Saturday, December 4, 2021

I got a job!

I love storytelling in all mediums, though books hold the most special place in my heart. Something I've realized about myself is that while I love few things, I love them deeply. My love of reading books grew into a love of writing them, and an interest in the publishing industry as well.

I had this idea for years that I would get some kind of job when my youngest child started school and I suddenly had more free time every day. Of course, my daughter started kindergarten in August 2020; I was doing online school for 3 kids, and slowly losing my mind. Getting a job got shunted down my priority list.

When school started again this fall, I decided to give more serious thought to the whole job thing. I decided not to get a job unless I would truly enjoy doing it, which is a privileged position to be in. I thought about what kinds of things I liked to do, and what I was already good at (because no one is going to hire someone for something they aren't good at when they haven't had a proper job in 10+ years, no matter how cool their master's degree is). I really wanted a job in publishing, but so much of publishing is based out of New York City or other large cities--none of it is based out of Wyoming, that's for sure! So it would have to be something I could do remotely.

To make a long story short... (not one of my strengths, as my writing group will tell you) I am now working as an administrative assistant for Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. It is pretty much the perfect job for me. My deep abiding love of spreadsheets and databases is married to my love of books and how they get made. I get to work in my pajamas, at my kitchen table, while my kids are in school. My boss is kind and considerate, on top of being a rockstar agent with amazing clients.

I am really grateful that I've landed where I have.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Storymakers Conference Recap

We humans missed out on a lot of things in 2020. For me, one of the things I missed the most was attending the Storymakers Conference. The conference organizers did an amazing job with changing the format of the conference from a live, in-person experience to a virtual one, so I didn't miss out on the writing education. Indeed, it was one of my best years for learning and growing as a writer. But I missed my road trip with my bestie Taryn Skipper and I missed feeling the energy of hundreds of writers in the same place all trying to be their best.

I started my term as president of the Whitney Awards committee on June 15th, 2020, unsure that we'd be back in person for the conference in 2021. But we'd successfully held the awards virtually, so my committee forged on, dedicated to giving the authors the same great Whitney Awards experience they'd come to expect no matter what was in store for us in May 2021. 

And then the vaccines came, and things got better, and it was determined that the conference would be a hybrid format, both virtual and in-person, from now on. It's an exciting change that opens up the Storymakers experience to many writers who otherwise would miss out. We figured out how to do a hybrid awards gala, which was a struggle because I'd only ever attended our virtual gala from the previous year! Having to put on an in-person gala without having been to one was a challenge, but well worth it.

One of the most rewarding parts of being on the conference committee was being involved in the strides our conference chairs made in improving the conference's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. They'd received feedback that it was an area in which the conference was lacking, and it was hurting attendees of color. So we worked on it, guided by Dr. LaShawn Williams, who is absolutely amazing at helping people and organizations identify pain points and work to improve them. Is everything perfect now? No. But it's much better, and I hope it made people who have felt marginalized at the conference feel like they had a place again.

So... the conference itself! I'd gotten the second dose of the COVID vaccine before attending, which felt amazing. Taryn picked me up on Thursday, bright and early, this year with her sister Kim joining us on our trip. Kim and I were roommates in college, and we have the kind of friendship where it doesn't matter if we haven't talked in years, we can pick right back up where we left off. Hanging out with the McQueen sisters all weekend was a blast.


We stashed our stuff in our hotel room Thursday afternoon when we arrived, then quickly split up to hang out with our respective local friends. My friend Bex took me to a Korean restaurant and we stuffed ourselves with amazing food before I had to rush back to the conference center for tech training. One of my additional roles at the conference was a session moderator, which meant I got to run the tech that allowed us to live stream and record the classes.

Technology, as always, is not perfect, but we did our best to make this hybrid format work. As a session moderator, I was assigned to one room all day, so I got to listen to classes I might not have chosen to attend on my own. I loved getting to hear new things! Storymakers has such an amazing faculty every year. The instruction is top-notch. I'm excited to spend the next several weeks watching the recorded classes and (hopefully) leveling-up my writing game once again.

