Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, August 28, 2006

Kerry Lynn Blair is an Egomaniac

Kerry Lynn is an egomaniac. So is Rob. Also Stephanie and Julie. Maybe most of all, Sariah. Of course I am too. It’s true. How do I know? Consider the following:

Each of us has spent months writing a story. This is not some famous story, mind you, but something we just “came up with.” We created this story in our head, and we expect you to read it. Now that might not be such a big deal if it was a short story—the equivalent of one of those 2 ½ minute talks which kids give in sacrament meeting. But no, this story is looooonnnnngggg. Take the longest dry council talk you’ve ever heard and multiply it by a minimum of six (possible a lot more.)

Let me be clear. This story does not have Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts to spice it up. There is no musical score. It might even have—gasp—characters you’ve never heard of. In Sariah’s case, you’ve never read one of her other stories, so it might stink like raw sewage for all you know (of course, it doesn’t, but you don’t know that.) We want you to give up sleep, burn your dinner, ignore work, all to read our story.

That would be bad enough, but then we have the audacity to expect you to pay for the privilege of reading our story. We cheerfully ask you to cough up the cost of a decent meal—or two tickets to a movie that could very well have Tom Hanks in it—for our little book that doesn’t even have any pictures.

Who in their right minds would expect any such thing except an egomaniac?

Of course we are also all manic depressives. We spend hours working on a chapter and then delete the whole thing because it doesn’t “sound right.” We obsess over a relative—who isn’t our target audience, never reads books, and only read ours because we sent him a free copy—telling us our book was “okay.” We want constructive criticism but hate it when someone doesn’t like our work. We can go from, “I am such a great writer” to “I stink so bad I should have my fingers chopped off and fed to crocodiles” and back in less than ten minutes.

We want your praise, but we are scared to death you will hate us.

Joe Konrath describes it this way. “Like most of my writer friends, I walked a tightrope between self-doubt and egomania.”

My friend and fellow author Annette Lyon sent this to me:

* * *
I don't know how many of you take Writer's Digest, but I thought I'd pass on a gem from the latest issue. It's from Kevin Alexander's column, "This Writer's Life." He's funny and spot-on accurate about what it's like being a writer. This time it's how he agonizes over the next chapter in his book and how it's just not flowing and he wonders if he'll ever be able to get it done and so forth, and finally things do click, and the scene works:

"Before I know it, I've created a chapter that--if nothing else--looks like a real draft of a chapter. I read the draft and see a certain turn of phrase, a clever little line that I love, that I can't believe I wrote, that I can't even imagine I thought of, and I can't ever imagine doing anything else with my life. Of course, this euphoria lasts only two or three minutes before the doubts resurface, and I get distracted by someone throwing away an old ottoman and several rusty golf clubs in the dumpster behind my apartment. But it's those little moments that make all the rest of the crap worth it."
* * *

I think every writer can sympathize with these emotions. Here are a couple of lines I wrote that made me happy—unless you don’t like them, in which case I can change them easily!

Who named a city Desolation anyway? It was like calling a lake Sewage Dump, or naming your restaurant Road Kill. “Welcome to the Road Kill Café, where we take pride in proving that no vermin is too tough or too old to serve up, as long as you cover it with enough gravy.” It was a great way to discourage visitors, if that’s what you were looking to accomplish, but it couldn’t do much for civic pride.


The road leading to the park entrance was lined with small, older one-story houses. Each was pin neat except for the profusion of fallen leaves that twirled and spun from yard to yard like a troop of tiny ballet dancers.

And Finally

It would be easy to take the city for granted at this early hour—to turn your back on it. But in his experience, you were better off keeping things in front of you where you could see them. Because even the tamest creature, if neglected long enough, could bite.


At 8/29/2006 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only thing missing is a character to view these lines. Put someone in there and the emotions, discriptions and interior dialogue come to life. And when you have a character in the scene, that character keeps the author honest--and doesn't allow the writer to wax too poetic, it just isn't in character if the author goes off on a word binge.

First Person
Desolation? Who names a city after Armageddon anyway? It’s like naming Niagara Falls after a sewage treatment plant, or nailing a sign above the entrance to your new restaurant that reads “Welcome to Joe’s Road Kill Café—no vermin is too tough for our fermented gravy.” A good name is everything, but I’d settle for at least a decent one. So why did Sarah and I pick up and move half way across the country to Butte, Montana? It wasn’t for the name. Great uncle Joe left the road kill café to us after he drove off highway 89 and over a cliff and since I was out of work, we took a chance. We kept the café, but the name had to go.

Third Person
Desolation? Who names a city after Armageddon anyway? It’s like naming Niagara Falls after a sewage treatment plant. Steve loosened the last nail in the old board sign above the restaurant. “Welcome to Joe’s Road Kill Café—where no vermin is too tough for our fermented gravy. It was about as crazy a name as great Uncle Joe. The poor soul drove his 1960 chevy off highway 89 and over a cliff and left the café to Steve. He set down his hammer and hauled the sign to the back of his pickup. The restaurant could stay, but the name had to go.

