Make Me a Memoir

When I’m deep in my writing cave, I usually quit reading deep introspective things and read Harlequin romance novels and other quick fiction. It’s a relaxation for my  brain from all the work I’m doing. This time around, I was devouring research for my book instead. My brain became overloaded with ideas. I lost sight of what my book was supposed to be about and what I was trying to do. I hit stop on all my “research” and decided to return to a much beloved genre for one last non-fiction hurrah before I ceased all communications: memoir.

When I was reviewing the romantic fiction I read, I gave a simple rubric for what a story had to have to be for me. I also have one for memoirs. It’s a short set of criteria of what I believe a memoir should do. As I am adding elements of memoir into my current work, I won’t be reading anymore for a while, but I want to tell you why the last one I read was excellent and convince you to read it if you haven’t. I also want to recommend others in the genre I’ve read and loved over the years.

Memoirs are books based on the lived experiences of the author. They usually cover specific events, periods of time, or struggles/experiences with a certain disease, etc. They can be funny, heartbreaking, introspective, poetic or prosaic. The style is as varied as the authors who work in the genre. This criteria applies to all kinds of memoir for me. I haven’t included specifics on funny memoirs, childhood memoirs, memoirs about medical conditions, etc. This list isn’t an exhaustive list of what makes a memoir great, but a rubric for how I judge if a memoir was a good one.

So let’s dig into what a great memoir has to do (in my humble opinion):

  • Be honest with the ugly. Every memoir I’ve read and loved shares the characteristic of not shying away from sharing the hard stuff. Whether detailing a painful moment where addiction has made them do something awful to someone they love or sharing an unflattering truth they learned about themselves while recovering from a traumatic injury, memoirs need to honestly portray their subjects. Not everything is good or bad in life; some things are a dull, lifeless gray. Others are downright ugly. The sign a memoir is going flat for me is when I feel as if the author is holding back and not being truthful with me.
  • Be so specific it can’t help but to be universal. The best memoirs I’ve read have been written by people with wildly different experiences than I’ve had in my life. On the surface, I have nothing in common with their story. But within the pages of the book, against all odds, I see myself. Somehow, by sharing the specifics of their unique situations, they manage to tap into a universal experience. I’ll give you an example. Many women the world over connected with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. I’m sure most of them have never gotten divorced then lived in three different countries over the next year on a journey to find themselves. But more than one woman reading could identify with that late night crying on the bathroom floor moment Liz had wondering why she was so unhappy, or with the simultaneous relief and grief of ending a relationship that isn’t working. Maybe they didn’t eat their way through Italy or pray in an ashram in India after their breakup, but they did go on a journey of self-discovery. By sharing her specific experience, Elizabeth Gilbert tapped into a universal feeling, and readers were so inspired by it, ten years later Gilbert’s publisher released, Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It, a book of stories about what Gilbert’s book inspired others to do.
  • Drop truth bombs. A classic memoir has to do more than get me to raise my hand and shout “me too!” I need more than the gory details of your life. Every great memoir I’ve read has given me at least one moment where I’ve had to close my finger in its pages to hold my place while I sag back against my seat slack jawed at the enormous truth the author just dropped as casually as a comment on the weather. This is one of the things that makes memoir so good. The author gets to share not just a universal experience, but a truth found in the trenches. The statement itself can be simple, but the effect is a nuclear cloud mushroom in your brain, an explosion that move inexorably outward.
  • Perform surgery, not suicide. The best memoirs are akin to self-surgery. The author cuts him/herself open not merely to marvel at the mess of their innards, but to heal themselves. A great work is written in blood, yes, but it’s not a dying declaration; it’s a wounding for the healing of the reader AND the writer. If you aren’t over whatever the subject of your memoir is, if you can’t look back curiously with an eye toward finding the truth, it’s not time to pen a memoir. All memoirist are engaged in excavating the valuable from a lived experience, the thing that’s been bombed or buried but is still intact. I’m not interested in those who want to make a spectacle for sympathy.

Maydays, Mayhem, and Maybes


You guys! Is it really May?

April and May are two of my favorite months of the year because I love Spring. I like the idea that things that have been lying dormant all winter, seemingly dead, start to bud and blossom and come back to life. Renewal and hope, new beginnings and fresh starts, are everywhere.

