafe where you could design your own ice cream cookie sandwich. Oh the joy! I didn't know this place existed, but now I'm not likely to ever forget. You chose your cookies, you chose your ice cream, and they put it all together for you in sandwich form. I had a chocolate chip peanut butter cookie and an oatmeal scotchie with double-fudge brownie ice cream in the middle. It was sooo tasty, and I wish I had one right now, and did I mention I've been trying to get back on track for losing weight and by "trying" I mean, "trying except when there are Costco muffins in the house or when my son brings out the smoked salmon and cream cheese after I already made myself a sandwich, because, come on, that smoked salmon is really good."

Hey, at least I'm exercising, right? I even tried my new Jillian Michaels Yoga Meltdown DVD today. So far, I haven't melted down, but give me time.

Side note: I am eating a piece of Dove dark chocolate.

Anyway . . . summer was busy. Besides, the reunion, it was crunch time for my September release, Shadowed, with edits and proofing. My publisher has posted the first chapter; you can read it here.

Once all the reunions and book stuff were finished, it was time for girls camp (good timing, right?). A couple of days before I left for camp, my daughters showed me the Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots. Loved it. In the movie, the hero's mantra is "All is well"--a phrase that came from his town watchman who would cry out "Alll izzz well" as he patrolled the town, reassuring the residents--though it turned out the watchman couldn't see well at night and didn't have a clue what was going on; he'd just call out "all is well" anyway. I kept thinking of that phrase at girls camp--all is well, all is well. And it was--problems cropped up here and there, but nothing that wasn't manageable, and all truly was well. When I was called as Stake Camp Director three years ago, I'd never been so terrified by a calling in my life, but I've discovered that there are a multitude of blessings associated with the calling.

Now that things have quieted down, I'm working on dejunking the house, a little at a time. Today I cleaned under the stove burners, which was a horrible mess. Problem is, you can't see most of my work, since it's, you know, under the stove top. I should take a picture and put the picture on the fridge, except to get the real effect, you'd need "before" and "after" pictures, and the "before" picture would be too embarrassing. Maybe I should take a "before" picture of my garage and either submit it to a reality show in hopes they'd adopt me as a project or I could enlarge it and call it art representing Angst and Confusion. I would title it "Junk Avalanche with Black Widow Spiders."

Hey . . . maybe that could be the title of that Halloween novella I'm supposed to be working on . . .

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My New Cover!

I got the cover for my new book! I think seeing a cover for the first time is one of the most exciting parts of the publication process. The cover is designed by the publisher, not by the author (thank goodness, because I know about as much about graphic design as I do about nuclear physics). It's always thrilling and a little scary when that email arrives from my editor with the new cover attached. Here it is!!! What will it look like??? What has the designer created to convey the tone of the book and to hook potential book buyers? The cover is what people will see first when they browse a bookstore or flip through a catalog or scan through a website. This is their introduction to my story. This is a BIG DEAL.

Covenant's designers have always done a fantastic job with my covers, and I'm thrilled with this new one. Isn't it awesome? 

I love it! The book will be released in September.  Here's the backliner:

Gifted musician Catherine Clayton was born into a life of wealth and privilege. Following the death of her father, she makes a bold decision she hopes would make him proud: she’s using the family money to establish a music school and offer free lessons to the underprivileged. A providential suggestion from an old college friend leads Catherine to select Riley, New York, as the perfect location for her new school. Hit hard by the economic downturn, Riley personifies economic hardship: peeling paint, overgrown landscapes, and damaged buildings. But the damage runs much deeper than Catherine first realizes. 
Two years ago, Riley was rocked by weeks of vandalism, followed by the brutal murder of beautiful elementary school secretary Olivia Perry. Everyone in town loved Olivia—but especially the two men with whom she was caught in a love triangle. Though the murder remains unsolved, Catherine receives ominous warnings that one of these men, Adam Becket, is responsible for her death. Unimpressed by the lack of evidence against him, Catherine is drawn to the shy but endearing Adam. Could he really have been involved in Olivia’s murder? 
Just as Catherine is settling in and getting to know Adam, a vandal strikes again, and it’s eerily reminiscent of the events surrounding Olivia’s murder. The death threats splashed on the walls prove that the killer is back—and this time, it’s Catherine who wonders if she’s come to the wrong place at the wrong time.