First Person
I hated raking leaves, but when the dog days of summer gave way to cool afternoons, and I could walk up the lane to the entrance of Estate Park, past the rows of small, old 1960 era brick homes and not break a sweat, I didn’t obsess so much over the falling leaves that twirled from the tall oaks and down into our pin-neat yard like ballerinas in a nutcracker suite. This was the peaceful season of the year when the sizzling heat of August softened to a warm September glow, I leaned the rake against the tree trunk, let the sun touch my face and danced through the breezy shower of falling leaves.

Third Person
Sarah leaned on her rake. Where did all these leaves come from? With one gust of a cool autumn breeze her pin-neat yard was transformed to a landfill along with every 1960 era red-brick home lining the lane leading to Estes Park. Another cool breeze ran through the tall oaks and leaves fell like ballerinas in a nutcracker suite. The dog days of summer were gone, replaced by the soft warm glow of a September sun and she let its rays touch her face. This was a peaceful season of the year and she let go her obsession, took the rake with both hands and danced through the breezy shower of falling leaves.

At 8/29/2006 12:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous just proved a paragraph can be improved to death. Jeff's paragraphs have a haunting quality--the improved ones sound more like a B-grade Romance novel.

At 8/29/2006 12:39 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Jeff, there actually is a small cafe I've been to several times in Idaho called the Roadkill Cafe. The name hasn't hurt it a bit. It's one of the busiest small town cafes I've ever seen.

At 8/29/2006 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right. Jeff's lines are terrific. They're always terrific. And obsessing over them doesn't improve them (actually, in some ways makes them worse). Just pointing out the effects of placing a character and character voice into the lines. A character sometimes changes the way we approach the writing. Jeff's stuff is amazing...

At 8/29/2006 1:07 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


Yeah I think I've heard of it. There is also a Murder Burger in Davis. Kind of makes you want to name your novel. Piece of Garbage or Don't Read This.

Those three paragraphs were actually internal monolouges from three different books. A Taste For Fear, Dead on Arrival, and Dark Memories.

The first one is a school teacher from NY is a little freaked out by Montana.

The second is Shandra.

The third is an ex-LA homocide detective who is now the Police Chief of a small Utah town.

I think I like them because they tell you something about the locaation while also giving you a little insight into the character.

I love it when an author can catch my ear with a turn of phrase. On the other hand, I can't stand many of Dean Koontz's newest books because a banana is never just a banana. It is always something like, a crescent of sunlight brought to earth by some benevolent god.

At 8/29/2006 5:35 PM, Blogger KB said...

There used to be a restaurant in Orem called "Squat and Gobble." I refused to go eat there out of principle. I suppose I have no sense of humor when it comes to my food. But apparently I wasn't the only one. The restaurant didn't last long.

At 8/29/2006 5:41 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I would totally go to the Squat and Gobble. And I would recommend to them that they cook British food, particularly Bubble and Squeak.

I would pay good money, this very second, if someone allowed me the opportunity to honestly say: "I ate Bubble and Squeak at the Squat and Gobble."

At 8/30/2006 4:02 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Hey, we have the "Squat and Gobble" in our oldest son's baby book because the night after the baby was born, my husband ate there. I was sort of sad it went away, it was definitely unique!

At 8/30/2006 6:19 PM, Blogger FHL said...

Jeff, I don't know if hearing this from the likes of me matters, but I did just finish House of Secrets and really liked it. I even stayed up late (missing sleep!) in order to finish it. Shandra is a very likable character, particularly the eating habits.

One thing I noticed about your book and RW's On Second Thought was that they reminded me of many Mary Higgins Clark books, where the villain turns out to be ... well, I don't want to give anything away for those who haven't read them. Just an interesting point, to me.

I haven't read much LDS fiction until recently (unless you count Orson Scott Card's pseudo-LDS fiction) because I was afraid it would be like most of the LDS pop music I've heard - trying too hard, and really not all that good. And then I tried to read one of the books from my Creative Writing instructor. (Fairhaven Chronicles - difficult for me to recommend.) But I've been pleasantly surprised by yours and Robison's books. Kerry Blair's latest will be my next book (my wife said she really enjoyed it) and then I'll finally get to start the Eric and Rebekah saga. And I'll have you know that I'm putting the latest Harlan Coben book at the end of my queue for these books!

At 8/30/2006 7:09 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Thanks so much. It does mean a lot. And as much crap as I give Rob, I am really honored to have my writing compared to his. Mary Higgens Clark is one of my favorites, along with Sue Gafton and Lisa Gradner.

You'll love Kerry's book as well. She has a great way of combining humor and suspense in just the right measure.

At 8/30/2006 8:48 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Except for the title, Jeff, this was a terrific post. (Excuse me, but nobody has every called me Kerry Lynn except my grandmother -- and you're nothing like my grandmother!)

Your prose is so terrific -- especially that last bit. Seriously, I could read your stuff all day. Write faster, would you? (And do you really need that day job?)

FHL, I am no Wells or Savage. May I heartily recommend Stephanie Black and/or Julie Bellon for your reading pleasure? (And, trust me, they ARE a pleasure to read, in every way.) That said, please tell your wife I love her and the powdered sugar donuts are in the mail!


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