So, NaNo–You In?

This is an odd November for me.

It’s NaNoWriMo time, and I’m not quite into it the way I have been in the past. I think it has something to do with the fact that a week prior, I was appointed to our region’s Municipal Liaison. (That means I’m in charge of the NaNo-ing in my area.)

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I have lots of great friends cheering me on and offering their support, but still, it’s throwing me off.

I’m only 300ish words behind, and I’m all for helping grow the writing community in my area, and I’ve never had a problem with being in charge of stuff.

I’m settled into our new home, purchased lovely and fun Thanksgiving/Fall decor to spruce up the place, and have hosted the first three writing meetings with relative ease. We’ve had a wonderful turn out, lots of enthusiasm and laughs.

Still, it’s an odd November.

Maybe it’s because I’ve grown so accustomed to Editing, that I’ve lost that Creating/Drafting/WritingNewWordsIsFun mojo. Get this. I’m missing Editing. Like Editing and I were more than friends. I didn’t even know that was possible.

It’s not like Editing and I will ever part ways. At the very least, I hope this feeling doesn’t stick around for too long, because I have writing to do. Really, it’s a matter of learning how to take off the Editing Cap and put the Drafting one on. ‘Cept, there’s not a magic wand for this kind of thing.

So, if you’re tackling new words this month, I wish you luck. Push on and let your local ML NaNo Leader help you! If you don’t know who it is, you should be able to find out by visiting THIS WEBSITE.

If you have tips on restoring that FirstLoveFeeling for drafting, please share. I could use the advice.

3 Tips from a Writing Retreat Survivor

I recently attended a writing retreat, hosted by iWriteNetwork, and it was absolutely divine. The food, the company, the work ethic, the conversation, the motivation, and the support made this one of the best retreats I’ve attended. And I’ve gone to my fair share. I’ve even hosted a few myself.  They’re the extrovert’s dream. But if you’re more of an introvert, they can be less than a dream.

Here’s just three tips for surviving, regardless of your personality. These don’t fall into the standard category of What To Pack, though.

After you’ve got your power cord, head phones, and comfortable writing outfits, think about this:

1. Internet Loss. It happens. Whether the towers go down or the band width won’t support everyone trying to tap into Pandora, be prepared to write without internet. *blank stares* I know. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “but I can’t even…”

Yes, you can. Download some tunes if you need them, get your google docs set up so you don’t need WiFi, and do your research at home. If you need a thesaurus, good night, bring a hard copy. Like a boy scout, be prepared. Now, if your computer goes ka-poot on you, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say. Pen and Pad?

2. Water. All that sitting down isn’t super healthy, so you get up, walk around, and stretch like a good author, but if your not peeing every time you do break, you’re probably not getting enough water. Perhaps the water tastes funny, because that happens when we leave the comforts of home.  I happened to drink soft water at a retreat, and that salted liquid didn’t do me any good. Regardless of the reason, pack yourself several water bottles and stay hydrated.

3. Uppers and Downers. I know this suggests drugs. But hear me out. You’re not going to get good sleep at a retreat. Period. Even if you splurge on the best bed in the whole joint, your adrenaline kicks in or people are up late laughing and working, or up early, and gabbing through breakfast. Or, if you’re like me, you JUST. CAN’T. SLEEP. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who does sleep well, no matter the circumstances, but I suggest being prepared to sacrifice some serious shut eye, if you’re headed to a retreat. If not, perhaps a retreat isn’t right for you.

If you’re game for late nights, early mornings, and hitting the keyboard hard, then plan on taking a sleep aid to help you crash when you turn in. I also recommend ear plugs, too. And if you don’t wear those regularly, start wearing them a week or so in advance so they’re like a well worn tennis and mold to you. (Which makes now a good time to point out sleeping in pajamas. Depending on the bunking situation, if you’re used to sleeping in the buff or something you don’t want the others to see you in, start practicing wearing sleepwear to bed. Nothing’s worse than trying to sleep in something uncomfortable when you’re dead tired, with roommates you only met 6 hours ago.)

Next to the sleep aid, you want to consider a pick-me-up. You’re going to need it anywhere from 6 am to 9 pm. When you start to hit that wall, a Dr. Pepper will do you a world of good. I forgot my DP this last go around, and I had generous friends who gave me these ridiculously energy-packed drinks. Monster? I think was the name. Anyway, let me just tell you, I shouldn’t ever be allowed to drink those! Haha! If you know me… Can you imagine me, on coffee or High Voltage Dew? Yeah. It was that crazy. However, I did get 10K words knocked out, so there’s that.

Take what you need that’s safe and legal. Trust me. If you survive without it, then you can tell me all about it in the comments.

And that’s it. Snacks and slippers, headphones and headache meds, everything else aside, these are tips I have to help you be prepared.

If you’re a veteran retreater, what things do you suggest taking, that fall outside the normal vacation/travel gear? Let’s help the newbies out. ( Ps. I know retreater isn’t really a word.)

How Twitter Led to My Best Rejection Letter, To Date

I’ve been wanting to tell this story for a while now. I hope to get all the facts straight since it was back in April. Also, I promise not to beef up the truth of what I’m about to tell you.

A while ago, I was “invited” to participate in a Twitter contest for unpublished authors by a friend via Facebook.

FOR THE LOVE was complete and ready so to speak. It was sitting at 126K words. I was in the process of trying to cut it down. I knew I was still over word count. I had sent out some queries though, to see what would happen, even at a high word count. At that point, all the responses I’d received had been a NO. Not harsh ones, but still, they were rejections.

As a Twitter Newbie for the most part, I’m still trying to get the swing of it. The contest was called #PitchSlam and you only get 140 characters to pitch your book, which has to include the hashtag. {I point this out, because it explains why some times I leave off a letter or get creative.}

I’ve searched and searched my feed, and from what I can tell, I didn’t actually play #PitchSlam. I did, however, play the other contest that was more for fun and linked to the #PitchSlam contest. It was called the #playedby game, where you got to post photos of actors and actresses or other faces who would portray your characters if your book were a movie. Like this:

Somewhat sorry for the bird. FOR THE LOVE’s Sterling would be #playedby Steven R. McQueen, if I had a say.

But in all honesty, I think my most favorite and clever tweet was this one:Twitter 11

In the process, I began researching the agents participating in the contest. I came across an agent that will always hold a special place in my heart. I freaking love him. Dr. Uwe Stender, of TriadaUs Liteary Agency. I wasn’t confident how he pronounced his first name, but I didn’t care. I liked him. His twitter feed was funny, and as I scrolled through it, I came across a tweet that caught my attention like a one of those electric bug zappers. I was drawn to it.

Twitter 8

I quickly scrolled to the top of the page, to see how many followers he had. The answer? 1,994. So I gave his tweet a star, and then commented.

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From there, this funny little rapid-paced conversation of silent stalking and favoriting tweets began. I knew he was watching me, and he knew I was watching him.

As if to egg me on, he tweeted this, and I replied. (You have to read the tweets backwards, sorry.)

Twitter 7

Like I’d be the Random Follower he’d pick. As if! He was just pushing me to follow. I could tell. Haha.

I kept refreshing, and his follower count went up. 1,997. He tweeted again, as you can see below, in regards to random critique giveaway. And you can see my response. Like I said, stubborn.

Twitter 6

What would happen next, I could’ve never guessed.

Twitter 5.5You better believe I was on it like stink to poo. I tweeted back quick.

Twitter 5 I didn’t feed my family. I hollered, “You guys fix yourself a bowl of cereal. I’ve gotta keep working.” To which my kids were like, “What’s new?” Their expressions may or may not have been laced with a few eye rolls and then smiles, as they got free range of the kitchen.

The next thing I did? Clicked the follow button, closing the gap to his goal even more. He hit 2K shortly after, while I was prepping my query letter. In fact, I read this tweet of his before I wrapped up my query. AND THIS IS WHERE YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION. BECAUSE THIS TWEET CHANGED HOW I WRAPPED UP MY QUERY. I just didn’t know it yet. Just wait, you’ll see.

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Sorry for the poor photo quality.

I opened a new document, to write up a personalized query letter, as I simultaneously went to his website. I’d been on it earlier, but hadn’t taken a hard look. It was then, that I realized that fantasy wasn’t something he represented. My MS wouldn’t be something he’d pick up. I scrolled down. There, just below his name was Laura Crockett, one of his esteemed colleagues and agents. And yes, she took fantasy. I continued my research, on both of them.