Monday, May 7, 2012

LDStorymakers 2012 and Whitney Gala

May 3rd-5th was the 2012 LDStorymakers Writers Conference at the Provo Marriott, and it was FANTASTIC. I look forward to this event every year--as one of my writer friends (I think it was Karen Hoover?) remarked: "It's like a family reunion." I agree--we're a big family of writers. This is usually the only time in the year that I get to see my writer friends, so I really look forward to this conference. In additional to visiting with old friends,  I love meeting new people, including people that I "know" from online. It's fun being able to match faces with names! One of my absolute favorite parts of being a writer is meeting so many great people.

This year, I was a boot camp "instructor." Boot camp is an event held on Thursday, the day before the conference officially opens. Authors who want to participate bring pages of their manuscript (I can't remember how many pages--maybe 10 or 15?) and come prepared to critique and be critiqued. As an instructor, it was my job to make sure our table ran smoothly and that everyone got their chunk of time. Boot camp goes from 12:30-6:00, which sounds like a lot of time until you try it and realize you'll never even come close to getting all the way through anyone's manuscript segment. I had five marvelous writers at my table: Camille Pack, Teresa Schanze, Alice Workman, Mona Reed Sharp, and Luke Peterson. They were wonderful--all talented writers, and all wonderful at receiving feedback on their manuscripts. It takes a lot of courage to open yourself up in that setting, reading your manuscript aloud and then listening while the others at the table offer their thoughts on what works well in the manuscript and what could be improved. It was an honor to work with such great writers!

Friday and Saturday were the conference, and it was top notch. I went to a bunch of marvelous classes and took lots of notes. A few of the classes I attended: Jeff Savage's class on voice, Dan Wells' class on writing a series, and Amber Argyle's class on different types of magic. A huge thank you to conference co-chairs Jaime Theler and Heather Justesen, the conference committee, MC Sarah Eden, all the presenters, and everyone who went to so much work to create such a wonderful conference.

The Whitney gala was on Saturday evening after the conference ended. Whitney president Josi Kilpack and her committee did a wonderful job, the dinner was delicious, and I was delighted to have my sister Bonnie there with me. I am absolutely thrilled that Rearview Mirror won a Whitney Award for Best Mystery! Wow! Thank you so much to everyone who read and enjoyed my book. You can see the list of all the finalists and winners here.

Here are some pictures from the conference and gala:

Here I am with Dan Wells and his hat. He wears that fedora well, don't you think?

Authors Krista Lynne Jensen (Of Grace and Chocolate), Ali Cross (Become), and Angie Lofthouse (Defenders of the Covenant) at the mass booksigning on Friday evening.

With Janette Rallison. Janette is amazing--she's written tons of delightful YA books, and two of her books were Whitney finalists this year: My Unfair Godmother and Slayers (written under the name CJ Hill).

With Angela Eschler, who was my wonderful first editor. So fun to see Angela at the conference! 

With Lynn Gardner, the author of the "jewel" mystery series (such as Topaz and Treachery) and the Maggie McKenzie mysteries. 

With Josi Kilpack (the Sadie Hoffmiller mysteries, most recently Banana Split) and Lisa Mangum (The Hourglass Door trilogy). 

With my editor, Kirk Shaw. Kirk is marvelous, and it's an honor to work with him. 

With Don Carey (Bumpy Landings), Karen Hoover (The Wolfchild Saga), and Nancy Allen (Whitney Award finalist for Isabelle Webb: The Pharoah's Curse).

With Krista Jensen (Of Grace and Chocolate) and Dan Wells. Dan's novel, I Don't Want to Kill You, won the Whitney Award for Best Novel of the Year.

 With Brandon Sanderson (Best Speculative novel for The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel).

With Jack Weyland and his wife Sherry. Jack received a Whitney Lifetime Achievement Award. What an honor to shake the hand of Jack Weyland, one of the founding fathers of LDS fiction!

