7 Quick Takes about epic novels, sold out conferences, book cover photos, and the horror of realizing you’re my neighbor

February 14, 2014 | 40 comments

— 1 —

The 2014 Edel Gathering is officially sold out! We were 75% sold out within the first couple of hours of ticket sales, so we worked with the Omni to reconfigure the rooms to fit more people, and now those extra spots are gone too. We’ve set up a waiting list if you’d like to be alerted if tickets become available. Also, we hope to make this an annual thing, so if you couldn’t make it this time, we’ll see you at another one!

For those of you who are coming: I cannot wait to meet you in person. Only 160 more days!

— 2 —

One of the best moments of the IF Gathering last weekend is that I finally got to meet Heather of the Extraordinary Ordinary. I’ve been following her blog for years, and she is every bit as sweet and charming in person as she seems to be in her writing.

Somehow I missed the fact that she moved to the area, and she hadn’t put it together that this is where I live. We smiled and hugged in delight when we realized that we not only live in the same metropolitan area, but right in the same part of town. And then it dawned on her.

I wish I had a video of the horrified look that slowly made its way across her face as she asked: “Wait. Where you live now…that isn’t the house that’s…?”

“Full of scorpions?” I finished for her, knowing by the look on her face what she was thinking. “Yes. Same house.”

She was speechless for a moment, and I am certain that she was mentally scrolling through every post she has ever seen on this blog about scorpions, and letting it sink in that she now lives just a short drive away from where they all took place.

— 3 —

We were spared from the snow-pocalypse that hit you guys out east, which is probably a good thing since this is how my kids dress when it’s 60 degrees (15° C):


— 4 —

I spend enough time staring at those surprise copies of my book that I think it’s technically a hobby at this point. Unfortunately I can’t quite get a picture that captures how good it looks in person, but trust me when I say that it is gorgeous.

Funny story about the bio shot for the back flap:

Something Other than God

Back in August, Joe and I were at El Monumento to meet a good friend of his from high school, but there was a mix-up where his friend ended up at the wrong place and forgot his cell phone. To pass the time while we waited, we decided to snap a few pictures. Joe ended up using one of the shots I took of him for his bio on his lawyer site, and I used one of the shots for the header here on the blog, and now for the back cover of the book. We never did catch his friend that evening, although we rescheduled for another time.

Who would have thought that our random iPhone photos we took to pass the time would have ended up being so significant to us? (I should take the book in to El Monumento and ask if they’ll give me a free meal for featuring that tree with the white Christmas lights so prominently in my book.)

— 5 —

My current read is Shogun, which I bought because people on Twitter said I should. I’m about 1, 000 pages in and have 8, 000 more to go, and I’m really enjoying it so far!

It made me realize that I tend to gravitate to epics, which is surprising since I’m not much of a fiction reader. I can be annoyingly impatient with the genre, yet some of my favorite books of all time are The Long Ships, Gates of Fire, and now probably Shogun, all of which are enormous.

Because I am both a writing nerd and a reading nerd, I have spent a lot of time analyzing why this is. Here’s my top theory:

Long books are hard to sell. Readers will overlook minor writing flaws for 220 pages, but not for 600. So in order for an epic book to be well known and remain popular for many years, the writing has to be close to flawless: vivid, believable characters; a plot that is engrossing and moves quickly; compelling theme; etc.

I’m going to test this theory by checking out other epics, which probably means that I’ll read about two books this year.

— 6 —

7qt251-voxerLisa-Jo introduced me to the free Voxer app, and I already don’t know how I lived without it. It’s basically verbal texting: you hold down a button walkie-talkie style, and it immediately sends it. Hallie and I have found it to be indispensable as we work on the Edel Gathering.

For example, I found out that our old ticket vendor wasn’t going to work when it was too late to call Hallie, so I was able to Vox her a message that said,  “Hey, you know the ticket place that our entire event launch is centered around? The one that you spent two hours setting up and getting everything just right? It’s not going to work, so we need to find a new one. What a wonderful challenge and exciting exercise in trust this will be to solve this problem in the less than 36 hours before tickets go on sale!”

She got the message before I woke up the next morning, and couldn’t type because she had her hands full getting breakfast ready, so she was able to send a verbal reply saying, “What joyous news that we will be able to undertake this challenge! I got a solid three hours of sleep last night, so I relish the opportunity to peacefully and prayerfully tackle this situation.”

Okay, those, umm, may or may not have been our exact words. But the point is that Voxer is awesome.


— 7 —

Here’s the perfect video to start your weekend: a group of ordinary women get their own magazine cover photo shoots, complete with air brushing. The best part is their reactions. If you’re a woman, you must watch this.

Happy Valentine’s Day!



  1. Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    In the same vein as your last take, I really liked this photoshoppy music video. The singer isn’t actually being photoshopped in real time (it’s a combination of makeup and clever editing), but the immediacy makes it scarier, in my experience.

