At the American Night Writers Association (ANWA) Conference in September 2017, I received my first 1st place award in ANWA’s BOB (Beginning of Book) Contest. I’ve won 2nd and 3rd places before, but this is my first time winning 1st place. The award was for my submission in the Middle Grade category, Speakeasy Orphanage. My friend, Chanda Simper, won 2nd place in the Middle Grade category.
Here’s my entry:
“Del, how long do we have to wait?” Danika whispered, squirming a little more into the small space in the armoire where they hid. “Shhh.” Del pushed back slowly. “We don’t want Regina to hear us.” Being small for her age usually had its drawbacks. No one ever believed she was twelve, and the nuns at the orphanage gave her children’s clothes to wear. But Adella couldn’t bring herself to regret her size at that moment. Had she been any bigger, she might not have been able to breathe in the tight space. They were so close she could smell the pizza from lunch on her sister’s breath. Why’d you have to make her mad again?” It was a good question, and her little sister deserved a good answer. Adella wished she had one. She just couldn’t help but speak up sometimes. Mom told her God blessed her with a lot of heart, but no height. Dad used to quote Shakespeare about her. “And though she be but little, she is fierce.” “I’m sorry, Dan. Regina was picking on Charlie.” “She’s always picking on someone. She’s twice our—” “Shhh!” Footsteps sounded down the hall, outside the orphanage laundry room. Danika and Adella froze, barely breathing. The steps turned into the basement room, echoing with another set of paces that followed behind. “Where did they go?” Regina’s voice sounded far away when heard from the bottom shelf of the closed armoire, but Adella knew she was only a dozen feet away. “Kate said she saw them come down here.” The next voice belonged to Ashley, Regina’s partner-in-crime and almost as big of bully as Regina. “Bet she’s lying again.” “Maybe they’re hiding in a dryer? We could turn them all on and give them a ride.” “Do it!” Danika gasped. Hiding in a dryer had been her idea, but Adella had pulled sheets from the bottom shelf and pushed them into the nearest machine. Adella had never been happier she’d followed that little voice inside her head. Dryers began turning on, amidst hysterical laughter, as more footsteps circled the room in opposite directions. Despite her outward bravery, Adella’s palms began to sweat. Those girls had mean streaks as long as the matching red-punch-dyed strips in their hair. When the footsteps stopped in front of the armoire, Adella pushed farther into the corner of the cabinet. Something clicked and then squeaked behind her. Adella prayed it wasn’t a rat. No. The back panel of the cabinet was loose and flapping out at the bottom. With her rear, she pushed harder against the back panel to silence the sound, but the entire panel shifted. Too far. Adella’s eyes widened as she grabbed for her sister’s arm. Together, they rolled backward into darkness. Lying on her back, the smell of dust and mildew almost made Adella cough, but she forced herself to hold her breath. A foot above her, a dim strip of light wavered as the secret panel shuddered to a stop.
It’s crazy to think I started this book series in 2008 and finished four books (plus another one on the side) in six years. With the release of Servant of NonSense, the Too Sensitive series is done. Finished. Completed. Yeah!
Enhanced taste buds hardly qualifies as a super-power, but that’s all that SAM has to work with. Well, that … and an overactive imagination. He must face his insecurities and use his very normal, but nerdy, brain power to rescue his friends and capture the evil doctor.
I won another award! In February, 2016, I won 1st Place in the Non-fiction Short Story category for the Warm the Winter Writing Contest held by the American Night Writers Association (ANWA.) Here’s my entry:
Hiking in the Dark
“How can there be a cave if there aren’t any mountains around here?” Kate squinted under the noon-day sun, as she searched the pine trees of the, admittedly, flat forest.
My husband, Ken, smiled knowingly as he led the way down the dirt pathway. “You’re just going to have to trust me. This isn’t my first girl’s camp hike.”
Kate shook her head. “But there’s nothing here except trees and rocks and …. Oh.” Her nose wrinkled in confusion as she stopped and stared ahead. She stood still for a moment which allowed a few more young women in the group to catch up to her.
She looked up at Ken. “A hole in the ground. That’s our big, exciting cave?”
“Trust me, Kate. Have I ever led you astray?” Wisely, my practical joker husband, didn’t wait around for an answer, but strode forward toward the ring of jagged rocks around the opening.