From left to right: Mindy Holt, me, Sheila Staley, Shanda Cottam (Mindy, Shanda, and Sheila run the LDS Women's Book Review), Tess Hilmo (her book With a Name Like Love won the Whitney for Best Young Adult General Fiction and Best Novel by a New Author), Jenni James (Whitney Award finalist for Pride and Popularity, and Josi Kilpack (Whitney Award president and author of the Sadie Hofmiller culinary mysteries).

With my wonderful sister, Bonnie, who not only came to support me at the Whitney gala, but patiently served as photographer afterwards. Thank you, Bonnie!

Front row, left to right: Jennie Hansen (finalist for her mystery novel If I Should Die. Jennie also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007). Gregg Luke (finalist for Bloodborne). Back row: Nancy (NC) Allen, finalist for Isabelle Webb: The Pharaoh's Curse, Gale Sears (winner, Best Historical, for Letters in the Jade Dragon Box), and Lynn Gardner (author of the "jewel" mysteries and the Maggie McKenzie series).

I suspect that in this post, I broke a record for the use of "wonderful" and assorted synonyms, but that's just the kind of conference/gala it was and the kind of people I was privileged to associate with. Once again, thank you to everyone who went to so much work for the conference and the gala. I'm looking forward to Storymakers 2013!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Storymakers and Massive Book Signing!

This week is the LDStorymakers Writers Conference, and I am so excited! I absolutely love this event. It's a fantastic conference and it is so incredibly fun to spend a few days with a bunch of writers. I can't wait to see old friends and to make new ones! This year is a very relaxed one for me. I'm helping with Boot Camp on Thursday, and I'm manning the help desk for one hour on Saturday, but other than that, I'll just be hanging out and attending awesome classes. 

The Storymakers Conference includes a bookstore, run by the absolutely amazing Julie Wright and her amazing family. All Storymakers attending the conference, all presenters, and all Whitney finalists have the opportunity to sell their books in the bookstore if they so desire. Last year, the conference included a massive author booksigning, where any author attendees who wanted to participate could stake out a table and sign books. It was a fun event, and I'm delighted that they're doing it again this year. And this year, there's a new twist--even if you aren't attending the Storymakers conference, you can attend the booksigning. 

This. Is. Awesome. Giant booksigning! Loads of authors! So come visit me! You don't even have to buy any of my books--just come say hi! Or if you already own my books and would like me to sign them, I'd be happy to do that too. 

Here are the details for the booksigning, which I swiped off Whitney finalist Theresa Small Sneed's blog: 

Date: Friday, May 4, 2012, 5:00-6:45 PM
Location: Provo Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, 101 West 100 North, Provo Utah (801) 377-4700 (Aspen Room)

In other news, my two older girls are home from college. It's so fun to have them home again, and I'm not just saying that because they'll be a huge help while I'm gone at the conference :) I'm also not just saying it because my oldest daughter made gnocchi with lemon-rosemary cream sauce for dinner last night, but the gnocchi was definitely a nice bonus. Speaking of yummy things, I made a German chocolate cake for my husband's birthday the other week, and boy was it tasty. Oooh, that coconut-pecan frosting. 

Do I talk about food a lot? Hmm (or should I say "Mmm"?). My diary from when I was maybe eight years old reads something like this: "For lunch, I had a salami and cheese sandwich and corn chips. For Family Home Evening refreshments, we had cinnamon rolls." In other words, apparently I haven't changed much. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

In Which I Shock Everyone

I'm stalling on things I should be doing, so I shall continue my procrastination efforts by writing a small, yet shocking blog of Startling Confessions.

1--I haven't seen "The Hunger Games" yet. I KNOW! Crazy, right? And it's been out, like, what? Twelve hours? Actually, there are very, very few movies I would rush to line up for at midnight, with "very few" being generally defined as "none." Even if I want to see the movie, the same movie will be showing next week at a reasonable hour, with no lines. The only reason I would do the midnight thing is for the social aspect, if I wanted to join the party. But even then, I don't want to kill myself off for the movie. For instance, some writer friends are getting together to see a midnight movie the night before the Storymakers conference. I'd love to join the fun, but I don't love the idea of being wiped out the next day--being puffy-eyed, headachy and sleepy at a conference I've been anticipating for a year. I guess I'm getting old . . .

