Thursday, January 15, 2009

For Valentine's Day: Safe Romance Novels

There's a reason romance novels are the best-selling category of any kind of fiction . . . by a mile.

The bad news, of course, is that thousands of them don't, well, espouse LDS values. The good news? There are plenty of others to choose from, if you know where to look.

Why are romance novels so popular in the first place? I think it boils down to something one of my university professors taught: "All stories are about one of two things: love or death."

Think about it for a minute, and you'll realize that he was right. Whether the love is romantic, platonic, parental, or even the love of an object or career, everyone has experienced love in some way or form.

You can't say the same about other genres of fiction: not everyone can relate to an alien invasion, a wizarding school, or a detective solving a mystery. But everyone who has ever lived can relate to love, whether it's loving someone else or being loved, whether it's love for family, friends, or a romantic love interest. And we all know how tangled relationships can be.

On the other side, life and death (even personal growth and change, a form of death, in a sense, such as rebirth and repentance) is the state of the human condition. If you're alive, you've experienced love and death in some form.

It makes sense, then, that stories about love, particularly ones that target the entire point we're on the Earth—marriage and family—would strike a chord. It's logical, in a spiritual sense, that we gravitate toward stories that lead two people toward love, marriage, and commitment.

It also follows that Satan would try to warp those stories, turning them from something beautiful and uplifting into something base—essentially, literary pornography. That is exactly what's happening with some novels classified in this genre: they're getting more and more graphic in the bedroom, to the point that even literary agents and publishers debate where the line is between "erotica" (books written with the point to titillate the reader) and simply graphic romances.

It's no surprise, then, that the term "romance novel" has developed a negative reputation. On some level, it's deserved, and those books are something Latter-day Saint women need to steer clear of. Many have found themselves inadvertently sucked into (and even addicted to) the pages of books that are no better for them than visual pornography would be for their husbands.

BUT . . . the great news is that people who love to read and who enjoy a good love story—without the graphic smut—have more options today than ever.

Many publishers have clued in that not all readers are looking for so-called "hot" books, and several have lines devoted specifically to cleaner reads, such as Harlequin's Steeple Hill imprint, which puts out only clean, Christian romances. (As opposed to their Spice line, which you can guess is very different.)

Another good place to look is Tyndale House, which publishes books by writers like Dee Henderson, a Christian author who writes adventurous romances like The Negotiator. Another writer to try is Lawanna Blackwell (who publishes with Christian publisher Bethany House). Her books are popular, clean, historical romances.

And of course, LDS publishers such as Deseret Book and Covenant regularly print many romance titles, and women can pick them up, knowing that they're reading a "safe" book and don't have to be on edge, ready to skip pages.

Below are some LDS romance titles I recommend:
  • Counting Stars, by Michele Paige Holmes. This book won the 2007 Whitney Award for Best Romance, and in my opinion, it deserved the honor. This is a romance that's unpredictable and fresh. You'll both laugh and cry.
  • To Have or to Hold, by Josi S. Kilpack. A classic story of an arranged marriage gone horribly wrong (or maybe right?).
  • Desire of Our Hearts, by Sariah S. Wilson. A love story set during the times of the Book of Mormon.
  • Isabell Webb: Legend of the Jewel, by N. C. Allen. A adventurous (and romantic) trip through late 1800s India. A great yarn with a fun love story mixed in.
  • The First Year, by Crystal Leichty. A hilarious trip through one couple's first year of marriage, with all the ups and downs.
  • What the Doctor Ordered, by Sierra St. James. A classic romantic tale that's laugh-out-loud funny. All of St. James's books are fantastic reads. (Also look for Masquerade and Trial of the Heart.)
  • The Counterfeit, by Robison Wells. Part mysterious suspense, part romance, this is a great story that takes the reader all over the world, even into the catacombs beneath Paris. A funny and exciting read.
  • Spires of Stone, by Annette Lyon. Personal plug here, granted, but my five books, including this 2007 Whitney Award finalist, all have sweet love stories along with fun plots and interesting characters. (If I say so myself!) And my sixth novel, Tower of Strength, will be on shelves in March.

As you can see, just because a lot of romantic book have smut doesn't mean you have to abandon the genre altogether. Remember, some of the most popular stories of all time had romantic themes.