After an hour of reading and searching them up, I began my letter. Even though he’d offered to look at it, I decided it would be best to query him, as if it were for REALS. This is the letter:

Dear Dr. Stender,

First, I wish to thank you for inviting me to share my query with you for simply being enthusiastic! If only my bubbly personality and eagerness were a true superpower. I was scrolling through the agents participating in the #PitchSlam contest when I found you. While the purpose behind your offer is feedback oriented, I do feel inclined to say my query would probably suit Ms. Crockett best with her interested in fantasy. That said, I am more than thrilled to have your sharp eye and expertise on my side and look forward to your feedback.

One by one, Lenox’s family is disappearing. Focused on finding them, he discovers a family secret—he’s a descendant of Cupid. Sounds cute, except the “Father of Love” is a mask worn by the Devil. He seeks to own every soul, robbing mankind of love instead of instilling it, and Lenox is his next target.

Rozlyn Shawnessy plans to enlist in the Society’s war against Cupid—just as soon as her demigod powers kick in. Then Lenox shows up asking dangerous questions, and she answers him with a killer right hook. He retaliates with a passionate kiss, but his touch ignites a crippling curse that lands them both in the Society’s training institute.

Bound together, they must rely on each other to find his family and unlock her curse. If they fail, Cupid will own their souls and enslave them to everything love isn’t.

FOR THE LOVE is my debut novel and is complete at 126,000 words. With brothers separated by more than their differences and Lenox and Rozlyn’s relationship, my story should appeal to both fantasy and romance readers. Thank you for your time and for what it’s worth, I don’t think people will drop you like a hot potato—and being from Idaho, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to spuds.

See that LAST LINE? Funny, personal, and it shows I’m paying attention. But let me assure you, when I wrote it, I was worried it wouldn’t be “cool” or “work.”

I’m proud of myself, that I got my brave on, and just let the verbiage flow naturally, but there’s a fine line between overdoing it and magic. And I had no way of knowing which it would be.

Two days went by. I settled in for a long wait. Forty-eight hours later, I was on the phone with my husband of 14 years. It was an important call regarding the house we were building, and during our discussion, I got a phone call from an 801 number. To me, that’s a Utah number and I have loads of great friends and some family in Utah. They could leave a message. I would call them right back. That’s the beauty of caller ID.

The caller left a message, alright. But I’m a little slow to check messages. Instead, I hopped up and started dinner, which was to be eggs and bacon. While I stirred the runny yokes, I started the process of listening to the voice mails, and of course the kids began fighting over the volume of the TV. It shot up like we were at OneRepublic concert, and I couldn’t quite make out what caller was saying in his message.Totally thought it was spam, especially with the thick German accent. Telemarketer. Yay.

And then when I heard the words FOR THE LOVE come off the lips of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I dropped the phone. It clamored to the floor, thankfully, instead of landing in the raw eggs. I snapped at the kids, as I picked up the phone, and sent them all to their rooms, which they totally deserved.

My heart hammering, I tried to start the message over. Instead, I got a lovely animated voice saying: YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES.

Yeah, I get that. I know I have no new messages. I need the old ones, the ones I didn’t or haven’t listened to, yet. I pressed the button again, to take me back to the main menu, and then tried to play the messages.

YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. I pulled the eggs off the heat.

YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. I killed the burner. What? None?

YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES.

YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES.

I started crying. I sunk to the floor, and let the pure panic and sheer what-the-hell? take over. I gulped and gulped trying to compose myself. I tried one more time.

YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES.

Hastily, I called the 801 number back. I had to know what Dr. Uwe had to say, because thus far, all I’d caught was this:

“….Uwe Stender…. calling…. FOR THE LOVE…”

Was the query good? Bad? He’d called, so was that because it was so good he wanted to see more? I thought about that. HE CALLED. Agents don’t call, unless they’ve arranged to make THE CALL, which in my mind is the one to make an offer of representation. Was my query SO GOOD I’d converted him to rep fantasy? No, that’s your ego talking, Gina. 

Okay, then WHY DID HE CALL ME? and how in the heck am I ever going to hear what he had to say? I ran my hand over my face a hundred times, my thoughts all tangling like Christmas lights. New ones lighting up and flickering out.

The 801 number went to an automated voice, saying I couldn’t reach anyone at that number.

The next thing I could think of was to reach out to my “Other Family” as I call them. My online crit group is full of wonderful people, and we’ve become each other’s writing family. I instant messaged the group, and relayed all the gory details of the whole thing–from the first tweet to the phone drop that somehow deleted ALL my messages. Then, I asked, “What do I do?”

Emailing back and asking for his feedback–a second time– felt like saying, “My dog ate my homework,” and agents are BUSY people. I couldn’t bring myself to do that. They don’t have time to repeat themselves.

A combination of two member’s advice blended into a perfect answer. Daniel used his mad skills and found me a phone number direct to TriadaUS Literary. He even called it late that night to if the number was indeed accurate. It was.

Charlie suggested I simply state that I hadn’t received all of the message. No explaining the kids volume or dropping the phone. Be calm, collected, and express that I wanted to improve and would like to hear all of what he had to say.

I went to bed a hot mess, and all morning long was a basket case. I waited until the kids were gone to school, and then I sat myself down. I carefully dialed the number. My palms clammed up, my skin went cold. Ring.

Ring, ring.

Then, voice mail. Haha. I got all worked up over nothing! But I hadn’t prepped to leave a message. Instead of wisely hanging up and thinking of something to say, I went for it. Pretty sure I repeated myself, but oh well.

After ending the call, I agonized over it, and then messaged my Family. They were loving, teasing, and supportive all at the same time. Before I even had time to open my MS for edits, my phone rang.

Dr. Stender called me back. This time I didn’t drop the phone. I’m not sure I breathed the whole time, but I must have, or I’d be dead after our 21 minute conversation. I let him do almost all of the talking. {Now, I know some of you think I’m lying here. I’m not. I know I can’t shut my mouth, but I wanted to hear what he had to say so badly, I couldn’t talk. I had to force myself to speak. Replying to his questions was easier than asking my own, but I managed to squeak out a few. I tried to sound professional and educated when he asked me if I felt my story was more literary or commercial. I had no idea what in the world he was talking about! But I didn’t feel nearly as stupid as I thought I would. Instead, he couldn’t stop complimenting me, my work, and the query. He really, really liked my personalization, and went on about how authors over do it or don’t do it at all, and how I nailed it. So…. MAGIC! Spuds=Magic! *happy dance* I was grinning from ear to ear, I tell ya!

I remember him saying something about it being one of the better queries he’d seen in a while. That the stakes were good, the premise was excellent. That I should absolutely send it on to Laura, his colleague. He was all positive feedback, with the exception of two things.

Thing One. Word count. He was so kind and awesome as we discussed the number. It was this moment that I found the courage to put it on a serious diet.

Thing Two. It was about the query letter itself. Again, he stated that my personalization was excellent. He laughed at my Hot Potato comment, said my voice was awesome. (And he wasn’t referring to my actual voice.) BUT. Because there’s always one…. he wanted me to fix the second paragraph of the actual query. He was all, “You’ve set the stakes in the opening paragraph, and they’re awesome. It’s unique and you’ve got something there. But then you give me a scene. A scene. Then, in the third paragraph, you’re back to the stakes. And those stakes are strong. BUT GIVE ME THE STAKES in the second paragraph. STAKES, STAKES, STAKES. That’s what I want. GIVE ME THE STAKES.”

The way he showed me how he saw the query letter from his vantage point was interesting, and eye opening. It was just what I needed to hear.

In the end, I couldn’t get enough of his German accent telling me what to do. I loved it. The way he spoke to me was like he was my personal coach. That invested. I didn’t want our call to end. He wrapped up with all those awesome compliments about how solid it was, encourage me once again to send it Laura and then we parted ways.

I sat on the couch, unable to move. I was shaking and exited. I was worried I couldn’t cut  another six thousand out of the story. And worst of all, I wasn’t sure what the stakes were for that second paragraph. I was going to have to dig deeper.

Turns out, it was the best thing that I could’ve done to my query, and my MS.

I teamed up with a friend, Rachel Larsen, and together, we did some rapid fire editing on each others manuscripts. I cut stuff, and stitched the pieces together, if it left a hole. I removed an entire scene, which was very hard to do. The like. Editing is hard. My friend Jeigh said, “Think of it like fine surgery, not a chop shop.” Or something good like that. All I remember is the FINE SURGERY part. I could do this.

And I didn’t look at my overall word count. Not until I was closer to the end. Some chapters, I managed to remove 2K. Other’s only 500 words. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

Until, I did.

I reworked that second paragraph, again and again. Until it felt all “stakey,” as I now call it.

