The Conundrum of Happily Ever After

Happily ever after – the classic fairy tale ending. While it’s not terribly realistic, we as a society crave them. It’s as if we all want reassurance that things can turn out fine.

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I’ve read many books over the years, and I’ve been disappointed more than once by the ending. When things don’t get better, I get upset. My mother still tells me about the book she read, waiting for it to get better. The main character died on the next to last page!

I’ve made a point in my stories to have happy endings. I let my characters sweat, but in the end, it’s worth it. There is a reason for the struggle. That’s what God does with our trials – they are there for an ultimate purpose.

Why am I talking about “happily ever after” endings today? Because I’ve reached a crossroads with the next chapter of my stories, and I feel like the answer may change my identity as a writer. I may be forced to cut the next book in half just due to the sheer volume of events and pages – well over 100 chapters. If I decide upon breaking up the story, I will be forced to end one book before things get better. Yes, cliffhangers are good. But my characters won’t be in very good places at the end. How can I be okay with that as an author, since I’m not okay with it as a reader?

Even if the next book is released within quick succession, part of me feels as if it is unfair to the reader to string them along and then end without a real resolution. I can offer hope of a happy ending at my current stopping point, but that’s about it.

Readers, authors – anyone – feel free to offer feedback. What do you think I should do?

**PS, searching for beta readers for my next book. If you’ve enjoyed the first few stories and can offer honest feedback, let me know if you’re interested! Send me an email! *points to right hand sidebar for email address.***

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Lessons of a Free Promo

I finally decided to sign up for KDP Select. Included in the perks is up to five days where your book will be free. It’s super easy to do. Took me less than five minutes.

But the key to your freebie days will be promotion. You have to tell everyone, and get them to tell everyone. I drafted a friend to whip up a virtual flyer for me with the essential info, then I waited.

Jen cover FreeOnAmazon

Two days before the promotion began, I shared it on Facebook and Twitter. I told my freebie promoters about it. And I waited.

I used the following places to promote my book – Reader’s Gazette, eBook Bump, and My Book Cave – all free! Reader’s Gazette takes three weeks to join, but they are awesome and promote your books once you’re an author. They also tell about your bargains. They’re my favorite of the three.

Then came the day of the promotion. I stalked my sales report and my book rankings. In between all that, I mostly stayed on Twitter.

Authors are your friends. If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of authors on your Twitter feed. Use this to your advantage. Pin your promo flyer to your profile page, then stalk your followers pages. Your assignment is easy – retweet like crazy. If you like it, retweet it. If you don’t want to share it with your audience, don’t. But search for things you can share with your audience.

Why are you spending valuable time promoting what other people are talking about? Simple. 90% of them will see they’ve been retweeted, go to your page, and share your promotion.

Take screenshots.

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Sadly, your awesome stats will not stay in the upper tiers for very long, so take advantage of the moment. Take screen shots. On the first page of your category? Take a screen shot. Circle it in paint. Share on Facebook.
Stalking your rankings is addicting. The numbers keep going up, and it’s AWESOME. You’ll want to know every hour if it’s improved. Plan to be on your computer or phone a lot. It will happen whether or not you think it will.

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Weekends are awesome. I started my promotion on a Friday, ending it on a Saturday. My numbers on Saturday beat out my Friday numbers, but just barely. Weekends are when most people have the time to read, or are searching for their next book. Take advantage of that.

Don’t use your five days all at once. Please spread it out. Use two or three together. Your momentum will build from day to day. You’ll be thankful that you can do it again.

See if more free places will promote you. I found My Book Cave during my first free promotion. I sent them a submission, and they emailed me just after my promotion ended. Since I was flexible on the days that I had available, and the rest of my book fit their criteria for a feature, I was able to get a slot. But that does lead me to my next point.

Spread out your freebies. I ended up being selected for the feature on My Book Cave the next weekend after my first one had ended. I almost wrote them back and asked for a different day. I didn’t. The result, sadly, was rather lackluster. My free copies did move, but in much lower numbers and at slower speeds.

Don’t freak out if you get bad reviews. It’s part of the game. It’s no fun, trust me, but some people will download your book and then get upset that it was exactly what you wrote. It’s okay. You are not a horrible writer, I promise! Everyone has room for improvement. Some things only come with practice.

