26 February 2010

Hold the Presses!!!! No, Wait--Keep 'Em Going!!!

Hey, Friends! So, a sign of how tired I was--I set this for the wrong day! Sorry it posted late! :0)

I originally planned to talk about my trip to the Amazon today but two things have forced me to postpone the update to next week:

1) I don't have words for how incredible it was and just need to process.
2) I'M PUBLISHED!!!!!!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My short story, "Concert Mania", is in the March issue of Susie Magazine, available in stores now (I purchased mine at Kroger, so I know they carry it) and possibly online at http://susiemag.org next week. I'll let you know if it's posted there--they don't post the whole mag for obvious reasons.

It's a big moment for me. I've been published locally and in university-wide periodicals, but this is my first nationally printed piece since 1998. So I keep staring at it and reading the story over and over. :0)



**Photo by Connie Rock**

Standing there in Kroger with a friend, searching for the article, and then finding it--what a great moment! And how appropo--I just "happened" to have my husband (camera) with me in the car (I don't take him everywhere because he's so big/heavy... so unless something important is going on, he stays at home) to document the occasion.

The best part about joy is sharing it with friends.

And what a way to return to the States!

See y'all Monday!

17 February 2010

Yo Voy a la selva de Amazon!

Hey, Friends!

I'll be around blogs today but that's it because tomorrow I'M GOING TO THE AMAZON!

What?

Yes... I'm a little excited.

Just a little.

Un poquito.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

I'll be back Tuesday the 23rd and expect to be around blogdom some after I get back but I probably won't post until Friday the 26th. Don't worry--you'll see a lot of pictures and hear stories.

Have I mentioned I'm so stinkin' excited?

Until then, how would you like to go on a little trip? How about to a beach? Here are some pictures of my new haven. Doesn't it make you want to relax? Thanks for all of your decorating/settling in ideas!

Love y'all and see you next week!



My new bookcase with some of my favorite books. I love the purple vase and orange flowers on the middle shelf.



My desk and writing nook. This is my dream chair! My parents surprised me with it for Christmas.

15 February 2010

Snow, Olympics, Legs, Amazon, and Writing Randomness

What a weekend!

We got snow in Ga and it was so cool! Several inches! I know--laugh if you want but this is a big deal down here. I stayed at a friends' house and then we got to play in it with her dog. Remember Roi, the antagonist?






It was fun to walk outside in it, play, and take pictures. Best of all, the silence as it fell. That's my favorite part. And I saw a cardinal. Gorgeous. But I didn't get a picture of it before it flew away.

I know it's not so much everywhere else, but in Georgia, snow is magical. Like fairies. If we're lucky we see flurries maybe once a year. Snow resulting in several inches is a miracle. So last night I felt like I was surrounded by fairies.

And then, there were the Olympics! So fun!

Also, my legs are currently in Haiti. Kind of. AIM (Adventures in Missions) has set up a huge movement to get relief and people into the country so torn by the earthquake. I'm not going (for now), but last week they asked my talented friend to create a logo for the teams. It would be posted as a magnet on vans and stuff as way of identification. The next thing I knew, she pulled me outside to model. Here's the product:



Photo and creation by Connie Rock. Legs all mine. :0)


This week is going to be different. I'm technically unplugging until next Friday. But I'll still post on Wednesday of this week and be around until then. On Thursday, it's off to Peru! (We had to push back the dates of the trip because of air fare. So now it's Feb 18-23). From snow to Haiti :0) and the Amazon jungle in less than a week! That's a lot of fun!

Finally, I thought I'd give y'all a little update on my writing, since it's been a while since I've talked about it. I've been thinking a lot about the best way to present my novel (we'll call it "Novel #5") this time around. I queried it a year ago and received roughly ten battle wounds, one with an actual response (and suggestions) from a very prominent agent. I've since followed this person's advice completely. My novel has undergone extensive revisions several times over. It has been critiqued by an objective--and wise and talented--third party and is so much stronger than before. It's also lost "weight"--10k words--sitting right at 83k. I feel like I've done everything I can to it and it's ready.

But.

I'm nervous. Because this is the second time around and if all the responses are "no" again, I'm going to have to put this one aside for a long time. And that would make me really, really sad. I want this to be my first novel.