The connection is especially potent for me this year. A story I thought was long dead has started to bud, as have many other areas of my life which flatlined during the long winter months. I haven’t done a goals post in a while, but now seems like the perfect time to do so. I need to set some goals for my writing again and work hard toward achieving them.

The first week of May, I spent some time exploring a few options for writing goals, and now I’m ready to commit them to writing. Here are my May 2017 writing goals:

  • Revise Always the Last to Know. I spent last week working on revisions to the first two chapters of this story and figuring out revisions to a few more chapters. I’m coming up with ways to make the writing stronger and work in some of the changes the Love Inspired editor suggested. I’m spending my days off and mornings working on this and enjoying the fruit of this labor.
  • Find the perfect beta reader/critique buddy for ATLTK. I need to find the right beta reader/critique partner for this project–someone who loves the premise and the characters but is able to offer constructive criticism of my execution, especially with regard to the Love Inspired line. I have a couple people who have offered advice and help, but no beta reader lined up.
  • Read GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon. This book has been suggested and recommended by countless authors I admire. I know I need a lot of help with internal and external conflict in my stories, and I think this book will help me better understand these areas.
  • Make a decision on finding an agent. I’ve wrestled with whether or not to submit to an agent for a while now. I’ve only tried to catch an agent’s eye a couple times through #pitmad and a blind cupid contest. I know an agent will open me up to more submission opportunities (especially in the Christian market) and I can benefit from their expertise, but I’m not sure if an agent is for me. I plan to do more research and make a firm decision whether or not to submit this project to an agent for representation.

I’m not rushing through these revisions. I’m letting the story and characters lead me this go round. I’m not paying too much attention to the suggested revisions right now. I’m fixing what I see isn’t working, with some of the revision suggestions in mind. Since I had to cut over a third of the book, I’m focused on getting a workable draft before I look to fine tuning. I’m giving myself the same deadline I had to submit for Blurb to Book. By July 15, 2017, I will hit the submit button on revisions to Always the Last to Know. I believe this is a scary but attainable goal. This gives me two months and one week to craft a story I love. It will also stand me in good stead to hear back on my submission this year. I’ll also have plenty of time to start the next book in the series and put together a proposal for the series while I wait.

What writing goals are you working on this month?

Tentatively dipping a toe back in fiction waters


NaNoWriMo and Fiction Re-Ignition

I’ve been focusing more on creative non-fiction than I have on fiction in both my reading and writing for quite some time. However, being fired has given me time to miss reading fiction and writing it. I’ve been immersing myself in fictional worlds, escaping from my own monotonous and sometimes anxiety ridden reality.

I’ve decided on a novel to work on for NaNoWriMo, an inspirational romance featuring characters who have appeared in other works in my fictional town in Northwest Georgia. I think I have a good feel for the characters and the conflict, but I’m still working out the kinks. Hopefully I can write consistently for the month on the project. I’ll consider that a win even if I don’t get to write the words The End.

As far as fiction reading goes, it’s mostly been Harlequin romances, but I’m expanding. I am reading Stephen King’s The Shining right now. I am more than halfway through. I plan to get back to Lullaby by Chuck  Palahniuk soon. I want to get Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend. Then I’ll need a break from dark fiction and find something less scary but just as deep.

I’m going back to reviewing books, and boy do I have a lot to review. I read a few from my 2016 reading list (a very few) that need to be reviewed, and I can’t wait to share them. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer are two which stand out to me. Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst is also on the list.

What have you all been reading?

What (Really) Happens to a Dream Deferred?

It gets you sacked, that’s what.

Well, no, not really. It’s been a while since I’ve written, and a lot has changed, let me tell you. The biggest changes have been mostly good:

I was a vendor at the Beyond the Masquerade conference in Brunswick, GA in February 2016. There I debuted a prayer journal I developed based on The Lord’s Prayer recorded in Matt. 6. I was also a vendor at the National Ladies Lectureship in Birmingham, AL in April 2016. I finally published my second non-fiction book, The Season for Getting Serious, in July 2016, and sold it for the first time at my church’s ladies day, where I was a speaker. I was a vendor at a ladies day in Cocoa in August and at the National Christian Singles’ Seminar this past Labor Day weekend. I am in the midst of writing my first study and have started organizing book coaching, editing, and publishing packages to help other aspiring authors on their road to publication.