  2. Casey @ My Love Is Too Little

    I prefer epic length novels as well, or a good long series of regular length novels. You’re right about the reading needing to be superb in order to hold the attention for that long. I think the characterizations especially need to be very strong, even more so than the plot. Our relational nature tends to mean that if readers become invested in the characters, they’re more likely to want to finish the story to see what happens to them, so strong, relatable characters are key.

  3. Erin

    Totally impressed that you sold out that quickly!!!!!! Sorry for those who missed out:( wondering if voxer works on any touch phones

  4. Mira

    Regarding your last take – it’s really scary that women were made to believe that something that DOES NOT EXIST is an ideal we should aspire to. What we look at in magazines is not reality – it’s an image they are trying to sell to us.

    I really liked how this young woman – a model – explained it: http://www.ted.com/talks/cameron_russell_looks_aren_t_everything_believe_me_i_m_a_model.html .

    Thank you for your thought-provoking writing, as always! 🙂

  5. Crunchy Con Mom

    While I know the point is kind of “see, no one looks like models, not even models”! I also think its kinda cool to see how they can do that to ordinary women too. Like…we all DO look like models. Well-like they look in real life!

  6. Jenny Ryan

    Wow, what a great video! Thanks for sharing! AND congrats on on the sold out tickets AND the book!!! I know people who are going and I know people who know people who are going. So it’s like we are meeting!

  7. christine

    Congrats on the sold out crowd! I’m not surprised in the least.
    The photo of your daughter in a winter coat cracked me up. Just yesterday it was 35 and sunny at our house, and everyone was so excited to be outside without bundling up in coats.

  8. Amelia @ One Catholic Mama

    While I can see the value of hte Voxer app, it sounds absolutely frightening that there is an app that coule send my uncensored, unedited, words in to forever be written down into text form ot someone. I could totally see myself sending like 15 messages along the veins of,”I meant to say this.” “No, I really meant to say this.” “No, THIS is what i really meant.”.

  9. Rosie

    That video is awesome – every time I see a magazine with a celebrity on the cover (and there are certain celebrities who I know CANNOT possibly look like that!) the capabilities of photoshop amaze me more and more… It’s kind of incredible to see the change in a *real* person, and just how ridiculous the end product is!

  10. Lynne

    I’m hanging onto the ending quote on the video: “It’s natural to be uncomfortable and awkward.” This might be the perfect forehead tattoo.

    Sold out is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Sara

    Epic novels are my passion too- try the Pillars of the Earth (2 book series) by Ken Follett! Also, sooo wanted to make it to the conference but I am on the east coast (and we did get the snow). Can you do another in the DC or NY area?!?!

    • Katherine

      Yes, yes and yes to Pillars of the Earth. In the edition I have, he made note that of all his works this one has the most passionate fan base. It became a best seller by word of mouth.
      Congratulations on both the book and the sold out conference.

  12. Mama Gee

    I really enjoyed the Valentine video. I sent it to my two daughters. I really wanted to make it to your women’s conference, but…finances. Maybe next year. I’ll be praying for all of you gathered there .
    Thanks you.

  13. Mary Wilkerson

    So…my jealousy regarding this conference is HUGE. A girlfriend sent me a screenshot of her purchased ticket. le sigh…
    I am super pumped that it might be annual! Maybe next year 😉

  14. Ann-Marie

    I am going and so very excited! Is there anyway we could do a link up where we all write a little introductory post about ourselves? That we could “meet” before we actually get to Austin?

    • Hallie @ Moxie Wife

      Absolutely! We have a ‘Who’s Coming’ page all ready to go on the Edel website. We’ll send out an email soon inviting attendees to submit their bios. 🙂

  15. Rose G.

    Two more epic novels if you haven’t read them yet – Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, and The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni. Both have withstood the test of time (written 100-200 years ago), have strong Catholic themes, and are terrific stories!

    • Lynne

      ha–I keep mentioning Kristin, too. I’ll have too look up The Betrothed. Thanks!

  16. Mary Creger

    Thank you for sharing the video! It gives me a lot to think about! I have been hating my body for 66 years. You’d think that after surviving two cancers and having surgical removal of parts of my body and being on life support three times and being given life again and again by my Precious Lord…..I shoulda learned! Now I think…and pray that I can finally accept the body God has give to me.

  17. Jenny

    That video was amazing!

  18. Kathleen Basi

    #6 is a laugh. Thank God for you! And I love the “unexpected neighbors” too. 🙂

  19. Jennifer Gregory Miller

    Jen, Congratulations about your book! That is a long time from inception to creation! Think if we had to be pregnant for that period of time, creating a new life!

    I’m so happy your conference is sold out. If I lived closer I’d so be there! I’m a Houston native, so maybe another year I can visit family and make a side trip.

