"Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all."-Henry David Thoreau

Monday, April 14, 2014

What's Your Point of View?

What is point of view? The simplified definition of point of view is: the position of the narrator in relation to the story.  Essentially it's how and who is telling the story.  There are three points of view:  First (I, me, we), Second (you, your) and Third (he, she, they). But wait, it gets more complicated than that: Tense.  Past (I went, we walked) and Present (I go, I walk).  And in third person you have close third person and distant third person... Ah okay... I'm sure there's much more to it than just those things, but alas my mind is already on overload!

When I first started writing my novel, I began by creating a skeleton outline. I  mapped out scenes I knew would take place, starting with the beginning all the way to the end.  I went back and filled in tidbits of dialogue floating around in my head for the middle too.  My outline and scene sketches were I initially wrote in third person to give myself an idea of what would happen to the characters.  But as I started writing the meat of the story, after I really got to know the characters, it was pretty instinctual for me to switch over and write in first person past tense (he went, she sat, they walked). But I figured out relatively quickly into the writing process that this story demanded to be told in first person present tense.  

Now if you remember, when I first started writing my novel, I didn't have very much information on how to actually write it, I just started writing it. Needless to say, I didn't understand some of the major pitfalls of writing in first person present tense, such as it can slow the story down, you only get one POV, it can feel static instead of active etc.   I just knew that's what this story required.  So I went along my merry way, plotting and writing and creating Ali and Jacen's story in first person present tense.  And then I went to the ANWA conference and  quickly became aware of the fact that people have some pretty serious opinions on POV, especially when it comes to the first person present tense POV.  I mean, I know what I like to read but why it had never occurred to me that others have opinions that don't necessarily match mine never really dawned on me. I know what you're thinking... Duh, right? Leave it to me to pick the most "controversial" POV. I do tend to pick the road less travelled so at least I'm consistent.

Hmm...Now what?  Okay, it wasn't that I was discouraged about my writing, because if anything I was more motivated to write after attending the conference than anything, but I did begin to question whether  I was telling the story in the best possible way and if there was even an audience for my novel.  (In truth, I didn't start this with publishing in mind so it wasn't that I was heartbroken over it the fact that it might not ever be formally published, but I did want to create the best story that I could.)  So I decided to try a little writing experiment to see how the book would feel it I wrote it in a different POV.

My experiment was to rewrite the first five pages in first person past tense.  And Ugh.  I hated it.  Here's the funny thing: I enjoy reading books in first person past tense, I like present tense better, but reading past tense is fine. But writing in past tense?  Nope.  It just wasn't happening.  Maybe it's because I'm new to this art, or maybe it's just that I'm used to reading and writing this story from a certain perspective.  But, whatever it is, it just felt wrong.  

One of the big knocks on first person present tense is that it feels "affected" like it's a device used to sound more "literary." Another criticism is that this perspective gets in the way of letting the  reader "experience" the book for his or herself.  Welp, I certainly wasn't going for literary with this novel (I mean its an LDS Romance Novel for goodness sakes) and I certainly wasn't trying to "affect" people ( I mean I guess in a way I am, but not like that), but I knew that if I was going to write in first person present tense I had better have a good reason for doing so.  But did I?  

So I mulled it over, and over and over; Pondering Ali and Jacen's story and why this story needed to be told through their lens' as if it was happening to them right this moment.  And I realized, that in order to tell this story I had to be able to have the characters grow from their pasts.  Their pasts, like all humans, are one of the major things that define who they are.  My main character's are trying so desperately to avoid mistakes made in their pasts.  They are trying to get over it without having to get through it.  And it's not until later that the MC's figure out how to actually move on and I needed to be able to "flashback" to do this right. I know, the dreaded flashback... yet another pitfall.  But, it was necessary.  

This is about the time that most published author's are rolling their eyes.  And it's quite possible that they are 100% justified in doing so, because I'm not published and they are and I'm sure they know so much more about this craft than I do at this point. I have nothing but the utmost respect for anyone in the 1% who has EVER finished a novel (which is why I seriously paused to consider writing in a different POV) but in the end, I hope that my decision to use first person present tense does this story the justice it deserves.  Maybe, by the time I've completed my fifth novel I will have to write a revision to this post about my opinions on first person present tense, but currently I am confident in my choice to write this book in first person present tense.  