I created my first covers for The Season for Getting Serious and the Prayer Journal, took classes on formatting manuscripts, and have worked to sharpen my book marketing skills. I started an online store and sold a few books through it. Things are creatively looking up.

But it hasn’t all been peaches and cream. I lost my job in July. It’s always been funny to me that we say we lost a job, as if it’s been somehow misplaced, when what’s really happened is we’ve been terminated. As I was being shown the door by a regretful and sorry to see me go co-worker, she said that now I would go off and be a famous writer. I’m glad one of us saw this as an opportunity for me to go after a long held dream. I saw it as an opportunity to get acquainted with soup kitchens and finding interesting places to park my car/new home.

Thanks to a little foresight, a successful ladies day sale, and the fortitude to list out exactly what was needed, I have bought myself a pretty comfortable glide to the end of this year in which to find new employment and see if I can’t just make a go of this writing thing.

I’ve made great progress on my selling technique and managed to sell out at my last event. The future still remains to be seen, but I’ve a firm grasp on the general gist of it. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m hoping that I can make a happier life for myself than I’ve had career wise in quite some time.

As this will be my home base for my future writing and freelance editing/publishing endeavors, I will be around more and updating much more frequently. More later.



Writing Wednesday: Kill Your Darlings, Darling

Writing WednesdayPlease excuse me for being late posting, but I’ve been trying to figure out where to go next on this winding writing journey. After coming to grips with the receipt of an R&R, I decided it was time to go on and read my full manuscript. After all six weeks is a good amount of time to really get some distance between me and my writing. I was dreading getting to chapter four. Apparently, chapter four is where things really went to pot for this story. The editor said one solution she didn’t recommend was SCRAPPING THE ENTIRE CHAPTER. The one she suggested involves some major cutting and rewriting. Either way, I knew chapter four was going to be dreadful. What sort of awful things were waiting for me when I got to this much defamed chapter?

Here’s the thing, though: I LOVE chapter four. Actually, I’m pretty happy with everything up to chapter four. That doesn’t mean that I don’t see things to change, places to strengthen, etc. It means that I see what an awesome story with intriguing characters I set on those pages. And chapter four has some of the best prose I’ve ever written. The dialogue is good and fast moving. I love what it shows the reader about my hero’s character and the kind of person he is under all his bluster about duty and responsibility, and I love the kid he’s talking to in it. But some of that really great stuff has got to go on the cutting room floor, never to be seen again outside a blog post or newsletter post publication.

It’s very easy to get chuck awkward prose in the digital trash bin. It’s easy to rewrite an area that just isn’t working. But what about truly good writing that just doesn’t belong in the story. What do you do with your orphaned darlings? Do you save them in hopes of using them in another story? Do you relegate them to file thirteen? Do you give them new life as bonus content on WattPad, your website or in newsletters? Do you have any strategies to make it easier/more bearable to get rid of those creative gems that just don’t fit in your current masterpiece?



Writing Wednesday: The R&R Roller Coaster

Writing WednesdayWhen I was a kid, I loved going to Cedar Point. I love the sights and sounds, buying $3 slices of pizza, spending $20 to win a small stuffed animal, running around thousands of acres of pavement with my friends. Here’s the thing, though: I had a heart murmur, a condition that prevented me from riding any but the most tame rides. Before I knew about that, I was just too short. But I could feel the excitement in the air, and I imagined what it would be like to get on a roller coaster every time I went to an amusement park.

I did eventually get to ride a couple coasters, and let me tell you, the experience was harrowing, to say the least. Aside from the actual iron monsters that hurtled me up and over and around peak after peak at breakneck speed while I held on for dear life and wished I’d never stepped foot on them, my pursuit of publication has been one long roller coaster ride, filled with ups and downs. I’m sure most writers can relate.