2--Are you sitting down? This one might knock you over.

I think store-bought ice cream tastes better than homemade ice cream.

Whew. Sorry for the shock. If this were a Victorian novel, you'd probably pass out. But here's the thing: homemade ice cream, while pleasant, just doesn't usually have that smooth, thick, creamy texture you can get in a nice tub of ice cream from the supermarket. I LIKE carrageenan and guar bean gum, okay? Homemade ice cream is a fun treat, but in a straight taste test, I'd go for store stuff. 

3--I've never seen the following shows:

American Idol
Dancing With the Stars
Anything involving a Kardashian

4. Twitter confession (not that I'm on Twitter much these days): it gives me the freaky geekies when someone tweets something along the lines of "I know who unfollowed me!" Apparently there's some service or other you can use to determine who stopped following you, but whenever someone announces that fact, it makes me uneasy, because they seem to be announcing that they'll be offended if you unfollow them ("I know who you are!"). Shouldn't Twitter be a place where you're free to try out a new connection, and then if the person's tweets don't appeal to you, quietly unfollow, no harm done, no offense intended? You were following their tweets, not proposing marriage. It's not meant as a slight if you change your mind and back away.

5.  I get the feeling I'm only going to be finishing two Whitney categories this year. So far I've finished one (Speculative). Last year I read all 35 books, and the year before that I think I only missed by . . . two books, was it? I still get credit for that, right? Even if I'm wimpy this year?

Well, that's enough scandal for the day. Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Bomb for Caller ID!

Award-winning suspense author Rachelle J. Christensen is celebrating the release of her new novel, Caller ID, with a Book Bomb! If you buy Caller ID from Amazon. com today, March 22nd, you'll get an awesome price on the book, and if you send your order confirmation to Rachelle, she'll email you over twenty free gifts--click here to learn about your prizes and how to claim them. Congratulations, Rachelle! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Clicking "Send"

I finished my manuscript! I submitted it last Friday! 

Submitting a manuscript is something of an “aiyyyeeeeee squeeeeee eeeeeek” sort of experience—exciting and scary. No matter how many times I’ve done it, I still get freaked out as I reach the point of actually sending it in. I look at the manuscript and poke at it. I change something. I re-read the synopsis and change something. Finally, finally, finally, I stop tinkering and work up the courage to click “send.” Then it takes me a while to work through the freaked-out stage and get excited.

I didn’t want to celebrate submitting the manuscript by, oh, catching up on things I’d been procrastinating. Eek. It was a beautiful afternoon, so I decided to hike the ridge (a nearby park area with good hiking trails). This would be beneficial on multiple levels: extra exercise for ye olde weight-loss efforts, and good strategy for working out any heebie-jeebies over submitting the book. I took a water bottle and a baggie of four malted milk eggs (yes, four—I didn’t want to undo ALL the benefits of the exercise, and I’d already eaten some chocolate), selected the Irish playlist on my phone (appropriate for March), and hiked up the hill. At the top, I sat on a bench and ate a malted milk egg. It was quite celebratory. That night, my husband and I went out to dinner (which is our usual date, but it still counts as celebration). We went to a nice Italian restaurant we hadn't been to in a long time, plus we got gelato afterward. I love food. 

Submitting a manuscript is always big, but the Giant Milestone of Overwhelming Significance came when I submitted a manuscript for the first time. That was HUGE—the culmination of over a decade of work, when after years of writing, rewriting, and reading fiction technique books, I had finally reached the point where I felt ready to submit my work to a publisher. In fact, that was almost exactly ten years ago—if I remember correctly, it was in March 2002 when I first submitted a book. This was when you still submitted in hard copy, so I printed out my book, carefully put it in a box with the cover letter and synopsis, and took it to the post office, accompanied by my kids and a sign my daughter had made and stuck in the window of the minivan, reading “World’s Greatest Author,” or something like that. Unfortunately, the publisher turned out to be unaware that this new submission was from the World’s Greatest Author, and they rejected my book in record time. But that didn’t lessen the milestoney-ness of it all. I had crossed the threshold from dreaming about being a published author to actually submitting a manuscript.