Most of the girls stopped at the information sign and one of them read aloud. “Lava River Cave … just over ¾ of a mile long … formed about 675,000 years ago when molten lava flowed through this area and created a tube as it hardened.”
Kate looked at the map with her eyes wide. “It looks like a big, long rattlesnake.”
“Yeah. With something huge in its stomach,” another girl added, pointing to the part of the map which showed the cave branching off and then meeting back up with the main tube a short distance later.
“Well, if that’s a rattlesnake,” Ken said, with a mischievous grin, as he rejoined the group, “Come see its fangs.”
Several of the girls shuddered at the thought, but they all followed him slowly toward the sharp rocks around the funnel-shaped opening that led down into darkness, the gaping mouth of a long, snaking cave.
With a gleam in his eyes, Ken spoke to the whole group, who had gathered around, staring down into the black hole. “Since this cave is open to the public, it might appear to be a harmless garden snake, but don’t forget that every snake has fangs. If you dare to climb down into the belly of the cave, make sure that you are prepared with a flashlight … or two or three … because once you climb down into the cave’s mouth, the sunlight disappears and you are left in unforgiving blackness.”
The group shuddered and huddled closer together.
“Now you’re just scaring them,” I reprimanded my husband, teasingly. “This hike will be fun.”
“Does everyone have at least two flashlights?” Ken asked.
The girls all nodded.
“Then let’s be snake food. Follow me.” Ken began slowly picking his way down the sloping boulder pile.
Gradually, as we descended the rock slide a few hundred feet into the hole, the glaring sunlight faded, and then dimmed. Light disappeared completely about the time the boulders grew smaller, the floor leveled off, and the cavern opened up.
By that time, we all had our flashlights out, sweeping the cavern. Kate tapped her flashlight on her hand, trying to make the beam brighter. It flickered and dimmed more. Then it died.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I brought a back-up light.”
I pointed my light to allow her to dig the second flashlight out of her backpack. When the bright beam clicked on, she scanned the cavern. The cave floor was littered with jagged rocks, while the half-circle ceiling soared above, speckled with black bats. After a while of hiking over sharp rocks, the cave shifted again. The ceiling descended until we had to stoop to keep from hitting foreheads in the darkness. More than once, I bumped my head on a low-hanging rock formation while pointing the light at my feet. It took concentration to look ahead, above, and below at the same time.
We caught up to girls waiting where the passageway divided from the main tube.
“Which way do we go?” Kate asked Ken.
“I told you, it doesn’t matter,” another girl chimed in. “Both tunnels meet back up further on.”
“True,” Ken added. “But the route to the left is the easier way.”
The girls consulted in whispers, before a larger group followed Ken into the smaller passageway to the right and a few girls went with me to the left.
Knowing my husband, I was expecting … something … when we met again, but I still startled when a group of screaming girls jumped out of the dark, flashlights off, a few minutes later. They all giggled through the last area, where they rock- hopped over large fissures that ran the length of the cave floor. The tube ended, rather anti-climatically, at another rock pile, a cave-in almost a mile in.
While our group sat to rest on a ring of boulders at the end, my husband suggested that the girls turn off their lights and experience total darkness. It was an odd feeling, knowing that my hand was right in front of my face, but not being able to see it. Then, he asked them to be silent for a moment. Once the giggles settled down, there was a quiet that came in the pitch dark that was unnerving.
Ken used this moment in the dark to teach. “Each of us walk in darkness through this life, trying to avoid the boulders and low passageways which threaten to trip us up or knock us down. We don’t want surprises. We don’t want doubts or fear. We want to walk in light to guide us in our journey. We want to know our future path. But in Corinthians, Paul reminded us, “For we walk by faith, not by sight ….”
“So,” he asked, “How is walking by faith different than walking by sight?”
“We have to trust Heavenly Father,” one young voice, in the dark, replied.
“And ask for inspiration,” another voice added. “And because Heavenly Father loves us, He’ll flash the light ahead and show us the direction we should travel.”
“You’re both right,” Ken agreed. “And the main difference between walking by faith and walking by sight is that Heavenly Father’s plan isn’t to leave the light on.”
“What do you mean?” another voice asked. Kate, I thought.
Ken continued. “When we ask in faith, God gives us the inspiration to light the way ahead a few steps. Then He asks us to walk forward in the direction that He has guided us.