Today the specific coaster I want to talk about is the Revise and Resubmit, or R &R coaster. The R&R and its accompanying revision letter can feel like a blessing and a curse. Last Wednesday I received my first R&R on the full I submitted to Blurb to Book. It’s taken me this long to sort out all the feelings associated with it. Here’s how the roller coaster went for me:

A couple of fellow contest entrants and I were discussing the lack of news and speculating when another contestant announced privately that she had received an R&R. I was surprised but didn’t think much of it. The ladies and I were talking about the feedback we received from the previous round, and it was my turn to say what my feedback was. I went to my email to pull a quote and there it was: a new email from an editor with the name of my Blurb to Book entry on it. The roller coaster rolled downward and picked up speed along the way. The air whooshed out of me. Was this the end of the line?

I cast my eyes to the end of the subject line and saw the reassuring shape of a paper clip. There was something attached. So not a form rejection, and the very least. I read over the email quickly, my heart plummeting as I read that she was sorry that they weren’t making an offer on the book. HOWEVER–that shimmering beacon of hope of a word–if I was willing to CHANGE ALL THE THINGS, they would be happy to reconsider it or another manuscript.

OK, being honest, it didn’t say CHANGE ALL THE THINGS, and certainly not in all caps, but that’s what it felt like. Reading through the attached letter–pages and pages of single spaced, bullet pointed suggestions–was the part of the roller coaster where your heart is beating so fast and you’re being jerked around so many ways and pulled into so many loops you’re not sure which way is up but you ARE sure you should not have gotten on this ride.

ALL THE FEELS. Feelsville, population 1. You get feels and you get feels–everyone gets FEELS!

What are these feels, you ask?

The first feeling I had is “what in the world did they actually like about this story?” Getting a letter pointing out all the things that didn’t work can be overwhelming. It makes you wonder if they liked YOUR story at all. What had they seen in what I sent them that they didn’t want to change? How in the world did I get this second chance if this book is that terrible? Maybe I should just give up writing. I can sell all my stuff and sit around in a sweat lodge until I receive some sort of enlightenment on what I’m ACTUALLY supposed to be doing with my life. I’m a horrible writer. It’s all over. Lights. Growing. Dim…

The second feeling. How dare they? I sent them a masterpiece–literary perfection! So what if I thought that many of these same things weren’t working. I mean, really, some of these suggestions. Well, you can rest assured I’m not doing that. My character would never do that. This is just not going to work for me. They just don’t understand my genius. Self-publishing, here I come!

The third feeling–I’m a little too close to this. Maybe I should put this letter away for a while, send it to my critique buddies for a different perspective. In the meantime, I’ll just wander over to the store and buy ALL THE FOOD and eat ALL MY FEELINGS. SN: Feelings taste pretty good with caramel, y’all. Like salty sweet goodness.

Now that I’ve had time, second opinions, sugary goodness, and a change in perspective from the ever wise Mr. Perfect, I peeked at the letter again. Hmm…not as bad as I thought. Yes, I knew that wasn’t working like I wanted it to before I hit send. No, I don’t think my character would do that normally, but if I did it this way it could work…

If this were the stages of grief, grieving the loss of the book I thought I was writing, I think I’d finally be at acceptance. I wrote my heart out. The manuscript still needs work. But they like it. And it’s not impossible to fix.

How have you dealt with a revise and resubmit letter?

Writing Wednesday: Who’s Book Is It, Anyway?

Writing WednesdayIt’s been one month since I turned in my Blurb to Book entry. With less than three weeks to go before the wrap up post and two authors already acquired, my comrades in arms are getting a little nervous. We are speculating on whose manuscript the editors are reading, which editor is reading it, how they are determining the order in which they read, and how they decide who gets the call. You know, all the things that makes a writer with a submission out go crazy.

As I said, two authors so far have been put out of this misery and into the stratosphere of happiness by receiving the call. Both are previously published. This has been a major area of discussion. Is that a coincidence? Is it just their previous experience has strengthened their writing to make them stand out or is it something else? It’s enough to drive a person crazy, the things unpublished authors find to focus on. Is it because they are agented? What is the magic potion?!

Everyone wants to know who will be next to sell. We are second and third guessing our manuscripts and choices, reading into every tweet, and vacillating between diving into the next book and feeling it might be better to hold off for feedback on this one, to make sure we are doing it right. We don’t quite know how to address the mix of accomplishment, nervousness, and loss of control that we’ve been battling for the past month.