And now, ten years later, I've sent a new manuscript off. If my publisher accepts it, it will become my sixth book. If they reject it, I’ll bet my mom will still read it and say something nice about it, so it’s not a total loss. Fortunately, I don't have to start getting nervous yet, since they haven't even had the book for a week, so it's way too early for any kind of news. 

Mmm . . . malted milk eggs . . . 

Oh, sorry. Where was I? Submitting manuscripts. When did you submit your first manuscript (or when do you plan to)? How did you celebrate?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Five Tips for a Successful Booksigning: Guest Post by Megan Anderson

Well, this is not Stephanie--so when you are wondering why this post sounds nothing like the amazing Stephanie, now you know why! My name is Megan Anderson--if you have done any author signings for Seagull Book (most recently in the Murray store), you have probably met me! (Super talkative, crazy curly brown hair, recently pregnant…) I was the manager of the Fashion Place Seagull Book for two years, and I was the manager of the Brickyard location before that, and I have also worked in the Riverdale (manager-in-training), Bountiful (it’s not even there anymore!), Logan, American Fork, and Orem locations over the years. I started working for Seagull in 2003, right after I graduated from high school. I left for two years after getting married and worked as a wedding coordinator for a hotel in SLC, and then came back to Seagull once a management position opened, which I worked up until the day I went to the hospital to have my son, Noah, in August. So--I know books! I know fiction, and I know non-fiction, and I know how to sell them, especially to the LDS market.

I “met” Stephanie through Facebook and let her know how much I loved her latest novel. Then, I pestered her a whole bunch, and finally she offered to let me be a test reader for her current manuscript! (which I am HAPPY to do for anyone else…just sayin’…) Through lots of email conversations, Stephanie asked me if I would mind doing a guest post on her blog with advice to authors on how to make your signings as productive as possible, from the bookstore perspective. So, here you go!

Top 5 Tips for a Successful Signing

1    Introduce Yourself! The best thing you can possibly do is get your name out there. Introduce yourself to customers. Even if you aren’t delivering a sales pitch, at least be as friendly and approachable as you can. Try to catch them as they come in the door--but also learn to read people; if they are in a rush to get what they need and get back out, or have screaming kids, or are on a cell phone, it’s not a great time to interrupt. Depending on the store, they may have an employee “stationed” at your table to take care of the introductions for you (I always tried to be right by the author table to herd the customers in the right direction) and if that’s the case, still try to get in a little something to let the customers see your personality. If you are introduced by an employee, begin to ask questions like, “Do you enjoy mysteries?”, “Are you looking for a good romance novel?”, etc. Questions are always the best segue into a sale; invite the customer to come see what you have to offer.

2    Get to Know the Employees. Remember, long after you leave, the employees of the store are the ones who can either encourage a lot of sales for your book, or talk people out of it and into something else. There have been several times when I have read a book and enjoyed it, but wasn’t totally caught on fire to sell it, but then we would have the author come and if that person was very happy and fun to have in the store, it made me want to sell their books. There have also been other times when I was on the fence about a book, the author came in and was either boring or rude, and it became very hard to sell their book. I would even talk people out of it and into something else, on principle that the author wasn’t very nice. The employees in the store have more power than the best book cover in the world, more power than an incredibly gripping synopsis, and more power than the best written story since Gone With the Wind (my personal favorite). The employees are the ones the customers see often, and especially in companies like Seagull Book, the customers are “repeat offenders," coming in often enough to get to know and trust the employees. I had several customers who would buy whatever I told them to, and wouldn’t buy whatever I told them not to, just because they trusted my recommendations. One lady would just hand me her basket, give me a spending limit, and wait by the doors for me to get her weekly books! If you want your books to sell well, really get to know the employees. Talk to them when there aren’t customers to be attended to. You can even bring them in a little trinket relating to your book, a treat, or send a thank you card after your signing is over. The employees of the stores you sign in will remember you, and it’s up to you to make sure that memory is a positive one that will drive your book sales up.