Offer Discounts. The Book Cave people suggested having my other books on a discount during the length of my promotion. My second book is fairly new, so I wasn’t sure about that. I looked up the Kindle Countdown, and I was eligible for that to begin just after my free promotion started on my first book (for the second time). This was also super easy to set up (but make sure you go to the next page and click the I Agree button – I didn’t, and did not notice anything until the day the promotion was set to begin. I about freaked out when the price didn’t change! I clicked the button and waited. Three hours later, my updates had published and the promotion was live).
While my second book did not sell amazingly well on the days that my book was free and it was super cheap, I did get multiple sales in a single day – something that usually doesn’t happen for me just yet.

Enjoy the moment. This one’s pretty easy. Enjoy your book being popular. People will buy free books. Cross your fingers and hope for good reviews. Until then, smile! People are buying your book!

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#542!!!

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My Miracle

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I am talking about my husband today. Before everyone who’s single rolls their eyes and skips the rest of this post, let me stop and say that this post is written especially for you.

In one week, Bobby and I will be celebrating our one year anniversary. We are both still madly in love with the other, even on days that we annoy the snot out of each other. He is mine, and I am his. Yes, we are that couple that tells everyone how awesome their spouse is, how much we love them, and how we couldn’t imagine life without them.

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Rewind three years. I was half-heartedly dating someone because I was officially 30 and desperate. That relationship wouldn’t last another month, so I don’t really count it. I was not only single – I was depressingly single. No real love interest, no one who I cared about looking my way, and nothing in my field of vision suggested it was going to change any time soon. I’d been single for about 10 years. TEN YEARS. A few blips on the love radar every now and then, but nothing ever panned out for long.

Now, add in the fact that I’m a faithful member a church, and you have the sad picture in a nutshell. My youth group had more girls than boys. Everyone paired up in their teens, but some were left out, just due to numbers. I was watching relationships on the sidelines when I was 15. That didn’t change when I got older.

Sure, I met people. I was constantly doing things in the church world, some of which were done with the hopes of meeting someone. NOTHING. I prayed and prayed and prayed. Nothing happened.

Members of my former youth group got married. I attended the weddings. I smiled, content in the knowledge that my time was coming. The youth group after me started getting married. I looked at their pictures on Facebook and got upset. Really, God? THEY’RE getting married before me? What am I doing wrong?

I had to reach a point where I was okay with being single. I had to be happy for everyone else finding their love interest. I had to be happy for everyone else having babies. Since marriage and a baby were out of the picture for me at the time, I focused all my efforts on my passions – drama and writing.

In the middle of my singleness period, I penned The Test of True Love. Ironic, right? A single person writing a love story. Yes, I know. I had a conversation with God on that subject right after I realized I was supposed to write it. Really, God? Me? You know I’m single, right?

I penned the book, and I started writing the stories that followed it. I kept on doing what I was supposed to be doing – readying myself for an eventual partner in life. I kept waiting. It was hard, sad, and lonely.

Then one day, I received a Facebook message and a friend request from a complete stranger. He was the younger brother of a former coworker of mine. His pastor was online friends with my mom. I was the pastor’s Facebook friend, too. I had met the pastor in person once. The sister messaged me a few days later, saying her brother was interested in meeting me.

Bobby and I met face-to-face in late May of 2013. Almost three years ago. The rest is history.

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Bobby is my miracle. I’m sharing this story with you, my single friends. I gave up hope of it happening to me, but it did. My miracle came in its own good time. And yours will, too.

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I will not be writing next week, since I’ll be celebrating my anniversary. Thanks to everyone who downloaded my book over the weekend! You’re awesome!!

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FREE!

My book will be free for two days later this week!

Jen cover FreeOnAmazon

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The Day I Met Algebra

I work with children. Helping out with homework is part of the job description. I’m fine with most of it…until I hit math. Something about 4th and 5th grade math makes me uneasy. I’m constantly unsure of myself. We’re supposed to check behind the children and make sure the problems are done correctly.

It’s not the kids’ fault that I’m uneasy in math. It’s algebra’s fault.