While many people may knock this choice in perspective one only needs to look to the New York Times' Best seller list to see that readers are flocking to this perspective in unprecedented numbers.  Here are a few examples of books you probably know that are written in first person present tense:

Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Pivot Point Series by Kasie West
Pushing the Limit Series by Katie McGarry
Shatter Me Trilogy by Tahereh Mafi
Matched Series by Ally Condie
Mile 21 by Sarah Dunster
Perfect Chemistry Series by Simone Eckeles 
Everything ever written by Jolene B. Perry

First person present tense is currently a hot trend among YA books as well as New Adult books (and these are the readers who my book is aimed at) as you can see!

Anyways, I could go on and on about POV, but my point is... Maybe first person present tense deserves another look. Especially, since it's resonating so much with readers.  What do you think? What perspective do you prefer to read? 

*To learn more about POV: Read Character's and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and take a look at the PEG website. Both resources were exceptional in helping me understand the benefits and pitfalls of each of the different POV's.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The List by Melanie Jacobson

Grade: A/5 stars
Rating: PG

Recommendation: Must read! This and it's companion novel Second Chances are both Whitney Award finalists!

This month it's my turn to host my local book club! And you guessed it, I picked my favorite book, The List by Melanie Jacobson.

If you've been following this blog at all, you know that my love of clean reading, and of LDS fiction in general, began with this book.  (If not, you can read my journey here) so I figured it was about time that I wrote a review on it.

Do the names Jack Weyland Richard Paul Evans sound familiar?  Well, they should. These are some of the authors I grew up reading and if you were an LDS teen growing up in the 19 ::cough cough:: then you probably grew up reading them too.

Let's talk LDS fiction for a minute.  LDS readers seem to have an opinion one way or another about LDS fiction. Many readers like it, but there are also a great many readers who when they hear the term "LDS fiction" put two hands over their ears and run in the opposite direction.  About a year ago, if you had asked me what I thought about it I would probably have told you... "Well, Um... it's cute and fluffy?"... You see, I was a member of the latter group (how shameful- I know).  But now I'm singing a different song and it all started with this book.

What it's about (borrowed from Goodreads):

Ashley Barrett doesn't want to get married. At least, not anytime soon. She doesn't care how many of her friends and family members and fellow churchgoers had weddings before they finished college -- the last thing she needs in her fun-loving twenties is the dead-weight of some guy. And that's why she created The List. By the time she completes all twenty-five goals -- from learning a language to skydiving to perfecting the art of making sushi -- she'll be more ready to settle down. Maybe.

This summer in California is a prime time for Ashley to cross two items off the list: learn to surf (#13) and have a summer romance (#17). And Matt Gibson, the best surf instructor in Huntington Beach and the most wanted guy in the singles ward, is the perfect man for the job. Ashley hatches a plan to love him and leave him before heading off to grad school in the fall (#4, get a master's degree). But when Matt decides he doesn't like the "leaving" part, Ashley's carefully laid plans are turned sideways. Now Ashley faces an unexpected dilemma: should she stick to the safety of The List, or risk everything for a love that may tie her down —- or might set her free?

What I liked:

From the very first sentence I was hooked and I stayed hooked until I finished the book. In full disclosure, I read it about three more times after that and then I bought a hard copy so I could loan it to others. From Ashley's snarky voice, to the twists and turns throughout the book... It was pure serendipity.   There are so many things about this book that I like.  Let's start with the main premise.  If you spent anytime in young women's then you at some point have  probably made a list... But most likely it was a list about what the qualities you want in a mate, what you want to be doing in 1 year/5years/10years or some other marriage related topic.  What I love about the premise is that it turns the list idea on its head and gives Ashley a list of things she wants to do before she will even consider the m-word. So clever!

Now the characters.  Ashley is everything an LDS Young Single adult cliche is not.  Really!  A mormon girl who doesn't want to marry?  That's like a walking contradiction isn't it?  Okay, to be fair, she does want to marry, just not until she completes the list. What a breath of fresh air.   And then there's Matt Gibson.  Just love him!  Matt's character is written so differently than most book boyfriends.  He's cool and suave and gosh.. He was just great.  Perfect.

And this book is funny.  The banter is quick, the comedy witty and the twists and turns? Well,  enough said.

What I didn't like:

Well, if there were things that I didn't like, then I probably couldn't give this the title of my "favorite book" now could I?