And then, days before the 2015 LDStorymakers conference, I wrapped all the edits up. I had a newer version of my query. And when I complied my MS, I found I had cut it down to 116K words–more than I thought possible. I was overwhlemed with the workload I had completed, and I desperately wanted to call Dr. Stender back, and tell him, “I did it.”

But I didn’t do that. Instead, I relied on a tweet that I’d sent to him just a few days after that phone call. That would have to be thanks enough for now.

twitter 3

Then, I went to the conference, and I pitched FOR THE LOVE to Lizzie Poteet and Kenna Blaylock. I had dinner with Susie Townsend.

A week later, I sent out the requested material, and then sat down to my laptop with a humble reverence. I opened a new document, and started another query letter. This one to Laura Crockett.

Of course I checked her Twitter feed. {I still do. I still watch Uwe’s.} I put the same energy into that query that I did when I queried Dr. Stender.

Based on her feed, she was headed to BEA2015. After I sent the query out, I got an automated response that she was out of the office until Monday, and I knew why and where she was. I sat back, not expecting anything. I went back to my daily routine.

And you know what?

She replied to me, while she was at BEA. My query letter got through. It made it through her slush pile, while she was at Book Expo of America! And not only did it get through, but she asked to see pages. Fifty of them. SCORE ONE FOR TEAM GINA! I attribute this to the fact that Dr. Stender’s name was in my query to her. If she thought me a liar, all she had to do was ask him. So don’t ever make this kind of stuff up for a query letter. You hear me? Be authentic. Be honest. And above all, be real.

And a few days after that, I received what I call  My Best Rejection Letter. Wanna see it? Okay. Here it is. The moment you’ve all be waiting for.

Dear Gina,
Thank you for sharing a sample of For the Love. First, some personal items — congratulations on the house! And your query is tight and professional and concise. I don’t know what it looked like before Uwe offered his advice, but it looks great and makes you stand out from the rest. Second, the manuscript. I wanted to enjoy it — you were right that our preferences align — but I found the narrative wasn’t for me. The writing is polished and ready for publication, and the plotting (from what I could gather in 50 pages) is excellent. For the Love simply isn’t the project for me. I’ve no doubt you’ll find the right agent for it soon, especially when you’re armed with a killer query and a ready-for-the-press manuscript in hand. 
Best of luck,
Laura

I still think about this letter, and what she had to say. How it impacted me for the better. I can almost hear her cheering me on, and I haven’t got the slightest clue what her voice sounds like. Sure, it’s crushing to be told no, but when you get a NO like this one, you just keep going. You lift your chin a little higher and trust you’re doing just fine. You trust that agents aren’t big ole Mean Girls or Nasty Playboys looking to ruin your day. They’re smart, and human, and not beyond the author’s reach, if you do it right.

So, tweet on. Don’t be afraid to use social media to your advantage, and for reals, keep going.

Home, Sweet Home

It’s been months since I’ve blogged, and I have so much to report, but you gotta understand why I’ve been so quiet online. I was building a house. LITERALLY. We bought the ground March 20th, broke ground April 13th, and two weeks ago–July 15th–we moved into it! It was the most demanding four months of my life, to date. It’s taken two weeks to get settled in, but we’re up and running for the most part.

From start to finish, these are some of the things I, or my DH Kyle did:

♥ I drew the floor plans up from the confines of my mind, after measuring and looking at lots of other homes. I DID NOT USE PINTEREST for a single inch or idea. Proof it can be done.
♥ With the help of my dear friend, Matt, we trimmed the house (Which is a lot more work than I thought. Installing doors, doing all the shelving, casing, door jambs, headers, aprons, and base, etc! I learned a ton, and fell in love with it).
♥ Kyle and I laid the subfloor and LVT wood flooring.
♥ I painted all the “color.” {The pros did the ceiling, the trim, and the main silver. and Kyle helped a tiny bit on one wall. He hates paint as much as I do, but we tend to bicker when we paint together, so I did it mostly on my own. I did have a few awesome neighbors come help and I’ll love them forever because of it.}
♥ Kyle and I installed all the hooks, support rods, closet rods, door knobs, and door stops. THis takes hours, friends. Hours.
♥ We tiled and did the grout, minus the shower. Which also took hours, and courage. Those wet saws are scary.
♥ Plus, I had to pack up an apartment, and move into the house, all while still trying to wrap up small stuff on the house, not to mention CLEAN it all.

And I somewhat foolishly started a new book. Miraculously, I am over 20K words for July NaNo. I’ve been dead on my feet most days, but it’s been worth it. I’m in love with my new home. It’s almost perfection, and more than I could’ve hoped for. We’re delighted and excited to spend a long time here. And LEVEL WITH ME is quickly becoming my new favorite thing to work on. LEVEL WITH ME struck like lightening and couldn’t be stopped. I came up with the blurb in 20 minutes, which is a shock, since FOR THE LOVE took me 2 years. It’s not a perfected pitch, but I like it for a first draft. LWM has a Romeo and Juliet element, and is my first dig at YA, so wish me luck! The story idea came while trimming my own house–and rightly so.

LEVEL WITH ME:
Seventeen-year-old Abby June Craig’s about to tell the biggest lie she’s ever concocted to escape a summer of trimming houses with her going-through-a-divorce dad. She’s discovered a summer gig that’s paying close to eight thousand dollars for three weeks. It’s more than enough to pay for the first year of community college, plus it’s the perfect escape. As soon as the jobs complete, she’ll confess the truth.

Fresh out of high school, Tanner LaMont needs to find someone to trim a cabin forty miles west of Salmon, Idaho–and fast. Normally, he and his dad do all the work, but with a broken collarbone and shattered foot, his old man’s relying on him to complete the job. So he takes their camper, every tool he owns to the site, and hires A.J. Craig to carry half the work load. A.J.’s resume more than qualifies him for the job, so together they shouldn’t have any problems piecing this luxury, secluded cabin together in three short weeks.

I guess my point is, I wanna show off some photos, and simply say, that no matter how busy you get, how demanding life can be, when you want something bad enough–like to write–it happens. it’s that fierce determination that you can do it, will do, and want it enough that nothing will stop you.

Now, raise your hand if you wanna see some photos. (Oh, good. At least one person does. Thanks, Mom.)

My full wall book shelf, that I helped build! I'm in love with it, and have already purchased new books to display! On Writing, by Stephen King, Fire Study, by Maria V. Snyder, and Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead. It makes a world of difference to have somewhere to finally put these beloved treasures!

My full wall book shelf, that I helped build! I’m in love with it, and have already purchased new books to display! On Writing, by Stephen King, Fire Study, by Maria V. Snyder, and Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead. It makes a world of difference to have somewhere to finally put these beloved treasures!

House (3) - Copy

When they poured the concrete, I had to add my personal touch!

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And the exterior is complete! My diamond brick design just warms my heart, as does the wood concrete stone at the front door. So glad we went with blue! Now, we need to paint that front door, but it’s been long enough that this photo is “old.” The sprinkler system is in, the yard is prepped and nice, and the grass seed it down. We should have green grass before the year is out.

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I really need to get a nice photo of this, but until that day comes, here is a shot of the number one thing(s) friends and family comment on when they come to the house. My chandelier and wood wall. Both of which I made myself. Insert Squeeee! I love them! Can I just tell you, that when I said I wanted to make a chandelier to my uncle who welds, he was skeptical, and now even he’s uber in love with it? So glad we went out on a limb and I put in the man hours, elbow grease, and knee damage for these.

House Floor - Copy

See that gorgeous, albeit dirty, floor? Yeah, I laid that. I had help from my DH and a friend, but I personally clocked over 60 hours on my hands and knees installing the subfloor and putting down the LVT. Though you can’t see it, my pride really kicks in when you get to the foyer. We laid it in a herring bone pattern, and while it kicked our trash to figure it out and make it look straight, it turned out amazing!

House Trim (13) I know, I have nice guns. Go on, say it.
I know you were thinking it.

House Wood Wall (2)

It took 40 cedar fence planks, three cans of stains mixed to be five shades of awesome, and 14 hours to complete my wood wall. I had knee pads, but suffice it to say, I’m lucky I didn’t end up on an operating table to repair the damage I did to them. I’m pretty much done doing any manual labor that requires me to be on my knees for an extended period of time.

House Wood Wall (1)

This isn’t all of them, but aren’t they so pretty? Neighbors would drive by, see them in the garage, and ask me what in the world I was up to. I could only say, “You’ll see,” with a big, fat smile on my face.

