My Pitch Wars Bio 2017

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What the Heck is Pitch Wars?

From the Pitch Wars website: For those unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, it’s a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer edits on how to make the manuscript shine. The mentor also edits his/her writer’s pitch and query letter to get it ready for the agent round. Those entering Pitch Wars submit applications (query plus first chapter of manuscript) to their chosen mentors. The mentors then read all their applications and choose the writer they want to mentor for two months to get them ready for the agent showcase.

I participated in Pitch Wars last year and it was, hands down, the best thing I have ever done for my writing. I met fellow writers, made some great friends, had a lot of laughs, and learned so much about my craft. And now I’m back, ready to do it all over again!

About Me


Hello! My name is Lonna. I’m a writer. I also love to read. I adore children, animals, and bugs. Autumn is my favorite season and windy days are my favorite days. Polka dots are kind of my signature thing. My favorite holiday is Halloween. I play a mean game of jacks. I’m an expert at parallel parking, which is weird because my spatial awareness is terrible.  I will go out of my way for miniature golf, a good ice cream cone, used book sales, and steamed crabs. Beach over pool. Forest over mountains. Fish over meat.

My Writing

I would love some help with showing versus telling, active versus passive voice, head hopping, and maybe some assurance that my story isn’t a terrible bore. As a writer what I fear most is indifference and being called self-indulgent.

I am an incredibly hard worker and will never balk at criticism or shut down in the face of  constructive feedback. In fact, I crave feedback, even harsh feedback, because I want to know what’s working, what isn’t, and what to do about it. I make a conscious effort to practice gratitude at all times. I strive to have a positive attitude and an open mind. My life’s philosophy is to have as few regrets as possible and to never wish anything away.

My World-View

In a less imperfect world (one that took place prior to our most recent presidential election, for example) I wouldn’t feel the need to include this section in my bio. I am a Christian. I have been a Christian all my life and my relationship with God is incredibly important to me. I don’t name-call, or point fingers, but I don’t want to be lumped in with the people who call themselves Christians but support ideologies that are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus. I don’t like everyone, but I try to love everybody, and when the love doesn’t come easily, I look for ways to empathize. As much as possible, I try not to judge but I am human and I am not perfect.

I believe in marriage equality. I believe it is a woman’s right to make her own, private decisions regarding her body. I believe that people should be able to use any bathroom they want to. I believe that children deserve parents who love them and that families come in endless combinations. I believe that all races, genders, sexual orientations, and varying levels of physical and mental ability are equal and equally important. I believe that everyone has a story to tell. I believe that God loves everyone.

I do not believe in bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, trans-phobia, body shaming, racism, or using God to advance personal or political prejudices. I do not support invoking the name of Jesus to lend legitimacy to hate campaigns or exclusion. And I do not believe in “love the sinner, hate the sin,” because it’s a lazy way of cloaking ourselves in goodness and mercy we don’t really feel for the purpose of judging another person. We are all sinners. If God wrote an eleventh commandment, it might have been, “Thou shalt get over thyself.”

What Else I Do


I’m an archaeologist and a museum professional. I am a wife and mother. With young children at home, I spend most of my time teaching: preschool, Sunday school, ballet, creative movement, and how to wipe one’s own bottom.

Books I Love

I grew up in a house filled with books. Some of my favorite children’s books are Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, Leaf Magic by Margaret Mahy, The Secret of the Sachem’s Tree by F.N. Monjo, Teeny-Tiny and the Witch Woman by Barbara K. Walker, Nate the Great and Lost List by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, One Bright Monday Morning by Arline and Joseph Baum, Someday by Charlotte Zolotow, and all the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel.

When I got a little older my favorites included My Side of the Mountain by Jean George, The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, Homecoming and Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt, and The Ghost of Windy Hill by Clyde Robert Bulla.

Adult books I love include The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Return to Treasure Island by John Goldsmith, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, My Antonia by Willa Cather, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates.

I also love J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, especially The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Deathly Hallows while Ms. Rowling’s Coromoran Strike books written under the name of Robert Galbraith have become a recent obsession.