Friday night was the Whitney Awards gala, which had kept me busy for months as we worked out all the details. Thanks to my committee, everything ran so smoothly that I even got to sit back and enjoy the gala after giving my speech. The absolute best part was watching the winners walk to the podium with tears in their eyes. I was touched by how much the awards meant to them. It made the hours of organizing absolutely worth it.

This is my incredible committee (minus Emily Paxman, who lives in Canada and wasn't able to join us in person).

After the gala some of the committee came back to our hotel room to hang out and decompress, which was so fun. We've been communicating over Slack and Zoom all year, so seeing these lovely people in person made me so happy. Definitely a conference highlight for me!

We had Martinellis and snacks, gotta eat fancy to match our fancy clothes!


Saturday was another busy day of moderating, though it was much less stressful without the gala hanging over my head! I was able to enjoy it much more. I had two critique sessions with a literary agent, and we had a great discussion about the market and how my work might fit into it. She requested more work from me, which was a nice win as I'd had to put writing and querying on hold to prepare for the gala and the conference. Time to get back to work on my own writing! I'm very excited.

This is my happy place.

With Cindy Baldwin, the author of my 9yo's favorite book, Beginners Welcome. I asked him if he wanted me to take the book with me to get it signed and he wrinkled his nose and said, "Why would I let someone write in my book?" So I got a photo and some stickers instead!

With Emily Inouye Huey and Stephanie Huang Porter, two of my favorite fellow conference committee members.

Probably the fanciest conference badge I'll ever have, highlighting the many hats I got to wear over the weekend. I've learned that I really like to be behind the scenes, so maybe I'll do it again in the future!

I had a Twitter pal tell me I should put my speech from the awards gala on my website, so here it is! Lucky thing I have to write my speeches/church talks out word for word, so I actually have the whole text.

I wish I knew which part of the speech this was!


Hello everyone, both here in the conference center and joining us virtually over Zoom. Thank you so much for being with us tonight. I am thrilled to be here, in person, with so many of you. While the virtual conference last year was incredible, and a true testament to the innovative spirit of the conference organizers, there’s just something special about being surrounded by other writers and readers. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen your faces, especially the bottom halves. My name is Kara Reynolds, and I am the president of the committee that ran the Whitney Awards this year. It’s my privilege tonight to share a few thoughts with you before we present the winners of the 14th Annual Whitney Awards.


When I was in college, I worked at the happiest place on Earth. No, not Disney World; I worked at a pirate-themed bookstore! The best part of that job was a tie between the giant pirate ship that was built around the kids’ section and the employee discount.


One morning, before work, one of my friends who was recently off his mission called to tell me he had gotten engaged to a girl from his hometown. He wanted me to meet her, so we agreed to meet at the Institute when I got off work. Before I left to meet them, I used my amazing employee discount to buy the highly anticipated last book in a trilogy. It had only been out for a few days, and I figured after meeting my friend I would hang out on the couch at the Institute and read for a few hours. So picture a much younger me, walking into the Institute, clutching my new book to my chest. My friend and his fiancée stood up from the couch to greet me. And the first words out of the fiancée’s mouth were, “Oh, I just finished reading that! The ending was so sad!”


We were so close to being best friends. If only she hadn’t spoiled the ending….


I imagine, though, if she and my friend had stayed in our college town, I would eventually have forgiven her for spoiling my book and we would have become friends, as people who love stories tend to do.


Stories have the power to unite people. Do you remember last March when everyone was watching Tiger King on Netflix? Social media was nothing but conspiracy theories and Carole Baskin memes for weeks. It gave us a way to come together when we were all facing the possibility of not being physically together. I’m sure many of us introverted writer and reader types thought, a year ago, that social isolation wasn’t such a bad thing. Now, though, it’s never been so clear that we humans need connections with other humans. More than one member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles touched on this subject in their talks for General Conference this April. We were encouraged to watch out for each other’s loneliness, and to reach out to those who may be in need of contact. Elder Gary E. Stevenson said, “As you extend yourself with kindness, care, and compassion, even digitally, I promise that you will lift up arms that hang down and will heal hearts.” The 45 stories that were Whitney Awards finalists this year gave me an amazing opportunity to extend myself to connect with people in my life in ways that were much more meaningful than tiger jokes. Here are a couple examples:


When I was 8, I wanted to read “grown up books.” My grandmother gave me a book from Lillian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who cozy mystery series to read. She’s also the person who introduced me to Agatha Christie. In retrospect, maybe an 8-year-old shouldn’t have been reading so much murder, but I’ll always be grateful to my grandma for taking me seriously as a reader and encouraging me to try new books. So when I read an incredible mystery this year for the Whitney Awards, who do you think I called as soon as I finished the book? Being able to recommend a book to my grandma for once made me feel like that proud 8-year-old reading grown-up books all over again.