So I've decided to wait on querying. Instead, I'm going to enter the Genesis contest and one other. Both will reveal their results at the same time. I'm mostly entering Genesis for the feedback. Depending on what's said, I'll know whether to query or do more work.

In other news, all this talk about Sparks' The Wedding on Friday made me want to read it again. I think it's the first time a book I reviewed on my own blog has influenced me to re-read it for the millionth time. :0)

See y'all Wednesday!

12 February 2010

The Most Romantic Book Ever--First Feature Friday of 2010

****We interrupt this post for an announcement: it's snowing in Ga! HOORRRRAAAYYYY!!! This is the first time I've seen snow all winter. Celebrate with me, please!***

Hey, Friends! It's Feature Friday!

We haven't had one in a while simply because I wanted to discuss other things. But the time has come for me to reveal my most favorite romantic book. Are you ready? It's a great one!



Nicolas Sparks' The Wedding!

I love love love this story! It's the sequel to The Notebook, and you have to read that book before you read this one. The movie doesn't count. And the reason why is because Hollywood changed the ending to The Notebook, therefore making it impossible to produce The Wedding. Seriously, I'm almost as bitter about that as how they ruined Eragon. But I digress...and I'm not saying The Notebook as a movie stunk, because it didn't. Just that this book would make an even better movie. :0)

So, I can't say much about the plot because it's one of those books. What I can say is that it's set in the South, it involves certain beloved characters and locations from Notebook (I won't ruin the book for you if you haven't read it), and a beautiful, incredible story about a love between a husband and wife (versus a dating couple). The next time you're in a bookstore or library, look this one up. It's worth the read--and that's coming from a "nonromantic"! :0)

Happy Valentine's Day! See y'all Monday!

10 February 2010

Dangerous Love

Hey, Friends!

So, this week we're talking about L-O-V-E. Or as we call it in the South: LUV!

It can be a lot of fun to be in love. Or even to love a friend, a family member, a pet, or child. That's a great feeling! But love isn't always easy. Sometimes it can be really hard to live out love because we just don't feel like it. Or maybe the person is being a jerk. Or we're really tired. Or... yeah, sometimes it isn't gooey.

Sometimes it can even be dangerous. The cliches (can't sleep, can't eat) sound unhealthy, but it goes beyond that. What about when infatuation turns into obsession? Or abuse? We all know the stories of what can come from that. Have you ever written (or considered writing it) into your stories? It can be terrifying, a messed up picture of what "Wuv, twue wuv" really is.

I think we've reached the point in our friendship as writing buddies where I can make this confession. You'll still love me, right? It's just a little obsession. Yes, I've lost sleep over it. No, I've never lost my appetite. But sometimes it's all I think about. Even with all the things swirling in my head right now--Peru, living in a new place, writing, etc--it's there, demanding attention. Begging me to surrender. Sometimes I just feel so. . .



LOST!

I love this show so much it's scary. You can ask my friends. I'm the girl known for remembering all the exact random connections from past seasons. I get a little too into the show whenever it's on. Most of my predictions are accurate, but I don't project too far out. I have no idea where the show is going, but last week's premiere made me really excited. I'm writing this before the second episode airs (AND PLEASE DON'T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THE 2/9/10 EPISODE BECAUSE I WILL NOT SEE IT UNTIL WEDNESDAY NIGHT), but I expect it will be awesome too. Tuesday nights are sacred for me.

So there's my big confession. I love a tv show a little too much. Anyone feel my pain? What's your guilty pleasure? It doesn't have to be television. I'd just like to know if someone else loves something a little too much like I do. :0)

See y'all Friday!

08 February 2010

When Did You (or Your Characters) Know?

Hey, Friends! Happy Monday! It’s the most “romantic” week of the year!