My Pitch Wars Manuscript

I believe in this story with all my heart. I love my characters, the settings are among some of my favorite places on earth, and the plot and themes are very personal to me. I am passionate about telling this story and will do everything I can to make sure that other people have the opportunity to read it. Trowel and Error is a contemporary romance. It takes place in the mid-1980s in Washington, D.C., a fictional town called Mockingbird Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, and an 18th century Spanish mission in California’s Valley of the Oaks. It is . . .

Trowel and Error

Mission San Antonio de Padua

Eleanor Blake is an archaeologist who needs only a trowel and a dig site to excite her and make her feel fulfilled. She came of age during the tug-of-war over the Equal Rights Amendment and considers herself a feminist. But she must confront stereotypes and outdated notions of what is suitable work for a woman.

Nevertheless, she persists.

She’s an unapologetic and independent woman and a role model for all the little girls who love books, history, and science.

Eleanor exists in a new reality where the fledgling MTV and other emerging media on cable television exploit women’s bodies and glorify sex even as the specter of AIDS looms. She struggles to define her own morality and to identify the risks that are worth taking. And while she longs to experience the sexual freedom of her mother’s generation, she has no intention of letting a man be responsible for her happiness. In 1985, an attempted sexual assault frightens her into giving up field work. She hides behind her desk job at the Smithsonian, unhappy with the limits she’s placed on her career, but unwilling to risk the potential dangers she perceives as lurking outside the museum.

Tom Gage is an actor who’s let his mother and father guilt him into giving up his love of stage acting for more lucrative and visible movie roles. He’s miserable but too afraid of disappointing the parents who worked hard and made enormous sacrifices to ensure his success. When Tom and Eleanor meet in the middle of a blinding thunderstorm on a Tennessee highway, a sense of connection over their shared struggles leads to a night of passion. When Tom tries to convince her to go back to field work, knowing from personal experience that she might regret her decision to quit, their argument blows up into the fatal words of “coward” and “hypocrite.” Eleanor returns to Washington, D.C. and Tom follows her there, hoping to repair the damage of their fight. She sees his grand gesture as creepy obsession and sends him away, expecting never to see him again.

Nearly a year later, Eleanor, determined that a past she can’t change won’t impact her future, is back at work, teaching a summer field school in California. When a chance meeting brings Tom back into her life she realizes she’s been lying to herself about her feelings for him. They make every moment count, and it’s easy for Eleanor to forget that her life and work are waiting for her in D.C., while Tom’s acting career anchors him to the west coast. When their summer to remember ends, she must decide between the career she’s fought for, and the only man she’s ever loved.

And Last

Well, that’s all for now. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading this. I want to thank Brenda Drake and her fantastic team for making Pitch Wars happen. Thank you to Lana Pattinson for Pimp My Bio. Thank you to all the mentors who work so hard to help other writers. You can always find me right here on my blog and on Facebook at

Please follow me on Twitter at @lonnaseibert. I would love to meet you and I follow back.

Good luck, everyone!

The Painful Art of Letting Go


My life has been the same for so long I can’t remember anything different. One day, I was a stay-at-home mom struggling with the question of whether my life had meaning, and floundering in my new reality. I was no longer an employee or a professional, but my workload was heavier and more significant than ever. My self -esteem was ebbing away and I was depressed. I felt like I wasn’t good at anything. I felt like a failure. And then, I was given a life-changing opportunity to turn everything around. Of course, it wasn’t really as quick or as easy as one day, this; the next day, that. I struggled for years, and just as quicksand is said to suck its victims under all the faster if they fight the inevitable, the more I searched for a way out of my self-loathing, the more mired I became.

I prayed for a long time for something to change. For some great and profound development that might positively affect everything. I always kept my faith, but my hope was waning. And then, coinciding almost exactly with the jarring crash of hitting rock bottom, there it was, a light shining out of the darkness, a hand reaching out, offering help and hope and salvation. Everything was going to be all right. Not right away, and not completely, but soon enough and enough-enough that I was saved. I will always be grateful for that.