So were LDS books of the past predictable? Definitely.  A bit cheesy? Yep (not to say that I didn't love them).  But, thanks to authors like Melanie Jacobson those are things of the past.  I urge you to try this book out if it's been a while since you've read an LDS fiction book. Write on Ms. Jacobson, write on.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Free Books Today!

Click HERE to download Daughter of Joy by Kathleen Morgan.

Click HERE to download Paradise Valley by Dale Cramer.

Click HERE to download Hawthorne by Sarah Balance

* I have not read either of these books, but it is my understanding that both are clean reads. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Makes a Book "Clean"?

Over the past few months, I've been on a "clean reading" journey and I've been asking myself over and over, What makes a book clean?  What makes it unclean?  Is there room in a "clean book"  for "taboo" topics or "darker issues" (For example:  Death and dying, alcoholism/drug recovery, divorce, death, disease, forbidden romance, crime, addictions, rape, infidelity, eating disorders, identity crises, crises of faith, you get the picture)?  And what about character traits?  Use of language, tattoos, killing in military or another uniform, piercings? Well, I'm still not sure on the answer, maybe each book is a case by case basis or maybe there's a hard and fast line, or maybe the definition of clean varies from person to person. What do you think?

A few months ago when I started adjusting my personal definition of clean reading, I looked to Deseret Book to help me out.  I knew if a book was listed on Deseret Book website, then it would steer pretty far to the clean side of the street instead of taking a nose dive into the gutter. That's where I found Edenbrooke, Second Chances, and other great books.  Unfortunately, I exhausted the website of new reading material fairly quickly. So I found new ways to find clean reads: adjusting the books I listed as "to-read" on my goodreads account and finding more friends with similar desires to read clean books on that site as well.  This is when I discovered we all have a differing idea of what makes a book clean or not.  

Let's Discuss the "Big Three": 


This is an interesting one.  It seems like you either really care about it or really don't.  There are probably a few readers in between these two extremes who are okay with a few "minor" instances of swearing in a book, but for the most part, it seems like readers are either in one camp or the other.  For me

I've noticed that there are a few LDS authors out there (some of whom I really like) who tend to write their non-LDS works under a different pen.  One author in particular (who shall remain nameless, because I like her and would never ever slam an author on this site ever) tends to have A LOT of swearing (both major and minor) throughout the entire book in both her new adult and young adult non-LDS works.  I'm not sure what I think about this. So this brings up another interesting question, Do you hold LDS authors to a different standard in terms of using language in their writing? I do.  For a few reasons.  First, I believe that it's possible to write an amazing book without ever having to use a a swear word. And second, if you're LDS I kind of count on you to write something that I can feel okay reading. There is a whole lotta smut out there that I already have to choose from without a fellow sister adding to it. Yikes, that sounds harsh doesn't it?  

Well let me step off my pedestal and say that I'm actually a pretty lenient reader in terms of language.  Minor language doesn't bother me as much as it does some, even widespread.  I am pretty forgiving.  I can even forgive the occasional "major" swear word.  That being said, widespread swearing of either minor or major words tends to get in the way of my reading experience.  In other words, when there are so many instances of profanity in a book I am so distracted by it that it detracts from the story.

Sexual Content

I haven't been shy about saying I love the New Adult genre.  But my oh my is it difficult to find a good clean book in this genre, especially in terms of sexual content.  This genre unfortunately, has become synonymous with the aforementioned "smut". Which, sucks. Really, it sucks, because  I love me a good college romance.  I'm pretty sure this love-affair with the NA genre, started way back when I was in junior high and started reading the Sweet Valley University series. Okay, I really don't remember what they were about, but I remember loving them  (that probably ages me doesn't it?).  So back to sexual content...  This is a pretty controversial one, isn't it?  For example, is it clean if it's a "closed-door" bedroom scene? Most would probably say sure, ya, I think that's fine.  Okay well, let's back up for a second, What if the couple isn't married?  Or what if the couple is made up of two minors?  Or maybe it's depends more on how it's portrayed? Now here's a more personal question... Why are you reading it?  Are you reading it because your addicted to the way it makes you feel? Can you enjoy a book if it doesn't have "that" scene? 

Here's what I think... I try to stick to the MPAA movie rating guidelines of a PG-13 level book.  Every once and a while a book will surprise me with a scene (usually at about 80% through the book) and I'll just skip over the pages with that content.  Since Fifty Shades came out a few years ago the industry seems to be flooded with books that I would consider pornographic or erotica.  I've even seen some of these themes and scenes showing up in YA fiction. Honestly, I've scene them on the shelves of my neighborhood library. That I am not okay with.  I'm not saying I think we should censure books, I'm just saying we should be able to have some rating system so we know what to expect in a book.  