Here’s what stuck out to me in that whole thing: there are some of us hesitating or procrastinating on the next book because we want to know how this one was received. I ask, in all seriousness and with the utmost of gentle love and kick-in-the-pants moxie: What is your problem? Why on earth are you waiting for validation on the previous thing to get deep into the next one?

Look, I get it: you want to know if you are on the right track, going in the direction the editors for a certain line/publisher want. But here’s the thing, though: until it’s contracted, it’s YOUR book. Who cares who will love it or want to buy it? No one’s going to buy the book you don’t write! You have to write the story you feel like is begging to be written. Once you have a draft, you can revise with a certain publisher or line in mind. But don’t keep interrupting your creative process waiting to see if you got the last thing right! This is your book, isn’t it? Well, write like it!

*she says to herself as much as to anyone else*

That’s my two cents, anyway. Where do you fall on the spectrum of writing while you wait? How much do you take a line/publisher/genre’s conventions into consideration while writing? Should you? Who else is waiting to hear on a submission and wants to encourage/commiserate with me?

Writing Wednesday: Reception

Writing WednesdayI’ve been fascinated by all the talk about what happened at RWA this year. So many people with so many strong feelings about so many things. Whenever you get a big group of writers (almost always synonymous with thinkers…almost) together, there are bound to be many of these. While I followed the discussion on diversity in romance pretty closely, the thing that stood out to me the most were all the strong feelings expressed about Kate Breslin’s double RITA nominated debut book For Such A Time. Whether writers and reviewers were expressing their outrage that a romance between a Nazi officer and a Jewish woman was nominated twice for one of the industry’s top honors (and many, many other prestigious awards besides the RITA), or arguing for more religions beside Christianity to be represented in the inspirational category of the RITA, it was clear people felt very strongly about this book, and by extension, this author and her publisher.

I don’t want to get into the specifics of any of that. I can debate the advisability of her hero and heroine choices, the agency of the heroine, the probability of it all happening with the best of them. I can say whether or not I feel that the fact that there’s a Christian slant to the story of a Jewish woman is displacing her identity or whether it’s authentic all day. But my current list of things to get all up in arms about (and my timeline) are full of too many other atrocities to give this the sensitivity and attention it would require, and it has next to nothing to do with writing. The reason I brought up the whole debate in the first place is to talk about something that all writers can relate to: reception.

When I read some of the reviews, letters to RWA and criticism of For Such A Time, my first thought was for Kate Breslin. I looked up her website and Facebook to see how she was coping with this onslaught of negative reviews and criticisms of a book she spent years trying to write. I can’t imagine my debut being nominated for every prestigious award in inspirational romance. Can you imagine the joy, the elation? Then to be hit with such severe backlash from your peers in the industry. Wow.

So I want to talk about that thing that most of us as writers usually don’t talk about. While we are happy to prognosticate and speculate on every other part of the publication process that we have no control over, the most I hear about reception is coping strategies. I see retweets of the best reviews from the most prestigious reviewers. One of the indie groups I am in on Facebook has members who share their funniest one star Amazon reviews. But what do you do when your industry is bestowing honors on you but your peers are calling for your book to be shunned?

I’ve always thought of romance writers as this warm and open community, but many others are coming out and sharing how it hasn’t been so welcoming of them (see: diversity in romance discussion referenced above). While some are calling for more inclusion, others are calling for certain kinds of stories to snubbed. The problem with any talk of inclusion, especially forcible inclusion, tries to neglect the fact that this is just as much coercion as exclusion. Mandating that a certain number of diverse books be included on lists of books that were judged and voted on by a large number of individuals, for example,  may force other deserving books off the list to maintain the quota. Championing the publication of diverse books is a horse of a different color. If there are readers there should be books But I’m getting off track. Right. Reception.