Fast-forward to now and I’m stuck. Stuck in a salvation that feels more like a prison. I’ve reached a crossroads and I don’t know what to do. I was so loath to make the decision that I must make that I am ashamed to say I briefly stopped praying about it. I was afraid of what God’s answer would be. I knew that this was shortsighted. I knew I was making a mistake. But my fear was and is very real. Still, after days and weeks of pretending I was not facing a great change in my life, I began to pray again. I asked God for forgiveness and for direction. For the wisdom to know the best course and the humility to accept His will. I asked for a sign, a sign that would be unmistakable. Because my greatest fear is that my discontent comes from Satan. That I have been happy for so long, that I have been glorifying God and rejoicing in his light, so that Satan is jealous. Satan is angry. And maybe he wants to wreak havoc. Wouldn’t the perfect way of doing that be to turn me away from the right path, to turn me against the people who have been my friends and champions, to turn me away from the community I have created? Yes. And no.

Just because God guides us down a certain path doesn’t mean we are meant to follow that path for the rest of our lives. Change is constant and necessary. Without change there would be no growth, no learning and no chances for salvation. Change is hard and change is scary. This is especially true for me. So when I see change looming on the horizon, I don’t go boldly to meet it. I run and hide. And that’s what I was doing when I stopped praying. It didn’t work, though. The more I hid, the more obvious it was that change was coming, whether I wanted it to or not. And now it’s here. Or almost here. I am still scared. It’s up to me to look that change full in the face, to acknowledge and accept its inevitability. And especially, to take it in hand and make sure it works for me, rather than against me.

I asked God for a sign. And that very night, I had a dream. Its meaning was crystal clear to me. In the dream, I was having a meal with a group of people who make up a big part of my life. I didn’t want to be at this meal. I didn’t exactly resent that my presence was required, but I would have been happier if I were somewhere else. That was the first sign. Being in a place you don’t exactly hate being, but knowing you’d be happier elsewhere is a pretty big red flag. Of course we won’t love every place, every moment, every event in our lives. Not everything can be the best, the favorite, the most loved. But spending large chunks of time in a place that drains our energy or costs too much effort is not a good use of our time.

In the dream, delicious-looking food was being passed around the table and I couldn’t wait to serve myself. As it was passed, each person broke off a piece of the food for themselves, taking what they liked, taking what appealed to them. By the time the food reached me, the last person at the table, it was almost gone. And then, the person next to me, who had already served herself, broke off a piece of food for me. It was the smallest portion that anyone received. It wasn’t a part that I liked or wanted. And I didn’t get to choose for myself. This was the second sign. I don’t have much control over certain aspects of my life right now. I am not resentful about this, but I am disappointed. I like to have ownership over the things I contribute to. I like to have a certain measure of control. Not control freak-control, but some say-so in what happens or how things will proceed. I like to feel that my opinion is heard and valued. I like to be acknowledged and appreciated. I especially like to feel that I exhibit some level of proficiency in what I do. In the distant past, I had a great deal of autonomy in my life. Leadership positions and the opportunity to use my special gifts and talents. I was good at what I did.

Finally, in the dream, I left the table for a moment and when I returned, someone had put some more food on my plate. And everything that was there was something I didn’t care for. Foods that I don’t, or won’t, eat. This was the third and final sign. The things that are being put “on my plate” are things that I don’t want there. That should be all I need to know.

Still, I worry. I worry that my decision will hurt people’s feelings. I worry that it will change their perceptions of me. I worry that they won’t like me anymore. And I worry that once I have relinquished what I no longer want, I will suddenly want it again and it will be too late. All of these worries are simply excuses, though. Excuses to keep me from making the right decision, which is to move forward with my life. I am not being held back, not really, but I’m not being fulfilled, either. There are so many aspects to what I am giving up that I absolutely love. But when I don’t have ownership, when I am not in a position to receive appreciation, when I fumble and feel unsure of myself, when others reap the benefits of time and effort I have expended, I feel the only way I can be true to myself is to become a little selfish.

I go forward with no idea of what comes next, but with complete acceptance that God has directed me toward a more fulfilling future. I am going against everything in my nature and taking a leap of faith. I am stepping out blindly, yet secure in the knowledge that this is what He wants from me. I’m terrified by my boldness even as I am certain in my obedience. Someone once told me that my presence was an answer to a prayer. I don’t pretend to understand the ways of God, but that sentiment, while sounding lovely on the surface, bound me with guilt to an unhappy existence. I thought, if I was the answer to a prayer then I must have been where God wanted me to be. I have since discovered that I want and need to find out what are God’s answers to my own prayers. He may use me to help others, to fill needs and smooth the paths of the people around me, but He will also work everything to my good. And when what is happening is no longer to my good, He will make that abundantly clear. And so He has.