Once upon a time, I was great in math. I was home schooled for the majority of my grade school years. I went to a private school for part of second and third grade, then returned to North Carolina and went back to our previous curriculum. We discovered that I was a grade ahead in math, since our curriculum took an entire grade to teach the times tables. This lasted me until I reached long division, and that slowed me back down to my actual grade. But I eventually understood the concept, and I was good with math.

Then I met algebra. 9th grade math began with introducing me to the letter X and its evil little cousins, Y and Z. Though the curriculum didn’t change, they just presented the information in a way that I DID NOT get. As we did with everything we did not understand, I turned to my teacher to help me through the difficult part – my dad. Daddy did his best. But he’s a guy, and did not really get how to teach me as a girl to understand what was not clicking. He tried. But it didn’t work. Over and over and over again, we went through the lessons. Over and over and over again, I tried my best. Over and over and over again, it did not click.

Had I been in public schools, I would have failed. The class would have moved ahead, grasping the general concepts and learning to do more complicated problems. Having missed a few of the most basic principles, I would have been hopelessly, utterly, lost.

But I was not in public schools. I was home schooled, and working on the ACE curriculum. Though I have issues with how they present certain things to their students, the way their lessons are set up are literally the only way that I ever learned how to do algebra. In the ACE world, any grade below an 80 is a failing grade. Any checkup (mini-test) or test that does not get this score means you have to take it over until you pass.

I was 16 before I learned that 80 was actually a decent grade. I did a lot of slacking off when I realized that.

But without that 80% threshold, I would have never understood algebra. I was forced to redo several checkups, but, thankfully, never had to retake an entire PACE again (a unit).

It did, eventually, click. I did learn to at least like algebra more than geometry. But I still don’t like algebra.

Sometimes you have to repeat things over and over until you get it. Don’t give up, since writing is constantly a struggle to get it right. The more you do with the concept, the closer you come to at least understanding it. Try not to develop a hatred over whatever it is you’re stumbling over. It will be there to greet you in the next story. Don’t let there be an algebra moment in your writing. Trust me, you’ll never forget it.

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A Tale of Two Kitties

So, our household now has two cats, Shadow and Mario. My husband had agreed that after we had been married a few months, we could get a cat. We ended up with sweet little Shadow.

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Two weeks into our journey as new kitty parents, we both woke up to a plaintive meow nearby. I was startled, thinking Shadow was caught somewhere and hurt. I relaxed when I realized Shadow was sound asleep on my shoulder. I was about to go back to sleep when my husband woke up, asking me about Shadow. With both of us wide awake, we quickly decided the meow was coming from outside. We got up and investigated. We soon found Mario, sitting underneath our bedroom window, frightened and starving.

Though we did search for his family, none of our neighbors claimed him. We believe he was abandoned, since we live beside a road. We eventually took him in, too. We called him Mercy until we found out he was a boy. We changed the name to Mario.

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Shadow is a sweet kitty who generally comes when you call, will sit on you and purr, and generally naps any place up high. When you call her, she will first go to the other human in the room, then on to you. To acknowledge both of us, I guess. She runs around the house with Mario, but gets bored before he does. When they were younger, they used to tackle each other. Shadow was bigger than Mario, and enjoyed the game tremendously. Then Mario grew bigger than her and could start pinning her. Shadow seemed to realize the folly of teaching him that game. Shadow is also fond of the kitchen counter, a place that she is expressly forbidden to climb. We’re still working on breaking her of that habit.

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Mario is full of boundless energy, and only sleeps when he is exhausted. He climbs into anything, and keeps trying to squeeze himself into the top of the closed closet door, because he wants to. Because he just doesn’t get it. Though Shadow likes to nap up high, Mario is the one who generally perches higher than her. He regularly jumps on top of our medicine cabinet and above our kitchen cabinets. Mario has also jumped behind the fridge twice (thankfully, he’s seemed to have outgrown that). He also wants to hop into our dresser drawers and has tried more than once to jump into the shower while it’s in use. Mario, as you can tell, isn’t always very bright.

Try to do anything productive in this house, and you will soon find yourself lovingly being joined by one or both of our kitties. It’s like they sense when we’re about to do something.

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Both cats are wonderful, and we enjoy having them in our house (most of the time). However, when you are intent on working, they can be annoying.