Taboo Topics

This is what I have been mulling over for the better part of three months.  In LDS fiction, especially romance,  I've come to expect a "sweet read".  A book that doesn't deal with heavy topics, use language, or have sexual content (well maybe a chaste kiss).  But here's what I'm wondering about today: Can an LDS fiction (a book with LDS characters and/or intended for an LDS audience) book address topics of a less-traditional more taboo topics?  In earlier posts I've reviewed a few books that deal with more difficult subject matter: Becoming Bayley (bullying/alopecia), Mile 21 (death of a spouse/crises of faith), Taken by Storm (dating outside faith, the lines of sexual promiscuity), The Weight of Love (Forbidden Romance with a missionary/death of a spouse).  I've also read a few others: My Not So Fairy Tale Life (Unplanned pregnancy), Hidden in the Heart (Rape- done cleanly without sexual content) etc... All of these books I consider clean.  They were written without swear words, crossing the sexual line and most importantly these books didn't preach bad choices having good-consequences.  And I think maybe that's the key.  

I'll explain what I mean with a story... My husband is a theater actor/singer.  On the stage he has given many opportunities to play many different parts. We use a quote from Brigham Young to measure the roles he considers against:

'Upon the stage of a theater can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnamity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to sun it." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.243; Bookcraft, 1998)

What this quote essentially means is this: Portray good choices as having good consequences and bad choices as having bad consequences.  With each role he plays carefully analyze the role and see if it's something that meets this standard.  Now back to books, far too often I see the reverse of this quote happening.  Bad choices having good consequences... Drinking leads to meeting a cute boy and happily ever after- Not loss of the spirit and most likely making further bad decisions: promiscuity, getting behind the wheel leading to a car accident etc.  That's not good.  Of course there are many many other examples of what I mean by this quote, but I think you get the idea.  

For me, I enjoy reading LDS fiction that deals with these sorts of topics.  I want to see how LDS characters deal with mental illness, divorce, disease, unplanned pregnancy, addiction etc.  Of course it has to stay within the boundaries I mentioned above, but I think LDS readers are looking to read about issues with more weight.  What do you think? I'd love to hear! Do you have any suggested books?

Free Books Today!

A Little bit Cupid by Jennifer Shirk Click here to download.

Fall For You by Cecilia Gray Click here to Download.

Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Writing the First Draft

At the end of this month I am scheduled to attend the Storymakers Conference in Salt Lake City.   In preparation for this conference I've been working like a mad woman to finish the first draft of my first book!  Squeee!  I'm so close it's painful! Seriously, I just want to write ALL the time.  Over the past year, my book has grown from an abstract dream of wanting to one day maybe, possibly write a book,  to a burning desire that my brain won't shut up about it until I had it down on paper. Well, I think I drove everyone around me a bit crazy, especially my husband and children (sometimes even myself), but it's been so satisfying to create it.  Around thirty pages into my writing journey it was pretty clear that I needed more knowledge to write this book, so I started writing authors I liked, looing up blogs, attending conferences etc. Now six months later, my writing is still in it's infancy, but I thought I  would share a few resources that have helped me to write the my first draft of my novel  (and a few things that I wish I had had before I started writing my novel).

First things first, if you are serious about writing, then attend a conference.  ANWA was a great conference and I highly recommend it.  Storymakers is another conference that I understand is amazing! And its coming up at the end of this month!   This is by far the best place to gain a vast amount of knowledge in a short amount of time, network with other authors, and develop your talent for writing.  So invest in it.

If you can't attend, there are other terrific resources that you can take advantage of too.