Okay, so I’m a little surprised I wrote that. I’m not a romantic. GASP! Not in the way most people are, at least. Definitely not in February. It has nothing to do with being single. I’ve just always been allergic to Valentine’s Day in general. Maybe it’s because I feel the colors clash. Or the sappy clich├ęs floating about (btw, hats off to all of you romance writers—it’s hard to write it well but you do it--and I love your blogs!). In college I wrote a satirical essay in the vein of Alexander Pope’s “A Modest Proposal” (if you’ve never read it, it’s a tongue-in-cheek proposition on how to regulate population control in Middle England. The key is to remember it’s satire, if not you won’t sleep well after you read it) about Valentine’s Day, citing Romeo and Juliet, Wesley in The Princess Bride, even Jesus and the actual St. Valentine—the reason the day was created. What do all of these people have in common? They literally died for love. I’ll let you draw your conclusions on the content of my essay. I had a lot of fun writing it and ended up getting a very cheeky “A”! :0)

Now, I do enjoy a good romance. There are romantic relationships in my stories. I don’t watch a lot of chick flicks, (and I seem to love moody romances most, like P.S. I Love You), but I have some tried-and-true ones I’ll watch over and over. It’s a genre read and appreciate. Just not where I spend most of my time writing. Can we still be friends? :0)

Of course, this day has one huge redeemable quality—chocolate! :0)

But in light of all the love in the air (ha!), we’re going to talk about the gooey subject. :0) I have one question for you: When did you—or your characters, if you want to make this literary—know? Know what? Well…

--you’d fallen for him/her
--he/she would be the love of your life
--you couldn’t imagine life without him/her?

You know that moment when everything changes… care to share it (for yourself or your characters)?

I had a moment like that a few years ago. It was July of 2007 and I lived in the sauna-like village of Mundial in the Amazon Jungle, Peru. I had another name for this village relating to the oven-infused heat, but I’ll refrain from typing it.



After a particularly difficult night of no sleep (hammocks are killer on the kidneys… thanks to gravity, sometimes you’re getting up every hour to wander to the outhouse and sometimes that’s a precarious situation) thanks to physical issues, the dogs/chickens/ducks living beneath our hut (all huts are on stilts because of the river and animals live under there) breaking out into violent altercations randomly, and encounters with the local wildlife (a spider whose torso was bigger/fatter than my big toe. Seriously, no spider ever needs to be that big), I was wiped out. As the fog faded and the sun rose over the jungle, I went down to the river to pray. Mundial sat on an inlet, so as the water swirled past and villagers waded in bathing and washing clothes, I began to relax. I ended up in the Psalms and found a verse I’d read before but never seen (only to find out later it was prayed over me as a child): Psalm 63, ending in verse 8: “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." I love this chapter. The love described in it is the greatest love I’ve ever known or felt for anyone. That’s where my relationship with God moved into the Song-of-Solomon, I-understand-what-it-means-to-be-the-Bride-of-Christ type love.

My life forever changed that day.

As a writer of inspirational fiction, this is the feeling I strive to depict in my stories. I suspect many inspirational writers will agree. My last MC, Brooke, has a moment like I described above, an exact experience where she knew her life had changed forever--even if she couldn't voice it then. It's a pivotal moment in the book, one I opened with as backstory originally and now have placed it farther back in my novel. It really pops now--and involves a homecoming game, a boy she'd just met, and strength she never knew existed. Like I said, my stories do have romance in them. :0)

So… I remember the Amazon with fondness because it was where I “fell in love”. It was the greatest adventure I ever lived. It was hard. It was beautiful. We saw God do so many incredible things. I’ve often thought I’d love to go back, but don’t know how that would work.

::Enter the coolest surprise ever::

My co-leader from that week was a wonderful woman named Crystal. She’s a great friend. After our trip, she returned to Peru and now lives in Nauta, a village deep in the jungle on the edge of the river, about 90 minutes’ drive from Iquitos, the “capital” of the Peruvian Jungle (which is only accessible by air or water). A picture is below, courtesy of her. She’s currently here in Georgia and will return to Peru February 16. And I’m going with her.



AHHHHH!!!!

It’s important for our program to send staff to the locations before we send the students and do something called “set up”. We meet with pastors, check out local ministries, learn the area, find lodging, etc… basically anything you can imagine. That way our teams can jump right into ministry when they get there. We prepare the way, I guess. So I’m returning to Peru (though I will not go up river to Mundial or the other villages; just to Nauta) with Crystal and another Ambassador staff member/friend, February 16-21. I can’t believe it. We’ve been praying about it ever since the opportunity came up and already God has worked out so many details.