“Into the darkness.
“Step by agonizing step.
The girls were silent in the dark.
My experiment with my hand prompted me to ask a question. “So, in darkness so deep that we can’t see our hand in front of our face, how do we know that we are still on the right path?”
Ken explained. “As we walk forward, still praying for light, every once in a while God gives us another flash of inspiration that lets us see a little further ahead. But he doesn’t give us more light until we’ve taken a few steps into the darkness.”
“That’s why,” I added, “We often feel the burning of testimony after we’ve said the words.”
“Or gain a testimony of tithing only after we pay it,” a girl chimed in.
“And of the Word of Wisdom only after we live it,” another added.
“But sometimes doubt and fear overwhelm us,” Ken continued, “And we stop moving forward. We wait for the light to appear, not understanding that faith, not fear, is required for us to receive additional light.”
My bumped forehead prompted another question. “So, as we are hiking forward into the dark, how do we know we won’t run into a boulder or bruise our head on a low ceiling?
The girls, of course, had the answers.
“We trust Him to clear our path.”
“We trust Him to warn us of dangers.”
Ken then let the girls experiment with walking forward into the dark after only a flash of light. After everyone had a turn, we turned on our lights and picked up our things. Most of the girls, hurried ahead, eager to finish the hike and return to the sunlight at the entrance.
When Kate, who was already on her second flashlight, went to turn it on, her flashlight wouldn’t work, despite shaking it and thumping it against her hand again. In a bit of a panic, she hurried after the fading light of the other girls, but tripped and landed on her hands and knees. When Ken and I realized she was hiking in the dark without a light, we helped her up.
“Wow,” she said to Ken. “You really love your object lessons, don’t you? You probably sabotaged my flashlight.”
We started hiking back, helping each other by alternating between shining the light at Kate’s footsteps, our own footsteps, and the rocky ceiling above.
“Not me,” Ken laughed. “I didn’t mess with your flashlight. But I know someone a lot more powerful who likes object lessons too.”
At a youth conference a couple of years ago, I attended a class entitled, “Learning about our ancestors helps us know ourselves better.” It occurred to me recently that most writers know their characters better than their ancestors. We spend hours building our characters, imagining their physical traits and mental state, failures and triumphs, and their memories and opinions until they come to life in our heads and on paper.
As writers, if we know our characters better than our ancestors, perhaps we are missing an opportunity to know ourselves better.
So, my Writer’s Challenge for this month is this: Choose an ancestor and find out everything you can about her. Do a little research to discover what her life might have been like. Then, assuming that you and your ancestor have some character traits in common, fill in some of the missing pieces with aspects of your personality. Then use the character profile that you just created and find a story— a home in your writing—for that character. That home doesn’t have to be in your ancestor’s time period or even her setting.
As you write her story, you will naturally discover more about your character, your ancestor, and perhaps even about yourself.
Like most writers, I like writing better than rewriting. In fact, I’d prefer my first drafts to be so perfect that they never require editing. I can hear some of you now: “Fat chance,” “Good Luck with that,” or as fantasy writer, Tamora Pierce, would say, “Anyone who tells you they don’t need to rewrite, they’re usually the ones who need it worst. “
The truth is that rewriting is never-ending; there is always something that we can change or improve in every sentence. We simply get to a point where we say, “Good enough.” Of course, a beginning author would say “Good enough” long before Charles Dickens.
Maybe we stop rewriting when we tire of looking at the same sentence over and over. If that’s the case, then improving our first draft of a sentence will give us more opportunities to truly improve that sentence.
So, how can we improve the first draft of every sentence? Here are some suggestions I’ve found:
1. Write the sentence first in your head.
2. Check it for active voice. Rewrite the sentence in your head in active voice.
3. Now write the sentence on paper.
4. Look for words that you can make stronger. If a replacement word comes to mind, change it. If not, simply underline it. The perfect word will come to you later.
5. Look for spare words to remove, like “just” and “that.”
6. Check quickly for correct tense, punctuation, and grammar. Make it your best version of that sentence possible.
7. Move on to the next sentence. If you find yourself mulling over a sentence for longer than a few seconds, then underline the whole sentence to look at later.
8. Don’t be discouraged if your writing slows down. As you make these steps a habit, your writing will speed up again and you will be much happier with your first draft.