The cats reminded me today of the two sides of writing – boundless energy, infinite curiosity, with a penchant for winding up in places you don’t belong. Then there’s the quiet demure side that generally does what you’re supposed to, but stays longer in the places where you are not supposed to go.

Do you need both sides to writing? Absolutely! You can’t go on an adventure without energy, curiosity, and a bit of fearlessness. But you also need the quiet side of yourself to balance out the wild energy with no though of your destination. You need both kitties to make your writing work.

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Though Shadow hasn’t quite figured out I can’t work like this…

So, when you get annoyed with one side of your writing self, just take a break and hope that either the other side comes soon, or that your wild side will back down. And pray you don’t get stuck behind a fridge – those things are hard to move!

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God’s Not Dead Review

I’ve previously addressed the sad state of Christian movies. Those people who are attempting to bring a film to the general public either try to cram the entire Gospel message into an hour and a half, or just try to do too much. I was considering my feelings regarding God’s Not Dead recently, and decided to write about it.

Gods Not Dead

The Good

First off, the movie did a beautiful job showing the grace of God. As you follow the bitter reporter who gets difficult news, she starts searching for the Truth. The interview that was supposed to be an expose on “the real Christians” turned into a time of prayer for her. That was a good moment, it was real, and it definitely belonged within the plot.

The major point of the movie was the student was defending his faith (and the existence of God) before his classroom. The apologetic arguments were absolutely fantastic and are undoubtedly a great resource for any young adult who wants to defend their beliefs. There was good information, good facts, and great quotes from atheists.

There is another point of this movie that was really good, but I’ll address that in another section.

The concert to end the movie was pretty cool – with a great rendition of the movie’s title – also a popular song. There were other parts of the ending that I had issues with, but the concert was great.

The movie also did a splendid job showing that a pastor’s work is never done. Pastors can often feel discouraged and as if they are having no impact upon anyone. The film did an excellent job of showing that pastors are human, too. They have issues just like the rest of us, and they can benefit from having friends with whom they can be real with.

I will list this under the good as well, since Christian films generally pretend the rest of the world’s morals don’t exist unless they’re portraying a villain. One of the main characters was living with a man who was not her husband. This was an attempt to show the real world, and showing that they need Jesus, too. It was a brave move, and I applaud the effort. I had issues with the relationship portrayed, but I will acknowledge that the movie makers were trying to make a valid point and make this character “real.” They did a good job with that aspect, and I respect their artistic decision.

The Disjointed

I believe this falls into its own category, so I created a different section to describe it. The entire movie was pretty disjointed. I spent half an hour watching about seven different characters, waiting for them all to be connected. They were, mind you, but it was a pretty long wait to find out how the reporter and the corporate jerk were related to the woman living with the professor, and what any of that had to do with a pastor.

The plot felt crammed together. Not only do we have a student defending his faith while adjusting to college, we also have an overworked pastor who desperately needs a vacation, a girl who only wears a Muslim headpiece around her father, and a woman in a relationship who is hurting. None of it made sense for quite a while, and I as a moviegoer got impatient waiting for it all to come together.

The Bad

How I wish I could write a review of this movie and not have to detail the parts where they failed horribly. I’m pretty lenient on the reality of some plot lines, because the writers made me believe that whatever was done was possible. That did not happen in this case, so I am compelled to point out the things where the movie could have done better.

The pastor in the movie meets a friend in the airport, who we eventually learn is a missionary overseas. He’s with the pastor for a week, and all he wants to do is to go to Disney World. Stuff happens, and their plans get delayed indefinitely. The missionary friend was a great character, and a good sounding board for the pastor. However, he was never named. You never even learned where he was ministering overseas.

The evil professor was living with his girlfriend, a girl we followed for a good ten minutes without realizing who she was or why she was important to the story. We learn that she’s frustrated with the relationship, and the evil professor treats her horribly. There’s a twenty year age difference, and you find out halfway through the movie that she was once his student, and they began dating midway through that semester. The relationship between the two of them felt forced and not real. It didn’t make any sense to have this girl living with this professor, except that it showed that the professor was evil and the girl needed love.

