Friday, December 18, 2009

The Importance of Being Nice

About a year ago my husband and I were on our way home from our honeymoon in Fiji. It's a 10 hour flight from Fiji to LAX and we weren't looking forward to the plane ride. The airline we flew on didn't have assigned seats and the airline employees were frantically checking in weary travelers. We had been at the airport for hours waiting in line, hoping we would be able to get good seats on the plane. There were about 30 people in line in front of us. When it was our turn to be checked in I noticed how tired the employee helping us looked. I smiled and asked how her day was. She seemed surprised someone cared enough to ask. My husband and I talked and laughed with her for a few minutes. We mentioned we were on our way back from our honeymoon and asked if there was an exit row available so we would have a little more room on the way home. She looked at her computer and said she would see what she could do.

A couple of hours later the plane started to board. When we got to our seats, we immediately went to find a flight attendant. We were sure we'd been given the wrong tickets. But we didn't have the wrong seats, the tired employee who had helped us at the front desk had open seats in First Class and upgraded our tickets without telling us.

So the point of this post isn't that people should be nice because they might get something in return. The point is that people should just be nice. I always try to treat others the way I want to be treated. I appreciate when someone takes the time to help me, whether it's their job or just something they're doing because they are nice people. I've found that being respectful and happy makes other people WANT to help me. I think this also applies to the publishing world. I've met some wonderful people who have been more than willing to give me their time and advice because they want to see me succeed. And any time I get the chance to help other writers, I always do because I want to see them succeed too. In an industry as connected as publishing, getting a good or bad reputation with one person could affect the rest of your career. Though it's been said before, I'll say it again: a little courtesy goes a long way.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Laugh or Cry

Sometimes in life you either laugh or you cry. My mom has taught me to laugh. A lot. My mom's name is Natalie but her nickname is Natastrophe because wherever she goes, a catastrophe follows. She is a real-life version of Stephanie Plum. She was recently propositioned by the "Hooter Hunter" at a gas station in Wyoming (luckily I'd explained to her what "hooters" were a few months earlier or her conversation with him might have been an even bigger disaster), her cars start on fire on a regular basis, and anything that can go wrong, will. I'm just hoping her bad luck isn't genetic. You probably think I'm kidding, but I'm not. And to prove it, I've posted an email from her recent visit to Florida to help my brother and sister. This stuff happens to her on a daily basis.

I am sending this to you so you can get a giggle out of a Monday morning.

Well, “Dr. Rooter” the septic tank company finally arrived this morning. He pulled up and wanted to check out the situation first, so he parked out front. He searched and found the tank underground…then went on an exploring expedition to find the tank lid to clean out the tank. Forty five minutes later, he found it and the front part of the yard was dug up…which isn’t too bad considering it is all sand down here so it is easy to dig and repair landscape. He told me he would back the truck into the area so he didn’t drive over the drain fields. He got in his truck and all of a sudden I heard this crashing, crunching sound in the street…He had just run over my mailbox. The mailbox detached itself from the wooden pole and went flying through the air, landing in the ditch across the street. The front of his bumper didn’t look too bad, but the mailbox pole wasn’t looking too promising…another project to fix before I leave tomorrow.

He was able to uncover the septic tank and informed me that it looked like our tank had NEVER been cleaned out. It was compeletly full and backed up into the line that goes into the house. He began pumping…and pumping…and pumping. (This is definitely not a job that I would want and I'll gladly pay someone else to help me.) More than an hour went by so I went out to check on his progress and found that he was almost done…except that we had a major clog in the line between the tank and the house that the snake would not move; so the water was still backing up into the house. Not a fun thing because he had just had me dump over 40 gallons of HOT water down the system to get it to drain, which hadn’t worked.

We ran an outside hose into the line backwards, flushed the system out, and finally got it to work. I went in to get my wallet and when I came back outside, the guy was standing over the septic tank hole and had this very sad face…I mean, very, VERY sad face. He had gone to lift the cement lid back onto the septic tank and had accidentally dropped the WHOLE cement lid into the bottom of the tank. He had to call his company for re-enforcements to lift the lid out of the tank…that wasn’t fun either. When the other men arrived, He was upside down, trying to reach the cement lid and almost had to crawl inside to get to it. (I don’t think they pay him enough to do this job).

