Monday, March 31, 2014

On Differences of Opinion and Treating Folks with Respect

I’ve been writing this post in my head for months and on paper for weeks. It’s something I’ve thought about and wrestled with, since I’ve wanted to make sure I got every word right. I don’t know if I’ve done that, but I have given it a lot of thought, and I hope you’ll read it in the same spirit in which I wrote it.

I know that what follows will be a politically unpopular opinion (so if you prefer to avoid politics--and religion--in general, you should probably stop reading now). I know I might lose followers and perhaps people’s respect. But I cringe every time I hear someone refer to me as a bigot without knowing anything about me, so even though I post this with some amount of trepidation, I feel strongly that I need to post it.

Please know that it’s not my intent to argue. I didn’t write this post to try to change anyone’s mind. You feel the way you feel because of your beliefs, and I respect both you and them. I only want to explain why I feel the way I feel and perhaps shed a little light on why we feel so differently. I don’t think it’s because you’re a heathen and I’m not (or I’m narrow-minded and you’re not). I think it’s because we start with very different premises.


Lots of folks see this life as a blip of self-awareness between an unknown past and an uncertain future (or between nothing at all), but because of my religious beliefs, I see it as the second act in a three-act play. I believe we lived with God before we came to earth. What’s more, I believe we lived with Him as children. I call Him Heavenly Father because I believe He is a man, with arms and legs and hands and feet, and because I believe He is the father of my spirit, the part of me that cannot die. And if I have a Heavenly Father, I must also have a Heavenly Mother, for it takes a mother and a father to create human life. I know nothing about Her except that She exists, but I believe that They rule as equal partners and that Their only goal is to help us find peace and happiness in this life and in the life to come.

They sent us to this earth to gain physical bodies, obtain real-world experience, and overcome trials and challenges beyond the protective circle of Their home. They gave us families, patterned after the one we had in heaven, to help us achieve these goals.

I don’t think God intended these relationships to end at death. Because our families were patterned after the one we had in heaven, He wants us to return to live with Him together. What’s more, He wants us to live in these families forever. Because it takes a mother and a father to create human life, families based on another pattern won’t be viable eternally.


In other words, my position on same-sex marriage is wrapped up in my belief in God and what my religion teaches is His plan for His children. If you don’t believe that this is His plan for us, I would never expect you to feel how I feel about same-sex marriage.

At this point, some of you might be thinking, “Yes, but what right do you have to force your beliefs on me?” As I said at the outset, it isn’t my intention to force these beliefs on anyone; I’m only trying to explain why I feel the way I feel. Now, having said that, I will say that I do vote for laws that define marriage traditionally, but that’s because I think that God will hold me accountable for the choices I make and the laws I vote for. I feel that marriage is defined by Him and not subject to our interpretation.


Even though I don’t support laws that redefine marriage, I do support civil unions for same-sex couples. Also, I don’t believe that same-sex couples should be discriminated against or treated unkindly. For instance, if I were a nurse and my supervisor told me that I couldn’t allow the partner of a homosexual patient to spend the night at the hospital, I would be the first to defy that policy. Similarly, I don’t think that same-sex couples should be denied housing or banned from stores or restaurants because of their sexual orientation.

Furthermore, I strongly condemn hate crimes. In the early 1800s, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as Mormons, suffered mistreatment and abuse at the hands of the majority--at one point, it was actually legal to kill Mormons in one state in this country for no other reason than that they were Mormon--so I empathize with those who’ve experienced similar mistreatment. Hate crimes are hateful and NEVER okay.

If God is my father--and I believe that He is--then I must believe that He’s your father, too, and if He's your father, you're my brothers and sisters. I believe our Heavenly Father expects us to treat each other with compassion. He can’t look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, but He loves those who sin--which is all of us, of course--treating them with kindness and respect. He wants us to do the same.


Now that I’ve said my piece, I’m going to let this post speak for itself. You’re welcome to share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments, but I ask that you don’t engage previous commenters in a debate. Similarly, while I usually respond to every comment on my blog, I’m not going to respond to the comments on this post. Despite the world’s opinion to the contrary, I still believe it’s possible to respectfully disagree.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Balancing Act

Critique partner and agent sister Amy and I recently had a candid conversation about how we balance writing and motherhood, and superagent Kate was awesome enough to post our chat on her blog. Don't miss parts one and two!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: VINTAGE by Susan Gloss

I've been hanging around the online writing community for almost five years now, and one of my favorite things being involved in this community is being able to follow a book's journey from the query to the bookshelf. I first learned about Susan Gloss's VINTAGE, then titled GENTLY USED, when she entered it in a round of "An Agent's Inbox" several years ago. A few months later, she had an agent and, a few months after that, a book deal. I can't believe it's been two years (though I'm sure Ms. Gloss can), so when her marketing coordinator wanted to know if I'd be interested in reviewing VINTAGE, I couldn't say yes fast enough:)

VINTAGE follows three women--Violet, April, and Amithi--whose paths cross at Hourglass Vintage, a vintage clothing store. Violet is the headstrong owner who's finally figuring out what she wants from life, April is the high school senior who also happens to be pregnant, and Amithi is the stalwart housewife who's spent the last four decades putting her family's needs above her own. But these three intrepid women are more than what they seem, and as they navigate the ups and downs of small-town business ownership and failed and fledgling relationships, they discover just how strong they are--and how much stronger they can be together.

The first chapter drew me in, and the rest of the book delivered on the promise of that first chapter. Violet, April, and Amithi develop a sisterhood that transcends generations and their very different upbringings. When I was a teenager, I read women's fiction almost exclusively, and VINTAGE reminded me of all the things I love about the genre: multifaceted female leads, true-to-life challenges, and sparkling hints of romance.

