Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, June 02, 2006

Words I Wish I Wrote

by Kerry Blair

I’m stealing words from another LDS author today, so I thought it only appropriate to filch a title too. The full title of Robert Fulghum’s book is Words I Wish I Wrote: A Collection of Writing that Inspired My Ideas. The full title of my blog is Words I Wish I Wrote: A Collection of Ideas that Inspired My Writing. There's a difference.

Several years ago, in preparing to teach a writers’ workshop, I wrote to authors whose work I admire and asked them what difficulties they’d faced on the road to fame and fortune. I received excellent responses which I’ll share in the coming weeks. (I have one from you, Jeff. Remember?) But I’ve saved my favorite for first.

David G. Woolley, author of the bestselling and breathtaking Promised Land series is one of my heroes, personally and professionally. Goodness but that man can write! I was stunned to learn he wasn’t born with a silver pen in his mouth, but he swears he had to work hard to achieve excellence. (I’d really hoped he knew a magic spell or something.) This is what he sent me then. He’s given me permission to use it again today. (Okay, so I didn’t steal it, exactly.)

“My biggest obstacle was a simple one,” DGW wrote. “I couldn’t write and everyone was willing to tell me about it except, of course, those closest to me. My sister stared at my lips for more than an hour one afternoon while I read my manuscript aloud. When I finished she said, “Gee, Dave, are you hungry?” That’s when I began to understand that I didn’t know the first thing about plotting, foreshadowing, creating a voice for a character, or any of the other basic principles of good fiction.

“There are, by the way, principles of good fiction. They are time-honored “rules” developed over the centuries by people like you and me who fumble over their paragraphs, bumble over their word choices and trip on their syntax, all in an effort to find just the right way to get across the stories that rise and roll on the waves of our souls. Writing fiction is storytelling, but we must become more than storytellers. Ours is an art of communicating emotions, creating suspense, describing the grit and grime and smell of a place and if we do it well we transport the reader to a place just beyond eternity without leaving the Lazy-Boy. It sure ain’t easy, but it’s doable.

“You may need inborn talent to be a great writer, but all I had was determination, a computer and story to tell. I got me some books and I read what other writers – other gritty writers without inborn talent – had to say about writing. I wasn’t the brightest writer around. I had to practice the advice I read about until I knew in my bones what they were telling me on the page. I practiced until what they wrote about became the way I thought about writing fiction. And then I set out to write a novel.

“I didn’t let the size of the project scare me away. Writing a novel is like building a house all by yourself. You spend a day nailing boards to the floor. (You learn to name your viewpoint character in the first few lines of a scene.) You frame a wall. (You learn to narrate dialogue.) You lay some brick. (You learn to foreshadow.) You lay some tile. (You write an action scene.) You place some windows. (You write a dialogue.) After twelve or more hours of hard work, you turn around on you way home and look back and it doesn’t look much more complete than when you showed up that morning. But you keep at it, day after day, and slowly the novel you dreamed about begins to take shape. The walls rise from the foundation, the roof angles against the sky, and one day you understand what can be accomplished because you have one very important thing: your first novel.”

I wish I’d written that.


At 6/02/2006 11:21 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Kerry, I’ve been holding this in for quite some time now so I wouldn't rock the boat, but you’ve forced it out of me. You are a born liar. It's not just humility, although you are a humble soul. And it's not just sweetness, although I believe maple syrup runs in your veins.

No, you are a liar plain and simple. I read your books and I find myself constantly wishing I had written them. You have an amazing way of combining humor with tension that makes me want to puke with envy.

Not only do you write books like you were raised by John Grisham and Dave Berry, but you put on a mystery dinner that was beyond amazing. I was flabbergasted by how fun it was and how smoothly it went.

And if that wasn't enough, you are the favorite author at every book store I sign at. If I hear one more store manager say, "I just love that Kerry Blair. She is the sweetest person. And her books are so great,” I am going to start throwing Mummies the Word books across the aisles, damaging all of the 50% off artwork and possibly condemning my mortal soul.

So enough of this going on about how much you need to rewrite your books. You have been exposed!

At 6/02/2006 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry, I have to agree with Jeff on one thing, you are one of the best writers I know! And as an author and a person, I have to admit you're my favorite author. However, I work in the book business (you'll have to guess where) and since I'm not supposed to have favorites I'll keep myself anonymous.

At 6/02/2006 11:57 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Blah blah blah... Kerry, how many times do I have to tell you to quit commenting anonymously on your own posts? Sheesh.

At 6/02/2006 11:20 PM, Anonymous Linda w said...

That last comment is
best laugh I've had all day!

At 6/03/2006 11:38 AM, Blogger annegb said...

Yeah, me too. I love your posts, Kerry. One thing I love about your writing is that you find the nuggets in others.

At 6/03/2006 12:30 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I'd deny it again, Rob, but who'd believe a pathological liar? (The truth is, I just can't help myself! My mother doesn't like LDS fiction -- who else will say nice things about me but me?)

As for you, Jeff, you're right about one thing -- the Mystery Dinner was terrific. But you left out the reason it was fabulous -- you and Rob helped write it and then starred in the show! You, Michele, Stephanie, Jennie Hansen, Betsy Green, et al were such great character actors we didn't need a script. (Which is a good thing, because we didn't have one.) I can't wait to do it again this year. I'd even planned to promote Robison from Colonel to General, but after that last snipe I'm thinking corpse...

At 6/05/2006 9:33 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I'd take a role as a corpse, or perhaps someone deaf, dumb & blind. The less acting the better!


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