 This is Matt, and we hired him to trim the house. But that caveat was that he had to hire me as his sidekick. He's the first to admit he wasn't thrilled with the idea, but by the end of the week he confessed he'd hire me again and again. Guess that means I'm a quick study, hard worker, and terrific go-fer. Because of him, and the whole experience, the story idea for LEVEL WITH ME was born.


This is Matt, and we hired him to trim the house. But that caveat was that he had to hire me as his sidekick. He’s the first to admit he wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but by the end of the week he confessed he’d hire me again and again. Guess that means I’m a quick study, hard worker, and terrific go-fer. Because of him, and the whole experience, the story idea for LEVEL WITH ME was born.

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Here comes the PAINT! I tend to eyeball stuff, and these accent walls are no exception. I used over 4 rolls of Frog Tape for my Herringbone Meets Chevron wall, but I love it so much, I would totally do it again. The photos below are shots of the eyeball-handcrafted accent walls in my kids’ rooms.

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Okay, one more gem for you. I took this little video of me, for my sister. Haha. Don’t mind the loud air compressor when it kicks in to power my gun. Also, the floor kinda vibrates as I nail the particle board in, and it knocks the camera over. So, don’t mind that either.  Okay, here we go. This is getting real.

That’s all for now, friends! Feel free to scroll through my facebook feed for more photos if you care. Catch you later!

Pitches, Pork Chops, and Portraying Passion

Because I’m such a loud-mouth and told everyone and their aunt that I was going to Storymakers and that I had a pitch and had won dinner with the agent of my choice, I’ve had multiple inquires about how “IT” went.

{My pitch was with Lizzie Poteet of St. Martins press and dinner was with Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary.}

I’m going to talk to you like we’re friends.

As a timekeeper this year, I volunteered to miss class in order to–get this–keep agents and authors on time. I was originally scheduled to run a room upstairs, with a sweet agent I instantly liked. Jen Rofe was taking pitches and there I was, to make sure everyone stayed on schedule. Secretly, I was relieved that I wasn’t a timekeeper for the agents I was meeting with later on that night/the next day. I thought it would be better if our first introduction wasn’t a quick, “Hi, I’m your time keeper. How’s the temperature of the room? Doyouneedcoffee?”

After arriving at my post, I was reassigned. Some mix up, I guess. When I arrived at my new post, I discovered it was the very two agents I’d been “fearing.” Well, that was dumb of me–they neither bit me or turned into bloodsucking vampires. But, there went my brain. And I did the quick “Hi, howyadoing?” thing, but my nerves had kicked into gear. By the time Suzie Townsend had her last pitch, I needed a fresh shirt and another layer of Secret.

The brief intros were fine, and I can’t explain why my nerves kicked in based on those meager hellos. In hindsight, I’m glad they did, because by the time I had my pitch with Lizzie Poteet, my sweat glands had given up on ruining my wardrobe. I was left to run on pure excitement and adrenaline, which courses through my veins on a day basis.

But let’s back up, shall we?

I should’ve had a bigger lunch. Because, like normal, I talked the sweet and funny Suzie Townsend’s ear off. I had an appetite, but didn’t care if I starved–even if those pork chops were pretty tasty. All I wanted to do was to talk to her and listen to everything she had to say. I introduced Serene, my BestFriendforDinner and then fired away the only pressing question I really had for Suzie.

I wish I could remember the exact wording, but it was something like this:

Will you tell me where you think new adult going, in the sense that will it fan out become more than just contemporary romance?

I’m not going to go into a She Said, and I Said play by play, but I will tell you she was super awesome to answer my question. And the truth is it’s impossible to predict the future of a genre, which I knew, but she’s very aware and up to her eyeballs in what the industry is doing right now, and can see far enough out to know what is selling, what isn’t, what’s overdone, what’s not, and what she’s hoping to find in a manuscript.

I did not pitch my story to her at dinner, but I did share some basics–like Lenox is 22 and I have a fantasy story. She shared some fun and helpful thoughts about fantasy, which put my mind to rest about where my story fits. It’s fantasy. Don’t worry so much about age. And that lifted my spirits, to say the least.

I learned all kinds of beautiful tidbits about Suzie, things about her private life that wouldn’t necessarily be on her bio, but that made her a real person and unique. We had some good laughs, and there’s a part of me that wishes I would’ve hit the voice recorder on my phone, stuck it in my bra, and then went to dinner, because my brain is mush now and I can’t recall everything we talked about–but it doesn’t matter. I remember how I felt.

And that’s what matters. I felt like I’d met a new friend and had we been college roommates I would’ve tried to set her up on dates, gone shoe shopping with her, brought her home to ride horses and meet my family. And no matter where my story goes, I’ll forever consider her a friend. That how great it was to have dinner with her.

Sunday morning, after staying up ’til 4 am, Serene and I were in the lobby and Suzie ended up coming down while we were milling about. She was headed to hike the Y, which I’ve never done. Instead of taking off right away, she stayed to visit longer. And that conversation I remember much better. Which is odd, considering that lack of sleep and overload of information from three days of conferencing. A part of me wanted to skip going home and hike the Y with her, but my carpool passengers were all depending on me to get them home. And I wasn’t invited.

I loved learning that Suzie is an editorial agent–and that changed my perspective on what I want in an agent. I know I’m not perfect and that MS has things that can be improved on. Having someone on my team, helping push that MS to be the brightest, best, and most impressive it can be before going to editors, is a big deal. I’d just never seen it in that light. I’ve been through beta readers, more beta readers, two editors, and multiple revisions, and I’m willing to go through it all again, if it means taking the story up a notch.

I don’t want to birth a story that’s premature.

Since returning home, we’ve become friends on Facebook, and I’ve sent her my query and pages. I look forward to what she’ll say, and while I wait for that day to come, I’ll keep querying, keep writing, keep pushing forward.

Now, my pitch on Saturday ended up being right in the middle of Suzie’s class, which was a bummer, but Serene and Michelle were good to take notes and fill me in. Again, I felt really excited and enthusiastic about sharing FOR THE LOVE with Lizzie. As an editor for St. Martins, she doesn’t usually acquire manuscripts, but all my research and cyber stalking was worth it. I felt as if I did know her, going into that pitch. I kept having a dream I’d say so, too, and then break into song.

ME: I feel like I know you, but ♫♫ YOU DON’T KNOW A THING ABOUT ME! YOU DON’T KNOW A THING ABOUT ME! ♫♫

Yes, not the most professional way to introduce one’s self, but certainly memorable. Maybe if I’d had back up singers…

A part of me wishes I would’ve gone with it, and fulfilled the dream/nightmare, because after attending her class, she made more song references than I can shake a stick at, and she broke out into song–just like I did in my dream. Just short one-liner, but still. And she loves Taylor, which was cute and fun.

Instead, I went with what I had practiced for a week, and it felt very natural for me. For someone else, maybe it would’ve sounded like they were taking to a crazy person, but for it me, it was true to character. I felt good about it, and whether or not she requested pages out of true interest or professional politeness, I don’t mind. I sent her fifty pages, like she asked, and will see where it goes. I especially enjoyed her class on Romantic Tension, because WHO WOULDN’T want to talk about that? Okay, so there’s a few men out there who might raise their hand, but if they write, they shouldn’t be scared by a little kissing scene. Portraying passion in a book can’t be overlooked–it can make or break a story, in my humble opinion. Done just right, and you’ll own me. Anyway, I laughed and laughed, and got to see a different side of Lizzie than I had previously. She seemed more at ease, more in her element, and I went back to taking notes.

She went over four things to show that tension and then put us all to writing up something using a Taylor Swift song/lyrics/image as a prompt. I love a writing exercise, but I didn’t used to. After our time was up, she chose a few participates brave enough to share with the class what they’d just written off the top of their heads. I didn’t get the chance to do it, but liked what I wrote enough that I just might see where it goes in the future. (There weren’t enough little pictures to go around, so I just went with a Swift song that’s frequently stuck in my head–22.)

The class ended, and I was super bummed, because I could’ve sat in that class the rest of the conference and listened to her teach. She seemed to have the heart of a teacher, and genuinely wanted us all to walk away having more confidence and knowledge to add to our writing tool boxes.

Now, since I’ve decided that this year was the year of AGENTSEVERYWHERE for me, I have to mention the other two agents I crossed paths with, because well, they were ahhhmazing, too!

I’ve had an eye on Mark Gottlieb for a while, and was excited to  learn from him at conference. His class was first and I remember it best–mostly because my brain hadn’t been so accosted yet. He was also a fun presenter and put pitching into perspective. I LOVE that he gave us a chance to pitch live, and while I wish I would’ve been chosen, I was thrilled that Daniel Noyes, my good friend and writing cohort, was selected. He did awesome. So awesome, that Mr. Mark asked Daniel to send in pages, just. like. that. BOOOOYAH!