He shimmied out of the septic tank, having attached a rope and crow bar to the lid. It took three men to lift the lid out of the tank. He then used the garden hose to wash himself off. Meanwhile, I had called in the payment to the office and gotten the confirmation number for him. He told me he was having a very bad day today…I told him it was probably because, as my oldest daughter would say, “He got caught in the Calamity Natalie Vortex.” As a general rule, these things only happen to me. Good thing we have a sense of humor at our house. My escapades create much amusement for our family.

Before he left, he asked if I had a husband around and wanted to know if he could fix the mailbox for me. I told him I have a husband, but he was in Wyoming running our businesses. I said I had a drill and some screws so I could repair the mailbox.” He gave me a very strange look but it won’t be the first time that people have thought I was a little strange! He asked if I was sure I could take care of the mailbox (like women aren’t supposed to know how to do these things) and said he would help me. I think he was feeling guilty for hitting it in the first place. I reassured him it was fine and that I appreciated what he had done cleaning out the septic tank. He had found time to go out and push the mailbox pole back up so the mailbox wasn’t lying on the ground; however, it is at an extremely precarious slant. He put the mailbox on top of the pole, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to repair.

After having the septic tank pumped; going to Palatka to retrieve necessary items to resolve several problems at both houses in Florida (such as getting cleaning supplies to CLEAN the tubs, shower, sinks, and toilets, etc); I arrived back at the house at approximately 8:15 pm. Just as I was coming in the house, a torrential rain storm began…this one was a mean one…I have discovered that storms have their own personalities in Florida, and this one was just PLAIN MEAN! I barely made it in the house in time.

I thought, well, the water system is working so I'll start the dishwasher and I do the final load of wash so I can pack and get ready to go back to Wyoming tomorrow. I put the load in the wash and then I prepared to clean all the sinks, etc. I changed into some other clothes, put on my trusty cleaning gloves, and went to work. Now, mind you, because I knew I WAS THE ONE that was going to showering and bathing and using these sinks, this was a much determined, heavy duty, elbow scrubbing job. I cleaned the sinks first with Clorox Cleanup, then the tubs, then the shower, and I put cleaning solution in both toilets. Then, I went back and recleaned all those items with comet. They just didn’t seem to be as clean as I wanted them the first time. Nor, did they seem clean enough the second time…so I went back ONE MORE TIME and did another disinfectant. I finished the sinks and tubs and I was just finishing the final cleaning of the shower (I hadn’t started the toilets yet) when the washer went into the rinse cycle….and sure enough, you guessed it, the GLUGGING, gurgling sound in the toilet began again and I watched as the washing machine rinse water backed up the sewer into all the tubs and sinks again…

I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT!!!! The problem had not been solved. I jumped up from the shower and ran and turned off the washer so it wouldn’t overflow in the shower and go out onto the floor. I took my disposable cleaning gloves off and threw them away and was just headed to the kitchen to wash my hands and get my cell phone when all of a sudden I heard a crash in the dining area. I ran to the dining room and get this….the ROOF WAS LEAKING. A section of the ceiling had just fallen on the dining room chairs.

Well, I grabbed two big salad bowls out of the cabinet and set them under the leak…then I cleaned up the mess, somewhat, and took stock of what I should do next…I found the phone, and by now it was 9:30 pm. Dr. Rooter is on call 24/7…for good reason…and so I was able to get hold of the receptionist there. She informed me that it was probably my drain fields that had backed up because of the terrible storm and had filled the septic tank. I explained that I needed to leave for the airport by 1:00 pm to fly back to Wyoming and I could really use some help. She scheduled a plumber to call me at 7:00 am then next morning.

I had set my clock for 5 Am so I could get ready to fly to Wyoming and so I was already up and going when the plumber called at 6:50 Am. He said he would be there in about half an hour. When he arrived, he had to un-bury the septic tank again to get to the clean out valve. He used a power rotor rooter and LUCKILY, the drain was clogged going into the house.

Hope you have a great day and when you get discouraged, be grateful that you have a sense of humor and that life really isn’t all that bad…and if you can’t do that, imagine my morning this morning and I am sure you will giggle…I am!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Eternal Starling Review (The First 3 Chapters)

If you've visited my website, you know I have the first three chapters of Eternal Starling posted on the site as a PDF. I know, I know, the merit of posting chapters is a hotly debated topic in the publishing world. Some people think it's a horrible idea because the author is releasing unedited work and there are some publishers who don't like it, period. As someone with a marketing background, I felt like putting a few chapters on my site would help me start to establish a fan base for my book. I've been pretty happy with how it's turned out. News about the chapters has spread by word of mouth through social networking and I get a lot of emails, Tweets, and Facebook and Goodreads messages from fans around the world asking where they can buy my book (even though I don't have an agent or publisher yet). Some of my fans have even taken the time to translate my PDF chapters into the language they speak (French and Arabic so far), how awesome is that!!!