God, I’m listening.

Future, I’m here.

Time for Camp!


It’s April 1 and that means just one thing for the writing community: it’s time to check in to Camp NaNoWriMo. From the folks who bring you National Novel Writing Month every November, Camp NaNoWriMo is a fantastic opportunity to start (and finish!) a new project in just one month.

My goal is to put down 30,000 additional words in my current work in progress, which is coming along much more slowly than I would like. It’s hovering at just around 56,000 words and is far from finished. It would be wonderful if camp life is just what I need to inspire me to tackle those blank pages and get writing.


There’s Something to be Said for Traditional Church Music


I recently came across an online post that listed what are, in the author’s opinion, the fifteen best Christian hymns. It made me think how much I miss traditional church music. I clicked through the post with interest, wanting to see how many of my personal favorites made the list. It turned out the list was divided into three components: hymns I love, hymns I do not love, and a few hymns whose names were familiar to me, but that I have never sung. The list of hymns I love was the longest.

I grew up in a traditional Lutheran church that was founded in 1770. The sanctuary, constructed between 1795 and 1806, is historic and gorgeous. There are carved wooden pews topped with velvet cushions. There is an altar dressed with cloths that change according to the church calendar, with colors and symbols that correspond to Holy Days. There are stained glass windows by Tiffany lining the chancel. There are mosaics under a vaulted arch. There are fat hymnals whose pages are edged with gold. And there is a pipe organ whose voice is powerful, poignant and heartbreakingly beautiful.

When I was growing up in the church, the only microphones were to amplify the voices of the clergy and the lectors. On special days we might have brass or strings or timpani. Handbells on Palm Sunday. Triumphal trumpets on Easter. Harps and acoustic guitars on Christmas. Sometimes the children’s choir was accompanied by a piano. There were no electric guitars or drum kits. There were no amps or wires. The front of the church did not resemble an arena just before a rock band takes the stage. There were no lightshows.

In so many churches now, this is not the case. The music is not so much a part of the worship as it is part of the entertainment. I don’t know how everyone feels about this, but I, personally, do not go to church to be entertained. Nowadays there seems to be so much loud, electric music that there is little time for anything else. No readings from the Scriptures. No order for confession and forgiveness. Prayers that do little to ask for God’s intercession in our lives and in our troubled world. Instead we refer to God over and over again as “awesome,” with the implication that He is more “cool” and “neat” than He is glorious and almighty. We seem to address Him now as if He is a next-door neighbor, our bro, our bestie, our equal.

I suppose I could take the path of least resistance and declare that my words are not meant to diminish, demean or belittle contemporary Christian music. To say that it has its place, or to excuse it by saying it’s what the younger generation wants, or it is the magic bullet that will have potential new members flocking to church doors. But I’m not sure I believe that. During the several years I have been exposed to contemporary Christian music, I have found a few songs that I can tolerate, and only one that I truly love. The key difference between the songs I dislike and the one I love is, predictably, in the lyrics and the message. It acknowledges the pain of human existence, the power of God, and the reward for faith. Its message is true and sound, the language is grown-up, and nothing is dumbed down. I appreciate that.

The songs that I dislike are repetitive and simplistic. And when I’ve finished singing one, I feel depleted, exhausted, and strangely empty. When the songs sung in church are reduced to a handful of words, they become repetition and in repetition we see the loss of meaning. Words repeated ad nauseam, growing louder and louder with each iteration, aren’t delivering any message that anyone particularly needs or wants to hear. Where are the songs that are rich in emotion, that declare the true glory of God, that are unmistakable in their praise? Give us a few words and a catchy tune and it is nothing but spectacle. It is a show. And it is a distraction. If music is meant to set the mood, then the mood is irreverent. How I miss sitting peacefully during the Offertory, listening to the choir sing, or the organist play, calm and relaxed, feeling myself drawing to closer to God. My belief is that traditional hymns make worship a more personal experience, and a thousand times more meaningful.