As a writer with a book under consideration with an editor, I’m now having nightmares about what the possible reception could be if the book made it to print. I tackle an issue I have no personal experience with and try to portray it well, but I don’t know how actual women dealing with it will receive the book. In another story, the hero is responsible for the death of someone related to the heroine. I wrestled back and forth with having it turn out to be someone else’s fault or somehow absolving him of guilt to make it easier for a reader to accept him and them as a couple, but that wasn’t true to the story. I imagine that Ms. Breslin may have struggled with the proper context and framework for her story as well. As a writer, I understand that you have to be true to the story and write without as much thought to the reception.

So how do you balance both of these considerations? How do you deal with backlash or poor reception, particularly from writing peers/readers you admire? How should we critique work we find offensive (or should we critique it at all?)

Writing Wednesday: Starting Something New

Writing Wednesday The above graphic is the result of several painstaking minutes playing around with Picmonkey. Look on it and be amazed!

It’s been a while, people. I suffered from mental exhaustion and a bout of laziness following Blurb to Book that seeped into posting. I’m super sorry, and hopefully I’ll be able to produce some quality content in the near future. Now that the excitement of Blurb to Book is behind me, let’s talk about starting something new.

I have a problem settling on a new project once I complete something. I was listening to Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert on Ms. Gilbert’s podcast, Big Magic, where they talked about how when you finish a project you feel like you have nothing left to give another project. You put everything you had into the last one. You’ll never have any more to put into anything else. That’s it; you’re done. Finis!

Dani Shapiro talks about the shimmer or little spark of something that she sees that gets a new project started. She also talked about that drained feeling and the despair that accompanies finishing a project, but then she will see or hear or remember something and the ideas will start to come.

I put all the romantic stuff in me into the book I turned in two weeks ago today. Do I have any more romantic stuff in me? Of course! I have at least twelve ideas tied to the one I just finished. I also haven’t the faintest clue what to do with any of them. I’ve researched and made generic sketches of ideas, but nothing was really grabbing me and not letting go. I know I have to let the ideas percolate until the story is ready to come out. But in the meantime, I need to keep writing something. So what?

I had an idea for something completely different. It’s not romance, not Christian non-fiction, and not literary. It’s kind of creepy, actually. It’s a silly idea, at least it feels silly, and so far it’s a little too like Stephen King fanfic (even though it’s totally NOT), but I’m having fun writing it. It’s just plain fun, which is a nice palate cleanser.

I know you’re dying to know what it’s about, right? What I can share: There’s a group of kids who meet in In-School Suspension in high school who make a pact with each other that impacts the rest of their lives. They are brought back together by the death of one of the group, which sets off a chain of events that may be supernatural in nature or may just be some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy based on a pact that they really didn’t take seriously. I don’t want to say what the pact is, who the friends are, what the consequences are, how the friend dies, or anything like that (and yes, I do know the answers to those questions) because I don’t know what I’ll do with it yet. Maybe I’ll put up a bit on WattPad? I don’t know.

So my question for the writers out there: What do you do when you finish a project? How long do you wait to start something else? How do you get back into the writing groove?



Writing Wednesday: 10 Things You Might Not Have Known About my Blurb to Book Entry

Getting a late start this morning. Please excuse my post tardiness!

I’ve been reflecting on my Blurb to Book journey as I’ve been busy selling my self-published book at a conference and getting back into revisions for my manuscript. It’s been a wild ride thus far. I thought it would be interesting to share a few things about my Blurb to Book manuscript and journey thus far.

1. Always the Last to Know is part of a series. This is the…4th story in the series that I’ve started. I entered the second story I attempted in the series into So You Think You Can Write last year as Love Thy Enemy. Set in a fictional small town in northern Georgia, the Always books (as I’ve been calling them) are deeply emotional stories about God’s forgiveness and love and how He truly is a God of second chances. I’m hoping that Love Thy Enemy, and the many other stories I have set here, will eventually be published along with Always the Last to Know.

2. I started Always the Last to Know a couple days before I entered Blurb to Book…along with the 5th story in the Always series. I was torn between entering my 3rd story, or starting fresh with one of my other Always ideas. I whipped up blurbs and first pages for Always the Last to Know and book 5 and a blurb for story 3 and sent them to my critique buddies. My critique buddies both picked Always the Last to Know.