My children also love books, though one of my biggest struggles as a parent has been getting them to branch out and try new books instead of reading the same ones over and over. When we announced the finalists for this year’s Whitneys, I felt prompted to read the Middle Grade finalists with my kids, who are right in that target audience age range. We sat in the living room every night and read a few chapters. Every time we finished a book, we discussed what we did and didn’t like about it. My 9-year-old always hated whenever anything bad happened to a character (I won’t be recommending any murder books to him), which gave us the opportunity to talk about how good writing makes us care about characters and the things that happen to them. Being able to share two things I love, reading and writing, with my children, was one of my favorite experiences as the president of the Whitney Awards committee.


I could share so many more stories about the ways I was able to connect with other readers through the Whitney Awards. I’m sure you have your own stories about the ways these books have helped you draw closer to someone distant, or distracted you from your troubles for a few hours, or made you laugh, or made you think. The authors whose work was featured in the Whitney Awards have done all these things and more for their readers. In a time when we have all felt the need to be swept away from our trials, when we longed to connect with other people, the books in the Whitney Awards were a gift. Thank you to all the authors: nominees, finalists, and winners. Thank you for allowing me and everyone here to escape into your stories.


It takes more work behind the scenes to run the Whitney Awards than most people realize. Luckily for me, I had an amazing group of people to work with on my committee. I asked all of them to join the committee in May 2020, when we were still largely unaware of how much the pandemic was going to affect our lives. One of our committee members, Emily Paxman, couldn’t join us in-person tonight as she lives in Canada, which still has a very strict border crossing policy. I don’t think any of us would have guessed that would be the case a year ago! Even amidst the enormous trial of living through a pandemic, my committee members faithfully took on any task given to them, and helped the Whitneys run as smoothly as possible for the authors, judges, and readers. Their names are in your program, and you’ll see them tonight as our award presenters, but I’d still like to acknowledge Gina Denny, Taffy Lovell, Emily Paxman, Angie Taylor, Elisa McLean, Jamie McHenry, and Taryn Skipper. Their dedication to making the Whitney Awards a wonderful experience for all involved was nothing short of miraculous this year. Please join me in thanking them with a round of applause.


I have loved serving on the Whitney Awards committee for the past two years. I’ve gotten to know so many authors and readers and stories that I otherwise wouldn’t have met, which I enjoyed far more than my introvert self would have ever believed. One of my responsibilities as committee president is to select the president of the next committee and hand the reins over to them so the Awards can continue running smoothly. I’m very grateful to our next Whitney Awards committee president for agreeing to take on this role and continue the work. She’s already shown her dedication to the Whitneys and the Storymakers conference, and I’m so happy to have her take the lead for the 15th Annual Whitney Awards. Please join me in welcoming Emily Inouye Huey as the next Whitney Awards committee president.


And now it’s time to celebrate some truly amazing authors and stories. The first round of Whitney Awards judges read a total of 187 books, narrowing down each genre category to the top five. The Whitney Awards Academy then read these top five finalists, and cast their votes to determine the winners.


My local library does a promotion every Valentine’s Day where they wrap books in brown paper, so you can’t see the covers, and the librarians list out a few key elements of the book on the wrapping paper to entice readers to check it out. They call it “blind date with a book.” We wanted to help you get to know the Whitney Awards finalists, all of which were incredible books, so we asked the authors: what would a blind date with your book look like? It turns out they aren’t just good with words, they also make some pretty fantastic videos. Without any further ado from me, here are your 14th Annual Whitney Awards finalists.

Post-gala, exhausted and ready for bed!



Thursday, September 3, 2020

Yet Another Plot Twist

 A few years ago, during a long heart-to-heart with my husband, he asked me what I needed to become a better writer. I told him I needed time. Time to myself, to write more, instead of grabbing an hour of computer time after the kids were in bed and the dishes washed.