Then, when you come back to that sentence later, you can rewrite it to perfection. Remember, “If you rewrite a paragraph fifty times and forty-nine of them are terrible, that’s fine; you only need to get it right once. “ (Tana French)
The third book in the Too Sensitive series, DICTATOR OF DISASTER, is now available! Here’s the back cover blurb:
Touch can be a sensitive tool or a lethal weapon–especially when it can’t be controlled.
After JONAS, a sensory enhanced young man with anger issues, accidentally harms his sister, she is kidnapped for a second time by their psycho-father, the demented doctor who was responsible for the death of their mothers. Of course, Jonas blames himself.
If only Jonas had kept his promise to his sister, maybe he could have kept his sister safe. Maybe he wouldn’t have been forced to run an errand for Dr. Kavan to Mexico. Maybe he wouldn’t have ended up being stalked by two thugs looking for stolen drugs.
But then he wouldn’t have met Gabriella, whose family gave him a ride south into Mexico. He wouldn’t have found a reason to stand up to his father, and he definitely wouldn’t have found a way to use his power to help save someone else.
Tired of putting others in harm’s way, Jonas must find a way to save his sister alone, rather than relying on their sensory-enhanced friends to help them.
One of the definitions of the word “Contrast” at Dictionary.com is the “opposition or juxtaposition of different forms, lines, or colors in a work of art to intensify each element’s properties and produce a more dynamic expressiveness.” Contrast is arranging opposite elements together, like light and dark, rough and smooth, large and small. Combining two contrasting components creates interest, excitement, drama, and can direct the mind to a particular point within the piece.
Contrast is not limited to visual art; we can produce “more dynamic expressiveness” in our writing by pointing out opposites. Contrast shows how elements like characters, setting, and voice are different. Contrast is the antonym of a simile, which compares using the words “like” or “as.” Think of Contrast as “unlike” or “different than.”
Here are a few examples:
“The TV also brought into my life two appealing characters named Laurel and Hardy, whom I found clever and gentle, in contrast to the Three Stooges, who were blatant and violent.” (Steven Martin, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life. Scribner, 2007)
“I expected a grandmother, wiping her hands on a gingham apron, to come from the kitchen. Instead I got Brenda. Young, sullen, pink uniform, bottlecaps for eyes, handling her pad the way a cop does his citation book. The menu said all breakfasts came with grits, toast, and preserves. I ordered a breakfast of two eggs over easy. ‘Is that all you want?'” (William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways, 1982)
“There are about four times in a man’s life, or a woman’s, too, for that matter, when unexpectedly, from out of the darkness, the blazing carbon lamp, the cosmic searchlight of Truth shines full upon them. It is how we react to those moments that forever seals our fate. One crowd simply puts on its sunglasses, lights another cigar, and heads for the nearest plush French restaurant in the jazziest section of town, sits down and orders a drink, and ignores the whole thing. While we, the Doomed, caught in the brilliant glare of illumination, see ourselves inescapably for what we are, and from that day on sulk in the weeds, hoping no one else will spot us.” (Jean Shepherd, “The Endless Streetcar Ride,” 1966)
“Nothing is more useful than water; but it will purchase scarce anything; scarce anything can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any value in use, but a very great quantity of goods may frequently be had in exchange for it.” (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776)
One way to show the qualities of a character is to put him in a setting where he doesn’t belong, thus showing the contrast in the situation. Think of all the contrasts shown as we see Harry Potter living in a closet under the Dursley’s stairs and later on when the Dursleys match wits with Hagrid. Light/Dark. Large/Small. Day/Night. Hungry/Greedy. Humble/Proud. The contrast between these opposites brings interest, excitement, and drama to this story and speaks volumes about the character that we learn to love. Contrast can do the same in your writing.
The theme for the November 15, 2014 Phoenix Arizona Temple Cultural Celebration is “Be a Light.” As part of my responsibilities on the Phoenix Temple Audio Visual Committee, I’ve been gathering historical images of the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Phoenix area. I’ve been amazed at the sacrifice and service of the early saints as they built the first group in Phoenix from nine members who met in a room above Donofrio’s Confectionery to more than 50,000 in the area now.