I later ran into Mark when I was standing on a chair, searching the sea of 700 other authors in attendance for my friends. And then again, when two of girlfriends thought he was kinda cute and wanted a photo. Mark strikes me as a little more reserved, but something tells me his a blast when he lets his guard down and isn’t “working.” I could totally be wrong, but either way, he’s good at his job and would be an awesome agent to work with. I have sent him a query, and while I want him to take a look at my pages, I’d be more than thrilled if he offered to rep Daniel.

And the last bit of awesomeness I wanted to touch on was Jen Rofé. I didn’t know I’d like her so much. So much that I WANT to write something for her to look at. Haha. Now, that clearly isn’t how it works, but still. She was warm-hearted, easy to talk to, and genuinely so beautiful. She sat at the same dinner table with us Friday night, with her own guests, but every once in a while we all would chat together. My favorite part was when she told us all she got chills during the keynote speaker. I don’t remember the comment, but I got the chills, too. Amazing how that happens.

Overall, the answer to HOW DID IT GO? is AMAZINGLY WELL.

I didn’t puke on anyone, I didn’t cry. I didn’t start shaking uncontrollably. I didn’t forget what I wanted to say, and I had fun. I honestly had the best time sharing my story, because I love my story. I may be a little sick of editing it, but I love Lenox and Rozlyn, and Sterling, so much that to me, they’re as real as my own children. And I want to share them with the world, which sounds a little cliche, but I do. Not everyone will love them like I do, but just maybe, some will.

Now, as an added bonus, I just know you’re dying to see what I wrote in that Romantic Tention class. Am I right?
♥♥♥

Jensen’s long fingers brush against mine, not for the first time—and unless he quits his job—not for the last time. My heart skips a beat. I’m such an idiot, but I can’t help it. My lips curve into a smile as he and I lock eyes.

“Are you ever going to change your mind?” he asks.

He means am I ever going to order something besides a chia latte, and I’m considering saying something like, “as soon as I can I buy you a cup.” But I don’t. My voice would give me away if I said anything at all right now.

From behind, Jake, my fiancé, gentle nudges me forward to our regular Sunday morning spot. Jensen watches us as we leave the counter, grateful I only have to endure this torture once a week. It takes about six minutes before Jensen comes around the counter, two dollar bills in his hand. Jake was too busy texting his boycrush about tomorrow night’s game to collect the change, or notice that I didn’t.

If only I had the courage to make a move one way or another. To tell Jake it’s over or to tell Jensen we can’t go down that path ever again. He steps up close, the toe of his boot bumping into mine. His Adam’s apple rises and falls as if it holds all his anxiety.  His fingers don’t tremble as he extends the money, but mine do as I take it from him.

“See you later,” he says. I glance at Jake. He’s still texting, or something.

I sink in my seat a little, and when Jensen is back at his post, his gaze bores into me. I focus on Jake’s phone, now attached to his ear, as beads of sweat form on my palms.

The Social Butterfly at Storymakers

You be the Unicorn, I’ll be the Butterfly.

Recapping Storymakers is like trying to nail jello to a wall.  Expressing how I feel? Even harder. Remembering what I learned? Tricky. Making friends/reuniting with friends/meeting online personalities for the first time? Priceless.

It might be another year before I see some of these friends, and that’s if we BOTH attend the conference next year. It might be another year before I have the chance to meet an agent/publisher face to face. It might be another year before I get a mini-vacay from my kids and sweetheart to geek out over all things writerly.

Likewise, I can’t believe I was such an emotional wreck over this–everyone’s so nice. Did I smell like B.O. the whole time? *sniffs armpits* Why was I so worried about everyone pitching in to cover the hotel cost? Why did I lose sleep over pitching my story to an agent? It was actually really fun! *that might just be me, though*

Then there’s the random feelings of: I met so-and-so and they were exactly like their online personality. Who knew? ▬ Gosh, my PubPrimer mentor was actually nice, and not a soul-devouring harpie.  ▬ The food was fine, and I didn’t get gas. Sheesh. ▬ My kids have texted me every four hours–guess they really are fine without me.  ▬ I got my pages back from the first contest and I wasn’t a complete loser. (In my defense, I DID number my pages, and I can see them just fine on my document, but for some reason, they didn’t show up on the contest submission. WEIRD.)

I’ve been to enough conferences to know now that there is definitely such a thing as ConferenceHangover and for me, it lasts almost a week. I need help recovering, but when I think about what I need to snap back to reality, I’m cool with just some advil and Dr. P.

Sitting here at home, my eyes ache. My back hurts. I have this insatiable need to write, but my brain is mush. I can’t remember anything I learned, and now, I’m thinking it’s because I was a horrible student. I didn’t take notes this year. AT ALL. What is my deal? I can tell you. I was constantly thinking about my dinner and pitch session and try all my might, I just couldn’t focus. BUT! Maybe I didn’t learn as much as because I’m starting to get the hang of this writing gig, not because I didn’t take notes. No. That’s egotistical–what am I thinking?  I need to rewrite my whole MS. Everything I wrote–I did it wrong. Did I show enough romantic tension? Did I use punchy verbs? Do I have a solid pitch? Do I really understand what means to publish traditionally? Where’s the bathroom–oh wait–I live here. I know where it’s at. I sure miss the escalator all of a sudden. *drives to mall to ride it up and down* and *it’s not the same.* How come I can’t bring myself to unpack? What do I do with all these beautiful business cards? My facebook feed is sucking the life out of my phone and I HAVE. TO. CHECK. IT. Did I just get tagged again? Oh! Yay! I did!  That shot of me is fabulous/awful/a little to close up/what am I doing in that photo? How long do I have– before the agents forget me– to send off those pages that they asked for? She did ask for them, right? I’m not making that up, am I? Maybe I can read through my MS onemoretime just to make sure. *collapses*

Like I said, MushyBrain. It’s a real thing.

No amount of sugar/chocolate/caffeine is going to get me through this.

I’m letting all the cool kids blog the awesomeness that was #storymakers15 for me and I’m going to take the well traveled road and just post photos. BUT IF YOU WANT REAL BLOG POSTS, visit the following: Destiny Hampton’s blog, Shannen Crane’s blog, and this blog post by Rachel Wagner. I’m sure more people will blog about it. If they do, I’ll try to link.

Now, please, let me SHOW and TELL you all about my experience at #storymakers15 and not have you judge me as a writer. (Ps. It really helps if you’re gong to tweet about the conference, to use the right tag! Bryce Evans, I’m looking at you!)

The following photos and captions are in no particular order, because I’m to tired to do that for you. See if you can spot the butterfly.

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Isn’t this gorgeousness to the max? I asked to have my name badge read SeriouslyGina and it was one of the best decisions I made. When new friends met me, they looked at my tag and asked, “Is your name seriously gina?” To which, I always replied, “Seriously, right?” or something more clever. These little business cards were the highlights of my actual writing journey. I’m excited to send pages out and will always be jade green that Jeigh had the best promo of any author there, IMO.

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Um, that is FOUR A.M. people. The time in which we retired because we just couldn’t stop laughing and talking. I’m so not 22 anymore, and my goodness, I was dead in the morning. But it was worth it. Every minute.

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Somewhere around 2 am, Bryce and I were slap happy…..

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And Charlie and Serene were dozing off–while sitting upright. These photos are proof of who is the toughest when it comes to sacrificing sleep for the craft.

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There’s nothing like dinner out after hours and hours of being in class. Super nice of Danny to shrink me, too. His psyche skillz were a force to be reckoned with!

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Sitting across from us–these three made excellent company–as did the rest of the crowd that came with us. Why I didn’t take a shot of everyone, I don’t know. But it was awesome to have Wendy Swore, Nichole Giles, Serene, Michelle, James, and others with us.

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Daniel was the only one of us going to the Gala, and man, doesn’t he look sharp? Gunfinger wink is a thing for us. Don’t ask. We’re weird.

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Nothing like having a celeb hug you after taking a selfie. (He seriously hugged me like I was his bestie.) Brandon’s so great, and isn’t his chin dimple to die for? I had to bust out my phone’s email and show him how overdue Fablehaven #2 was–just because I’d love it if someone had my book from the library and it was overdue. In case you honestly don’t know who this is, and want to, here’s Brandon Mull’s website.

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At the book signing, I failed to take a million photos–which is totally my bad, but Mercedes and Rebecca both hold a special place in my heart.