3. My main characters are Cordelia Adams and Winston St. James. My inspiration for Cordelia is January Jones from Mad Men and Winston’s is a hot tan guy I found in a Google search for men with hazel eyes. I used pictures for each on previous Writing Wednesday posts.

5. This story deals with some heavy issues–infidelity, fertility issues, custody disputes, etc. The original idea for the story called for a widow trying to adopt a child to be faced with a soft hearted cop who has to tell her she may not be able to adopt the baby she’s come to love. The infertility angle evolved from a combination of influences. One was a study I was doing on barrenness in the bible for a non-fiction project. The other were the comments on a blog I like. The blog’s author asked people to write down things they wanted her to pray for them about. I was so shocked at how many of these women were struggling with infertilityAs I began to research the topic, I found that miscarriage and infertility were a lot more common than I knew. The next thing I knew, Cordelia’s character started opening up to me about how fertility issues played a part in her decision to adopt.

6. I had to change a *major* plot element to the book which meant adding a *villain.* In my original synopsis and ending of chapter three, I had my hero doing something that has repercussions for later in the story (in other words, it bites him hard in the butt). The editors thought that it made him look bad to have him do it. But it had to be incorporated somehow because what he uncovered had to come out in order for the black moment to be as black as can be. So I pulled out my cast of characters for the series and found a minor character who wouldn’t mind getting his hands dirty in order to win. It turns out having another character do the dirty work gave me another angle I could exploit. It’s different than what I planned, and exactly right for this story (and maybe a future one).

7. Speaking of the editors’ advice, another suggestion of the editors really strengthened the story. They thought the characters were too antagonistic in the beginning. I knew I needed to keep the tension high and show that they were on different sides, but being able to add in some attraction and connection. Figuring out how to soften them helped me to dig a little deeper into Winston’s character. I originally wanted him to be more laid back, the type to crack jokes, but that didn’t fit with the book or who Winston turned out to be. By really examining his motivation as well as the goal, I found that Winston wouldn’t be so antagonistic toward her or as threatened by her claim to the baby. This allowed his character to be more calm and levelheaded in the situation (and a little of his humor peaked through to try and diffuse a tense situation).

8. I cut a scene–then used it anyway. This time around, I’ve decided to do a Cutting Room Floor document that houses all the parts I cut out of the original manuscript. I had a scene in chapter two where Winston is working that I cut because I knew it was important to keep th two main characters on the page at the same time as much as possible in the beginning. I wasn’t going to use it, but then I realized that it revealed a lot about Winston’s past and why raising his niece is so important to him. He sees a lot of himself in a character he encounters in that scene. Moreover, I found a way to use that encounter to help Winston resolve some of his emotional conflict later. So I put it back in a couple chapters later.

9. I keep having characters that run to think about things and sort out their issues. This is the second book it’s come up in. This is especially funny because I’m not a runner. I used to run all the time in high school. Give me my Nikes and my headphones and I was golden. But now you can’t pay me to run. I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

10. I saved a confession for last. I stopped writing after every deadline. EVERY. DEADLINE. It was fear. I entered my first page and I wrote for a few days but then stopped. I didn’t have a lot of hope that I’d make the next round. I hadn’t made it past round one of a contest since high school (which were apparently my glory days–a sad commentary). There were over 300 entries and only 75 spots. The last few days before the Round 2 announcement, I started writing again. I was thrilled to see my name in with others moving to the next round. After that, I wrote and rewrote until I had three chapters and an acceptable synopsis to turn in at the 11th hour. Then I stopped writing. Again. There was no way I would make the top 30 and be invited to submit the full manuscript. My target goal was to get to the round with feedback and I had done that. Again, a few days before the announcement, I started writing again. I really liked the story and I wanted to know what happened next. Then I found out I made the final round. After celebrating, it suddenly sank in that I had to finish a book in two months–two busy months. Between ladies days, a singles’ conference, finding out I need to move at the end of this month, finding a new place, busy season at my job, and other turmoil and upheaval, time has moved swiftly. I’m still scribbling away, making sure I’m putting my best work on the page. I’m ecstatic to have made it this far, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I do know that by August 30th, I should know the fate of Always the Last to Know. Either way, it’s been a fun ride and I’ve learned so much about myself and my writing process.