We might sing to God about how He numbered the stars or can hold back the floodwaters, but He already knows that. As much as songs should be about worship, they should also be a way for us to connect with God, to come to a deeper understanding of His power and might. And to remind us that the path to salvation was not an easy one, riddled as it was with the pain and suffering that God’s son took upon himself, for our sakes. The contemplation of such unimaginable and undeserved sacrifice merits dignified language of beauty and grace, and a dignified presentation.

The old hymns have much to recommend them. Through their words, we remember everything that God has done for us, and we celebrate his remarkable love and sacrifice. Children learn, not only about their God, but through hymns, their understanding of Christianity is enhanced and their vocabulary grows. How many seven-year-olds are regularly exposed to words like bulwark, sphere, tribulation, prostrate, successive, cleft, almighty, and so on. I don’t know whether J.K. Rowling’s wizards go to church, but I always suspected that if Harry Potter’s best friend Ron Weasley had ever been to youth choir, he never would have had to ask, “What’s a diadem?”

And personally, I feel that’s the way it should be.

A Writer’s Mind, A Reader’s Heart


Note: This blog post contains a spoiler about a plot point in Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling’s crime novel Career of Evil.

I think one of the most important things a writer can do is show the reader something of the reader’s self on the page. To speak a truth, to acknowledge a hurt, to hold up a mirror in which a reader can see one’s own reflection and confront it, bravely and unblinkingly. And through this showing, this acknowledgment, this reflection, the reader begins to accept something about herself, to appreciate, to come to terms. Not every writer can do this, and not every writer can do this for every reader. But sometimes, a particular topic or experience, written with care and concern, can touch a reader’s heart like nothing else can.

I recently finished reading Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter universe. This is book three of an ongoing series, and in this book, and the two preceding volumes, a likable and beautifully realized main character has a secret. Passing reference is made in the first two books to the fact that this character, Robin Ellacott, had a life-changing experience at the age of nineteen. Career of Evil reveals that Robin is a rape survivor.

J.K. Rowling writes about rape in a very straightforward way. There is no melodrama, no unnecessary glorification or gratuitousness. She writes with compassion and zero judgment for the victim. It is beautiful. And her depiction of the emotional aftermath is so understanding, so perfectly rendered, that it feels like a vindication and a legitimization of everything such a deeply personal violation makes one think and feel and believe-about herself-and others. More than any other experience or conversation I have had as a survivor of sexual assault, J.K. Rowling’s brief and simple treatment of this topic has made me feel that I am okay and that my reaction to my own experience is okay, too. That’s an incredibly powerful thing for a book to do. And it’s a powerful thing for a writer to do. To reach out, through words on a page, and touch the heart and mind of a person she has never met, and make a reader feel that she is not alone, that she is believed, and that she matters. J.K. Rowling may have written imaginatively and wonderfully about a fictitious world of magic, but her writing is its own kind of magic, and I am filled with awe at her talent, and gratitude for her compassion.

NaNoWriMo Winner


November was National Novel Writing Month and I took advantage of the celebration by writing 54,000 words of a brand-new manuscript. That makes me, officially, a NaNoWriMo winner, which is just a fancy way of saying I finished, completing at least 50,000 words in 30 days. I finished ahead of schedule, on November 20.

Everyone will tell you that the point of NaNoWriMo is not to write the best or most brilliant prose you’ve ever put on paper, or on monitor, depending on how and where you write. A good thing, that, because what I wrote in November was nowhere near the best work I’ve ever done. Everyone will tell you that the point is to get the job done, because editing, fleshing out, polishing, et cetera will come later.

November was a strange month. A hard month. There were days when I didn’t want to write at all, days when writing seemed like one more obligation, one more box to check on an already overwhelming and onerous to-do list. And then there were days when I was so grateful to have a creative outlet that my words poured out of me like tears. As I said, a strange month.

I didn’t go into NaNoWriMo with any expectations so I don’t know if I got the experience I was expecting. I don’t know if I’ll do it again. But writing 54,000 words about a young, female archaeologist who must confront a powerful and possibly ruthless Ocean City, Maryland real estate developer when the groundbreaking for his new luxury hotel reveals a site of staggering historical importance (take a breath!) was a wonderful distraction, a premise I didn’t see coming, and great fun.

Going from zero to novel in one month is possible, apparently. Messy, painful, difficult, and possible.

December is here. Onward and upward.