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I love Tiffany so much. There just aren’t words. LOVE LUV LURVE her.

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Because this is me were talking about…are you surprised at all to find that I was trying to play matchmaker? I didn’t think so.

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Shameless selfie to show off the fabulous earrings the amazing Erin game me. Click her name for her pretty blog. Can’t wait to see what she does next. She has no idea how cheerful she made me, and that I honestly think she cast a superpower spell over them.

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That time when you sit at a table at lunch and the stranger next to you is worth his weight in jumping jelly beans and caffeinated unicorns. THIS IS DEFINITELY MY TRIBE.

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The lovely and uber talented Suzie Townsend talking about what to expect from an agent. *Not enough time to write it all out in this post–but trust me, she’s amazeballs.* That experience deserves its own blog post, and I hope to get to it, asap.

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That moment when you finally have two seconds to snap a selfie with a facebook friend you’ve been stalking for over six months. Yes, Erin. You know you’ve been watching me like crazy. Fess up.

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Late night hangout in the hotel–when you realize this isn’t BYU and the boys are allowed to sit on the couch and talk shop. Seriously, we geek out over verbs and book covers.

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That moment when you meet an author who’s writing influenced and inspires you–and she calls you by name without looking at your name badge. I ♥ DonnaHatch.

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Or the two runners in the bunch geek out over how to tie their shoes, and then demonstrate.

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Making new friends isn’t something I struggle with. Especially when they’re willing to listen to me go on and on about random stuff, which is code for kissing stories. I love new friends. And I figure my endless banter is potential research for them–character development! I’m doing them a favor, people.

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Oh! When you fall in love with a completely new face, sing a ballad to her, and then Shelly Brown tries to suck the life out of you with her mad powers.

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Catching a quick head shot with the keynote speaker–Martine Leavitt– who did in fact inspire me to keep writing, with thoughts like, “Your kids won’t become ax murderers because you write.” And I’ll never forget how she asked me quite somberly if my name really was “seriouslygina” like my mother was the worst, or high. Hahah.

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That moment when you’re asked to snap a photo of an author who is repped by the fabulous Suzie T and you’re a little more than ravenous as you do so. JUST KIDDING! I’m so happy for Caryn. Okay, maybe a little jealous, too. But in truth, I’m so happy to have her as a new friend! *Thanks Caryn for reaching out to me first via Twitter!*

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Remember that post about winning the BFFD contest? If not, you can click on the word BFFD and read about it. Anyway, here it is in fruition. I don’t want to come off as creepy, but for a “first date”–I was in LOVE right away. Didn’t even break a sweat, because Suzie is that easy to talk to and fun to be around. I swear, we just clicked. And having Serene with me was icing on a devil’s food cupcake. (And I have reason to think it wasn’t just one sided.)  Ahhhhh….. Yes, I’m sighing! If NY and Idaho Falls weren’t miles apart, I’d take this girl out for a cup of coffee every Saturday morning.

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So glad the conference people thought to number the table this year! with 700ish guest, it sure made coordinating meals easier! And extra cool when you get to sit at a table with this tag.

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More authors to fall in love with! Jessica, Natalee, and Rachel–I’d adopt you in a heartbeat and build a bedroom on to my house just for you if you wanted me to. COME SEE ME! ANYTIME!

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Bwahaha! If only you know how much this photo made me laugh on the inside. My girlfriends–Crystal and Shannen–may or may not have been pining over the awesomeness that is Agent Mark Gottlieb. {If you write, you should totally follow him and Trident Liteary.} Too afraid to ask for his photo, they turned to me. Little did they know what they were going to get when handing a job like that over! “Hey, Mark, can we get a selfie with you in it? Great! Hey, you two fangirls, come over here and get in the photo, you big chickens! It’s not like he’s going to eat you alive…” I’ve since been demoted and can’t be the on Crystal and Shannen’s Staker Surveillance team anymore.As to the teenager photobombing us, I have no clue who she is, but at least she’s happy about jumping into the shot.

Never assigning you stalker surveillance again!)

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Oooooh, Serene! I’m so glad you’ve stayed on the crazy train that is writing with me. Not that I’ve given you much choice over the matter. I can’t wait for you to succeed!

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MY OTHER FAMILY! Charlie, Daniel, James, Serene, Rebecca, Jeigh, me, Lauri, and Michelle. I seriously love our little family, and while we desperately missed Sheree, and adopted Rachel and Bryce over the weekend, and didn’t see nearly enough of Jeigh and Rebecca, I look forward to any chance we get to hold a reunion. Youre fabulous storytellers in real life and on paper. Your wit and banter slay me. Your love and support sustain me. You’re not only my tribe, your my writing life blood and I’ll forever be grateful I created Team Gina in the first place. I’m so glad it’s morphed into something more.

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Caryn! So excited to be your real life friend and not just a twitface who’s constantly messaging you at 140 characters at a time.

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Another one of those elevator moments when a BIGTIME author knows you by name–without your badge. Which, btw, where is mine? Josi Kilpack is where it’s at when it comes to helping young authors blossom and grow. I’ll love her forever.

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OMH! I’ll never eat chocolate the same. We were instructed at our chocolate tasting party to 1. snap the chocolate in half, 2. rub it and smell it, 3. place it on our tongue and press it against the roof of our mouths and let it melt for 15 seconds, and finally, 4. move it around so every inch of our mouth discovered the taste. *ABOUT DIED* #boybrainwentbizerk

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I have no idea who this lady with Rebecca is.

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So glad I’m not the only freak at the party. Jennie’s the only sane one in this photo. Tyler Jolley lives up to his name. I hope his kids do, too. You’d never guess this, but he’s a donut affectionado and an orthodontist on top of an author. Just saying.

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The beauty of pre-chocolate instructions.

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I bought dinner for the gang, and then everyone proceeded to give me money. It wasn’t such a bad deal. And when it came to picture time, everyone had to be weird.

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Elevator selfie.

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The talented and super sweet Wendy Swore. She was such a fun pubprimermate that I could’ve taken her home with me. And I almost did–she lives in Pocatello!

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Muahhahah! There’s nothing like watching your crit group make faces. If you only go to conference for the feedback on your pages, trust me, you’ll benefit from it. I always do. {Secretly, I want to be able to be a mentor for this someday.}

Jenny

LADY IN RED! ♪♪♪ While Jenny isn’t dancing with me, (And if you don’t know that song, I’m not sure we can be friends) she’s going to be the lead next year. We’ll follow every dance step she makes from here until next May. I’m positive Storymakers will blossom even more with her Southern touch, and I know she’s going to rock at being Queen Bee! {Her sister is lovely, too, don’t you think?}

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And then there’s this photo, taken while driving to conference. We’ll, I’m at a stop light or something, but this shot still will make me smile forever. Focused on the traffic, I missed out on something witty and wild that they were saying. I think. Guys! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

So, now what? What did I learn? What will I remember? What should you know if you’re considering going? When’s the next one?

The answers, my friend, are available, but my sponsors felt it would be best if I didn’t take time to answer them, and focused more on the fact that I spent the entire duration of Step Up making treat bags for the conference instead.

Make sure you prepare yourself in advance if you decide to do something crazy like this. Just sayin'.

Make sure you prepare yourself in advance if you decide to do something crazy like this. Just sayin’.

Personalized Computer

Order custom vinyl that makes you happy and sets your laptop apart from the other 699 laptops at Conference, and then don’t take it to class at all… because you forget it in your hotel room.

Make sure you spend an entire day perfecting your business card before you print out 100 of them. It's a very good way to avoid editing those pages you have to have done for your Publication Primer group.

Also,make sure you spend an entire day perfecting your business card before you print out 100 of them. It’s a very good way to avoid editing those pages you have to have done for your Publication Primer group. Taking lots of time to prep for conference is an absolute must.

 Now, If you have to know all those special details that I haven’t covered, like when can you attend a conference this awesome, just get your fanny on over to the OFFICIAL webpage or Facebook page and look up the deets. If you need help from there, good luck. I don’t know a single author who’d be willing to expound. *just kidding*

Ohhhmahhhheck! It’s 1:38 am.

People, I’ve got to stop loosing sleep over this conference. Someone intervene on my family’s behalf. They so do not need a zombie CEO running things like sack lunches and laundry. Because, I fear I’ll do something like this:

Seriously, I’m laughing so hard, and I can’t tell if it’s because I’m so tired or if the gif is just that good. Really, just watch the mom’s face. *SoFunny* *SoMean*

Did you find the butterfly?