Those early saints were truly a LIGHT to the area through their influence, their unity, and their service and sacrifice. Their beginnings reminded me of this quote from the American Night Writers Association’s (ANWA) website:
“What started with six charter members in the basement of the old Gilbert Arizona Public Library is now an organization poised for world-wide growth, with over 300 members in multiple Chapters located within the five Regions that cover the United States and the World.”
The similarities got me wondering about how we, in ANWA, can BE A LIGHT and apply our forefather’s influence, unity, and service and sacrifice to grow our organization.
My goal for my writing is “Truth and Light in Whatever I Write.” I want my writing to be a positive influence on whoever it reaches. As sisters in ANWA, I believe that is a goal we all share. That common purpose creates a bond, a sisterhood, that’s hard to find anywhere else, and we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves. Reach out. Bring other sisters into ANWA. Spread our influence.
UNITY – kind, positive support, attend, be a part
Early Phoenix Saints stuck together for survival. ANWA sisters meet together for kind, positive support. The friendships we form are almost as important as the writing skills we learn. But that doesn’t happen unless you attend your chapter meetings, join in on retreats and contests, and come to Conference! Don’t miss out on the best part of ANWA—the unity!
SERVICE & SACRIFICE –
Our pioneer ancestors served the community and each other and suffered through Phoenix summers without air conditioning. We in ANWA can’t beat that. But we can volunteer our time, talents, and energy to help ANWA succeed and grow. We can vote in elections. We can volunteer to help our sisters improve and grow their own writing skills.
Give back more than you get, and we will all be blessed as our influence, unity, and service and sacrifice lights the world.
It’s retreat season! Hopefully, you’ve either had or will have an opportunity to get away for some quality writing time at one of the ANWA sponsored writing retreats. If you missed the Southwest Region retreat in June, you can still make the Intermountain Retreat in September, the Northwest Retreat in October, or an ANWA day retreat in September.
But trying to find writing time in a busy life might make taking time for a retreat seem impossible. Often, finding time for any writing is impossible. But don’t despair. Create your own writing retreat instead.
Really, a retreat is simply any chance to treat yourself to a short period of uninterrupted writing time in a quiet place.
Here are a few suggestions to create your own retreat:
Go somewhere else, other than home, where dishes and laundry can’t interrupt you. Libraries, bookstores, parks, homes of friends or relatives, churches, community centers, and hotel lobbies, are all great places to find a quiet spot. Even a locked bathroom or a parked car can keep away interruptions.
Plan for a specific amount of time—each day, each week, or even just once—to write.
Make sure you have the materials you need, like a laptop, notebook, pen, music, headphones, etc. Keep them in a bag—maybe one of our ANWA conference bags—so you can grab the bag and go. Your bag can make every doctor’s appointment a mini-writing retreat.
Set goals for each writing time, not just how many words, but also other things you want to accomplish.
Plan small at first while you learn to focus in micro-bursts and while you train others to respect your retreat time.
Later, plan bigger. Maybe start with a Regional Retreat, or even a Chapter Retreat. There’s nothing like sitting in a room with other women writers while it’s dead silent. If your Chapter hasn’t planned a retreat lately, consider arranging one. Make a plan, find a location, and don’t forget to fill out an ANWA Event Request Form.
Writing retreats help you to re-motivate, re-inspire, and re-new. Don’t miss out on a chance to re-focus by creating your own writing retreat.
Too often novice authors rely only on miscommunication between characters to create conflict in stories. Harlequin editor, Victoria Curran, reminded 2014 ANWA Conference attendees that our conflicts need to be strong enough so that one good conversation between the characters won’t resolve all their problems. But have you considered that your characters can be role models for others, especially children and youth? Have you thought about putting at least one character in your novel, perhaps a mentor or a sidekick, who is an example of a good communicator? We can teach light and truth one word at a time. Here are some characteristics of a good communicator:
Good communicators apologize when they make mistakes.
Good communicators resolve conflict without confrontation.
Good communicators speak positively and express gratitude.
Good communicators think before they speak.
Good listeners pay attention.
Good listeners don’t interrupt.
Good listeners don’t make judgmental generalizations.
By making one of your characters a good communicator, then the communication errors of your other characters will be more obvious. If the good communicator is a main character, then it will force you to create a conflict that can’t be simply resolved by the characters sitting down and having an honest conversation. Try good communication in your writing—and if not in your writing, try it in your real life!