    I got a FitBit for Valentine’s Day. Not exactly romantic. I blame your influence. 😉

  20. Amanda

    So wish and had intended on going to the edel gathering! Just didn’t anticipate finding a house and planning a close date right around the time tickets would go on sale! Needless to say, our dinero is going towards our new casa (which I couldn’t be more happy about!). Pray that I can attend next year and meet all you amazing and inspiring women.

  21. Rakhi @ The Pitter Patter Diaries

    So very bummed to not be joining y’all in Austin this year. It just wasn’t financially feasible for us. So, very sad for me, but thrilled that you’ve gotten such a fantastic response (though not surprised). 🙂

  22. Susanna

    Another Minnesotan mom and I were thinking the next Edel Gathering would have more appeal if it were in Texas in February. We get enough heat here in the Summer, but in the Winter we would love to visit a place with 60s.:)

    And if you are going to go epic, try a few Russian novels.

  23. Heather

    I can’t stop laughing. I’m sure the look on my face was really something. I’m glad you figured out what I was thinking so I didn’t look suddenly disgusted by the thought of living by the likes of YOU. 😉

    SCORPIONS. Believe me, I haven’t stopped thinking about this. And asking everyone I talk to if they have seen one or had one in their home. So far, there are too many yeses for my liking. Ugh.


    • Katherine

      This is why I’m still in California and not in Austin. Everything in my life would indicate a domicile in Austin (or at least Fredericksburg) but for the scorpions.

  24. Michelle

    Thanks for the link to the app. I guess its gonna help thousands of us who needs to communicate with voice always as we can’t get to use the button as fast as we could. Then again, I always find it hard to skip your post. I just skip first, then start from the beginning and then read again and another skip. You’re such a good writer. Wish you guys the best at the conference !

  25. Michelle

    Then again, your book is available in cover alone. Have you thought of making the eBook versions? Kindle, BnN etc?


  26. Melissa

    I am SO excited for the conference! My generous sister gifted me a ticket and we cannot wait until July!!!
    Also, I’m very impressed that you are reading a novel that long! I have been reading Pride and Prejudice, a mere 450 pages, for about six months… 😉

  27. Carolyn Svellinger

    Ah what a great video! I love that she says “its normal to be critical of yourself” and “but realize that the ideal doesn’t exist”.
    I feel like society is this paradox of pressuring women to look a certain way while telling us to “be comfortable in our own skin” …and young women don’t know how to try to be comfortable because of the message of the ideal that movies and posters plaster everywhere. Flat-out saying “it doesn’t exist” was my point of finding that comfort. But it took years of feeling like I wasn’t pretty ‘enough’ to reach that conclusion.

  28. Carolyn Svellinger

    and truly, since your revealing of your cover design, I’ve thought it is a beauty of a book. The colors are my favorite!

  29. Melody

    I love Shogun. James Clavell is really good. Taipan ended up being my favorite, and King Rat (which he might have drawn character inspiration from his own experience as a POW, but he never wanted to talk about it). I love books that make me learn. James Mitchener is also good at this, but the books have multiple narratives and historical background chapters interspliced with those narratives, so the characters don’t tend to be as strong, but you get a great sense of a place (probably why his books are always named after places- Alaska! Hawaii! Chesapeake! Texas! Poland! Ok, ok we get it! Still, they are pretty good and I have never felt like reading them was a waste of time, like too much fiction I have perused. )

  30. Trisha Niermeyer Potter

    So excited about your book and the conference sounds really awesome! Thank you for keeping the possibility to link to your post open beyond Friday as it’s been a rough week and yesterday was particularly hellacious, so I thought it best not to get on the internet when I was feeling so upset which is why I am just posting my 7QT on Saturday before midnight.

  31. Susanne

    I love that your husbsnd’s website has 7quick takes on why someone should hire him. 🙂

  32. Mary

    Would you consider setting up regional Catholic women’s blogging conferences? I’m in Hawaii. It’s going to be hard for me to get to the mainland!
    Also, just on the off-chance that I am in Oklahoma (my home-state) in July, would you consider adding a daytrip option to your conference?

  33. Isabella

    This is going to be kind of random, but I think you are missing your calling with the whole scorpion thing.

    I mean, after all, some people actually like those ugly things enough to make them pets!

    See 3:10 in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHhsmGUjOik&noredirect=1

    And to think, all this time you could have been collecting them and selling them to scorpion lovers at high prices as treasured, semi-famous pets (“Jen’s Home-Caught Catholic Scorpions! As Featured on Conversion Diary!”), while padding your pockets and planning all the great vacations to the Islands where you could lounge child-free for days and blog non-stop.

    Really, you totally missed that one. 😉

  34. Lauren

    I am a HUGE Voxer fan!! It’s much easier (and a legal option) than texting while driving, and it makes life SO much easier for keeping in regular contact with friends. Now if only I could convince more people to use it…

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