So there you have it. My take on the most anticipated conference of my year. If you leave a comment, I’ll know you’re a lover of unicorns and butterflies. And that’s a good thing to know about someone.

The Final Countdown, Again.

This isn’t my first rodeo–Storymakers 2015–but every day it draws closer, I swear my stomach can’t decide if it’s upset or starving, and my chest tightens when I think about it for too long.

And now, I’ve got roughly 14 hours to be ready and on the road.

I’m in the thick of preparations, as are all my friends who are going, and I’m sure the conference committee is swamped, too.

Even so, I’m excited to spend a few days away, {No house building talk, no laundry or dishes, no sack lunches to make, no dashing to the store for an Idaho History project, etc. In light of this, I am missing out on a few fun things–my son’s talent show performance, his Idaho History Program, and my daughter’s audition for Peter Pan, but I knew I’d miss out on SOMETHING. Because there’s always something.}  A few days away to talk about all things writerly, with writers and authors who I love, admire, envy, and don’t even know yet–SOUNDS SUPERB!

On the agenda: Leaving Idaho Falls in the early morning hours to get to Provo, spending hours with Publication Primer teammates for critique work, checking into the hotel, going chocolate tasting, attending a dance, two full days of classes, volunteering as a Timekeeper for the committee with pitch sessions, shepherding around 5 newbies, renewing friendships, staying up late, spending dinner with Suzie Townsend, pitching to Lizzie Poteet, watching the cool kids go to the Gala, having to say goodbye to friends who’ll leave Friday, spending Saturday night laughing and staying up late again, and then finally packing up and coming home.

That’s just the big stuff. All the fun details, all the conversations, and all the warm hugs and smiles, not to mention selfies fill in every minute in between.

BFFD

This was posted on the LDStorymakers Conferences Facebook page, less than a month ago:

Would you like to spend the dinner and keynote address seated with . . . Suzie Townsend? Or Jen Rofe? Or Lizzie Poteet? Or Mark Gottlieb? What’s that you say? YES? Then let’s try to make that happen.

Welcome to the BFFD (Best Friends for Dinner) giveaway!!!

It’s simple. Did you talk someone into coming to the conference? I did. Like, five people, actually. Because I’m bossy. But anyway, if you talked someone into registering for the conference or talk someone into registering for the conference by next Friday, April 17, have that person tag you in the comment trail. They just need to say “So and so convinced me to register.” If someone talked you into registering, tag them and say “So and so convinced me to register.” And that’s it. You’re BOTH entered.

►►►►►►►►►►►►►►►►►► For what it’s worth, I’ve talked to several people about coming to the conference, and FOUR registered and tagged me in the contest.

Yesterday, this was posted on the same page:

Welllllllllll….karma strikes again. I like it when it’s on our side. The first winner of the Best Friends for Dinner contest is Gina Pack Larsen, which seems about right. Random.org has your back, Gina. PM me with agent you’d like to sit down to dinner with and we’ll make it happen. If any of the rest of you would like to win dinner with an agent, check the pinned post at the top of the page. It’s easy, and we’d love to have you. Congratulations, Gina!

►►►►►►►►►►►►►►►►►►

Needless to say, I couldn’t be more excited/thrilled/nervous! I can’t quite put a finger on my emotions, because I talked four friends into coming. FOUR. And I only get to choose ONE to join me for dinner with the agent of my choice.

As the first winner, I get free range– any one of them.

This didn’t take more than twenty minutes to decide. I’m already pitching to Lizzie Poteet, so I took a deep breath and went with Suzie Townsend.

*Stomach knots up*

I wish my non-writing friends understood the magnitude of this experience, but they just smile and nodd at me like I just told them I was going to dinner with their mother. Meh. I love my friends, and I forgive them for not squealing.

Thankfully, my writerly friends DO get it, and the shouts of delight haven’t stopped. I’ve had so much love and support. Phone calls, PM on FB, texts, and comments on the thread started pouring in minutes after the announcement. My phone rang and buzzed at me non-stop, and I was in permagrin mode for th rest of the day.

Still am, actually.

The hard part, now, is picking one of my four referrals to join me for dinner.

It’s like the Reaping, except I’m not Effie, and death isn’t on the line.

I didn’t sleep well, worried the three who don’t get to come to dinner with me will be crushed. They’re all awesome; I’d like to take all four, but I can’t, and I’m cool with that. They are, too. But it doesn’t make the decision any easier.

Heaven help me. I’m seriously going to have to pray about this one.

For Someone Who Writes About Cupid, I Sure Skipped The Month of Love

But I have a very valid reason. Two days after my last post–a little family topsy-turvy hit.

After six years of trying and four different realtors, we finally SOLD OUR HOUSE!

This is huge. But wait! It gets messier. As if that news wasn’t enough to explain my bloggin’ absence, the buyers were coming to the table with cash. The hard, cold stuff.

And cash is king. Just ask Dave Ramsey. (Are you a fan? I am.)

We were informed that things would move about twice as fast as normal, meaning we’d probably have two weeks to be out, instead of four. No problem. I’m super mom/wife and I’ve got this.

However, next thing I know, we have to be out by Feb. 7th. That’s seven days, people. A week!

Packing up ten years of our lives in that short of time seemed impossible, but I believe in miracles–have you seen a preemie baby these days? Miracles, I tell ya! Miracles!–and we got to work by finding boxes and bubble wrap. Many hands makes light work, the saying goes and as a thirty something year old mother of four, I champion that phrase. Even when it comes to writing. {Little shout out to a few people who kept my writing alive to a degree throughout the month of February– I love you, members of Team Gina support group. You know who you are! and for those of you who are reading this, I did not title the group after myself, that was a member’s doing. Honest.}

Miraculously, we found an apartment to rent in our school boundaries, which was also huge, so I didn’t have to drive the halfings to and from school.  Which really matters–I have a kindergartner. Three trips a day to the school isn’t on my top ten list of things to do with my stay-at-home-momness. Yunno?

So, with the help of good friends left and right, we loaded everything into two enclosed trailers and were ready to go. Except, then our apartment wasn’t.

The current tenants trashed the place on their way out, and the management had to do extensive work–including all new carpet–to make it habitable. The carpet was delayed over President’s Weekend and we bunked up at with parents (So glad they live in town!) It was exactly two weeks later, on Feb. 21st, that we were able to move into the apartment. Never mind they were still laying carpet as we began to bring the boxes in. Then the unpacking frenzy began, because I had a shindig coming up and I had to get things pulled together.

Most everything is still packed away, stored in the garage or under the stairs inside, and we’re making due without many of our regular items, like a rolling pin.

In the process, we began officially drawing up floor plans for our new home, and considering builders. We have purchase a lot and are waiting on permits to dig!

On top of it all, I was supposed to be hosting a writing retreat Feb 20th-21st. Thankfully, everyone was understanding and available to attend the following weekend. Many laughs were had in between writing sessions and I was really happy with my personal progress on my writing projects. I added two new writers to the mix, along with some seasoned ones, and the combination was refreshing and rejuvenating. Nothing like getting the writing muses and mojo going again.

It was a more replenishing than a trip to the spa, I swear, after the hectic weeks of moving. The idea of hosting a retreat in my future home has me bubbling up like crazy–Oh! NaNoWriMo all-night write at my place!

I am looking forward to the upcoming months of change. I like change, especially for the better. I struggled with it for a long time when it came to editing, but I’m much more flexible and eager to consider changes in my writing than I used to be. I’m careful not to fall in love with my words, sentences, and phrases to quickly, which for this heart-on-my-sleeve gal, is a feat.

But those changes, the big ones and the small ones, make the tapestry of our lives richer.

Sure, not all changes are happy, healthy ones, but I believe there is strength in the soul who handles any change with grace.

What changes have you faced lately?

It’s Like Asking Out the Quarterback, Who’s Dating the Head Cheerleader

**Focus your eyes here–stop looking at Chris. Okay, now that you’ve watched him sixteen times, I have a HUGE, IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT –This post is little analogy that came to me. I’m not complaining and I don’t want anyone to think I’m falling apart over here or anything. Okay, commence the fun.**

This is what I mean… Back to the fun. SMILE. I am.

Deep breath. This is a long-ish analogy.

In December, I  queried FOR THE LOVE for the first time. Before I did that, though I had to write a query letter. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I reworked my query. I have friends who can’t put a number on it, either. {They’ve earned a place in heaven, for it, too.}

My best guess would probably be about 50, over the span of two years. TWO YEARS. Hi, 2013.