3    Stay Close to Your Product. There is nothing more frustrating than an author who is wandering the store when they are supposed to be doing a signing. Once your scheduled time is over, feel free to browse and shop your heart out! I know that I couldn’t possibly walk into a bookstore and sit at a table for two hours, then leave without looking around, but just make sure it’s after your scheduled signing is over. Sometimes, you might even get that extra sale or two because if someone is interested in your book, and you are still in the store, they will be grateful for the autograph and will make the purchase! Just be sure to stay close to wherever you are supposed to be, especially if the employees of the store are trying to draw customer’s attention in your direction.

4    Have a Handout. For those of you who have published with Covenant Communications, I know that they will often print these great bookmarks that have a picture of the book on the front and a synopsis of the book on the back. These are awesome! Get as many of these as you can! When a customer comes in the front door, even if they don’t want to stop to talk to you about your book, you can give them a free bookmark that may spark their interest later on and get a sale! Not many people turn down the offer of, “Would you like a free bookmark?” You can even say, “If you’d like a free bookmark, this will tell you more about my book.” Once your signing is over, leave a stack of them with the employees (if they are okay with it) for them to put in customers' bags. We did this all the time and had a lot of success with it. I had people often come back in because they saw the bookmark in their bag and read the synopsis and were intrigued. If you don’t have these or aren’t able to get something like it from your publisher, make your own! Anything that has a picture of the book, as well as a synopsis of the story, is a great thing to hand out to people. Not everyone will keep it, or even read it, but you never know who will be inspired enough to come back and buy your book. (It’s not sacrilegious to compare these to pass-along cards and missionary work, right?)

5    Don’t Over-Crowd Your Table. I know that it’s tempting to bring in lots of props, posters, banners, or what have you to dress up your table, but resist that temptation! A few SMALL things here or there can be fine, but remember that you want the focus of your signing to be your book, not the life-size photo of your pet cat, even if he was the inspiration for the cat in the novel. I once had an author that brought in his own extra 6 foot table to add on to his signing table for his props, and it was a huge concern because we didn’t have anywhere to put all of that! Having a little something like a bowl of candy will entice more people to your table as well, but again, moderation is the key. Also, if the store wants to feature your newest release, and has a display set up with only that book, don’t go to the shelves to get all eight of your other books and try to cram them on the table as well. Odds are that the employees have read the recent one and are more prepared to sell it. If it is a sequel that you are signing, it is appropriate to have the first one on the table, but less prominently displayed. It’s frustrating to the employees who are trying to focus on their new releases to have the authors only trying to sell older books. The store usually bulks up on the new book to sell, and they don’t want to sit on the merchandise. (Without getting into all of the logistics of merchandising  requirements and balancing purchasing power, just trust me that it’s frustrating!) If you want to have at least one of each of your books on the table, let the employees know so that if you can sell one, then you do have it at your disposal, but do try to focus on selling the book that the store is focusing on also.

General Sales Tips:
      *Always ask questions to start a conversation with a customer. It’s more approachable and less intimidating. “Do you like romantic fiction?” “Did you say you needed a gift for your mom?”

      *Be prepared to talk about your book: where the idea came from, how long it took you to write it, why you like it, possibly even books it’s similar to (in case they are an aficionado), why you chose to write the genre you did, etc.

      *Smile and don’t refer to groups of people as “guys," especially older folks! For some reason, this is a little off-putting to customers.

      *Even if you aren’t talking specifically about your book, if a customer is willing to talk to you about anything, just keep talking! Odds are, if you have a ten minute conversation on tricks to getting your kids ready for school, the customer will connect with you which in turn will make them interested in your book.

      *Always strive to leave a good impression. “Have a great day!” is a good send off, to your current customers and to the potential ones that may come back in another day for your book.

Well, I hope this was helpful! I have hosted many, many authors, some great, some not so great. Signings really are great tools to get your name out there, get your book noticed, and build good relationships with the stores that sell your product. I always enjoyed having authors in the store; it was fun to put a face to the book, and I know that a lot of Seagull Book stores (can’t definitively speak for any other company) feel the same way. Good luck, and happy selling!