1. Dan Wells speaks here on Plot.
2. Writing on the Wall by PEG (a blog about all things writing)

A Few Books:

1. Story by Robert McKee
2. Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
3. Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
4. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
5. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King
6. Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
7. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell


1. Scrivener (software)
2. Alpha Smart Neo (keyboard with small screen for when you want to write on the go)

My first words of advice:  Write.  A lot. And then write some more.  For me, I didn't do any research on how or what to write.  I just started writing.  In some ways this served me well (I got to be creative without worrying about pleasing others or feeling like I was doing it "wrong") and in others it was such a disservice (wasted time, writing in circles, etc.).  All through school I loved my English and Writing courses (no, I'm not an English major, which is pretty clear because I'm sure my grammar and punctuation is atrocious... I'm truly sorry, I promise to hire a really good editor before I publish my first draft) and I also loved reading, but I never had a creative writing class, though I wish I had.  I just dove right in.  Starting with a skeleton outline (my story has remained a few of those elements, but it's grown and evolved so much since then) and then moving on to  a very brief character sketch and finally I began filling in the outline with scenes I knew I wanted in my book.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cinderella Screwed Me Over by Cindi Madsen

Grade: B/3.75 stars
Rating: PG-13
Cautions:  several instances of minor language throughout, Premarital sex between consenting adults off screen, and talk of being drunk.

Recommendation:  Great idea, good execution.  A little long.

Once upon a time, I was a little girl.  And like most little girls growing up in the 1980's I was nourished on a healthy diet of Disney Princesse movies:  Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella and Belle... you name it I watched it.  Fast forward a few years to my teenage and young adult years and you will see that I was experiencing what can only be described as the "Disney Princess Syndrome"... Yes, I expected to be treated like a princess and get my very own "Happily Ever After".   Now as an adult, I have two little girls of my own (and a little boy, but this is about the Disney PRINCESS syndrome not prince syndrome, so... we'll talk about him in another post). And for better or worse, my little girls are being brought up in a Disney world.  In fact, just this morning we were watching Disney Junior and yesterday we played Disney online, and next week we might even re-purchase Annual Disney passes.  Ah! Walt Disney, you are a mad genius.

Clever Cindi Madsen took this whole idea of Disney Princess Syndrome and based a book on it. This book is about a girl named Darby, who was suffered from the Disney Princess syndrome, but had grown up and discovered that it wasn't true.  Instead she learns that there are no perfect men or perfect marriages. Poor Darby goes through a series of relationships that in some way or another let her down.  A few good relationships are sprinkled in, but each one seems to end and leave her in worse condition than she was before.  And then she meets Jake... and he challenges all the rules she's set for herself.

What I liked:

Darby created a "case-file" of her failed relationships... Each equated to a different Disney princess.  They were each so cute, so funny and I just loved each one!  It was also funny to see how some of thees-boyfirend stories overlapped and how each played out.  Sometimes "flashback" scenes can detract and distract from the main story, but not in this book. Each "case-file" built the story and explained why Darby was the way she was.  I loved the "cute-sweet" (the cute/funny/awkward scene where the main characters meet) scene where Darby and Jake meet.  So darling and funny! I liked Jake, he was patient and kind and just... great!  Loved the scenes with him in it.

And of course, I loved the premise of this book! I wish I had thought of it first!

What I didn't like:

Darby was a little too jaded for my taste (in terms of relationships), to the point that it was a bit unbelievable. She also said a few things that put me off and made it difficult for me to relate to her.  For example, in her conversations with Kyle she bashes communication in marriage.  Later in the book she gets upset with her boyfriend for not talking to her sooner about certain situations (even though she made it pretty much impossible, but that's beside the point). So I was left thinking, okay Darby, which is it?  Communicate or not?  Mostly, I think Darby just likes to be contrary when it comes to the male sex.  And then there's her viewpoint of her brother Devon's marriage to Anna... which was just so sad. Her view of marriage and relationships in general is sad throughout most of the book. Maybe it's because my degree is in Marriage, Family and Human Development, but it was really difficult for me to be on Darby's side through alot of the book.  I kept thinking, "Jake... you are a catch! RUN!"   But the biggest of all my problems with Darby was her dislike of children in general.  Several times in the book she mentions how much she dislikes children, babies, crying, and her lack of maternal instinct.

For the most part, the ending was fine. It didn't make my toes curl or anything, but I am glad that most of the loose ends were tied up, that Darby was able to work through some of her issues, and that her viewpoints were at least heading in a better direction.


I enjoyed this book.  The premise was original, the characters were interesting and the ending was satisfying. This book felt a little too drawn out for me, but that might be because I just finished a few short story books recently, so maybe it's just long in comparison?  I could've done without the minor swear words thrown throughout the book- I really didn't think they were necessary.  And one last thing: even though I know that adults in the non-mormon world have pre-marital sex, this was another thing I didn't feel was necessary; Them getting together and "living happily ever after" would have been enough- I didn't need to know that they did it. (Even though is was done behind closed doors so technically clean).