Will you pray about this with me? I know this is a fast turn-around and after this, I will not leave the country for a while, but I am really praying God will work it all out. I need $900 to go and can keep raising that after the trip if I need to. (The amount I am raising a month doesn't include overseas missions. Just rent, utilities, gas, food, etc.). For those of you who’ve prayed about/mentioned occasional one time gifts, this is a good time for that. Just go to http://www.adventures.org/give, click on the “AIM Staff” link, and type my name when asked. Or you can snail mail to: Adventures In Missions, Inc., P.O. Box 534470, Atlanta, Ga. 30353-4470. "Kristen Torres-Toro" needs to be on the memo line and all checks need to be made out to Adventures in Missions.

Thank you! I look forward to reading your "moments". Thank you for praying and for considering this. See you Wednesday!

05 February 2010

Know Yourself

Hey, Friends! Happy Friday!

This week we've talked about the importance of knowing our audience as writers, whether it's the general reader or someone in the biz. But there's another thing we need to know, something else the presenter last week taught me. He not only knew his product and his audience--he knew himself too.

We could probably talk about confidence for weeks and not reach an end to that discussion. I know we'll probably come back to it. But I thought it was important to talk about today.

The coolest thing about this presenter was his unique voice. His accent was one I couldn't place and for someone who studies people, that's so much fun! I never asked him where he was from because I thought that might be rude, but I had my guesses. He spoke clearly, succintly, but in his own way. Because his voice was so unique, I'll remember it for a long time.

He didn't apologize for his different pronunciation or make any attempt to cover it. He came as himself. He was confident in his product, his ability to "sell" it, and in who he was. He did a great job--my mind didn't wander once.

How often do we approach writing (not personally, but professionally) with confidence? What about when we step out into the industry? Did anyone catch my qualifer on Wednesday, the paragraph where I felt I needed to explain that while I hadn't yet written a successful query, maybe there was something worthwhile in my post about querying? I always feel like I have to qualify myself to others as a writer--that I'm published but not in book form, but I'm trying to be, have written five novels, and have been pursuing publication for the past year. Why can't I just say, "I'm a writer" and be confident in that?

I have a beautiful friend who encourages me so much with writing. In front of me she'll tell others, "Kristen's a talented writer". She calls me "author". Every time something inside of me leaps in excitement and then what happens? I interject my qualifying statement about how I'm not published in book form yet and then mentally berate myself because my friend gave me something so priceless--her vote of confidence--and I want her to know it means the world to me. I'm learning to smile and accept the happy feeling of being known as a writer. I'm learning to claim that title. And you know what? It feels really good!

Do you do this? I'm trying to break this practice now, because I have a feeling it never ends. There are ways to qualify ourselves as writers even post-publication. Most of us know the insecurity of wondering if we're good enough, if we'll ever be published, or if we are, if we'll ever produce something equal in quality again. That alone might save us from being that idiot who's convinced he/she is God's gift to Art and wastes everyone's time (think certain auditions from American Idol). But lack of confidence won't sell our books to general readers, a publisher, an agent, or even to us. This is where I really went wrong last Spring when I queried. I wasn't confident. And it was clear in my query.

We need to know our stories and our audience. But we also need to know ourselves and trust our abilities (and the years we've spent honing our craft). I'm still learning how to do this and I don't know if I'll ever be all there. Maybe confidence is the achilles heel of most writers (whether too much or not enough). I know it's mine.

Do you qualify yourself? What have you learned about presenting yourself with confidence in the writing industry--and life in general?

See y'all Monday!

03 February 2010

Do Your Homework

Hey, Friends!

This week we're talking about some of the research we need to do while writing and pursuing a career in publication, using the analogy of a presentation I listened to last week. The presenter was trying to sell a product-- just as we are as writers. We're trying to get people to invest in us and in our stories, whether those people work in the biz or spend their mad money on books. And to get them to look at us, we need to know our audience, whether it's in our novels, a query, or a proposal.

We've all read agents who've talked about how important it is to follow the guidelines on their websites. They aren't suggestions. Those guidelines will guarantee our queries are read instead of tossed in the trash. I'm unagented so I've yet to write a successful query, but I'd imagine specificity (if possible) helps as well--as long as it's accurate--like comparing your novel to one that is already on a the shelves (that the agent represented) in a way that is fair, realistic, and compelling. I'm not saying we need to say "We're the next Karen Kingsbury" and we'll guarantee the same stage of success she has. But if our novel is comparable to a one she wrote, that's worth mentioning. For example, if I've written a book about a patient with a brain tumor, I might mention her novel Halfway to Forever as a comparable title.**By the way, this section is up for debate. I know this is a section in a proposal, but it's something I also read is a good idea in a query. Not as long or indepth, but a mention. What do you think?**

We need to do our homework, just as this guy did. Querying an agent who doesn't represent our genres won't get us very far. Not following guidelines will do the same, as will doing all the "wrong things" most of have read not to do by now. This blog is a result of my "homework". I started reading them a year ago and realized that I needed to build a viable, consistent presence--and that the information I'd learn would help me as a writer for the rest of my life. I didn't know about the community until I "came out" last July, but what a blessing!