(Stephanie here: Megan, thank you SO much for these awesome booksigning tips. I'll be coming back to review your post before I do a signing! It's so good to get the bookstore perspective on how to make a signing successful). 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mickey Mouse, Whitneys, and Revisions

Last week, we had a deeply awesome trip to Disneyland with my sister and her family. This was a special occasion and a last-chance hurrah: my sister's husband has been called to serve as a mission president, and they'll be leaving this summer for three years. They decided to go to Disneyland this winter (a much-needed break for the family) and we tagged along. It's crazy to think how old our kids will be by the time my sister's family returns. Already, my two oldest girls are off at college. My sister's oldest daughter graduates from high school this year. Our older sons are taller than we are. Aww, man . . . everyone is growing up. What's up with that? Where's a Time Turner when you need one? You know how when your kids are little, it feels like they'll be little forever? And then one of them gets old enough for kindergarten, and they're so grown up, and it's a new world? And then one of them gets old enough to babysit  the younger kids and it's a WHOLE NEW WORLD (such a momentous event requires all caps)? And then somebody enters high school, and then you get distracted for a moment trying to find a shoe and an overdue library book, and when you look again, your kids are adults? Weird how that works.

In other news, I'm thrilled to report that Rearview Mirror was chosen as a 2011 Whitney Award finalist. It's a tremendous honor to be in the Mystery/Suspense category with Traci Abramson, Jennie Hansen, Gregg Luke, and Anne Perry. A huge thank you to the Whitney committee and to the category judges who put in countless hours of work.

I'm doing my Whitney reading (if you are an author or writing industry professional and are not part of the voting academy but would like to be, click here for more information). Last year, I read all thirty-five finalists--whew!--which made me eligible to vote for Best Novel of the Year. That was fun, but this year--to my husband's relief--I'm not planning to attempt all thirty-five. At this point, I'm not sure how many categories I'll vote in. I know I want to vote in Speculative and YA Speculative; beyond that, we'll see how many categories I finish (I've currently read nine of the thirty-five books).

I'm still aiming to wear that red dress at the Whitney gala, but my weight loss seems to have plateaued. Sigh. It's frustrating, feeling like, "This used to work! Why isn't it working anymore?" I'm hoping I can get things moving forward again, preferably without a lot of self-deprivation and struggle, because, oddly enough, I like brownies better than self-deprivation. Especially those marshmallow peanut butter Rice Krispie brownies.

I'm about 2/3 of the way through the revisions in the current draft of my manuscript, as I incorporate feedback from test readers and revise and edit and polish. My goal is to submit it at the end of the month.

I suppose I'd better quit blogging and go exercise . . .

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Creepy Me

I grew up reading the suspense novels of Mary Higgins Clark. Her books are fun, suspenseful, and scary. She’s a master of the page-turner, a master of raising all these questions in your head so you want to keep reading to find out what happens. Her heroines are likeable and sympathetic, people you want to root for. And her books are clean. No worries about gore, foul language, or sex scenes. Sometimes the villains or stories are pretty creepy, as you might expect in suspense novels, but the stories are never gruesome or stomach-turning or graphic—just fun, spine-chilling reads. Mary Higgins Clark is one of my author heroes.

Despite the fact that Mary Higgins Clark creates creepy situations and villains, I don’t remember it ever occurring to me that Clark herself—not her books, but the woman—was creepy. She was simply an author skilled at writing suspense—an elegant woman with her hair swept up and classy jewelry (she has awesome back cover photos). I loved her creepy stories, but didn’t think that she was creepy. Or twisted. Or had a “dark side.” But on multiple occasions, I’ve gotten comments along these lines from readers of my books.

Naturally, if someone says something about my creepiness, I’ll just smile or joke, ha ha, yes, I’m so scary, or what have you. I assume they don't mean it in a bad way . . . I hope. It might even be a compliment on the book--what a creepy, twisty story! You must have a twisty mind!--but it’s happened enough that it’s starting to . . . um . . . bother me a little. What exactly do people mean when they say I have a dark side or a twisted mind? Do they think I’m a scary person? That behind the smiling mommy/stake girls camp director/amateur violinist/professional procrastinator fa├žade that I’m . . . what? Sacrificing cats?