This would be a very different (and lacking!) world without all-time classics like Pride and Prejudice and Romeo and Juliet.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Land Yourself Money for School

If you are (or have) a high school student looking toward a college education, you’re probably wondering how tuition will be paid for. Sure, there are academic scholarships for great grades, and you can always cross your fingers that you’ll get one.

But academic scholarships don't always cover everything, and not everyone can get one since there are only so many out there. The great news is that you don’t have to rely solely on academic scholarships to pay for college—there are other scholarships to be found.

Many corporations, companies, and even individuals sponsor scholarships of all stripes that look for things besides good grades. Bottom line: There really is no excuse to not get the education you need.

Many of these groups award a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, so one scholarship alone won't be enough to pay for all of college. What to do? Apply for lots of them!

Students who apply for several dozen small scholarships can often receive enough funding to pay for all of their college experience—including tuition, fees, boarding, and books. Sometimes the money is paid directly to the school for whatever it's intended for, and other times a check is cut to student.

Amazingly, much of this scholarship money is unclaimed each year, mostly because students don’t even know it exists.

Plan Ahead
In a best-case scenario, students should start thinking about the kinds of information they’ll eventually use on scholarship applications around ninth or tenth grade, even though they won’t be applying for another year or two.

Be involved in school programs, leadership opportunities, school clubs, extracurricular activities, service organizations, honor societies, and more. Note any awards you’ve received and all of your major accomplishments.

Make a list of all of them—they’re the kinds of things scholarship committees look for.

Then expound on them: the more specific, the better. “Participated in a Sub-for-Santa event” won’t hold nearly as much weight as details like: “Spent 45 hours coordinating 15 high school students in a Sub-for-Santa drive, raising $2,400.”

Note that church callings for youth (such as Teachers quorum president or Mia Maid first counselor) can be included in your list, but they need to be phrased in such a way that a scholarship committee (who likely will not be LDS) will know what it means and what the job involved.

Not many scholarship committees will know what a "Mia Maid" is or what a "Teacher" president does. Describe the calling in actions. For example, “For ten months, acted as president of church girls’ group consisting of eight young women ages 14 to 15. Helped plan and carry-out weekly activities that included life skills and community service.”

Note anything about you that might be scholarship specific, such as the geographic area you live in, gender or race, and career goals or interests.

Most scholarships ask for letters of recommendation. To make each scholarship’s deadline, be sure to ask for letters (from teachers, employers, or other adults who know you well) well advance so they have plenty of time to get them back to you before each application is due.

Create Reusable Materials
Many scholarships ask for similar items. You can reuse many of the things you collect and write, including essays. Make lots of copies of your transcripts and test scores. Same goes for letters of recommendation you receive, so you can use them with a number of applications.

While you must tailor your application to each specific scholarship, reusing what you can will save you a lot of time, especially if you’re applying for a large number of scholarships.

Personal Themes and Examples
You’ll need to describe yourself in various ways on applications. Think back to your academic, work, church, and extracurricular activities. Find patterns there, and then use those patterns to describe yourself.

Come up with at least three themes. Possible themes include your interests (athletics, science, music, etc.), service to the community, leadership, your ethnic identity, your unique talents, and so on.

After you’ve picked three themes, expand them with powerful specifics. Write three solid examples of your actions and/or accomplishments within each theme, being as specific as possible. Use your list of activities and awards to create the themes and examples.

Find the Scholarships
  • Start local and work your way out. Ask around at local organizations, such as businesses, radio stations, rotary clubs, etc. Spread the word through family and friends; they may be aware of a scholarship offered by an employer or through another little-known avenue.
  • Talk to your school counseling office. They may have binders filled with scholarship information, and they can often point you toward other resources.
  • Search published scholarship directories. You can find many of them at bookstores and at your local library, such as How to Go to College for Almost Free by Ben Kaplan.
  • Search the Internet. Do a search for, “Scholarship Search Engine,” and you’ll find many great sites (such as and where you can search for scholarships using criteria that fit you.

A word of caution: Never pay a website or a person to hunt down scholarships for you. Reputable businesses don’t do that, and you’ll be out more money than they’ll ever give you, regardless of their promises.

This is the time of year students need to be thinking about scholarships and paying for college after graduation. Get ahead of the game and claim some of the money for yourself! It takes time and effort, but the rewards of a college education—one that’s paid for—are priceless.

Return to the Neighborhood.