November is National Novel Writing Month and I am participating in NaNoWriMo, a project that encourages and empowers writers to create a brand-new novel of at least 50,000 words by the end of the month. It’s fun and exciting and it’s always motivating to have a goal. To finish on time writers should complete an average of 1,667 words per day. As the sun sets on Day Three, my current word count is 7,046. I can’t wait to see what this month holds and to discover exactly what kind of first draft I’ll be looking at on November 30. See you on the other side!

A New Book


The above picture was taken during the summer of 1994 at Mission San Antonio de Padua in Jolon, California. I’m holding a mission-period adze blade I excavated that day.

I am excited to share that I finished my second manuscript in August! If only publishing books could be as easy as writing them. I am not ready to query this one yet. It needs to rest. And then it needs to be revised. And a synopsis must be written, which to me is roughly equivalent to pulling off my own fingernails. But finishing any manuscript is a huge accomplishment, no matter what happens to it in the end. So I am happy, and proud, and exhausted. I am going to share a few details, and anyone who knows me will realize the utter truth of writing what you know. And anyone who knows me will also understand that some of what I have written has nothing to do with anything I know. Paradox? Yep!

It’s 1986 and Eleanor Blake is an archaeologist at a large and famous museum complex in Washington, D.C. Full of passion for her work, Eleanor has spent the past three summers on the teaching staff of a dig in Israel. A traumatic incident in the field frightens her into giving up fieldwork and she hides behind her desk job, refusing to admit that she is unhappy. During a road trip to install an exhibit at a rural museum in Tennessee, she meets the handsome and irascible Tom Gage. The circumstances of their meeting make her skittish and even rude but Tom won’t let her chase him away and deflects her bad mood with humor and jokes.

When she reluctantly joins him for dinner they realize their situations are remarkably similar. While Eleanor is too afraid to pursue her life’s work, Tom has been influenced by his parents to choose a career in movies instead of the theater he loves. As their feelings for each other deepen, arguments erupt. Tom gives Eleanor advice he isn’t willing to take himself, and Eleanor resents this interference from a person who has no idea what she endured in Israel. Even so, a sense of connection over their shared challenges leads to romantic feelings and a relationship that seems doomed to fail. From the Great Smoky Mountains to the halls of the National Museum of Natural History, to an isolated and starkly beautiful eighteenth-century Spanish mission in California’s Valley of the Oaks, Eleanor and Tom will fight themselves and each other to find the courage to pursue lives of purpose and fulfillment. It just may be that following their dreams will lead them far away from each other, and separate them forever.

It was an emotional journey to write this story and the pain and confusion of my characters as they were pulled in many different directions was very real to me. On the other hand, setting a story in 1986 was great fun. It allowed me to make passing references to pop culture: Duran Duran, MTV; trends in food and beverages: Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream and “New” Coke; and sociological and political issues: women’s equality, AIDS, the Cold War. What does the future hold for this as-yet untitled manuscript? Only time will tell. I think the best part of writing this story is how it enabled me to remember places and recall work I have done. I have reached into my memories and revisited some of my happiest and most beautiful moments. I don’t think any writer could ask for more from the experience of writing.



Writing Contests Aren’t About Winning


Writing contests aren’t for winning or for losing, they’re for learning. I’ve entered a few writing contests in my life, but none that felt like they had more significance than the ones I’ve entered in the past two months. At first they felt significant because I wanted to win. Pitch Wars? I wanted that mentor. Pit Mad? I wanted an agent to “favorite” my tweet. Pitch Slam? I wanted to go before the Jedi Council and ROCK IT. I wanted the validation that came with having someone notice me. I wanted to stop writing blind and have someone tell me the words I have worked so hard to produce are not rubbish. I want to feel like I might, someday, see my beautiful book baby in print.

But now? All those things would be nice, terrific, f-bombing fantastic, in fact. But they are no longer my greatest aspirations. Why? Because writing contests like these are more like writing conventions—bringing together like-minded individuals with common hopes, dreams, and goals, to support and encourage, to teach and learn, to invigorate and inspire. How many times has a writer heard the words, find your tribe? Ten times? A hundred times? More? Listen. No instructions, advice, or wisdom you hear will be more important. Your mom thinks you’re a great writer. Your spouse is cheering you on. Your best friend is super proud of you. Yes. Of course. Sure. But who knows how hard it is to sit down and write? Who knows the epic struggle when the words won’t come? Who knows the utter exhilaration when everything comes together just right? Who knows the bitter sting of rejection?