Since the comments tend to come from people who know me personally, I’m guessing they just find it . . . I don’t know . . . surprising? Odd? Scary? . . . that I can come up with these creepy stories, since I seem like . . . um . . . a person who wouldn’t be able to come up with creepy stories? Help me out here. Is it because I’m a Mormon mommy that I get these comments—is this an unusual business for a Mormon housewife to be in? (And for anyone unfamiliar with my work who is now sitting there scandalized wondering what type of horrors I’m writing, this is LDS fiction, folks. Clean stuff. My 92-year-old grandfather enjoys my books).

I guess the thinking is that to come up with scary stories, you must have a scary mind, just as, um, quilting requires a quilting sort of mind, and taking care of toddlers involves a large section of your mind labeled “sticky things and loud noises.” So I guess I am creepy. That would explain the people fleeing in terror when I utter those spine-chilling words, "Go do the dishes, kids." 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Drafts, Treats, and the Stink of Red Herrings

Sooo . . . blogging. Yeah. It’s been a while.

It’s always a bit sad to have the Christmas season end. My two oldest girls headed back to college, so the household has shrunk again. When I texted my daughter a list of some of the things they’d left behind, she wondered what they DID have in their suitcases, considering everything they’d forgotten. They didn’t have the cat, unfortunately, but I would have stuck it in there if I’d thought I could get away with it.

And now, back to real life. Strangely enough, I didn’t do much in the way of writing over Christmas break, but yesterday, with the kids all back in school and the party officially over, I was out of reasons to stall. I made some good progress and was able to finish the third draft of my book. It also helped that I’d refilled my See’s candy Bribe Supply. Hooray for chocolate, which reminds me: over the holidays, I made my first ever Yule Log. I’ve never made a Yule Log or a jelly-roll-type cake of any kind, so this was a new experience. For the cake roll, I used Annette Lyon’s recipe from Chocolate Never Faileth—oh my, but I love that cookbook—put ice cream mixed with crushed candy canes inside for the filling, and drizzled Annette’s chocolate glaze over the top. As far as Yule Logs go, my efforts were pretty basic—the filling turned out looking a bit orange, since I used French vanilla ice cream, which is yellowish, and some of the red food coloring came off the candy canes. I didn’t make it look like real wood, or create meringue mushrooms, or spun-sugar birds, or a botanically accurate model of tree fungus fashioned out of marizpan, but man, I was proud of it. I rolled up a cake! And it didn’t fall apart!

Other holiday treats: Grittibanz (a Swiss bread shaped like little people, or in the case of my son’s creation, like an octopus); “elf bark”, made of dark and white chocolate, cranberries and pistachios, Danish puff pastry, two types of cookies from my husband’s new Tartine cookbook (the Christmas gift that keeps on giving! Tartine is an amazing bakery in San Francisco), and sugar cookies, wherein I accidentally put twice as much butter in the frosting as I should have—oops—but it’s not all bad, because you can NEVER HAVE ENOUGH BUTTER.

Mmm . . . Christmas treats.

Anyway, where was I? The third draft. For me, the third draft is the one I send out to test readers. Good luck to them this time around; I’m not sure what I think of this book yet. I hope it’s okay, or can become okay after my helpful test readers point what’s wrong with it (“It started out slow, but picked up around page 360 after I finished it and went to watch Psych reruns”). I hope the villain isn’t too obvious. The chronic fear of the mystery writer—worrying the villain is too obvious. And the irony is that one reader’s Obvious is another reader’s I Never Saw That Coming. On one of my books, I got heartily criticized by a reviewer for having the villain be too obvious—it didn’t fool her at all. On the same book, I got heartily criticized by a reviewer for having the villain be so “out of the blue” and unexpected that she found the ending disappointing. Sigh. Fact is, everyone will have his/her own experience with your book, positive or negative, so as a writer, you just do the best you can and hope the people who don’t like it don’t have Goodreads accounts. I've been grumbling about concealing villains lately (only fictional ones, in case you were wondering). I think I have Red Herring Burnout. For my next suspense novel, so help me, I’m announcing the villain on page one. Heck, I’ll make it the title of the book: “Jim Did It.” Ahhh. What a relief.