Because of the chapters on my site and social networking, I've met some incredible people, including Michelle Benedict, who wrote a review of the first three chapters of Eternal Starling. Michelle is a fantastic reviewer who writes pointed and honest opinions about books. I'll admit, I was a bit terrified for her to read my chapters, but when she told me she really liked them and then said she could identify with my heroine, I wanted to dance around the house. One of the reasons I wrote Eternal Starling was because I was reading a lot of Young Adult books with heroines I just didn't relate to as a teenager. At all. Reading Michelle's opinion makes me feel like I achieved what I set out to write. You can read her little review here:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tudor Book Challenge

My incredibly witty friend and book blogger, Michelle, is having a book reading and review competition on her blog. The challenge: to read as many books as possible about or inspired by the Tudor Monarchy. The competition last for the next year and Michelle was nice enough to ask me to help her read and judge the contest book reviews. She's giving away some great prizes to winners including gift cards from Borders. If you're interested in the Tudor period and would like to participate in the contest, you can read about it on Michelle's blog,

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I turned on my computer to do some editing last night and found the nicest email from Claire, the Webmiss at She asked to do an interview with me about Eternal Starling!


I am so excited! It's my first interview about the book and it's great to know people are interested in Eternal Starling! Claire is going to send me some questions from readers of her site and the interview should be up in the next couple of weeks. I'll post the link to the interview as soon as it's available!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Obsession: The Hunger Games Trilogy

I. Am. Obsessed.

The Hunger Games. If you haven't read this book, don't walk, speed to your nearest bookstore and pick it up, along with the second book in the series, Catching Fire. The third book in the trilogy, rumored to be titled, The Victors, won't be out until September of 2010, but trust me when I tell you that you will read and re-read the first two books again and again before the third book is released.

The Hunger Games is about smart, independent, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen. When her twelve-year-old sister is called to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death among 24 teenagers with only one winner, Katniss immediately demands to take her sister's place. In volunteering, she essentially agrees to a death sentence. I loved Katniss's character and the underlying love story in the book left me wanting more ... and more ... and more. The suspense carries through each page and the brutality of the games is countered by the fact that the characters are so willing to give their lives in exchange for the lives of the people they love.

I finished The Hunger Games and immediately picked up Catching Fire. I read both books in about 10 hours, then turned around and started reading them again. It's been a very long time since I've read a book that made me think so hard about: life, death, love, motivations, repercussions, symbolism, and how I treat the people in my life, both strangers and loved ones alike.

I love the idea behind The Hunger Games so much that I even carved a Mockingjay into my Halloween pumpkin. I'm trying to figure out what I own that's bribe-worthy enough for me to get an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) of the third book in the series. The book is also being made into a movie. Suzanne Collins is writing the script, so the movie should stick pretty close to the book and I'm sure it will be fantastic!

I'm amazed by the writing and story in the first two books and can't wait to see how Suzanne Collins wraps it up in book 3. The Hunger Games series is one of my new obsessions and will always be at the top of my favorite books list.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Best Writing Advice

Ernest Hemingway said that every great writer has to have an excellent shit detector. My best friend, Amazing Ashley, is mine. I met Ashley during our freshman year of college when the fates/student life office decided to put our dorm rooms across from each other. And don't let the best friend title fool you; Ashley is now a fantastic English Literature Professor and she's not afraid to tell people exactly what she thinks.

Ashley was gracious enough to take the time to be one of my beta editors for Eternal Starling. When she finished her massive edit on the manuscript, she sat me down and said something to the effect of: do you want the truth, or something more pleasant? She said I had a good foundation, but unless I made changes, there was no way the book would get published. I've heard that some people get upset when they hear criticism about their manuscripts, I'm not one of those people. In fact, I was thrilled that I had someone who was willing to tell me the truth--and someone who believed in my writing skills enough to know I could fix the problems and make my book worth publishing.

As Ashley went through the editing process with me, she taught me a lot of things about being a better writer. But the most important thing she told me was that I need to know my plot and my mythology as well as I know my characters. It was a light bulb moment for me. When I sit down to write I can easily get in my characters heads. I know exactly what they're doing and their motivations. However, I'd never thought of needing to know the world I've created in the same way. Ashley told me that the majority of the problems with my book could be solved if I just got to know my world better.