Another writer, that’s who.

When writing contests allow you to jump into the trenches with others who do as you do, something beautiful happens. Newbies become more confident. Struggling writers encourage one another. Agented and published writers share their hard-won knowledge. Everyone shows off their battle scars. These contests are hard. The work is real and the deadlines are real and the self-doubt is very, very real. But these contests are so valuable, too. Because if I can coalesce my 90K+ manuscript into a 140-character Twitter pitch or a 35-word pitch or make an agent want to go to war for my pages after reading just one query or my first 250 words, well, I can do just about anything, right?

Starting can be daunting. I thought I could never write a 35-word pitch. I thought I could never pitch my story in 140 characters (minus the required hashtags, for goodness sake!). But over the course of several days I have written more than 50 different 35-word pitches. Okay, sometimes they were 41 words and sometimes they were 33 words, but I did it. I’ve backspaced over words, letter by letter, in my Twitter text box trying to reach the Holy Grail of that beautiful zero until my fingers ached. I traded this word for that word, relentlessly hunted down and hacked adverbs and made sure I SHOWED rather than TOLD until my eyes crossed.

What am I left with? Confidence. Pride. Gratitude. And friends. Lots and lots of friends who will tweet me some encouragement. Laugh with me. Send virtual hugs. Tell me my pitch makes no sense. Share the hard truth that my 250 is weak. Or high-five me because, darn it, my 250 is awesome. We do all these things and we are better for it. And for those mentors and judges and agents and volunteers behind the scenes who take time from their lives, their families, their manuscripts and their own hopes and dreams to give others a hand up, I am so grateful. Contests build communities. That is their true value. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s simply that you play the game. Write on, my friends. Write on!

The Orphan Bride by Brandi Gabriel


A review of the book The Orphan Bride by Brandi Gabriel. Christian Historical Western Fiction.

The Orphan Bride by Brandi Gabriel is a book about the power of God, and His redeeming love, even in the face of a potentially impossible situation. It is 1883 and seventeen-year-old Lucy Weber’s time on the orphan train has just run out. No one adopted her when she was a child so now she must marry any man who will have her at the train’s next stop. When the train pulls into Saddle, Texas it looks like Lucy’s only recourse is to accept the proposal of the leering and frightening Clem Toeger, who claims to be Christian, although all his actions say otherwise. At the last minute, quiet and kindly Garrett Black appears. Garrett isn’t looking for a wife, but something compelled him to step into the church where Clem is planning to make Lucy his wife. Garrett knows Clem, and his awful reputation, and he knows he mustn’t let the marriage take place. With the backing of the local minister, Garrett is able to marry Lucy instead, thus protecting her from Clem. Garrett further shows his kindness and his Christian heart by agreeing to adopt Lucy’s five-year-old friend, Joan, who, after three years of being in Lucy’s care, is more like her daughter.

The new family of three begins an unfamiliar journey, getting to know one another, trust one another, and navigate the new relationships that have been created. The story of the orphan Lucy’s assimilation into the ready-made and large family of Garrett’s extended relations is a lovely touch–the girl who hasn’t known the love and security of a family for years suddenly finds herself blessed with many people to care for her. This adds depth and heart to the story, giving us characters to root for. The fatherly role that Garrett assumes for Joan’s benefit, the sub-plot of whether Lucy might someday be reunited with her long lost twin brother, Travis, and danger in the form of Clem Toeger, who repeatedly threatens and harasses Lucy, give us emotionally satisfying plots to entertain and outrage the reader in turn. Perhaps the most uplifting aspect of the story is how Garrett does not insist that Lucy begin performing the physical aspects of her wifely duties immediately, instead waiting patiently until she is ready. By putting her needs before his own he assures that true love accompanies their physical and emotional intimacy.

The characters’ love for, and reliance on God is inspiring and Lucy’s prayer at the beginning of the story, Please, God, give me the strength to face my future, no matter what it is, is both a heartfelt prayer for His mercy and His presence, and a surrender to letting His will be done. A wonderful reminder and lesson for us all.