The professor character, I know, they tried to make real. They gave him screen time, reasons behind his attitude, and showed his home life. However, he was first and foremost in the writers’ minds as the evil professor, so that is how he was portrayed in all three areas. I don’t care what I’m doing. I’m evil and I’m glad that I don’t need God. Sorry, writers, but you failed. I actually know some atheists, and they don’t give off the “I’m evil” vibe every time you’re in their company. Atheists do live by their own set of morals, they just reject the One that Christians accept the rule book came from.

Sadly, the main part of the movie also falls into list of things that the movie makers messed up.

While the apologetics shared during the meat of the movie were incredibly awesome, the movie stumbled in getting to that crucial point.

The movie begins with the student in the evil professor’s classroom, who teaches philosophy. The evil professor tells his students to write “God is dead” on a piece of paper, sign it, and pass it to the end of the row. If they all do this, they will skip a hard part of the class that most people fail.

The student we are following refuses to sign. The professor eventually challenges him to a debate before the classroom. The class will hear both sides on the God argument, and they will vote on whether or not God is dead. If the professor wins, the student automatically fails his required class.

While a great start to the movie, and a great way to show the main struggle, the movie makers missed a key point. The student had every right to go to his advisor or higher up the chain of command and explain that his religious freedoms were being violated in the classroom. The separation of church and state works two ways, and universities do their best to steer clear of trampling on student rights (the least they can do after taking all their money). Now, if the movie makers were sold on this classroom showdown, then they needed a different scene in the movie that showed the student trying to fight what was happening in the classroom. The person he talked to could have been a friend of the professor, and the issue would be dead in the water there. The student would have to defend his faith in order to pass the class.

But the movie makers ignored the reality they tried so hard to portray and went on with their premise. This made me dislike the classroom scenes (some of the best parts of the movie) because the writers missed what would have been my first move if it had been me. College professors have no right to demand anything of you that will compromise your religious beliefs. It is, perhaps, the only benefit I’ve encountered of having a separated church and state.

The Ending

I am a fan of happy endings. I got exactly what the writers were attempting to do with the ending – spreading their core message in what apparently is a standard practice in the Newsboys concert displayed. But the ending was stupid.

First, the Newsboys have heard about the college kid who defended his faith in the classroom. The movie gave no clue how they knew of that, just that it happened. Considering the climax in the classroom occurred less than a day before, it was pretty unlikely that the band would have learned of it through their channels.

Second, the band encourages the crowd to pull out their cell phones and text everyone in their contacts “God’s Not Dead.” I get they’re trying to send a message, but it wasn’t something I as a concert-goer would have done.

Then you switch back to the evil professor, who wants to reconnect with his girlfriend who has just left him over the God issue. He is running to the concert, where he knows she’ll be. The man is hit by a car. As another set of familiar faces stop and help him, they realize he’s dying and try to win him to Jesus while they wait on the ambulance.

Then the evil professor that the writers have spent so much time with that hates the very idea of God decides to abandon his stance and accept God in his dying moments. Zero believability for me. The die-hard atheist accepts the reality of God with his dying breath. Really? This is the selling point of the movie? Just after this, the girlfriend texts her ex, since she’s at the concert. Those helping the professor look at his phone just as he passes. God’s not dead.

I think the writers were trying to make it look like the professor was communicating from the other side, and telling them that he knew God wasn’t dead. It would have been a halfway decent move if they’d been establishing a connection the entire movie about those who speak from the grave. But since the writers believe what I do and know that dead people don’t speak, it was stupid and made no sense. It’s like they tried to kill the bad guy just because he deserved to die, but were afraid to let him die with his soul in danger of Hell.

The Best Part

Even with the ending that I did not enjoy, there was one part of the movie that I absolutely loved. The jerk that I previously mentioned had a sick mother with Alzheimer’s. They show a nurse giving the lady her dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. The lady lights up. “I love chicken and mashed potatoes! I can’t remember the last time I had it!”

The nurse smiles and turns to the daughter. “She has it every day.”

The daughter pleads with her brother, the jerk, in a different scene, urging him to visit their mother. He says he’ll come if she can prove that their mother can remember what day it is.

The jerk does come for a visit. It’s best if you watch the clip yourself.

My final conclusion is that God’s Not Dead could have been way better. It was a good attempt, but it still needed a lot of work. It is, sadly, a standard among Christian movies that needs to change. How will we win the world through our movies if they can’t stand to watch anything we create?

Please, Christians, do better.

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