If you like interesting characters and happy endings, definitely give VINTAGE a read. And to facilitate your reading, the folks at HarperCollins have graciously offered to send a copy to one random winner. To enter, tell me in the comments what your favorite outfit is (or, you know, just tell me that you want to win). Contest closes next Monday, March 31, at 11:59 p.m. EDT (or 8:59 p.m. PDT). I'll select the winner the next day!

In the interest of full disclosure, I did receive a free copy of VINTAGE in connection with this review, but that didn't stop me from giving you my honest opinion about the book.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Difference Between Good Writers and Good Editors

First off, I have to say that I love my critique partners. They're fantastic writers who are at once supportive and insightful. They read every manuscript I throw at them, and they always have something helpful to say. They're also fierce defenders of those manuscripts, so when I feel like chucking one over a cliff, they're always the ones who talk me down from the ledge.

But while my critique partners are great writers and have great editorial insights, they're still not editors. And the difference is profound. When Shauna first sent me notes, they literally knocked my socks off. (I'm using "literally" in its newest sense, which is actually equivalent to "metaphorically" or, in other words, "not literally.") Shauna was able to see things that no one else had seen, including six CPs (two of whom are now published or about to be) and two offering agents (who've sold scads of manuscripts between them), and she was able to communicate those things in a way that got my creative juices flowing. As I've probably already mentioned, I ended up rewriting more than half of Steve (and now that we're nearing the end of the revision process, I'd say that less than twenty percent of the original scenes made the final cut).

I'll be the first to admit that when I'm critiquing a manuscript, it's hard not to tell the writer to just write it how I would have written it. Some things are right or wrong grammatically, and some devices are better or worse from a storytelling point-of-view, but lots of things are just different, and when you're a writer yourself, it can be harder to discriminate between the two.

Now, do I still think I'm a fairly decent CP? Yes. Do I think that qualifies me to be an editor? Not necessarily. Obviously, I couldn't do for Steve what Shauna did for Steve (and not just because I was the one who wrote him). She saw the story's strengths and knew how to help me magnify them, but she also saw the story's weaknesses and knew how to help me fix them. Good editors don't trade your words for theirs; they help you tell the story you meant to tell in the first place.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What I Think of the Latest Attempt to Ban John Green's Books

You've probably heard about the latest attempt to ban John Green's books, but if you haven't, here's a quick recap: A teacher at Strasburg High School in central Colorado wants to teach an elective on young adult literature. The parents in Strasburg have taken issue with several of the books on the proposed list, so they've brought the matter before the school board, which plans to address it at a board meeting next month.

Curious about that proposed list? Here it is:

FEED by M.T. Anderson
DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver
UGLIES by Scott Westerfield
TAKEN by Erin Bowman
WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan
GO ASK ALICE by Anonymous
13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES by Maureen Johnson
PAPER TOWNS by John Green
IF I STAY by Gayle Forman
BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver
CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Clare

Other than the fact that this teacher wants to read pretty much everything that John Green's ever written, it's a pretty diverse list:) Of these nineteen books, I've read all or part of thirteen. Of those thirteen, I stopped reading four because I wasn't comfortable with the amount of profanity or the sexual content. (I've also put down books that I thought were too violent or gruesome, but for whatever reason, that doesn't happen as often.)

Now, several of the books I finished probably had the same amount of profanity or sexual content as the ones I didn't. Sometimes, I'm more sensitive, and sometimes, I'm just weak (which is to say that I'm too invested in the story or characters to put the book down, though I feel like I should). I really enjoy YA fiction, and I think I'll enjoy it for many years to come, but there are a number of books that I simply won't read because I find them too profane, too sexually explicit, or too violent.

In other words, while I applaud this teacher for wanting to teach current teen fiction, I also understand where the parents are coming from. But why are we always so concerned about the teachers and parents? What about the students themselves?

As a junior in high school, I was assigned to read John Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH. I only made it a few chapters in before I gave up. I thought it was dull as dishwater, granted, but the way the Joads talked really grated on me. I was a sheltered teenager, yes, but I preferred it that way. I knew the world could be ugly and was often cruel, but I didn't see the need to willingly expose myself to its ugliness and cruelty. Even if a book uses that ugliness as an example of how NOT to be, there's something about bombarding the reader with it that seems contradictory to me.

I stopped reading the book and participating in class discussions (if we even had any, that is). My English teacher that year was less, uh, stringent than most, so she only ever gave us one quiz on the book. It remains to this day the only quiz, test, or assignment I've ever failed.

I like to think that if the stakes had been higher--if my term grade had been on the line, say--I still would have had the moral courage to put the book down. But I guess I wonder if I SHOULD have had to put my grade on the line if it had come to that. Should we make students pick between their religion and/or ethics and failing a class? In the case of Strasburg High School, is it enough to say, "Well, you don't have to take it, so if you're concerned about one of the books on the list, just don't sign up"?

On the one hand, I think there comes a point when you have to trust your kids to make the right decision, but on the other, I don't think kids should be penalized for choosing not to read something. What I'd love to see in a YA literature course of this nature is a two-pronged curriculum in which every book is studied in tandem with another and the students get to pick which one they want to read (or they could even read both). Then you could pair a gritty, true-to-life book with another that addresses the same issues in a less provocative way. I'm sure it would lead to some rousing discussions about the impact of profanity and sexual content in a book and what it contributes (or doesn't).

And I'm sure kids would come down on both sides of the fence.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Open Mike!

I'm turning the blog over to you today (or at least the comments section of this post). If you have a question, comment, or suggestion, I'd love to hear it!