I spent the next month asking and answering questions about my plot and revising to try and make my world creation as in-depth as my character building. The result is a completely different book than the draft Ashley edited. Now my plot is stronger, my world makes more sense, and in answering the questions about the world I had built, I was able to make a clear outline for the next two books in the trilogy. Ashley's advice helped me to become a better writer and I can't thank her enough for it.

The Fringe Benefits of Failure

I was feeling the need for some inspiration today and decided to re-read the speech J.K. Rowling gave to the 2008 graduates of Harvard. It's called, The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. If you haven't read it, you must!

Here's the link:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Writing and Publishing, It's Not A Speedy Endeavor

Occasionally when I tell people I wrote a book I get a comment like this: "That’s cool. So now you just send it somewhere and they print the book and put it on the shelves at the bookstore, right?" *Sigh* If only it were that simple. I then go into a 15 minute explanation of the publishing process. Aprilynne Pike has a fabulous post about this subject on her blog But Aprilynne's post deals with what happens after you have an agent and sign a contract with a publisher. I thought I would post about what happens before you have that contract.

First, you have to write the book. In my case, I started Eternal Starling as a way to relieve the stress of wedding planning. I was pretty stressed because I wrote a 350 page novel and outlined the next two books in the series in three months, writing only at night. I started writing in June of 2008 and was finished with the first draft in September of 2008. Yep, only three months to write a 95,000 word book; three months, and it showed. I was using writing as an outlet to deal with wedding frustration and the thought of trying to get the book published didn’t come until after I started getting feedback from people I had let read the early drafts.

Once I committed to getting published I spent hours on Google trying to get as much information about publishing as possible. I started following several agent blogs and began the horrible first drafts of my query letter. I'm a perfectionist so I chose 15 beta readers, including one who is an English Literature Professor and another who is a fabulous copyeditor, to give me opinions and help me improve my book. The thing that kicked my butt was the editing process. Waiting for my beta readers and editors, as well as doing revisions for the book took me another eleven months. Seven drafts later and over a year after I had started writing the book, I finally began sending query letters to agents. Even then I wasn't done editing and don't think I ever really will be. I started sending queries in July of 2009 and decided to send the letters in rounds so I could improve the query as I received feedback from agents. I'm not finished sending query letters and I'm still waiting to hear back from a lot of agents, which is pretty normal. Getting published is like a really long job interview with more rejection than you can imagine.

The query process goes like this:

-When your book is completely finished you send a query letter to an agent and hope you hear back from them in 2-8 weeks with a request for your partial manuscript.
-If you get the request for the partial, you send the agent your first three chapters which should be around 50 pages. Then you pray you hear back from them in 4-12 weeks with a request for a full manuscript.
-If the agent likes your partial and wants your full, you send it off with the commitment to sell them your soul if they'll decided to represent you. It takes another 4-12 weeks to get a response (the soul selling part doesn't take nearly that long).
-If the agent decides they like your book enough to represent you, you'll sign a contract with them and then you work with the agent to get the manuscript ready for the agent to try and sell to publishers.

And that's just the beginning! It's definitely not a fast process but hopefully this post will give you a better idea of how it all works. :)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

First Post, First Book, and Fans!

Since this is my first blog post, I wanted to commemorate it with a thank you to the wonderful people who have been supportive of my first book, Eternal Starling. I'm currently in the query letter stage as I try to find an agent and publisher, but a few of my chapters are posted on my website at

Through my website, as well as Twitter and Facebook, I've heard from so many supportive people who have told me how much they like my book and can't wait to read the rest. This is ... astounding. Seriously. It completely shocks me and I'll tell you why. I’m a writer so that means I spend a good deal of time questioning whether I have any talent at all. My mom doesn’t understand this and believes I’m the best writer in the world … again, this is my mom, and she’s a little biased. The point is: when I get an email, or a message on Facebook or Twitter from someone who likes my book, it makes me feel like a freaking rock star.

I want to give a shout out to all the people around the world who have joined my Eternal Starling Facebook Fan Page, followed me on Twitter, emailed me to tell me they can't wait to read the rest of the book, and to the people who are just reading who I haven't even met. You are truly wonderful and make the writing process even more enjoyable for me. Honestly, each email or note I get from a fan makes me feel like a four-year-old girl who just got her first Malibu Barbie. And knowing my book is giving you enjoyment makes me think that to some tiny degree, maybe my mom isn’t crazy. So thank you!!!