I sent out four queries that month. That’s not a lot, I know , but it was a super busy time of year and several of the agents I wanted to query, were closed to them over the holidays. Out of those four, I received two, personal rejections in less than 24 hours. I was shocked, delighted, bummed–all at the same time. In some ways, that first rejection email is a right of passage, and I was thrilled to have it. It meant I was on the path; I’m putting myself out there. Knowing the process is completely subjective, I didn’t sweat or cry and continued on my merry way.

(I’ve never heard from the other two, but again, that’s not uncommon.)

After those personalized, kind rejections I wanted to email them back and say, “thanks for saying no so nicely.” But I resisted.

Peggy Eddleman jumped on board when I asked for her help in reworking my query. Peggy and I met at a writing retreat in November, and because she’s so gracious and awesome and kind, and knew who I was, she said yes. Though I swear, at the next retreat, I’m not going to write as much, and spend a little more time conversing with those at the party. The main reason I asked her was because she’s teaching  on the art of query letters at the upcoming 2015 LDStorymakers Conference. Thing is, I needed to glean from her wisdom right away, too impatient to wait until May.

I reworked the query with Peggy’s help, and bounced the query off others before sending it out again.

Since then, I’ve had two more responses that have left me feeling two very different things.

The first is exciting. I queried an agent on Wednesday night, just before going to work out. On Thursday, less than 24 hours later, he emailed me, requesting for my first three chapters. Oh, I wish you could have been a fly on the wall to see my face and reaction. However, my friend Serene is the only witness I have. I was all panic, joy, panic, squealing, clapping, candy-stuffing-my-mouth, phone calling my husband. Yeah. Then, more panic, and cold sweats, because along with the request, I was asked to provide a synopsis.

My heart stopped as I iced over. I didn’t have a synopsis. (To clarify, I do now, though!)

It should be said, that I have the most supportive husband, and God was indeed aware this was going to happen to me, because the chips fell into place quickly.

Backing up a bit here–Two weeks prior to that Thursday afternoon email, I had planned our family’s meals. We go out to dinner, once a month, and would you know it? I had scheduled our family night out for that night. Knowing I didn’t need to prepare any food, I got to work on a query right away, slipped away for dinner at 5, and then returned to the project. Hours later, I finally crashed at 3 a.m. I will forever be grateful to James and Serene for staying up late with me, and for Sheree and Daniel for looking at it first thing in the morning. Their insight, help, and encouragement was exactly what I needed to complete such a daunting task.

Nearly two years to write a query.
One night to write a one page and a four page synopsis.
*wipes brow.* I’m sweating just thinking about it.

I send the requested material on Friday afternoon. A whole new waiting game began.

Now, for the other one. Here goes:

It’s like I’m back in high school all over again, I stare and reread and analyze everything the agent says, does, tweets, and posts before I send out the query. Well, at least I try to do all of that the best I can. You see, there is this one agent, who is attractive on a couple of levels. He’s agency reps several authors who make us unpublished writers a little green. Online, he’s funny, and witty, and down right cucumber cool. Even his bio photo is pretty awesome. I’ve never met him in person, but we were at the same conference, and though I didn’t get a chance to pitch to him, we made eye contact several times. I know. It was serious.

Like I said, BACK IN HIGH SCHOOL, people.

So, I don’t know about you, but I think many of us can relate to the one boy, or girl, who was untouchable in high school. Maybe he was super-duper popular–The Quarterback, perhaps–and you weren’t quite as well, popular. Everybody knows it’s cliche, but inevitable–he’s also dating the head cheerleader. Together, they are the dynamic duo of XYZ High and bleed the school colors. {Code for: This agent reps the author you want to be like.}

Regardless, prom is coming up. And you’re young. YOLO, right? From the depth of your soul, you unearth the courage it’s going to take, to do what you’ve dreamed of doing for as long as you’ve been alive. You strap that courage on, like you’re about to do some serious mountain climbing, because this is either going to be something so stupid, you’ll die. Or it’ll be the most epic moment of your freakin’ high school career: You’re going to ask Mr. PerfectForMe to the prom. {Code for: This agent is accepting queries and likes the genre I write in.}

Now, your friends may doubt you–after all he has a girlfriend and everybody knows it. Or they may cheer you on–because the whole student body knows they break up every Friday night after the game. They’re not really in love. It all depends on your friends. {Code for: Just because this agent reps AuthorFantastic, the agent is still on the look out for someone else to add to their client list.}

On the plus side, Mr. Quarterback knows your name. He’s super kind–always says hi in the hall, holds doors open for the girls, and even picked up your books off the ground at your locker, once. He’s nothing if not a gentleman, which goes well with his cut jaw, his perfect shoulders, and those eyes. Oh, man, those eyes. And let’s not forget, you and he share the same birthday! Yeah, that’s right, baby! God sent him on the perfect day, and with his perfect self, and his mamma is raising him right. We all know it. {Code for: you have a friend who is repped by said agent, or have some other awesome connection.}

Granted, you’re too chicken to ask him to his face. So you know, you have to come up with something “creative” but it has to be clear it’s from you. Your biggest fear is for him to think someone else, someone far cooler, asked him to the dance. {Code for: Querying is your best shot since you can’t attend the same conference the agent is taking pitches at.}

So you heart-attack his locker, or leave a bale of hay on his front porch, or something.

There’s a note involved. It took 43 attempts to get your handwriting just right, but there it is: I’ll have a heart attack if you say “Yes” to going to prom with me. OR maybe you wrote: Hay, wanna kick it at the Fall Festival with me?

Either way, you spent hours laboring and sweating over that note, and it’s go time. {Code for: the query letter is ready, and it’s been through a lot of tweaks and edits, and you’ve checked every letter and period you wrote. It’s time to send it. You’ve composed it, with a nice intro and ending and you’ve pasted the exact number of pages or synopsis alloted.}

And you actually go through with it, because after all, your friends are either doubting you and you can’t handle the peer pressure or they’re the ones cutting out the hearts with you. {Code for: you hit send, panic, sweat, recover, repeat.}

With the message delivered, you wait. Every second of Algebra is torture because, he’s sitting right there. Breathing the same air as you. You know he knows and he knows you know. And you’re waiting for his answer. (Code for: now you wait. The he-knows-you know bit only happens if you get a auto response that confirms your message was delivered.}

And when his answer comes, you can’t decide if you’re going to die or cry, because he is Mr. PerfectForMe, even when he says “no.” And you hate his girlfriend, that much more because of it. She doesn’t appreciate him the way you would.  Hi, Taylor Swift! *if you could see that I’m the one who understands you. Been here all along, so why can’t you see-heee-heee? You belong with me-ee-ee, you belong with me.* {Code for: Taylor Swift gets it. Also, it took double the amount of courage as before to open the email to read the agent’s response.}

His note? Looks like this: You’re so cool to ask me, but I can’t go with you. It’s me, not you. I think you’re super rad, and I hope you find someone great to go to the dance with because I want you to have an awesome time. Peace. {Code for: Agents are human and can be super nice, and what you wrote worked, but didn’t work at the same time, if that makes sense. Yay for personalized rejections! Yay for form rejections that are so nicely writing you would’ve never guess if they’d just slipped your name in there instead of writing “Dear Author.”}

So there. I did it. I asked the Quarterback and he said no, and I’m okay. But why, after such a nice rejections, do I feel completely compelled to email the agents back and say, “Thanks for saying “no” so nice?” Was I expecting cold, heartless rejections? I must have been. Thus far, all three rejections I’ve had so far have been like this–me wanting to thank them for saying no. Am I nuts?

The following are the exact words of the agents that I’m talking about.

Agent One:
I’m sorry to say that I’m not quite the right fit for yours. I do appreciate that you wrote to me and wish you the very best luck finding the ideal agent for your work.

Agent Two:
Hi Gina,
Thanks for all your kind words. I’m glad I could entertain you somewhat during the stressful process of agent hunting. I’m sorry to say that I don’t think I’m the right agent for this project. But it sounds interesting and I hope you find lots of takers. I wish you the very best of luck!

Agent Three:
This business is highly subjective; many people whose work I haven’t connected with have gone on to critical and commercial success.  So, keep after it. I am grateful that you have afforded me this opportunity to find out about you and your project, and wish you the best of success with your current and future creative work.

But, back to high school thinking mode, I’m going to love him even more now, and possibly slip into a slight depression that lasts as long as a Taylor Swift song, and then I’m going to move on.
And then, some day, when I’ve married my Mr. PerfectForMe, who was the student body president of his high school, across the state, I’ll look back at the courage I had in asking that other boy to the dance, and laugh. Knowing I did it once though, sure as heck means I can do it again.
*Off to research another agent.* {Code for: All the hot guys are in college, anyway…}