"August 2020," I said with confidence. "When Amelia starts kindergarten. I'll have eight hours a day by myself, and I'll be able to write so much more."

I had been counting down to my youngest child entering kindergarten pretty much ever since we decided we weren't having any more kids. All that time! I was going to accomplish so much!

Well, 2020 has changed everyone's plans, hasn't it? My daughter started kindergarten last month, as scheduled, but over Zoom, not as scheduled. Our district allowed parents to choose whether their children would attend school in-person or online, and I opted for online. Juggling 3 kids' Zoom schedules is not easy, to say the least. It is not a perfect solution, but it was the one I felt was best for us right now. We're all trying to do our best. It's okay if that doesn't look the same for everyone (unless you're refusing to wear a mask in public; you're not doing your best you're just an a-hole).

I'm not getting the extra hours of writing time that I've been dreaming of for years. And I'm sad about it. Some days are harder than others. Some days aren't so bad. I keep reminding myself that this won't last forever, and I will eventually get the time to myself that I need. I managed to write a bunch of books in the small space between the kids' bedtime and mine, and I'll continue to do so. For now. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

What I'm doing lately

Someone shared something on Twitter recently that basically said, "We must not ever invent time travel, because if we did we'd have time travelers here trying to warn us about the mess that is 2020." And then someone replied that maybe the time travelers already came back and fixed things, which would mean that this timeline is actually the improved version. Both of those comments simultaneously made me laugh and cringe with fear. My current WIP is a time travel book, and one of the tenets of time travel in the book is that you can't mess with the past because the created paradoxes render it impossible to do so. But even my time travelers warn the people in the past to stock up on toilet paper in January 2020!

Anyhoo...

Something exciting that I'm currently working on is the 14th Annual Whitney Awards. I was on the committee last year, which I loved, even though our gala in May had to go virtual. I was asked to serve as the committee president this year, which is keeping me busy. But busy about books, and busy working with my awesome committee is a type of busy I love.

I mentioned in my last post that I was hoping to finish the first draft of my time travel WIP for April's Camp NaNoWriMo, and I'm happy to say that I accomplished that goal. Now I'm using all the awesome things I learned during this year's virtual Storymakers conference to finish the second draft during July's session of Camp NaNo. Hold me accountable!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

It's been... a year

I love the New Year. I love resolutions, even if I don't keep them, and I love feeling recharged and empowered to achieve my goals.

I started January 2020 feeling exactly that way. And then I got sick. And then a different kind of sick. I had corrective eye surgery, which was a YAY but took about a month before my eyes healed. The medicine I took for one of the sicks in January caused a different type of sick in February. My whole family had the flu. Then we all had a 24-hour stomach bug, one after the other. I started wondering if our new house was cursed.

But we started March healthy! I was so excited to shake off the funk and get back to work on my current book project. And then of course the pandemic made its way to the US. For now, everyone in our family is healthy, and I'm so grateful for that. Social distancing sucks (I just had to tell one of the neighborhood kids that my kids couldn't come out to play), as we all know. It's very important, and will hopefully pay off, but it's draining on the soul and creativity.

I have been making at least some progress on my book, however, and I think the first draft will finally be done at the end of April. I'm doing Camp NaNoWriMo for the extra accountability.

I hope you out there in the Internet are doing well, staying healthy, and are able to be creative in some way every day.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

NaNoWriMo Interview

I participated in an interview for NaNoWriMo's 20th Anniversary, talking about my experiences during my first NaNo. You can check it out here: https://blog.nanowrimo.org/post/189480273099/20th-anniversary-interviews-part-2-writing-in

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Time to start something new!

It took a lot of work, but I've finally finished outlining and plotting my time-travel novel. I've started writing the actual words--you can follow my progress on Twitter.

I have always wanted to write a time-travel book, but never felt like my skills were up to it. Now, with several books under my belt, I think it's time for the challenge. I hope my science women dynasty of inventors can come to life on the page the way it has in my head! Here's a brief summary of what I'm working with:

Maria Wallace hates science, which is unfortunate given she's the heir to the Wallace family dynasty, four generations of female inventors who have been pioneers in their respective fields. The only thing she likes about being a Wallace is the fame that comes from being a member of her family.