Again, I learned the hard way how not to query a year ago and haven't tried again (took a year to edit the book). So I haven't done this successfully. But I know several agented authors read this blog, as well as a bunch of people like me--serious writers who are in the querying stage, have been studying it for a while, and have very necessary and accurate things to say. So please weigh in. What do you think? All comments are welcome, as always. And since my time to query is coming up, I'm taking the ensuing conversation under consideration as I create mine!

See y'all Friday!

01 February 2010

Know Your Audience

Hey, Friends!

How was your weekend? Mine was good. I ended up going home to pack some more things up and cuddle with my poodle. I'm happy to report that my new bookshelf is now full! Hoorray!

I feel like every day I get more and more used to being here. It helps that I've been involved with AIM for over three years and have spent the past four months driving up and spending a couple days a week in my new hometown. Still, the first week was full of emotion. I take a while to adjust, so I'm just taking things as they come and trying not to overreact.

So, one of the aspects of my job is arranging travel for our teams. It's a little more involved than just using Priceline.com (love them!) or something because there are a lot of other issues to work out and spreadsheets to make. We hope to send up to 300 students to up to 15 different countries this summer. It's complicated tracking that many people across the globe! Last week a salesman with an airline visited us and gave his pitch on why we should consider sending our trips with them. I can't give any details, but I'll tell you that this was a carrier I'd never heard of and never flown on. It's not well known in the States.

I was intrigued as a seasoned traveler and as a potential client. And as a former college student who battled her way through Intro to Speech (don't even get me started on how horrible that professor was--it was the only negative review I ever gave in college), I was interested in the actual art and format of his presentation.

Probably the most compelling thing about this meeting was how this man knew his audience. He did his research before coming to meet us. He introduced himself to each of us and then remembered our names. At the very beginning of the presentation, he asked each person what he/she needed from this airline in terms of our programs (locations, number of passengers, etc.). He wrote down our comments and referred to them throughout his talk, calling us by name when he needed to. Whenever he came to a point where he needed to explain (or just wanted to impress us), he referred to past clients of this airline, clients we as missionaries recognized. These were specific examples. And since I'm positive this airline's clientiele exists of more than just Christian organizations, I'm sure these examples were custom-designed for us.

We need to know our audience as well. As authors in a specific genre, people come to us with different needs for a story. Some want intrigue, others romance; some a thrilling chase and others a deep literary discussion. They all have different reasons for what composes a story, what makes them pick our books up in the first place, and what will keep them coming back. Stories are personal--not just to their creators--but to those who read them as well. Readers invite our characters, plots, and words into their homes, minds, and hearts. They quote them, discuss them, give feedback, and hopefully recommend them. But to attain that treasured spot on their shelves and in their minds, we need to know what they're looking for. And we need to meet those expectations.

The elements are different for each genre. I'm not so much talking about branding here as I am about the Story in the form of Romance, Mystery, Women's Fiction, etc. I'm one of one of the few who right now has no desire to write outside of her genre (women's fiction). That removes some conflict for me. I can pinpoint mine, savor it, and study it at the same time. Because I am my own audience, I know what I'm looking for--what makes my heart race when I read a certain line and what plots leave me disappointed. My hope is to create a stronger story each time.

So much goes into this--voice, word choice, plot, characterization, setting, etc. We have so many options available to us in how we craft our novels. Most of us in the blog world hope to see our books on the shelves. We love to write and will keep doing it no matter what, but we don't feel called to write in a vacuum. If we did, we wouldn't be building our platforms, creating an online presence, and studying the craft. We want an audience, preferably one that keeps coming back. To do that, we have to get to know them.

What do you do in order to know your audience? What are the specific ways you engage your genre?

See you Wednesday!