When a prominent historian claims that he has evidence that the original Wallace inventor faked her way into college, and therefore through her whole career, Maria is determined to clear her family's name. She steals her mother's time machine prototype and heads back in time to prove that her great-great-grandmother really was a genius. Using the time machine leaves it vulnerable on the return trip, however, and someone is waiting in the wings to take control of the machine. When Maria returns with the needed proof, she delivers the time machine right into the enemy's hands.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Updates

I am pretty much completely back to normal post-pneumonia, and that means it's time for a writerly-update on what I've been doing lately.

As you know, I love the Storymakers writing conference, and got to teach a class at the 2019 conference. For the 2020 conference, I am involved with Storymakers in a different capacity: I'm on the committee for the 2019 Whitney Awards. The Whitney Awards are held in conjunction with the Storymakers conference, and they honor fiction writers who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am the judging coordinator, so I liaise with our volunteer judges and send them books as they are nominated. It's really fun, and of course my TBR pile has grown a ton since we started taking nominations! And speaking of nominations, we are taking them until October 31st! Anyone can nominate a book, so check out our nomination form here.

I have also started writing a short weekly feature for a local Facebook page. Writing on a deadline is a good exercise for my writing muscles. The feature is called A Slice of Laramie, and it appears Tuesday mornings on This Is Laramie's Facebook page. It's fun to find the humor in small-town living. That must be why so many writers before me have done it!

Now that I'm not sick anymore I've started querying again. I appreciate all the good vibes you can spare on my behalf!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Getting Sick is the WORST

This has been an eventful summer for our family. We sold our home, and bought another fixer-upper about a mile closer to town. Our oldest son turned 10--having a kid who's a decade old is a sobering thought! We visited my parents at their home, where the younger 2 kids and I got the flu. It kind of ruined the end of our vacation. The kiddos got better, but for some reason my flu turned into pneumonia! I've been mostly out of commission for three weeks now. I'm starting to get some energy back, but doing normal things like going to the store wipes me out for hours. On top of that, we have boxes and chaos everywhere from the move. Disorganization is a big anxiety trigger for me, so I'm trying to ignore the mess and do what I can, a little at a time.

Being so sick means I've put querying GHOST GIRLS on hold for a little while. I'm hoping to get it back out there in August. I would appreciate all the good healing vibes you can send me!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Storymakers Recap!

Here's the tl;dr: I had a great time at Storymakers 2019.

My CP, Taryn Skipper, picked me up so we could road trip together. The weather had been sketchy all week, and I was afraid the highway would be closed, but it cooperated! We had about six hours in the car to talk about books and writing and our families, and just everything. Taryn and I have been friends for thirteen years, so a) we're old, and b) we have a lot to talk about.

One of my favorite things about Storymakers is the top-notch education it offers. There's a wide variety of classes, and people at all levels of ability can find something to help them improve. I took two psychology-type classes, two worldbuilding classes, and a handful of random others. For the most part, Taryn and I went to different classes so we could cover more ground and exchange notes afterwards. The highlight for me was teaching my Genetics 101 for Writers class. I was so afraid that no one would show up, but people did! My Powerpoint worked fine, even the embedded clip. I went over time, which I felt bad about, but in my defense the presentation was ten minutes short when I practiced it at home!

I had a query letter critique for my new book, and I was thrilled to hear from the literary agent I met with that my query letter was good to go and that he wanted to read the book! Even if nothing ends up coming from it, it was a nice confidence booster.

Taryn and I met up with some of our writing friends who weren't at the conference to do an escape room. That was a blast, and we DID escape, even though Taryn and I had melty brains from thinking about writing all day. The escape room was within walking distance of the conference hotel, so I think we'll definitely have to try another room next year.

Yes, I'm already planning next year. That's how great the weekend was!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Storymakers is coming up FAST!

I can barely contain myself every day that I wake up and am one day closer to leaving for the Storymakers conference.

It's gonna be amazing. I'm going to learn new things, see old friends, and hopefully not pass out from nervousness when I teach my class on incorporating genetics into fiction. Only 5 more sleeps until I leave!!!